Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Genesis 43:7

This scripture has little theological relevance, but it contains a number of important Hebrew principles of which every student should be aware. I'll be teaching intensive Biblical Hebrew next summer and have found that if I explain these principles to others I retain them much better and understand them more clearly. I'll discuss each word individually and give my translation at the bottom. Here's the text in Hebrew (I apologize for the font. The holem will be spaced as if it's its own letter):

וַיֹּאמְרוּ שָׁאוֹל שָׁאַל-הָאִישׁ לָנוּ וּלְמוֹלַדְתֵּנוּ לֵאמֹר הַעוֹד אֲבִיכֶם חַי הֲיֵשׁ לָכֶם אָח וַנַּגֶּד-לוֹ עַל-פִּי הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה הֲיָדוֹעַ נֵדַע--כִּי יֹאמַר הוֹרִידוּ אֶת-אֲחִיכֶם

Qal, prefix, 3rd comm. plural, waw-conversive, אמר, "to say." With the Qal prefix we expect to see an i preformative vowel. An aleph will normally quiesce in the first position, but due to the frequency of its use the vocalization has developed analogous to the 1st singular, prefix of the same verb. The double aleph will combine to give us ā, but the Canaanite shift comes into play and the holem replaces the primitive vocalization.

שָׁאוֹל שָׁאַל-הָאִישׁ לָנוּ
The first form of שׁאל here is a prepositive infinitive absolute. The second is a Qal, affix, 3rd masc. singular. This combination is fairly common in Biblical Hebrew and often gives a nuance of affirmation or "asseveration" to the following verb (often translated "surely"). Here, though, the sense seems to be that of insistence, or a pressing question or demand. An appropriate translation would be, "The man asked us directly concerning us."

The man also asks concerning Jacob's kindred. מוֹלַדְתֵּנוּ is a substantive from the verb yld ("to give birth"). A holem male appears in place of the y, which will be explained below.

"Saying. . . "

הַעוֹד אֲבִיכֶם חַי הֲיֵשׁ לָכֶם אָח

In both sentences the h is interrogative.

וַנַּגֶּד-לוֹ עַל-פִּי הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה
The daggesh in the g of וַנַּגֶּד indicates the original first n has assimilated (the n in the first position often assimilates when there is no vowel separating it from the next root letter). The verb is a Qal, affix, 1st comm. plural, waw-conversive.

הֲיָדוֹעַ נֵדַע
Another infinitive absolute followed by a finite verb. The h is interrogative. The sere with the n indicates the y of yd‘ has dropped out completely. The verb is Qal, affix, 1 comm. plural.
כִּי יֹאמַר הוֹרִידוּ אֶת-אֲחִיכֶם
We find with יֹאמַר another example of a preformative holem in a prefix verb. הוֹרִידוּ is an interesting verb. It's a masc. plural Hiphil imperative, which makes it causitive ("cause to come down"). The first y has been replaced with a holem male. This form is actually more archaic than the root from other derived forms of yrd. The verb was originally wrd, and this reading preserves the oldest known form.

And they said, the man asked us directly concerning ourselves and our kindred, saying, "Does your father yet live? Do you have a brother?" And we told him all about these things. Could we really have known that he would say, "Bring your brother down"?

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