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Direct Reflexivity
in Biblical Hebrew
An Analysis of an Often-Neglected
Aspect of Biblical Hebrew Grammar

Thesis submitted at Leiden University

for the degree of Master of Arts in Hebrew and Aramaic Languages and Cultures.
Written under the supervision of Prof. Dr. H. Gzella.

Table of Contents
Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations


Biblical Hebrew

Hebrew after the Bible

A Linguistic Background to Reflexivity

Reflexivity: The Case of Biblical Hebrew


1. Markers of Direct Reflexivity in Biblical Hebrew

1.1. Verbal Forms






N-stems and T-stems: how are they related?


1.2. (Pro)nominal Constructions


/et/ + suffix


/nepe/ + suffix


/eem/ +suffix


2. Direct Reflexivity in Biblical Hebrew


2.1. Towards a Definition of Direct Reflexivity


2.2. Niphal


Niphal and Niphal in Leviticus 25


Niphal and Indirect Middle Voice


Motion and Body Posture Middles and the Curious Case of Niphal


Emotion Middle Voice and Emotive and Other Speech Actions


Body Grooming Middle Voice


Reflections and Conclusions


2.3. Hithpael


Stative Verbs: Hithpael, Niphal, and Middle Voice


Pretentions of the Hithpael


Dynamic Middle Voice: A Recapitulation


Indirect Middle Voice


Change of Body Posture and Grooming Middle Voice


Some Genuine Direct Reflexive Hithpaels?


Reflections and Conclusions


2.4. /et/ + suffix


2.5. /nepe/ + suffix


2.6. /eem/ +suffix


3. A post-Biblical Aftermath


3.1. The Language of the Sages


3.2. Modern Hebrew


Summary and Conclusions






List of Abbreviations
Bibliographical Abbreviations

Brown, Francis, Samuel R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs. The Brown

DriverBriggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. 1906. Repr. Peabody:
Hendrickson, 2004.









neutestamentlichen Griechisch. Revised by Friedrich Rehkopf. Gttingen:

Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 182001.

Black, Jeremy, Andrew George, and Nicholas Postgate. A Concise

Dictionary of Akkadian. Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz, 2000.


Elliger, Karl and Wilhelm Rudolph, eds. Biblica Hebraica Stuttgartensia.

Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1984.




and Pontus Leander.

Historische Grammatik der

hebrischen Sprache. Hildesheim: Olms, 1965.


Gesenius, Wilhelm. Hebrew Grammar. Edited by Emil Kautzsch.

Translated by Arthur E. Cowley. New York: Dover, 2006.








hebrischen Sprache mit steter eziehung auf Qichi und die anderen
Auctoritten. Leipzig: J.C. Hinrischsche Buchhandlung, 1881.

Joon, Paul and Takamitsu Muraoka. A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew.

Subsidia Biblica 27. Rome: Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 2006.


Payne Smith, Robert. A Compendious Syriac Dictionary. Edited by Jessie

Payne Smith. Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 1999.


Waltke, Bruce K. and M. OConnor. An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew

Syntax. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1990.

Bible Translations

the King James Version


the French Louis Segond


the Dutch Lutherse Vertaling

Stages in the history of Hebrew


Archaic Biblical Hebrew


Standard Biblical Hebrew


Judean Hebrew


Late Biblical Hebrew


Medieval Hebrew


Modern Hebrew


Northern Hebrew


Rabbinical Hebrew


Tannaitic Hebrew

This MA Thesis deals with the phenomenon of direct reflexivity in Biblical Hebrew. In this
introduction, the most relevant issues pertaining to the subject are advanced. Throughout this
thesis, important terminology has been bold-faced. An explanation of these terms can be found in
the appended glossary.

Biblical Hebrew
This thesis is a linguistic study of one of the aspects of Biblical Hebrew. Below, the linguistictheoretical background, the aims, and the methodology of the survey will be elaborated upon.
Before proceeding to that part of the introduction, however, it is deemed fit to give a definition of
Biblical Hebrew, the language taken into account in this thesis, first. This definition is the subject
of this paragraph.
Under Biblical Hebrew I understand the language of the books of what is nowadays
known as the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. However, as these books developed in the course of
almost a millenium, their language could hardly be a monolithic and stable construct. Rather, it
has been long known that Biblical Hebrew underwent various developments in the course of time.
Accordingly, the language is conventiently divided into three stages of development, e.g. Archaic
Biblical Hebrew, Standard or Classical Biblical Hebrew, and Late Biblical Hebrew.1
Archaic Biblical Hebrew is the language found in certain pre-monarchical poems from the
Hebrew Bible, such as Exodus 15, Deuteronomy 34, Judges 5, and others. These poetic sections have
been dated to c. the 12th to 10th century B.C.E. and exhibit clear ties with the slightly older Ugaritic
poetic tradition (SENZBADILLOS 1993, 5662; GZELLA 2009b, 6566). During this stage, Hebrew
was apparently clearly divided into two dialects, e.g., Northern (or: Israelite) and Southern (or:
Judean) Hebrew, a division which, although blurred, exerted influence on later stages of the
Hebrew language as well (RENDSBURG 1990a; 2002; STEINER 2007). Archaic Hebrew displayed some
characteristic linguistic features, such as the highly restricted usage of the nota obiecti /et/
(GZELLA 2009b), which shall be shown later on to be of particular interest in relation to the
expression of direct reflexivity in Biblical Hebrew. These linguistic features are still subject to
academic debate, some scholars simply ascribing them to the poetic genre of the text in which they
are encountered, and not to the grammar of this early stage within the development of Hebrew.2


For this division, cf. the most prominent histories of Hebrew, e.g., SENZ-BADILLOS (1993, 50129) and K UTSCHER (1982, 12 [ 17]).
Cf. JM 3d.

Standard, or: Classical, Biblical Hebrew, which was in use during the monarchical era
(c. 1000587 B.C.E.), is the most commonly attested type of Hebrew encountered in Scripture.
Typologically, this stage is very close to Southern or Judean Hebrew, although Northern
elements are still discernible, and perhaps even used for punning in certain instances.3 Within
the Masoretic tradition, which, for the most part, is responsible for the transmission of the
received form of the biblical text, various dialectal differences come to the fore, which are most
clearly discernible in the Standard Biblical Hebrew corpus. These dialectal differences go back
to the places in which the transmission of the biblical text was undertaken, e.g., Palestine,
Babylon, and Tiberia (SENZBADILLOS 1993, 86111). Although of importance, these various
dialects, and their corresponding vocalization systems, cannot be reconstructed back to the
time in which the biblical texts were composed, and thus belong entirely to the realm of its
transmission, and the way in which that was carried out.
The last stage in the history of Hebrew is that of Late Biblical Hebrew. This stage
developed after the Babylonian Exile and lasted through c. 165 B.C.E., when the book of Daniel
was composed. This phase is often conceptualized within a broader linguistic traditions, which
would include the book of Ben Sira (cf. HURVITZ 1999; VAN PEURSEN 2004) and the Dead Sea
Scrolls as well, but this conception is problematic especially with regard to the Qumran
corpus. Typologically, Late Biblical Hebrew shows traits of Northern Hebrew (cf. WRIGHT
2003) and of Aramaic (cf. HURVITZ 2003). This stage in the history of Hebrew is attested in
post-exilic biblical writings, such as Daniel, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, while
other writings that display much characteristics of Northern Hebrew but are not necesarrily
post-exilic, may be considered intermediate stages between Standard and Late Biblical Hebrew
(cf. HURVITZ 1982; 2007).
It appears that, besides the particular absence of the nota obiecti from Archaic Biblical
Hebrew, the division of the Biblical language into its three stages does not touch on the issue
of the expression of direct reflexivity in that language, as all three stages make use of the same
strategies in expressing this semantic category or, of course, not doing so.

Cf. the famous example in Amos 8:2, where a pun between /qyi/ and /q/ appears to form the basis of the interpretation
given to the vision of the basket of summer fruit. The word for summer, pronounced /qyi/ in the Judean and, hence, Standard
Biblical Hebrew tradition, would be pronounced /q/ in Northern Hebrew, and thus sound the same as the word for end.

Hebrew after the Bible

The earliest attestations of post-Biblical Hebrew are found in the Hebrew Dead Sea Scrolls
(QIMRON 1986). The language of many of these texts, even though not constituting a
typologically unified stage of Hebrew, is generally conceived of as forming an intermediate
stage between Late Biblical Hebrew and Tannaitic Hebrew, but is, generally, closer to the
Biblical tradition. Rabbinical Hebrew, which could be subdivided into Tannaitic and Amoraic
Hebrew, is known basically from the Mishna, the Midrashim, and the Talmudim. It is with
Rabbinical Hebrew that a different stage in the history of Hebrew commences. Major changes
in syntax, morphology, and vocabulary in comparison with Biblical Hebrew have given
Rabbinical Hebrew its own particular status. These changes are mainly due to the evergrowing influence from Aramaic and, mostly via that language, Persian, but also to an
increasing amount of Greek loanwords. In the third chapter of this thesis, it shall be shown
that important developments regarding the morpho-syntactic expression of direct reflexivity
were at work in Rabbinic Hebrew, and that these have laid the basis for the situation in
current-day spoken Israeli Hebrew.
The now-outdated characterization of the Middle Ages as a dark age may still hold
true in regard to Hebrew linguistics. As opposed to the various phases of Biblical Hebrew and
Rabbinical Hebrew, Mediaeval Hebrew does not appear to exhibited a well-defined set of
grammatical rules, but rather shows the characteristics of an intricate construct of various
more-or-less local varieties (SENZBADILLOS 1993, 202204). Its origins are probably to be
sought with the Arab invasions in the 7th century C.E. and with the rise to fame of the payanim
or religious poets (cf. FLEISCHER 2006). At the end of the 19th century, the Cairo Geniza was
discovered, and its documents now provide the most important source of Mediaeval Hebrew
available (cf. REIF 2000). From these documents, it can be concluded that certain varieties of
Medieaeval Hebrew have been largely influenced by the Arabic language, the clearest exponent
of this influence being the phenomenon of Judaeo-Arabic (cf. AVISHUR 2001; BLAU 1988; 1999).
Of the grammar of Mediaeval Hebrew, however, little is known, and the situation of this
language as far as the expression of direct reflexivity goes shall not be discussed.
The last stage in the long and intricate history of the Hebrew language is Modern
Hebrew, which is nowadays spoken in the state of Israel and also serves as a lingua franca
between Jews world-wide. The origins of Modern Hebrew are rather obscure, but the language
shows many traces of the Mediaeval traditions, as well as some from Rabbinical sources.
Furthermore, Modern Hebrew has been heavily influenced by other languages, such as
Yiddish, English and Russian. Therefore, Modern Hebrew exhibits a grammar on its own,

distinct from all other phases of the Hebrew language (cf. ZUCKERMANN 2003). This is
particularly so as far as the expression of direct reflexivity goes, as shall be shown in chapter 3,
in which respect Modern Hebrew differs remarkably from its Biblical and Rabbinic counterpart
even though the basis for Modern Hebrew reflexive linguistics has already been laid in that
latter phase of the Hebrew language as a whole.
This concise history of the Hebrew language aims at contextualizing the attention
given to Biblical Hebrew in this thesis within these larger diachronic developments. As such,
this paragraph functions as an introduction to the third chapter of this thesis, in which the
outcomes of the analysis of direct reflexivity in Biblical Hebrew, will be compared to the
functioning of this semantic category in post-Biblical Hebrew traditions.

A Linguistic Background to Reflexivity

The term reflexivity could have a plethora of meanings, only some of which are explicitly
related to linguistics (SILVERSTEIN 2006). The basic meaning of the term, unrelated to any of its
technical usages, deals with the turning back of something to its instigator. In social sciences,
thus, the term has come to denote the influence of the researcher on its research and vice versa
(PELS 2003, 157178). In linguistics, the term has been variously used in previous research. In
this thesis, however, I wish to confine myself to the most common linguistic definition of
reflexivity, which entails the referential identity or equivalence of two grammatical terms,
generally propositional arguments, of a clause-sized grammatical phrase (SILVERSTEIN 2006,
462). The most common example of this referential identity is that of subject and object, or,
more precisely, Agent and Patient.4 This type of reflexivity has been conveniently called direct
reflexivity. Cf. English he washes himself, French il se lave, and, as an appetizer, Hebrew

When treating Hebrew lingustics, it seems advisable to speak of Agent and Patient, which are semantic roles, rather than subject
and object, which indicate grammatical categories. This suggestion has come to my attention during the classes of Dr. Martin F.J.
Baasten, and I thank him for it. He holds that the remarkable use of the nota obiecti in Hebrew constructions such as

/wayyab et-M w-et-Ahrn/ (Exodus 10:8), /ym huledetet-Par/ (Genesis 40:20), and
/ybuqqa et-wn Yiral/ (Jeremiah 50:20) would not fit in with the general opinion that the nota obiecti /et/ precedes
the object of a verb. After all, in the examples above (and more examples could indeed be adduced) those Noun Phrases preceded
by /et/ are the subjects of the verb. However, due to the passive constructions employed, these subjects are at the same time
Patient. Thus, it seems that an improved understanding of the nota obiecti could be gained by conceiving of it not only as
indicating direct objects, but, more precisely, as often indicating the semantic Patient role as well, even when this semantic role is
not the grammatical object of a given phrase. This, of course, is not to say that this use of the nota obiecti is consistent; cf.
/waykull haamayim w-hre/ (Genesis 2:1), /hab kasp/ (Genesis 42:28), and many more examples. In

this thesis, I shall use the terms Agent and Patient consistently, only referring to subject and object sparsely and for claritys sake.
The same observations have led to the assumption that Hebrew sometimes tends to show traits of ergative languages. In
ergative languages, objects of transtive verbs are treated the same as the subjects of intransitive verbs, as opposed to nomnativeaccusative languages. In other words, there would be no morphological difference between various occurences of Patient, whether
it be grammatically subject or object. Hebrew, which is a nominative-accusative language, would then, in the special use of /et/,
have preserved remnants of a more original ergative stage in the history of the language. This theory can be found, inter alii, in
ANDERSEN 1971 and MLLER 1985. For a critical discussion of this theory and the role played by the Niphal verbal stem, cf. BOYD
1993, 2934. My preference of using the terms Agent and Patient instead of object and subject, as I have explained it above, should
not suggest that I accept the idea of an ergative substrate to the Hebrew language. In fact, I find the arguments of BOYD quite
convincing, and would thus refrain from assuming such a substrate - also because such an assumption is not necessary for the
research executed here (cf. WALTISBERG 2002). I simply find the term Agent and Patient grammatically more correct than the
alternatives, and therefore make use of them, as nowadays do most linguists.

