Esther 1:1-9

One of our doctoral candidates, John Screnock, and I are finishing our grammatical commentary on the book of Esther for the Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Bible series. As we do final revisions before submitting, I thought it would be useful to post much of the commentary here, in sections of 5-10 verses, in order for potential readers to ask questions, seek clarification, or point out confusing comments or typos. We thus hope to make the product cleaner and more usable. (We posted a shortened version of a section of our introduction, dealing with the historical linguistic profile of Esther, here.)

So, without further ado, below is the commentary for Esther 1:1-9, with subsequent sections to be posted one per day for the next three weeks. Consider yourself solicited for feedback!

*Note that the cross-references to our Introduction are not filled in.

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A Linguistic Profile of the Book of Esther (SBL 2013)

A doctoral student in my department, John Screnock, and I are co-presenting a paper in the SBL Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew section in Baltimore on Sunday. The paper is a much shortened version of a large section of our introductory chapter in the Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Bible volume on Esther that we are writing (the volume is now 99% drafted).

Since we have finished the paper much sooner than I typically do, I have posted the paper and handout below. (It’s a relief to anticipate a flight without finishing my paper—what an odd feeling.)

See you in Baltimore!



More entries from Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics

To follow suit of my co-blogger, here are links to the offprints of my contributions to EHLL that arrive a couple of weeks ago. Without yet having read many of the numerous EHLL offprints from these volumes available on, it will be interesting to see how they are received considering the articles appear to at times take diametrically opposite viewpoints on overlapping topics.

One such example came in the immediately-following article to my “Aspect: Pre-Modern Hebrew,” the article “Aspect: Modern Hebrew.” This latter article quite curiously begins with introducing, among other things, Vendler’s four categories of situations. This seems odd only because there is an entire other series of entries on “Actionality (Aktionsart),” to which I contributed the Pre-Modern Hebrew entry, and which is arguably the more suitable location for discussing Vendler’s situation categories.

The other curiosity I noticed is that Jan Joosten begins his “Verbal System: Biblical Hebrew” article (which he kindly sent me and has posted on with the statement that the analysis of the system as consisting of a central opposition between qatal (Perfect) and yiqtol (Imperfect) “has proved wrong headed.” This stands in direct contrast with my statement about this central opposition in Biblical Hebrew in my “Verb” entry, which surveys the historical development of the Hebrew verb from the ancient period to Modern Hebrew. These volumes would appear to promise an interesting potpourri of perspectives on the Hebrew language.

2013. Actionality (Aktionsart): Pre-Modern Hebrew. Pp. 25–28 in Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics, Volume 1: A–F, ed. Geoffrey Khan. Leiden: Brill, 1.25–28. (PDF)

2013. Aspect: Pre-Modern Hebrew. Pp. 201–5 in Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics, Volume 1: A–F, ed. Geoffrey Khan. Boston/Leiden: Brill. (PDF)

2013. Verb. Pp. 896–901 in Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics, Volume 3: P–Z, ed. Geoffrey Khan. Boston/Leiden: Brill. (PDF)

Posted in Ancient Hebrew, Hebrew Semantics, Verbal System. Comments Off on More entries from Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics

Recycling . . . its not just about the environment!

Perhaps it is the combined effect of information explosion beginning the end of last century combined with the unending pressure to publish or perish, but too often scholars find themselves covering the same old ground that has already been well-covered by past scholars. It is not simply that we are engaged in the same sorts of debates (Indeed, my work on the verb admittedly focuses on one of the most longstanding debates in Hebrew grammar!), it is that we too quickly forget the ideas that earlier scholars have advanced—usually unsuccessfully, which explains their forgotten state. Unfortunately, the rapid digitization of these old resources makes such absent-minded recycling even more egregious.

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Posted in Hebrew Semantics, Hebrew Syntax, Historical linguistics, Linguistics (theory or typology), Verbal System, Word Order. Comments Off on Recycling . . . its not just about the environment!

Hebrew verb theory . . . ten years gone

The relief of having finally gotten my work on the Hebrew verb into print is finally sinking in (available here). I reflected towards the end of this ten-year-long project of revising, expanding, and reinventing parts of it that it is a project (due to the nature of the topic) about which one has to pronounce a stopping point not a finishing point (Those familiar with Vendler’s situation aspect categories will get the allusion). I honestly thought I’d tire of the whole topic once finished, and admittedly I am weary of the theoretical discussion and eager to spend the next ten years or more applying the theory to the text in a way that will merge directly into more far-reaching exegetical issues. I have in mind work like my forthcoming article on the verb in Qoheleth or my work on the Qohelet volume for the Baylor Handbook of the Hebrew Bible, co-authored with my co-blogger Robert Holmstedt and Phillip Marshall. Of course, teaching language and exegesis classes in addition to ongoing work on the Accordance syntax project has given me ample opportunity to see how my theory works out in practice.

However, in this post I want to briefly step back into the fray of the discussion. For a while it was a quiet scene, other than the periodic discussion on another blog (see the discussion on John Hobbin’s blog) or the requisite bi-yearly flare up on the b-hebrew list (yes, I confess I’m a lurker there). I say “flare up” because usually it ends with the same folks talking past each other followed by a moderator shutting it down (and rightly so).

