Re: LXX 1 Kings 8:11

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Mon Jun 15 1998 - 09:56:02 EDT

David A. Bielby wrote:

>I've got a question on the meaning of aedunanto (Imperfect Middle
>Indicative 3rd Plural from dunamai---the section dealing with Solomon's
>dedication of the first temple in 1 Kings 8:11 (English Trans.
>Reference). My understanding is that this is a Descriptive Imperfect
>indicating there was a continuous (for a period of time) disabling of the
>priests to stand up and perform their ministry.
>In other words, because the special manifestation of God's glory entered
>the room (the glory cloud), they were physically unable to stand up and
>do their priestly functions for a period of time.
>Two questions: A) Is that a correct interpretation?
>B) Is that a correct translation by the LXX translators from Hebrew to
>From one who is loving to study Greek more and more!

Dear David,

The first thing to do when you work with a clause is to evaluate the verb
phrase in the light of the following properties: (1) +/- durative, (2) +/-
stative, and (3) +/- telic (whether the end is conceptually included). All
three properties are *objective*, and the first two are primarily dependent
upon the lexical meaning. The third can be lexical ( "eat" is atelic but
"eat up" is telic), but more important are the verbal arguments, naemly the
subject and object ("eat apples" is atelic but "eat an apple" is telic).

After having determined these objective properties, you can take a look at
the (subjective) aspects, which have *nothing* to do with the above
properties, but which, due to the linguistic conventions among the native
Greeks, could play together with these properties and convey particular
nuances. Two examples: (a) A state is durative and atelic; i.e. it
continues without any input of energy. Modern grammarians have by a study
of the Greek text, by the help of induction, concluded that the perfective
aspect used with a stative verb often signals an ingressive meaning (the
entrance into the state is stressed) /holds both in Greek and Hebrew/. (b)
Similarly, do we see that conative situations (attempted but not fully
executed events) always are described by the help of the imperfective
aspect. This aspect is not intrinsic conative, but its closeup view of a
part of an event with details visible, evidently led the Greeks to se its
fitness in the mentioned situations.

So to your example, 1 kings 8:11: The construction consists of a finite
perfective form (perfect) of YAKOL (to be able to) and an infinitive of
`AMAD (to stand). The last verb is the most important, and it must be
analyzed as stative, durative and atelic. But what does the perfective
aspect in the first verb signal? The most natural interpretation would be
to view the situation as ingressive. The priests were prevented to *take
their stand" to minister. Alternatively can the perfect be viewed as just
constative, i.e. the state of standing and ministering was prevented, and
this negative situation is in itself a durative and atelic state.

But why did the LXX translator(s) use the imperfective aspect in Greek?
Perhaps they construed the Hebrew perfect to be an imperfect. The
imperfect is written as YUKAL, but in unpointed texts, such as those the
LXX translators were working from, perfect and imperfect can both be
written as YKHL. To prevent confusion, the imperfect is in most cases (in
all cases in 1 & 2 Kings) written plene, i.e. the first vowel "u" is
written as the consonant "w". However, in Joshua 7:12 do we have an
imperfect without this "w". If the Greek imperfect was no misunderstanding
but was consciously chosen, what did the translators mean? There was no
need for the imperfect to express that the situation of not being able to
stand was continuous, because this was lexically expressed; even the use of
an aorist would not alter this picture. One possibility, however, is that
the imperfect was used to signal that that the situation was
qauasi-fientive (fientive= actional (not a state), quasi (= a blend of
action and state). One example is John 17:3 with GINOSKW realized as a
present. An infinite aorist could signal an ingressive force, to enter the
state of knowing, while the present may signal that we do not have to do
only with a state (without an input of energy) but rather with a situation
where more and more knowledge is aquired, thus making the "knowing" deeper.
Trying to apply this to 1 Kings 8:11 we get some problems, because the
situation is negative "they were not able to". We cannot think of "not to
be able to" as anything but a state. So while this quasi-fientive
interpretation is possible with other states, it does not fit well in this

The Greek imperfect, therefore, seems to be somewhat misplaced. The
expression "correct translation" has in most instances little meaning,
because "correct" relates to a norm, which is lacking. I would, however say
that the most natural is to translate an imperfective verb in Hebrew with
an imperfective verb in Greek. It is my impression, without being able to
give any figures, that Hebrew perfect for the most part is translated by
Greek aorist by the LXX translators.


Rolf Furuli
Lecturer in Semitic languages
University of Oslo

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