SBL Paper on Object Marking in Biblical Poetry

I will be presenting a paper on the use of object marking in poetry during the Biblical Hebrew Poetry section in the late afternoon session next Monday at SBL. This paper is a first crack at the issue of why poets use object markers so infrequently. My preliminary survey of 30 Psalms shows that the distribution of object marking follows the definiteness and animacy scales as expected, and I conclude that the poets are using DOM naturally, just much less frequently. I propose two possible explanations:

(1) The poets are working with nonstandard or peripheral dialects in which DOM is simply used less frequently than the standard dialect

(2) The discourse structure of poetry does not require object marking to the same extent as prose, particularly narrative, since participant tracking is not as important.

I conclude by applying the method to examples of late poetry with unusually high counts of the object marker.

Here is a draft of the paper I will be reading if you are interested:




Biblical Hebrew Poetry
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: Room 24 B (Upper level) – San Diego Convention Center (CC)Theme: Linguistic Approaches to Biblical Hebrew Poetry
This session showcases research dedicated to linguistic analysis of biblical Hebrew poetry, the goal of which is service to the task of exegesis.

John Hobbins, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Presiding
Peter Bekins, Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion
Object Marking in Biblical Hebrew Poetry (30 min)
Vincent DeCaen, University of Toronto
Octosyllabism in Biblical Hebrew Poetry: Toward a Tetrametrical Analysis (30 min)
Break (5 min)
Scott Redd, Reformed Theological Seminary
Constituent Postponement and Defamiliarization in Biblical Hebrew Verse (30 min)
Joshua E. Stewart, Luther Rice University
Text-Linguistics and the Hebrew Psalter (30 min)
Richard Benton, Respondent (10 min)
Discussion (15 min)


Explore posts in the same categories: Uncategorized

6 Comments on “SBL Paper on Object Marking in Biblical Poetry”

  1. Have fun, Pete.
    Send me a final copy afterwards (no time to read it now, but I’ll be teaching advance BH grammar next spring or fall and have some students interested in poetry).

  2. bobmacdonald Says:

    Love the paper – sorry I can’t be there. I have been wondering about את these past few weeks particularly wrestling with Isaiah 53:9a. My questions are much more vague than your focus which I find very helpful. I may add a measure to my software to test your thesis – though I find your paper convincing and the examples excellent. I have also found the definiteness scale to be a serious issue when translating between English and Hebrew. Helpful again for me to see that there is a relationship between this and the object marker.

    One clear question occurs to me – when is את not an object marker? In Isaiah 53:9, most translations translate it as ‘with’.

    • Peter Bekins Says:

      Bob, thanks for the positive feedback. When the morphological form of את is ambiguous, you need to go to semantics and syntax. Were את the object marker here in Isa 53:9, then את רשעים must be a semantic patient and I would read נתנ as a verb of creation with two arguments in which רשעים and קרבו must be either material or product: “He will make (the?) wicked his grave” This doesn’t make much sense, and I would expect the definite קרבו to be marked by את rather than the formally indefinite (but possibly semantically definite if taken as generic) רשעים. How would you read it if את רשעים is an object?

      • bobmacdonald Says:

        Peter, thanks for the reply. I still have much to study. I am working with some (7) whole books in the writings, and bits and pieces of 18 other books at the moment. I have written a program to interpret the te’amim as music that displays in a music program. This gives me immediate insight into disjunctives and conjunctives at a sign level. I have worked extensively with recurring stem patterns over the last 3 years, with about 50,000 words in context in my data at the moment. But I am weak on parsing – though by reading and rereading, I am slowly gaining some recognition of words and phrases.

        So to answer your question from this data processing rather than academic or natural language background. Here is what I did with Isaiah 53:9:
        So he gives the wicked his tomb and the rich his deaths,^
        though he had done no violence and there was no deceit in his mouth.

        I see some theological significance if the verse is applied to Jesus. His death and burial is a multiple and usable gift. Also it paints a picture that is true in any age of a person who reflects the social oppression of economics. The plural of death is rare. I have looked briefly at one modern commentary (Blenkinsopp) and the traditional reading is not questioned. I found one native Hebrew speaker who did question the traditional reading.

  3. Peter Bekins Says:

    Ah, Bob, I see. You are reading it as a ditransitive verb in which רשעים is the recipient and קרבו is the theme. I actually looked into the semantics of this briefly in my dissertation. While English allows the recipient to be expressed as a direct object quite freely, this is incredibly rare in Biblical Hebrew and is only found with pronominal objects. The recipient must be marked as a dative by ל or אל, etc.

    • bobmacdonald Says:

      thank you – good point. Its those prepositions pointing to verbal patterns the way I should have learned them in my high-school Latin! The lack of such a preposition here is something I will keep my eyes open for. Good luck in your presentation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: