Hebrew Clauses – Diethelm Michel (Section 28)

Although his work consists of a detailed study of the Psalter, Diethelm Michel’s Tempora und Satzstellung in den Psalmen has an important section about the syntax of clauses in Hebrew (Section 5 of the work). For my own benefit and perhaps some out there who find such study interesting, I thought it might be helpful to present his results. (I did a similar summary of Wolfgang Schneider here.) In section 28, Michel lays out his understanding of the verbal clause and the nominal clause.

The Verbal Clause

  1. We refer to a clause as a verbal clause (VC) when it reports the performance of an action or the appearance of a characteristic.
  2. The predicate of a VC always consists of a finite verb.
  3. The finite verb always stands at the beginning of the clause; only adverbial qualification can step in before it. An explicit subject follows the verb in attributive position. An example of an adverbial phrase coming before the finite verb would be Ps 102:9a:

כָּל־הַ֭יּוֹם חֵרְפ֣וּנִי אוֹיְבָ֑י
all day my enemies surround me

The Nominal Clause

  1. We call a clause a nominal clause (NC) that makes a statement about a subject.
  2. A subject of the NC is a substantive or an equivalent of such (pronoun, substantive adjective or participle, substantive clause).
  3. A predicate of a nominal clause can be (1) a substantive, (2) an adjective (participle), (3) a pronoun, (4) an adverb, or (5) an entire clause. The last possibility is important in that it leads the third classification, the compound nominal clause.

The Compound Nominal Clause

  1. We call a clause a “compound nominal clause” when its predicate consists of an entire clause, a NC or a VC.
  2. In the predicate of the clause, a back-reference to the larger subject can take place.
  3. When a so-called copula is used in a nominal clause, it is regarded as a compound nominal clause.

Here are two examples, the first is a CNC with a NC as predicate, the second with a VC as predicate. Both have a nominal at the front about which a whole clause makes a claim.

Psalm 69:14
וַאֲנִ֤י תְפִלָּתִֽי־לְךָ֙׀ יְהוָ֡ה
As for me: my prayer is to you, Yhwh.

Psalm 103:19
יְֽהוָ֗ה בַּ֭שָּׁמַיִם הֵכִ֣ין כִּסְא֑וֹ
Yhwh [he has done this as a characteristic]:
he has established his throne in the heavens.

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Author: Randy McKinion

Besides being a husband and father, I teach at Cedarville University in Cedarville, OH.

5 thoughts on “Hebrew Clauses – Diethelm Michel (Section 28)”

  1. Glad to see you are still working through Michel. I have a question for you concerning his comments on the nominal clause. In #4 he stated (my translation may be shoddy) “The clause syntax is as a rule: subject-predicate.”
    When the NC is predicate-subject would that change the way a CNC “functions” or the way it interpreted/understood, e.g., what was done was characteristic?
    OR would the clause (with P-S) be a NC and not also a CNC (like your example from Ps 69.14)? Here is what I think is an example: Ps 42.9b
    תפלה לאל חיי “a prayer to the God of my life”
    On another note, will you be at ETS? If so I would like to meet you. I will be presenting a paper on Wednesday on the benefits of Text-linguistics for studying the psalter.
    Good post, by the way.

  2. Hi Joshua. Unfortunately I’m not planning to go to ETS at this time as my Fall schedule has not permitted it. From the line up, it looks like there are quality papers lined up for the Textual Strategies section. Hate to miss that and would love to read your paper at some point.
    Re: your question, I don’t think Michel addresses it. However, Schneider comments on that type of clause in his Section 44.4. He claims that such a predicate at the beginning of a CNC (especially when marked by את) would be regarded as a subject. The example he gives is 2Sam 13:4. I see at least 3 examples in Michel (Pss 23:3; 51:7; 80:9). I not sure I would have a good explanation of the way such a CNC “functions,” besides the obvious desire of the author to bring focus upon that predicate by making a statement about it. As you know, it’s difficult in the Psalms to determine this because of the attention that has to be given to parallelism and the like. Let me know the conclusion you come to, though, because I would be very interested.

  3. I am thankful you’re working through Michel. I was encouraged to read Schneider and Michel by John Sailhamer. I was wondering of you think Michel’s basic theory works pretty good in explaining verbal semantics in prose texts as well. I think this was his goal after all even though he focuses his study in poetry. I have tried to apply Michel’s theory to prose. You can read and interact with my attempts at

    http://www.biblicaltextuality.blogspot.com

    I value your input. I think more work needs to be done building on Michel in order to finally arrive at a scholarly consensus on the verbal system of biblical Hebrew.

    Joe Justiss

    1. Michel gives two primary examples of this:
      1. the “binding pronoun” הוא or היא (as in Ps 100:3 “Know that Yhwh: He (הוא) is God!”)
      2. forms of היה as in, for example, Ps 27:9 עזרתי היית “my help: you are”
      Thanks for reading!

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