Use of את and the תמונות exercises

This post addresses the third of three questions about the textbook one reader sent us recently. The first post is here; the second post is here.


The captions in the boxes in which to draw pictures confuse me.  Just one example of several: On page r-37, the middle box reads, יצחק נשא עיני אברהם. Does this mean to say, “Isaac lifted the (where is the את here and often?) eyes of Abraham.” But this is not the biblical idiom. No one ever “lifts up” someone else’s eyes.



On the presence and absence of את for complements: the pattern for the use of את is far from clear in BH. And since we do not try to mimic modern Hebrew in our examples, we often leave את out, just as the biblical writers do. For the latest (and best) work on the BH use of את, we refer you to the 2012 Hebrew Union College phd thesis by Peter Bekins. It shows how את behaves in somewhat expected patterns within the context of “differential direct object marking”.

On the nonsense phrase יצחק נשׂא עיני אברהם: the תמונות exercises are intended to request absurd pictures in order to test comprehension and add a laugh in class. They are often the most enjoyable exercises for my students, since they are indeed nonsense and bring some levity to the hard task of learning language. We make this explicit in the free instructor’s manual (IM) that Baker provides for instructors teaching with the textbook (the picture below shows the first time the תמונות exercise is used and our IM comment.


Verbal Sequences

This is the second of three questions about the textbook one reader sent us recently. The first post is here; the third post will come tomorrow.


On page  r-34, bottom sentence, what appear to be so-called waw-consecutive perfect [Note that we do not use this term in BBH], e.g., ולקח יצחק ובקע, are seemingly treated as past tense since they are sequential upon חבש. You then ask students to transform into imperfects. From a traditional verbal system perspective, isn’t this confusing? The sentence as currently written is fine in modern Hebrew, but does not work as standard biblical Hebrew.



On the waw+perfect used in past temporal contexts (p. r-34): similarly, this is acceptable in Biblical Hebrew even if not very frequent. Our decision to employ waw-prefixed perfect forms that are not irreal mood (traditional “waw-conversive” forms) has both theoretical and pedagogical motivations. Such examples are problematic from the “traditional verbal system perspective” because that perspective is inaccurate. Rather, we refer readers to the theoretical basis of our treatment of the verb now published in John Cook’s authoritative (ahem) volume Time and the Biblical Hebrew Verb (Eisenbrauns, 2012).

The linguistically grounded arguments in Cook’s volume are why we eschew labels such as “waw-conversive,” etc. — our research has not found them to be linguistically defensible. For a challenging example of qatal – qatal – qatal (which, without a larger discourse context is not necessarily different than qatal – w-qatal – w-qatal, since the latter simply lacks the overt subject), see Gen 4.18.

Pedagogically, our decision to utilize a minority sequence at this point in the textbook serves our interest to provide a carefully chosen “graded” sequence towards the complete grammar picture rather than become bogged down in advanced grammar discussions in a first-year textbook.

אחרי + Verb

We recently fielded three questions on grammatical descriptions in our textbook along with one concerning a type of exercise in the Reader.  In this and the next two posts we summarize the question and follow with our answers.


On page r-55, bottom line, the sentence begins as follows:  אחרי אכלו האנשים….  But while English can say, “After the men ate…” can biblical Hebrew use אחרי followed by a verb? (This applies also to the first  fill-in-the-blank exercise on page r-39:   אחרי___ בניתי.)



On אחרי + finite verb: Lev 25.48, 1 Sam 5.9. And with אחר (not אחרי) + finite verb: about a dozen more examples (where אחר is not “afterwards” but “after verb-ing”). The explanation is that אחר functions like a preposition and so takes a nominal complement; in these cases, the following finite verbal clause has been nominalized and so functions as the complement (and clitic host) of אחר/אחרי. This is why the construction can also have an אשׁר (or in post-biblical Hebrew, שׁ) between אחר and the finite verbal clause. Waltke and O’Connor (IBHS 1990) mention this in §38.7. 

We recognize that the Hebrew Bible has only 2 examples of אחרי + bare nominalized clause and about a dozen examples with אחר. But syntactically, this is equivalent to אחרי + אשׁר + nominalized clause, for which there are many more examples. Just like relative clauses, the אשׁר or שׁ is not always there to signal the nominalized clause.  

We thought very carefully about the pedagogy of teaching rarer constructions and often drew the following conclusions. First, students want to be able to express “after I verb-ed, I verb-ed”. And so, we gave them a legitimate BH construction for this. Second, we are embedding in introductory students the basic patterns what will serve them as they read texts and progress to the intermediate and advanced levels. In this case, we are subtly teaching them that not all nominalized clauses need an אשׁר or even כי to function in the place of nouns. So what they learn here goes for למען, מפני, עד, יען and a few other items that may stand before an אשׁר marked nominalized clause or a bare nominalized clause. Thus, we advocate inculcating the students with a vision for the whole forest rather than getting hung up on the individual trees.  

So our pedagogy is built on embedding the deeper patterns of Hebrew grammar rather than focusing solely on numerically dominant constructions. Of course, the vast majority of what we teach is also numerically dominant, but especially in the writing exercises of the Illustrated Reader, we occasionally teach a less frequent but very useful structure like אחרי + nominalized verbal clause.