Robert Holmstedt and John Cook
In a previous post, I (RDH) partially based my analysis of the syntax of Gen 1.1 within the larger structure of Gen 1.1-3 on the existence of examples where a wayyiqtol clause has a Topic-fronted Prepositional Phrase that is located before the wayyiqtol, such as Gen 22.4 (1).
(1) Gen 22:4 בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֗י וַיִּשָּׂ֨א אַבְרָהָ֧ם אֶת־עֵינָ֛יו וַיַּ֥רְא אֶת־הַמָּק֖וֹם מֵרָחֹֽק׃
‘On the third day, Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from afar.’
In this post, we follow that description of Gen 1.1-3 with additional supporting data and analysis.
In Gen 22.4, there is no other verb than וישׂא for the initial PP ביום השׁלישׁי to be related to. Thus, unless one proposes that the PP is a complement within a null Subject, null copula clause, e.g., ‘(It) (was) on the third day’, the only alternative (I can think of) is to take the PP as an adjunct of וישׂא that has been fronted as a (scene-setting) Topic. (On the nature of Topic-fronting, see the discussion in Holmstedt 2009, here.)
If we are correct in the fronting analysis of the PP, it leaves the ו on וישׂא in an interesting place—just sitting there between the fronted adjunct and the verb. Some might be tempted to argue that this supports seeing the waw as an integral part of the complex wayyiqtol verb. Such a view of the wayyiqtol has been taken in Hebrew studies.
But we do not find this option compelling. First, all things being equal, it is simpler to take the form at face value: the waw is a waw and the yiqtol is a yiqtol (on the gemination, see Holmstedt 2009:125, n. 32 and sources cited there). Second, we point to other places where the waw sits at phrase edges, e.g., in apposition (2), at the beginning of parentheses (3), after a fronted phrase (4) and between left-dislocated constituents and the clause proper (5).
(2) 1 Sam 17.40 וַיִּקַּח מַקְלוֹ בְּיָדוֹ וַיִּבְחַר־לוֹ חֲמִשָּׁה חַלֻּקֵי־אֲבָנִים מִן־הַנַּחַל וַיָּשֶׂם אֹתָם בִּכְלִי הָרֹעִים אֲשֶׁר־לוֹ וּבַיַּלְקוּט
‘And he took his staff in his hand and he chose for himself five smooth stones from the ravine and he put them in the shepherds’ bag he had, that is, in the pouch’ (see Waltke-O’Connor §39.2.1b #6)
(3) Gen 14.13 וְהוּא שֹׁכֵן בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא הָאֱמֹרִי אֲחִי אֶשְׁכֹּל וַאֲחִי עָנֵר וְהֵם בַּעֲלֵי בְרִית־אַבְרָם
‘he [=Abram] was dwelling at the Oaks of Mamre, the Amorite, brother of ‘Eshkol and brother of ‘Aner (they were covenanters of Abram’s)’
(4) 2 Kgs 16.14 וְאֵת הַמִּזְבַּח הַנְּחֹשֶׁת אֲשֶׁר לִפְנֵי יְהוָה וַיַּקְרֵב מֵאֵת פְּנֵי הַבַּיִת
‘And the bronze altar that was before Yhwh he removed from the front of the Temple … ‘
(5) Gen 17.14 וְעָרֵל זָכָר אֲשֶׁר לֹא־יִמּוֹל אֶת־בְּשַׂר עָרְלָתוֹ וְנִכְרְתָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא מֵעַמֶּיהָ
‘And as for the uncircumcised male whose foreskin is not circumcised—that person shall be cut off from his people’ (see Joüon-Muraoka §176g-l)
These examples point to a broader and deeper generalization than the wayyiqtol=verb option provides. The waw in each of the examples in (2)-(5) does not coordinate two equal constituents, as prototypical coordination does, but marks the “edge” between two constituents. In no case is it syntactically necessary, which is why we suggest it is a pragmatic function of the waw used to facilitate syntactic processing. As such, it falls into a similar (although not identical) use of the waw that C. L. Miller discusses in her 1999 article on the use of waw at the beginning of direct speech.
Let us now turn back to the structure of Gen 1.1-3, specifically the role of the initial PP בראשׁית in the larger structure (vv. 1-3) to which it belongs. I partially rested my analysis on the PP-ויהי structure I mentioned at the outset of this post. Such Topic-fronted PPs serve to situate the following action or event in a specific temporal or locative context. This structure often follows a preceding ויהי that is syntactically unconnected. The first ויהי is the use of ויהי as a discourse marker, often used to signal scene transitions.
Certainly, ויהי can function as a true copular verb, and it also functions (although rarely) as the existential verb. But the ויהי (specifically the 3ms form) may also stand separately and function as a discourse-marker of the temporal location of the following information (this is also true for the irreal-future והיה, but that is for another post). Generally the discourse usage of ויהי will be obvious from the lack of any clear subject or complement.
Discourse ויהי (search and results)
In the 59 examples, what follows the discourse ויהי is a PP (either with NP complement or Infinitival Phrase complement) [53x], a adjunct כי clause [5x], or one case of an independent clause [15.17]. In all but 15.17, the fronted phrase/clause is an adjunct within a following clause, most of which are wayyiqtol clauses (i.e., PP-wayyiqtol).
To find out what percentage these examples constitute within the book of Genesis, we did a simple morphological search for 3ms “wawConsecutive” (in Accordance parlance) and there were 122 hits. This means that the discourse ויהי accounts for 48.4% of the overall ויהי use in Genesis.
Finally, we searched for all the cases where an adjunct phrase is Topic-fronted and the following verb is a wayyiqtol (actually, we widened the search to look for all waw+verb combinations).
PP-Waw-Verb (search and results)
The results are interesting. They highlight that not only does a fronted PP adjunct occur with wayyiqtol verbs, but also with waw+irrealis qatal (3.5). They also highlighted a few of the cases where והיה (irrealis qatal היה) is used as a discourse marker (9.14, 27.40, 30.41, 47.23). More important for understanding Gen 1.1 are the cases where there is no initial discourse ויהי before the fronted PP (besides 1.1-3, see 3.5, 22.4, 27.34, 28.6, and 37.18).
In conclusion, the data support that validity of the analysis of Gen 1.1-3 (given in the previous post by RDH) with respect to this pattern: Topic-fronted PP (1.1) before a wayyiqtol (1.3). The examples that are particularly strong are those without an initial ויהי. Those examples, together with the discourse ויהי proposal, encourage the identification of many more, i.e., all those that follow a discourse ויהי.
* Holmstedt, Robert D. 2009. Word Order and Information Structure in Ruth and Jonah: A Generative-Typological Analysis. Journal of Semitic Studies 54 (1):111-39.
* Miller, Cynthia L. 1999. The Pragmatics of Waw as a Discourse Marker in Biblical Hebrew Dialogue. Zeitschrift für Althebraistik 12 (2):165-91.