/hitr/.5 It is this type of reflexivity only that will be examined in this thesis. Indirect
reflexivity, which entails the referential identity of Agent and Recipient or Beneficiary, will
thus fall outside the scope of this thesis. For an example of this latter type of reflexivity, cf. the
Frenche sentence il sest achet un chapeau he bought himself a hat.6 Furthermore, for the
sake of convenience and feasibility, only direct reflexivity in non-embedded clauses is treated,
and more complicated sentences, such as Bechnon /krg- ns- [b d-g-]-s y-k-/ Kargux
found the man who cut himx7 are excluded from the investigation executed in our research.
In semantics, the category of reflexivity is often and conveniently conceptualized
within a semantic continuum, including passive and middle voices as well.8 The semantic
overlap between the three categories is clear from the definitions of these categories, even
though that of the middle voice still remains highly obscure,9 as well as from the fact that
certain morphological or syntactic phenomena could, apparently, express several of the
semantic categories from the above-defined framework. For instance, the Greek morpheme
/-tai/ for the third person singular could express both middle voice (as in /bouletai/
he wishes10) and passivity (as in /ekdikatai/ it will be punished11).12 As a result from
the conceptualization of the semantic category of reflexivity within this broader framework
and the oft-unclear boundaries between its various constituents, a thorough analysis of
reflexivity in Biblical Hebrew depends upon the possibility of clearly distinguishing these three
semantic categories from one another.
In his work on reflexivity, LEONARD M. FALTZ (1985) distinguishes between so-called
primary reflexive strategies and middle strategies within languages. Both express reflexivity,
but primary reflexive stragies are generally applicable - within a certain language - while middle
stragies have a more limited scope. His method, however, suffers from two major problems. First,
FALTZs distinction between middle strategies and primary reflexive strategies lies in the general

Job 9:30. In the course of this thesis, however, the reflexive nature of these verbs related to personal grooming will be doubted.
Cf. pages 43, 55.
Example taken from KEMMER (1993, 36).
Example taken from RAPOLD (2006, 378).
Cf., for instance, the somewhat enigmatic title of B ABCOCK (1970) and that of BOYD (1993).
A clear definition of the middle voice has yet not been developed. A thorough and helpful characterization of the middle voice
and its position apropos related semantic categories can be found in KEMMER (1993). She is indebted to the definition of middle
voice developed by LYONS, who states that the implications of the middle (when it is in opposition with the active) are that the
action or state affects the subject of the verb or his interests (LYONS 1975, 373). Although KEMMER agrees with LYONSs definition
in principle, she also voices some critiques towards it (KEMMER 1993, 4). Apart from her criticisms, I would add that LYONSs
conception of the middle voice defines it only in comparison to the active voice (this part of the definition is not cited by KEMMER),
while, for a definition to be useful, it should define the term defined in comparison to all other related phenomena.
Although this form would translate he wishes in English, which is not a middle form, a certain middle connotation is apparently
felt regarding this form in Greek. This connotation probably arises from the affectedness of the one wishing by his wish. Hence,
following the definition of LYONS , which after all defines middle voice in relationship to this particular affectedness, this Greek
form could be considered a true example of a middle voice. Here it should furthermore be noted that English is not middle
marking language, and that English middle forms could thus never be distinguished morphologically from non-middle ones (cf.
below, page 6).
Judith 11:10 LXX.
This polysemy is only convincing when the term middle voice is not understood as describing a certain morphological
phenomenon, as it is often conceived of in Greek grammars, but is used in its strict semantic sense.

applicability of the latter. Yet in many languages, the use of primary reflexive strategies is restricted
to certain semantic domains just like that of middle strategies, while other semanctic domains
almost exclusively employ middle strategies. Cf. English he sees/loves himself or he
shaves/dresses. Second, primary reflexive strategies always express reflexivity, while middle
strategies, as FALTZ himself has demonstrated (1985, 13), may express various semantic nuances,
such as passivity or reciprocal semantics. In light of these two problems with FALTZs methodology,
it is my conviction that an analysis of reflexivity in a certain language should be restricted only to
FALTZs primary reflexive strategies, as these are the only linguistic features of a language whose
only function is expressing reflexivity, and should thus exclude middle strategies.
A thorough analysis of middle strategies, or middle markers, has been offered by KEMMER
(1993). She takes a universal approach to semantics, and offers helpful suggestions as to how to
distinguish between the three voices of the middle-passive-reflexive semantic continuum. KEMMER
includes in her analysis only middle marking languages, but unfortunately leaves out Biblical
Hebrew. Taking as her primary evidence middle marking languages employing a so-called twoform system, either cognate or non-cognate, KEMMER defines certain semantic categories which
belong to the middle domain according to the marking of these categories encountered in twoform system languages. Cf. the examples from Russian, Latin (both two-form systems) and German
(one-form system) below.






/on moet-sja/


er wscht sich

he washes (up)

he washes (up)

he washes (up)

/on vidit sebja/

se videt

er sieht sich

he sees himself

he sees himself

he sees himself

The sentences in (1a) are marked as middle voices in Russian and Latin, and indeed the semantic
domain of personal grooming is included by KEMMER within the middle domain (1993, 1617). The
sentences in (1b), on the other hand, are marked as reflexives, and thus fall outside the middle
domain. These examples go to show the difference between one-form systems (German) and twoform ones (Russian and Latin): the latter distinguish between middle voice and reflexive voice,
while one-form languages employ one marker for both semantic domains. It may be noted here
that KEMMER calls reflexive what has been dubbed primary reflexive strategy by FALTZ, and
separates this reflexive semantic domain from the related, and in some instances (for instances, in
the morphology one-form system languages) overlapping domain of the middle voice.
In general, KEMMERs analysis seems convincing. Theoretically, one could not a priori
exclude the possibility that certain semantic categories included within the middle domain by

KEMMER will be found to belong to the reflexive or passive domain in other languages, but of this I
have not found any examples. Thus, it seems that one could with a large amount of certainty
attribute lexical items belonging to one of the middle semantic categories described by KEMMER to
those categories, even when in one-form system of non-middle marking languages the differences
between this form and the morphological realization of other semantic domains is not discernible.
Special attention should be paid here to reflexive middle voices.13 By combining the
approaches of FALTZ and KEMMER, one could conclude that, within the middle domain, certain
middle-marked morphological phenomena may be semantically reflexive. Yet in light of KEMMERs
categorization, this category of reflexive middle voices appears not to hold, as possible instances of
this semantic category deal with verbs of grooming or body-care, and they are treated as a separate
semantic category in KEMMERs analysis. Thus, within the research executed in this thesis, I retain
KEMMERs clear distinction between the middle domain and all the semantic categories subsumed
under it, and the reflexive domain. The methodology laid out by KEMMER in her monograph will be
applied to the study of direct reflexivity in Biblical Hebrew. In the first chapter of the thesis, various
morphological characteristics of Biblical Hebrew are treated which have traditionally been related
to reflexivity. The second chapter, then, puts forward an elaborate definition of what exactly
constitutes reflexivity, and provides a semantic analysis of the data collected in the first chapter. In
the third chapter, lastly, I tentatively draw the line of my investigations further and treat later
stages in the development of the Hebrew language.

Reflexivity: The Case of Biblical Hebrew

The investigation carried out in this thesis works with some linguistic hypotheses regarding its
subject, Biblical Hebrew. First, to my knowledge, all grammars of Biblical Hebrew, and at least
those still widely in use, have aimed at identifying certain reflexive characteristics within that
language. To direct reflexivity have been related the binyanim Niphal and Hithpael,14 as well as
certain nouns as /eem/ or /nepe/ used with a possesive suffix.15 To indirect reflexivity has been
related the use of various suffigated prepositions as well as the particular use of lamed as a dativus
ethicus in sentences as /lek lk/.16 From this attention to reflexivity in grammars of Biblical
Hebrew originates the hypothesis that Biblical Hebrew is in fact a reflexive marking language.
The second hypothesis I wish to discuss originates from the assumption that semantics
precedes morphology and syntax. To my mind, these latter two devices were primarily designed to


This term, which I invented on the spot, goes well to show the unclear conceptualization of middle voice and reflexivity which is
oft found in linguistic studies on the subject.
Cf. GKC 51c, 54e, 57 note 4; JM 51c, 53i.
JM 146k (offering a critique on the conception of /nepe/ as substitute for the reflexive pronoun), 147a.
Cf. GKC 135i, k, 119s; JM 133d, 146k. Cf. the discussion of this kind of dative in JENNI (2000), 4853 and below, page 59.


capture meaning, and, thus, at a certain point in time, an almost infinite set of meanings came to
be expressed by a limited set of morphological and syntactical features, whence polysemy. In light
of this development, it is not only conceivable how one morpho-syntactic feature could express
various semantic categories, but also how a certain semantic category is in most instances
expressed by only one specific morpho-syntactic feature within a given language. Thus, a situation
in which a given languages exhibits, for instances, both a verbal modification and a noun to express
reflexivity, is highly unlikely. Certain disambiguations may occur, however, within a language. Cf.
the examples regarding Russian middle voice below.

/dver otkryvaet-sja/

the door opens


/dver otkrylas/

the door opened17

These two examples go to show that a certain marker for a semantic category, in this case the
Russian marker /-sja/ for middle voice, may occur in various forms. In this case, the difference
between the middle marker in the two sentences is conditioned by Russian phonology. Also in the
domain of middle marking, cf. the following examples from English18 and Dutch.

John washes up


John gets washed


John gaat zitten

John sits down


John zet zich

John sits down

In these cases, it appears that both English and Dutch use various morpho-syntactic features to
express middle voice. In the case of English washing, which is a case of grooming middle voice (cf.
KEMMER 1993, 1617), the addition of the verb particle up and the use of the get-passive appear to
both express the same middle voice (cf. FALTZ 1985, 57). In the case of Dutch sitting down, the
addition of the auxiliary verb gaan or the verbal modification from zitten to zetten19 and the
addition of the pronoun zich, which oft, but not consistently, marks middle voice, also seem to
point to the same semantic category. However, in both instances the issue is not clear-cut, as in
both English and Dutch the two constructions employed differ as regards their connotation, and
thus as regards their meaning. In English, the get-passive may be used with verbs of grooming, but
probably should be categorized under the semantic category of middle voice expressing passive

Example taken from FALTZ (1985, 13).

English examples taken from F ALTZ (1985, 5).
This verbal modification is a remnant of an archaic internal causative in Dutch. Zetten thus literally means: to make to sit. Cf.
the word pair liggen-leggen, comparable to English lie-lay.


meaning, or perhaps even under the header of the real passive. In fact, (3b) is ambiguous, as it
could also point to John being washed by somebody other than himself. In Dutch, the difference in
connotation is mainly one of register, with (3d) being a more formal way of expressing oneself than
(3c). Furthermore, and most importantly, it should be remembered that both English and Dutch
are not middle marking languages, in that they do not employ one specific morpho-syntactic
marker for expressing the semantic category of middle voice.20 The somewhat ambiguous situation
as regards the expression of middle voice in these two languages should be seen against this
background, and thus does not disprove our idea that a certain semantic category is in most
instances expressed by only one specific morpho-syntactic feature within a language, given that
this language marks that specific semantic category.21 This idea could be illustrated by the
examples from Latin (clearly a middle marking language), Dutch (a language in-between), and
English below.





zich wassen

to wash (up)



zich omdraaien

to revolve




to embrace



boos zijn

to be angry

In Dutch, which is a language in-between as regards middle marking, various constructions are
employed to express middle categories: the addition of zich, the complete absence of marking or
the combination of an adjective with the auxiliary verb zijn (to be). The same strategies are
employed in English. In Latin, however, which is a middle marking language, the middle voice is
consistently marked by the middle marking verbal ending /-r/, which also marks passive voice.
The rather exhaustive analysis offered above in relation to the middle voice is also valid for
the study of other semantic domains, such as that of reflexivity. The examples advanced go to show
that our investigation shall have to isolate a certain morpho-syntactic phenomenon within Biblical
Hebrew which expresses reflexivity. After all, it has been assumed that Biblical Hebrew is a
reflexive marking language and that in languages marking a certain semantic category, one

KEMMER (1993, 26) does describe Dutch as a middle marking language, with a middle marker zich over against a reflexive
marker zichzelf. Although this distinction is generally correct and useful to distinguish between some reflexive constructions and
middle voices in Dutch, the language does not mark middle voice consistently, and therefore, I would not conceive of it as a
middle marking language, at least not in the same way as Latin or Turkish. Rather, I tend to describe Dutch as a language inbetween, and hence will do so in this thesis. Cf. the remarks by BOYD (1993, 70), who does not conceive of Dutch as a middle
marking language either.
This is, apparently, also assumed by FALTZ (1985, 1719), who argues that he has not found any language exhibiting more than
one primary reflexive strategy, even though stylistic differences may occur, just as I have illustrated for Dutch and English.
KEMMER cites him with consent and comments on this axiom that if this limitation is not an absolute universal, it is certainly a
universal tendency, and thus I will refer to a reflexive marker in a given language as the reflexive marker for that language (1993,
Examples taken from KEMMER (1993, 1619).


particular morpho-syntactic phenomenon could be identified as the marker of this category, in our
case reflexivity. The quest for this morpho-syntactic feature of Biblical Hebrew marking reflexivity
is the subject of the following chapters of our thesis.


