So Biblical Hebrew has several ways of forming agentless statements and when it deals with a legal decree or ruling, it uses nifal. In Modern Hebrew, nifal is the “passive” of the qal with no such connotation. Biblical Hebrew also has what I call qual and which some resources call qal internal passive. If languages never create or maintain morphology without a reason, what does qual do that nifal can’t?
The qual points to consequences. L’shet yulad a son; the consequence is that human life goes on after the flood, because Noach is descended from Shet. Sarah tuqach to Paro’s house; the consequence is that his house is plagued and Sarah is given back so she can go on and give birth to Yitschaq. L’noami yulad a son; the consequence is the birth of King David.
By the way, I just gave you two of the cases where the logical subject is in a prepositional phrase. The logical subject is not the agent of the verb. Shet’s wife is the agent in one case, and Rut – not Naomi – is the agent in the other case.
In legal material, a qual notifies the audience that the law has an unexpected or counterintuitive consequence. To show what I mean, I’ll ring the changes on the agentless binyanim. See Exodus 21:29-31.
כט וְאִם שׁוֹר נַגָּח הוּא מִתְּמֹל שִׁלְשֹׁם וְהוּעַד בִּבְעָלָיו וְלֹא יִשְׁמְרֶנּוּ וְהֵמִית אִישׁ אוֹ אִשָּׁה הַשּׁוֹר יִסָּקֵל וְגַם־בְּעָלָיו יוּמָת:
ל אִם־כֹּפֶר יוּשַׁת עָלָיו וְנָתַן פִּדְיֹן נַפְשׁוֹ כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר־יוּשַׁת עָלָיו:
לא אוֹ־בֵן יִגָּח אוֹ־בַת יִגָּח כַּמִּשְׁפָּט הַזֶּה יֵעָשֶׂה לּוֹ:
In verse 29, a dangerous ox kills somebody; the term huad is a hufal in perfect aspect. It’s a legal definition of the ox’s status as “dangerous” (because it gored two days in a row) and uses the perfect aspect because the conditions have been completely fulfilled. The owner has been given notice of this status (presumably by an official source authorized to do so).
The owner doesn’t guard it properly, and it kills somebody so the ox is stoned. This is nifal imperfect. It’s the legal sentence imposed (presumably by an earthly court which is the only possible authority) to prevent the ox from killing again. This is not a narrative past; it is a future use of the imperfect aspect.
The last word of the verse is yumat, another hufal definition. The owner is “a dead man” according to legal definition BUT this is not a capital crime so there’s no duplicate conditional. This time the hufal is in the imperfect aspect. I have a feeling this is there to get the audience’s attention because of its relationship to the death penalty, mot yumat.
In verse 30, we have yushat twice. This is qual and it is the imperfect aspect. Since the owner is now legally defined as a “dead man”, you might think he could be liable to the death penalty. In fact, counterintuitively, he is fined (presumably by an earthly court). The fine isn’t compensation for the death of whatever the ox gored. It’s redemption for the owner.
Verse 31 has the nifal yeaseh. This is another legal ruling. The fine is a dead end. The owner of the ox is not subject to capital punishment. The parents of the dead boy or girl cannot appeal to a court of 23 and get a death penalty, using the grounds that this was not an adult who was responsible for his or her own safety, but a child.
From what I just said, you can better understand the phrase mot yumat, the duplicate conditional. Yumat is a hufal legal definition: somebody is “a dead man”, he ought to die for what he has done. You also know that the aspectless mot functions as a command. You have to use it because in the situations where it applies, you are commanding somebody to look into using the death penalty. Verse 29 is not and never can be a command to investigate whether the death penalty applies.
One more agentless banyan to go.
One more agentless banyan to go.
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