Thursday, August 25, 2016

Bit at a Time Bible Hebrew -- the end of the infinitive

So what about that thing in Hebrew that you were always taught was THE infinitive, lamed plus this thing I’m calling the aspectless gerundive?
That’s where Arabic comes in again. Arabic has an identical structure, and for centuries what follows the lam character was called subjunctive. I’ve read the explanation over and over again and I still don’t know why it was called that.
Because it doesn’t have anything to do with uncertainty about a possible future more or less vivid or emotion or any of those other nasty things that get packed into the subjunctive in Greek or Latin or French.
It means “for Xing”, which in other languages is sometimes expressed as “[in order] to X”. And THAT’S why it got labeled as an infinitive.  I’ll stop there instead of going into a rant, but if I do a reboot of these lessons, it’s going to use all different terminology so be prepared.
There seem to be two ways of using l’ plus the aspectless verb. One is when somebody states a future purpose; the other is when somebody states the purpose for an immediate action. Or maybe I’m splitting hairs. See Genesis 2:3,
וַיְבָרֶךְ אֱלֹהִים אֶת־יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וַיְקַדֵּשׁ אֹתוֹ כִּי בוֹ שָׁבַת מִכָּל־מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר־בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים לַעֲשׂוֹת:
“that Gd created for the purpose of making” is clumsy in English, another good reason not to translate. But it leads directly to the concept of creatio ex nihilo. Gd created (bara) lots of things ex nihilo. Why? For the purpose of using them to make the universe. That was the future purpose for them, and then all the certainty epistemic va-yar’s in the creation narrative show that this creation happened at the very start and Gd manifested each thing at a time of His choosing. Within, of course, the window of time needed so that the first Shabbat happened on time.
An example of the other use is Numbers 20:12.
וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָֹה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל־אַהֲרֹן יַעַן לֹא־הֶאֱמַנְתֶּם בִּי לְהַקְדִּישֵׁנִי לְעֵינֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לָכֵן לֹא תָבִיאוּ אֶת־הַקָּהָל הַזֶּה אֶל־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר־נָתַתִּי לָהֶם:
This is the aspectless verb that takes suffixes and it’s possible to consider it a statement of purpose. There are two problems, however. This is something that just happened – Mosheh striking the rock instead of speaking to it. It’s outside the realm of possibility that Mosheh had a long-term purpose to sanctify Gd or not. Gd can have an eternal purpose to make the universe but Mosheh is mortal and cannot have an eternal purpose of sanctifying Gd. That’s why this is a good example of the short-term purpose behind the l’ structure.
And of course, it brings up a cultural issue about translation. It’s not possible for Mosheh to make Gd holy or unholy. Gd either is or is not holy. The verb qodesh is hardly ever used in qal, it is mostly used in piel, a transitive binyan. But in English, we can’t say “I holy you.” We say “sanctify”, which has a causative connotation.  That’s what confuses people about “sanctify” – in translations.
“Holy” in Jewish culture is always a being, not a becoming. Now go back to Exodus 19:10 where Gd tells Mosheh to sanctify the people. They were already holy; now they have to do something special showing they are holy: they wash their clothes ahead of the events at  Sinai. This issue of being instead of becoming is the reason Qorach can say in Numbers 16:3, “the people are completely holy”. It’s their eternal status.
So in Jewish culture, qidesh means to take actions that demonstrate sanctity. You qidesh Shabbat by observing its laws; you don’t determine its sanctity, which is from everlasting to everlasting, you demonstrate that you recognize its sanctity. It’s actions, not ideas or emotions.
On the other hand, we have a real hifil in this verse. That’s another cultural twist. Mosheh was supposed to speak to the rock to make Gd’s sanctity manifest to the Israelites, not to demonstrate his own recognition of Gd’s sanctity.  He didn’t, and he got into trouble for it – and there’s more to the story but that’s in Narrating the Torah.
One of the things that confuses people about what Biblical Hebrew means is that we try to think of it in terminology  that applies to Latin, not to Semitic languages and, now that I’m learning Greek, not even to all Indo-European languages.  So from now on and in the reboot if I do it, I will never say “infinitive”, I will always say “aspectless” or “gerundive” depending on the point of the usage which can be 1) to get around the connotations of the three aspects OR 2) to reflect its substantivization features.  
This is how today’s two most important Semitic languages work – Arabic and Hebrew.  You have to get out of your comfort zone to understand what they mean.  I will give more examples from here on out.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

No comments:

Post a Comment