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Narrative Structure and Discourse Constellations

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Narrative Structure and Discourse Constellations

An Analysis of Clause Function in Biblical Hebrew Prose

by Roy Heller

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One of the perennial problems within the study of biblical Hebrew syntax is how the five basic verbal clause types - QATAL, YIQTOL, WeQATAL, WeYIQTOL and WAYYIQTOL - as well as participial and verbless clauses provide the meaning and structure of narrative prose.

This definitive study examines two cases of extended narrative: The Novella of Joseph (Genesis 37, 39-47) and the Court Narrative of David (2 Samuel 9-20; 1 Kings 1-2) and analyzes the independent clauses within each.

This comprehensive examination demonstrates that the arrangement of clause types in narrative is not random or infinite. In narrative, specific sets of differing types of clauses either begin or conclude paragraphs or provide two types of commentary upon certain elements of the narrative. In direct discourse, a limited number of clause constellations can occur. Differing clause types in narrative, therefore, determine the structure of the storyline; differing clause types in direct discourse determine the purpose of the speech.

Product Details

Publisher: Harvard Semitic Museum
Publication date: 2004
Bibliographic info: xi + 412 pages
Language(s): English


Cover: Cloth
Trim Size: 6 x 9



"The book is user-friendly on a number of counts. One-third of the book (170 of 494 pages) is simply a reproduction of the Masoretic Text, partitioned, formatted, and labeled according to Heller.s analysis. This luxury serves a purpose in graphically underscoring syntactic macrostructures and in keeping his discussion grounded in the text itself. When one is juggling multiple clause-types, verb forms, and narrative trajectories, there is no substitute for the clarity that comes from a thorough presentation. Indeed, after one has read through three or four chapters of the biblical material along with his commentary, the simplicity and elegance of Heller.s analysis soon becomes apparent and is easily internalized by the reader. In many ways much of the rest of the book is redundant as it presents more of the same, accumulating data that serve to provide a persuasive statistical weight for the final chapter.s synthesis. This is as it should be, for a theory of sufficient explanatory power must keep special pleading to a minimum. This is one of the gratifying aspects of the work, for it is not filled with an ever-lengthening list of special cases or qualifying hypotheses...

Heller has provided a rigorous foundation that can be easily tested, and where I have applied it to texts outside his corpus I have found it illuminating. One can look forward to its application elsewhere in biblical Hebrew narrative." -- Sam Meier, Ohio State University in Review of Biblical Literature, September, 2004.

"This work, based on a Yale University doctoral dissertation, is the latest addition to the prestigious Harvard Semitic Studies series edited by Jo Ann Hackett and John Huehnergard. It consists of four well-organized chapters, the most important of which are the first and last. Chapter 1 presents the problem under investigation: the old, much-disputed tense vs. aspect controversy in Biblical Hebrew prose, while chapter 4 summarizes the conclusions of his discourse analysis approach." --Alan S. Kaye, California State University, Fullerton, in JAOS 124.2, 2004

"This is a fine book that every teacher of Biblical Hebrew should own. In a clear and well organized manner, Roy L. Heller succeeds in giving us a good manual to assist us understand better the Hebrew verbal system in prose." -- Cristian G. Rata, Anaheim, CA in Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, Volume 5 (2004-2005)

The bulk of H.'s book contains a layout and statistical tabulation, with commentary, of the Joseph novella (Genesis 37, 39-47) and narrative of David's court (2 Samuel 9-20; 1 Kings 1-2). H. is to be commended for demonstrating his argument through close analysis of specific texts, and doing so in a fairly reader-friendly format. --John A. Cook, 2560 Upham St, Madison, WI 53704 in The Catholic Bilical Quarterly 68, 2006.

"...Heller has combined comprehensive simplicity and explanatory power more successfully than many earlier works on the verb system in Hebrew narrative. The distinction between narrative discourse and narrative outside direct discourse is helpful exegetically as wall as syntactically. He has also provided more consistency in deciding where there are paragraph boundaries in the text. For these reasons, translators will benefit greatly from this book." --Lénart J. De Regt, in The Bible Translator, Vol. 57, No. 3.

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