In this book, John Cook interacts with a range of approaches to perennial questions on the Hebrew verb. Some of his answers may appear traditional, such as his perfective-imperfective identification of the qatal-yiqtol opposition, but his approach is distinguished by its modern linguistic foundation. One distinguishing sign is his employment of the phrase “aspect prominent” to describe the biblical Hebrew verbal system. As with almost any of the world’s verbal systems, this aspect-prominent system can express a wide range of aspectual, tensed, and modal meanings. He argues that each of the forms can be semantically identified with a general meaning and that the expressions of specific aspectual, tensed, and modal meanings by each form are explicable with reference to its general meaning.
Cook eschews statistical means of validation, pointing out their weaknesses along the way, and draws on diachronic typology as an “external” means of validating his theory. These fields have provided a wealth of data on verbal systems and diachronic changes to these systems in the world’s languages. Given the inescapable diachronic dimension that is part of studying the ancient, composite corpus of the Hebrew Bible, diachronic typology is an especially suitable approach and a particularly useful means of escaping the subjectivity of translation-based statistical approaches.
After a decade of research and creative thinking, the author frames his discussion with the question, “What is the range of meaning for a given form, and what sort of contextual factors (syntagm, discourse, etc.) help us understand this range in relation to a general meaning for the form?” Although the general meaning may be an abstraction (just as a morpheme or phoneme is an abstraction), it gives us a better understanding of the array of specific meanings a form may exhibit and predicts the types of contexts in which these specific meanings may appear.
In order to account for the contextual character of specific meanings, Cook addresses long-standing issues involving interaction between the semantics of verbal forms and their pragmatic functions. More importantly, he proposes a theory of discourse modes for biblical Hebrew. These modes account for various temporal relationships that are found among successive clauses in biblical Hebrew. Fittingly, his account of this theory of discourse modes ends on an exegetical note with an explication of the interaction of verbs and their discourse context in two passages from the Hebrew Bible.
Cook’s brilliant work addresses old questions with a fresh approach that is sure to provoke dialogue and new research.