As you might be aware, Jonathan has been writing a series about the word order of the biblical Hebrew verbal sentence. The significance of that series and what he is arguing might be lost, however. Therefore, I wanted to write a short entry to let you know why I have become a recent convert to Cook and Holmstedt’s proposal for the re-examination of the standard or “unmarked” word order in biblical Hebrew.

Anyone who learned Hebrew through the standard channels will generally tell you that the normal word order in Hebrew is verb-subject-object (VSO). That is, the verb appears first, then the subject, and then whatever other information (the object, adverbs, etc.). Take, for example, the following quote from the popular introductory grammar The Basics of Biblical Hebrew by Gary Pratico and Miles Van Pelt (133 [§12.14]):

In Hebrew, however, normal word order for a verbal sentence is verb-subject-object as the following example illustrates.

בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ
God created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1).

In this example, the verb is in first position (בָּרָא), the subject in second position (אֱלֹהִים) and the two objects follow the subject (הַשָּׁמַיִם and הָאָרֶץ).

This is wholly incorrect for a few reasons, but you cannot blame these authors for making such a statement when even Gesenius, the most famous of biblical Hebrew grammarians, has the following to say (Kautzsch, 456 [§142f]):

According to what has been remarked above, under a, the natural order of words within the verbal sentence is: Verb—Subject, or Verb—Subject—Object. But as in the noun clause (§141l) so also in the verbal-clause, a variation of the usual order of words frequently occurs when any member of the sentence is to be specifically emphasized by priority of position.

So, why has this topic occupied so much of Jonathan’s thoughts here on the blog of The Hebrew Café? Why does any of this matter for students of biblical Hebrew? And, how can we know for sure that the information on word order presented in these grammars is so incorrect?

Continue reading “A Recent Convert”

Patton, Matthew, and Putnam, Frederick. Basics of Hebrew Discourse: A Guide to Working with Hebrew Prose and Poetry. Edited by Miles Van Pelt. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019.

In October of last year, I pre-ordered a copy of Patton and Putnam’s much acclaimed book on discourse analysis principles as they relate to biblical Hebrew (pictured to the right). Book Cover: Basics of Hebrew Discourse (click to enlarge)I picked it up and read quickly through it in the first week that I had it. It’s certainly not a disappointment!

The first thing that you notice about the book is its compact size. It is definitely smaller than I expected, especially given the way that Zondervan has taken to making their language series books inordinately large lately. I didn’t pay attention to the dimensions when I placed the order, so I expected to hold in my hands a volume about as large as the recent editions of Basics of Biblical Hebrew and Basics of Biblical Greek. This book is nothing like those. You can easily toss it in any handbag to take it with you to the coffee house (once we’re on the other side of the COVID-19 restrictions—may it be בִּמְהֵרָה בְיָמֵ֫ינוּ [soon in our days]!) to sit and read at your leisure and then take back home to mull over and work through the examples on your own.

Continue reading “Basics of Hebrew Discourse – A Review”

I am working on a post on real and irreal mood.  It is really long, so I think I’m going to cut it into further parts. Besides, Jason reminded me that “No one knows what real and irreal moods are!” So, that’s what this post is for.

Real and irreal mood is more or less the same thing as the indicative and subjunctive moods in English. Real mood (indicative) is a statement grounded in reality.  Most often, this is a simple statement.

Irreal (subjunctive) mood includes sentences or statements that are one step removed from reality, i.e., something that may or may not have happened. “Irreal” is a linguistic description derived from the Latin irrealis. Irreal mood may also be called “unreal” mood.

Continue reading “Word order in Biblical Hebrew, pt. 2: Real and Irreal Mood (a)”

In recent years, there has been lively discussions concerning word order in Biblical Hebrew.  For last century, and until  very recently, the consensus among most scholars has been that Hebrew exhibits VERB-SUBJECT word order.  For example:

בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֲלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָעָרֶץ׃
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.¹

At the head of the clause, we have an infinitive followed by the perfect verb ברא, followed by the subject אֲלֹהִים. The verb is first, followed by the subject.  While this is the most common word order, I argue (following John A. Cook and Robert D. Holmstedt) that it is not the “default” word order. Instead, the default word order is SUBJECT-VERB, as in English.

Continue reading “Word Order in Biblical Hebrew, Pt. 1: An Overview”