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Emphasis in Biblical Hebrew


Since Biblical Hebrew had no punctuation how does it emphasize a
forceful word?


One cannot be certain of the intonation meant for certain phrases in
Hebrew because of the lack of punctuation. But even in English we have
this trouble too if you consider the ways in which different actors
speak the lines of the same play differently changing the meaning. In
Hebrew there are various linguistic techniques used for emphasis.

Term repetition is one of them. Some examples of this include "slave
of slaves" (Gen 9:25) to indicate the lowest of slaves; "ever more of
ever mores" (Isa 34:10) meaning forever; "gladness my joy" (Ps 43:4)
where two synonyms for "joy" are repeated. Another similar technique
there is a repetition of the same word with a change in the form of
one of the words. For example, in Gen 2:17 the word "die" is repeated
in the form of "dying" and is translated as "surely die." This is a
standard Hebrew form used for emphasis and does not mean "a state of
dying" as some seem to suggest. This same form is used when Jacob's
sons brought back Joseph's bloody coat and Jacob says "cutting to
pieces cut to pieces," which is translated to something like "Jospeh
has certainly been cut to pieces!" In theses examples (Gen 2:17 and
Gen 37:33) the first word of the two in each case is an "infinitive
absolute." When the infinitive absolute form is with the same word in
its basic form then this is a special construction used for the sake
of emphasis. Thus:
Gen 2:17 "you shall surely die" (Heb, *mot tamut*) the first form of
the word "die" is in the infinitive absolute form (i.e., *mot*)
meaning "dying"; the basic form is *mut* and appears as the second
Gen 37:33 "Joseph has surely been torn to pieces" (Heb. *tarof toraf
yosef*) the first form of the word "torn" is in the infinitive
absolute form (i.e., *tarof*) meaning "cutting"; the basic form is
*toraf* and appears as the second word (the third word is "Joseph").
(See Biblical Hebrew: Step by Step Vol 1, M. Mansoor, p.185).

The Hebrew construct form (attachment of the word "of" to a noun) is
also used with this technique in phrases such as "holy of holies"
meaning most holy, "song of songs" meaning most wonderful song, and
"servant of servants" meaning lowest of servants.

The technique of term repetition is not totally foreign to English
speakers. In Shakespeare's English the double negative (e.g., "no
not") was used to emphasize "no." In the 19th century the "linguistic
logicians" destroyed this technique for modern English.

Another form to emphasis words is the word "very" (Hebrew,
"meod"). Some examples of this word can be found in Gen 1:31, I Ki
1:4, and Ezek 9:9. But in Ezek 37:10 we have a combination of this
word with the repetition technique discussed earlier. In Ezek 37:10 it
literally says: "army great very very" which is translated to "an
exceedingly great army." The double usage of ephasis paints a picture
of a truly vast army!

Idioms are also used for emphasis. Nineveh is described as "a city
great to God" in Jonah 3:3. This Hebrew idiom, "great to God,"
indicates very large, magnificent, important, or significant. Jonah
also uses an idiom to indicate his great anger when he says that he is
"angry unto death" (Jonah 4:9).

There are subtle techniques used as well. Sometimes a word out of its
normal order is used to emphasis it by drawing attention to it. A word
or phrase that does not fit in with the pattern of an image being
drawn also draws subtle attention to itself. A word or phrase used in
a peculiar grammatical way draws attention to itself creating a form
of emphasis. I'm sure there are other techniques, but I think that
these are the most common in Hebrew.

There is a rather amusing example in the Bible of a particular Hebrew
verb form that is used to intensify meaning. In Hebrew there are seven
verb forms (sorry, there is some minor background before I get to the
example). The various verb forms indicate things such as causation or
something being acted upon etc. One verb form, called Piel, usually
expresses an intensive action. So if the simple form of the verb
"sent" is *shalach* then the Piel form *shileach* means to "expel";
and if the simple form of "broke" is *shavar* then the Piel form
*shiver* means "smashed."  (See Biblical Hebrew: Step by Step Vol 1,
M. Mansoor, p.191). At times the meaning of a word changes somewhat
from its basic meaning when it changes verb forms. The amusing example
of the use of Piel occurs in Gen 26:8. There Isaac follows in
Abraham's footsteps about lying about his wife being his sister. But
we read:

"It came about, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech
king of the Philistines looked out through a window, and saw, and
behold, Isaac was caressing his wife Rebekah." (Gen 26:8)

The word translated here as "caressing" is the Piel form of the word
for "laugh." There is a bit of word play here for Isaac's name means
"he laughs" so that the Hebrew reads "he laughs [Isaac] laughing
(intensively, Piel) with his wife." The BDB Hebrew Lexicon tells us
that this Piel form here means "conjugal caresses." However, my former
Hebrew teacher (who taught Semitic languages at Hebrew University,
Jerusalem) simply said that this means "having sex."  Well, it seems
pretty plain to me that the "caressing" that was going on told
Abimelech enough to know that they were not just affectionate brother
and sister. A bit more than just "patty fingers." So I think it is
rather amusing that the Hebrew verb for "intense laughter" means
"having sex."