Hebrew Grammar works from Gesenius to 2006: their comments on the usage/semantics of the definite article

[called from Fabulous Prophecies of the Messiah, part 2]


Below are the (mostly) grammatical works (in chronological order) from the time of Gx to the present. Most are introductory grammars with little data to add to the discussion, but I am attempting to be comprehensive here (even though I know I am not--I have found probably 2-3 additional introductory grammars in English that do not show up in most of the bibliographies). These are grammars I personally own.


I begin with a grammar contemporary with Gx--that of Ewald.



One: (1891) Syntax of the Hebrew Language of the Old Testament, Heinrich Ewald (James Kennedy, trans.), Edinburgh:1891 (the translation is 1891; the German original is earlier).


Ewald was a contemporary of Gx, and a rival and/or antagonist. Gx was perhaps more amiable than Ewald, but both were great scholars of their day. Ewald accused Gx of using his material without giving credit, and one can maybe see that in this entry. Some of the items that Gx 'reversed' his position on (later using the definite article in his German renderings of some of the exceptions) are already expressed in this way by Ewald (e.g. Num 11.27; Ex 2.15).


Here is the relevant entry from Ewald's grammar (trimmed):


"The Noun as Definite or Indefinite

277a. The article originally stood in apposition to the noun, like a pronoun, but it no longer retains in Hebrew an independent position (). It is very frequently employed in ordinary speech. (1) (2) It may be joined with well-known objects of a particular kind; as, the sun, the earth. A kindred use of the article is its combination with the singular of common nouns, which are thereby rendered more prominent; as, the lion (and not the bull), Amos 5:19, 1 Sam. 17:34; the mule, the virgin, Isa. 7:14; the man (see § 294b); the ancient, the forefather, 1 Sam. 24:14; , the fugitive, i.e. the messenger with evil tidings, Gen. 14:13, 2 Sam 15:13; the lier in wait, i.e. those of the soldiers who are placed in ambush, Josh. 8:19ff., Judg, 20:33ff., in contrast with the destroyer, i.e. those of the soldiers who openly attack and destroy, 1 Sam. 13:17; the avenger of blood, viz. all on whom this duty devolves, 2 Sam. 14:11. This use of the article is particularly exemplified in the names of nations; as, the Canaanite. (3) (4) when the speaker assumes that the object is well known to his hearers; as, saddle me the ass, i.e. my ass, 1 Kings 13:13, 23, 27; 2 Sam. 19:27; or when the narrator assumes, from the circumstances of the case, that a particular object must evidently exist; as, he sat down by the well, Ex. 2:15, because there is usually only one well for cattle near a city; the servant mentioned, Num. 11:27, 2 Sam. 17:17, because it is usual for a special servant to attend his master. " [Ewald, H. (1891). Syntax of the Hebrew Language of the Old Testament (pp. 34–35). Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.]


"Thus all nouns used in connected discourse are definite or indefinite, either from their own nature, i.e. in consequence of the meaning in which they are used; or from choice, i.e. through their assumption of the article: and every substantive in a sentence must necessarily be considered as standing in either of these two relations. But this variability in the condition of nouns, whether as definite (through assumption of the article, or in virtue of their own meaning) or freely indefinite, is of very great importance and significance; because it must also exert a reflex influence on the surrounding words, and because a definite noun, especially one which is necessarily such, has much more weight and force in a sentence than one which is not defined. [Ewald, H. (1891). Syntax of the Hebrew Language of the Old Testament (p. 35). Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.]



·Ewald seems to make definiteness a binary relation--like most ancient grammarians did. Modern grammarians will note that the situation is more of a spectrum than a polarity in meaning (semantics), even though the morphology remains binary.

·Ewald seems to make 'emphasis' one possible major thrust of definiteness. The Isiah 7 use ha-almah, for example, is given a 'rendered more prominent' significance (usage 2), and is not related in some way to 'somebody known to everybody there' (usage 4).

·Rendering the phrase 'the virgin' does not actually change the 'uncertainty' of the referent. The 'the' or grammatical definiteness is related to 'prominence' or 'emphasis' and not to some other reason. The 'the ancient, the forefather' is not even a specific individual, but an emphasis on their 'age'--for traditional wisdom authentication.

·The 'much more weight and force' comment supports this understanding, and plays well with the thesis that Isaiah is emphasizing (through the article) the 'almah-character' (e.g. unmarried status) of the subject of his prophecy.


So, even though Ewald does not represent a 'modern' grammar per se, his construction of how the article is used can be seen to support our interpretation of the article as a reasonable one.


[I find it interesting that the Aramaic version of the article--a suffixed aleph--was originally called the 'emphatic' usage.]




TWO: (1959) A Practical Grammar for Classical Hebrew, 2nd ed., J. Weingreen, OxfordUP.


This is an introductory grammar, with no real discussion of syntax or semantics of the article.


The article discussed in section 16 (p23-25): "There is no word for the indefinite article in Hebrew; 'a' or 'an' is not expressed, e.g. 'king' or 'a king', 'eye' or 'an eye'. The context implies that the word is indefinite."


This at least points out that 'indefiniteness' is context-dependent, but doesn’t address the wide range of usage of the article like a reference grammar would.




THREE: (1965) Introduction to Hebrew. Moshe Greenberg. PrenticeHall [OT:ITH]


No treatment of the semantic range of the article--only basic syntactical rules. (5.1-5.4).


He has one example from our list of verses, in the reading text section.


On p 185f, "notes on the Hebrew text of Genesis 42:3-23", at verse 23, he explains the 'interpreter' reference:


"hamelits. The article may be used with items which, though as yet not mentioned, are associated so closely with a given situation that the writer assumes their presence there all along to be well known. 'the interpreter (who customarily mediated between Joseph and foreigners)' English idiom requires 'an interpreter'.


