Archive for January 2008

Kaufman, Stephen A, “An Emphatic Plea for Please,” Maarav 7 (1991), 195-198.

January 25, 2008

In this short article, Dr Kaufman argues for the traditional rendering of the particle נָא as ‘please’, against the study of T.O. Lambdin who suggested that the particle marks the command as being a logical consequence of the previous statement or the general situation. Waltke-O’Connor also quotes Lambdin, apparently approvingly, in their short section on the particle.Dr Kaufman sees three compelling arguments for the interpretation ‘please’: First, there is no significant way left in Biblical Hebrew to say ‘please’ if not with נָא. Second, נָא never appears when the focus of the command is a third party suggesting that it has to do with the relationship between speaker/addressee rather than the logical nature of the command. The third argument is the most interesting and relates to the nature of the so-called nun energicum.The particle נָא can be used after interrogative and presentative particles such as אִם, אַיֵּה, and הִנֵּה, but most of the time it appears after imperatives and the other phrase-initial verbal forms which belong to the “imperative modal set” such as cohortatives, jussives, and rarely even the perfect consecutive. Although it is now an independent particle, many scholars have suggested that it may have originally been a part of the earlier “energic” modal preformative verb form, *taqtulanna. At some point scribes began to separate the n(n) from the verb by a word divider as was the case at Ugarit (see H Gottlieb, “The Hebrew Particle nâ,Acta Orientalia 33 (1971): 47-54).Based on the so-called subjunctive modes reflected in Amarna Akkadian and the “energic” mode of Arabic, Lambin, and others such as Gottlieb, Moran, and Rainey, have argued that the earlier “energic” forms of the preformative were subjunctives and marked grammatical subordination. Thus it can be seen why the idea of logical succession would be a more appealing explanation of נָא then entreaty. However, Dr Kaufman argues that this understanding of the “energic” ending is mistaken.

Preformative (and imperative) verbal forms in Arabic and Northwest Semitic ending in -(an)na are not ‘energic,’ ie they are not emphatic. They do, rather, express petition, doubt, or question – a softening rather than a strengthening!”

Thus נָא is descendent of the split of the -anna ending into  (the origin of the cohortative) and nnā. This implies that the primary use of the Hebrew cohortative by itself is to express a wish or request for permission even without the accompanying נָא. The long form of the imperative, with the  ending, can also be seen as equivalent to the imperative + נָא, a more polite form. Lastly, this explains why the -n forms of the pronominal suffixes (usually explained as preserving the so-called long imperfect in contrast to the short jussive or preterite forms) can also occur with the imperative marking the long imperative:

 ‏שִׁלְחָ֣ה וְקָחֶ֔נּוּ‎ 1 Sam 16:11

“go and fetch him, please”


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Biblical Scholar

January 23, 2008

It was in seminary when I took a short seminar on urban ministry in which we read Dr Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail that I first realized that his original doctorate was not honorary. He in fact held a B.D. from Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania and then his Ph.D., I believe in Systematic Theology, from Boston University.

Today, browsing the internet for resources on Marduk and Tiamat, I stumbled upon this paper from Dr King’s seminary days, Light on the Old Testament from the Ancient Near East, written for James Bennett Pritchard, who of course edited Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. The paper reads like a first semester seminary paper (I am going to go burn all my seminary papers now just in case I ever become famous), but it is an interesting insight into Dr King’s early years.

Aronoff, Mark, “Orthography and Linguistic Theory: The Syntactic Basis of Masoretic Hebrew Punctuation,” Language Vol 61 no 1 1985.

January 19, 2008

Aronoff begins by noting that modern linguistics tends to view spoken language as “true” language, while written language is a by-product. Still, the study of written language has often dominated the field. Aronoff argues that “written language is a product of linguistic awareness… any orthography must therefore involve a linguistic system.” In this article he examines the linguistic system of Masoretic accentuation – “A complete unlabeled binary phrase-structure analysis of every verse, based on a single parsing system.” The Masoretic system divided the text into verses, marked all the segmental phonological properties not marked by the consonantal text (vowels, dagesh, etc), and marked accents.

Aronoff describes Biblical Hebrew as a typical Greenberg V(erb)S(ubject)O(bject) language. VSO is the normal order, but the initial position is emphatic and SVO, OVS, and SOV also occur. Modifiers generally follow the VSO core. BH also has prepositions rather than postpositions; genitives, adjectives and demonstratives follow the words they modify; adverbs follow adjectives; WH-words are sentence initial; and relative clauses follow their head nouns.

Besides marking the position of stress, the accents also function as punctuation (Wickes 1881, 1887 is still the standard description of their use). Accents are either disjunctive or conjunctive. Each verse of the Bible is divided into two halves which can in turn be subdivided into halves and so on until no group of more than two words remains. Each accent clause is thus arranged into a hierarchical structure. Note that the Masoretes were not formally syntacticians, but they were interested in showing the sense of the text by marking the relationships among all the words in a verse.

Most interesting from his analysis is the separation of a topicalized element from the rest of the sentence by a major syntactical break. However, not all pre-verbal elements are treated as topicalized. For instance, when a subject pronoun precedes the verb it may or may not be separated from the sentence as topicalized. In nominal sentences the accentuation may also vary depending on if the first element is seen as topicalized. A further point of interest is that phrases introducing direct speech seem to be subordinated similar to adverbial phrases.

Lastly, Aronoff suggests that the Masoretic system does not seem to be based on recitation of the text, but rather the recitation must have become based on the accent system. This can be seen in the case where a word ending with a vowel is followed by a word beginning with a bgdkpt letter. Whether or not the letter is softened does not seem to follow the prosody of the phrase, but the hierarchical accentuation.If there is a conjunctive accent the letter is softened, if it is a disjunctive letter it remains hard. For instance, in both Judges 1:1 and 1:8 are sentences of the same syntactic pattern: V( S PP.

