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Song of Songs 8:11 reads

כֶּרֶם הָיָה לִשְׁלֹמֹה בְּבַעַל הָמוֹן נָתַן אֶת הַכֶּרֶם לַנֹּטְרִים אִישׁ יָבִא בְּפִרְיוֹ אֶלֶף כָּסֶף

which translates word-by-word:

[A] vineyard was/became/has-become(?) unto-Solomon at-Baal Hamon. He-entrusted (DirObjM) the-vineyard unto-keepers. Each-man was/is(?)-to-bring for-its-fruit a-thousand [shekels-of-]silver.

The KJV says

Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon;
he let out the vineyard unto keepers;
every one for the fruit thereof was to bring a thousand [pieces] of silver.

Now most translations (including the KJV above) say

Solomon had a vineyard ... was to bring ...

but some translations say

Solomon has a vineyard ... is to bring ...

(Presumably the latter interprets the perfect-tense verb הָיָה in the sense of a present-perfect "is in the state of having become".)

On the one hand, in context it would seem a bit strange for the verse just to be presenting a historical narrative, as is suggested by the first option's "Solomon had a vineyard".

But on the other hand, [I'm certainly no expert on subtleties of Hebrew, so please correct me if I'm wrong] I imagine that הָיָה in the perfect tense is generally used of past actions or states rather than a present state; I would guess that "Solomon has a vineyard" is more likely to be expressed simply as כֶּרֶם לִשְׁלֹמֹה (similarly to "we have a little sister" earlier in verse 8).

Furthermore, a past-action interpretation of the perfect-tense verb הָיָה naturally fits the idea of "a sequence of events", with נָתַן being the next perfect-tense event.

So then, my question is:

Would

"Solomon acquired a vineyard. He entrusted it to keepers. Each man was [and still is] to bring for its fruit a thousand shekels of silver."

be a possible way of interpreting the tenses in Song 8:11?

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The explanation of your question doesn't seem to be questioning the perfect tense of הָיָ֤ה, but the imperfect tense of יָבִ֥א. The hifil means cause to come, thus bring, or there give. Translators usually give this a subjunctive sense, shown most clearly in the JPS translation of the Tanak.

  Solomon had a vineyard 
  In Baal-hamon. 
  He had to post guards in the vineyard: 
  A man would give for its fruit 
  A thousand pieces of silver. 
         (S. of S. 8:11, JPS)

But, to answer your specific question, the perfect tense is used for the meaning of past tense. Present tense meaning is usually expressed with participles or absence of being verb הָיָ֤ה, especially when using a pronoun. Future tense meaning is usually expressed with imperfect tense. A notable exception is prophetic perfect. Then, the waw consecutive switches the tense. I don't know how much Hebrew you know are Hebrew grammars you have.

To give the particular aspect takes context, and the context is difficult with this verse.

Some discussion of imperfect tense is here: What did Jesus likely say in John 8:58?

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  • Thank you, and apologies if my question isn't clear. In linguistics (or even, specifically in English), there isn't simply one "past tense" aspect. For the perfect tense of הָיָ֤ה, I've seen translations that have an ongoing past aspect "A vineyard was Solomon's" (i.e. Solomon had a vineyard), and I've seen translations that have an ongoing present [or a present-perfect] aspect "A vineyard is Solomon's" (i.e. Solomon has a vineyard). But now I am asking about the possibility of a past action aspect "A vineyard became Solomon's" (i.e. Solomon acquired a vineyard). Jan 6, 2022 at 21:33
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The answer to the OP question stated at the end of the OP is "no". There is no idea of acquisition in this verse, and no need to go to such lengths to understand this easy verse.

The meaning of Song 8:11 is, as translated by the KJV and others, "Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon".

The translation problem of the verse is that in Hebrew we say:

  1. כרם היה "a vineyard was" ("vineyard" being subject of היה, "was")
  2. לשלמה "to/of/for Solomon"
  3. בבעל המון "in Baal Hamon"

but to translate this into usable English we have to reverse the word order to read "Solomon had a vineyard in Baal Hamon", as if "Solomon" was the subject of this verse, which is not the case. The subject, and the point of this verse, is "a vineyard", and it was Solomon's, and it was in Baal Hamon.

That היה, "was", is simple past tense can be seen from the reference to "Solomon", who is, at the time of the writing of Song of Songs, already a historical figure.

The following verb, נתן, "gave" in the sense of "rented" is consistent with היה, simple past tense.

The next verb, יביא "would bring", is conditional, referring to a past condition.

The point of this verse, verse 11, is the following verse, verse 12, (NIV):

But my own vineyard is mine to give; the thousand shekels are for you, Solomon, and two hundred are for those who tend its fruit.

To paraphrase these two verses together, "I am not jealous of anyone else's 'vineyard', however fertile it is, even Solomon's proverbial 'vineyard', let them have it. My 'vineyard' is mine to give and it is just as rich". That is, my love is just as rich as the love of all of Solomon's wives together. This is a young woman's assertion of the power of her love.

This couplet of verses closes the opening reference in 1:6, "but my own vineyard I have neglected", i.e. I have neglected finding my own love.

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I believe I've found the answer to my question. From Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar, section 106 ("Uses of the perfect"):

Jb 1:1 there was a man (אִישׁ הָיָה) in the land of Uz ... As the above examples indicate, the perfect of narration occurs especially at the head of an entire narrative (Jb 1:1; cf. Dn 2:1) or ...

Franz Delitzsch, in his commentary on this verse (in the Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary) also mentions further examples:

1 Samuel 9:2; 2 Samuel 6:23; 2 Samuel 12:2; 2 Kings 1:17; 1 Chronicles 23:17; 1 Chronicles 26:10

So it is not saying that Solomon "acquired" a vineyard; it is simply saying that Solomon "had" a vineyard, but using the perfect tense because it is the head of a narrative.

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