Thursday, April 13, 2017

21st Century Bible Hebrew -- narrative past

Genesis 1:3
ג וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי־אוֹר וַיְהִי־אוֹר:
Transliteration: Va-yomer elohim y’hi or va-y’hi or.
Translation:     Gd said Let light exist and light existed.
Letters in this lesson:
Vocabulary in this lesson:
he said
Let X exist
I only have three items to discuss for this verse. You can breathe now.
The first one is probably the most important because it is all over Torah, and it has do both with that vav prefix, and what it is prefixed to.
OK I lied, four things. Maybe five.
Vav at the start of this verse does not mean “and”. It is a verbal prefix for a specific grammatical structure that Dr. Cook identified.
The structure is vav plus the imperfect aspect. You know that this is the third of the three aspects, and you might remember that it is for uncompleted action.
This story is set at the beginning of the universe. Does this imply that the universe is not finished yet?
Not at all. (There’s a midrash for that, or rather, a mishnah with aggadic overtones.)
What it means is that this is the inside of the narrative. Nothing is over until the narrative is over. The narrative itself is incomplete.
Dr. Cook calls this the narrative past but with the explanation I just gave, you could call it “the narrative imperfect.” You could potentially use this if you were, say, Walter Cronkite doing a live news report on, say, the battle with the Amalekites at the time it occurred.
Now if the perfect uses only suffixes for the verb root, do you suspect that the imperfect uses prefixes? DING DING DING, you’re right, and some books call imperfect the prefix aspect. Which isn’t strictly true because you saw that the piel progressive had a prefix so let’s call it imperfect aspect from here on out.  That will be utterly critical in a couple of lessons.

There is an essential verb in this verse and when you learn it, you will have conquered one of about 30 essential conjugations in Torah.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

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