He asserts (in this case) what GKC and later grammarians do--that the English idiom requires the indefinite expression, even though the form is grammatically definite in the Hebrew.


Note, btw, that the English idiom 'an interpreter' is 'grammatically indefinite' although we TOO would expect an interpreter to be accompanying Joseph everywhere--since he was in charge of food distribution/sales to neighboring countries/languages. So, the 'assumption' that something is 'present' does not count against definiteness or indefiniteness -- at a semantic/meaning level.


[This 'assumption' position will be termed 'frame-based reference' in modern linguists, btw. The 'frame' of an official greeting foreign emissaries will have a number of implicit elements assumed to be there: interpreter, guards, emblems of authority, status indicators in seating/positioning, etc.]





FOUR: (1976) A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew. Joshua Blau. OttoHarrassowitz. [OT:AGOBH]


The definite article is only discussed under Morphology, 16.1-16.3 (i.e., no syntax or semantic coverage--which is our concern here).


'Determinate' is used instead of 'definiteness' (as later grammarians will do). P93f, notes84-84.1.3:


(section 84) "Proper nouns and pronouns are determinate by signification. Other nouns may be either (grammatically) determinate or indeterminate.


"Nouns are grammatically determinate:

·84.1. When preceded by the definite article which may mark:

·84.1.1. Individual determination, as when preceding a substantive already mentioned, as Gen 37, 15 'and a man found him… and the man asked him'.

·84.1.2. Generic determination: the use of the article for class determination is more extensive in Hebrew than, e.g., in English, cf. Jonah 3,7 'man and beast, cattle and flock' [all with def.art.].

·84.1.3. Nouns that are considered to be in natural connection with a given situation, are determined: Gen 37, 31 'in blood', i.e., the blood that was the natural result of killing an animal. Once even with a demonstrative pronoun: Gen 39,11 'on this particular day', when the incident took place, i.e., 'on a certain day'."


Notice that Blau deliberately limits his referent of 'determinate' to a grammatical concept, and not some 'conceptual' or 'cognitive' understanding of 'determinate' (e.g. not specific, identifiable, well-known, etc).




FIVE: (1990) An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax. Waltke, B. K., & O’Connor, M. P. (1990). Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns.

This is a full/proper reference grammar although it is focused specifically on SYNTAX (which had been given inadequate attention by grammars up to this point, historically). We can begin to see modern distinctions between simple reference and syntax.


Here are pieces of the relevant sections (trimmed and Hebrew fonts generally removed--for rendering reasons…sigh):


13.5 Common Nouns with the Article

a  Common nouns—roughly, all nouns except names and unique appellatives—are made definite by the article. The conventions of the Hebrew language regularly call for the use of the article with common nouns in ways similar to the English usage of the article ‘the’ and in ways that differ noticeably from it. Since the uses of the article may differ in Hebrew and in English, it is necessary to note its normal uses in Hebrew in order to avoid distorting the meaning of the Hebrew; a word-for-word translation would often lead to abnormal English. It is vital to read Hebrew from the Hebrew speaker’s point of view; it is also important to consider how that point of view can be represented in English by its normal conventions, without engaging in an extended commentary.

b  There are two major areas that need to be explored in considering Hebrew articular usage. One area involves the referential side: what does the article reveal about the functioning of the word it modifies? The other area is syntactic: how does the article + noun combination fit into the clause?


13.5.1 Referential Features


a  The common noun with the article may have a unique, particular, or generic function.

b  The common noun with an article may designate a unique referent. The uniqueness may be natural, for example 'the sun’ in Exod 17:12 or ‘to the moon’ in Deut 17:3; or theological, for example, ‘God’ in Gen 6:2; or situational, for example, ‘the King’ in 1 Sam 8:9 or ‘the High Priest’ in Num 35:25. The usage conflicts to some extent with the intrinsic definiteness of unique appellatives (13.4b); on the whole, with theological terms and place names the article is rare.


d The article most often serves to give a noun a particular reference.


Example 3: Go from your land… to the land that I will show you (Gen 12.1) [Tanknote: Note well that this 'definite' land is COMPLETELY unknown to Abram at this time. It is a specific land (known to the Lord), but something future-and-unspecified, unidentified, and unknown to Abram. This is like the many cases we have seen of future references that are definite (e.g., vivid, concrete) but 'fuzzy'-- 'a fugitive', 'an almah'.


e  The article may also mark nouns definite in the imagination, designating either a particular person or thing necessarily understood to be present or vividly portraying someone or something whose identity is not otherwise indicated. For a person or thing understood to be present, the English language often also uses the article.



And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. (Gen 22.6)


And she emptied her jar into the trough. (Gen 24.20)


And the midwife said to her (Gen 25.17; cf. 38:28)


In some cases the proper English rendering is indefinite. [note here says: And in some cases the English rendering is open to discussion: a fluent or slightly informal narrative style allows for more situationally understood definite articles.]



An interpreter was between them. Gen 42:23


He gave (it) to a servant. Gen 18:7


One who had escaped came. Gen 14:13


A young man ran. Num 11:27


A messenger came. 2 Sam 15:13


"The analogous English constructions should not mislead: all these occurrences, and others like them, are definite in Hebrew.



·They assert specifically (like Gx) that even though the renderings are sometimes indefinite, the Hebrew nouns are 'definite' (although they do not define this anywhere).

·Like Gx, they are asserting that the definite article NEVER conveys (in itself) 'indefiniteness' -- whatever that means.