1. Markers of Direct Reflexivity in Biblical Hebrew

It has long been noted that various languages use various morphological and syntactic
constructions to express the same semantic category. For instance, we have already seen that
English and Dutch do not consistently mark middle voice, while Classical Greek and Latin do.23
In German, which is described by KEMMER (1993) as a language exhibiting a one-form system,
the middle marker /sich/ is equal to the reflexive marker. As regards reflexivity, the situation
is not much different, and the worlds languages are described to employ several different
morpho-syntactic features to express this semantic category, such as reflexive anaphora in
English and French (cf. REINHARDT and REULAND 1993) and pronomina reflexiva in Classical
Greek, the latter of which have been subject to extensive change over time.24 In this chapter,
several morpho-syntactic features of Biblical Hebrew are listed and described which have been
related to reflexivity in the traditional grammars of that language. In the next chapter, a
definition of reflexivity is put forward which enables me to analyze the grammatical features
from this chapter and test whether or not they indeed express reflexivity. In this way, the
search for the one Biblical Hebrew morpho-syntactic feature expressing reflexivity, in FALTZs
terms: Biblical Hebrews primary reflexive marker, shall hopefully come to a pleasing end.
As the starting point of the research executed in this and the following chapter consists
in what I have called the traditional grammars of Biblical Hebrew, it is only justified to make
explicit what grammars I subsume under this heading. The grammars which have concretely
directed my research are the following:
a. JM;
b. GKC;
c. WOC;
d. EWALD (1863).
This is not to say that other grammars, such as BLAU (1988) or KNIG (1881) have not been
consulted. When these other grammars have shaped my thoughts on a given matter, reference
shall be made to them.


In these languages, morphologically marked middle voice and morphologically marked passive voice overlap to a large extent. In
Latin, no clear distinction between the two semantic categories appears to be existing, while in Greek, the particularly passive
endings occur only in the future tense and Aorist. On Greek voice, cf. the illustrative articles by C.W. Conrad, collected on his
website (under the heading Ancient Greek Voice):
Most Greek grammars list a basic form ()- for the pronomen reflexivum in Classical Greek besides a declination of the base
-, which is only employed in the third person (WEIR SMITH and MESSING 1984:93 N UCHELMANS 1977:25). In later language, the
reflexive pronouns lost some ground to the simple personal pronoun, which, then, could in particular instances but only seldom
be employed in a reflexive sense (BDR 283, 288). On the morphological developments related to the pronomina reflexiva in
Greek, cf. WOODARD (1990).


1.1. Verbal Forms

Biblical Hebrew employs several verbal forms, or stems (binyanim25), which may indicate
reflexivity. Most binyanim are considered to express various semantic categories, and this is
not surprising in light of the reduction-theory offered in the Introduction. The passive-middlereflexive framework is certainly at work in relation to the binyanim, as can, for instance, be
shown from the overlap of passive and reflexive meanings of both the Niphal and the
Hithpael.26 Both verbal tenses are oft conceived of as the passive counterparts of the Qal and
Piel respectively,27 but have also been related to reflexivity. Below, these two binyanim will be

The Hebrew reflex of the Semitic N-stem (called thus because of the N-prefix employed to
express it) is the Niphal or Niqal. This N-stem has probably been part of the Proto-Semitic
verbal inventory (cf. GOSHEN-GOTTSTEIN 1969). The N-prefix employed to distinguish this stem
from its corresponding unmarked counterpart has conveniently been traced back to an original
or Proto-Semitic form */na/, which is still attested in, for instance, Akkadian (/naprusum/) and
Ugaritic (/naktaba/).28 Other Semitic languages, however, commonly employ a different vowel
with the n-prefix. In Arabic, for instance, an /i/-vowel is found (/infaala/) and Hebrew also
has an /i/-sound (/nifal/).29 In light of this equivocal evidence, the suggestion by LIPISKI is
best followed, who opines that the n-prefix of the N-stem does not seem to be connected to
any particular vowel (1997, 395).30
N-stems are found in almost all Semitic languages. As the N-stem was probably part of
the Proto-Semitic verbal system, its absence from individual languages is suspect. A notable
exponent of Semitic languages not employing a N-stem is Aramaic, in which the N-stem
appears to have dropped out in favour of the Gt-stem.31 In Ethiopic languages, N-stems may

The terms binyan and verbal stem have their own intricate history within Hebrew and comparative Semitic linguistics. Cf.
GOSHEN-GOTTSTEIN (1969, 7071 [note 1]). Here, as in GOSHEN-GOTTSTEINs illuminating article, the two terms binyan and verbal
stem will be used interchangeably.
Criticisms have arisen concerning the so-called reflexive Niphal (BOYD 1993, 122238). Still, scholarly communis opinio still
reckons with a semantic overlap of these two binyanim. Cf. now BADEN (2010) and the history of scholarship in BENTON (2009).
The position of the Hithpael vis--vis the Pual, the latter being an internal passive counterpart to the Piel binyan, is subject to
much discussion. As far as I am aware, scholarly communis opinio now reckons with an original reflexive meaning for Hithpael (in
any case) and sometimes also for Niphal. With the gradual decline of the internal passives (the passive Qal is almost entirely
absent from Biblical Hebrew and the other internal passive binyanim are used relatively sparsely), these affixed binyanim came to
take over the meaning of the passive counterpart to Qal and Piel. This argument is strengthened by the situation in Modern
Hebrew, where the Pual is entirely absent, and the Hithpael bears primarily passive meaning. Cf. JM 55.
Cf. HUEHNERGARD (2005, 358) and GZELLA (2009c, 24). The existence of a N-stem is widely assumed, but apparently not entirely
certain for Ugaritic. Cf. LIPISKI (1997, 393) and MOSCATI (1964, 127), 16.15. For the derivation from /na/, cf. BL 44w; GKC 51a;
KIENAST (2001, 216), 189.1.
Cf. BROCKELMANN (1974, 34) and, inter alii plurimi, BL 44w.
But cf. BLAU (1993, 51), 24.2, who opines that the /i/-sound in Hebrew (and presumably also Arabic) originates from
attenuation, and that the /a/-vowel is original.
Cf. BROCKELMANN (1925, 64), 177; LIPISKI (1997, 396).


occur, but fulfill a function different from that in other Semitic languages.32 On the other hand,
Arabic and Akkadian, which are both quite close to Proto-Semitic typologically, do retain an
N-stem. In Arabic, this stem is known as Stem VII, and relates to the G-stem (Stem I in Arabic
or Qal in Hebrew).33 In Akkadian, the N-stem also relates to the G-stem. Usually, the N-stem is
derived from, or corresponds to, the G-stem.34 Yet in some Semitic languages, correspondences
between the N-stem and other stems are found, resulting in, for instance, what appear to be
The meaning of the Semitic N-stem has been variously described. LIPISKI (1997, 393)
has described it as reflexive, reciprocal, and passive. KIENAST (2001, 216), on the other hand,
speaks of two semantically identical reflexiv-passiven Verbalstmme, by which he means both
the N-stem and the various T-stems. In their descriptions of Arabic and Akkadian respectively,
BROCKELMANN (1974, 38) and HUEHNERGARD (2005, 358362) describe the N-stem as
Reflexivum or passive, middle or reflexive form. All in all, the conception of the N-stem as
expressing reflexive meaning appears to be a commonplace in comparative Semitics. Also
regarding Biblical Hebrew, important grammars have suggested that the Niphal forms the
reflexive36 or medio-reflexive37 counterpart of the Qal. Recently, BADEN (2010) has developed
this argument and suggested that the N-stem originally had passive meaning in Biblical
Hebrew, while the T-stem would have had reflexive meaning. According to him, the
morphological similarities between the two stems, most notably between the assimilation of
the /t/-affix of the T-stem series in certain phonological context and the assimilation of the
Niphals /n/-affix in the imperfect Niphal, could have resulted in a subsequent semantic
overlap, with the N-stem gaining reflexive meaning also.38 Whatever may have been the case,
on the basis of earlier descriptions of Biblical Hebrew and comparative Semitics, the N-stem or
Niphal should be conceived of as a possible reflexive marker in Biblical Hebrew, and is
therefore included in this analysis.

The Hebrew Hithpael is the only surviving Hebrew exponent of the Semitic T-stem series. It
appears that this T-stem, named after the T-affix employed to mark it off against its non32

Cf. LIPISKI (1997, 3935).

KIENAST (2001, 216); LIPISKI (1997, 393).
Cf. KIENAST (2001, 126), 189.2.
KIENAST (2001, 126), 189.2.
BLAU (1993, 51), 24.1; EWALD (1863, 325), 123a; GKC 51c; JM 51c; KNIG (1881, 1801), 22.1; MEYER (1992, 107 [227]), 66.1.
WOC 23.1h.
The overlap between the N-stem and the T-stem series BADEN proposes, is, however, not convincing. As he himself already
observes (2010, 38), the assimilation of the T-stem seriess /t/-affix occurs only in some certain instances, and is not a wide-spread
morphological characteristic of this series of stems, while the assimilation of the nun in the Niphal imperfect is, in fact, among the
most important morphological features of the stem.


marked counterparts, has been part of the verbal system of Proto-Semitic, just as the N-stem.39
The T-affix after which the T-stem has been named has oft been conceived of as going back to
a form */ta/, just as the affix of the N-stem would go back to a form */na/. This /ta/-affix is still
preserved in Akkadian (/iptaras/), Arabic (/iftaala/ and /tafaala/) and Ugaritic (/iktataba/),
and apparently also in Geez (/tanagra/).40 In other Semitic languages, the affix marking the Tstem takes different forms. In Hebrew and Aramaic, for instance, the affix is preceded by a
consonant and vowel, and usually occurs as /hit-/ and /et-/ respectively.41 The origins of this
T-stem affix are obscure. It has been related to the Proto-Semitic 2nd person personal pronoun,
but this etymological relationship is not clear.42
Where the position of the affix marking the N-stem is quite stable, that of the affix of
the T-stem varies among the different Semitic languages. Various Semitic languages employ
the T-affix as a prefix: as such, it is found in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Geez. On the other hand,
Akkadian, Ugaritic, and the oldest Aramaic documentary evidence use the T-affix as an infix.
Arabic is ambiguous: in the Dt-stem and Lt-stem, the T-affix occurs as a prefix (/tafaala/ and
/tafala/), in the Gt-stem as an infix (/iftaala/). In fact, the T-affix is used as an infix when
forming the Dt-stem of Hebrew roots with a sibilant (/yitappk/). All in all, it appears that the
position of the T-affix may vary between the various Semitic languages, and oft even within
one and the same language. Within Canaanite languages, e.g., Hebrew and Aramaic,43 where
T-affixes occur as prefixes, these prefixes are augmented with a consonant and a vowel,
resulting in the possibly etymologically related prefixes /hit-/ and /et-/ or /it-/ respectively.
Whence these forms originated is not entirely clear, but they have been traditionally related to
the causative stems in both languages, which also have heh (in Hebrew) and alef (in most
dialects of Aramaic) as their markers.44 To this connection between C-stems and T-stems may
also point the fact that in Aramaic dialects such as Biblical Aramaic or Qumran Aramaic,
which employ a H-stem, instead of an -stem to express causativity, the T-stem also employs a
prefix /hit-/ instead of /et-/.45
T-stems are found in various forms in all Semitic languages. They could correspond to
G-stems, D- or L-stems, and C- or -stems, but, generally, not to N-stems.46 Akkadian knows of

Cf. above and GOSHEN-GOTTSTEIN (1969).

Cf. HUEHNERGARD (2005, 390); BROCKELMANN (1974, 34); GZELLA (2009c, 24); MITTWOCH (1926, 54). For the derivation from /ta/,
cf. KIENAST (2001, 216), 189.1 and BL 38c.
Cf. BL 38rv, 45v; BROCKELMANN (1925, 64), 177. There are examples of Aramaic forms exhibiting a prefix /hit-/, but their
origins are controversial.
Cf. BL 38c.
The status of Ugaritic is unclear.
MOSCATI (1964, 127128), 16.19.
Cf. ROSENTHAL (2006, 48), 109. The employment of heh in both the C-stems and the T-stem series in these Aramaic dialects has
been related to Hebrew, and may indeed have come about under the influence of that language.
Cf. KIENAST (2001, 216), 189.4. Yet LIPISKI (1997, 399) quite rightfully points to the Mishnaic Hebrew Nithpael tense, which
could be conceived of as a combination of an N-stem and a Dt-stem. The Belgian scholar furthermore mentions instances in


a Gt-stem (/iptaras/), a Dt-stem (/uptarris/), and an t-stem (/utapris/).47 Arabic, on the other
hand, does not employ an t-stem, expect for some remnants, but does know of a Gt-stem or Stem
VIII (/iftaala/), a Dt-stem or Stem V (/tafaala/), and an Lt-stem or Stem VI (/tafala/).48
Ugaritic has a Gt-stem (/iktataba/) and a Dt-stem (/takattaba/).49 Geez also employs a Gt-stem
(/taqaala/), a Dt-stem (/taqaala/), and an Lt-stem (/taqala/).50 Biblical Aramaic knows of a Gtstem (/hitkteb/) and a Dt-stem (/hitkattab/).51 Syriac has a Ct, whose form with doubled taw
(/ettafal/) derives from an original form /etafal/.52 In Biblical Hebrew, only a Dt-stem is
preserved (hitpl), although the form /wayyatpqd/ and derived forms, as well as some ancient
toponyms, are conveniently conceived of as a remnant of an original Gt-stem.53 Later phases of the
Hebrew language may bear witness to a DtN-stem (nitpl).54
The meaning of the Semitic T-stem has been variously described and appears to be hard to
capture in one description. KIENAST (2001, 216), 189.1, who treats the N-stem and the T-stem as
semantically identical, describes the T-stem as a reflexiv-passive Verbalstamm. LIPISKI (1997,
396), on the other hand, holds that the principal function of the Semitic t-stems can be
characterized as reflexive. In Aramaic, which has no N-stem, the T-stem almost consistently bears
passive meaning, even though it is oft described as reflexive or reflexive-passive in Aramaic
grammars.55 Regarding Akkadian, the meanings reciprocal, seperative, reflexive have been
advanced for the T-stem.56 In Arabic, the T-stem appears to bear reflexive meaning passim.57
Hebrew grammars conveniently describe the Hebrew Hithpael or Dt-stem as a reflexive stem.58 In
Hebrew, however, this Dt-stem could also have passive meaning, but only seldom does so.59
Furthermore, an iterative meaning (corresponding to Akkadian stems exhibiting a /tan/-infix),
which is of no particular relevance to our analysis and could be restricted to certain roots such as
, has been suggested,60 as well as a meaning related to pretending to be or to act as,61 which
shall receive due treatment in chapter 2.62

