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which I propose, for reasons afterwards to be given, to denominate the present. Its formation is equally simple with that of the future. The participle may be regarded as its stem or root; and to this the pronominal particles are affixed, not prefixed. This constitutes the very obvious distinction between the two tenses; and the explanation of it is not difficult. In the present tense, the object of which action, &c., is affirmed, is regarded as already before the mind of the speaker or writer, and therefore the most prominent position is assigned to the action affirmed of that object : while, in the future, the object must be clearly marked out before the action affirmed of that object is described, and is therefore placed first.
The important inquiry now presents itself, What do these forms -the p and p-respectively import? Under what varying phases do they describe the idea expressed by the verbal root? Many attempts have been made to give a satisfactory solution to this question, and many plausible hypotheses advanced; yet, notwithstanding all that has been written, no certain conclusion has been arrived at.
For a long period no great attention was paid to the fundamental principles of the language. Much care and labour were expended (and by no means in vain) in collecting what were considered variations in the use of the tenses; but no attempt was made to trace these variations to any general principle. And thus, as the language became more accurately known, difficulties increased; anomalies were multiplied to a very great extent, and the number of rules heaped together without any proper bond of union served rather to distract and discourage than to assist the student and stimulate him to perseverance.
The two temporal forms were usually-as, indeed, they are still -called the past and the future. But grammarians assigned to each a much wider range of signification than these names respectively import. Both past and future tenses are set down as denoting also present time; and even the past has not unfrequently a future reference, and the future, a past. And now, after all the improvements which the study of universal grammar and a more careful attention to the principles of language have introduced, it must be confessed that much still remains to be done. The use of the Hebrew tenses, as described and explained in the latest and best grammars of the language, is so vague and indeterminate, that to the reflecting student some regulating principle appears still to be undiscovered,-some law which may give unity and harmony to the system, connecting and reconciling what now seems independent and anomalous.
Of course we cannot expect that time should be very
marked in a language which has but two forms to denote it. But it is important that the original signification of these forms should, if possible, be fixed, and the extent of their use defined. The remarks which follow are the result of much thought and some research.
II.-Of the p form.
The connection between this form and the participle is generally acknowledged. That the participle has most frequently the signification of the present'a is also acknowledged. Why, then, not come to the conclusion that the p form also denotes present time?
Indeed, it is admitted that present time is sometimes denoted by this form but that this is its proper and primary signification has not, so far as I am aware, been maintained by any grammarian. Ewald (§ 262) limits its use as a present to the description of actions which the speaker contemplates as finished, already accomplished, but extending in that state into the present, where modern languages would use the simple present,' and to the case of universal truths, which are clear from experience, and have decidedly proved themselves so.' In the same manner Gesenius, Nordheimer, and others, explain away this use of the p form; and, in doing so, they exert no great ingenuity, as in the course of Providence every present action or state of being is in some measure dependent on past actions or states.
But let us notice for a moment the examples Ewald gives, and which occur in almost every page of Scripture:
I remember, he hates. Now, it is true that knowledge is founded on experience, and memory necessarily implies something past which is remembered, and hatred points to some injury sustained, or some ugly feature of character exhibited. Yet it is no less true that in all this we have no proper ground for concluding that my or or y denotes that which the speaker contemplates as finished or already accomplished.' On the contrary, what can be more evident than that these terms denote present time, describing something which occupies the mind at the time of speaking? No doubt there is a past reference; but that is only implied; the state described is present.
An example, different from any to which Ewald or Gesenius has referred, will set this in a clear light. In one of the visions described by Zechariah, four chariots with horses of different colours are seen coming out from between two mountains of brass. The Prophet asks, What are these? He is told they are
See Rödiger's Gesenius' Gram., § 131.
the four spirits of heaven going forth (nisi) from standing before God (vi. 6, &c.); the black horses which are therein go forth (D) into the north country; and the white go forth (y) after them; and the grisled go forth (N) toward the south country; and the bay went forth (y), and sought (p) to go that they might walk,' &c. Let me dwell on this passage for a little, as we may derive from it some important conclusions. I must premise that this part of Zechariah's prophecies is evidently written in simple prose. 1. We find here the participle (D) and the form (NY) used to denote exactly the same time which confirms what was noticed above as to the connection of these parts of the verb. 2. We have the p form used to denote present time to describe what was actually taking place, and that too without any very obvious dependence upon the past. Here, it is obvious, the tense does not denote either a condition or attribute already long continued and still existing,' or a permanent or habitual action,' but simply describes what was at the moment going on before the Prophet's eye. Here, then, the tense decidedly and necessarily denotes present time; and that this was a common use of it we may gather from the fact of its being so used in this passage, in which the Prophet, rather than employ an uncommon phraseology, would undoubtedly have continued to use the participle with which he had begun, and the signification of which could not have been mistaken. 3. We have here an example and illustration of the historic style, to which reference will be made more particularly afterwards, translated in our Version,' they went forth and sought.' But why, it is natural to ask, should be rendered they go forth' in one verse, and they went forth' in the very next? There is no intimation of a change of time. The letters, both consonants and vowels, are exactly the same in both verses. The conclusion, therefore, is a probable one, that the time is in both cases the same, i. e. present. And if the p form denotes present time in such a phrase as NY, which represents the common use of the tenses in historical narrative, then the real character of this form is at once fixed. It must be a present tense.