·But 'definiteness' here obviously has a WIDE range of meanings, from unique realities (e.g., the sun) to 'definite in the imagination' (could even be a unicorn, under this terminology--or the composite beasts of Daniel, etc).

·Several of these usage-cases would fit ha-almah, especially 'vividly portraying someone… whose identity is not otherwise indicated' (e above), even if rendered in English with a 'the'.

·The 'particular reference' usage ('to the land I will show you') also fits--it is a future 'showing', but a 'definite' reference today.


So, this modern reference grammar is essentially aligned with the GKC statement, even though it expands the category much further (toward 'conceptual indefiniteness'?) than GKC might allow.


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SIX: (1993) Davidson’s Introductory Hebrew Grammar (27th ed.). Martin, J. D. (1993). London: T&T Clark. [From the 1902 base]


This is an introductory grammar and so does not cover the range of syntax/semantics for this. Accordingly, it does not add any data for us to work with at this point.


It gives the same basic statement that occurs in introductory grammars--mostly morphology:


"There is no special way of expressing ‘a’ (the indefinite article) in Hebrew. MLK can mean either simply ‘king’ or ‘a king’. Hebrew expresses ‘the’ (the definite article) by prefixing to a noun or adjective the consonant H with the vowel-sound a and, where possible, doubling the first letter of the word which is being defined. This doubling is shown by means of a dagesh. [Martin, J. D. (1993). Davidson’s introductory Hebrew grammar (27th ed., p. 27). London: T&T Clark.]


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SEVEN (1995) A Grammar for Biblical Hebrew (revised ed). C L Seow. Abingdon. ]OT:AGFBH]


As an introductory grammar, the article is covered in Lesson VI (p54f). There is no discussion of semantic range/usage. "There is no indefinite article in Hebrew".




EIGHT: (1999) HALOT (Brill: Koehler/Baumgartner); revisions by Baumgartner, Johann Jakob Stamm, Benedikt Hartman, Ze'ev Ben-Hayyin, Eduard Yechezkel Kutscher, Philippe Reymond.]


This is not a grammar but a lexicon. It was published over many years in German, with translations into English.


It does not treat the Hebrew definite article in any detail--compared to BDB--and only has 10 lines of text on the definite article. I can only assume that they expect the reader to consult the grammars on this (they reference GKC twice in the tiny article).


The entry is approximately 25% of the size of the corresponding entry in BDB (see the side-by-side visual, scaled in this picture: halbdbsize.jpg).


Its brevity doesn’t allow it to note the odd semantics of the article (which is grammar and not lexicon material anyway), so it doesn’t contribute any data to our discussion here.





NINE: (1999) A Biblical Hebrew Reference Grammar, Christo H.J. van der Merwe, Jackie A. Naude, and Jan H. Kroeze. SheffieldAcademic:1999. [BHRG]


This purports to be an intermediate reference grammar (i.e., that does not include discussion of the subtleties discussed in the full reference grammars that it references), that builds upon the prior reference grammar works of Waltke/OConner [IBHS] and Jouon. It uses more contemporary terminology, drawing from structuralist linguistics as well as traditional linguistic frameworks.


"No attempt has been made to be linguistically innovative. Existing knowledge of BH has been incorporated. The grammars of Gesenius–Kautzsch–Cowley (1909), Richter (1978, 1979 and 1980), Waltke and O’Connor (1990) and Joüon–Muraoka (1991) have been used extensively. Nevertheless an attempt has been made throughout to utilize where relevant the findings of recent research in BH for the purposes of this grammar.


"The recent grammar by Bruce Waltke and Murphy O’Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (1990), describes a large variety of BH syntactic constructions. They use not only broad structural principles for this purpose, but also draw on the more traditional descriptions of BH. In the process of doing so, this work also provides a useful taxonomy of BH constructions, as well as a sound review of current BH grammatical research. … A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew (1991) by Takamitsu Muraoka is a revision of a grammar published in 1923 by Paul Joüon. It is cast in the form of a traditional grammar and explains some BH syntactic constructions psychologically. … The works of Waltke and O’Connor, and of Joüon–Muraoka are regarded as the standard reference works for the 1990s. This reference grammar draws on both these studies. "


Here are some of the relevant entries (trimmed):


§24.4. Definiteness (Status Determinatus)

"Definiteness may be regarded as a congruency feature of nouns. In English a distinction is made between the definite article the and the indefinite article a. BH has an equivalent only for the definite article. When a common noun occurs without a definite article it is regarded as indefinite.


1. The way in which indefiniteness/definiteness is expressed in BH

The indefiniteness or definiteness of BH nominal forms is morphologically determined as follows:

(ii) A noun is definite if:

a.  it is definite in itself: a proper name ,  a pronoun, a title , a common noun that has acquired the value of a proper noun

b.  it has the definite article H or

c.  a pronominal suffix affixed to it

d.  it is in status constructus and followed by a definite noun

Note the following:

(1)  BH differs from English in its use of the definite article. The function of the article must thus be determined carefully, especially in translation.

(2)  The use of the article is a relatively recent phenomenon in Semitic languages and is therefore often omitted in poetic sections."



