Elimelech, on Sep 29 2008, 11:10 PM, said:
Mark Taunton said:
This is a distinctive characteristic of Hebrew historical accounts. Although that may seem odd, it is a fact; the reason is partly to do with how some Hebrew tenses are formed (which I won't go into now, but will happily explain if asked). But it's not a mere grammatical technicality, the word "and" is really there and really functioning in Hebrew with the same sense we see in the English translation.
I've taken this from the Creation thread so as not to clog it up. Could you explain the above further? Is it, like in English, a continuous word? The reason I enquire is because I believe Jonah 1 vs. 1 is an example of a book that starts with "And" in Hebrew (see YLT). This is interesting because the book is then following on from something, which is well worth a study. However, I may be completely wrong!
Sorry to be delayed in giving you any kind of response; this was partly because of the discussion above, about related issues. I've put together below a little preliminary desciption about this topic. It's very
much rough-and-ready, completely unpolished through lack of time, but I offer it in the hope you, and perhaps others will find a little value in it. Please feel free to come back with questions and issues; there may be mistakes in it, for which I apologise in advance. Hopefully there will nonethless be some bits I got right!
In Hebrew, the textual form most commonly translated as "and" is not written separately in the text, but is simply the letter 'vav' (or 'vau' or 'waw' - the spoken/written representation varies somewhat), prefixed onto another word. I do not think vav ever occurs on its own; certainly it does not do so in the Masoretic Text (MT). Vav is the sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In classical Hebrew form, made large for clarity, it looks like this:
Of course the exact shape you see above was chosen by a font designer, but you get the general picture. In other (earlier) written forms of the Semitic alphabet, it took slightly different shapes, more like our letter y or Y, or with a bit more complication, having extra horizontal lines near the top. By way of another reference point, some Bibles show the Hebrew letter forms above each 8-verse section of the acrostic Psalm 119, for the letter that each verse in the section starts with. Verses 41-48 all start with vav.
As it happens (very conveniently, but not by accident I'm sure!) only a tiny number of words in Hebrew actually begin with 'vav'. (Of those that do, perhaps the most notable is the word for the "hooks" of the pillars mentioned in Ex 26,27,36,38. The word is always plural there, and it is spelled beginning with vav-vav-yod. Note that hooks in context are joining pieces, physical analogues of the job of "and" itself; I think that is not insignificant!) Because of that rarity, there is never any difficulty in seeing when a particular Hebrew word-form is actually a vav on the front of another word. For example, in Psa 119:41-48, every word-form begins with vav as a prefix, but none of the main words itself actually starts with vav, so they all effectively mean "and", though the KJV tends to disguise that more than would have been helpful!
So the vav prefix basically means "and"; pretty much as in English, it joins something to the thing that preceded it. When it prefixes a noun or some other parts of speech, as in its the first occurrence in Gen 1:1 - "the heaven and
the earth", there is really no issue about the meaning. That instance obviously groups the heaven and the earth together, as being created together by God - the word "created" comes only once but is applied explicitly by means of the "and" to both of them (there’s a second detail of the Hebrew there, the “eth” object marker, used twice in relation to the two objects of “created”, which I mention in passing for completeness, but needn’t concern us further here.)
Now vav is multi-talented, just like “and” in English. It can also join larger structures together, not just noun terms or similar, but whole sentences or statements. In such use it combines otherwise self-standing pieces of meaning (i.e. things that make sense separately on their own); "and" informs us to read them together in order. This happens first at Gen 1:2 - "And
the earth was...". In the Hebrew, reflected in the KJV word order, "And" attaches to "the earth": (i.e. the vav is prepended to 'ha-aretz' - "the-earth"), and the verb "was" is the next word along, and operates separately. The use of 'vav' here tells us to join this statement to what preceded it; had it not occurred we would just have read the two statements independently, but "And" is linking them together. OK, that maybe seems obvious, sort-of, but it still needs to be stated. Sometimes, as here, it may make quite a big difference, though to avoid distraction I'll not go into this particular case.
And there is another feature of the vav prefix, a rather important one. In the great majority of cases where vav prefixes a verb
(at least when it's in one of the more common verb forms), it turns out that vav does a second job, by changing how we understand the verb. The technical term used of this is "vav-consecutive" or "vav-conversive". To cut directly to the chase, the basic function of vav as a verb prefix is to convert between two tenses: a past tense becomes a future tense; a future tense becomes a past tense. (I stress that this happens in the majority
of cases. Occasionally it seems not to happen. That is, in context, and from context, the converted tense seems to be inappropriate, and the unconverted tense seems right, and so it is then assumed that the vav is not being conversive there. There aren't that many such cases, so far as I have ever found, but it's important to be aware that they do occur; maybe one day I'll understand what else around their contexts helps explain more specifically why, but right now I can't be sure. They are rare enough that we needn't worry further about the point at this stage.)
The first instance of the vav-consecutive form is at Gen 1:3, where the KJV, along with many modern translations, has "And God said". (Some others give "Then" for "And", but the sense is obviously similar.) Here, the Hebrew is equivalent to "and-said God", as two word-forms (the second word is 'elohim'). Now the critical detail is this. If you take the word-form for "and-said", and strip off the 'vav' ("and-") prefix, you would naturally think to translate what is left as "(he) will say", or similar; it is a (masculine subject) future
tense form of the word for to say. An example of such a translation of exactly that non-prefixed form is in Deut 5:27 - "all that the LORD our God shall say
". What we understand however from the context in Genesis is that the Hebrew is recounting what God did
, it is telling us about the past. The whole passage is not in any obvious sense prophetic, describing something he will do
. He did
say "let there be light", and he had said it at the time the words here were written down. So in the specific context, we are obliged to understand the meaning of the verb itself in this form as "(he) said", not as "(he) will say", even though it appears it should have that meaning. What is understood as causing this is that (as I summarised above), the use of the vav prefix converts the tense, in this case turning a future "he will say" into a past, "he said".
