Re: To tense or not to tense

From: Paul Zellmer (
Date: Sun Mar 16 1997 - 01:01:44 EST


In your last posting on this topic, you discussed fairly thoroughly your
viewpoints on Aktionsart, aspect, and tense. While much was good, there
were a couple of items to which I would like to react.

You twice referred to something as done "wrongly." The first had to do
with viewing the imperfect as durative. The second had to do with the
choice (by the LXX?) of the aorist in describing Joshua's falling before
the Lord. You also stated that about 3% of the imperfect consecutives
in Hebrew cannot be past time, and that these "falsify the past-tense
viewpoint." I find your choice of words in these cases to be
In the first case (the durative imperfect), it may be that your image of
the camera lense shows an characteristic of aspect that has not been
brought out as nicely in the past, but I would be very careful in using
a model as proof-positive that another model or viewpoint does not also
bring out an important characteristic, that the other model is "wrong."
Since you did not give us examples of the superiority of your model to
the other, how can we check it out?

In the second case (Joshua 7:6), you obviously disagree with the choice
of verb form. But, instead of calling this out as a problem to be
investigated further, you simple classified it as "wrongly" translated.
This classification is based on *your* interpretation of the aorist and
the imperfect. Now, I realize that all translations are not as accurate
as the original, and I assume you are referring to the LXX treatment of
this verse. (Sorry, I'm away from my copy.) But, Rolf, let's suppose
that the LXX translators considered both the aorist and the imperfect
for this verse. Who do you think would have a better "feel" for the
meaning of the original Hebrew and the Greek of the times--you in
twentieth-century Oslo or the Hebrew-speaking translators of a couple
thousand years ago? If anything, this variance in data should drive you
to re-examine your theory instead of declaring that the translation was

The third case, the 3% of cases on non-past imperfect consecutives which
result in, in your opinion, the falsification of the view that the
imperfect consecutives carry a sense of past-tense, is just the opposite
situation to the last one. You are now taking the position that, if
there is a variance from a model which describes a vast majority of
cases, the obvious result is that the model is shown to be false. Rolf,
are picking and choosing the support for your pet theories? Language is
not math--there are always "exceptions" to the rules. In these 399
cases which you claim are clearly non-past, what is the characteristics
of the imperfect consecutives which are being brought out? And, because
I am assuming that there are reasons for the use of the imperfect in
these cases, does the finding of 3% of cases which emphasize some other
characteristic other than time really result in the conclusion (or
hypothesis) that the other 97% also then do not call attention to
past-tense? I hope you can see my confusion in you logic processes.

I think that part of your problem is that you are trying to bite off too
big of chunk by trying to come up with universal concepts in on the
verbal level in Hebrew and Greek. You state that some of these are not
truly universal because they do not apply to English. I'm afraid that
you should really be looking for these commonalities on the clause or,
perhaps, the phrase level, since Hebrew and Greek come from two
different language families. I am sure that all of us would agree that,
whether or not the verb itself conveys the information, both languages
*do* indicate some activities occurring in (to use the English taxonomy
of events) past, present, and future time. I would be very surprised if
both Hebrew, with its perfect/imperfect system, and Greek, with its
multitude of "tenses" (Sorry about that. Old habits die hard :^>), I
would be surprised if both of them would code the timeframe in exactly
the same way. Perhaps people would be more open to your opinions if you
could show how this information that you are stating is *not* coded in
the verb is then communicated to the reader.

Thanks again for the interesting description of your viewpoints.


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