Its abbreviated (intermediate) character can be seen in comparing the syntactic and semantic sections with those of Waltke/OConner that it references. BHRG mixes the syntactic and semantic categories up a bit -- in comparison to IBHS. Here's a comparison list (based on the IBHS outline):


13.5.1 Referential features

A. unique, particular, or generic function

B. Unique referent, natural or theological (sun, God, king) [BHRG 24.4.4.iia]

C. Unique referent, situational or well-known (high priest, the oak below Bethel) ['well-known' case not mentioned in BHRG]

D. Particular reference (to the land I will show you): anaphoric or cataphoric; [BHRG 24.4.4.iib]

E. Nouns definite in the imagination / whose identity is not indicated [BHRG 24.4.4.iic … "implied by context"?]

F. Generic use for classes/animals, including comparisons [BHRG 24.4.4.iid]

G. Generic use with materials (silver, gold), measurements, abstract qualities (blindness, panic) [BHRG 24.4.4.iid]

13.5.2 Syntactic features

A. used as demonstrative, vocative, relative markers (referent is particular)

B. Expressions of present time/demonstrative (this day) [BHRG 24.4.4.i]

C. Vocative: a definite addressee, present to speaker (O high priest Joshua); frequently not used if persons are not present or 'more or less imaginary' (go to the ant, O sluggard) [BHRG 24.4.3.i]

D. Anaphoric/cataphoric--mostly with participles and other predicates--'relative use of the article" [BHRG 24.4.3.ii, iii, iv]


The only quasi-disconnect (or partial-connect?) is at IBHS 13.5.1.E versus BHRG 24.4.4.iic. IBHS has "The article may also mark nouns definite in the imagination, designating either a particular person or thing necessarily understood to be present or vividly portraying someone or something whose identity is not otherwise indicated. For a person or thing understood to be present, the English language often also uses the article." and gives 12 examples. BHRG merely says "Things that are implied by the context take the article, even if they have not been mentioned before", giving only Gen 24.20 as the sole example: 'And she emptied her jar into the trough. '


I am not sure that is an 'omission for disagreement' or a simple 'omission for minutia/exception avoidance.'


Their opening statement at (ii)--"The definite noun focuses attention on the referent’s identity. "--would not settle the matter, because the notion of 'implied by the context' obviously has nothing 'focusing attention on identity' (or else it would not be only 'implied'!).


[And, although 'identity' is a more modern, linguistics-informed word, it itself has a wide range of meaning--see the comments by Bekins at the end of this section.]


So, I don’t see any data in their text to suspect any discontinuity between them and IBHS (and Jouon, which agrees with IBHS).




·The first part of the section is basic morphology (as stated in the text), which is the standard entry.

·They DO point out that the 'usage' of the definite article is different between HB and ENG--and must be 'determined carefully' (implying that it is not obvious from the morphological characteristics!)

·They seem to match IBHS fairly closely (as far as can be discerned from the abbreviated entries).



……………………….. …………………..


TEN: (2002) Biblical Hebrew for Students of Modern Israeli Hebrew. Marc Zvi Brettler. YaleUP. [OT:BH4SMIH]


This unique grammar is specialized, focused on bridging the gap between Modern Israeli Hebrew and Biblical Hebrew:


From Preface: "Because modern Hebrew and the biblical lexicon overlap significantly, such students know much of the basic vocabulary of the Bible. Yet BH and MIH are two different languages--or at the very least, two substantially different dialects of the same language. MIH is certainly useful for reading the Bible, but no one can understand the Hebrew Bible knowing only MIH. There are significant differences in vocabulary, spelling, verb formation, use of verbal suffices, and word order."


It refers to the standard reference grammars being GKC and J-M, and as being important to serious biblical scholarship:


"Some of the later chapters also use paradigms from two of the standard reference grammars, in order to encourage students to become more comfortable with the basic tools of serious biblical scholarship and to use these fundamental works at an early stage" [Paradigms/references to GKC and J-M.]


The only mention of definiteness in the text comes at page 55:


"In BH, as in MIH, there is no separate word for 'the' and its function of establishing that a particular, definite object is in the mind of the speaker or narrator is expressed most often by prefixing a he to the word in mind. This usage of the he is called the definite article, or in Hebrew, he hidi'ah."



And he gives two entries in the glossary (p 307):


·"Definite article: a he preceding a noun, typically vocalized with a pathah and a following dagsh hatzaq, indicating that the noun represents a specific object or concept.

·"Definiteness: Referring to a specific person, thing, or idea. In Hebrew, definiteness is often indicated with the definite article; proper nouns, nouns with pronominal suffixes, and nouns in construct with definite nouns are also definite."



·The text makes it clear that definiteness is about what is 'in the mind of the speaker or narrator' and not what is 'well-known' , present in the locale, able to be pointed to, 'real', etc. This is almost a psychology-only concept of definiteness, and anticipates later scholarly approaches.

·The first glossary entry points out that definiteness can apply to a 'concept' and not just a (material) object.

·The second glossary entry makes the same basic point, that it can be an 'idea'.


This construal of the article is certainly congruent with the 'vividness, as present to the speaker', etc categories we have seen from GKC onwards.





ELEVEN: (2006). A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew. Joüon, P., & Muraoka, T. (2006). Roma: Pontificio Istituto Biblico. [J-M]

This is the latest reference grammar to appear, and is the most complete as well.


"Whilst Joüon intended his grammar to be an intermediate grammar, the 1991 edition had already begun to take on the appearance of an advanced grammar; this is even more evident in this revised edition, which has a considerable amount of bibliographical information and a scholarly exchange in copious footnotes. Given the absence of a revised Gesenius-Kautzsch, this might be justified." (From Muraoka's preface, 2006)



J-M reverts back to the 'determination' terminology of Blau, instead of 'definiteness'. He makes an opening reference in Section 137 ("Determination and indetermination: the article") to the on-going debate about the connection between grammatical definiteness and 'logical or semantic' determination:


"Barr (1989a) is highly critical of the generally assumed nexus between the use of the definite article in BH and the logical category of determination. For a critique of Barr’s position, see Müller 1991."


