The Verb in Archaic Biblical Poetry: A Discursive, Typological, and Historical Investigation of the Tense System.

Author:Kantor, Benjamin
Position:Book review

The Verb in Archaic Biblical Poetry: A Discursive, Typological, and Historical Investigation of the Tense System. By TANIA NOTARIUS. Studies in Semitic Languages and Linguistics, vol. 68. Leiden: BRILL, 2013. Pp. xxiii + 351. $162.

The verbal system of Biblical Hebrew (BH) is a hotly debated issue in scholarship. Some of the central questions in the debate concern whether the system is primarily based on tense, aspect, modality, or discourse conditions. Moreover, it is also debated how these categories might apply to each individual verb form. Even though a number of scholars have published linguistic treatments of the verbal system in recent years (e.g., Ohad Cohen, John Cook, Jan Joosten), their research is based primarily on prose texts. What differentiates Notarius' approach is that the corpus of "archaic poetry" demands that she extract a verbal system from poetic texts--an endeavor many linguists would balk at. While Notarius is not the first to attempt a linguistic analysis of the verb in poetry (e.g., Alviero Niccacci), she is the first to do so with the corpus of "archaic poetry." Further, the historical-linguistic aspects of her work bring the discussion beyond previous research. For example, although Niccacci deals with poetry, he does not place much weight on diachronic considerations for explaining the verbal system. Scholars who differ, however, generally limit the diachronic study of the verb to the transformational period between Classical Biblical Hebrew (CBH) and Late Biblical Hebrew (LBH). In this book, however, Notarius is able not only to identify the archaic verbal system of BH, but also to establish it as a legitimate stage in the history of BH (introduction, chapters 1-2).

The first part is comprised of three chapters (1-3). Notarius begins by describing different approaches to analyzing the verbal system in CBH prose, a prerequisite before addressing the verb in poetry. In chapter 2 she mentions some obstacles for interpreting verbal tenses in poetry. For example, the language used in different "poetic" texts is not uniform, but rather displays a "high level of linguistic diversity" (p. 26). Also, she indicates that while others have commented on the verb in "archaic poetry," their discussions have typically been limited to the use of the prefix conjugation for the past perfective (

In chapter 3 Notarius explains her methodology. In order to handle the linguistic diversity, she approaches the data through discourse...

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