Textkit Logo

Hebrew tenses in Greek translation [topic split]

Are you learning Koine Greek, the Greek of the New Testament and most other post-classical Greek texts? Whatever your level, use this forum to discuss all things Koine, Biblical or otherwise, including grammar, textbook talk, difficult passages, and more.

Hebrew tenses in Greek translation [topic split]

Postby Barry Hofstetter » Sat Nov 04, 2017 12:35 am

Altair wrote:I have almost no academic background in the Greek, but happened to stumble on a site with various parallel translations of Genesis. I could read enough to be surprised at the degree of difference between them and to wonder about the sequence of tenses to render the Hebrew.

I read a very long time ago that there is something going on with the Hebrew tenses at the beginning of Genesis that is not captured in most of the traditional translations. To me, the tenses in the translations seem off. For instance, the series of aorists in the Graecus Venetus gave me the impression that God had made some kind of mistake when the earth turned out στέρησις κενόν τε.


And just to make it interesting, Hebrew verbs are not really marked for tense, but for aspect, the imperfective and the perfective (yiqtol and qatal). Tense has to be determined from context. If you can track down what you read a very long time ago, it might be interesting.
N.E. Barry Hofstetter
The Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
Semper melius Latine sonat...
Barry Hofstetter
Textkit Fan
 
Posts: 260
Joined: Thu Aug 15, 2013 12:22 pm

Re: NT greek reading groups?

Postby Altair » Sat Nov 04, 2017 6:57 pm

And just to make it interesting, Hebrew verbs are not really marked for tense, but for aspect, the imperfective and the perfective (yiqtol and qatal). Tense has to be determined from context.

I was trying to use the term “tense” in the meaning of “tense/aspect verb form that relates to locating a predication/event/state in time.” My understanding is that, as in the case of ancient Greek, there is not full agreement on the theory underlying the use of verbal aspects in Biblical Hebrew.

If you can track down what you read a very long time ago, it might be interesting.


Who knew reading a phrase from the Septuagint could lead to anything interesting to a Koine Greek and Biblical hobbyist?

I cannot track down what I read, but I do remember the gist of the argument. Since I don’t know what knowledge we share, I apologize if I talk above or beneath what you know or make any glaring mistakes. Someone who actually knows Hebrew could do a much better job than me in laying this out. I also apologize if I am merely repeating some well-known and well-argued dispute over Biblical interpretation. All this was new to me.

According to my linguistic understanding, Hebrew has a syntactical device called the Waw Consecutive that is said to reverse the aspect value of the verb form it precedes. When I first learned this, I thought it was a bizarre and ad-hoc explanation, but have since learned enough Arabic, Akkadian, and Egyptian to understand how such a syntactical device might have arisen and why.

Arabic has nothing like the Waw consecutive, but its classical form does have enough mismatches between aspect form and meaning that I shouldn’t be surprised at one more Semitic language oddity. Akkadian has no form equivalent to the qatal form, but expresses the perfect with a form that requires prefixes like yiqtol. Its imperfect generally has a doubled middle radical in the basic form, and so a form like yiqtol is actually perfect in Akkadian. The full details of Egyptian verb forms are not fully clear, but what we do know shows such an evolution over the three thousand years of its documentation that nothing should be surprising. Of some interest to the topic at hand is that Egyptian has consistently distinguished forms of verbs that embody the equivalent of topic switches over the underlying syntax. Perhaps the Waw Consecutive responds partially to a similar urge.

The source I read used the concept of the Waw Consecutive to argue for a new understanding of the beginning of Genesis. I don’t recall the exact translation given, but it went along the lines of:

At the time when God went to create the heavens and the earth, the earth was (הָיְתָ֥ה) without form and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep and the spirit of God moved over the face of the waters, and God said” “Let there be light!”...

I don’t know enough Hebrew to judge this linguistically. I also wonder specifically about the relevance of the Waw Consecutive if it appears only in the verb “said” (וַיֹּ֥אמֶר), but perhaps there is something in the interaction of the aspects that makes this necessary for the interpretation. Nevertheless, I find the thrust of the translation sociologically intriguing. It matches more closely what I have read about the main version of how the Egyptians conceived of the creation and makeup of the physical universe. I think they originally conceived of an empty space arising among infinite waters and land then emerging from the waters, rather than stressing a creation ex nihilo.