Barr had made this statement: "This present study will argue that the Hebrew definite article is not strictly, but only loosely and generally, related to determination". [His position was critiqued by both Muller and Ehrensvard.]


Without taking sides (at the onset), he does note that use of the article does not seem to follow rigorous rules:


"137.f: Common nouns (or appellatives). As far as the use of the article is concerned, these nouns are treated in a way which differs appreciably from that of some Indo-European languages. Generally speaking, it may be said that the use of the article in Hebrew is rather loose."


He distinguishes between levels of determination: perfect determination, indetermination, and imperfect determination.


Here are the relevant entries (trimmed)--most of which we have already seen as being pervasive in the modern grammars:



I) Perfect determination.

·1) Determination is perfect mainly in cases where the thing can be pointed to, and where, therefore, the demonstrative pronoun could be used. The article he which was originally a demonstrative, still has a weak demonstrative value in some phrases referring to time: this day = today Gn 4.14 [SNIP]

·2) Determination is perfect in a case where the noun could be determinate by virtue of a pronominal suffix. In this case, the Hebrew article is sometimes equivalent to the possessive pronoun of some European languages: Gn 24.65 (she took) her veil ; [SNIP]

·3) A thing is perfectly determinate when it has already been mentioned—the so-called anaphoric use: the article is then equivalent to a weak demonstrative, e.g. that man (the man about whom we have spoken) [SNIP]



·4) The vocative.



·5) A thing which is unique is, by virtue of this very fact, determinate [SNIP]

·Likewise we have e.g. the tent of Testimony Nu 9.15 etc.; [SNIP]



·6) Classes or species are unique and by virtue of this very fact, determinate—the so-called genetic use: they often have the article. Thus clean and unclean animals have the article in Lv 11.4ff.; Dt 14.7ff. (but not in vss. 4–5!). [SNIP]




·7) Abstract nouns can be taken in a determinate way and so have the article. Thus for the monarchy, the royal dignity we usually find 1Sm 18.8 etc. [SNIP]



II) Indetermination. Excepting the cases listed above, there is generally indetermination, and therefore no article is used, e.g. a (any) city 2Sm 17.13; a man Ru 1.1; Jb 1.1a; [SNIP]



The nominal predicate (subst., adj., ptc.) is, by its very nature, usually indeterminate. Thus sentences such as “David is king, great, governing” are used frequently. But sometimes we come across sentences such as “David is the king, the great(est), the governing (one).” In these latter cases, in which both major clause constituents are determinate, the article is needed in Hebrew, as it is in English, for then the predicate is determinate. There are many examples with a participle but very few with a substantive. With an adjective the meaning is almost always comparative or superlative. In most cases, the nuance corresponds to Eng. it is the one … who / which

·1) With a participle: Gn 2.11 it is the one which winds round the whole land of Havilah”; [SNIP]

·2) With an adjective: Ex 9.27 it is Y. who is (the) righteous (one); [SNIP]

·3) With a substantive: Gn 42.6 now it was J. who was the governor; 1Sm 17.8 I am the Philistine; 1Kg 18.21 if Y. is (the true) God.



III) Imperfect determination. A thing which is not perceived as determinate by the writer or by the person who is addressed is sometimes specifically determinate by itself; therefore the noun takes, or can take, the article. This use of the article is characteristic of Hebrew and rather frequent. It can only be translated in English by a, sometimes by a certain. In order better to show the Hebrew usage, the examples will be grouped into the following categories:

·1) Objects which are specifically determinate because they are taken or used for some specific purpose:

oObjects taken: Dt 15.17 “you shall take an awl (comp. Ex 21.6); Jdg 4.21 a peg for the tent and a hammer, 9.48 axes; 19.29 a knife.

oObjects used: Ex 16.32 “Keep a full ʿomer (cp. Jdg 6.38 a bowl); Ex 21.6 with an awl; 21.20 with a rod (cp. Nu 22.27); Nu 21.9 on a pole (cp. Josh 8.29 on a piece of wood; contr. Gn 40.19); Josh 2.15 with a rope; Jdg 8.25 a coat; 20.16; 1Sm 21.10; 2Sm 23.21; 2Kg 10.7. Note in particular in a book Ex 17.14; Nu 5.23; 1Sm 10.25; Jr 32.10; Jb 19.23; a donkey Ex 4.20; 1Sm 25.42; 2Sm 17.23; 19.27; 1Kg 13.13.



·2) A person who is mentioned in the course of narration in circumstances which give him/her a particular determination: Gn 14.13 “a fugitive arrived” (also Ez 24.26; 33.21); Nu 11.27 a boy; 2Sm 15.13 a messenger, 17.17 a maidservant. See also Gn 18.7; 42.23; 2Kg 13.21. [Footnote 1 here says: "At the beginning of a prophetic announcement Is 7.14 h-almah a virgin or the virgin (in any case, determinate for the prophet)"

·3) Local objects (sometimes with the nuance a certain): Gn 16.7 near a (certain) spring (Ex 2.15 near a (certain) well; Gn 28.11 he came to a (certain) place; 1Kg 19.9 a cave (comp. Gn 19.30).

·4) In the expression and a (certain) day arrived and … the word yom, which is the subject, is made determinate by what follows it: 1Sm 1.4; 14.1; [SNIP]



·5) Other examples (of imperfect determination): Ex 3.2a a bush; Nu 21.6 , snakes; 1Sm 17.34 a lion; 1Kg 20.36 a lion (contr. 13.24).

oWith an adjective: 2Sm 18.9 a large terebinth; [SNIP]

oWith distributive meaning: Nu 7.3 a wagon for every two princes; [SNIP]

oMeasure: Ex 26.2 ; Ez 45.11 ; 45.12."




