Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The grammar of man and woman in Ruth

As I look through the book of Ruth, I am struck by the repetition of words. It is a marvelous book for learning because of that repetition. This will be I hope one of several posts exploring the story-telling implied in the repetition. Lesson 1 is man ish and woman ishah. Lambdin teaches this word very early in his grammar book. By itself in a list of words it is unremarkable, and all these exceptions! as bad as English. In this story, these words show off the male, the female, the variety of glosses, and their plurals as well as the role of all those clinging pronouns and other prepositions and hooks in the language. The story then provides a memorable context for the word and its variations.

There are aspects of Ruth that are foreign to us - particularly the role of kin-redemption and the generations of bearing and begetting, the apparent ownership of women, and the risk they take in the fields. Those will be for another post - but I think if there is not something foreign in this story then we would be deceiving ourselves. It is foreign in time and space and culture. But it may also be familiar. It is a fall and rise story. It could be titled the fall and rise of Naomi. Perhaps only one half of the story is familiar - the fall or the rise. I hope not. For if there is only the fall, then joy is unrealized. And if only the rise, we are in a different paradigm - the rise and fall - a story form we know to be tragic.

So here is the grammar of man and woman in Ruth. Two instances of the plural 'men' or 'husbands' occur which might be seen as instances of אֱנוֺשׁ rather than of אִישׁ but I think I will include them because the plural of the one is indistinguishable from that of the other. But I will leave the lads (נַעַר) and lasses (נַעֲרָה) or if you prefer servant and damsel till a later post.

Here are all the instances and the various forms we read of אִישׁ and אִשָּׁה.

וַיֵּלֶךְ אִישׁ מִבֵּית לֶחֶם יְהוּדָה
לָגוּר בִּשְׂדֵי מוֹאָב
הוּא וְאִשְׁתּו וּשְׁנֵי בָנָיו
and he went a man from the house of bread (Bethlehem) of Judah
to stay in the fields of Moab he, his wife, and his two children
a man and his wife - ishah becomes its construct form (isht) when the pronoun is appended. Here also the hook 'vav' forms a list, the sort we usually separate by commas
וְשֵׁם הָאִישׁ אֱלִימֶלֶךְ
וְשֵׁם אִשְׁתּוֹ נָעֳמִי

and the name of the man was Elimelekand the name of his wife Naomi

Now we have both a construct chain and a definite article prefixing 'man' and so becoming the man - ha-ish. Note how the possessive pronoun gives sufficient definiteness to woman, that the ha is not there for ishto
אֱלִימֶלֶךְ אִישׁ נָעֳמִי
Elimelek the husband of Naomi
Similarly the ha is not required when the definiteness of Naomi is in the phrase. The construct form of ish is the same as its absolute form.
וַיִּשְׂאוּ לָהֶם נָשִׁים מֹאֲבִיּוֹת
and they took for themselves Moabite wives
Aha! the plural of wife or woman - note the irregularity and compare with verse 11. Might one suspect that the nun comes from enosh (אֱנוֺשׁ)?
וַתִּשָּׁאֵר הָאִשָּׁה
מִשְּׁנֵי יְלָדֶיהָ וּמֵאִישָׁהּ
and she was bereft, the woman, of her two children and of her husband
and now focus is on the woman. The ha is needed to make her definite and notice the possessive female third person as well as the connector and preposition mem (מֵ)
ט יִתֵּן יְהוָה לָכֶם וּמְצֶאןָ מְנוּחָה
אִשָּׁה בֵּית אִישָׁהּ
may יְהוָה give to you
and may you find rest
each in the house of her husband
here the word plays the role of 'each' and of husband with a third person feminine possessive pronoun attached. (Good - the one owns the other regardless of gender).
הַעוֹד-לִי בָנִים בְּמֵעַי
וְהָיוּ לָכֶם לַאֲנָשִׁים
are there yet to me sons in my body that they might become husbands for you?
Now the masculine plural appears with the lamed as preposition.
כִּי זָקַנְתִּי מִהְיוֹת לְאִישׁ
כִּי אָמַרְתִּי יֶשׁ-לִי תִקְוָה
גַּם הָיִיתִי הַלַּיְלָה לְאִישׁ
for I am too old to have a husband for had I said there is hope for me
even if there was tonight a husband
to a husband - why the lamed (לְ) indicating the preposition 'to'? Both follow forms of the verb 'to be' - is this a governing factor demanding a preposition?
הֲלָהֵן תֵּעָגֵנָה
לְבִלְתִּי הֱיוֹת לְאִישׁ
As if you would remain shut up without there being a husband?
same question as for verse 12 - a pattern?
א וּלְנָעֳמִי מוֹדָע לְאִישָׁהּ
אִישׁ גִּבּוֹר חַיִל
Now for Naomi there was an acquaintance of her husband a man of strength and valor
apposition requires no preposition, but why again the lamed for ishah? Perhaps that form of 'know' has the same effect as 'to be'
אַחֲרֵי מוֹת אִישֵׁךְ
after the death of your husband
Ah - a second person singular possessive pronoun feminine - indicated by the final kaf on ishek
שֵׁם הָאִישׁ
אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי עִמּוֹ הַיּוֹם בֹּעַז
the name of the man that I worked with today is Boaz

