Basic Word Order in the Biblical Hebrew Verbal Clause, Part 1

I have recently finished working through Dr. Adina Moshavi’s 2010 monograph, Word Order in the Biblical Hebrew Finite Clause; see here for a table of contents. Below are my thoughts on her book—not a full review but rather an engagement with it. This post will constitute the first part of a 3-part series on Hebrew word order, each of which represents “blogified” components of a article I am writing. Hebrew word order has been an ongoing area of interest for me as long as it has for Moshavi (her book is a revision of her 2000 Yeshiva University PhD thesis).

I take issue with specific, critical parts of Moshavi’s argument. In the three posts of this series I will not interact with her book chapter-by-chapter, section-by-section, and example-by-example, which would be both tedious and a tacit surrender of how the study of word order variation should proceed. (And I don’t like tedium any more than I care to let others establish the parameters and direction of a debate I’m in, and in this case, a debate I overtly joined a decade ago). Instead, I will address Moshavi’s interaction with my previous work on word order in this post (post #1); then in post #2 I will detail what I consider sound methodology and describe what I take to be a balanced typological approach to the issue of basic word order; finally, in post #3 I will build on the previous posts and present an analysis of the data in Genesis, a revision of the analysis I carried out in my 2002 thesis.

It may be helpful to state up front at the beginning that none of these three posts will address the full scope of word order diversity and, in particular, fronting in the biblical texts. Although I am engaged in a long-term project to address this, I will simply say here that there is much in the preceding works on the topic (e.g., Heimerdinger 1999, Shimasaki 2002, Lunn 2006, and Moshavi 2010) with which I agree. While I occasionally gainsay their analyses of specific verses (see, for examples, my reviews of Shimasaki and Lunn), and there are slightly different approaches to defining the term Topic and Focus, etc., there remains some general agreement on the reason for and function of fronted constituents.

Now, to Dr. Moshavi’s book:

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“On their own terms”: Book Goals and Book Reviews

What follows may seem to depart from our stated purpose on the blog to maintain a tight focus on issues of ancient Hebrew grammar. However, since it concerns writing projects in which we are both involved, it seemsrelatedclosely enough for the departure to avoid being an egregious one.

In her 2002OTL commentary on Lamentations(Louisville:WJK), Adele Berlin observed that “a commentary need not be encyclopedic” (ix). Given the massive history of scholarship on every biblical book, which seems to increase exponentially every year, she was wise, in my opinion, to avoid representing “every interpretation put forth or every issue debated in the scholarly literature.” Taking the position that “a commentary gets its character from what is selected for comment, both from the text and from the secondary literature,” she flatly states what her approach is and leaves the rest for others.

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