I find troubling the semantic flow of the beginning of Genesis as traditionally translated. It seems to start with the creation of the heavens and the earth in the first verse, but then digresses thematically to the creation of light and dark on the first day and only precedes to talk of the creation of the heavens on the second day and the earth on the third. It seems more logical to see the first phrase as establishing the theme or topic of the following several verses out of time sequence, but it remains to be seen how this is done linguistically in Hebrew or in any translations.

I originally went down this road of analysis because the aspect of ὑπήρξε στέρησις κενόν τε seemed inconsistent with the English “was without form and void.” I don’t know, however, the exact force or form of הָיְתָ֥ה and so cannot judge whether the Greek ὑπήρξε or the English “was” is more correct in form, meaning, aspect, or aktionsart/situational aspect. (In fact, what is that comma-like thing between the taw and the he in הָיְתָ֥ה ? I don’t recognize it and merely copied these Hebrew forms from this site.)
Altair
Textkit Neophyte
 
Posts: 20
Joined: Wed Jun 14, 2017 5:35 pm

Re: NT greek reading groups?

Postby jaihare » Sun Nov 05, 2017 1:06 am

I see all kinds of statements about Hebrew "tense" that I find just overly confounding.

It seems to me that people benefit dramatically from learning modern Hebrew even when it comes to the Hebrew tenses. Why? We see that the forms are dependent on immediate context and not relation to the present time as being experienced by the speaker. This means that the imperfect when in a context of the past can be understood as a potential or habitual in the past and have nothing at all to do with the real future (from our perspective). That is, we can translate it as would do or would be doing. We should understand it as a future of the past. Similarly, a perfect in the past might actually be a past of the past (past perfect, or something similar). This is especially true when you're dealing with a narrative in which the storyline is being carried forward by vav-consecutive forms. Anything that appears in the perfect would be background or sideline information and might be translated as a pluperfect.

In the opposite sense, we may have a past of the future or a future of the past, by using the perfect or imperfect in a future context. We have all of these options in modern Hebrew, in which we have the same tenses as biblical Hebrew - minus the vav-consecutive and with a potential form (היה + הווה).

I know it's not a Hebrew group, but since the topic came up...

The presence or lack of "tense" depends on how you understand time with regard to text itself. The problem in making a clear determination is that the text types we have access to are mostly either (1) narrative and naturally placed in the past or (2) poetic and generally timeless. If we had access to more future-minded texts or even to more obvious back-and-forth dialectical texts, we might have a better way to make a judgment on these issues.

For learners, it is generally fine (IMHO) to relay tense - so long as you understand that tense is relative in Hebrew. It's not like "perfect equals past" and "imperfect equals future." That's not how it works, and it would be bad for learners to pick it up that way. That is, however, how it is basically taught in Israel, in which the perfect is called עבר and the imperfect is called עתיד. That's problematic.
User avatar
jaihare
Textkit Zealot
 
Posts: 924
Joined: Mon Oct 22, 2007 2:47 am
Location: Tel Aviv, Israel

Re: NT greek reading groups?

Postby jaihare » Sun Nov 05, 2017 1:22 am

Altair wrote:I originally went down this road of analysis because the aspect of ὑπήρξε στέρησις κενόν τε seemed inconsistent with the English “was without form and void.” I don’t know, however, the exact force or form of הָיְתָ֥ה and so cannot judge whether the Greek ὑπήρξε or the English “was” is more correct in form, meaning, aspect, or aktionsart/situational aspect. (In fact, what is that comma-like thing between the taw and the he in הָיְתָ֥ה ? I don’t recognize it and merely copied these Hebrew forms from this site.)


