The King is Weeping:

A Textual/Grammatical Note on 2 Sam 19:2

David L. Washburn
Powell, WY, USA

1. The coordination of a participle and an imperfect with waw-consecutive in the report to Joab in 2 Sam 19:2 continues to baffle grammarians. Some merely point it out with little or no comment, while others try to classify it according to some system.1 Commentators tend to skip over the problem (Blaikie n.d.:277-288; Keil and Delitzsch n.d.:2:443; McCarter 1984:396-411).2

2. The difficulty of this verse has to do with the form of <heb>"l</heb>. In the context, especially given the preceding participle, the waw-consecutive form appears out of place. Although it is usually translated "The king is weeping and mourns for his son" (NASB, cf. NIV), a strictly literal translation would be "is weeping (<heb>bokeh</heb>) and mourned (<heb>"l</heb>)." As noted, the presence of a waw-consecutive imperfect within a quote that states present continuous realities presents problems for our understanding of the Hebrew verb system.3

3. To solve the grammatical problem, two manuscripts of MT, along with the Syriac version and the Targums, read a participle, <heb>Umit:)ab."l</heb>.4 Generally accepted canons of textual criticism suggest that this reading is inferior, for a number of reasons. For one thing, the waw-consecutive is the harder reading, but is far from incomprehensible. For another, <heb>"l</heb> best explains the origin of the other reading, since we can easily show that the participial reading arose because of the anomalous use of the waw-consecutive. It would be impossible to prove that the waw-consecutive reading arose because someone did not understand the participial reading.

4. A handful of other passages feature a participle followed by a waw-consecutive verb; the problem is, all but one are poetic.5 The one prose reference is Num 22:11, but this is not a true parallel to the text under discussion. In Num 22:11, the participle <heb>hyc)</heb> is adjectival, not verbal; it is part of the nominal phrase <heb>h(m hyc) mmcrym</heb>. Thus, we do not have a true non-poetic parallel to 2 Sam 19:2.

5. I would like to suggest that the solution to this verse is not in grammar or text-critical questions, but in punctuation. To put it another way, why do we assume that <heb>wyt)bl (l )b$lm</heb> is part of the report to Joab?

6. The clause layout of verses 2 and 3 appears as in (1)-(6):

7. The flow of thought is carried by the series of waw-consecutive clauses, as is normal in Hebrew prose narrative (Andersen 1974:77). These occur in (1), (3) and (4). (5) is a dependent clause introduced by <heb>ky</heb> that explains (4), while (2) and (6) are quotes that use verbs without conjunctions.6

8. The resulting translation appears as (7)-(12):

9. Thus it is possible that 19:2 reads, "It was reported to Joab, 'Behold, the king is weeping,' for he was mourning for Absalom."7 Of course, David has already been said to lament in v. 1; this is probably the reason grammarians and commentators assume that <heb>wyt)bl</heb> is reported speech.8 On the other hand, the statement that he mourned his son is repeated yet another time in v. 3, this time introduced by the direct-speech indicator <heb>l)mr</heb>. The clauses in this passage are short and choppy, and direct speech is generally indicated as such (e.g., <heb>wygd</heb>, v. 2). On the other hand, waw-consecutive clauses tend to signal the end of a quote (vv. 4, 6, 9--note also that none of the other quotes in the passage includes a waw-consecutive). David's lament is described several times in several ways (vv. 1, 3, 5), so it would not be unusual to see another one in v. 2 following the report to Joab.

10. If the quote in v. 2 ends with <heb>bkh</heb>, the problem disappears. The textual decision to stay with the waw-consecutive reading is vindicated, as it should be, and grammar comes to the aid of textual criticism. This interpretation is consistent with the grammar of the passage, and it is well suited to the discourse structure. While it does not absolutely preclude other possibilities, I believe it offers a reasonable explanation of an ongoing grammatical problem, as well as a small demonstration of the ways that the disciplines of grammatical analysis and textual criticism can complement and inform each other.

© TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 1996.


1GKC:329 classifies it as an imperfect with waw-consecutive: "In dependence on participles, which represent what at present continues or is being repeated ... behold the king weepeth ... and mourneth ... for Absalom." Waltke and O'Connor 1990:561 say, "After a participle used as a predicate in present time, subordinate wayyqtl may have a stative present sense ...." Yet, their whole premise about the wayyqtl form is that it is essentially perfective (ibid.:554). It is difficult to see how a "stative present" can also be "perfective." Cf. Driver 1892:91-92: "In continuation of the present, as expressive of a general truth." Joüon 1965:326 suggests that the second verb would have had the same sense even if it were written as a simple waw-conjunctive or as a participle. In note 2, however, he suggests that "après un participe l'usage demande un waw inversif." He does not say why this should be so.

