Home > Study of the Old Testament > Genesis 1-11: A Handbook on the Hebrew Text

Genesis 1-11: A Handbook on the Hebrew Text

  • Bandstra, Barry L.
  • Genesis 1-11 : a handbook on the Hebrew text / Barry Bandstra.
  • p. cm. — (Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Bible series)
  • Includes the Hebrew text of Genesis I-XI with an English translation and grammatical analysis.
  • Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • ISBN 978-1-932792-70-6 (pbk.)
  • BS1235.55.B36 2007     222>.11077–dc22          2007044473

This second volume in the Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Bible series provides expert, comprehensive guidance in answering significant questions about the Hebrew text. While reflecting the latest advances in scholarship on Hebrew grammar and linguistics, the work utilizes a style that is lucid enough to serve as a useful agent for teaching and self-study.

Introductory courses in biblical Hebrew (BH) grammar typically focus on teaching the grammatical forms and vocabulary of the language.

While they might differ considerably when it comes to pedagogical approach, whether deductive or inductive, or a blend, such courses presume that the most important things to learn are the noun and verb paradigms and the forms of other words. It is common practice for a grammar textbook to have one chapter devoted to the quall perfect of each root type (strong and weak), and the qal imperfect of each root type, then one on the nifal of each root type, and so on. The teacher’s expectation is that a responsible student of BH will come to recognize whether a subject noun is singular or plural, masculine or feminine, and the like, and how verbs appropriately match such subjects. By the end of the course, passing students will know how to parse each verb form for root, stem, part of speech, person, number and gender. As an overall strategy, the focus of grammar is on the forms of words in the clause, such that a student of the language can recognize the “well formedness”of the clause and parse each and every word in it.

This handbook to the first eleven chapters of Genesis is part of a series of volumes that is intended to be of use to students of BH at the intermediate and advanced levels. Naturally, it assumes knowledge of the forms of the language, as characterized above, and looks to take the student further along in understanding the structure of the language and the biblical text. Each volume in the series will reflect its author’s particular linguistic approach. This contribution to the series uses insights gained from an approach to linguistic understanding called functional grammar. While formal grammar is strong on conjugating verbs and parsing nouns, functional grammar provides a conceptual and descriptive framework for understanding why clauses are worded the way they are, and why clauses are strung together into texts the way they are.

One of the starting points of functional grammar is the claim that speakers and writers shape their messages in order to accomplish personal and social objectives. With this in mind, grammatical analysis of a functional variety examines texts to discern these purposes and explain the wordings of the messages of texts accordingly. It begins with the reasonable premise that a speaker or writer chooses how to shape the message before it is uttered or written in order best to accomplish certain ends. Functional grammar is designed to provide, as best it can, an explanation of the choices that have been made. The approach to functional grammar employed in this handbook is called systemic functional grammar, and is based on the work of M. A. K. Halliday. In addition to Halliday (2004), see Thompson (2004) for a basic introduction to functional analysis, and see Butler (2003) for a comprehensive description and comparison of the major functional approaches that can be found within the discipline of linguistics.

Three Kinds of Function in the Clause

There are numerous factors that shape the wording of clauses, and each is related to how and why we use language. The functional approach used here identifies what it claims are three core uses of spoken and written communication. One way we use language is to give expression to our experience of the world. We use words to depict external events and our internal thoughts and feelings. Additionally, we use language in order to interact with other people, including attempts to influence their behavior, or engage in transactions, or maintain relationships.

Lastly, we shape messages in such a way that they fit with other meanings in the context of our writing and speaking.

Functional grammar sorts these factors out into three main areas of meaning, called metafunctions, and each metafunction has an effect on the wording of a clause. Think of them as three overlays of meaning, much like multiple transparencies on an overhead projector that project a single image. Each has its own integrity, yet taken together they provide a richer account of the meaning of a text than any single one alone could.

