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On Periphrastic Genitive Constructions in Biblical Hebrew*

J. M. Allegro has convincingly shown that the archaic Hebrew relative pronoun הֶז can function as a genitive marker in a common Semitic pattern Noun Pronoun Noun (cf. Aramaic baytā dī-malkā). So far, it has been assumed that once הֶז was replaced by ֲאֶֹשר this pattern was no longer possible in Hebrew. The current paper offers data which indicate that at least in Biblical Hebrew ֲאֶֹשר can still function as a genitive marker.

As in other Semitic languages, the most common way in Biblical Hebrew to mark genitive relations, that is, the relation of one noun to another, is via the construct pattern, for example, inline graphic (Josh 2:24; the inhabitants of the land). However, in most Semitic languages, it is also possible to mark this relation via a particle, most often the relative particle.1 The genitival function of the relative particle is generally agreed to be proto Semitic. See for example:

Ethiopic: Gālilā ͗ənta ͗aḥzāb (Galilee of the Gentiles)

Syriac: īda͑tā da-šrārā (BD 8:9–10; The true doctrine).

The connection between the genitive and the relative is indicative of the way the Semitic languages treat their attributes. As was argued in a previous study,2 adnominal attribution is consistently marked with similar syntactic tools in the Semitic languages. Thus sentential attributes (relative clauses) and nominal attributes (genitive) are both marked with a relative pronoun. Note the relative clauses below which are marked with the same pronouns as the genitive above: [End Page 43]

Ethiopic: nəguš makwannən za-yəre͑͑əyomu la-ḥəzbəya ͗əsrā͗el (Matt 2:6; A king-judge who will lead my people, Israel)

Syriac: meṭṭul ḥaylē tmīhē d-sā͑er hwā (Cureton 1864:1*; Because of the wondrous things that he has done).

In Biblical Hebrew, three relative particles are attested: the reflex of the Semitic relative pronoun, which is mostly found in relics, inline graphic ; a new form, inline graphic , which is written as an independent form, but shows a distinct construct vocalization; and finally, a third form, inline graphic .3 The particle inline graphic is an archaic and rare form in Hebrew, attested only in the earliest strata of the language, primarily as a relative pronoun. Some Canaanite languages replaced the old inherited relative pronoun inline graphic with another particle, most likely of nominal origin: inline graphic .4 This particle is used as a relative particle in all stages of Biblical Hebrew and is sporadically attested in later variants of Hebrew, although by and large it has been supplanted by inline graphic . The particle inline graphic is also the basis for a later genitive particle inline graphic , which is very common in Mishnaic and Modern Hebrew. This genitive particle is composed of the relative particle and the preposition inline graphic .5

But does Hebrew have a genitive marker similar to the Ethiopic and Syriac one, that is, can the genitive relation in Hebrew be marked with the relative pronoun? In a short paper in 1955, J. M. Allegro convincingly answered this question by pointing out that the old Hebrew relative particle, * inline graphic , is indeed attested as a genitive marker,6 for example:7 inline graphic (Judg 5:5; Mountains melted before YHWH of Sinai).8 While the demonstrative and relative functions of the Hebrew pronoun were well known prior to Allegro, the genitive function use had not been acknowledged [End Page 44] before. Thus Allegro persuasively proved that the syntax of the old Hebrew relative inline graphic is identical to that of other Semitic languages.

It is widely agreed that inline graphic replaced inline graphic as a relative particle, after which inline graphic is only attested as a demonstrative; however, it has not previously been noticed that inline graphic , like inline graphic , can also function as a genitive marker. There are about a dozen or so examples in the Bible of inline graphic with a genitive function. These examples reflect a wide variety of meanings, much like the construct pattern. Note the following examples:9

  1. 1. inline graphic (1 Sam 13:8; Samuel’s appointed time) compare inline graphic (1 Sam 20:35; David’s appointed time)

  2. 2. inline graphic (1 Kgs 11:25; Hadad’s mischief) compare inline graphic (1 Sam 25:39; Nabal’s mischief)

  3. 3. inline graphic (2 Kgs 25:15; The golden basins) compare inline graphic (2 Chr 4:8; The golden basins)

  4. 4. inline graphic (Hos 12:9; Guilt of [my] sin) compare inline graphic (Ps 32:5; The guilt of my sin).

For the most part, these examples are unaccounted for in the main grammars; 10 however, some of these verses are mentioned in the grammars with a different explanation than the one offered here. Joüon-Muraoka11 suggest that inline graphic (2 Kgs 10:29) should be understood as an “accusative of local determination,” as, for example, in inline graphic (Gen 24:23; Is there room in your father’s house?). This is a reasonable interpretation for examples with the lexeme inline graphic after inline graphic (1 Kgs 7:48; 2 Kgs 2:3; Jer 32:2; 2 Chr 23:9),12 but it does not account for all the examples listed above. Moreover, at least in one example, 1 Kgs 7:48, a genitive reading is preferred to a locative reading: inline graphic [End Page 45] (“Solomon made all the instruments of the temple,” rather than, “all the instruments in the temple”).

