Friday, January 1, 2010

He - what the!

Have we got a lot to learn about the fifth letter?  Probably, and I won't go too deep for a first foray. 'He' is first 'the' letter. It has its own word in the interjection הא (The first few do also: Aleph is itself a thousand, bet is almost a house, gml is payback, getting what you deserve, dalet - poor, weak - with a little help from a taf.)

The first use presented of ה in the grammar books is that of the definite article. Right at the beginning of Ruth, it appears in this construct phrase:

  שְׁפֹט הַשֹּׁפְטִים
shpot hashoftim 
 in the judging of the judges
and immediately thereafter
וְשֵׁם הָאִישׁ אֱלִימֶלֶךְ  
ve shem ha'ish 'elimelek -
and the name of the man was Elimelek.
Notice how English requires the definite article twice where Hebrew has it only once. What other uses of ה are in Ruth? Early in Ruth we get the standalone pronouns, hu הוּא for he (Ruth 1:1)

הוּא וְאִשְׁתּו וּשְׁנֵי בָנָיו 
hie ve'ishto ushenei banaiv
he and his wife and his two sons
and hie הִיא for she (Ruth 1:3)
וַתִּשָּׁאֵר הִיא וּשְׁנֵי בָנֶיהָ
vetisher hie ushenei baneah
and she was bereaved and her two sons

In this last phrase we find a new usage of ה as a suffix indicating 'her' rather than the vav ו that is 'his'. With Elimelek's death, the sons have become her sons that were his sons. The trailing ה is very common in this story and very often indicates an aspect of the feminine whether of conjugation - third person singular, or second or third person plural or third person singular possessive pronoun.

In Ruth 1:11 we find the second major use of ה, the interrogative
הַעוֹד-לִי בָנִים בְּמֵעַי וְהָיוּ לָכֶם לַאֲנָשִׁים
ha`od li banaim bima`i lakem l'anoshim?
are there yet to me sons in my body that they might become husbands for you?
Here ה leads the sentence and indicates a question. There are several more questions in chapter 1 ending with this one:
הֲזֹאת נָעֳמִי
hazot na`omi
Is this Naomi?

In chapter 2, besides many definitives and interrogatives, I see this strange spelling of earth -
וַתִּשְׁתַּחוּ אָרְצָה
vetishtahu artzah
and she gave him a bow on her earth
She what! She gave him a curtsy? Well, it must be referring to her in order to get a third person out of it? I see it parsed as if it were a third person feminine singular hithpael form - i.e. reflexive. And hithpael is an interesting usage of ה but in the third person feminine, it disappears and becomes a taf. And why does this verb have that extra vav on the end of it? It doesn't look like hithpael to me - that would require no vav and an additional taf תִּתשְׁתַּח. So! I think it might be 'she gave him a bow on her earth' - or something to that effect. I had hoped Campbell might say something about this word but - not a word. I must be misreading the forms. Maybe someone will answer...

Most of the rest of the uses of ה in Ruth are definite, or feminine markers, or interrogative. BDB lists 13 subdivisions of the definite. I won't list them all - maybe in a deeper, later post, though one (the vocative BDB I.i. p 208) came up in discussion of Psalm 117 here. In Ruth we have at least one instance of 'tonight' (I.c. p207) = 'the night' הַלַּיְלָה and here is another that may fit somewhere:
לְעֵת הָאֹכֶל גֹּשִׁי הֲלֹם
le`et ha'okel gishi halom
at the time of eating draw near
The eating. A generic regular occurrence made specific. As another variation, Ruth 1:17 makes death definite (I h. p208)
כִּי הַמָּוֶת יַפְרִיד בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵךְ
ki hamavet yaphrid beini ubeinek
for only death will separate me and you
In Ruth 2:18 there is a new use of ה asking for recognition
וַתֹּוצֵא וַתִּתֶּן־לָהּ אֵת אֲשֶׁר־הֹותִרָה מִשָּׂבְעָהּ
vatotse vatiten-lah et asher-hotirah misavah
and she brought out and gave to her what she had left over after she was sated
The new one is the hiphil perfect prefix of  יתר to be left over. Hiphil makes the root 'causative'. I have not yet dealt with the form or the grammar of verbs that lose letters when the grammatical ones become attached. This must be the I-yod form - and it looks as if it behaves according to what is expected of such a verb (Lambdin chapter 45). In the Hiphil, the yod becomes a vav! Aren't those grammatical letters something else! We must return to this when we get to yod.

A little tidbit on the bottom of page 222 in Lambdin notes how the hiphil of halek looks as if it were the hiphil of yelek. I already encountered this confusion of two verbs that are treated as one in the Hebrew concordance that I have. See note on Ruth 1:15-18.

And Happy New Year to you all.


J. K. Gayle said...

Good post again! Happy New Year, Bob!

Bob MacDonald said...

Happy New Year to you too - I am having a ball with the letters as you can see. I hope they will help me teach my students with easy examples. They are certainly teaching me - in fact that is why I blog - to learn.

Bob MacDonald said...

For the explanation of the Ruth 2:10 question see here

Bob MacDonald said...

Here's a detailed note on this verse - essentially denying the assertion in BDB that 'he' can signal vocative.