וַתֹּאמֶר לָהּ נָעֳמִי
קָרוֹב לָנוּ הָאִישׁ מִגֹּאֲלֵנוּ הוּא
and Naomi said to her near to us is the man and he our redeemer

אַל-תִּוָּדְעִי לָאִישׁ
עַד כַּלֹּתוֹ לֶאֱכֹל וְלִשְׁתּוֹת
do not be known to the man
until he finishes eating and drinking
here the lamed finds a translation in English - and it is the ha the, la to the pattern - just like in the grammar books!
וַיֶּחֱרַד הָאִישׁ וַיִּלָּפֵת
וְהִנֵּה אִשָּׁה שֹׁכֶבֶת מַרְגְּלֹתָיו
and the man was afraid and turned himself and behold a woman lying at his feet
definite man, indefinite woman
כִּי אֵשֶׁת חַיִל אָתְּ
that you are a woman of ability
construct form again
וַתָּקָם בְּטֶרֶם יַכִּיר אִישׁ אֶת-רֵעֵהוּ
וַיֹּאמֶר אַל-יִוָּדַע כִּי-בָאָה הָאִשָּׁה הַגֹּרֶן
and she rose before a man could recognize his friend
and he said - let it not be known that 'the woman' came to the threshing floor
here is a strange use of the definite article! and I did not at first translate it - hmmm - I wonder if it is a little joke between them.
אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה-לָהּ הָאִישׁ
and she told her all that the man had done for her
the man is important in this story - no?
כִּי לֹא יִשְׁקֹט הָאִישׁ
כִּי-אִם-כִּלָּה הַדָּבָר הַיּוֹם
for the man will not rest
in this case he will complete the thing today
he will not rest - shades of David finding a home for the ark - likely there is another application also
וַיִּקַּח עֲשָׂרָה אֲנָשִׁים מִזִּקְנֵי הָעִיר
and he got ten men of the elders of the city
the plural of a quorum
רוּת הַמּוֹאֲבִיָּה אֵשֶׁת-הַמֵּת
Ruth the Moabite, the wife of the dead
construct form
שָׁלַף אִישׁ נַעֲלוֹ וְנָתַן לְרֵעֵהוּ
a man would remove his sandal and give it to his friend
indefinite - the pattern of behaviour
י וְגַם אֶת-רוּת הַמֹּאֲבִיָּה אֵשֶׁת מַחְלוֹן קָנִיתִי לִי
לְאִשָּׁה לְהָקִים שֵׁם-הַמֵּת עַל-נַחֲלָתוֹ
and moreover Ruth the Moabite the wife of Mahlon I have bought to me
as wife to raise up the name as his inheritance
construct and then with a preposition - why not a kaf rather than a lamed?
יִתֵּן יְהוָה אֶת-הָאִשָּׁה הַבָּאָה אֶל-בֵּיתֶךָ
let יְהוָה give to the wife coming to your house
a child immediately where in chapter 1 there were none for 10 years
יג וַיִּקַּח בֹּעַז אֶת-רוּת וַתְּהִי-לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה
So Boaz got Ruth and she became his wife
note how prepositions can word separately also - not ishto his wife but lo ishah to him wife
יד וַתֹּאמַרְנָה הַנָּשִׁים אֶל-נָעֳמִי
and the women said to Naomi -
we finish with the women - this is a woman's story and the story shows how mutually dependent we all are.

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