Arabic colloquials, where similar phenomena take place. Perhaps the /tan/-affix employed in the Akkadian Gtn-stem and Dtnstem could also point to a combination of an N-stem with a T-stem. However, the existence of an Ntn-stem in Akkadian makes
this improbable, and the n-sound in the /tan/-affix appears to come from elsewhere. Cf. HUEHNERGARD (2005, 40912, 4245, 450).
HUEHNERGARD (2005, 3903, 4224, 4336); KIENAST (2001, 218), 189.7.
BROCKELMANN (1974, 34).
GZELLA (2009c, 24).
KIENAST (2001, 218), 189.7.
Cf. ROSENTHAL (2006, 46), 99.
Cf. BROCKELMANN (1925, 64), 177; KIENAST (2001, 211), 186.5.
Cf. BL 38f and Judges 20:15, 17, 21:9.
Cf. note 24 above.
Cf. BROCKELMANN (1925, 64), 177; ROSENTHAL (2006, 46), 99. It is conceivable that the passive meaning of T-stems in Aramaic
came about only after the loss of interal passives, just as could well have been the case for the Hebrew T-stems. Cf. note 5 above.
HUEHNERGARD (2005, 393).
BROCKELMANN (1974, 389), 26, 27, 29.
BL 38r; GKC 54e; JM 53a; KNIG (1881, 195), 25.1; MEYER (1992, 845 [4267]), 110; WOC 26.2. Cf. BADEN (2010).
BLAU (1993, 52), 25.3; GKC 54g.
JM 53i, note 4; WOC 16.1.2b.
GK 54e; JM 53i; WOC 26.2; W ILLIAMS ( 2007, 64).
Cf. pages 4853 below.


N-stems and T-stems: How are they related?

Several semantic categories, such as passivity, reflexivity, and reciprocal semantics, could
apparently be expressed by both the N-stem and the T-stem.63 Therefore, it has been suggested
that these two stems are closely related. In his comparative grammar of Semitics, KIENAST
(2001, 216), 189.1, even conceives of the N-stem and the T-stem to be semantically identical:
as we have seen before, he describes them both as reflexiv-passive Verbalstmme. Apart from
their apparent similarity in meaning, the N-stems and T-stems appear to be mutually
exclusive: while T-stems could be combined with many other stems, they could, generally,
never occur with an N-stem.64 This mutual exclusivity could add credence to the envisioned
similar meaning of these two stems, since, apparently, there has never been a use of combining
One of the reasons for the unclarity about the actual meaning of these two stems could
be caused by their nature. While the T-stem series could be combined with many other stems,
some of them widely attested (D-stem, G-stem), some slightly more rare (L-stem, -stem), the
N-stem is almost always related to the G-stem. In the words of KIENAST (2001, 216), 189.2: Die
N-Stmme werden grundstzlich nur vom G-stam (Qal, I.) abgeleitet, nicht aber vom D- (oder
L-)Stamm. This seems to suggest that both stems function in quite a different way in the
various Semitic languages. This different nature of the N-stem and the T-stem could best be
explained by referring to the following diagram offered by GOSHEN-GOTTSTEIN (1969, 89).


Cf. BENTON (2009, 12).

For possible exceptions, cf. note 24 above.


Picture 1. The System of Verbal Stems in Semitic Languages.




As can be observed in GOSHEN-GOTTSTEINs diagram, the Semitic T-stem occurs on two axes,
or, rather, the T-axe is divided into two. On the one hand, this stem belongs on the D-S/H-N-T
axe, as this axe contains all verbal stems which most likely belonged to the Proto-Semitic
verbal inventory. On the other hand, however, T-stems can be observed to occur in
combination with all other stems from this horizontal Proto-Semitic axe, except possibly for Nstems. This double nature of the T-stems in Semitic languages most probably accounts, among
other reasons, for the unclarity regarding its function.
The analysis of GOSHEN-GOTTSTEIN is morphological in nature, although function is
taken into account to a limited extent. Reasoning from the hypothesis advanced in the
introduction that a certain semantic category could be expressed in languages marking that
semantic category by only one specific morpho-syntactic feature,65 it is assumed that the
primary meaning of the N-stem and the T-stem differed (pace KIENAST 2001). After all, both
verbal stems occur side-by-side in Proto-Semitic and, thus, both could not have the same
meaning, since then, one of them would have been redundant.66 This, however, is not to say
that the two stems do not display a significant overlap in meaning in post-Proto-Semitic
languages, as they took over meanings from one another.67 For instance, Aramaic attributed
the meaning normally expressed by the N-stem to the T-stem, as N-stems do not occur in that
language. It is hypothesized that also in Hebrew, the two stems do not share one and the same
primary meaning. In our quest for the reflexive marker of Biblical Hebrew, we shall thus have
to determine which of these two stems - if any at all - express reflexivity as its primary

Cf. pages 710.

As rightfully stated by BENTON (2009, 13): If one assumes that these distinct forms fulfill essentially the same function, [...] one is
confronted with the question of why the author decided to vary the forms at all.
This suggestion comes close to the recent illuminating analysis of the Niphal and Hithpael by BADEN (2010).


Keeping the above in mind, there is another side of the coin. After all, it should not a
priori be ruled out that both binyanim express the same semantic domain(s), and that the
choice for either one of them is determined by morphological or syntactic preferences rather
than semantic ones. The traditional conception of the Qal-Niphal and Piel-Hithpael
correspondences would suggest such a framework, as verbs occurring mostly in the Qal would
prefer to employ a Niphal in certain instances, while verbs occurring mostly in the Piel would
prefer the Hithpael binyan. In the course of our analysis, it shall become clear that the
traditional correspondences between the binyanim are often not at work, but, also, that Niphal
and Hithpael are quite similar semantically, the choice for either one of the tenses indeed
depending on morpho-syntactic deliberations.

1.2. (Pro)nominal Constructions

Apart from the verbal phenomena described at length above, Biblical Hebrew knows of two
nominal constructions which have been related to reflexivity, e.g., /nepe/ soul + suffix68 and
/eem/ bone + suffix.69 Apart from these, the pronominal construction /et/ + suffix has also
been related to reflexivity by several grammarians. It should be noted here that Hebrew does
not have a particular set of reflexive pronouns. The construction employing an unsuffigated
form of companion is believed to express reciprocity, and I know not of any Hebrew
grammar which relates this explicitly to reflexive semantics. Therefore, this construction is not
discussed here, even though the closeness of reciprocal and reflexive semantics may bring it to
the fore later in our discussion. EWALD (1863, 77677), 314, is the only grammar consulted
which relates the common personal pronoun /h/ (and related forms) to reflexivity. His theory
is not discussed here, as it appears to be now largely outdated.

/et/ + suffix
The Hebrew preposition / et/ has two different meanings, which are distinguished between by
BDB by dividing this homonymous preposition into I and II.70 In this thesis, our concern
will be I, e.g., the Hebrew nota obiecti or accusative marker. This preposition has no
lexical meaning of its own, but simply serves to mark the participant role of Patient.71 On the
etymology of and the existence of cognate forms in other Semitic languages, opinions differ.

Cf. WOC 23.4c. A critical remark on the reflexive nuance of this construction can be found in JM 146k.
JM 147a.
This division suggests that the two prepositions are not only semantically, but also etymologically different. This indeed appears
to be the case, even though the etymologies of the two morphologically identical prepositions are shrouded in unclarity.
According to the traditional grammars, marks the definite object of a sentence, but this theory appears not to do best justice
to the distribution of this preposition. Cf. page 4, note 4 above. On the object marker being semantically void in itself, cf. the
recent article by DANON (2001), who attempts to show that the preposition does bear a certain semantic value of its own.


Many have wished to connect the Hebrew nota obiecti with the object marker /yt/ ( ) found
in some Aramaic dialects, for instance in the Targumim,72 and this Aramaic form indeed
appears to be the best candidate for providing a cognate to Hebrew /et/.
Just as regular nouns, the Hebrew nota obiecti can obtain pronominal suffixes, which
indicate the object expressed by the nota obiecti. Cf., for instance, /wayyittn tm elhm/
and God set them (Genesis 1:17). These cases of suffigated nota obiecti appear to come to
express semantic direct reflexivity when the object expressed by the pronominal suffix is
identical to the subject of the verse, e.g., if there is an Agent-Patient coreference (cf. our
definition of direct reflexivity offered at pages 1923 and the examples on pages 568).

/nepe/ + suffix
The Hebrew word /nepe/ (), conveniently but not entirely correctly translated with soul,
is an intricate part of Biblical Hebrew vocabulary. Morphologically, the Hebrew segholate noun
goes back to an original form */nap(u)/, which eventually resulted in a form */nape/, whence
current /nepe/. Cognates of this Hebrew noun are found in various Semitic languages, and the
root has probably been a part of Proto-Semitic vocabulary. In Akkadian, the word /napu/
means life, breath (BGP, 240). The Arabic cognate /nafs/ means Seele, Geist, Leben (WEHR
1968, 875). Also in Aramaic this root occurs and /nap/ means soul, will or the breath of life,
the animal soul, vital principle (JASTROW 2005, 927; PS, 3467). In Biblical Hebrew, the root is
widely attested and it occurs 760 times, in many different usages, in the Hebrew Bible. Because
of this many different usages of the root, its primary meaning is very hard to grasp.73
One of the meanings related to the word /nepe/, however, is of special importance in
this thesis. Apparently, the word could refer to the inner being of man (BDB, 661) or to
someones personality (BECKER 1942, 58; JENNI-WESTERMANN 1976, 90 sub c). As such it could,
in certain instances, refer to the speaker of a sentence, such as in let me not enter
(Genesis 49:6). This construction with /nepe/ + suffix literally means my/his/their/etc.
soul/inner being, but in most instances denotes the being referred to in its entirety. As such,
this construction is best understood as a more-or-less exact synonym of the personal pronoun,
which may have some additional connotations when compared to the regular pronominal
forms.74 It is this construction which could be understood as reflexive when the subject of the
clause in which it occurs is the same as the antecedent of the suffix employed. In these cases,


One may bear in mind the rendering of Genesis 1:1 in Targum Onkelos: .
For the many possible meanings associated with this noun, cf. JENNI-WESTERMANN (1976, 7491).
Cf. BECKER (1942, 5860). JENNI-WESTERMANN (1976, 90 sub d) rightfully point out that scholars disagree on the amount in which
/nepe/ retains (one of) its lexical meaning(s) when employed in such a construction. This point of discussion is taken up in
chapter 2 on the discussion of /nepe/ + suffix (pages 5962).


English would require a reflexive pronoun, and thus it appears that the /nepe/-construction in
these instances expresses reflexivity. For an example, cf. the clause to bind a
bond on himself (lit: his soul) (Numbers 30:3, 512). This possible reflexive meaning of
/nepe/ was certainly felt by BECKER (1942, 73), who states that het Hebr. naast elkaar het
gebruik kent van: a. een verbum in Niph. of Hithp. b. datzelfde verbum in Kal of Piel met nefesj
als object, en waarbij dan a. en b. beide reflexieve beteekenis hebben.75 In light of the above, an
investigation into the possible reflexive nature of /nepe/ + suffix appears to be surely called for
in this thesis.

/eem/ +suffix
The word /eem/ is a segholate noun of the same class as /nepe/, and goes back to an original
form */am(u)/. Phonological changes originating from the shift of the phoneme // within
most Semitic languages, resulted in the proto-Hebrew form */am(u)/. From this form
developed the form known nowadays (/eem/) in the same way as /nepe/ developed from
/nap(u)/. Cognates of the Hebrew word are found in Arabic (/am/; WEHR 1968, 560) and
Akkadian (/eemtu(m)/; BGP, 81), and, thus, this root appears to have been part of ProtoSemitic vocabulary, just as the noun /nepe/ discussed above.
The meaning of /eem/ is hardly more easy-to-grasp than that of /nepe/. Apart from its
apparent primary meaning bone, the word could also mean substance or self (BDB, 782).
The construct state of this noun could be employed in a construct chain with another word, of
which the word /eem/ then denotes the substance; cf.
like the substance of the
sky/like the sky itself (Exodus 24:10) or this same day/this day itself (Ezekiel
24:2). A reflexive meaning for the suffigated construct state of /eem/ has been suggested,
when the subject of the sentence is identical to the antecedent of the suffix. This suggestion of
the construction /eem/ + suffix expressing reflexivity appears to be based on Modern Hebrew,
in which language sentences as he hit himself or he loves
himself are completely acceptable. Yet a reflexive meaning for this construction in Biblical
Hebrew appears to be hard to find. Rather, the description offered by GKC 139g, that /eem/
expresses the idea of self [...] in reference to things (as to persons [...]), a priori appears to
fit the Biblical Hebrew evidence well.


