כֻּ֭לָּם אֵלֶ֣יךָ יְשַׂבֵּר֑וּן לָתֵ֖ת אָכְלָ֣ם בְּעִתּֽוֹ׃
All creatures look to you
to give them their food at the proper time.
—Psa. 104:27 (NIV)
From time to time over the years, I’ve enjoyed Laura Gibbs’ “Latin LOLCats” internet memes and commentary. In her blog, Laura (a former online Latin and Greek instructor at the University of Oklahoma) delights the Latin student and feline aficionado with amusing photos and a saying taken from classical Latin. Sometimes the saying is humorous, sometimes serious, but always worth reading and pondering. Check them out at http://goproverbs.blogspot.com/search/label/LOLCats%3A Latin.I thought that something similar would be helpful here on my blog for students of the Biblical languages. I also encourage Latin students (and cat lovers) to visit and enjoy her posts. Accordingly, I’ve added a link to her site on the Let Ancient Voices Speak Resources Page.
So, here we go with the first Biblical Hebrew LOLCat post. For this feature I’ve adopted a somewhat expanded definition of “Biblical Hebrew”: not only the Hebrew Bible, but Hebrew inscriptions and papryi from the Old Testament period, Ben Sira (Sirach), and Qumran Hebrew (So Kirk Lowrey, administrator/moderator, B-Hebrew internet forum; David J.A.Clines, “Introducing the Dictionary of Classical Hebrew”, paper on Academia.edu). Thus, my use of “Biblical Hebrew” is equivalent to “Classical Hebrew”. While most of the texts I use will be from the Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible, I will draw on the other contemporary and near-contemporary Hebrew sources from time to time.
In this beautiful psalm, the anonymous poet praises and thanks Yahweh, the one true and living God. Yahweh is praised for his wisdom and power in creating, and his compassionate provision for, all his creatures, both humans and animals. In verse 27 we read in the Hebrew Masoretic text:
כֻּ֭לָּם אֵלֶ֣יךָ יְשַׂבֵּר֑וּן לָתֵ֖ת אָכְלָ֣ם בְּעִתּֽוֹ
In the English text we have, according to the NIV (2011), “All creatures look to you to give them their food at the proper time.” Let’s look at the grammar and vocabulary now. To give both of us practice, we’ll present the words written without the נקודת (nikudot), or vowel points, just as I’ve done with the text on the photo.
דקדוק ואוצר מילים (Grammar and Vocabulary)
Note: If there were any ancient Biblical Hebrew grammarians, their works either have not survived, or have not yet been discovered. (We can but hope they are out there somewhere.) The earliest known Jewish scholars to write extensively on Biblical Hebrew grammar in Hebrew date from the Middle Ages. Therefore, I use some Modern Hebrew terminology for this without apology. A valuable resource for this is Avital Ordan’s An English-Hebrew List of Technical Terms for Biblical Studies (The same list is also available in a Hebrew to English version.)
When talking here about verb forms, I use the Modern Hebrew terms for talking about the base verb and prefixed form: pa’ol (פעל) and yiph’al (יפעל).In the recent past, the terms qatal (קטל) and yiqtol (יקטל) were used in Biblical Hebrew studies. (Both terminologies refer to the same verb forms. It is just that different model verbs are used.) Before this, the terms “perfect” and “imperfect” were used. Thanks to fellow B-Hebrew forum member Jason Hare for pointing out the Modern Hebrew terms.
Parsing information used here is courtesy of the helpful site Bible Online Learner and its associated site SHEBANQ. Two helpful resources I used to review the BH (Biblical Hebrew) pronoun suffixes are Dr. Shawn Madden’s The Handy-Dandy Biblical Hebrew Grammar Chart and fellow B-Hebrew (Biblical Hebrew) online forum member Karl W. Randolph’s Biblical Hebrew Paradigms chart, both available as PDF files. To obtain Karl’s chart and his own Hebrew dictionary, join the B-Hebrew forum (http://bhebrew.biblicalhumanities.org) and send him a private message requesting the files.
