Some of you are screaming that I haven’t covered everything. No more I have. I haven’t talked about participles. That’s because I didn’t get a clue about them until I was going through Parshah Va-yechi for the second time after discovering Cook’s dissertation. Here’s the deal.
There are three verb forms in Biblical Hebrew that are gerundive, but apparently with different functions. Two of them are quite rare so it’s no big deal that I didn’t discuss them until now.
One is the progressive. It often is used gerundively and therefore works substantively when prefixed with the definite article. See Genesis 48:5.
וְעַתָּה שְׁנֵי־בָנֶיךָ הַנּוֹלָדִים לְךָ בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם עַד־בֹּאִי אֵלֶיךָ מִצְרַיְמָה לִי־הֵם אֶפְרַיִם וּמְנַשֶּׁה כִּרְאוּבֵן וְשִׁמְעוֹן יִהְיוּ־לִי:
Ha-noladim is a substantivized progressive from the nifal binyan. As such, it legitimizes Yosef’s sons. This might be the source of the midrash that their mother converted, because only the child of a Jewess can be considered a Jew. As a progressive, ha-noladim takes on the immediate past connotation in this context: “the sons who have been born.”
The aspectless gerundive is also naturally substantivized. One form takes object suffixes, as you see in Exodus 13:17.
וַיְהִי בְּשַׁלַּח פַּרְעֹה אֶת־הָעָם וְלֹא־נָחָם אֱלֹהִים דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּים כִּי קָרוֹב הוּא כִּי ׀ אָמַר אֱלֹהִים פֶּן־יִנָּחֵם הָעָם בִּרְאֹתָם מִלְחָמָה וְשָׁבוּ מִצְרָיְמָה:
This pretty much means “at the time of their seeing”. It takes on adverbial functions the progressive refuses to take on.
The first participle I came across in Torah was Genesis 48:4 which goes like this:
וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלַי הִנְנִי מַפְרְךָ וְהִרְבִּיתִךָ וּנְתַתִּיךָ לִקְהַל עַמִּים וְנָתַתִּי אֶת־הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת לְזַרְעֲךָ אַחֲרֶיךָ אֲחֻזַּת עוֹלָם:
The bolded word is a hifil participle formed from the progressive, which most people would nowadays call an active present participle. Notice that it has an object suffix. The reason we need a gerundive here is because of hin’ni, an emphatic which has to be followed by a substantive. If you could use a straight progressive with a personal suffix, this would use progressive. Apparently that’s not possible to get what the verse wants to say, so it uses a participle. Process of elimination, like with the aspectless gerundive.
The distinction between participles and actual verbs is a 20th century development. Max Margolis’ grammar of Talmudic Aramaic (done for Hermann Strack’s Clavis Linguarum Semiticarum series) gives a number of functions for participles, some of which are taken on by Biblical Hebrew’s progressive aspect – a 21st century development. Arabic’s aism alfa’il gets labeled a participle, but it is really a way of converting the action of the verb into a modifier or a substantive. Price gives a list of things that Arabic uses participles for and some of them overlap with uses of progressive aspect in Biblical Hebrew. Ancient Semitic languages work differently from western languages and slapping labels from one language on another language interferes with understanding it.
Finally, a subject where my conclusions are kind of shaky and you’re welcome to chime in with your understanding. If you know of a dissertation that covers my points, I’d love it if you could get permission to post it on the web and provide pointers to papers citing it. I’ll post a link to your page where you post this.
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