The Hebrew knows of a side-by-side employment of a. a verb in Niphal or Hithpael b. this same verb in Qal or Piel with nefesh
as its object, in which case a. and b. both have reflexive meaning. For a discussion, cf. BECKER (1942, 736).


2. Direct Reflexivity in Biblical Hebrew

This chapter provides an analysis of the data collected in the preceding one. As has been
advanced in the introduction,76 a quest is undertaken in this chapter to isolate one specific
morpho-syntactic feature in Biblical Hebrew which expresses direct reflexivity in that
language, e.g., which could be defined as the primary reflexive strategy or reflexive marker of
Biblical Hebrew. The four phenomena described in the preceding chapter provide the data for
the analysis executed below. This chapter has a dipartite construction. First, theoretical issues
from the introduction are concisely recapitulated and a linguistic definition of direct
reflexivity, based on the semantic preoccupations of this category, is put forward. In the
second part of this chapter, key texts, which are adduced as proof for the reflexive meaning of
all four morpho-syntactic construction adduced in the previous chapter, are discussed. Thus, it
is tested to what extent these texts and, thus, these morpho-syntactic phenomena tie in with
our definition of direct reflexivity. At the end of this chapter, it is hoped that one morphosyntactic feature from the four possibilities discussed above, can be shown to particularly
express direct reflexivity in Biblical Hebrew.

2.1. Towards a Definition of Direct Reflexivity

As has been advanced in the introduction to this study, the most far-reaching axiom behind
the analyses executed here, is the idea that a given semantic category is in most instances, if
not always, expressed by one single morpho-syntactic feature in a language. Alternatively, one
particular morpho-syntactic feature may express a number of different, but often related,
semantic categories. Yet Biblical Hebrew grammars commonly relate to the semantic category
of direct reflexivity four morpho-syntactic qualities of that language, and some even more.77
This inconsistency has brought about the main questions and aims of this thesis, e.g., to
investigate what of the four morpho-syntactic features discussed in Hebrew grammars is the
primary reflexive strategy or reflexive marker of Biblical Hebrew.78
Before the quest for such a Biblical Hebrew reflexive marker could start off, however,
one prolegomenon is still to be treated, and this concerns a definition of what exactly is
understood by direct reflexivity within the framework of our analysis. As has been elaborated

Cf. pages 710.

One might recall the suggestion of EWALD (1863), that the regular personal pronoun could also express reflexive meaning. Cf.
page 18 above.
The terms reflexive marker, employed by KEMMER (1993) and primary reflexive strategy, advanced by F ALTZ (1985) are used
interchangeably within this thesis. This may not be be entirely justified, but our analysis does not seem to demand a more
thorough distinction between the two terms. Some words on the difference between them may be found in KEMMER (1993, 47).


upon above, the reflexive semantic category is often treated together with closely related
semantic categories, such as passive and middle ones.79 Furthermore, it has long been noted
that reflexive and reciprocal semantics bear close resemblance. Therefore, a useful definition of
direct reflexivity should not only determine what the particular characteristics of this semantic
category are, but also what they are not, e.g., it should mark off direct reflexivity from other
closely related semantic domains. This same approach for arriving at a semantic definition of
direct reflexivity is developed by KEMMER for the middle voice (1993). Thus, both her
methodology and her analysis of direct reflexivity (which, of course, aims at marking off
middle voice from this category) have proven quite useful in the preparation of the following
As our study focuses on semantics, the definition employed in it is mainly semantic in
nature and aims at describing the direct reflexive situation type. The following definition is


The direct reflexive situation type comprises semantic contexts which involve
coreference in an event consisting of a single event frame.80


Coreference in a direct reflexive situation type is between an individual Agent or

Experiencer on the one hand and an individual Patient or Stimulus on the other.


The Patient or Stimulus should be the grammatical object of the direct reflexive

This tripartite definition of direct reflexivity helps marking off this semantic category over
against other, related, semantic categories. The first point is taken directly from KEMMERs
analysis of direct reflexivity (1993, 4252). It has several advantages, as it distinguishes the simple
direct reflexivity clause, which is at the centre of our analysis, from other constructions, which
consist of multiple event frames.81 As such, the inclusion of focus point (a) ensures that our
analysis focuses on what KEMMER has described as the semantic prototype forming the basis of
the grammatical category of reflexivity (1993, 43).
The second focus point is perhaps the most central one in our discussion. By posing that
coreference, which is rightfully conceived of as the essence of a reflexive (FALTZ 1985, 34), should
be between these two semantic roles, several non-direct reflexive semantic categories are
excluded. First of all, this is indirect reflexivity, in which case coreference often occurs between
an Agent and a Benificiary, as in Mary bought herself a coat. Furthermore, our phrasing of focus

Cf. pages 47 above.

Taken directly from KEMMER (1993, 45).
Cf. the three examples given by KEMMER (1993, 456).


point (b) also excludes middle voice systems which at first instance appear to be related to
reflexivity, such as verbs of grooming or motion. These last semantic domains belong to a
peculiar category, which has lot in common with reflexive semantics, but are marked as middle
voice in almost all two-form system languages, and often appear as deponents in one-form
system languages, as has been keenly observed by KEMMER (1993). In her analysis, she further
develops a hypothesis advanced by HAIMAN (1983), namely that body actions are not marked as
reflexives as it is only expected that someone would perform these actions or himself. KEMMER
(1993, 607), to my mind convincingly, argues that real reflexives would occur with verbs
describing actions which could as easily be directed to someone else as to their instigator, and
that several categories of the middle domain should be positioned on a scale as regards their
expected direction: where actions of grooming could still be envisioned to be directed to
someone else, even though they are slightly more like to be directed to their instigator (cf.
shaving, bathing, etc.), middle voices describing a change in body posture of non-translational
motion are in most cases necessarily directed towards their instigator (cf. bowing, sitting down,
etc.). In still another way, KEMMER (1993, 6770) argued for the distinction between these middle
voice semantic domains and reflexivity by arguing that, in these middle voice actions, the body
is, as it were, an actual part of the action, while in real reflexive contexts is is not (cf. the
sentences he bows down and he hits himself). As the entity to which the action is directed is,
in these instances, part of the action itself, it does not satisfy to conceive of it as a Patient as such.
Rather, the thematic role identical to the instigator of the action in middle voice situation types
is characterized by its being both partaking in and affected by the action, and comes close to
what has geen called Dative82 or Theme2.83 Alternatively, one could hold that, in regard to these
particular class of middle voice domains, there is no Agent-Patient of Experiencer-Stimulus
relationship within the clause, but the grammatical subject should be labelled Actor rather than
Agent and occurs as the only participant role within a middle voice event frame.84 In any case,
it appears that a strict definition of the terms Agent and Patient, e.g., as the role of one executing
a certain action and that of the entity merely undergoing an action, thus assuming a certain
movement from the Agent towards the Patient, helps defining direct reflexivity vis--vis related
semantic categories.85

Dative is defined by GIVN (2001, 107) as a conscious participant in the event, typically animate, but not the deliberate initiator.
Cf. the sentence John knew Mary, in which John is a Dative.
The term Theme2 is coined by HAEGEMAN (2003, 50), who described is as the entity affected by the action or state expressed by
the predicate. Cf. her exemplary sentence Maigret is in London, in which Maigret is Theme. Cf. KALLFASS (2004, 11).
BOYD (1993, 1134); GRNEBERG (2003, 48). Agent and Actor are treated as one participant role by HAEGEMAN (2003, 49), but I
prefer to distinguish between the two, for the reasons indicated above. Within the remainder of this thesis, the term Actor shall
be employed to define the Agent-like participant role participating in middle voice event frames.
These definitions are agreed upon by all scholars. Cf. BISANG (2006, 192); HAEGEMAN ( 2003, 49); KALLFASS (2004, 10). GIVN
(2001, 107) has a slightly different definition for the Patient, as she describes this role as the participant, either animate or
inanimate, that either is in a state or registers a change-of-state as a result of an event. The thematic role dubbed Stimulus here is


A third aspect of focus point (b) is its concentration on individual participants rather
than groups of them. I have deemed it necessary to phrase this point explicitly, as it marks off
reflexive semantics against the reciprocal domain. In reciprocal semantics, each member of a
group is described as performing an action on another, or: every other, member of that same
group, so that it appears that the group as a whole performs this action on itself. Yet as, in the
described situation, the action instigated by each individual member of a groups is directed
not against himself, but against another member of the same group, one cannot speak of
reflexivity proper. The most well-known Hebrew construction related to reciprocity employs a
noun /r/ friend, neighbour, while nominal constructions usually related to reflexivity
employ nouns referring back not to someone near to the instigator of the action, but to the
essence of his own personality, such as /nepe/ or /eem/.86 Hence, by focusing within
our definition on actions directed by an individual to that same individual, the semantic
domain of reciprocity is excluded form our analysis.
The third focus point advanced above aims at leaving out the related semantic domain
of passive voice from our analysis. After all, sentences like He was hit by himself, hypothetical
as they may be, would fit both criteria (a) and (b) of our definition. By adding this third
criterion, this kind of (perhaps purely theoretical) sentences are excluded. Their exclusion is,
for now, justified, both in light of arguments regarding the scope of this thesis and in light of
the still highly unclear relationship between passive and reflexive voice, which is in need of
careful study in its own right.87 Furthermore, a strict distinction between passive and reflexive
voice is necessary in order to determine the meanings of the Hebrew stems Niphal and
Hithpael, which have been commonly related to both semantic domains.88 As many Hebrew
grammars consider the occurrence of the Patient in subject position to be the most
characteristic feature of passive voice, this third point of our definition fulfills its duty in
distinguishing these two semantic domains.89
The definition developed above is, to my mind, sufficiently strict to exclude related
phenomena, which could easily be confused for reflexive semantics, from our analysis, and
guides our research presented below. In the following paragraphs, the four possible Biblical
Hebrew reflexive markers which have been described etymologically and morpho-syntactically

not recognized by the syntactic works cited here, but its existence is advanced by KEMMER (1993, 46). The Stimulus defines the
participant which undergoes the action expressed by mental or emotional verbs, such as seeing or loving. F ALTZ (1985), as has
been rightly observed by KEMMER, considers these participants Patients as well, as do most grammarians. The distinction is only
relative, and I have included Stimulus in my definition only for completenesss sake. Yet the same point as has been made for
Patients could be made for Stimuli as well: they undergo an action and are never themselves part of it.
Cf. pages 1920 above.
An attempt towards such an undertaking has been made by BOYD (1993).
Cf. the overviews offered by BENTON (2009).
For this conception of passive voice, cf. JM 51c and BENTON (2009, 28).


in the preceding chapter, are listed and analyzed in light of our theoretical background to and
definition of direct reflexivity in the worlds languages.

2.2. Niphal
As has been shown in the preceding chapter, the Hebrew Niphal binyan is related to reflexive
semantics by almost all Biblical Hebrew and comparative Semitics grammarians.90 Others,
however, have shown that the reflexive nuance of this verbal stem occurs only sporadically, or
have even criticized its existence at all.91 In order to find out whether this Hebrew binyan could
express reflexivity, various loci adduced in various Biblical Hebrew grammars and some
occasional other works as positive evidence for this case, are treated below. When necessary,
reference is furthermore made to other illustrative passages from Scripture.

Niphal and Niphal in Leviticus 25

The root to redeem features prominently in Leviticus 25: it occurs 10 times, whence thrice
in the Niphal (verses 30, 49, and 54). Of these three occurrences of the Niphal, only that in
verse 49 has been explicitly related to reflexivity.92 The root to sell occurs 13 times in
Leviticus 25, whence 7 times in the Niphal. The Niphal of this second root has been related to
reflexivity more generally.93 In these paragraphs, I shall discuss all the occurrences of these two
roots in Leviticus 25, and test whether or not they could indeed point to the expression of
reflexive semantics. Furthermore, by discussing not only the possibly reflexive attestations of
these Niphals, I shall lay out my methodology in analyzing verbal forms. As shall become clear
in the following paragraphs, my methodology, even though not being directly derived from,
comes close to modern studies on the various semantic domains in Biblical Hebrew, in which
categories such as animacy of the subject, context, exegetical assumptions, and our
knowledge of the real world play a large role.94 Lastly, the picture arising from this discussion
of a relatively large literary entity, e.g., a chapter, serves as the background for analyzing
Niphal forms which have been related to direct reflexivity by Biblical Hebrew grammarians,
but which occur at isolated loci throughout the Hebrew Bible.95


Cf. pages 123 above.

Cf. the overview by BENTON (2009). Most severe in their criticisms appear to be GRNEBERG, who concludes that the Hebrew
niphal is rarely a semantic direct reflexive; where it is such it is unlikely that the reader would have been in much doubt that this
was the correct understanding (2003, 65), and BOYD (1993, 122238), who denies the connection between the Niphal stem and
reflexive semantics altogether.
GRNEBERG (2003, 623); JM 51c.
GRNEBERG (2003, 63).
Cf. BICKNELL (1984, 100); CREASON (1995); S IEBESMA (1991). A summary of these works may be found in BENTON (2009, 703).
To get a big picture of the various usages of Niphal, discussing one chapter would, of course, not be sufficient. Yet as our
discussion shall mainly focus on isolated instances throughout the Bible, it is assumed that, in this case, one chapter does provide
sufficient background for further discussion.


