Friday, February 3, 2017

Fact-Checking the Torah -- SWLT 2

The second rule of SWLT is that grammar encodes cultural nuances not expressed in the base words, be they Hebrew three-letter roots or nominative pronouns.
Everybody who has studied languages like French and Spanish knows that the pronoun you use when talking to somebody depends on your relative cultural positions.  You use a formal pronoun if they are older, are your superior at work, or are not a close acquaintance.  You use an informal pronoun for pets, children, subordinates, and your BFFs.  Grammar encodes social layering even though the aristos don’t have the power of life and death over the rest of us.
Hebrew doesn’t have much social layering encoded in its pronouns, but it does have separate verb forms for masculine and feminine plurals in the future, and it used to have them in the past tense.  There’s no “it”; “it” is a translation, not a meaning.  So there’s an insurmountable gender division in Hebrew that allows only two genders.
Dealing with grammar adequately is a hallmark of a good translation.  It’s one way that Septuagint fails.  I discussed the phrase mot yumat some months ago (in two places) but I left out another example of the same structure which Septuagint gets wrong.  Exodus 22:16 discusses a situation when a man rapes a girl but the father absolutely refuses to let them marry; maen yimaen.  The first part of the structure is aspectless and genderless; the second part of the structure is a masculine singular imperfect aspect verb.
Septuagint utterly fails to appreciate the gender issue and has the girl refusing the marriage but the father not deciding what he wants. 
This is not only a grammatical problem, it’s a legal problem.  In Jewish law the girl doesn’t get a choice and unless the father absolutely refuses, the marriage goes forward.
Grammar issues can settle controversies and even prevent them.  In the Gan Eden episode, or depending on your viewpoint, right after it, Adam “knows” Chavvah.
Actually, it’s in perfect aspect.  As you know if you read my Bible Hebrew page, perfect aspect is for a completed action.  The reason for using it in this specific verse, is that it’s one way Torah defines the boundaries of episodes.  It’s the reason that both Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 2:3 use a perfect aspect verb, bara.
Jewish Aggada (folkoric interpretation) says that Adam “knew” Chavah  before they were expelled from Gan Eden, contradicting the idea that Adam and Chavvah were still virgins after the expulsion.  What’s more, an accepted opinion in Judaism is that Qain and Hevel were both conceived and born before the expulsion.
This coordinates with the Jewish viewpoint that says sex in marriage is not only natural but also necessary for the continuation of the human species and therefore is desirable.  Jewish culture has no conflict with married sex happening in Gan Eden.
In the last part of this blog I’ll show more fallout from not knowing 21st century Biblical Hebrew grammar.  For now, on with SWLT.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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