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Valency: the intersection of syntax and semantics

Valency seems to be an up-and-coming area in Biblical Hebrew linguistics. I was more or less thrown into the issue through my involvement with the Accordance syntax project (see here and here): as someone who was already obsessed by the verbal system, it made sense to task me with overseeing the valency analysis for the project. This task has mainly entailed addressing the necessity of deciding between verbal complements and adjuncts in the database tagging, which in turn has led to a developing valency dictionary that will contribute to Hebrew lexicography by supplementing the current lexica with a specific focus on verbal valency.
But as I said, it seems that this is a burgeoning field. I had the pleasure of being invited to a workshop on the Bible and computing in Leiden this past February and discovered a number of other scholars who were working on valency and the Biblical Hebrew verb. Out of that meeting emerged a session at last month’s SBL annual meeting (somewhat off the beaten path of sessions, but kindly hosted by the International Syriac Language Project program unit) in which I, Janet Dyk, Nicholai Winther-Nielsen, and A. Dean Forbes each delivered a paper addressing the issue of valency in Biblical Hebrew. In turn, out of these meetings came an invitation that Janet present on valency at next year’s SBL meetings in the Bible Translation unit. In the meantime, the four papers from this year’s fruitful meeting will be appearing in the upcoming volume of Gorgias’ series Perspectives on Linguistics and Ancient Languages (see here).

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It has been just over a year since our last post. Though we have not blogged, we have been busy. Below I highlight some of the things we’ve done. Links to a couple new articles are posted at the bottom.

In addition to teaching quite a bit and working on a number of encyclopedia entries, our textbook, a joint Baylor Hebrew Bible Handbook (on Qoheleth), a Baylor volume of his own (on the Biblical Aramaic portions of Ezra and Daniel), John achieved tenure at his institution and also published his book on the Biblical Hebrew verb (see the new link on the left sidebar).

Besides developing a couple new courses, writing a number of encyclopedia articles, working on the joint Baylor volume with John as well as another Baylor volume (on Esther) with a doctoral student in my department, I have two articles coming out in JBL and JSS (both of which took me a number of years to finish off). And I am trying to balance my work on the Accordance Hebrew syntax project with my desire to finish revising what used to be my thesis on the relative clause (I say “used to be” because the amount of newly added material makes it a different work altogether).

So, it has been a busy year for us. Sadly, little of that translated into blogging. But I will make a post based on my SBL presentation on Biblical Hebrew pedagogy in the next day or so and John will post on verbal valency in the next few weeks. For now, below are links to some of the works we’ve published (or finished and are in press) in the last year.

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Genesis 1.1-3, Hebrew Grammar, and Translation

*(revised after the clarification given in the initial comment)*


Genesis 1.1 is one of the most discussed verses in the Hebrew Bible. It is the first verse of the first book, initiates the Hebrews’ grand cosmology, and … contains an apparent grammatical crux. Phooey! You would think that one could get further than one word into the Hebrew Bible without a grammatical problem.

In fact, there is no problem, only a long-term misunderstanding of Hebrew grammar. In a 2008 article appearing in Vetus Testamentum (which revised a sub-section taken from my 2002 thesis), I argued for an analysis of the first verse that is grounded both in my long-term research on the Hebrew relative clause and comparative Semitic grammar. You can find the article linked here.

But recently I was criticized (on a blog), for failing to explain how my analysis of 1.1 fit into an interpretation of 1.1-3. So, although my argument for Gen 1.1 stands ably on its own, I will take the opportunity presented by the recent criticism to summarize my argument for 1.1 and provide my analysis of vv. 1-3.

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Biblical Hebrew Diachrony

This past November’s NAPH annual meeting brought a close to several years of discussions about linguistic dating of biblical texts that will be preserved in a volume of the papers being being edited by Ziony Zevit and Cynthia L. Miller and published by Eisenbrauns. Both of us have papers appearing in that volume that we have posted here (Cook) and here (Holmstedt).

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What’s in a category?

To paraphrase Shakespeare, “What’s in a category, a grammatical form by any other name would serve the same functions.” Andrason’s recent JHS article (here) and Randall Buth’s response/review of it (here) have me thinking again about categories. Randall has been quite vocal in critiquing the traditional approach to the Hebrew verb (e.g., see the discussion at Hobbin’s blog), which has revolved around the question of whether they express tense, aspect, or mood/modality, which he calls “over-simplistic labels.” Rather, he claims, “the Hebrew yiqtol conjugation can be a Tense and an Aspect and a Mood as the situation demands.” This is because tense-aspect-mood/modality (TAM) are intertwined within verb forms. The World Atlas of Language Structures (WALS) makes the same point in its introductory entry on tense-aspect:

“An alternative to seeing tense, aspect and mood as grammatical categories in the traditional sense is to regard tense-aspect-mood systems as wholes where the building-blocks are the individual tenses, aspects, and moods, such as the Past and the Progressive in English. These will be referred to as grams, and it is assumed that on the cross-linguistic level they represent a restricted set of gram types.” (here).

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