Verbal Meaning: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Framework for Interpretive Categories of the Biblical Hebrew Verbal System as Elaborated in the Book of Ruth
Abstract: The verbal system of Biblical Hebrew has intrigued the minds of exegetes, linguists, theologians, and translators for centuries. With regard to the verbal system, Biblical Hebrew is radically different from Modern Hebrew. Furthermore, it doesn't fit the traditional structure of grammar modelled on Latin. It is argued that the interpretive categories of aspect, temporal location, and modality should play a role in the understanding of the verb system. (Tense and mood are grammaticalisations of temporal location and modality, respectively.) Each of these categories draws primarily on a different communicative dimension of language: aspect on the syntactic; tense on the semantic; and modality on the pragmatic. Features of these dimensions, which are simultaneously present in language, are seen to inform the interpretive categories (variables). The book of Ruth is analysed by computational linguistics (Werkgroep Informatica, Vrije Universitet Amsterdam), thereby giving priority to the syntactic dimension. Here the scope is above the level of the sentence: it is text linguistic or discourse analytic. At this level the variables of grounding and perspective are investigated. Parameters (formal categories) are defined according to the literary-linguistic theory of Weinrich as implemented for Biblical Hebrew by Schneider, and adapted for computer analysis by Talstra. Clause types are grouped according to the orientational domains narrative or discursive. This grouping has a counterpart on the literary poetic level; that of telling and showing, which are seen as intrinsic genres in the tradition of Hirsch. At this level, the literary devices of plot (structure and theme) and point of view are also brought to bear on the book of Ruth. A fourth level consists of a traditional Christian ideological (theological) reading of the book of Ruth. It is consistent with linguistic variables to see a relationship between the biblical text and history and for there to be a message: a theme of 'hesed' (steadfast love) which fits with a formal description of the plot. Deconstructionist readings, on the other hand, read from the 'gaps' and not from the 'givens' and are not seen as valid in an exegetical sense. The main purpose of this investigation is to construct a coherent framework within which to study verbal meaning in Biblical Hebrew. Part of the results is the construction of such a framework. The theory is demonstrated to fit the data in the book of Ruth. Conclusions are drawn on the interrrelatedness of its formal and interpretive parts, e.g. that narrative (telling) is aspectually perfective in nature, and discursive (showing, dialogues) is imperfective. Interpretive categories are also related, e.g. aspect and grounding: heterogeneous situation types (accomplishment, achievement) and waPC (wayyiqtol) constitute primary foreground in narrative, whereas grounding in discursive requires pragmatic methods of rhetorical intent. Both aspect and perspective relate to text time rather than story time. Deontic modality is preponderant in discursive, and epistemic modality in narrative. Subordination is not marked in Biblical Hebrew. A discussion of related views is undertaken throughout.
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