Leviticus 25:23 contains a Niphal from the root . Theoretically, this root could be
either a 2nd person sg. masculine or a 3rd person sg. feminine of the imperfect tense, and
whatever of these two options is preferred largely changes our understanding of the verse.
GRNEBERG (2003, 63) appears not to sense the ambiguity here and describes this usage of the
Niphal as a clear passive use of the Niphal, thus accepting
as its subject and Patient
and accepting the 3rd person feminine declination of the verb. Indeed, this is the usual parsing
of this verbal form.96 Yet I would contend that an understanding of the Niphal expressing
middle voice here is more appropriate, and my arguments are the following. First, the
understanding of this Niphal as passive would suggest that the Agent occurring in this
particular event frame has been demoted here, as it is in some way or another felt to be less
relevant to the meaning of the clause.97 However, the context of this verse makes it clear that it
is the Agent, e.g., the entity doing something to the land (the Patient) indeed matters a lot, as
the verse wishes to convey the opinion that God is the only one who could do something to the
land, e.g., that he only could be the Agent of this verb, as it his rightfully his.98 Second, the verb
tenses in the verses both preceding and following Leviticus 25:23 are in the 2nd person plural,
and this would strongly suggest that, also in our verse, a 2nd person verbal tense has originally
been intended. The fact that this form would be in the singular, while the surrounding ones
are in the plural should not pose too major a problem, as the interchange of plural and singular
is well-attested within similar contexts, and even within the same corpus.99
Keeping the above in mind, I feel inclined to interpret the form /timmkr/ in
Leviticus 25:23 as a 2nd person singular.100 When done so, the verb has come to generate a
middle voice rather than passive event frame, in which the land is still the Patient, but the
Agent is not so much demoted anymore, but is included in the verbal tense, and refers to the
real-life you. I would suggest that it is conceivable, both in light of the various middle voice
systems recognized by, for instance, KEMMER (1993) and, in her footsteps, GRNEBERG (2003),
and in light of the meaning this verse aims at conveying, to consider this a case of an indirect
(or: benefactive) middle voice, which means that the Agent is, within this verb disposition, at
the same time Benificiary. In English, this verbal form could, thus, best be translated as to sell
for ones own benefit, or the entire clause as and the land you shall not sell it for your own


Cf., inter alii, BERGSMA (2007, 140); GERSTENBERGER (1993, 370); LAMPARTER (1980, 6970) and MURPHY (1872, 291).
On demotion, which plays an important role in defining and recognizing passive semantics, cf. LYNGFELT and TOLSTADT (2006). I
reject GRNEBERGs ide that it is subject demotion (2003, 58) which is at work here: passive constructions have a subject just like
their corresponding active counterparts do. Yet in passive semantics it is the Agent which occurs only implicitly, e.g., is demoted.
This idea is expressed by phrases as to me belongs the land and you are strangers and aliens with me (translations are my own,
unless otherwise indicated). Cf. KNOHL (2007, 217); OTTO (1996, 75, note 64).
Cf., inter alia, Exodus 30:37, Leviticus 19:15, 19, 27,
This opinion has not often been defended, but is still not entirely new. Cf. RAMREZ KIDD (1999, 100); LUV.


benefit, as not-being-able-to-be-redeemed.101 Closest to this translation comes LUV, which has

daarom zult gij het land niet verkopen voor altoos (therefore, thou shalt not sell the land for
ever, witnessing to a different interpretation of Hebrew ). LS has a beautiful middle voice
translation into French (Les terres ne se vendront point perptuit), but unfortunately fails
to recognize that the you implied in the verbal tense is the Agent and Beneficiary of
Niphal here.
Different is the case in Leviticus 25:34. Here, the form is a Niphal imperfect 3rd sg.
masculine, and could only have preceding
pasture-land as its grammatical subject.
After all, the persons addressed in the surrounding commandments are all addressed in the 2nd
person, which goes to show that this 3rd person verb should have someone else as the
commanded as its subject. As the pasture-land as the subject of this verb inanimate, it could
not possible be an Agent, and, thus, should be classified as Patient here.102 This classification
originates furthermore from the context of this verse, which is about the selling and
repurchase of lands and goods. Within this larger pericope (Leviticus 25:2534),103 the Niphals
used all have passive force (cf. verse 30 and its discussion below and verse 31). In the case of
Leviticus 25:34, this would mean that the Agent, e.g., the you addressed by the
commandments, is demoted within this event frame, and the Patient, e.g., the pasture-land,
occurs as the grammatical subject of the verb. Much unlike the situation in verse 23, the
demotion of the Agent makes sense in this verse, as the reason given for the commandment
not to sell the pasture-land is here not the fact hat its possessor is not its rightful owner (as in
verse 23), but, rather, that its possessor should be in possession of it for eternity (for it is an
everlasting possession for him).
The other occurrence of a Niphal from one of the roots or within the pericope
Leviticus 25:2534, is found in verse 30, which contains a Niphal imperfect 3rd sg. from the root
. GRNEBERG (2003, 62) again defines this usage of the Niphal as having passive force, but
this time he is most likely right. This would mean that the form /yiggl/ has as its subject
and Patient the aforementioned
( cf. verse 29). The Agent, which has been demoted
within this event frame, features only in the far background, and refers to the first owner of
this dwelling-house, who has sold it to another person. A further argument for understanding
this Niphal as expressing passive semantics here, which is not mentioned by GRNEBERG, is the

The meaning of Hebrew is disputed, but in light of Leviticus 25:30, I tend to accept the definition by HOLLADAY (1988, 308):
forfeiture of the right of repurchase.
Theoretically, inanimate subjects could be Actors, rather than Agents, and then the Niphal would express middle voice. Cf. the
examples adduced by GRNEBERG (2003, 55, 195). The issue of inanimate Agents has received due discussion in treatments of
syntax and semantics (cf. the overview in YAMAMOTO 2006, 4151). In sentences like the ship destroyed the pier, scholars either
defined the ship as a Potent (which would include animate Agents as well; C HAFE 1970, 109) or as a Force (DIK 1989). In any case,
it is clear that the agency concept presupposes that of animacy, (Y AMAMOTO 2006, 46) and, therefore, inanimate Agents shall not
be allowed for in this thesis: either, they shall be shown to be Patients, or they shall be designated Force (following DIK 1989).
Following the pericope division of Codex Leningradensis, e.g., BHS, and not that of the modern translations.


fact that its active counterpart is also preserved within the same corpus: Leviticus 27:15 reads
and if the one sanctifying it redeems his house. The comparison
between these two verse shows that house occurs as a Patient to the root , and, thus,
should be conceived of as the subject of the passive construction in Leviticus 25:30.
Leviticus 25:39 and 42 both contain a Niphal of the root , whose meaning is
disputed. Either, the Niphal of this root could mean to be sold or to sell oneself. To decide
this issue is very hard, as our knowledge of Ancient Israelite attitudes towards debt, selling,
slavery, and related phenomena, is still largely shrouded in dust.104 Yet perhaps a solution
could be found in comparing other instances of Niphal in Leviticus.105 In Leviticus 27:27,
the forms and have to have passive meaning, as the subject and Patient of these verb
should be the unclean beast. The argument for this lies in the fact that the forms and
are both a Qal active, designating the Agent which also plays a role in the event frame
involving the subsequent Niphal form. Yet is is highly unlikely on a grammatical level that one
and the same Agent would be the subject of both an active and a middle verb at the same
time,106 especially since to redeem appears not to have any particular middle voice
connotation and occurs often as an active verb.107 Therefore, it is assumed that both Niphal
forms occurring in this verse have passive force. The demotion of Agent is only expected here,
as the focus is one the transmission of goods, not on who transmits them (in fact, the active
verbs and have no altogether clear Agents themselves). In Leviticus 27:28, the words
and could, both, have passive force, in which case the mentioned in the beginning
of the verse is the subject of these verbs, or express middle voice, in which case the man
devoting the to the Lord is the subject of these forms. In the following pages, this semantic
domain shall be called medio-passive, that is: the Niphal form could express both middle voice
or passive semantics, and between the two could not be decided. As we have already seen,
verses 23 and 34 of Leviticus 25 point to the middle voice and passive use of Niphal,
respectively. In all these instances, a reflexive meaning of Niphal is excluded, as that would
result in the acceptance of an inanimate Agent.
Now back to Leviticus 25:39, 42. In this verse, the situation differs from all other
instances in Leviticus, as the discussion of whether or not to assume an inanimate Agent
within the Niphal event frame or not, does not play a role: when the Niphal expresses
reflexivity, the poor man himself is the Agent here, when this binyan has passive force, than his

GRNEBERG (2003, 63).

BOYDs analysis (1993) compares the use of Niphal in this verse with that in Nehemia 2:8. This, however, is tricky, as
Nehemia is, or at least could be, somewhat later than Leviticus and, thus, could point to a difficult register or variety of Hebrew.
In fact, in the case of middle voice, it could be wondered if the term Agent would still be applicable. Cf. our discussion above
(pages 225 and page 27, note 27).
Cf., inter alia plurima, in our chapter verses 25, 33, 48, 49.


creditors are. What stands without doubt, however, is the fact that the Patient role is fulfilled
here by the poor man: he is the one being sold, so that a middle voice explanation of these
Niphals (as he sells something for his own benefit) is excluded. As all other instances of
Niphal within the Levitical corpus appear to bear either passive, medio-passive or middle voice
force, and the latter two possibilities are exluded, I would assume that the two instances of
Niphal in Leviticus 25:39, 42 should also be conceived of as passives. That this construction
could occur also with animate subjects and with a demoted Agent, could be argued in light of a
parallel in Isaiah 50:1, which, unlike Nehemia, comes close to the possible date of origin of

look! Because of your
Leviticus 25.108 In this verse, it is said:
guilt you are sold, and because of your transgressions, your mother has been sent away. In this
verse, the Niphal of could only have passive force for the following two reasons. First, it is
clear from the beginning of the verse that God sells the addressed persons to one of his
creditors (which one of my creditors, to whom I have sold you). This automatically puts God
in the Agent role, and the addressed you in that of the Patient. Applied to the Niphal form, it
is clear that the you are the intended grammatical subject of this tense and, thus, that this
form is passive in force.109 Second, the Niphal of occurs parallel to the form /ulle/, which
is a Pual. This latter tense, which related to the Piel, is recognized by all Hebrew grammarians
as explicitly expression passive semantics.110 As these two form occurs in a close parallel
relationship here, it is well conceivable to assume that both express the same semantic
domain, e.g., passivity. The Niphal, then, is used as the basic stem of the root is the Qal,
while the Pual appears to be based on Piel.111
Above, it has been argued that the Niphal of in Leviticus 25:39, 42 expresses passive
semantics rather than reflexive voice.112 The arguments advanced go for the other occurences of
Niphal in relation to the selling of poor people as well. That is to say, the occurrence of the
Niphal of this root in verses 47, 48, and 50 of this same chapter should, to my mind, be
considered as passives as well. These five instances, to my mind, are part of the same semantic

Cf. our criticism towards BOYD (1993) in note 30 above. I tend to date Deutero-Isaiah (Isaiah 4055) to the late exilic period,
rather than to the post-exilic era (pace JNGLING 2004, 444 with, inter alii, DRIVER 1956, 2306). The Holiness Code (Leviticus 17
26), at the same time, appears to show close ties with other late exilic writings, such as Ezekiel, and therefore should be dated at
about the same time. Cf. JOOSTEN (1996, 916), largely basing himself on DRIVER (1956, 14551). The latter proposes a relatively early
date for Leviticus 1726, e.g., early or even pre-exilic (DRIVER 1956, 150). On the exilic date of Ezekiel, cf., inter alii, HOSSFELD (2004,
Pace, most notably, KJV (for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves).
Cf., inter alii, GKC 52b; JM 56.
The root occurs also in the Qal, but only once in the Niphal (Esther 3:13). Yet the Piel of the root appears to have the
particular connotation of sending off, sending away. Cf. BDB, 1019. An elaborate and illustrative analysis can be found in JENNI
(1968, 1939). On the division between actual (aktueller) and resultative (resultativer) verbs, which features prominently in
JENNIs thought, vide also JENNI (1973).
Pace GERSTENBERGER (1993, 371); LAMPARTER (1980, 7071). These commentators, however, translate a reflexive in verse 39, but a
passive in verse 42. This, to my mind, is not entirely convincing, and I would contend that in verses Niphal has the same species.
In other words: the point of verse 42 is not to say that the Israelites may not be sold at all (in my framework, it is sometimes
necessary for the impoverished to be sold), but that thay should not be sold as slaves, as is indeed what is states in verse 39: you
shall not work slave-work with him.


network dealing with the being sold of poor people, and the possibilites of their redemption by
family members or, when possible, by themselves (verses 4849; cf. the discussion below). The
passive value or species113 of the Niphal within this semantic network and its implications for
the conceptualization of this network has been arrived at solely on linguistic grounds. It
should be borne in mind, however, that more elaborate research on the socio-cultural aspects
of slaverly and poverty in Ancient Israel could change our picture.114 Our knowledge of these
aspects being limited, this linguistic analysis may be a first step towards our understanding of
the usage of the Niphal within this chapter of the Hebrew Bible.
Two more instances of Niphal, both of the root , are yet to be discussed. Perhaps the
most interesting one occurs in Leviticus 25:49. The form has often been interpreted as
expressing reflexive semantics, and has been the basis for the idea that Ancient Israelite slaves,
when having become wealthy, could redeem themselves from slavery.115 Yet when comparing
other usages of Niphal throughout the Hebrew Bible, it appears that its species is almost
always passive.116 However, from still another point of view, it could be envisioned how the root
to repurchase could fit in with the same category as verbs like to acquire or to take for
oneself, e.g. with the category of indirect or benefactive middle voice. It is, thus, here that our
definition comes to play a deciding role. As regards the first focus point of our definition, e.g.,
the occurrence of coreference within a single event frame, it appears that Leviticus 25:49 does
indeed correspond to this focus point. In itself, the form provides a single event frame,
whose thematic roles are all implicit in the verbal tense employed. The context in which the
form occurs, is a commandment which describes how a poor man, being sold to a or
, could be redeemed or repurchased ( )by a member of his familiy, either one of his
brother, or an uncle, or a nephew, or some other member of his familiy. At the end of this
summary, the last possibility is stated: if he is prosperous, .'117 In light of this context, it
could be clearly stated that the instigator of the action is of major importance here: after all,
this is what the commandment is about: who may redeem the sold family member. Thus, a
demoted Agent is hard, if not impossible, to conceive of in this context, and a Passive
explanation of this Niphal is discarded. Furthermore, the context clearly demands for a
translation he redeems himself, e.g., attests to coreference, so that the choice is now between
reflexive or middle voice semantics as an explanation for this Niphal.


