Smith, Mark S. The Origins and Development of the Waw-consecutive. Harvard Semitic Studies 39. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1991.

As the title indicates, this monograph is concerned with a diachronic look at the waw-consecutive in the Northwest Semitic languages (NWS), that is the wayyiqtol and weqatal forms of biblical Hebrew. Smith studies a wide array of evidence from the Amarna letters, Ugaritic, Hebrew inscriptions, Hebrew Bible, and Qumran Hebrew. He is interested both in the origins of the waw-consecutive forms and their development over time as they begin to drop out of regular usage in the various dialects.

The discovery of the Amarna texts provided comparative evidence that has all but solved the enigma of the wayyiqtol form. Bergsträsser’s reconstruction has been generally followed by most scholars. At one point, NWS had a preterite *yaqtul and a present-future *yaqtulu. With the loss of short final vowels, these two forms fell together. Thus the preterite *yaqtul form was generally lost in Hebrew apart from some forms of poetry. The function of the preterite *yaqtul was taken over by *qatala which caused the verbal system to realign. No longer were the main forms *yaqtul preterite, *yaqtulu present-future, and *qatVl stative, but *qatala past and *yaqtulu present-future. However, the *yaqtul preterite was preserved in restricted environments where it was prefixed by waw. Bergsträsser suggested that Hebrew then developed a weqatal form on analogy to the wayyiqtol form.

Moran has argued that since the *qatala form developed from the stative, *qatVl, it can be characterized as timeless in its earliest history. He provides many examples of the form in the Amarna letters that seems to refer to a future time-frame. These can be broken into three categories 1) *qatala in independent clauses; 2) protases of conditional/temporal sentences; and 3) apodoses of conditional sentences. All but one of the 123 independent uses are statives. Further, the use of *qatala in conditional clauses seems to reflect a wider Semitic tendency to use past-tense forms (I would say perfect forms) in such contexts. Arabic, Ethiopic, and biblical Hebrew all use *qatala in conditional sentences, while Akkadian uses the *iqtul form. Smith therefore suggests that the use of waw + *qatala to express future in independent clauses is an extension of its use in conditional clauses as an analogy to the development of wayyiqtol.

There is a relative lack of the *yaqtul preterite in the Ugaritic prose texts, suggesting that it was already obsolete in the spoken language. Similarly, there are no clear examples of a weqatal form in the Ugaritic literature apart from conditional sentences. While the preserved preterite *yaqtul appears in many Semitic languages, the relationship of wayyiqtol and weqatal seems to be developed solely in biblical Hebrew prose.

The wayyiqtol form appears in several first millenium inscriptions spanning Hebrew, Moabite, Aramaic, and the Deir ‘Alla inscription. Thus it seems to be a shared feature of several first century NWS dialects. In many of these examples it is clearly being used as the main narrative tense similar to biblical Hebrew prose (see the Mesha Stone for example). However, the contrast of the few wayyiqtol forms with numerous perfects suggests that the form is already beginning to become obsolete by the 9th century in Old Aramaic and during the 6th century in Hebrew. As expected, the weqatal form is only found in Hebrew inscriptions.

In studying the biblical evidence, Smith distinguishes between narrative material and direct discourse, the implication being that direct discourse more closely reflects the spoken dialect while narrative reflects the more conservative literary dialect. Indeed, direct discourse shows a wider variety of verbal forms including freestanding verbal forms and participles as main verbs in main clauses. Rendsburg has gone so far as to argue that the use of the wayyiqtol in direct discourse is a scribal intrusion and that the consecutive tenses were not used in the spoken dialects. On the other hand, Blau has argued that the consecutive tenses were a regular feature of spoken Hebrew. Literary Hebrew merely restricted the options. MacDonald has taken a middle position, suggesting that consecutive forms were a feature of higher social dialects and formal speech.

The use of consecutive tenses seems to have fallen off in the post-exilic period. This is most apparent in Esther and Ezra, where wayyiqtols are used, but freestanding perfects are also conspicuous in the narrative. Nehemiah and Daniel show the same tendency, though their first person narrative borders on direct discourse. The influence of direct discourse on the literary language may help explain the gradual disappearance of consecutive forms.

Finally, studying the language from Qumran, Smith suggests that where consecutive forms are used they are archaic, or imitative of biblical style. However in the texts analyzed (CD, Pesharim, 1QS, 1QSa, 1Qsb, War Scroll, Temple Scroll, and 4QMMT) the consecutive forms clearly outweigh freestanding verbal forms. However, the analysis is complicated by the mix of genres and possible influence of other dialects on the language of the scrolls.

Explore posts in the same categories: Semitic Verbal System, Smith, Mark S.

2 Comments on “Smith, Mark S. The Origins and Development of the Waw-consecutive. Harvard Semitic Studies 39. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1991.”

  1. […] of canonical composition. Another review by Pete Bekins focuses on Mark Smith’s classic The Origins and Development of the Waw-consecutive. Such constructive grammatical work comes in handy when addressing the barrage of translation posts […]

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