Archive for July 2009

More evidence of the Kaufman effect?

July 25, 2009

Duane Smith recently posted a link to an interesting discussion of the order of פ and ע in the acrostics in Lamentations (איכה). The issue is that in the acrostics in chapters 2-4 the פ section precedes ע. The author, Mitchell First, argues that this is because פ actually preceded ע in the alphabet in the period of the Judges and First Temple. Interestingly, in the Qumran documents, the פ verse precedes ע in the first chapter as well:

(4Q111 3:7) • פרשה {{°°}}  ציון בי֯[דיה 

אין] (4Q111 3:8) מנחם לה מכול אוהביה 

צדיק אתה יהוה 

צפה אדוני ליעקוב 

סביב[יו צריו] 

(4Q111 3:9) היתה ציוׄן לנדוח בניהמהׄ.

 (4Q111 3:9) • על אלה בכו֯ 

עיני ירדה דמעתי 

כיא רחקׄ[ ממני] (4Q111 3:10) מ֯[נחם 

משיב ]נפש 

היו בני֯ שוממים

[ כיא ]גׄבר אויב.


Now, the Kaufman effect is the idea that in a frequently copied text, the end of the text seems to have fewer scribal improvements than its beginning. This is based on the fact that people are lazy. We put a lot of effort into the beginning of our work, but by the end we just copy. Hence, it is not surprising that the alphabetic order would be “corrected” in chapter 1, but left alone in the following chapters. 


Tense-switching in LBH

July 25, 2009

In my previous series of posts, one of my hesitations in applying tense-switching to biblical poetry was the assumption that the syntax of biblical narrative and poetry are somehow “synchronic”. The Hebrew found roughly in Genesis-Kings is referred to as Classical Biblical Hebrew (CBH) or Standard Biblical Hebrew (SBH) and is generally assumed to be a formal literary southern urban (most likely Jerusalem) dialect. This is certainly not proven beyond a doubt, but while other  dialects may creep in depending upon the source of the text or the purpose of the author, the dialect across these books seems highly standardized. One of the standard features is the consistent use of verbal morphology combined with word order, what Niccacci terms tense-switching, to indicate tense/aspect and prominence.

Even within SBH, the system begins to break down a bit as we move from narrative proper to direct speech, but what happens when we move completely away from SBH to another dialect, such as Late Biblical Hebrew (LBH)? Jan Joosten has a helpful article (“The Disappearance of Iterative WEQATAL in the Biblical Hebrew Verbal system,” Pages 135 – 147 in Biblical Hebrew in its Northwest Semitic Setting, Eisenbrauns, 2006) in which he argues that, while still used as a future/modal, the past iterative function of weqatal has all but disappeared in LBH and is being replaced by weyiqtol

For instance, notice the chain of weyiqtols in 2 Chr 24:11 where we would expect weqatal:

2Chr 24:11 וַיְהִ֡י בְּעֵת֩ יָבִ֨יא אֶת־הָֽאָר֜וֹן אֶל־פְּקֻדַּ֣ת הַמֶּלֶךְ֮ בְּיַ֣ד הַלְוִיִּם֒ וְכִרְאוֹתָ֞ם כִּי־רַ֣ב הַכֶּ֗סֶף וּבָ֨א סוֹפֵ֤ר הַמֶּ֙לֶךְ֙ וּפְקִיד֙ כֹּהֵ֣ן הָרֹ֔אשׁ וִיעָ֙רוּ֙ אֶת־הָ֣אָר֔וֹן וְיִשָּׂאֻ֖הוּ וִֽישִׁיבֻ֣הוּ אֶל־מְקֹמ֑וֹ כֹּ֤ה עָשׂוּ֙ לְי֣וֹם ׀ בְּי֔וֹם וַיַּֽאַסְפוּ־כֶ֖סֶף לָרֹֽב׃12 וַיִּתְּנֵ֨הוּ הַמֶּ֜לֶךְ וִֽיהוֹיָדָ֗ע אֶל־עוֹשֵׂה֙ מְלֶ֙אכֶת֙ עֲבוֹדַ֣ת בֵּית־יְהוָ֔ה 