·Perfect determination and indetermination match the 'binary model' of definiteness that the older grammarians tried to maintain and quasi-force each case of the definite article into. It is the category of 'imperfect determination' that is the grey area that has shown up in ALL the lexical and grammatical works from Gx/Ewald on.

·The same 'proof texts' that Gx had to deal with (e.g. the well, the lion, the fugitive, the messenger) continue to evade being forced into that model, and so the categories of 'definiteness' and 'indefiniteness' have had to broaden to encompass psychological and narrative-assumption (frame-based reference) elements.

·The category of 'are taken or used' (above) matches the cases given as far back as BDB ("H - definite article', 1d) and the category of 'person… mentioned in narration' matches BDB ("H - definite article', 1c). Like the lexical work BDB, this grammatical work has had to soften the edge between definiteness and indefiniteness, and change the discussion and terminology to 'determination'.

·He specifically affirms that h-almah can be taken as a-virgin or the-virgin, with this being determinate (listed under 'imperfect determination') for the prophet.


So, the original statement of GKC seems to still be held (if not broadened and further sub-divided) in this modern reference grammar as well. Modern research in BH studies continues to support this category.




TWELVE: (2007) Williams' Hebrew Syntax 3rd Ed. Ronald J Williams, John Beckman (rev). UTorontoP. [OT:WHS3]


Although this would be considered an 'introductory' grammar, the fact that it focuses on syntax allows it to introduce the reader to more nuances of the language.


In other words, it can state 'introductory truths' in the text, then use footnotes to say 'well, it is not QUITE that simple" (smile).


So, in the case of the article, the main entry (section 82a) says this:


"A word that refers to a particular thing is definite. In general, a word is definite if it is a proper noun, has a pronominal suffix, has the article, or is in a construct chain where the last word in the chain is definite. A word that does not refer to a particular thing is indefinite. A word is indefinite if it is not a proper noun, does not have a pronominal suffice, and does not have the article."


Then the footnote (128) qualifies this: "This is a simplification. Cf. BHRG 24.4; GKC 125-7; IBHS 13.4; JM 137-40". Tanknote--these are the sections of the three main reference grammars cited above].


Then, in section 84, he brings up 'our category':


"Article on something that is definite in the mind of the narrator. Sometimes the article is used on something that is definite in the mind of the narrator, but that might be considered indefinite in English and translated accordingly. This category is very subjective and debatable." [Examples given in the text: I Sam 10.25 (in the scroll/on a scroll); 2 Kgs 4.8 (happened the day/one day); Ex 2.15 (sat down by the well/sat down by a well)]."


Then the footnote (332) qualifies this: "GKC 126q-t; IBHS 13.5.1e; Ehrensvard 1999, 68-76. The discussion in JM 137m-o is relevant, but analyses the phenomenon differently. Barr 1989, 312-316 questions the consistency of this category." [Tanknote: the citations are Ehrensvard 1999, "An unusual use of the article in biblical and post-biblical Hebrew". In Sirach, scrolls, and sages. Ed. T. Muraoka and JF Elwolde, Leiden:Brill; and Barr, "Determination and the definite article in biblical Hebrew". JSS 34:307-35.]



·This author even includes the 'this day' form to be 'very subjective and debatable'!

·Definiteness can be ascribed to the 'mind of the narrator', like the intermediate and advanced grammars stated.

·The author does NOT state that something indefinite in English is therefore indefinite in Hebrew--it is an issue of 'considered' and 'translated accordingly'. Grammatical definiteness does not imply semantic definiteness (or better, 'determination').


So this grammar allows for our category / understanding, and basically agrees with the original GKC statement. [It doesn’t require the almah to be 'unknown' (like the GKC statement could be read, even though GKC qualified it with a 'primarily' in front of the word)--just that it be 'definite' in the mind of the narrator --whatever 'definite' might mean in a future-centric prophetic statement like that.]




THIRTEEN: (2009) A Modern Grammar for Biblical Hebrew. Duane Garrett and Jason DeRouchie. BnHacademic. [OT:AMGBH]


This is an introductory grammar, excellent for teaching first-year Hebrew. The definite article is treated in Chapter 8, but it is strictly about morphology and the syntax of the article when used with other particles. There is no discussion of the many variations of usage / translation covered in that chapter. The glossary in appendix 5 has no entries for article, definite article, definiteness, determination, or any of the opposites (e.g. indefiniteness).


No data of relevance to our discussion.


…………………………. …………….


FOURTEEN: (2010) A New Grammar of Biblical Hebrew. Frederic Clarke Putnam. Sheffield. [OT:ANGBH].



This relatively new book is a model of clarity, and is careful to note where subtleties lie.


The article is discussed in Lesson 4, under "Nominal Modification (I): The Article". It first introduces the linguistic concept of 'nominal modification' (e.g., via possessives, via adjectives) and then discusses the Function of the article in 4.5.1 and the Form of the article in 4.5.2.


Similar to what we saw in Williams above, this work gives the core 'rule' in the text, and then uses footnotes to introduce any controversies and/or subtleties than need to be kept in mind.


So, in 4.5.1 The Article: Function, the main entry reads:


"The article in Biblical Hebrew corresponds roughly to English 'the'; Biblical Hebrew has no indefinite article."


With a footnote (34) at the end of that first sentence:


"The actual situation is slightly more complicated. Generic English nouns (e.g., 'cow', 'house', 'son'--ie., not proper names) must be modified by either an article ('the', 'a/an') or a possessive (e.g., 'her', 'our', 'their'); since they are not used 'absolutely', the sentence 'Shepherd saw dog' is 'ill-formed' (both nouns require an article). Biblical Hebrew, however, has no word(s) whose function is limited to that of 'a/an', although the word 'one' (achad) occasionally fills that role."