On this use of the term species, cf. BENTON (2009, 28), who, in his turn, is influenced by WOC 23.1g.
After all, our judgment on the participant roles at play within a given event frame is partially determined by our knowledge of
the real world. Cf. CREASON (1995, 3678).
Cf., inter alii, GERSTENBERGER (1993, 372); GKC 51.2; HIERS (2009, 198); LAMPARTER (1980, 71); M URPHY (1872, 296); NEGEV and
GIBSON (2001, 473) and SIEBESMA (1991, 35).
Cf. our analysis of Leviticus 27:27, 28 above, and furthermore Leviticus 27:33 and Isaiah 52:3.
On the translation of Hiphil + as being prosperous, cf. BDB, 673, sub 3.


Yet translations into English are not a good basis for determining the species of the
Niphal binyan within its various contexts, as is now commonly accepted among Hebrew
linguists.118 Thus, a language-universal definition of what exactly distinguishes middle voice
semantics from reflexive semantics should be arrived at. Above, I have aimed at positing such a
defenition by referring to the different distributions of thematic roles within middle voice and
reflexive event frames, as has now become commonplace within studies on middle and
reflexive semantics.119 The second focus point of our definition includes the two participant
roles Agent and Patient (or Experiencer and Stimulus) as occurring in a reflexive event frame.
Accordingly, event frames in which coreference occurs not between Agent and Patient or
Experiencer and Stimulus, but in which some kind of coreference could be conceptualized in
relation to, for instance, a Dative or Actor, cannot be deemed reflexive, but are middle voices.
This poses the question as to what distinguishes an Agent or Experiencer on the one hand
from an Actor. As has been suggested above, an Agent-Patient relationship is characterized by
a certain movement from the Agent towards the Patient, e.g., by the Agent executing an action
on a Patient. Alternatively, an Actor occurs as the only participant role in a middle event frame
and is characterized by its being both the instigator of and the individual affected by the action
described within the event frame. As a consequence of this conception of the Actor, middle
voice event frames almost always have a reflexive connotation.120
This point could be further illustrated by advancing the two event schemas developed
by KEMMER (1993, 71) for the reflexive and middle voice. In order to illustrate my point, I give
an examplary sentence for each event frame:


The direct reflexive event schema


he hits himself she loves herself


Cf., most notably, BOYD (1993), who accuses Hebraists with Dutch, French or German as their mother tongue of not having
taken enough notion of possible middle voice semantics related to the Niphal. Of course, he is right, and the exact same
accusation could be made towards Hebraists with English as their mother tongue. After all, neither of these four languages are
middle-marking in a strict sense (cf. the various examples provided throughout KEMMER 1993).
Cf. the definitions by BOYD (1993) and KEMMER (1993).
For these ideas, cf. already pages 225 above, and the notes.


The middle event schema121



he reveals himself or he appears

The two event schemas above quickly provide an overview of the theoretical background laid
out above, which serves the distinction between Agent/Experiencer or Actor. In the case of an
Agent, the action executed by this Agent is direct towards a Patient who undergoes it. An
Experiencer occurs with verbs describing a mental experience, like love, hate, etc. These
event frames are closely related to those of the so-called emotion middle (KEMMER 1993, 18),
but they are not conceived of as middle voice semantics, mainly because they are not marked
as such in two-form system languages.122 An Actor, on the other hand, is the one who performs
an action in which he or she is engaged entirely: there is not movement, no direction, within
the action, but the action is performed by one and the same person (hence the coreference
which is often considered for this kind of event frames) not only on him or herself, but at the
same time with her or himself. This latter characteristic of the Actor role is considered the
main feature of middle voice semantics: that the instigator of an action is at the same time
immediately effected by it (cf. KEMMER 1993, 5374).
Now back to Leviticus 25:49. As stated before, the situation here deals with a slave, or
at least a poor man who has been sold to a non-Israelite. Apart from being redeemed from his
slavery by a family member, this poor man has the opportunity, when he is not poor anymore,
to redeem himself. This redeeming himself is, clearly, not an action which is initiated by the
poor man himself and directed towards himself (Agent-Patient relationship), neither








Alternatively, the redeeming himself of the slave is something in which the poor man is
involved entirely, e.g., it is an action not only initiated by him and directed towards him, but
undertaken with his entire mind and body. Furthermore, it is clear that the man has some
benefit in redeeming himself, so that it could be stated that he does not so much redeem
himself, but, instead, that he redeems for his own good. In this light, the poor man

Classified by KEMMER (1993, 71) as the body action middle event schema, but, to my mind, this event schema conveniently
represents almost all middle voice event frames.
For instance, cf. Latins middle-marked verbs irascor (to be angry) and laetor (to be happy) over against amo (to love), odi
(to hate; perfectum tantum, but not middle-marked).


redeeming himself should, to my mind, be conceived of as an Actor rather than an Agent, and
the Niphal of here attests to an indirect or benefactive middle rather than to reflexive
semantics.123 It should be remarked here, however, that the classification of certain roots and
binyanim within the middle semantic domain is often subject to discussion. Regarding this
root and binyan, it would be equally possible to categorize it as a change of state middle.124 It
should, of course, be borne in mind that the various classes or types of middle voice semantics
distinguished in studies on the subject such as FAGAN (1992), KEMMER (1993), and MANNEY
(1998) are merely attempts to categorize the evidence, and not basic semantic categories. What
is important to our point, however, is the contention that Niphal in Leviticus 25:49 does
not express reflexive semantics even though the form is regularly adduced as evidence for
this but middle voice.
The last case to be discussed is, again, a Niphal of the root , which occurs in
Leviticus 25:54. As this form occurs at the end of the pericope dealing with the purchase and
repurchase of a poor man sold to a non-Israelite,125 it appears to be intrinsically related to the
preceding case of Niphal in verse 49, and this relationship has semantic consequences. As
we have seen, in verse 49, it is the poor man himself who redeems himself from his slavery,
even though others could have done so as well. Subsequenly, verses 5054 contain
commandments as regards the fee for paying off the slavery of the poor man, introduced by a
3rd sg. masculine Piel of : and he shall reckon [...] Then, our verse reads: If he does not
by/with these () , he shall go out in the year of the jubilee. Basically, there are two
possibilites for explaining this verbal tense. First, the commonest explanation conceives of the
for as bearing a passive nuance, with the poor man being the verbs subject and Patient.126
In that case, the clause would refer either to the mans family members (indicating Agent)
or to the fees prescribed in the verses 5054 (indicating Instrument).127 A second possibility is
only rarely found in secondary literature on this, but, to my mind, makes sense within the
context of this pericope. That is, the Niphal of would here have exactly the same meaning
as it has in verse 49, e.g., that of an indirect middle voice. In this case, the 3rd person sg.
introducing verse 50 could not refer to whoever wants to buy off the poor man from slavery,

Pace, inter alii, GRNEBERG (2003, 623) and SIEBESMA (1991, 35). GRNEBERG goes as far as stating that this use of the niphal (i.e.,
as an indirect middle voice, PBH) was thus presumably not productive, occurring only in the case of a few particular verbs (2003,
47), but I do not agree with this conclusion, which is, to my mind, based on too scanty a basis. GKC 51.2 and JM 51c cite the
root as an example of the passive Niphal, and, thus, would possibly, not read reflexive voice here either. Yet they,
unfortunately, do not recognize the middle species of the Niphal in this verse.
On this type of middle voices, vide MANNEY (1998, 41). An analysis of change of state middles, dynamic middle voice, and
stative middle voices, can be found below on pages 4554.
Again following the verse divisions of BHS, even though there is no petucha or setuma between verse 54 and 55 here.
Cf. LAMPARTER (1980, 71); MURPHY (1872, 296) and SIEBESMA (1991, 35).
On the participant role Instrument, cf. GIVN (2001, 107). This role is not recognised by HAEGEMAN (2003). Only seldom is the
choice for either one of the possibilites made explicit in translation, as by these could indicate both Agent and Instrument. The
translation of LAMPARTER (1980, 71) is a notable exception: Falls er aber nicht auf diese Weise ausgelost wird []


but to the case in which the man redeems himself, and stipulates how much he has to earn,
e.g., how proseperous his hand should be (cf. verse 49) in order to be able to do so. The
prepositional phrase in verse 54 would then refer to the fees prescriped in the preceding
verses, and verse 54a could be translated as: if he does not redeem himself by these (fees)
[...]. Deciding between these two possibilities appears to be very hard, if not impossible, and
therefore I would define this usage of Niphal as an illustrative case of medio-passive
On the basis of our discussion of all the occurrences of the Niphal binyan of the roots
and in Leviticus 25, the following conclusion seems warranted, that, at least within this
chapter, Niphal never expresses semantic direct reflexivity, not even in Leviticus 25:49, a verse
which has been adduced as evidence for reflexive Niphal in various studies.129 Rather, most
Niphals in this chapter bear plain passive sense. Some express middle voice or have been
identified as medio-passive, but these instances are rare.130 Reasoning from semantics, it could
be assumed, on the basis of the above analysis, that the instances of the Niphal of , which is
an exact synonym of ,131 expresses either passive or middle voice, but never reflexive,
semantics, just as Niphal.132 In the next subparagraph, it is investigated whether or not this
picture arising from Leviticus 25 is representative for the situation encountered within Biblical
Hebrew in general.

Niphal and Indirect Middle Voice

Apart from the Niphal of the roots and in Leviticus 25, other occurrences of the Niphal
binyan throughout the Hebrew Bible have also been related to reflexive semantics. However, a
trend is discernible in modern-day treatments of the reflexive Niphal, which has come to
downplay the importance of the Niphals reflexive connotation, and has conceded that the
relationship between this binyan and reflexive semantics occurs only rarely, if at all. A notable
exception is BADEN, who holds that the existence of the reflexive usage of the niphal is wellattested and universally acknowledged (2010, 35). Others before BADEN, however, have already
shown, to my mind rather convincingly that the Hebrew niphal is rarely a semantic direct
reflexive (GRNEBERG 2003, 65) or have denied the existence of a reflexive Niphal altogether


On my definition of medio-passive semantics, cf. page 28 above (ad Leviticus 27:28).

Cf. note 40 above.
In Leviticus 25, two forms have been designated an indirect middle voice (verses 23 and 49), and one a medio-passive (verse 54).
On the other hand, passive voices occurs seven times within this chapter.
Cf. BDB, 804.
Pace Grneberg (2003, 645), who holds that Niphal could be reflexive (2003, 64).


(BOYD 1993).133 In the following subparagraphs, various illustrative occurrences of the Niphal,
which have been advanced as evidence in favour of its reflexive usage, are discussed.
Possibly the most common root whose Niphal has been related to reflexive semantics is
to guard, in the Niphal conveniently to guard oneself.134 As regards it meaning, this use
of the Niphal has been compared to the Greek verb , the morphological middle
voice of to guard, usually translated to be on ones guard.135 The Niphal of this
Hebrew root occurs 37 times throughout the Hebrew Bible., of which a notable 13 times in the
book of Deuteronomy. Apart from reflexive semantics, Niphal has been described as to
express passivity; cf., for instance, Psalms 37:28, which is has rightfully be considered a case of
a passive Niphal of by WOC 23.2.2e. Yet also WOC accept the overall reflexive
connotation of Niphal, when they state that
amost always signifies to guard oneself
[] ( 23.4c).
A possible solution to the question whether or not Niphal could be conceived of as
expressing direct reflexivity could perhaps be found in the rather frequent construction

, which occurs 15 times throughout the Pentateuch, and is often translated as take heed to
yourself.136 From both a syntactic and a semantic viewpoint, this construction is of interest,
and the participant role attributed to the prepositional phrase is pivotal to ones
understanding of the Niphal here. Those grammarians wishing to attribute direct reflexive
meaning to Niphal have accounted for the occurrence of this prepositional phrase by
stating that it adds an indirect reflexive nuance, which may roughly be equivalent to some
reflexive verbal nuance (JM 133d) or assuming that it serves to convey the impression on the
part of the speaker or author that the subject establishes his own identity, recovering or
finding his own place by determinedly dissociating himself from his familiar surrounding
(MURAOKA 1978, 497). What is exactly meant by these statements, is not immediately clear,
and a closer look at the usage of this dativus commodi or incommodi is called for.137
Direct reflexivity stands or falls with Agent-Patient coreference. In cases where Hebrew
verbal tenses are suspected to reflect reflexive semantics, Agent and Patient are not usually
made explicit, but are implied in the verbal tense. For instance, a verbal form like ( 2
Samuel 17:23; on which, see below) could be translated as he hanged himself, even if neither
Agent nor Patient are represented morphologically other than by verbal inflections.

Cf. GZELLA (2009a, 305), who states that most of the allegedly reflexive N-forms referred to in various traditional grammars can
be analysed as agentless middles according to a more sophisticated framework []. The difference in opinion between GRNEBERG
and BADEN is also referred to by VAN DER KOOIJ (2010), 373, who does not appear to have any particular preference for either one of
these attitudes towards the study of the Hebrew verbal stems.
Vide BDB, 1037; JM 51; GKC 51.2; EWALD (1863, 326), 123b.
A comparison between the Hebrew and Greek is drawn by GKC and EWALD (references in the preceding note).
Genesis 24:6, 31:24, 29, Exodus 10:28, 19:12, 34:12, Deut 4:9, 23, 6:12, 8:11, 11:16, 12:13, 19, 30, 15:9.
On the terms dativus commodi and incommodi, which, to my mind, are acceptable, but should not be related to reflexive
semantics, cf. JM 133d; WOC 11.2.10d; GKC 119s.