Gesenius suggests that in 1 Kgs 11:25 ( inline graphic ) “at present the predicate of the relative clause is wanting.”13 How a sentence, relative or main, can be a full predication with its predicate missing remains unexplained. 14 The most difficult examples (e.g., 1 Sam 13:8) are not discussed.

Even if we extract from the list of examples those examples which are possible locatives sans the preposition inline graphic and 1 Kgs 11:25, which is an overall difficult verse, we are still left with five occurrences of inline graphic followed by a noun. These examples, as was shown above, do not receive proper attention in the grammars. I submit that these examples parallel the periphrastic genitive pattern found across the Semitic languages, as well as in archaic Hebrew. Such an explanation is in accordance with common Semitic syntax and accounts for all the examples listed above. Moreover, it essentially means that as far as the biblical evidence goes, the change to inline graphic was a lexical replacement which did not affect Biblical Hebrew syntax. The new form, inline graphic , is attested in all the functions of the old form, inline graphic .15

The main difference between inline graphic and inline graphic is morphological: the former is a pronoun which originally had a full gender-number-case declension, while the latter is originally a noun with a fixed gender-number inflection. Originally, the pronoun inline graphic agreed grammatically with the head noun, as is easy to see in Akkadian and Ugaritic; such a relationship is known as appositional:16

Old Akk.: ŠE ša (ms. acc.) Naṣir͗ilī (OAIC 6:9 Di;17 The barley of Naṣir͗ilī)

Ugaritic: ͑glm dt (ms. pl.) šnt (1.22:I:13; One-year-old calves (lit. calves of one year). [End Page 46]

This type of agreement, where the pronoun agrees in gender-number(-case) with its head, but is not influenced by the syntax of the clause after it, indicates that the relative particle plays no syntactic role in what follows it. Note that the relative pronoun is essentially a demonstrative and as such fully agrees with the preceding noun: Ugaritic spr hn-d (this inscription; 2.19:9).18 But once the pronoun was replaced by a noun, this type of appositional inflection was not possible anymore, as nouns cannot carry a pronominal gender-number inflection. The new particle inline graphic , with its inability to carry morphological agreement, blurs the appositional relationship between the head noun and the relative particle. The data presented in this paper, however, suggest that despite the lack of morphological agreement there is every reason to think that the syntax of inline graphic has not changed, and it is still in appositional relation to the head noun, even if the morphology cannot reflect that.19

Mishnaic Hebrew is markedly different from Biblical Hebrew, since it differentiates syntactically between its genitive, marked with šel-, and its sentential attribute, marked with še.20 That the development of these particles is traced to Biblical Hebrew is undisputed, but Mishnaic Hebrew did not maintain the similarity between various nominal attributes which exists in Biblical Hebrew:

Nominal attributive: hab-bəśāmîm šel nokrîm (Ber 8:6; The perfumes of foreigners)

Sentential attributive: ͗ǎbānîm šez-zi͑za͑tān ham-maḥǎrêšā (Šebi. 3:7; Stones which the plough moved).

The use of the genitive particle šel in Mishnaic Hebrew did not necessitate the exclusion of the relative particle, še, as a genitive marker. Syriac and some Neo-Aramaic dialects (e.g., Arbel) use both possibilities to mark the genitive relation. These particles distinguish genitive relation between two [End Page 47] nouns (Syriac -, Arbel ͗o-d) and between a noun and a pronoun (Syriac dīl, Arbel dīd). It seems, therefore, that Biblical Hebrew still reflects regular Semitic syntax, while Mishnaic Hebrew constitutes a significant innovation. Furthermore, the changes in Biblical Hebrew should be considered a lexical replacement rather than a syntactic change. [End Page 48]

Na’ama Pat-El
The University of Texas, Austin


* A version of this paper was presented at the North American Conference of Afroasiatic Linguistics at Austin on February 2010. I would like to thank Jo Ann Hackett and John Huehnergard for their helpful comments. Any remaining mistakes are my own.

1. G. Goldenberg, “Attribution in the Semitic Languages,” Langue Orientales Anciennes: Philologie et Linguistique 5.6 (1995): 1–20; A. D. Rubin, Studies in Semitic Grammaticalization (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2005), pp. 53–55. Nouns are also well attested as genitival markers, primarily in modern Semitic languages.

2. N. Pat-El and A. Treiger, “On Adnominalization of Prepositional Phrases and Adverbs in Semitic,” Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenländischen Gesellschaft 158.2 (2008): 265–283.

