Thursday, July 21, 2016

Bit at a Time Bible Hebrew -- gerundive plus imperfect

The gerundive that takes prefixes and suffixes has a special form without all that gingerbread. It’s usually called “infinitive absolutebecause it is used without the gingerbread, but if we’re not going to call the dressed up version an infinitive, I won’t use that term here either. I think I’m going to start with a structure that I will call the “duplicate conditional”.
The “duplicate conditional” has two forms of the same verb sequentially. The first form is that undressed gerundive. The second form is an imperfect of the same verb.
Knowing that the second form is imperfect, you can see why I might call the structure a conditional. What I mean is that, although it appears in prescriptions for actions, those actions might not be completed. Why not?
This is the realm of mot yumat and its grammatical relatives. They appear a lot in Leviticus 20 in a list of capital crimes. I already said that in the Genesis story, it introduces an expectation that a court follows due process and does not execute the accused without the right evidence.
This isn’t the only phrase that uses the “duplicate conditional”. Look at Genesis 37:8 where Yosef tells his brothers about his dreams.
וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ אֶחָיו הֲמָלֹךְ תִּמְלֹךְ עָלֵינוּ אִם־מָשׁוֹל תִּמְשֹׁל בָּנוּ וַיּוֹסִפוּ עוֹד שְׂנֹא אֹתוֹ עַל־חֲלֹמֹתָיו וְעַל־דְּבָרָיו:
They scoff: “Oh, we’re so sure you’ll rule over us!” The conditions for that to happen haven’t occurred yet. But this tips the audience off that such conditions might occur. That’s the drama of the story and its grammar.
The same thing is true of Deuteronomy 8:19.
וְהָיָה אִם־שָׁכֹחַ תִּשְׁכַּח אֶת־יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ וְהָלַכְתָּ אַחֲרֵי אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים וַעֲבַדְתָּם וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתָ לָהֶם הַעִדֹתִי בָכֶם הַיּוֹם כִּי אָבֹד תֹּאבֵדוּן:
“If, after this point in time, you do forget **** your Gd, such that you walk after other gods and serve them and bow to them [this clause is oblique modality], I witness against you today that you will be destroyed.”
The shakhoach tishkach is a duplicate conditional. The oblique modality that follows, v’halakhta, is the possible future circumstance, which must be completed before the consequence is carried out, but you will only believe this is possible if you know that the main clause has happened. The uncertainty epistemic at the end duplicates the idea that punishment might not be imposed for all the reasons described elsewhere in Torah.
Whenever you see a duplicate conditional in Tannakh, remember that translating it as “must X” is not correct. “Must” only applies if the condition exists and because you have both an aspectless verb and an imperfect, you can’t tell just from the phrase that those conditions  exist.
Knowing as you do that there’s a perfect aspect, do you suspect there’s a perfect version of this? That’s next week.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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