‏וַֽיִּשְׁאֲלוּ֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בַּיהוָ֖ה‎ Jd 1:1b

‏וַיִּלָּחֲמ֤וּ בְנֵֽי־יְהוּדָה֙ בִּיר֣וּשָׁלִַ֔ם‎ Jd 1:8a 

In the second  case, בְנֵֽי־יְהוּדָה֙ is joined with a maqqef and thus there is no disjunctive accent between subject and verb, hence ב is softened. However, בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל must be treated as two words. Therefore there is a disjunction between subject and verb, and ב remains hard. Aronoff gives other interesting examples as well.

Kaufman, Stephen A, “Paragogic nun in Biblical Hebrew: Hypercorrection as a clue to a Lost Scribal Practice,” in Solving Riddles and Untying Knots: Biblical, Epigraphic, and Semitic Studies in Honor of Jonas C. Greenfield. ed. Ziony Zevit, Seymour Gitin, and Michael Sokoloff (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1995), 95-99.

January 9, 2008

In Biblical Hebrew prose the imperfect forms that end with a long vowel (2fs, 2mp, and 3mp) sometimes occur with an extra nun on the end – the so-called paragogic nun. However, an explanation of why these forms appear has eluded Hebrew grammarians. The forms appear most frequently in older texts where they occur most frequently in pause. The appearance of a final nun also corresponds to the Aramaic/Arabic forms of the imperfect indicative יִכְתְּבוּן (yiktebūn) which contrast with the shorter jussive/preterite form יִכְתְּבוּ (yiktebū).

In Semitic languages it is common for a nun to be assimilated to the following consonant in the prosody of speech. Thus in the majority of cases, except where the verb occurred in a clause final position (as in pause) or before a consonant which cannot be doubled, the final nun would be lost to assimilation. Over time the imperfect form was reanalyzed as יִכְתְּבוּ and therefore, as occurred in later colloquial Arabic, the two forms would have fallen together in normal Biblical Hebrew prose so that the contrast between יִכְתְּבוּן and יִכְתְּבוּ no longer marked the difference between the imperfect (also called the long form) and the jussive/preterite (the short form).

This explains why a majority of the forms with paragogic nun are preserved in pause, however this is not the case with all of the forms. Further, in a few cases the paragogic nun occurs on a form other than an imperfect indicative such as the imperfect consecutive (which should be a preservation of the short preterite form) and even the perfect. Dr Kaufman suggests that the variation can be explained by hypercorrection and is evidence of a scribal tradition rather than a living linguistic phenomenon.

Hypercorrection is often the result of tension between a higher formal dialect and a lower colloquial dialect where a speaker applies a feature in the higher dialect by analogy to a situation where it should not occur, betraying the author’s lack of experience in the higher dialect. For instance, in English we have lost the use of a “case system” except for some personal pronouns. The 1cs nominative pronoun is “I” while the oblique case is “me.” Children often mistakenly use “me” as a nominative, “Me and Jack are going to the store.” Adults, however, weary of being corrected as children for using phrases such as “Me and Jack”, often misunderstand the rule as applying to compounds and tend to hypercorrect the pronouns in oblique cases where “me” is indeed the proper use, “Bob came with Jack and I.”

In Biblical Hebrew the situation arose where the higher formal dialect pronounced the final nun on 2fs, 2mp, and 3mp imperfect indicatives in situations where the nun could not assimilate such as contextual positions (such as pause). However,  over time the lower dialect no longer pronounced the final nun at all. Scribes copying older texts in whose literary dialect final nuns were still included in the orthography would have to learn a set of rules for their use and non-use. By examining the scribal errors we can deduce the rules.

Dr Kaufman notes first that all of the “errors” are found in the books of Deuteronomy and Judges, perhaps reflecting a shared scribal history. In Deuteronomy 1:22, 4:11, 5:23, and Judges 8:1 and 11:18 the paragogic nun occurs on an imperfect consecutive. In Deuteronomy 8:3 and 8:16 the nun occurs on a perfect form (though both cases are the פ’’י verb ידע whose consonantal form may have been misinterpreted as an imperfect). What is significant is that in five of these seven cases the paragogic nun is followed by a word beginning with aleph. Thus it seems that the scribe was concentrating so hard to remember to use a paragogic nun when it cannot be assimilated to the following word that he forgot that it should only be applied to imperfect indicatives.

Cook, Edward M, “The ‘Kaufman Effect’ in the Pseudo-Jonathan Targum,” Aramaic Studies 4.2 (July 2006), 123-132.

January 4, 2008

Ed Cook has coined the name the ‘Kaufman Effect’ for a text-critical principle suggested by Stephen A Kaufman. In short, Dr Kaufman noticed that in a frequently copied text, the end of the text seems to have fewer scribal improvements than its beginning. Dr Kaufman noticed this principle when comparing the texts of Ex 20 and Dt 4 in Targum Neofiti. In this article, Cook has applied the same principle to Targum Pseudo-Jonathan. He notes that several archaisms, such as the 3mp suffix הום- for the expected הון- and the conjunction כדי for כד among others, have a much higher distribution in Genesis than the rest of the books of the Pentateuch.

Also of interest, the form of the 2ms independent pronoun is אנת in Pseudo-Jonathan (as well as in the Targum to Psalms and in Syriac orthography) but את in Onkelos and Neofiti. However, Pseudo-Jonathan shows a telltale ‘Kaufman Effect’ distribution of את in Genesis, suggesting that אנת is not an artificial archaism but the genuine form for the dialect of Pseudo-Jonathan which began to be corrected to את.