There are also many places where the conversion works the other way: the vav prefix also converts a future tense into a past tense. Indeed, an example of just that transformation follows straight away (as if God is giving us a rapid introduction to this feature of Hebrew, as being a fundamental detail we need to know). In verse 3 the whole of that well-known sentence is "And God said, let there be light, and there was light". This includes both the first vav-consecutive, the one we just considered ("and" + "will say" became "and-said"), and the second instance, which works the other way. But we have a lovely extra element: the second instance is as it were a "worked example" showing the full detail of how vav-consecutive works. Here's how:
In the phrase "let there be light", the Hebrew has just two words, the "let there be [become]", a verb, and the word "light". The verb is a type of future tense, sometimes called a "jussif": a command form, implicitly a future tense, since you can't command something to already have happened(!). The command is as it were addressed to light, even before there was any, to come into existence, to become. Then comes the (to me) most beautiful part, showing the perfect power of God's word. Less importantly (in the sense that we don't need to understand the technicalities, though we ought to understand the principle at work) it also shows the detail of how the vav-consecutive construction operates.
The second part of the statement is "and there was [became] light". Again there are just two word-forms in the Hebrew. The spelling of the Hebrew word for "let there be" is yod-heh-yod. The spelling of "there was[became]" is also yod-heh-yod, but this time it is prefixed by a vav ("and-"). Clearly we can see that the direct result of the word being spoken was it coming to pass. The word of God has perfect power. As Psa 33:9 summarises: "he said, and it was". God's intent is indeed accomplished, by means of the very word which reveals that intent, the word of the commandment. So the first yod-heh-yod is matched to the second: the first expresses the commandment, the second is the performance of it, showing its fulfilment. The difference between the two halves of the record is simply the word "and", prefixing the second instance of the verb, changing the tense from future to past; the two parts of the sentence are hinged around it, almost as if it itself stood for the instant in time when light first shone, when the command was performed. It joins the two parts, to show how God's word works, fulfilling his will, at some moment.
Thus what God said should become, became. Light became, because God said that light was to become. The word, the thing spoken, became reality. (Just as later, the word, the thing spoken, became flesh in Jesus, the man in whom God's glory was set forth, because he obeyed the commandment that had uttered from his father's mouth. In him was not just light, but life, given by God, which was the source of the light.) Thus we see the principle; and it's the simplicity and elegance of the vav consecutive construction that presents the force so directly.
So now we reach the point and issue at which Weasley joined the thread. Does the vav-consecutive construction work only one way at once? Does it either convert the tense, or have the sense of "and", but only ever one of those in any particular instance? Or does it do both?
I am in no doubt, Fort's attempts to argue on this point notwithstanding. The vav-consecutive does
do both things at once. I sought to prove that with reference to the inspired NT's quotations of a couple of vav-consecutive occurrences, which are authoritative precisely because scripture is inspired. That is how we can really prove it. But uninspired translations also do the right thing: let me show that…
We can see that in fact the great majority of translators into English understand the vav-consecutive is not an exclusive single-purpose form, but can function both as "and" and to implement tense-conversion, at the same time. It's easy to see. Look here
. Note that of the English translations of Gen 1:3 represented on that Blue Letter Bible page, only one (the "Hebrew names version") omits any connective word at the start of Genesis 1:3. All the rest have either "and" or "then" there. But not one of them renders the verb in the unconverted tense as "will say". Every last one puts "said"; that is, they translate the verb on the basis of the tense conversion. They really haven't got any choice about it! (OK, I lied, Young messed up with "saith", but I commented before on how he really didn’t understand Hebrew tenses - a great pity.) And every last version does
have the connective "and" between the two parts of the rest of the verse, with the converted verb tense also clear in all but YLT with its absurd "is". (Poor, poor, confused RY…)
So I say again, vav-consecutive, at least in many cases, is not
exclusive of the sense of "and". Both work together, far, far more often than not.
Suffice to say further that the vav-consecutive plays a major role in Genesis 1: "And God said" comes several times; "and it was [so]" is another example of the same conversion mode. So we can't ignore it. It's really very frequent, not just in the record of creation but throughout historical narrative in the OT. It would take a long time to really get a full representative spread of all aspects of it, but the basic idea is I hope now clearer.
OK, I'll stop at that for the moment, perhaps rather abruptly. I've only summarised - in a rather muddled way - a few basic aspects of "and" in Hebrew, and something about the vav consecutive/conversive. We didn't get far in any detail, just the first 3 verses of the OT, but I hope you've been able to see something helpful anyway. It's a start, at least!
Finally, I must also stress that I'm definitely not an expert. I know brethren with a considerably deeper and stronger grasp of Hebrew than my own, and they would also say they were still learning it. We all can safely say that none of us will ever truly master biblical Hebrew, before Yahweh turns to the people a pure language, to call upon his name, and to serve him with one consent. Then, I believe, we will indeed all know it, and use it, perfectly. May that day come soon!
Edited by Mark Taunton, 02 October 2008 - 11:56 PM.