Thursday, July 28, 2016

Bit at a Time Bible Hebrew -- flipping it over

And there is the opposite to mot tamut, a “duplicate unconditional.”
When you have the aspectless gerundive of a verb – without the gingerbread – followed by the same verb root in a perfect aspect, you are not looking at a conditional situation.  You are looking at an absolute situation. 
An example would be Genesis 27:30. 
וַיְהִי כַּאֲשֶׁר כִּלָּה יִצְחָק לְבָרֵךְ אֶת־יַעֲקֹב וַיְהִי אַךְ יָצֹא יָצָא יַעֲקֹב מֵאֵת פְּנֵי יִצְחָק אָבִיו וְעֵשָׂו אָחִיו בָּא מִצֵּידוֹ:
Yaaqov has absolutely left the tent, so that Esav can’t buy a clue about what just happened.  Yitschaq has to tell him everything. 
Notice that they escape the situation where Esav could have killed Yaaqov right then and there.  Since Yitschaq was blind, there would be no witnesses to this killing, and since there was no enmity between them before, it would have been only manslaughter.  Yaaqov would still be dead, and Esav would have to flee to a city of refuge – and there were none at the time.  Some relative would have been responsible for hunting down Esav.  Who would do such a thing?  What about Yishmael?  And doesn’t that put a whole different spin on Esav’s marrying one of Yishmael’s daughters?   But Torah eliminates all these issues with a two-word phrase pointing out that they never mattered.

The "duplicate unconditional" always points at an issue in Jewish law that applies to the situation.  The duplicate unconditional always eliminates the possibility that the situation has consequences in which the law applies.  In a couple of months I'll give another example, but it involves something I haven't discussed yet so...
Grammar is  crucial to understanding a language because it encodes nuances that the bare words don’t convey.  The grammar of Biblical Hebrew is inseparably bound up with the culture in which it was used.  While you try to understand Biblical Hebrew, you will keep coming up against places where you don’t understand why the grammar is what it is – unless you are deeply familiar with the culture.  That’s the lesson of the uncertainty epistemic,  and  also of the duplicate phrase, whether it’s conditional or unconditional.
I hope you took these recent lessons slowly; these are new concepts for you unless you are part of the current movement exploring aspect-verb systems.  That’s why I keep repeating  myself. 
The  labeling approach to writing the grammar of a language, which is typical in the west for the study of classical languages like Latin and Greek, is useless for understanding how languages function. 
The  alternative is a functional approach which describes what the language is doing.  This approach isn’t perfect.  If a language has morphology or a syntactical substitute, you have to understand those structures.  But as I go forward busting labels, I’ll describe some of the nonsense produced by slapping labels on things where they don’t belong and don’t work.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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