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I am not a Hebrew expert, and the following sentence felt ambiguous to me. ויהי בצאת נפשה כי מתה From biblical Hebrew: Genesis 35:18 Strong's Hebrew

Does it mean that: the soul was departing because she (the woman) was dying

Or: the soul was dying because the soul was departing?

Full sentence is: וַיְהִ֞י בְּצֵ֤את נַפְשָׁהּ֙ כִּ֣י מֵ֔תָה וַתִּקְרָ֥א שְׁמֹ֖ו בֶּן־אֹונִ֑י וְאָבִ֖יו קָֽרָא־לֹ֥ו בִנְיָמִֽין

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כִּי מֵתָה (ki meta), “because she died,” is a parenthetical remark by the author informing the reader why Rachel’s soul was departing. כִּי מֵתָה cannot be translated as “because she was dying” because the verb would need to be conjugated in the imperfect tense (or as a participle) to indicate an incomplete or ongoing act (i.e., someone in the process of dying). Rather, it is in the perfect tense, indicating a completed action. The action (her death) was complete at the time the author wrote the narrative.

And it came to pass, when her soul was departing (because she died), that she called his name “Ben-Oni,” but his father called it “Binyamin.”

Logically, if she was dead at that very moment, she would not have been able to speak.

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  • Re: "the verb would need to be conjugated in the imperfect tense (or as a participle)": But the participle is identical in this case -- still מֵתָה -- so this comment doesn't really make sense. – ruakh May 3 at 4:26
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    @ruakh—The zakef katan cantillation mark on the מ (indicating accent) suggests that it has been traditionally understood as perfect tense verb rather than a participle. Although the participle and perfect tense verb are spelled identically, מֵתָה, the participle is accented on the final syllable while the perfect tense verb is accented on the initial syllable. It cannot be both; accentuation precludes it. – Der Übermensch May 3 at 5:06

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