Tag Archives: Grammar

Biblical Hebrew “Roots”

This quote from Lambdin struck me years ago when I first read it, and I just came across it again. I thought it was good to remind myself of this:

Note that the root is a grammatical abstraction from the given words and not vice versa; that is, because a root has no existence apart from its incorporation into words, it leads to misunderstanding the nature of language to say that the words are derived from the root.


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?

Robert Holmstedt on Reviewing Books on Their Own Terms

(HT Charles Halton) Robert Holmstedt has a thoughtful discussion up on Ancient Hebrew Grammar about reviewing books on their own terms. The objects of Robert’s critique are reviews by Korpel and Lim of his recent contribution on Ruth to the Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Bible series. For those new to book reviews (like me), Robert provides the basic elements of a review, based on the model he was taught by his mentors (the first two are critical, and the third is optional but desirable):

  1. a fair summary of the contents,
  2. an evaluation of the book on its own terms (often with specific examples taken from the book),
  3. some connection to the field in which the book belongs, preferably using a feature that is either present (noted as done well or not so well) or absent (and thus needed) in the book itself.

In his post, Holmstedt takes issue with the fact that both reviewers level criticisms at the text which appear to neglect the stated purposes of the series. Lim criticizes Robert for not interacting with non-English scholarship, and Korpel criticizes him for not going deep enough into principles of Hebrew grammar. The purpose of the Baylor Handbook series, however, is not to provide a comprehensive commentary, but rather a handbook for the intermediate student of Biblical Hebrew. In light of that, Robert argues, Lim and Korpel rather miss the mark, and I have to agree. I read Holmstedt’s book as an intermediate student of Biblical Hebrew at Oxford and I thought it was incredibly helpful. Ruth is one of the most popular books to cover late in beginning Hebrew and in intermediate Hebrew, and I think this volume provides an incredibly valuable resource to that study. The writing is clear and concise, and the discussion engages the principles on what seemed to me to be just the right level. Whether or not I agreed with every reading (or the fundamental S-V order), I knew well the reasons for Robert’s readings. It seems book reviews are becoming increasingly scrutinized of late, and that’s not a bad thing. We should take special care to understand a book’s aims and goals before deciding if it has failed or succeeded. Too many reviews fail in this regard.