11 And when the chest would be brought to the king’s officers by the Levites, when they saw that there was much money in it, the king’s secretary and the officer of the chief priest would come and would empty the chest (weyiqtol) and would take it (weyiqtol) and would return it (weyiqtol) to its place. Thus they did day after day, and they collected money in abundance. 12 And the king and Jehoiada gave it to those who had charge of the work of the house of the LORD…

Joosten notes that it is possible that these are wayyiqtol‘s which have been mispointed, since in Kings we do have examples of weqatal followed by wayyiqtol as an iterative (in fact, such a construction is in the similar account in 2 Kg 12:11). However, usually the Masoretes mistakenly point weyiqtol as wayyiqtol, not the other way around. Further, the abundance of examples of weyiqtol as an iterative in LBH texts supports the pointing of the MT. 

This change seems to be part of a larger realignment of the verbal system as it moves toward Mishnaic Hebrew. The wayyiqtol form is gradually falling out of use, and if we look forward to the Isaiah Scroll from Qumran we see that the scribe consistently replaced wayyiqtol with a qatal form. Note also that the Isaiah scroll replaces iterative weqatal with weyiqtol. In LBH narrative, we already see weqatal (ie conjunctive waw + clause initial qatal) as a non-iterative past tense.  This is the normal narrative tense in Official Aramaic, which already dropped the wayyiqtol, and will become the narrative tense in Mishnaic Hebrew. For example, take Ezra 3:10:

Ezra 3:10 וְיִסְּד֥וּ הַבֹּנִ֖ים אֶת־הֵיכַ֣ל יְהוָ֑ה

10 And the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord 

I think we can pull a few things from this. First, wayyiqtol is the special case. Most likely, the preterite was used clause initially in narrative contexts because this position is iconic for sequence, but it then became a frozen form so that the waw was reinterpreted as part of the verb, thus it is proper to speak of wayyiqtol as a verbal form. Obviously, there is no possibility of a non-clause-initial wayyiqtol

However, to speak of weqatal, x-qatal, weyiqtol, and x-yiqtol is to combine (and perhaps confuse) the semantics of the verbal morphology with the pragmatics of word-order. Here I agree with John Cook that wayyiqtol and weqatal should be seen as two separate things. The past iterative use of weqatal flows from the modality of the perfect, just as the past iterative use of x-yiqtol flows from the modality of yiqtol. Hence there is no problem with an iterative weyiqtol. The word-order has to do with whether the verbs are sequential or not. Both weqatal and weyiqtol are clause initial, thus iconic for sequence (note that I’m not saying marked for sequence). It seems to me that there is no reason why the classical dialect could not have used weyiqtol for foregrounded iterative action, it just chose weqatal as the standard form. This gives a nice symmetry to the system since x-yiqtol is used as past iterative in non-sequential circumstances, while x-qatal is reserved for circumstantial clauses. However, once the simple past use of weqatal begins to encroach, it makes sense to move to weyiqtol instead.

So, we see that the system of tense-switching doesn’t quite hold for LBH. It is not unreasonable to assume that similar differences would be found in dialects that differ geographically from SBH as well. For instance, northern dialects may be more influenced by Aramaic which did not use weqatal as an iterative either. Thus, while I agree that the syntax of poetry should not differ greatly from that of prose, we cannot assume that SBH is necessarily the prose dialect we should be using as a baseline reference.

OK, I swear I’m done with Niccacci now. Really.

DABHVSinP – Part 8: Conclusion

July 13, 2009

Sorry for the long delay, but I was pulled onto other projects at home (like caring for my wife who unexpectedly had to have her gall bladder removed). I could go on with this series forever, but I will try to wrap it up with this post. I am not completely satisfied with my findings, but I need to move on with my dissertation and get off of this rabbit trail.

