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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The Biblical Hebrew pronoun as a copula

In a previous post I argued that the likely solution for understanding a textual variant in Lev 1:17 was a processing error by a scribe — an error that reflects a different grammatical construction that the one reflected in the (older) text witnessed by the MT of B19a.  The solution critically requires recognizing that ancient Hebrew had begun to develop the use of the pronoun as a non-verbal copula.

In this post I briefly present the evidence for a copular pronoun in ancient Hebrew. Note that most non-critical (non-quotation, non-original idea) secondary sources have been omitted for the sake of space, although all such sources are included in the bibliography at the end. A greatly expanded discussion of this issue of pronoun syntax is forthcoming in an article written with Andrew Jones (Univ. of Toronto), which I will submit for publication in the near future. After it is submitted, I will post a pdf draft on this blog.

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The Linguistic Solution to the textual variation in Lev 1:17:

The Pronoun as Copula

The status of the third person pronoun as a third element in verbless clauses has been a much studied issue. In nineteenth and early twentieth century scholarship there were adherents of both the copular and non-copular analyses for examples like (1).

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The Nexus between Text Criticism and Linguistics: The Case of Leviticus 1:17

At the end of May I will deliver a paper on this topic at the annual meeting of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies. The paper is finished, although I have it out to a couple trusted readers. When I feel it is complete, I will post it on the blog and note it here.

Below is my summary of the paper.  I welcome your thoughts, especially those of you more text-critically inclined, since I do not claim to be a text critic as such.

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1. Introduction

There is an uncomfortable truth that linguists of ancient languages admit only rarely and even then with some reticence (and usually in a dark, empty room): we are, plain and simple, dependent on the paleographer, the epigrapher, and … (dare I admit it?), the text critic. For without those scholars who concern themselves with the decipherment of scripts, the first reading of texts, and the reconstruction of textual histories, the linguist would have nothing to analyze.

The difficulty of facing this truth is manifested in the modus operandi of ancient Hebrew linguists: rarely do scholars of biblical Hebrew question the wholesale acceptance of using the Masoretic text, dating to 1008 C.E., as representative of the linguistic system(s) of ancient Hebrew from 1500 years prior. They use the text of the standard printed critical edition, the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia – or its electronic form from some computer program, without qualification, without reckoning with complex textual history represented by the data.

Ancient Hebrew linguists do not always seem to have learned the lessons taught by the Qumran texts, that while some scribes were quite passive transmitters, other scribes expanded, rearranged, and clarified the materials they were transmitting. It is thus clear that ancient language linguists rely on those scholars who investigate the features of an ancient text’s scribal history (using scribal here to refer to author and/or copyist). It is equally clear that, while we need not become experts in textual criticism ourselves, we must understand the issues involved.

Conversely, everything I have said indicates that if the linguist must be aware of text, the text critic must be aware of the linguistic systems. For if the scribe updates a text based on his native grammar and that grammar differs, in large or small ways, from the grammar of the text being copied, the text critic must also be aware of the diachronic changes in linguistic systems in order to understand properly the diachronic changes in the text. It is from this perspective, what a text critic may learn from a linguist, that I shall consider the case of a pronoun variant in Lev 1:17.

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Ancient Hebrew Syntax: Making a Searchable Database

(For a PDF of this post, see here.)

At the 2010 Society of Biblical Literature meeting in Atlanta, there was a special informational session devoted to discussing the new syntactic databases available in the Accordance Bible software. As the primary architect of the syntactic tagging scheme, I gave a paper outlining the issues of principles that I, my collaborator Prof. Martin Abegg (Trinity Western), and the chief programmer Roy Brown (OakTree Software) had to sort out.

(The other three presenters were Prof. John Cook (Asbury Theological Seminary), on the verbal valency issues we faced in the project and how we sort them out, Dr. Brown on the types of syntactic searches that users of Accordance can now perform, and Prof. Abegg on the type of issues in Qumran Hebrew our database can help to solve—and yes, the overall project includes all ancient Hebrew, from epigraphic through Qumran).

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Pro-drop in Hebrew: a summary

— this is a draft encyclopedia entry —

Pro-drop is an abbreviation of “pronoun dropping.” It describes a feature of some languages that do not require an overt argument, especially a subject, to be present in a clause. That is, whereas English is not a pro-drop language and thus requires a subject noun or pronoun in a finite verbal clause like He has spoken, in Italian the overt subject may be “dropped,” Ha parlato ‘(He) has spoken’.

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