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The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.144 Monday, 2 April 2012
Date: March 31, 2012 2:41:42 PM EDT
Subject: Re: Hebrew Verbs
Others on the list with Hebrew less rudimentary than mine will no doubt be able to answer with more precision, but, yes, it is my understanding that Hebrew does not have tense in the same way European languages do. Hebrew verbs have forms designating complete or incomplete action. In terms of Exodus 3:14, the result is that while the Geneva translation is correct, it is also reductive, since one might translate equally accurately using different English tenses—I am be what I will be, etc. One implication is that God’s self-description—not really one, let alone a name—includes eternal immutability—was, is, will be.
My point in the Blackwell’s “Shakespeare and the Bible” piece was that Iago’s “I am not what I am” is a demonic parody of Exod. 3:14, an expression of utter vacuity in contrast to God’s eternal plenitude.
If I’ve erred or muddled, expert Hebraists please clarify.
Associate Professor of English
Co-curator, Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible
The Ohio State University
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Columbus, OH 43210-1340