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In Biblical Hebrew there are two simple verb types (Qal and Niphal) which convey no causation. Are the below revisions of the King James Version more accurate to the thoughts expressed by the grammar? How can the method be improved?

Gen 1:3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

vs

Gen 1:3 And God [permitted himself to] say, [Let there] be light: and there [permitted] light.

and

Gen 12:3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.

vs

Gen 12:3 And I will [once intentionally and intensively] bless them that [intentionally and intensively blesses] thee, and [I will permit a] curse [on] him that [curses] thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be [permissively] blessed.

More on Qal

More on Niphal

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@DanO'Day given answer to this question Is the Lord permissively or actively causing evil in Amos 3:6? if that Qal can be permissive I thought it was the next logical step to look at the other Qals which stands to reason might be permissive as well but I guess as you can see from the down votes that its not a popular idea. :) –  caseyr547 Mar 30 '13 at 4:50
1  
actually, some folks really like this question, so don't let the downvotes dissuade you. I just can't figure out what specifically you are looking for as an answer. Confusing. I'm not sure what to make of it. You sound as though you know Hebrew well enough to answer your own question, but at the same time you misunderstand a lot of grammatical categories. Hard to put my finger on it. I'll attempt to answer, that will open up more discussion at least. We'll see if I'm on the same page or not. –  Daи Mar 30 '13 at 19:34
    
Casey, let me know if my answer clears this up for you. I'm not really sure if it answers your question or not (I'm not really sure what your question is if not). –  Daи Mar 30 '13 at 22:07

1 Answer 1

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I think you may be trying to read far too much into this verse that the grammar won't support. The first translation of each verse in its simplest form is really the best translation and says pretty much everything the grammar allows. The rest is reading more into the text than the grammar would support. I also think you are misunderstanding some of the grammar.

The Qal says the least about the verbal action possible. That is essentially what is meant by saying that "notions of causation are absent."1 You cannot turn around and try to say that it means permissive, because even this somewhat implies passive causation. The Qal stem says the least possible. Any attempts to infer anything beyond the simple meaning of the verb is taking it too far. You are reading other grammatical constructions into the text where they are not justified. So a proposed translation of each verse is as follows, along with a detailed breakdown offering support for each reading:


Genesis 1:3

וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֖ים יְהִ֣י א֑וֹר וַֽיְהִי־אֽוֹר׃

וַיֹּ֥אמֶר ("and he said") is a Qal wayyiqṭōl (prefixed/imperfect sequential) 3rd person masculine singular verb. It commonly introduces discourse/speech.

אֱלֹהִ֖ים ("God") is a common masculine plural absolute proper noun.

יְהִ֣י ("Let there be") is a Qal yiqṭōl (imperfect) 3rd person masculine singular jussive verb. The jussive refers to a third person expression of volition (wish/desire), i.e. an indirect command.

א֑וֹר ("light") is a common singular absolute noun.

וַֽיְהִי ("and there was") is another Qal wayyiqṭōl (prefixed/imperfect sequential) 3rd person masculine singular verb. It is also a fairly common verb construction, meaning "and there was," "and there came to pass," or "and it happened."

אֽוֹר ("light") is a common singular absolute noun.

The NET translators' notes point out:

“Let there be” is the short jussive form of the verb “to be”; the following expression “and there was” is the short preterite form of the same verb. As such, יְהִי (yéhi) and וַיְהִי (vayéhi) form a profound wordplay to express both the calling into existence and the complete fulfillment of the divine word.2

Keep in mind that imperfect in Hebrew does not imply tense (biblical Hebrew has no tense as in English). Rather, it implies aspect.

