Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
BBR 24:4 (2014) p. 529
Ohad Cohen. The Verbal Tense System in Late Biblical Hebrew Prose. Harvard Semitic Studies 63. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2013. Pp. xiv + 304. ISBN 978-1-57506-943-2. $49.50 hardcover.
This is a revised version of Cohen’s 2008 Hebrew University dissertation. His corpus consists of the verbal forms in the Second Temple period books of Esther, Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah, and the nonsynoptic portions of Chronicles. Cohen describes his method as structuralist, grounded in the Saussurean distinctions between diachrony and synchrony, “langue” and “parole,” and syntagmatic and paradigmatic (p. 1). He sets forth a three-step process for his study: first. analyze the data (the “parole”), then present generalizations that explain specific instances (“parole”) and “undergird” an account of the “langue,” and third, elucidate the complex relationship between these two spheres. Cohen does not aspire to develop a new approach to the Biblical Hebrew verbal system but hopes “to establish a new overarching framework for the research of the Biblical Hebrew verbal system” (p. 2) and to “delineate the changes that marked the transition from the classical era to the Second Temple period” (p. 1). For this reason, he approaches the data synchronically as well as diachronically, in comparison with First Temple biblical texts and the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Despite the promising aims, Cohen’s study is a disappointment at every level. Methodologically, Cohen seems ignorant of recent debates over diachrony and Biblical Hebrew (see, e.g., Cynthia L. Miller-Naudé and Ziony Zevit, Diachrony in Biblical Hebrew [Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2012]). His lack of acknowledgement (even if only to disagree) of the argument that no separation is possible between First Temple and Second Temple biblical literature, calls into question Cohen’s uncritical diachronic comparisons.
Cohen adopts his understanding of the Biblical Hebrew verbal system from Jan Joosten (e.g., “Do the Finite Verbal Forms in Biblical Hebrew Express Aspect?” Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society of Columbia University 29  49-70) and Galia Hatav (esp. The Semantics of Aspect and Modality: Evidence from English and Biblical Hebrew [Studies in Language Companion 34; Amsterdam: Benjamins, 1997]): the system is relative tense and modality (a la Joosten) in which the concept of the reference point is exploited to distinguish between the semantically similar pairs wayyiqtol and qatal, and weqatal and yiqtol (a la Hatav). Cohen does not acknowledge criticisms of these theories, nor does he betray any awareness of the current status of Biblical Hebrew verbal theory (in his 9-page bibliography, only a dozen post-2000 sources are cited, ...
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