Infinitive Constructs in Qumran “Rule” Texts

I was talking with Martin Abegg today and I brought up a phenomenon I’ve noticed while syntactically tagging Cairo Damascus. I was having trouble finding verbs for a number of clauses that seemed only to be governed by an infinitive absolute with a lamed prefix. CD 1:14–18 provide some good examples. Here’s the Hebrew (according to the sentence divisions in Accordance):

בעמוד איש הלצון אשר הטיף לישראל
‭מימי כזב ויתעם בתוהו לא דרך להשח גבהות עולם ולסור
‭‬מנתיבות צדק ולסיע גבול אשר גבלו ראשנים בנחלתם למען
‭הדבק בהם את אלות בריתו להסגירם לחרב נקמת נקם

Wise, Abegg, and Cook provide the following translation (I’ve italicized the finite verbs):

When the Man of Mockery appeared, who sprayed on Israel lying waters, he led them to wander in the trackless wasteland. He brought down the lofty heights of old, turned aside from paths of righteousness, and shifted the boundary marks that the forefathers had set up to mark their inheritance, so that the curses of His covenant took hold on them. Because of this they were handed over to the sword that avenges the breach of His covenant.

All the other verbs, except for “avenges” at the end are infinitive constructs (“avenges” is a participle), and all but two have lamed prefixes. That’s quite a few infinitive constructs acting as finite verbs. Martin said he found the same phenomenon in 1QS and in one other text, and if we add CD to the list, it only appears consistently in the “rule” or “manual” documents, and nowhere else. Here are a few lines from 1QS:

ל[‏  ]שים לחיו‏ [ספר סר]כ היחד לדרושל[‏  ]שים לחיו‏ [ספר סר]כ היחד לדרוש
‭‬אל ב[כול לב ובכול נפש‏ ]לעשות הטוב והישר לפניו כאשר
‭‬צוה ביד מושה וביד כול עבדיו הנביאים ולאהוב כול
‭‬אשר בחר ולשנוא את כול אשר מאס לרחוק מכול רע
‬ולדבוק בכול מעשי טוב ולעשות אמת וצדקה ומשפט
‭   צראב

Here is the Wise, Abegg, and Cook translation, with finite verbs italicized:

A text belonging to [the Instructor, who is to teach the Ho]ly Ones how to live according to the book of the Yahad’s Rule. He is to teach them to seek God with all their heart and with all their soul, to do that which is good and upright before Him, just as He commanded through Moses and all His servants the prophets. He is to teach them to love everything He chose and to hate everything He rejected, to distance themselves from all evil and to hold fast to all good deeds; to practice truth, justice, and righteousness in the land.

Everything else is an infinitive construct with a lamed prefix. Is this indicative of some developing use of the infinitive construct within legal material?


12 responses to “Infinitive Constructs in Qumran “Rule” Texts

  • John Meade


    Yes, this is a development, if I remember right. I believe Qimron’s grammar of the DSS treats the infinitives with lamed in 1QS. I had to read 1QS for a seminar and those infinitives were strange at first. There is another plate which has many of them, but I can’t remember where right now. I may have a chance to check my notes and add more here.


  • robertholmstedt

    I’d hesitate to assign it a genre, but it does seem to represent a development. The challenge is to identify the conditions in which the l+inf is used as a narrative verb. I did a quick check and see that it is never used as the main verb within relative clauses. So, it’s clearly not patterning like a perfect/qatal. Next would be to see if it allows an overt subject to precede; if so, it doesn’t pattern like wayyiqtol. Finally, your two passages seem to differ significantly in the apparent semantics of the l+inf. It may be that what’s happening the QH is a extension of what had already begun in BH—the use of the l+inf in purpose/result clauses is extended to generally subordinate narrative clauses, that is, clauses that are logically or temporally anchored to an overt qatal/yiqtol in the context. Indeed, if I remember 1QS correctly, there even seem to be a few examples where the overt qatal/yiqtol is not present, representing yet another step in the path of development, i.e., an anchor isn’t necessary because the l+inf has become a finite verb in its own right.