That is, it views the action of the verb from the inside or from the perspective of the action’s unfolding. This imperfective aspect can speak of (depending on context) habitual actions, actions in progress, or even completed actions that have unfolding, ongoing results. The term ‘imperfective’ does not refer to tense, though. Biblical Hebrew does not have tense like English or Greek (time of action is conveyed by context). ‘Imperfective’ refers to the kind of action being described, not the time of the action. An action can be viewed in process in the past (“was walking”), the present (“is walking”), or even the future (“will be walking”). When the context dictates, the prefixed conjugation also conveys the indicative mood, the mood of reality. This conjugation is often referred to as the yiqtol conjugation. [Note, some grammars do teach a tense-based view of the Hebrew verb, and this form sometimes is labeled the ‘future’ tense, with the wayyiqtol labeled the ‘inverted-future’.]3

So a proposed translation would be:

And God said, "Let there be light." And there was light.

To try to say much more beyond that would be to read too much into the grammar.


Genesis 12:3

וַאֲבָֽרֲכָה֙ מְבָ֣רְכֶ֔יךָ וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ֖ אָאֹ֑ר וְנִבְרְכ֣וּ בְךָ֔ כֹּ֖ל מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת הָאֲדָמָֽה׃

וַאֲבָֽרֲכָה֙ ("And I will bless") is a Piel weyiqṭōl (imperfect) 1st person common singular cohortative verb. The cohortative refers to a first person expression of volition (wish/desire). Waltke & O'Connor point out that the Piel used to be thought to signify an intensification of the root verb's meaning,4 but this is no longer the scholarly consensus.5 They point out that "the meaning of the Piel stem is neither intensive nor causative (in the sense that it is practically equivalent in meaning to the Hiphil). Rather, it expresses the bringing about of a state."6

The piʿʿēl stem expresses the bringing about of a state. The object of the piʿʿēl verb’s action “suffers the effect” of the action; i.e., it is put into a state by the action. In the sentence “Bob flies the plane,” the direct object [plane] is put into the state of flight by the subject of the verb [Bob].7

מְבָ֣רְכֶ֔יךָ ("those who bless you") is a Piel masculine plural construct (with a 2nd person masculine singular pronominal suffix) participle. Literally "those blessing you."

Commenting on this first phrase, the NET translators state:

The Piel cohortative has as its object a Piel participle, masculine plural. Since the LORD binds himself to Abram by covenant, those who enrich Abram in any way share in the blessings.8

וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ֖ ("and him who curses you") is a Piel masculine singular construct (with a 2nd person masculine singular pronominal suffix) participle. Literally "and him [or 'the one'] cursing you." קלל in the Piel can mean "to designate as too lightweight; contemptible," or to "declare cursed, accursed."9

אָאֹ֑ר ("I will curse") is a yiqṭōl (imperfect) 1st person common singular verb. According to the NET translators, this implies obligation ("I must curse"):

In this part of God’s statement there are two significant changes that often go unnoticed. First, the parallel and contrasting participle מְקַלֶּלְךָ (méqallelkha) is now singular and not plural. All the versions and a few Masoretic MSS read the plural. But if it had been plural, there would be no reason to change it to the singular and alter the parallelism. On the other hand, if it was indeed singular, it is easy to see why the versions would change it to match the first participle. The MT preserves the original reading: “the one who treats you lightly.” The point would be a contrast with the lavish way that God desires to bless many. The second change is in the vocabulary. The English usually says, “I will curse those who curse you.” But there are two different words for curse here. The first is קָלַל (qalal), which means “to be light” in the Qal, and in the Piel “to treat lightly, to treat with contempt, to curse.” The second verb is אָרַר (’arar), which means “to banish, to remove from the blessing.” The point is simple: Whoever treats Abram and the covenant with contempt as worthless God will banish from the blessing. It is important also to note that the verb is not a cohortative, but a simple imperfect. Since God is binding himself to Abram, this would then be an obligatory imperfect: “but the one who treats you with contempt I must curse.”10

וְנִבְרְכ֣וּ ("and they shall be blessed") is a Niphal weqāṭal (perfect/suffixed sequential) 3rd person plural verb. The Niphal is generally translated into English as either passive ("they shall be blessed") or reflexive ("they shall bless themselves"), but this category of meaning actually has no direct correlation in the English language.11 The NET translators explain:

Theoretically the Niphal can be translated either as passive or reflexive/reciprocal. (The Niphal of “bless” is only used in formulations of the Abrahamic covenant. See Gen 12:2; 18:18; 28:14.) Traditionally the verb is taken as passive here, as if Abram were going to be a channel or source of blessing. But in later formulations of the Abrahamic covenant (see Gen 22:18; 26:4) the Hitpael replaces this Niphal form, suggesting a translation “will bless [i.e., “pronounce blessings on”] themselves [or “one another”].” The Hitpael of “bless” is used with a reflexive/reciprocal sense in Deut 29:18; Ps 72:17; Isa 65:16; Jer 4:2. Gen 12:2 predicts that Abram will be held up as a paradigm of divine blessing and that people will use his name in their blessing formulae. For examples of blessing formulae utilizing an individual as an example of blessing see Gen 48:20 and Ruth 4:11.12

בְךָ֔ ("in/by you") is a suffixed 2nd person masculine singular pronoun.

כֹּ֖ל ("all") is a common singular construct noun.

מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת ("families of") is a common feminine plural construct noun.

הָאֲדָמָֽה ("the earth") is a common feminine singular absolute (definite with prefix הָ) noun.

So a proposed translation would be:

And I will bless those blessing you, and the one dishonoring you [treating you lightly/contemptibly] I will [or must] curse. And in you all families of the earth shall be blessed [or by you all families of the earth shall bless themselves].


Conclusion

I hope this answers your question and clears up any confusion about the grammar and syntax of these verses. If not, please comment and I will do my best to understand what you are specifically asking.


Sources

1 Bruce K. Waltke and M. O'Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 362.

2 Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes (Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Gen. 1:3.<

3 Michael S. Heiser and Vincent M. Setterholm, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology (Logos Bible Software, 2013; 2013).

4 Waltke and O'Connor, 396 (396ff includes a discussion of the scholarly literature).

5 Ibid., 399ff.

6 Ibid., 399-400, emphasis mine.

7 Heiser and Setterholm.

8 Biblical Studies Press, Gen. 12:3.

9 Ludwig Koehler, Walter Baumgartner, M. E. J. Richardson and Johann Jakob Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, electronic ed. (Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill, 1999), 1104.

10 Biblical Studies Press, Gen. 12:3.

11 Waltke and O'Connor, 378ff.

12 Biblical Studies Press, Gen. 12:3.

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Well-done! And I hadn't realized that pi'el as intensifier was no longer the common theory, so thank you for that pointer. –  Gone Quiet Mar 31 '13 at 2:01
    
ok I do agree the permissive is not fully accurate because it implies indirect causation. But my problem is saying "God said" with no qualifiers implies direct causation. In English "God said" means the same thing as God caused himself to say. –  caseyr547 Mar 31 '13 at 3:13
    
@caseyr547 It's just a simple finite verb. With Qal, the subject of the verb is is the agent/actor (active). The problem with saying that "God caused himself to say" is that this is precisely what the Hiphil conveys. You would thus be reading the Hiphil sense into the Qal. Remember that we are attempting to approximate Hebrew grammar, there are at times no direct correlations in the English language. we cannot read one category into another (i.e. the Hiphil into the Qal). "God said" is the best translation for this reason. To say more is a confusion of grammatical categories. –  Daи Mar 31 '13 at 3:42
    
Your discussion/contention seems more philosophical than grammatical/textual. I am responding solely to the latter. –  Daи Mar 31 '13 at 3:43
    
@DanO'Day thank you yes I agree that Hiphil is causative and Qal is not and that we must approximate Hebrew grammar in English. As far as I can see there are no verbs which totally lack causality and still convey what X is doing in English when read by a lay person. –  caseyr547 Mar 31 '13 at 4:47

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