The main entry continues with:


"Words with the article are articular; words lacking the article are anarthrous. Articular nouns are grammatically 'definite' and anarthrous nouns are often 'indefinite', but Biblical Hebrew also has several other common ways to show a word's definiteness or indefiniteness (e.g., the 'construct', below). Since English and Biblical Hebrew use their articles differently, articular words in the biblical text are not necessarily glossed using an English definite article.


"That a word is indefinite does not mean that it is non-specific. For example, the phrase 'a dog' in the sentence 'She saw a dog' refers to a specific dog (the dog that she saw), even though the word 'dog' is grammatically indefinite. Because Biblical Hebrew and English differ in their use of the article, words that are anarthrous in Hebrew often end up being definite in English. This is especially common in biblical poetry, where the article is relatively infrequent, but also occurs in prose."


And then a footnote (35) qualifies that:


"The opposite is also true. For example, the subject of Genesis 14.13a is an otherwise unknown fugitive, who is identified with the article The fugitive came and reported to Abram… (Gen 14.3). To identify him in English, however, as 'the fugitive' could mislead casual readers or hearers, who would conclude--based on their experience of English--that the article means that he was mentioned before this point in the story."



·Grammatical definiteness is distinguished from semantic definiteness (e.g., specificity), as we have seen before.

·A definite form in Hebrew might need to be expressed in an indefinite form in English--and vice versa.


Although this is not much data, what is here certainly allows for our understanding of the grammatical article in h-almah not requiring her to be present, known, etc.





FIFTEEN: (2012) Biblical Hebrew Grammar Visualized. Francis Andersen and A Dean Forbes. Eisenbrauns. [OT:BHGV]


This is a very specialist work, applying the emerging corpus linguistics approach/discipline to the Hebrew bible. It applies contemporary linguistics theory to the texts, using computing technologies. It specifically says that it does 'not seek to be a reference grammar'.


It uses categories of 'definiteness' (quasi-tautological), but largely from a 'marker' point of view.


The glossary gives these entries:

·Definite - when a noun (or verbal noun) has a definite article prefix, the noun is definite: "the king."

·Definite article - A segment that acts as a determiner in order to identify or particularize a substantive.

·Definiteness - Specifies a particular individual by marking a segment with a prefix in Hebrew (the prefixed definite article) and a suffix in Aramaic (the determined suffix).

·Indefinite - a segment that is not marked as definite.


To closest we get to 'meaning' (via function) would be in the terms to 'identify' or 'particularize' (above), but those terms would not be restricted to meaning the same thing as 'point to somebody present' or 'single out an almah in a crowd of almoth".


For example, the book assets that there are 51 clauses nominalized by a definite article (section, page 67). They give the example of Gen 18:21, where the text has (my simplified form): "I will go down and see if they have done according to the outcry , the-she-came-unto-me (one)…". The NJPS translates the phrase 'that has reached me". The whole phrase is nominalized by the article: "The critical point here is that the entire clause is nominalized. The definite article operates upon the entire nominalized clause, making it definite." Although one might be able to say that the article 'identifies' or 'particularizes' the outcry (via backward reference to the cry in verse 20), it is the 'coming unto me' that is 'identified' or 'particularized'--according to the structure. This is a different type of identify or particularize than what we might associate the definite article with in normal usage.


My point is basically that the definition of the purpose of the definite article in the glossary is too basic to cover all the exceptions (one of which is the one I pointed out above) or to be used to force all semantic uses into two simple words--'identify' and 'particularize'. Of course, since they are using modern linguistics terminology, 'identify' has a wider range of meaning in itself that simply 'identify by pointing to an almah' [cf. remarks by Bekins below.]


So, this specialist work really doesn’t address our issues (although it points out, btw, on page 53 that "Our Kethiv text of Biblical Hebrew contains 30,298 definite articles." (That is a LOT of data to subsume under a couple of categories in a grammar or lexicon!!!)


……………………….. .


Summary of the above, for implications for our study:


1.Ewald: The definite article can be used to make a noun more pronounced or weightier, and gives our passage as an example, rendering it with the English 'the'. Does not subsume it under the 'well-known' category. Supports our interpretive option (even with the English definite article)

2.Weingreen: No real impact, except the possible mention that indefiniteness has a contextual dimension.

3.Greenberg: No real impact, although his explanation of 'interpreter' in Gen 42 is very close to the frame-based reference model (of contemporary linguists)--see remarks by Bekins below.

4.Blau: He is the first writer in our list to use 'determinate' instead of 'definite' (even though the two seem to be equivalent), and the first in our list to specify that determination is 'grammatical' (i.e., at the level of writing and not necessarily at the level of 'concept' or 'narrative imagination'). Since our discussion is specifically about the later (Isaiah's meaning, as suggested by the presence of the lexical definite article), Blau's distinction suggests that the two are not as 'tightly joined' as some might argue.

5.Waltke/O'Conner: This work presents several semantic cases which fit our case, while still stating that the word is still 'definite' in the Hebrew text. The category of 'vividly portraying' matches both the earlier Ewald and the latter grammarians' comments on 'concepts'. It also gives an example of particular reference which has a future-unknown aspect ('go to the land I will show you') like our prophetic passage.

6.Davidson: No data/impact.

7.Seow: No data/impact.

8.HALOT: No data/impact.

9.Van der Merwe/Naude/Kroeze: Although it echos the work of Waltke/O'Connor, it doesn’t cover the exceptions mentioned by them. No real data/impact.