כלם “all of them”, כל, noun,“all” + pronoun object suffix ם–, “them” (3rd masc. plural) The NIV based its “all creatures” rendering here on the context. At the end of verse 24, we read מלאה הארץ קנינך, “the earth is full of your creatures”, where קנינך is “your creatures”. While the term can be understood as “property” or “purchase”, based on the verb קנה I, there is also a verb קנה II. The latter can mean “create” when God is the subject, as in Psa. 139:13. (Holladay)
אליך “to you”, אל, preposition, “to, toward” + pronoun object suffix ך– (final kaph), “you”, 2nd person masc. sg. Here, אל takes the form אלי, a longer form used with suffixes (BDB, Holladay). Note: in the typical lexicon and in a Hebrew Bible with נקודת (nikudot), or vowel points, אל is pointed (vocalized) as אֶל to distinguish it from אֵל, “God, god” and אַל, “not” (used in requests and prohibitions).
ישברון “they look”, Piel yiph’al, 3 masc. pl., שׂבר, with ון– as the plural ending instead of the usual ו–.This is an example of a “paragogic nun” (Bythner, Lyra prophetica), where the letter nun is added at the end of a finite verb. It has no known function or meaning. (unfoldingWord Hebrew Grammar). “Paragogic” is defined by Wiktionary as “Of, relating to, or constituting, a paragoge; added to the end of, or serving to lengthen, a word. In the Semitic languages, paragogic letters are added to the ordinary forms of words to express additional emphasis or a change in the meaning.” The italicized portion probably is based on Gesenius, who did believe that the use of the additional nun showed emphasis. If so, it is unclear what is being emphasized. Whatever its rationale was, it is used, according to Gesenius, around 300 times in the Hebrew Bible. (Origins of Hebrew.com) As for “paragoge”, it is from Late Latin paragoge, from Ancient Greek παραγωγή, paragōgḗ, “derivation, addition”. (“Paragoge”, Wiktionary.)
לתת “to give”, Qal infinitive construct, נתן, with prefixed preposition –ל, “to, for”.The infinitive construct generally functions as a verbal complement to a finite verb, but in rare cases it also functions independently as a noun. The infinitive construct is described as being in the construct state because it can occur in various constructions with prepositions, suffixes, and other nouns in a construct chain. (“Infinitve Construct”, unfoldingWord Hebrew grammar). As to function, the infinitive absolute can have several. In this case, it Is the one unfoldingWord lists first: “Expresses purpose, result, or complementary action of a main verb (with preposition לְ). This is by far the most common use of the infinitive construct, as a standard grammatical infinitive.” The infinitve construct can also be prefixed with other prepositions.
The verb נתן,“give”, appears here without its root letter נ at the beginning and end. The reason is that it is a weak verb, type Pe-Nun (פ״ן), named after the first letter of the Medieval Hebrew term for “verb”, פֹּעַל. So, the first root letter is named פ ,the second is named ע, and the third is named ל. In the Bible, this word means action, deed (Mansoor,Biblical Hebrew Step by Step, Vol. 1, 80). Unlike the many Hebrew verbs which retain all their root letters as they are conjugated (strong verbs), some drop one or more root letters in certain constructions. (Hebrew verbs have three root letters, or radicals [Latin radix, radicalis, “root”; Apple Macintosh English Dictionary widget].) The root letters of weak verbs are subject to loss or change.Generally a verb containing a ה ,ו ,י, or א, or an initial נ is a weak verb. (Mansoor,ibid.) As Gesenius notes, the Pe Nun verb loses its initial Nun, or suffers apheresis of it (Late Latin, from Greek ἀφαίρεσις, εως, ἡ,”taking away, carrying off, removal”, from the verb αφαιρειν [ἀφαιρέω]). In linguistics, “loss of a sound or sounds at the beginning of a word”; Apple Macintosh English Dictionary widget.) This occurs in the infinitive construct and imperative. In the case of the verb נתן, thefinal Nun assimilates to a ת. (Gesenius,§66a-b, h-i).
אכלם,“their food”, masc. sg. noun אכל, “food”, with 3rd masc. pl. pronoun suffix ם–.
בעתו, “in his [Eng. “its”] time”, masc. sg. noun את, “time”, with prefixed preposition ב–, “in” and 3rd masc. sg. pronoun suffix,ו–, “his”. In more idiomatic English, “at the proper time”, as in NIV.
About the Picture
I took the picture several years ago. One of the blessings of living on a farm, as my wife and I do, is that we get to see so many of God’s animal creation. For the last few years, in the summer, one or more pairs of swallows have nested and raised their babies under our carport at our house. One summer day, a swallow was flying back and forth to and from a nest. Our cats were watching the swallow through the window in the storm door that leads to the carport. For nearly an hour, the cats watched the swallow flying, fascinated. I snapped the picture as they were watching the swallow.