3. The relationship between inline graphic and inline graphic is debated; this debate is, however, not the focus of the current paper. See J. Huehnergard, “On the Etymology of the Hebrew Relative še-,” in Biblical Hebrew in Its Northwest Semitic Setting: Typological and Historical Perspectives (ed. A. Hurvitz and S. Fassberg; Jerusalem: Magnes, 2006), pp. 103–126; R. D. Holmstedt, “The Etymologies of Hebrew ͗ǎšer and šeC-.” JNES 66.3 (2007): 177–192.

4. J. Huehnergard, “On the Etymology,” p. 107; A. D. Rubin, Studies in Semitic, pp. 49–50.

5. M. H. Segal, A Grammar of Mishnaic Hebrew (Oxford: Clarendon, 1927), pp. 43–44. There are no independent forms of inline graphic in Biblical Hebrew. Examples such as the verse: inline graphic (Song 3:7; Solomon’s bed) or inline graphic (Song 1:6; My own vineyard I have not guarded) are precursors for the Mishnaic form, but otherwise follow a regular biblical syntax, and are still associated with the relative particle inline graphic .

6. J. M. Allegro, “Uses of the Semitic Demonstrative Element z in Hebrew,” VT 5 (1955): 309–312.

7. Other possible attestations are inline graphic (Mic 5:4; [the one] of peace), inline graphic (Ps 34:7; [the one] of poverty) and possibly also inline graphic (Hab 1:11; [possessor] of his strength).

8. Note the parallel in the verse: inline graphic (Judg 5:5b; before YHWH the God of Israel), which also contains an identification of YHWH.

9. Other examples are (an exhaustive list): 1 Kgs 7:48; 2 Kgs 2:3; 10:29; Jer 32:2; 52:19; Ezek 42:11, 12; Hos 12:9; 2 Chr 23:9.

10. In many cases, the grammars discuss another grammatical aspect in the verse, but do not deal with the pattern inline graphic + noun. For example, almost all grammars mention 2 Kgs 25:15 for the repetitive ... inline graphic , but fail to note the whole pattern inline graphic . See, for example, W. Gesenius, Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar (ed. E. Kautzsch; trans. A. E. Cowley; 2nd ed.; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1910), p. 369, §123e; P. Joüon, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew (trans. and rev. T. Muraoka; Rome: Editrice Pontificio Instituto Biblico, 2000), 2:499; B. K. Waltke and M. O’Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1990), p. 116.

11. P. Joüon, A Grammar, 2:458, 476.

12. The context of some examples makes a locative reading very likely, for example, inline graphic (2 Kgs 10:29; The golden calves in Bethel and Dan). See also inline graphic (2 Kgs 2:3; The prophets in Bethel) followed by the unambiguous inline graphic (2 Kgs 2:5; The prophets in Jericho).

13. W. Gesenius, Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, p. 365, n. 3.

14. This verse is generally problematic because the whole phrase is introduced with inline graphic , which is not conditioned by anything in the sentence and is therefore hard to interpret.

15. One exception is the demonstrative: inline graphic is not a pronoun, that is, has no gender-number inflection, and cannot, therefore, function as a demonstrative. Most probably, the pronoun inline graphic kept its gender-number inflection only as a demonstrative, and lost it as a relative pronoun before it was replaced by inline graphic . This is well attested in a number of Semitic languages, for example: Old Babylonian (frozen relative particle ša, demonstrative with gender-number inflection), Aramaic (frozen relative particle d-, demonstrative with gender-number inflection) and modern dialects of Arabic (frozen relative particle illi, demonstrative with gender-number inflection) among others.

16. G. Goldenberg, “Attribution.”

17. A. R. Hasselbach, Sargonic Akkadian (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2005), p. 163.

18. See R. Hasselbach, “Demonstratives in Semitic,” JAOS 127.1 (2007): 1–27, esp. p. 20. An in depth analysis of the function of the relative pronoun and its syntax can be found in G. Deutscher, “The Akkadian Relative Clause in Cross-Linguistic Perspective,” Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und vorderasiatische Archäologie 92 (2002): 86–105, and N. Pat-El and A. Treiger, “On Adnominalization.”

19. A similar case is adverbial nouns (tamyīz), which in Hebrew due to the loss of the case system remain unmarked, while in Arabic they appear in the accusative case. Note the unmarked noun inline graphic in the following example: inline graphic (Mic 2:3; You will no longer walk proudly). See B. K. Waltke and M. O’Connor, An Introduction, pp. 169–173 for more examples. Here too, only the syntax points to the similarity between the Arabic use of the accusative to mark adverbiality and the Hebrew unmarked nouns.

20. In this respect, Mishnaic Hebrew resembles modern dialects of Arabic, where the marking of the genitive relation is done differently than the marking of sentential attributes.