The verb היתה "it was" in this verse should be considered background for the upcoming narrative sequence. No change is intended in the verb and no action is carried forward. It is simply stating what state the universe was in when the creation started. When God came to the universe to begin shaping it, it was a formless void with chaotic waters and a vast deep. The first action in the narrative arrives with ויאמר "and he said." This is the purpose of the vav-consecutive forms, to carry the narrative forward. Everything before that should be something akin to the "setting" into which the action is placed.
User avatar
jaihare
Textkit Zealot
 
Posts: 924
Joined: Mon Oct 22, 2007 2:47 am
Location: Tel Aviv, Israel

Re: NT greek reading groups?

Postby jaihare » Sun Nov 05, 2017 1:23 am

Either way, I think we should generally take the Greek as a separate entity, as a language unto itself, and attempt to understand it as much as possible without recourse to the Hebrew. Why? A Greek reader who received a copy of the LXX generally didn't have the change to look back at the Hebrew text. We should at least try to understand it as he or she would have as a separate way to understand the text and not just as enlightened by the Hebrew. The divergences might often be entertaining. :)
User avatar
jaihare
Textkit Zealot
 
Posts: 924
Joined: Mon Oct 22, 2007 2:47 am
Location: Tel Aviv, Israel

Re: Hebrew tenses in Greek translation [topic split]

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Tue Nov 07, 2017 3:57 am

Barry Hofstetter wrote:And just to make it interesting, Hebrew verbs are not really marked for tense, but for aspect, the imperfective and the perfective (yiqtol and qatal). Tense has to be determined from context. If you can track down what you read a very long time ago, it might be interesting.


Wayback aRound the turn-of-the-century Rolf Furuli and R. Booth had an endless "discussion" about this which was one of the reasons I dropped out the b-hebrew forum. Not the only reason. Two scholars using different frameworks talking past each other.
C. Stirling Bartholomew
C. S. Bartholomew
Textkit Zealot
 
Posts: 1098
Joined: Mon Sep 19, 2011 10:03 pm

Re: Hebrew tenses in Greek translation [topic split]

Postby jaihare » Wed Nov 15, 2017 8:57 am

C. S. Bartholomew wrote:Wayback aRound the turn-of-the-century Rolf Furuli and R. Booth had an endless "discussion" about this which was one of the reasons I dropped out the b-hebrew forum. Not the only reason. Two scholars using different frameworks talking past each other.


Really? They've been discussing it again this week on B-Hebrew... the two of them. How strange!

I guess I have to agree that the verbs themselves are not marked for tense, since that would mean that perfect is always past and imperfect is always future. This is the same in modern Hebrew. I see that they're talking about "deictic center," which seems to be where the discussion hinges.

If I'm talking about a future situation, I can say in Hebrew:

ברגע שסיימתי, אני אעדכן אותך.‏
The moment I finish, I'll update you.

The verb אעדכן a'adken "I'll update" shows you that I'm talking about the future. However, the conditional is completed, so it's in the perfect (סיימתי siyamti "I have finished"). What messes everything up is that the same sentiment can be expressed with two imperfects.

כשאסיים, אני אעדכן אותך.‏
When I finish, I'll update you.

In this example, אסיים asayem "I will finish" is in the imperfect.

I'm not sure why one uses the perfect and the other the imperfect, but the meaning is essentially the same. It has to do with which subordinator you use (כש...‏ "when" or ברגע ש...‏ "the moment that").

This shows that it really isn't marked for tense.

Karl is arguing there that it isn't marked for aspect either.

It's an ongoing discussion. Something that is over my head. I think tense is easy enough to understand in Hebrew. The vav-consecutive carries narrative. Vayyiqtol for narrative past; veqatal for narrative future (also for commands). Everything is in relation to the deictic center (the perspective of the action in the story). Qatal for background information relevant to the narrative thread (usually translated with the past perfect in English) and yiqtol for habitual or future events relative to the narrative.

In poetry and direct speech, these things break down - which is where the rubber meets the road. I've never understood any system that explains well what's happening in speech instances within narrative.

Still, the normal prose system is clear enough.

Anyway... how does all of this relate to Greek? :)
User avatar
jaihare
Textkit Zealot
 
Posts: 924
Joined: Mon Oct 22, 2007 2:47 am
Location: Tel Aviv, Israel


Return to Koine and Biblical Greek

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Barry Hofstetter, Dante and 31 guests