Re: The Verb HYH

From: Studium Biblicum Franciscanum (
Date: Sat Apr 05 1997 - 04:24:01 EST

On 31/3/97 (Re: The Verb HYH) Lee R. Martin wrote:

> Dear Professor Niccacci,
> You wrote of the verb HYH:
> > The presence of HYH is needed to express past and future information as
> > well as volition (jussive). For present information, no form of HYH appears
> > since this verb is not (normally) used in the participle.
> My search of 'eHeYeH (yiqtol, 1c sing) is consistent with your statement
> above. It is not used for the present indicative. Two puzzling cases,
> however, are Job 12:4 (with a ptc.) and 17:6.
> How do your conclusions impact the translation of Exodus 3:12-14? "I am
> that I am"?
> --
> Lee R. Martin
> Adjunct Faculty in Old Testament and Hebrew
> Church of God School of Theology
> Cleveland, TN 37311
> Pastor, Prospect Church of God

Dear Lee,

Here is a summary of a paper I worte (in Italian) on Exodus 3:14 in _Liber
Annuus_ 35 (1985) 7-26.

Interpreters analyze Exod. 3:14a chiefly under two syntactic types:
   (a) as a relative paronomastic sentence: *esomai hos esomai* (Aquila,
Theodotion), *ego sum qui sum* (Vulgata); and
   (b) as relative clause with a pronominal antecedent: *ego eimi ho on* (LXX).
I suggested that Exod. 3:14a should rather be taken as a verbal sentence
with a correlative pattern; compare 2Sam. 15:34a *'abdeka 'ani hammelek -
'ehyeh 'ebed 'abika - wa'ani me'az - we'atta we'ani 'abdeka "As for your
servant, I, o king - I used to be a servant of your father - and I was it
since long time - and now, I am your servant." Also compare 2Sam. 16:19;
Job 10:19a. These examples show a correlative pattern linking two pieces of
information having a different time setting, e.g. *'ehyeh 'ebed* is set in
(habitual) past and *we'ani 'abdeka* in the present.
Exod. 3:14a should then be translated: "I will be [first-place, volitive
yiqtol: I promise I will be, i.e. for you] what I was [yiqtol for habitual
past, i.e. or your Fathers]."

>From the point of view of interpretation, God's answer is the key-stone of
the dialogue in Exod. 3:6 ff. The text makes it clear that "the God of YOUR
[Moses'] father" (3:6) is to be recognized and believed (3:18) as "the Lord
God of YOUR [the people's] Fathers" (3:13); for this purpose, it is
necessary that God be presented to the Israelites as "THE LORD (YHWH) God
of your Fathers" (3:15); and God reveals Himself as "THE LORD (YHWH)" by
the fact that HE WILL BE for the Israelites in Egypt what HE WAS for the
Fathers in Canaan. Thus, the God of the Exodus reveals Himself as the same
as the Lord of the Patriarchs. This is done by a word-play on God's
personal Name based on verb HYH. The Lord's Name is then significant for
the present situation of the people and is capable of letting them find
their identity and their link with the Fathers and the promises done to

The correlative pattern proposed here for Exod. 3:14b underlies several
Jewish interpretations, especially that of Midrash Hagadol: "As I was with
Abraham, Isaak and Jacob, thus I will be with you".
Compare Targum Ps.-Jonathan of Deut. 32:39: "See then that I am the one who
is (now) and have been (in the past) and I am the one who will be (in the
future)". Of course, this phrase recalls the title of Christ in Revelation
1:4 (and other passages): *ho on - kai ho en - kai ho erchomenos*.
Since Exod. 3:14 has been an issue also discussed in the Biblical Greek
list, I send the present message over to it too.

In the paper menioned above I also suggested an Old Egyptian parallel from
the Report of Wenamun 2:27-28 - a parallel both syntactic and theological.
The parallel suggested more that 50 years ago by A. Alt is to be abandoned.

As for the two passages from Job you find puzzling, they are poetry, and
poetry may not follow the same rules of prose. In any case, 12:4 can be
interpreted along the same line of prose. While 12:3 refers to the present,
12:4 refers to the future: "But I have understanding as well as you; I am
not inferior to you. Who does not know such things as these? (Still) I will
be (or: I am destined to be) a laughingstock to my friends, one who calls
upon God that he may answer him, a laughingstock of a just and blameless
man [i.e. a just and blameless man who is a laughingstock]".
In Job 17:6 *'ehyeh* parallels weqatal, which is OK, but the meaning of the
passage is obscure to me.

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