Another class of passages in which this form is obviously employed to denote present time consists of those in which it is commonly said to be used as a future in protestations and assurances in which the mind of the speaker views the action as
See also, for passages in which this form denotes present time very obviously, Exod. vii. 1; Num. xiv. 20; Deut. iv. 26; viii. 19; ix. 16; xiv. 11; Judg. i. 2; 1 Sam. viii. 5; xv. 2; xvi. 2; xvii. 10, 28, 34, 55; xxiv. 11, 15, 24; xxviii. 9. Rödiger's Gesenius, § 124. 3
already accomplished, being as good as done.' Thus it is employed in every page of the prophetic Scriptures. Gen. vi. 13, Din, Lo, I destroying them; I will destroy them. Here the participle is used, and rightly translated by the LXX, idoù εvà xαтα¤aεíça àuroùs. So the p form is used. Thus Gen. ix. 9, na ng 'PR 237 èyà àvíoτnu, I establishing my covenant, has evidently the same meaning as v. 11, n 'box Tnow (according to the Seventy). Both participle and p form in this and similar passages evidently denote the same time, i.e. present.
There is, however, another very large class of passages to which the preceding remarks have little application-that in which the p form is usually or rather universally supposed to denote past time. Can these be explained in consistency with our theory? This apparent difficulty leads us to unfold a General Principle, which seems to have had an extensive influence on the structure of the Hebrew language.
The principle is this:-The Hebrews were accustomed to regard and describe past events as present, because they transported themselves, as it were, to the period when the events of which they speak took place, and thus viewed and described as if they were spectators of them. This is a principle which is adopted to some extent by all Hebrew grammarians; but is not, I think, carried out far enough by any of them.
It is evidently a natural principle: quite in accordance with the habits of thought and expression prevalent in a simple state of society. To throw one's self back on former days-forgetting one's own position-and pourtray, as if from actual observation, what had taken place long before, is a characteristic which we might have anticipated from the period and the state of society in which the Hebrew language grew up to maturity.
In primitive times, too, the memory of historical events seems to have been preserved by means of paintings. These probably preceded written annals. The American tribes, it is well known, had attained some skill in painting, and employed it as a means of transmitting the knowledge of past events, while writing was altogether unknown among them. The same must have been the case in the East; many specimens of Eastern historical painting
d Rödiger's Gesenius, § 124. 4.
e Nordheimer's notion as to the Hebrews regarding the present as a point of time from which the past and the future extended in opposite directions appears to be utterly untenable. The present is far too important in the estimation of all men, whether Jews or Gentiles, to be reduced to a mere point. This 'abstract idea of the nature of time' could never have regulated the formation of simple primitive languages. More probable far is it that the present would, in such circumstances, be greatly extended than that it should thus be indefinitely contracted.
still remain. It is, therefore, probable that the first historical narrative was simply a description of a series of historical paintings; these were, perhaps, under the writer's eye, and the events delineated on them would thus be very naturally described by him as if he were himself present a spectator of them all.
Whatever weight may be attached to the preceding observation, it is certain that, in a simple state of society, the imagination exerts a much more extensive influence than when society is more advanced and better compacted. Hence historical poetry usually precedes historical prose. Homer comes before Herodotus. And though we should admit—which we by no means do admit-that the earliest records the Bible contains are written in prose, yet it is a prose which preserves many of the characteristics of poetry. Let us notice some of these:
1. We find, in the first place, that various expedients are employed by the Hebrew writers to bring the objects described and the events recorded as directly and immediately as possible before the mind. The parties, whose actions are recorded, are brought upon the stage in person, and made to speak for themselves. We see them; we hear them; we, as it were, join their society, and enter into their feelings, and purposes, and actings.
2. This delusion, if I may call it so, is strengthened by the frequent use of the particle 7, which points to something present, or imagined present, and thus brings the person or event it introduces immediately before the mind: thus 1 Sam. xxx. 3, And David and his men come to the city, and lo! burnt with fire visa mpany man; ver. 16, And he goes down, and lo! spread over all the land. See also Zechariah ii. 1, And I look, and lo! four horns; ver. 5, I look, and lo! a man having a measuring line; ver 7, And lo! the angel cometh forth (xy); ver. 14, Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion; lo! I come
. This particle is employed to direct attention to past and future events, as well as present; but in every case it tends to bring the object spoken of into our presence. Thus, in the examples given, the historian, as it were, points to the city burnt with fire, the men lying in security, &c.; we no longer hear, we see; the past is changed into the present.
3. The use of the demonstrative pronoun n this (as distinguished from that) is not less frequent; and this usage has the same effect of bringing the object pointed at before the eye.
See also Exod. iii. 22; xiv. 10; Num. iii. 12; xiii. 10; Deut. iii. 11; Judg. i. 2; iii. 24, 25; 1 Sam. v. 3; ix. 14; x. 10; xvi. 11; xvii. 23; xxiv. 2; xxvii. 8; 2 Sam. i. 2, 6, &c. Instead of an, we sometimes find, as in Deut. i. 8, 21; ii. 24, 31; iv. 5, &c.