In my last post I looked a bit at the way direct speech differs from biblical narrative in respect to tense-switching as a means for expressing grounding. The most obvious difference is that biblical narrative style uses a chain of syndetic clauses with very few explicit logical or temporal connectors. Thus tense-switching seems to be the predominate method of implying subordination. However, in the example of direct speech most of the clauses were asyndetic, the only exceptions being the couplets joined by parallelism and the use of the qatal > wayyiqtol shift to express subordination. As I turn my attention to poetry, it is parallelism that may be the biggest stumbling block for the usefulness of tense-switching as an explanation for the unique use of the verbal system.

Since Kugel’s work on parallelism, scholars have been more inclined to view poetry and prose as poles on a continuum. Kugel argued both that parallelism is not restricted to poetry and that a good amount of biblical poetry doesn’t use parallelism. He went on to argue against the standard distinction of a poetry corpus within biblical literature, but most scholars have not followed him that far. Still, it is important to recognize that prosaic elements exist within poems and vice versa. You may remember the use of parallelism integrated seamlessly into Jacob’s speech in the last post.

Thus, to the extent that a poetic text includes prosaic features, we would expect the syntax to work as it does in prose. Where a psalm is heavily influenced by narrative, as in Psalm 78, I think it is fitting to consider whether shifts from wayyiqtol to other verbal forms have a discourse-pragmatic function of expressing grounding. However, to me this seems to be a small % of texts and not extremely useful for explaining the verbal system in the psalms as a whole. And, even though a psalm like 78 is influenced by narrative, it is not exactly the same as narrative (even in direct speech). How do we account for the poetic features? Should we see a narrative framework with poetic features intruding, or a poetic passage with some wayyiqtols thrown in to give it a narrative feel?

Take a series such as Ps 78:14-15 (Niccacci’s translation):

14 וַיַּנְחֵ֣ם בֶּעָנָ֣ן יוֹמָ֑ם and [He] led them with a cloud in the daytime,
וְכָל־הַ֝לַּ֗יְלָה בְּא֣וֹר אֵֽשׁ׃ And all the night with a fiery light.
15 יְבַקַּ֣ע צֻ֭רִים בַּמִּדְבָּ֑ר By cleaving (‘ was cleaving’) rocks in the wilderness,
וַ֝יַּ֗שְׁקְ כִּתְהֹמ֥וֹת רַבָּֽה׃ he gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.

Niccacci sees the shift wayyiqtol > yiqtol from verse 14 to 15 as grounding, and he takes the yiqtol as past imperfective (I think this would be better translated as a past habitual: “He would cleave rocks in the wilderness and give them drink abundantly as from the deep.”) However, we would expect wayyiqtol > (waw)-xyiqtol to signal a switch to past habitual, not a clause-initial yiqtol. Niccacci argues that here we do have xyiqtol, but that a sentence initial pronoun has been dropped through ellipsis, thus poetry has intruded on the narrative. However, consider the sequence in verses 49-50:

49‏ יְשַׁלַּח־בָּ֨ם ׀ חֲר֬וֹן אַפּ֗וֹ He let loose on them his burning anger,
עֶבְרָ֣ה וָזַ֣עַם וְצָרָ֑ה wrath, indignation, and distress
מִ֝שְׁלַ֗חַת מַלְאֲכֵ֥י רָעִֽים׃ a troop of angels of disaster
‎50‏ יְפַלֵּ֥ס נָתִ֗יב לְאַ֫פּ֥וֹ He made a path for his anger
לֹא־חָשַׂ֣ךְ מִמָּ֣וֶת נַפְשָׁ֑ם He did not spare them from death
וְ֝חַיָּתָ֗ם לַדֶּ֥בֶר הִסְגִּֽיר׃ But their lives he handed over to the plague