10.Brettler: Uses the 'mind of the narrator', 'concept' and 'idea' words to allow definiteness to apply to things other than those being 'present in the room'. This is congruent with our understanding of the usage of 'h-almah' in our passage.

11.Jouon/Muraoka: This is the first in our list to bring up the scholarly debate on the connection between grammatical definiteness and semantic definiteness (raised by J. Barr). He uses the determination (instead of definiteness) descriptions, and has a category ('imperfect determination') which matches our usage. Two of the use-cases (taken/used, mentioned-narration) match those in BDB, and are good candidates for understanding the use of the article in our passage (used for a sign; mentioned later in the text). Specifically says that h-almah can be 'a virgin' or 'the virgin' ('imperfectly determinate' to author).

12.Williams: Definiteness can be ascribed to the mind of the narrator (as mentioned several times above).

13.Garrett/DeRouchie: No data/impact.

14.Putnam: Differentiates grammatical definiteness from semantic definiteness (specificity), allowing for variety of interpretation of the definite article. Also mentions the disconnect between the renderings of Hebrew and English (a -> the, and the->a).

15.Andersen/Forbes: No data/impact.


All in all, we have no data which eliminates our view, some data which supports it, and all data allows it.


I should note here that the discussion on what 'definiteness' IS has become intense. The field of linguistics has brought many new tools to bear on Hebrew studies, and one of the results of this is that the issue of 'what is determination' or 'what is definiteness' has become quite complex.


The simple identification of grammatical definiteness with semantic specificity has been abandoned altogether, so any argument from the presence of the article to the 'required meaning in the mind of the author' is no longer accepted.


There are alternate ways of connecting the grammatical and the semantic--which can be used to support a tight connection--but none have reached anything like a consensus yet. The field is still trying to work out an effective terminology with which to address the topic of the connection!


IMO, one of the best writers on this subject (from my recent and limited research for this) is Bekins of Hebrew Union College, Jewish Institute of Religion. In a paper presented at SBL in 2010, he makes some excellent points on where we are on this subject. Here are a few excerpts from that paper:


"In general, the standard grammars treat the definite article in Biblical Hebrew as relatively straightforward, corresponding closely with its counterparts in English and Greek. However, there are also variant uses which, at first glance, seem to be peculiar to Hebrew."


He cites the reference grammars of GKC, IBHS, and J-M as discussing these 'peculiarities', and then draws upon Barr's distinction between 'storytelling' and 'assumed to be present' cases. The former category is taken by Bekins as unique to Hebrew, and the latter category he takes as universal to languages (using the 'frame-based reference' model).


He points out something that I 'hinted' at above (with my 'whatever THAT means' phrases) that:


"Another difficulty with the explanations above is that none of the grammars appear to be working with a particularly clear notion of definiteness, and few spend much ink defining or explaining the concept."


He then points out that the DA is normally used to encode identifiability:


"In languages with a definite article, its prototypical use is to encode identifiability—defined as the ability of the hearer to identify the referent of a noun phrase. The purpose of encoding identifiability is to help the hearer organize the things being discussed more efficiently.


"In more technical language, the things being discussed can be called discourse referents, and the processing of a text can be described as the creation of a temporary discourse world. In the simplest case, an indefinite noun phrase is used to trigger the creation of a discourse referent, while a definite noun phrase signals that a referent already exists and can be identified. Here, the anaphoric case described in example 1 ("and he saw ISHAH bathing from the roof, and H-ISHAH was very beautiful") is paradigmatic. In the first clause, ishah a woman is

unidentifiable to the hearer and therefore triggers the creation of a discourse referent which can then be accessed by the definite noun phrase H-ishah the woman. Note that in this case, the discourse referent ishah is a generic instance of a type which exists in the hearer's general knowledge. Rather than unidentifiable, Gundel, Hedberg, and Zacharski call this type identifiable."


He then points out that there is a difficulty in correlating grammatical definiteness and identifiability:


"The correlation of definiteness to identifiability presents difficulties because, while the

grammatical category of definiteness is binary, identifiability can be considered scalar (image version at identifyimage.jpg ):




Partially Identifiable












"Besides identifiable and unidentifiable, there is a region of partial identifiability, where the level of identifiability corresponds to the amount of mental effort required by the hearer. Variation in the use of the definite article is often related to how a given language maps this transition from indefinite to definite onto the identifiability scale. It should be no surprise that the "storytelling" and frame-based uses of the definite article in Biblical Hebrew fall in this middle range of partial identifiability."


To my way of thinking, Bekins' discussion is illustrative of how the approaches to this category of usage are still developing, but at a bare minimum we can conclude that any 'tight' correlation between a linguistic reference and the historical setting in which it was made (i.e., the room in which it occurred and the people present in the room) just can neither be assumed nor strongly held anymore--without detailed and nuanced investigation of the passage.


[This article was accessed at: http://balshanut.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/bekins-the-use-of-the-definite-article-for-frame-based-reference.pdf. His blog has several other posts exploring this topic.]




Okay, where does this leave us?


In answer to the objection that we used an 'out of date' resource, we can reply that:

·no subsequent resources in the intervening century-plus took a contrary stance to GKC,

·most subsequent resources still used GKC as a 'still in-date' resource themselves,

·all subsequent resources that spoke on the matter allowed the GKC stance;

·some subsequent resources expanded the GKC stance to a wider range of cases;

·some subsequent resources added additional support to the GKC stance by demonstrating additional nuances within the category; and

·contemporary research in the field highlights the complexity of the topic.


So, even though these are all English resources (some being translations from German, Dutch, or French), they show that modern scholarly study is still aware of and in basic agreement with, the position taken in GKC -- used in our article.



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