    Interesting stuff. Abegg certainly needs to figure it out once and for all.

  • Robert C. Kashow

    see my recent post on hag 1. its normal.

    • robertholmstedt

      Not quite …

      First, Daniel is talking about the infinitive construct with a prefixed lamed. Hag 1 has inf. absolute forms.

      Second, the use of the absolute as a finite verb is well-known but poorly understood. There have been many studies of it, but the best on its narrative use (not the imperative use) remains unpublished: a conference paper by Randall Garr from 6-7 years ago, in which he argued (convincingly, IMO) that inf. abs. like those in Hag 1 are subordinate to a main finite verb.

      Finally, the comment on your blog about Phoenician is a bit misleading. The use of an uninflected verb as a narrative verb (what Hebraists identify as an infinitive, although it *might* not have been the same thing) appears in El Amarna Canaanite and arguably only 4 Phoenician texts — 3 Anatolian (Karatepe, Çineköy, and Kilamuwa) and 1 late Byblian (Yahawwimilk).

      • Robert C. Kashow

        yes but inf abs and constructs being inf function similarly. Both being able to carry the force of a preceding verbal element. J-M seems to have adequate examples of both the inf abs and constr doing this.

      • Robert C. Kashow

        btw, re: the Phoenician comment, I cannot be responsible for what those crazy Berkley PhD students say. 🙂

      • robertholmstedt

        Hmmm … “Carrying the force of the preceding verbal element” is delightfully ambiguous, and as such, is not very helpful.

        If you count the number of forms (8x) listed in JM §124p (or the 3 examples in WOC §36.3.2) then it becomes clear that this is not “normal” in any biblical text, in contrast to the frequent usage in some Qumran texts. Hence, the point of Daniel’s post is about a possible “developmental path”.

        This highlights a problem with JM (and WOC): one any reference grammar takes “Biblical” Hebrew as its descriptive object, phenomena like this are unhelpfully lumped into small little paragraphs that are then taken as “normal” for all biblical texts and linguistic stages represented by them.

        As I said before, the use of the infinitives are finite verbs in relatively rare cases in the Hebrew Bible is well-known but poorly understood. To call them “normal” is not accurate.

        But, I am always willing to defer to greater expertise in Hebrew grammar.

      • Robert C. Kashow

        Now I see exactly where you are taking issue. Perhaps “normal” is not the right word (though this conversation could easily turn to a highly philosophical and linguistic one). Given that I posted on it on my blog, surely I recognize it is not an everyday encounter. What I meant was that it is a phenomenon that does occurs elsewhere and at least has begun ‘development’ in exilic/post-exilic texts. I’m not denying that it became something bigger as time continued.

        re: “carrying the force of a preceding verbal element” I guess what I’m suggesting it that it seems almost equivilant with a waw plus perfect consecutive. Is such “subordinate”? Sure.

        I appreciate your dialogue and nuancing of my comment. I recognize of course your superiority these matters — your work is quite good.

  • Robert Holmstedt

    BTW, my last comment may read snarkily but I was actually thinking that perhaps there is a full study out there of which I am unaware–something like the recent study of the tautologically inf abs that came out as a Johns Hopkins thesis and now published in HSS. I haven’t read it yet but I have high hopes.

    • Robert Holmstedt

      Ok–my last follow-up was too slow and my comment was taken snarkily.

      The point is that the issue hasn’t (to my knowledge) been studied adequately. And JM and WOC simply don’t suffice. Daniel (and Marty Abegg) are on to something and a synchronic and diachronic study is needed.

      • Robert C. Kashow

        No, to be clear I wasn’t reading your last comment as a snarky comment. I know what you were saying by deferring ‘to greater expertise in Hebrew grammar.’ When I said “i recognize of course your superiority in these matters …” I was being genuine, that is, showing respect, realizing that I am only whimming at the hip at a descriptive level of what I see and encounter in texts and am unaware of the context of scholarship on the issue at present.

        Make sense?

        BTW I only refer to JM and WO as a starting point of course b/c they listed examples for descriptive examination.

      • robertholmstedt

        Then we have a profitable meeting of minds!

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