Notice that both of these verses begin with initial yiqtols, but there is no tense-switch from or back to wayyiqtol for the foreground. Instead, the sequence is yiqtol (יְשַׁלַּח), yiqtol (יְפַלֵּ֥ס), qatal (לֹא־חָשַׂ֣ךְ), xqatal (הִסְגִּֽיר). The temporal reference remains past tense during the entire section, and it is hard to see how the yiqtols can be taken as imperfective. Rather, we seem to have a yiqtol used as a simple past tense, which opens up the possibility that back in verse 15 יְבַקַּ֣ע was really just a simple past tense also. Thus, it could be that what we have there is not the poetic feature of ellipsis obscuring the normal narrative syntax of wayyiqtol > xyiqtol indicating a switch to background information (which is a weak argument in the first place), but merely the use of a different, albeit rare, past tense form – the short preterite.

When we turn to look at the normal situation in poetry, parallelismus membrorum (see here), I think that this solution becomes more appealing. Nicholas Lunn has written a fine dissertation investigating word-order in biblical poetry. He found that the word order of the first colon, the a-colon, largely tends to follow the standard order (ie VSO, with the expected shifts for pragmatic reasons of topicalization or focus). However, the b-colon often deviates from this with an unexpected word-order. Lunn explains this with the concept of defamiliarisation. This is a device by which poets purposefully make language more difficult to understand in order to prolong the process of experiencing the art. This is evident not only in word-order, but also in the choice of rare words which seem to occur more frequently in the b-colon, and I would add, perhaps also rare verb forms such as the old short preterite. It is no coincidence then that the most common switch seems to be qatal > yiqtol, and not the opposite.

Further, the relationship between the cola in parallelismus membrorum is different than sequential clauses within a narrative or discourse where an idea is developing progressively. Often, the point of a b-colon is to stop and repeat the same idea using synonymous (or antithetical) language. In such a situation, I don’t know that it is proper to think of one clause as being subordinate to the other. take for example Psalm 78:5:

5‏ וַיָּ֤קֶם עֵד֨וּת ׀ בְּֽיַעֲקֹ֗ב And he established a testimony in Jacob
וְתוֹרָה֮ שָׂ֤ם בְּיִשְׂרָ֫אֵ֥ל And a law he appointed in Israel.

Here both cola refer to the same event, but the merismus “Jacob and Israel” has been split and expanded into two cola (which is a common feature of biblical poetry). Therefore, the switch from wayyiqtol to qatal probably should not be taken as a signal of background or subordination, but a by-product of the insertion of parallelism into the flow of thought. This happens in narrative texts as well, take Gen 21:1:

21:1‏ וַֽיהוָ֛ה פָּקַ֥ד אֶת־שָׂרָ֖ה כַּאֲשֶׁ֣ר אָמָ֑ר And the Lord visited Sarah as He said
וַיַּ֧עַשׂ יְהוָ֛ה לְשָׂרָ֖ה כַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר דִּבֵּֽר׃ And he did to Sarah as He spoke.

The next verse picks up again with a wayyiqtol and continues the narrative. Another reason why I don’t think tense-switching between parallel cola should be taken pragmatically as a mark of backgrounding is the great number of parallel cola that do not switch tense at all. For example, Psalm 78:16:

16‏ וַיּוֹצִ֣א נוֹזְלִ֣ים מִסָּ֑לַע He caused streams to come out of the rock
וַיּ֖וֹרֶד כַּנְּהָר֣וֹת מָֽיִם and he caused water to flow down like rivers.

Here we have synonymous parallelism, but both cola use wayyiqtols. I can see no difference in the context between the function of parallelism here and elsewhere, but perhaps I am missing something.

