Thursday, August 4, 2016

Bit at a Time Bible Hebrew -- aspectless action

The aspectless gerundive can also be used where we would expect a conjugated verb.
But we expect a conjugated verb because of how our language works.  Ever tried to learn Classical or koine Greek?  I’m reading Polybius right now and he uses “infinitives”  almost as often as he uses  conjugated verbs.  So manage your expectations.
There are a few examples in Torah where a normally aspectual verb carries connotations that the context won’t support. One of them is Genesis 41:43.
וַיַּרְכֵּב אֹתוֹ בְּמִרְכֶּבֶת הַמִּשְׁנֶה אֲשֶׁר־לוֹ וַיִּקְרְאוּ לְפָנָיו אַבְרֵךְ וְנָתוֹן אֹתוֹ עַל כָּל־אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם:
Let’s go through the alternatives and see why they don’t work.
If this had va-yiten, the narrative past, then we would still be enumerating how Pharaoh treated Yosef. Instead, we’re sealing off that list of examples.
If it had v’natan, that could be oblique modality, as if believing this clause depended on the truth of the other clauses. This isn’t a possible future action which the speaker is trying to convince the listener to believe in. It seals that as a result of the things done, we know that Pharaoh set Yosef over Egypt.
Genesis 41:40-43 resembles a structure in Jewish law called k’lal u-prat u-k’lal, two generalizations divided by a list of details. The generalizations are the framework of the law, sort of like perfect aspect verbs framing a narrative. The law has only been carried out if the details have been applied, somewhat like the narrative isn’t over until you know all the gory details. In this case it emphasizes the end of the specifications by using an aspectless verb.
In Exodus 7:27 and 8:11, there are more aspectless gerundives in similar situations. In the first one, we have im maen, which looks like the start of a duplicate conditional. However, using a duplicate conditional would mean there are conditions under which Pharaoh might not refuse – to let the Israelites go – and so far that hasn’t happened yet. We’re only up to the frogs and he refuses to let go until the firstborn die.
In 8:11 we have hakhbed. The verse opens with an evidentiary epistemic, which should have a narrative past after it as the evidence. However, this evidentiary epistemic is not asking for evidence; it comes after the verse about the stinking frogs, so it functions like a final certification. The next part of the verse says “because there was a respite”. Then we have Pharaoh hardening his heart, a beautifully gerundive use of this form, but if we used perfect aspect, we would be implying that he did so permanently and, according to the rest of the narrative, that wasn’t true. In this episode, Pharaoh hardening his heart is a job that a conjugated verb doesn’t work for, so it goes to the aspectless gerundive.
Next week I’ll discuss another job that only the aspectless gerundive works for.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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