2Smith 1909:362 says merely that the verse "logically belongs after v.5, unless the author means that news was carried to Joab while still in the field." Like the others, he does not mention the grammatical problem we are dealing with here. Conroy 1978:76 suggests that "the rather exceptional sequence bkh wyt)bl (participle + wyqtl) may be another sign of the more poetic level of language used at this climax ...." He refers in n. 136 to GKC and Joüon 1965 with the qualification that "most of the texts given occur in poetry." See also his refutation of the idea put forth by Smith and others that the verse belongs after v. 5 (ibid.:47-48, n. 12).

3Niccacci 1990:109 appears to disagree with this when he says that "'narrative discourse' begins with a (foreground) construction as is normal in pure discourse: either QATAL in first position or its equivalent, x-QATAL, or even with a simple noun clause (with or without a participle)."

4Anderson 1989:221 adopts this reading.

5As Joüon and others have noted, poetry is not a valid criterion for determining "normal" Hebrew syntax. The reason for this is that, in every language, poetry has a freedom to suspend, alter and break grammatical rules that prose does not have; in essence, poetry makes its own rules (see Austin 1984). For a more extended discussion of the problems inherent in Hebrew poetry, see Niccacci 1990.

6If <heb>n(cb</heb> is a participle, then the case for ending the first quote with <heb>bkh</heb> is strengthened, for this means that both quotes use a participle rather than a finite verb. Holladay 1971:280 gives two forms of the perfect, <heb>ne(:cab</heb> and <heb>ne(Ecab</heb>, but the second form is identical to the normal niphal participle. In this context, a "perfect" verb would be out of place, since the action is reported as linear and continuing up to the present time. A participle, however, fits the context well, is consistent with the form, and fits the literary structure of the pericope as outlined here. The LXX translates both the participle in v. 2 and <heb>n(cb</heb> with present tenses, which provides further evidence that the latter may indeed be a participle. On the other hand, it is equally possible that the LXX reflects a different Hebrew Vorlage. For a summary of some of the problems in determining when this is or is not the case in the books of Samuel, see Aejmelaeus 1996.

7For this use of the wayyqtl form see Waltke and O'Connor 1990:551-552.

8I am indebted to Dr. John J. Collins (personal letter) for this observation.


Aejmelaeus, Anneli 1996. "The Septuagint Text of 1 Samuel." In VIII Congress of the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies: Paris 1992, ed. Leonard Greenspoon and Olivier Munnich. Septuagint and Cognate Studies, no. 41. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 109-129.

Andersen, Francis I. 1974. The Sentence in Biblical Hebrew. The Hague: Mouton.

Anderson, A. A. 1989. 2 Samuel. Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 11. Waco: Word.

Austin, Timothy R. 1984. Language Crafted: A Linguistic Theory of Poetic Syntax. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Blaikie, W. G. n.d. The Second Book of Samuel. Expositor's Bible. New York: Doran.

Conroy, Charles 1978. Absalom Absalom! Narrative and Language in 2 Sam 13-20. Rome: Biblical Institute Press.

Driver, S. R. 1892. A Treatise on the Use of the Tenses in Hebrew. Oxford: Clarendon.

Holladay, William L. 1971. A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Joüon, Paul 1965. Grammaire de l'hˇbreu Biblique. Rome: Institut Biblique Pontifical.

Kautzsch, E., ed. 1910. Gesenius' Hebew Grammar. 2nd ed. Translated and revised by A. E. Cowley. Oxford: Clarendon.

Keil, C. F. and F. Delitzsch. n.d. Commentary on the Old Testament. Reprint ed., 1983. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

McCarter, P. Kyle 1984. II Samuel. Anchor Bible, vol. 9. Garden City: Doubleday.

Niccacci, Alviero 1990. The Syntax of the Verb in Classical Hebrew Prose. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series, no. 86. Sheffield: JSOT.

Smith, Henry Preserved 1909. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Books of Samuel. International Critical Commentary. New York: Scribners.

Waltke, Bruce K., and O'Connor, M. 1990. An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.