In conclusion then, it seems to me that tense-switching as a mark of background ultimately fails to add to our understanding of the use of the verb in poetry. Rather, I think the majority of cases of a switch from qatal > yiqtol can be explained by defamiliarisation. That is, the poet has used a rare preterite form for the b-colon to make it bit more difficult to understand. I do think Niccacci is right to be more sensitive to the past imperfective use of yiqtol, especially in narrative-like contexts. There are some cases where I agree that a past habitual may be a better translation than simple past, and from a quick scan of the Psalms I see many examples where yiqtol is used in obviously past imperfective situations. For example, Ps 39:4:

4‏ חַם־לִבִּ֨י ׀ בְּקִרְבִּ֗י My heart became hot within me
בַּהֲגִיגִ֥י תִבְעַר־אֵ֑שׁ While I mused, fire was burning
דִּ֝בַּ֗רְתִּי בִּלְשֽׁוֹנִי׃ I spoke with my tongue

Again, note that we do not have any of the standard tense-switching constructions here as the other verbs are both clause-initial qatals. In poetry then, I think that we must be more sensitive to the semantics of the verb on its own, rather than expecting the elegant system found in narrative where we can rely on the word-order.

Codex Sinaiticus online

July 6, 2009

The website is here. It looks very slick. The layout allows you to view the manuscript in a large window with transcription and translation in smaller windows on the right.

DABHVSinP – Part 7: Direct Speech

July 1, 2009

Chip Hardy has resumed posting at Daily Hebrew, and Monday’s installment was part of a speech made by Jacob to Laban in Genesis 31. This is an interesting example of the way direct speech is similar and dissimilar to narrative in respect to grounding.

38 זֶה֩ עֶשְׂרִ֨ים שָׁנָ֤ה אָנֹכִי֙ עִמָּ֔ךְ These 20 years I [have been] with you.
Section 1
רְחֵלֶ֥יךָ וְעִזֶּ֖יךָ לֹ֣א שִׁכֵּ֑לוּ Your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried,
וְאֵילֵ֥י צֹאנְךָ֖ לֹ֥א אָכָֽלְתִּי׃ and the rams of your flocks I have not eaten
Section 2
39 טְרֵפָה֙ לֹא־הֵבֵ֣אתִי אֵלֶ֔יךָ A torn carcass I did not bring to you.
אָנֹכִ֣י אֲחַטֶּ֔נָּה I myself would bear its loss.
מִיָּדִ֖י תְּבַקְשֶׁ֑נָּה From my hand you would require it.
גְּנֻֽבְתִ֣י י֔וֹם One stolen during the day
וּגְנֻֽבְתִ֖י לָֽיְלָה׃ or one stolen at night.
Section 3
40 הָיִ֧יתִי I was –
בַיּ֛וֹם אֲכָלַ֥נִי חֹ֖רֶב by day, the heat ate me
וְקֶ֣רַח בַּלָּ֑יְלָה and the frost by night,
וַתִּדַּ֥ד שְׁנָתִ֖י מֵֽעֵינָֽי׃ so my sleep fled from me.
Section 4
41 זֶה־לִּ֞י עֶשְׂרִ֣ים שָׁנָה֮ בְּבֵיתֶךָ֒ I have had these 20 years in your house.
עֲבַדְתִּ֜יךָ אַרְבַּֽע־עֶשְׂרֵ֤ה שָׁנָה֙ בִּשְׁתֵּ֣י בְנֹתֶ֔יךָ I have served you 14 years for your two daughters,
וְשֵׁ֥שׁ שָׁנִ֖ים בְּצֹאנֶ֑ךָ and six years for your flocks,
וַתַּחֲלֵ֥ף אֶת־מַשְׂכֻּרְתִּ֖י עֲשֶׂ֥רֶת מֹנִֽים׃ and you have changed my wages 10 times.
Section 5
42 לוּלֵ֡י אֱלֹהֵ֣י אָבִי֩ אֱלֹהֵ֨י אַבְרָהָ֜ם וּפַ֤חַד יִצְחָק֙ הָ֣יָה לִ֔י Had I not had the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac,
כִּ֥י עַתָּ֖ה רֵיקָ֣ם שִׁלַּחְתָּ֑נִי you would have now sent me away empty.
אֶת־עָנְיִ֞י וְאֶת־יְגִ֧יעַ כַּפַּ֛י רָאָ֥ה אֱלֹהִ֖ים My affliction and the labor of my hands, God saw,
וַיּ֥וֹכַח אָֽמֶשׁ׃ and he rebuked [you] yesterday.