“Apheresis”, “radical”. Apple Macintosh English Dictionary Widget.
Bible Online Learner. Hebrew Bible with morphology and vocabulary helps. Online at https://bibleol.3bmoodle.dk/text/show_text/ETCBC4/Genesis/1.Linked to Hebrew SHEBANQ site (see below).
Brown, Francis, Driver, S.R., and Charles A. Briggs. Hebrew and English Lexicon, with an Appendix Containing the Biblical Aramaic, Based on the Lexicon of William Gesenius. Oxford, 1906. Electronic edition, “The Enhanced Brown”. Online at http://www.ericlevy.com/revel/bdb/bdb/main.htm.
Bythner, Victorinus. Davidis regis lyra prophetica; sive analysis critico-practica Psalmorum. Commentary on Psalms in Latin, based on the Hebrew. London, 1650; revised ed., Glasgow, 1823. Google Books PDF ed. Online at Google Books.
Clines, David J.A. “Introducing the Dictionary of Classical Hebrew. Online at https://www.academia.edu/11665581/Introducing_the_Dictionary_of_Classical_Hebrew.
Gesenius, William. §66. “The Weak Verb: Verbs Primae Radicalis Nûn (פ״ן)”. Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar. Edited and enlarged by Emil Kautzsch. Translated by Arthur Ernest Cowley, 1909. Electronic ed. Online at Wikisource, https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Gesenius’_Hebrew_Grammar/66._Verbs_Primae_Radicalis_Nûn_(פ״ן).
Gibbs, Laura. Go Proverbs: Latin LOLCats. Online at http://goproverbs.blogspot.com/search/label/LOLCats%3A Latin
Holladay, William L., ed. A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, Based on the First, Second, and Third Editions of the Koehler-Baumgartner Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti Libros. © Copyright 1988 by E.J. Brill, Leiden, The Netherlands. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan and E.J. Brill, Leiden. Thirteenth corrected impression, 1993. (Print)
“Infinitive Construct”, “Paragogic Nun”. UnfoldingWord Hebrew Grammar. Online at https://uhg.readthedocs.io/en/latest/index.html
Lowery, Kirk. Explanation of expansion of B-Hebrew online forum charter, re: “Biblical Hebrew” as all of “Classical Hebrew”. In post “Topic moved”. Online at http://bhebrew.biblicalhumanities.org/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=21373&p=27771&hilit=classical+hebrew#p2777.
Madden, Shawn. TheHandy-Dandy Biblical Hebrew Grammar Chart, http://veracityomadden.com/heb/thechart.pdf.
Mansoor, Menahem. Biblical Hebrew Step by Step, Volume 1. 2nded. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. 7thprinting, January, 1988. © Copyright 1957, 1978, 1980. (Print)
Ordan, Avital. An English-Hebrew List of Technical Terms for Biblical Studies. Online at Tools for Studying the Hebrew Bible, Marc Brettler, admin.: https://sites.google.com/site/toolsforstudyingthehebrewbible/english-hebrew-glossary.A Hebrew-English version is available at the same site.
“Paragogic”, “Paragoge”. Wiktionary, the Free Dictionary. Online at http://wiktionary.org/
“Pargogic Nun, The”. Origins of Hebrew: Biblical Hebrew Language and Culture Learning Forum. Online at http://www.originsofhebrew.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=199
Randolph, Karl W. Biblical Hebrew Paradigms chart.
SHEBANQ,System for HEBrew Text: ANnotations for Queries and Markup.Online tools for detailed vocabulary, morphology, concordance, and other searches and notations for the study of the Hebrew Bible. Online at https://shebanq.ancient-data.org/.
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Cats picture: I took this picture of our cats Patches (left) and Penny (right) with our Canon PowerShot A520 digital camera. © Copyright 2019 Dewayne and Mary Dulaney.
Header image: Dead Sea Scrolls montage: iron, gall (ink ingredients), scroll portion. Online at Wikimedia Commons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:IronGallDSS.jpg
Hebrew font for the Scripture text on the picture is David Libre Bold, part of a package of free Hebrew fonts (including ones based on ancient inscriptions and the Dead Sea Scrolls), courtesy of The Open Siddur Project. Online at https://opensiddur.org/help/fonts/
“The churches of Christ greet you”, Romans 16:16 banner courtesy of Brother David Padfield, Evangelist for the Church of Christ in Zion, Illinois, from his site www.padfield.com.
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