Miller, Cynthia, “The Relation of Coordination to Verb Gapping in Biblical Poetry,” JSOT Vol 32.1 (2007): 41-60.

In biblical Hebrew poetry, line structure is most obvious in the various types of parallelism that link elements across cola, seemingly rendering the use of the coordinating conjunction waw between cola optional. Such asyndetic coordination has been seen as a hallmark of biblical Hebrew poetry, and especially early poetry. However, in this article, Miller shows that overt coordination of cola using waw is in fact common in at least one specific type of poetic line – that exhibiting matched verbal gapping.

Matched verbal gapping is defined by two features: 1) the syntactic constituents of both lines are identical and are arranged in either identical or chiastic order, and 2) the verb has been gapped in one of the lines (For a discussion of gapping see the beginning of this post). Miller’s corpus contains the 123 such lines from the book of Isaiah, of which 69% are joined with waw.

There are two important parameters of matched verbal gapping. First is the position of the “deletion site” within the clause – initial, medial, or final. The deletion site refers to the constituent(s) which are present in one colon but absent in the other. Verb position seems to be the strongest indicator of whether or not an explicit coordinating conjunction will appear in the line. Second is the degree to which the constituents match, whether identically or in chiastic order.

Initial gapping seems to be the most common. An example of initial gapping is Isaiah 1:3:

Is 1:3 יָדַ֥ע שׁוֹר֙ קֹנֵ֔הוּ // וַחֲמ֖וֹר אֵב֣וּס בְּעָלָ֑יו

An ox knows its owner // and an ass [ ] it’s master’s crib.

An example of medial gapping is Isaiah 60:2:

Is. 60:2 כִּֽי־הִנֵּ֤ה הַחֹ֨שֶׁךְ֙ יְכַסֶּה־אֶ֔רֶץ // וַעֲרָפֶ֖ל לְאֻמִּ֑ים

For look, the darkness will cover the earth // and thick darkness [ ] the peoples.

An example of final gapping is in Isaiah 40:15:

Is. 40:15 ‏ הֵ֤ן גּוֹיִם֙ כְּמַ֣ר מִדְּלִ֔י // וּכְשַׁ֥חַק מֹאזְנַ֖יִם נֶחְשָׁ֑בוּ

Look, the nations like a drop from a bucket [ ] // and like the dust of a scale they are considered.

Notice that this may also be an example of backward verb gapping. Miller cites cross-linguistic parallels from Russian and Japanese and suggests that backward verb gapping is only possible in biblical Hebrew poetry in such a verb final situation.

All of these examples have the constituents in identical order, though it is also possible to arrange them in a chiastic order as in Isaiah 37:32:

Is. 37:32 כִּ֤י מִירֽוּשָׁלִַ֙ם֙ תֵּצֵ֣א שְׁאֵרִ֔ית // וּפְלֵיטָ֖ה מֵהַ֣ר צִיּ֑וֹן

For from Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant // and a band of survivors [ ] from Mt Zion.

Miller suggests that there are several factors which influence the appearance of a coordinating waw. The most important is the need to delimit the conjuncts of a coordinated sentence for sentence processing.

Verbal gapping produces a hole in a sentence which the reader/hearer must fill by recognizing where the hole is and then recovering what is missing. In biblical Hebrew poetry, this is done by comparing the parallel constituents of each colon. Of course, this requires that the boundary between the two cola can be clearly discerned. This is not difficult after both have been processed, but the presence of a waw at the beginning of the second colon can assist the reader/hearer in recognizing the boundary before it is fully heard/read. Miller’s basic thesis is that a coordinating waw is more likely to be overtly expressed in cases where the demarcation of the cola is needed for cognitive processing.

In most cases, verbal gapping leaves the second colon as a set of nominal phrases as in Isaiah 1:3 above. In this case, the syntax of the non-verbal elements is not overtly marked. Miller finds that waw almost always appears in such cases. However, if the object is marked with את or a preposition, the waw may be omitted as in Isaiah 41:7:

Is. 41:7 ‏ וַיְחַזֵּ֤ק חָרָשׁ֙ אֶת־צֹרֵ֔ף // מַחֲלִ֥יק פַּטִּ֖ישׁ אֶת־ה֣וֹלֶם פָּ֑עַם

The craftsman encourages the goldsmith // the one who smoothes with the hammer [ ] the one who strikes the anvil.

Other cases where waw is ordinary include: 1) if the gapped verb is היה as in Isaiah 49:23, 2) when the verbs שים or נתן are used in the sense ‘to make X as Y’ as in Isaiah 60:7, 3) when all non-verbal elements are prepositional phrase as in Isaiah 17:13. An example where waw helps demarcate the cola by not appearing is Isaiah 34:13, in which the second cola itself begins with a coordinate structure. Bicola with chiastic order are most difficult to process, and indeed appear with waw 83% of the time when the verb is initial/final.

A second factor in the use of a coordinating waw is the case where a bicolon is itself subordinate to a larger structure as in Isaiah 30:17:

Is. 30:17 ‏עַ֣ד אִם־נוֹתַרְתֶּ֗ם כַּתֹּ֨רֶן֙ עַל־רֹ֣אשׁ הָהָ֔ר // וְכַנֵּ֖ס עַל־הַגִּבְעָֽה

Until you are left like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain // and [ ] like a signal on a hill.

Finally, when the verb is in final position the relationship of coordination to gapping is quite different. When the verb is gapped from the initial or medial position, waw is present in 79% and 80% of the cases respectively. However, when the verb is in final position, waw is only present in 30% of the cases. This may be due to sentence processing, since the verb is in final position, there is a clear demarcation from the non-verbal elements beginning the second clause. Often, in cases where no waw is present, the second colon does not contain two separate constituents, but a single two-part constituent as in Isaiah 21:1:

Is. 21:1b ‏ מִמִּדְבָּ֣ר בָּ֔א // מֵאֶ֖רֶץ נוֹרָאָֽה

From the desert it comes // from a terrible land.

These cases may be better analyzed not as verbal gapping, but as sentence with a second prepositional phrase in apposition which has been dislocated as an adjunct.

Explore posts in the same categories: Miller, Cynthia, Poetic Structure

One Comment on “Miller, Cynthia, “The Relation of Coordination to Verb Gapping in Biblical Poetry,” JSOT Vol 32.1 (2007): 41-60.”

  1. […] Post interacting with Cynthia Miller’s article published in JSOT 32/1 (2007) […]

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