Today, students of the Bible learn grammar from Biblical
Hebrew grammar textbooks. These textbooks organize material by
topics. Grammatical topics include a) verb mood and conjugation, b) plurality
agreement, c) pronoun reference, d) subject-verb-object sequencing, e) sentence
structure and type and many other topics.
However in Rashi's time gramamr was just beginning. There were no official
grammatical textbooks and tables. One of Rashi's functions was to teach grammar.
Rashi did not write a grammar textbook but instead left grammatical explanations
appended to each verse.
In today's example Rashi explains rules governing the
types of sentences.
A recent book on Biblical Hebrew pointed out that a nifty way to teach Biblical grammar
is to first study comparable gramamtical structures in English. Following
this theme, in English
there are three main sentence types: a) declarative sentences,
b)commands and c) interrogative sentences. An interrogative sentence
is indicated by a punctuation of a question mark at the end of the
In Biblical Hebrew
there are two main methods to indicate an interrogative sentence:
1st) One can append an interrogative hey to the beginning of
the sentence. 2nd) One can, based on context, chose to interpret
the sentence as interrogative.
It emerges that
Biblical Hebrew resembles English in one of its methods of indicating the
interrogative - by using a punctuation sign (question mark or prefix hey
in English and Hebrew respectively) and Biblical Hebrew innovates an additional
method - interrogation based on context and interpretation - not resembling
anything in English.
Applying this method to the translation of
we have the following translation
And Moses said, It is not proper to do so;
because our sacrificing to God is an abomination to the Egyptians;
Indeed, if we sacrifice to God, which is abominable to the Egyptians,
will they not stone us?
avoids the declarative translation - they will not stone us
and uses an interrogative translation - will they not stone us.
The preference for the interrogative translation over the declarative translation is not
dictated by punctuational means - a question mark or prefix hey - but rather is an
interpretation choice which makes the meaning of the verse clearest.