First off, notice that every clause is asyndetic except for the second clause of a parallel pair and the few wayyiqtol clauses. This is a stark contrast to the chain of syndetic clauses in narrative. Similarly, word order is no longer iconic with sequence, and there is not a verb-initial clause until verse 40 (and after that only the wayyiqtols are clause-initial).

At the risk of over-simplifying, in biblical Hebrew word order has been recognized to be related to the information structure of the sentence. The clause-initial element tends to be the focus of the sentence, ie the new information that is being related. In a narrative clause the normal word order is V(erb)S(ubject)O(bject), and it is the predicate (V + O) that is the focus. The subject has usually already been introduced elsewhere. When other constituents appear clause-initially there are two cases. If the predicate can be presupposed from the context, then the clause-initial constituent is in focus. However, if it is an entirely new event being reported, then the entire sentence is in focus and the clause-initial element is usually being introduced as topic. Thus, within the sentence it is the clause-initial element that tends to be most prominent. A good example of this occurs in verse 39 where a טְרֵפָה֙ is introduced as topic. Notice how all the following references to the טְרֵפָה֙ are anaphoric.

Now, that describes the prominence of the elements within a clause, but how can we measure the prominence of one clause in relation to another? For instance, in Section 1 we have a nice poetic couplet. Both clauses provide evidence of how Jacob treated Laban’s animals well, and they are grammatically equivalent. Perhaps Jacob being the subject of the second clause raises its prominence slightly since he is highly salient in the discourse.

In Section 2 we have an interesting sequence of verbs: lo qatal (irrealis) > x + yiqtol (past habitual) > x+yiqtol (past habitual). In narrative these would all be background. Again, all three seem to be evidence toward the point that Jacob worked hard and seem equally prominent (at least there is no indication of prominence related to “tense-switching”).

Section 3 is a bit more interesting. Here we have a sequence qatal > wayyiqtol which would signal a shift from background to foreground. There is a disjunction after the first clause, and the second and third clauses are very poetic, exhibiting both chiasm and ellipsis of the verb. The events are simultaneous so there is no sequence here, but it seems to me that there is a cause > effect relationship that would indeed correspond to a background > foreground shift, something like “It being the fact that the heat ate me during the day and the cold at night, I didn’t get any sleep.” It is interesting that the idea of not sleeping is flipped around from a negative to a positive, could this have been done specifically to use a wayyiqtol?

In Section 4 we again have a qatal > wayyiqtol shift. This time the relationship is not cause > effect, but more like “despite the fact that I did this…you did this.” This again seems to be consistent with a background > foreground shift. The first sentence in Section 6 is an unreal conditional statement, but the second half again shows a shift qatal > wayyiqtol. Here there is another cause > effect relationship that seems consistent with the background > foreground shift. 

In summary, from this one example it seems that “tense-shifting” may still be related to grounding within the smaller structures of the text, ie within major sections, but it does not seem to have any relation to the macro structure which is organized by topicalization, parallelism, repetition, etc. 

For work on word-order and information structure see Heimerdinger’s dissertation mentioned previously as well as Nicholas Lunn’s Word-Order Variation in biblical Hebrew Poetry, Paternoster, 2006, and Sebastian Floor’s unpublished Stellenbosch dissertation From Information Structure, Topic, and Focus to Theme in Biblical Hebrew Narrative.