Mood: The Interpersonal View of the Clause

The first metafunction of the clause is the interpersonal one, and it has to do with how the clause is structured in order to negotiate a transaction or exchange between a speaker and a hearer. An interpersonal analysis examines the clause for elements that establish the parameters of the negotiation. Above all, this has to do with the Subject of the clause and the Finite verb form of the clause. The interpersonal structure of a clause belongs to the Mood system, though this should not be thought of as having to do with emotions. Rather, the term Mood has to do with modes of interaction, for which Subject and Finite are key concepts. Note that in functional grammar, it is conventional practice to capitalize functions such as Subject and Finite.

In traditional grammar, the subject of a clause is understood to be the item about which something is predicated. An intuitive notion of subject often gets attached, such that the subject of the clause is also considered the subject matter of the clause, what the clause is “about.”

Functional grammar takes the notion of Subject in a somewhat different direction. The Subject in functional grammar is the constituent in a clause about which the speaker makes a claim to the hearer, and the item upon which the validity of the clause hangs. Viewing the clause as an interaction between the speaker and the hearer, the Subject is the element in the clause that is subject to negotiation, or the core of the issue at play in the clause. This redefinition of the notion of Subject is not entirely different from the traditional intuitive notion—in a sense it still identifies what the clause is “about”—but it adds precision given the fundamental claim that messages are used to accomplish interpersonal goals.

There are two linguistic tests that probe for Subject in a clause. The first test is posing a challenge question. If deity made the barrier is the statement, then the challenge question would be No, he didn’t rather than No, it didn’t. This demonstrates that in this clause deity and not the barrier is the concern of the predication. The other approach is to add a tag question to the clause, the Subject of which would be the same as the Subject of the main clause. The tag question of this clause would be didn’t he? as in, Deity made the barrier, didn’t he? Both tests reveal the clause is about something that deity did.

When it comes to the Subject, BH is designed differently than English. English requires an explicit Subject word in every independent clause, either a noun or pronoun. In BH the Subject of a clause may be an independent word which is a Participant in the Transitivity structure of the clause, as in this clause, or it may not exist independently but simply be evident in the person, gender, and number form of the verb. As we will see, the presence or absence of an explicit Subject is a function of the Textuality dimension of the text.

The other central component of the interpersonal Mood system is the Finite. The Finite is the main verb of a clause in BH that is congruent with the Subject in person, number, and gender. In Genesis 1:7(a) the Subject is ms and the Finite is 3ms, though there is a slight incongruence with אֱלֹהִים in so far as it is formally, though not operationally, plural. The Finite is the clause constituent that, along with the Subject, makes it possible to challenge the validity of the message of the clause. Using the Finite, the speaker signals whether the proposition was valid in the past or at another time (the present or future). This feature of a verb is typically called its tense. Thus, the Finite expresses its “finitude” in two dimensions: (a) by specifying person, gender, and number, and (b) by specifying the time of the process relative to the temporal reference point of the text. The latter is realized by the tense form of the Finite using the choices wayyiqtol, qatal, yiqtol, weqatal.

Together the Subject and the Finite constitute the Mood structure of a clause. The remainder of the clause, אֶת־הָרָקִיעַ the barrier, does not have a role in the Mood structure. Functional grammar terms everything outside the Mood of the clause the Residue, though this should not be understood in a derogatory sense. This way of describing a clause as having a Mood core and a Residue might seem strange, since it is not conceptualized this way in traditional grammars of Hebrew. But after discussing the second metafunction of the clause, this way of describing the clause will appear more useful.

The reason the Subject and the Finite components of a clause are isolated and identified is because this facilitates an examination of the clause as interpersonal interaction. The basic purposes of interpersonal communication in a functional sense are giving and getting.

When we think about it, the item given or received may be a material thing, such as groceries, or an immaterial thing, such as information. In the case of material goods and services, language plays a role in the success of the transaction, though the main transaction involves commodities and physical activities. When mapped using a table, these basic purposes (in bold) and their respective speech modes look like this.

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