Thursday, February 16, 2017

21st Century Bible Hebrew -- something about dagesh

The end of Genesis 1:1.
א בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ:
Transliteration: B’reshit bara elohim et ha-shamayim v’et ha-arets.
Translation:     At the beginning Gd created the heaven and the earth
In this lesson I want you to concentrate on a number of things and I will take them in order by where the word is in the sentence.
First, we have an adverb. Biblical Hebrew has a flexible word order that depends on what it is trying to say, but you will find many cases in Torah where a verse starts with an adverb. When a clause starts with an adverb, the action verb almost always comes next, although I have found an exception in Exodus. If the subject is stated, that will come after the verb. You will see many more examples of VS (verb-subject) order in Torah.
What do I mean “if the subject is stated”? The verb conjugation in Biblical Hebrew packs into one word not just the verb root class and binyan and aspect, but also the person and number, and sometimes the gender, of the subject.
This verse has two copies of the direct object particle. I’m saying “direct object” as a functional way around the label “accusative”. Biblical Hebrew uses lots of transitive verbs (I’m avoiding an antiquated confusing label “factitive”) and often states the object of the transitive verb, but it only uses et in specific cases. There are two ways of spelling et distinguished by the vowel (and something I’m not going to talk about yet because you have enough to learn), and as far as I can tell, they play different roles. When a clear example of the difference comes up will be the appropriate point to discuss it.
Finally, notice that “the” heavens has a short vowel followed by dagesh in the shin. Most people will tell you that the dagesh represents something called “gemination” but that’s not always true. I am going to reserve the term “gemination” strictly for piel verbs. What happens here is a spelling rule demonstrated by the long vowel under “the” earth.
Dagesh rule: you will never see dagesh in a guttural letter like alef, heh, chet, or ayin, or in resh except for 15 examples in the entire Hebrew Bible. I don’t have an explanation for those 15 exceptions to resh but statistically, you should know that out of almost 22,300 verses in the entire Hebrew Bible, there are only these 15 exceptions.
Dagesh rule: you will never see dagesh after a long vowel in BH as far as I know.
Now, why didn’t I tell you how many WORDS there are in the Hebrew Bible? The answer is that, except for Torah, we’re not sure how many words there are. It simply wasn’t important enough to calculate. The reason it was important for Torah, is that Torah is the basis for all of Jewish law and culture. As a legal basis, everything in it is crucial, right down to the least little mark used, for example, in spelling. The canonical number of words in the Torah (Pentateuch) is 79,976.

And now something about verbs.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved 


  1. Off topic, but why didn't you translate the pasuk according to Rashi?

    1. Another perspective: remember the email when I said I was looking for reflections of this grammar in midrash and you said it wouldn't be there? That's true; there is hardly anything in midrash that hints at this grammar so the few there are, probably are coincidence. The midrash closed before Rashi was born. Anything in Rashi that looks like a discussion of modality or narrative past is probably also a coincidence, I haven't checked.

  2. As I said in the intro, translations according to X are legion on the web and in print. The greatest grammarian of his times and possibly any, Rashi did not have the information I am discussing here.