Accordingly, in order for Niphal to express direct reflexivity, the prepositional lamedphrase is entirely superfluous, since
would already mean: guard yourself. Furthermore,
Genesis 12:1 ( )goes to show that the lamed-construction could, in this kind of clauses, not
refer to the object or Patient of the verb in the imperative. It is assumed that, as regards this
particular lamed-phrase, there is no difference between transitive and intransivity verbs, and,
moreover, that, had the prepositional phrase referred to the Patient of the verb in the
imperative, it would only be employed with transitive verbs.138 This argument alone goes to
show that a construction like
could not express direct reflexivity, and the contention
that this lamed-construction strengthens the reflexive nuance of an already reflexive Niphal
should be discarded.139
What, then, does the combination of a Niphal imperative and a prepositional lamedphrase express? At first instance, indirect reflexivity appears to be a nice way out (cf. English
he bought himself a book). Yet here another problem comes to the fore, which, in this case,
does have to do with the transitive nature of the verb . Namely, if the prepositional phrase
expresses the Beneficiary in an indirect object clause, then this Beneficiary is presumably not
implied within the verb tense. Hence,
does, in this scenario, not mean to buy for oneself
anymore, but comes to mean to buy, whereby the Benificiary is exemplified in the lamedphrase. In this case, however, the still-transitive Niphal of would demand to govern an
object or Patient, and verses like Genesis 24:6, 31:24, Exodus 10:28 et alii go to sufficiently show
that an object or Patient is often absent in clauses in which Niphal in the imperative is
found together with a lamed-phrase of the above kind.
Instead of relating the lamed-phrase construction as it has been discussed above, with
reflexive semantics, I would contend that this kind of prepositional phrase exemplifies the
participant role of Beneficiary within an indirect or beneficiary middle voice event frame.140
The subject of
does, then, not fulfill the role of Agent, executing an action on himself,
but of Actor, initiating an action of which he himself is also part. I would suggest, furthermore,
to ascribe to cases in which Niphal is not followed by a lamed-construction, indirect


That there is no difference between transitive and intransitive verbs here is implicitly suggested by JM 133d, who treat in one
paragraph the constructions and
as exactly the same phenomena.
Pace JM 133d and MEYER (1992, 427), 110.
One might counter that, in Biblical Hebrew, the Qal tense is never related to middle voice, so that, when employing a lamedphrase as in Genesis 12:1, this could not possibly reflect middle semantics. This argumentation, however, is not valid for the
following two reasons. First, reflexivity is as much related to the Qal tense as is middle voice, and still, the dativus commodi in
is frequent related to reflexive semantics (in JM 133d, for instance). Second, from a universal semantic point of view, verbs
related to walking and going are, in many languages around the world, middle marked (KEMMER 1993, 18). Admittedly, explicit
middle marking does not occur with the root in Hebrew (though perhaps the Hithpael provides a clue here), but, in any
case, it appears that some connotation of middle voice is not altogether unexpected with this root, even in the Qal. Cf. also Psalm
109:23, the only instance in which Niphal is employed, and where this usage appears to reflect middle voice (of translational
motion), just as the parallel Niphal to shake, which could be an emotion middle or even a nontranslational motion middle
voice (cf. KEMMER 1993, 178).


middle voice meaning too.141 The two constructions, either with or without prepositional frase,
are then synonyms of one another, the difference between them perhaps being one of register,
although this remains tentative.142 Other possibilities are advanced by JENNI (2000, 4853). This
author also conceives of the lamed + pronominal suffix as an exemplification of the
Benefactor.143 This exemplification or Aktualisation, according to JENNI, has consequences for
the semantics of the sentence as a whole, as it now comes to refer particularly to x in seiner
aktuellen Situation (JENNI 2000, 49), where x is the subject of the verse. This aktuelle
Situation could be either local (whence the ingressive connotation with verbs of movement) or
temporal. JENNI may well be right in his observations, but they are not conclusive. Of the 24
occurences of Niphal imperative, 15 occur with prepositional lamed and 9 occur without it.
It is remarkable that the 15 occurences with lamed are all found in the Pentateuch,144 while the
other 9 instances are scattered throughout the Hebrew Bible. 145 No minimal pairs are found
which could illustrate the semantic connotation expressed by the lamed. In fact, it is hard to
determine why, for instance, Exodus 23:21 would not contain the lamed, while all other
instances from the book of Exodus do. The same goes for the book of Deuteronomy and
Deuteronomy 24:8. Comparative investigations may shed more light on this issue, even though
a comparison with constructions as in Genesis 12:1 is probably problematic, due to the
different semantic features of the verbs. On the basis of the above evidence, however, is seems
only possible to tentatively suggest that the Pentatuech displays a preference for the
construction with lamed, while the rest of the Hebrew Bible does not. This may suggest that
style does play a role here, but this remains hypothetical. All this, of course, stands beside the
passive use of Niphal, which is also at play within Biblical Hebrew.146 In any case, I would
hypothesize that, in general, Niphal could not express direct (nor indirect) reflexivity, but
that cases in which direct reflexive semantics have been related to this root and binyan, they
should be reevaluated as middle voice phenomena. As a translation, to watch out or to be
careful covers this middle voice meaning well.147
Apart from the Niphal of the root , which has been given much attention above, the
Niphals of the roots and , according to GRNEBERG (2003, 467), provide the only two

Cf. the judgment of GRNEBERG (2003, 46), who advances this root as part of a list of niphals expressing something one might
typically do for ones own benefit.
In the introduction, we have allowed for this kind of morpho-syntactic variation and explained its status. Cf. sentences 3a3d on
page 8.
To be precise, JENNI (2000, 49) speaks of die Aktualisation des Subjekts. What JENNI calls Aktualisation has been dubbed
exemplification by me, and the two terms could be employed interchangeably. However, JENNIs choice for the term Subjekt is
perhaps not altogether fitting, as the employment of this term blurs the semantic features of a particular sentence. Thus, I retain
my habit of speaking in semantic roles rather than grammatical categories. Cf. also page 4, note 4.
Genesis 24:6, 31:24, 29, Exodus 10:28, 19:12, 34:12, Deuteronomy 4:9, 23, 6:12, 8:11, 11:16, 12:13, 19, 30, 15:9.
Exodus 23:21, Deuteronomy 24:8, Judges 13:4, 1 Samuel 19:2, 2 Kings 6:9, Job 36:21, Isaiah 7:4, Jeremiah 9:3, 17:21.
Cf. GRNEBERG (2003, 46).
Cf. GZELLA (2009a, 3056), who rightly puts what I have also come across in my analysis, namely, that in this respect, the
standard grammars are outdated.


other instances of indirect or benefactive middle voice in Biblical Hebrew. Even though the
isolated instances in Leviticus 25, which have been identified as indirect middle voices by me
above, suggest that, in particular loci, an indirect middle connotation may occur even in
relation to roots which are not a priori related to this semantic domain, I tend to accept the
rest of GRNEBERGs theory, namely, that also the occurrences of the root and , where
they are not passive, should be conceived of as expressing middle voice.148 They have parallels
in several languages, such as Turkish edin and Old Norse /eignask/, both meaning to acquire,
and Hungarian kredzked-, meaning to request (KEMMER 1993, 17). Furthermore, GRNEBERG
(2003, 46) suggests that the the Niphal of the root could also express benefactive middle
voice, and this suggestion I tend to embrace.
A few illustrative examples may complete this discussion. Genesis 22:13 reads And
Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold: a ram. After he had taken it ( ) from the
bushes ( ) on the altar, Abraham went to take the ram and he offered it as a burnt-offering
instead of his son. In spite of GRNEBERGs remark that the niphal of is passive at Gen
22:13 (2003, 46), I would argue for interpreting this case of Niphal as a case of indirect
middle voice. Assuming that the ram is the subject and Patient of this verbal form does, to my
mind, make little sense, as the entire story is about Abraham and him alone, and, he is the
grammatical subject both the preceding and the following clause. Abraham, thus, is the Actor
of the Niphal of , which reflects indirect middle voice here. The meaning to take
possessions is also apparent in Genesis 34:10, 47:27, and other loci (cf. KJV). The locus classicus
for middle voice related to the Niphal of , which occurs only 5 times, of which 4 times
within the same narrative, is 1 Samuel 20:6, 28. In these verses, it is clearly David who is the
subject of the sentence and asks something to Jonathan: so, this Niphal cannot possibly be
either passive or reflexive. Rather, David asks Jonathan to inquire what Saul thinks of David for
his own benefit, which allows us to conceive, also here of this Niphal as expressing middle
voice.149 Note that, also with Qal, indirect middle could be expressed by a prepositional
ask for yourself.150

Motion and Body Posture Middles and the Curious Case of Niphal
A particular class of middle voice situation types is that in which the body of an Actor is
explictly involved. Under this heading, three of KEMMERs (1993, 178) categories of middle
voice may be subsumed, e.g., nontranslational (to stretch, to turn) and translational motion

As with all roots discussed here, the passive meaning is attested throughout the Hebrew Bible and is at work next to the middle
voice semantics expressed by these same forms. Cf. GRNEBERG (2003, 467).
Cf. GRNEBERG (2003, 467).
2 Kings 4:3. Cf. JM 133d.


(to go, to climb up) middles and middles of change in body posture, also called self-move
middles (to sit down, to get up).151 In this subparagraph, two of these three categories of
middle voice are discussed, and shown to have been actively at work in Biblical Hebrew. From
the category of nontranslational motion, no examples have been adduced as evidence for
reflexive Niphal in the grammars consulted, so that this category remains undiscussed for
Most illustrative with regard to change in body posture middles or self-move middle
voices is perhaps the root , which is a deponent and means to lean. It not hard to
conceptualize this form as a middle voice, in which the subject fulfills the semantic role of
Actor rather than Agent (after all, the thing on which is leaned could hardly be called a Patient
as such). Therefore, this particular form should not be conceived of as a reflexive.153 A parallel
may be found in the Greek deponent , which translates the Hebrew root in Numbers
21:15 LXX. In fact, Greek to lie down and its derived verbs all belong to this same class of
change in body posture middle voices.
The category of translational motion middle voice contains more verbs whose Niphal
usage has been considered reflexive previously. Numbers 22:25 provies the only locus for the
Niphal of . In this verse, the she-ass on which Bileam rode, saw an angel of the Lord
standing on the road, and to the wall. This Niphal of has often been conceived of as
expressing reflexive semantics, and translated accordingly.154 Yet I would contend that this
verb, of which the unmarked stem, Qal or G, means to press or to oppress and is a transitive
verb, belongs in the same category as other change in motion and body posture middle voices,
and that the subject of its Niphal is to be conceived of as an Actor performing an action on
himself in which he himself and his body are involved.155 The same goes for and , which
have been categorized by GRNEBERG (2003, 50) as verbs of separation. Of interest is the
occurrence of Niphal in relation to the cloud travelling with the Israelites in the desert. In
Exodus 40:36, it says and with the of the cloud from the tabernacle, the Israelites went
on. And, again in the following verse 37: But if the cloud did not , they would not go up to
the day of its . These occurrences of Niphal have almost always been understood as
reflecting passive semantics. Yet it is highly unlikely that the cloud () , which is indeed the
grammatical subject of all three occurences of Niphal, is also the Patient of this verb: after
all, never is any Agent mentioned which could make the cloud go up, while, in contrast, the

This is the term preferred by BENTON (2009) and GRNEBERG (2003). Both terms are used interchangeably within this thesis.
Further discussion of this category may be found in BOYD (1993, 1167).
Pace JM 51c. Their translation to support oneself should be discarded in favour of to lean. Both translations are given in BDB,
Cf. GKC 51.2.
Cf. GRNEBERG (2003, 501).


cloud itself occurs in an Agent, or in any case Actor, role in Exodus 40:35, when it says: for the
cloud rested upon it (
). Thus, I suggest to take the cloud as the Actor of
Niphal in verses 36 and 37 as well, and conceive of them a translational motion middles, which,
rather unexpectedly, have an inanimate Actor here.
As the last clear category of motion middles, the verbs related to hiding oneself need
discussion. The Niphal of the roots and have in various contexts been identified as
reflexive Niphals,156 but this contention now appears to be in need of revision. GRNEBERG
(2003) rightly points out that, also in English, the verb hiding acts in exactly the same way as
the verb washing, the latter now almost universally being accepted as a case of middle voice,
in that it is faulty English to say: I hid myself. Thus, BADEN (2010, 36), when translating
Niphal in Genesis 3:10, nicely has: I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid. As hiding is,
again, something, which is not done by someone to someone (it could be done to something),
but involves an action in which the entire person has a role, the subject of these verbs of hiding
should be interpreted as an Actor rather than an Agent, and the verbs reflect middle voice
semantics. One special case deserves to be mentioned here, which is Qal. As we have
already seen, some verbs semantically prone to belong to the middle domain could employ
middle voice semantics even in binyanim not directly related to middle voice.157 Indeed this is
the case with also, which, in the Qal, is almost passim used transitively, but in Proverbs 1:11
and 18 occurs with a middle connotation.158
The Niphal of the root , which occurs solely in 2 Samuel 17:23, appears to pose
particularly grave problems to theologians and Biblical Hebrew linguists alike. Even those who
are sceptical about the reflexive Niphal regularly allow for this locus to provide one of the rare
instances, perhaps even the only one, of this phenomenon, and interpret it as meaning
hanging oneself.159 I have decided to discuss this particular problem here, because, if this verb
could indeed be conceived of as a middle voice, it would most probably be a motion middle.
Also for this verb, it could be stated that the subject of the verb is to be perceived of as an
Actor rather than an Agent, even though the semantic value of this verb comes very close to
doing something to someone, which would suggest an Agent-Patient relationship within this
event frame. Thus, the main argument for conceiving of this verb as expressing middle voice, to
which opinion I tend, would be the absence of any convincing case of reflexive Niphals in other

GKC 51.2; EWALD (1863, 326), 123; BADEN (2010, 36). To be sure, B ADEN only explicitly makes the point that the Niphal and
Hithpael of the root apparently bear witness to the same meaning. Yet the subtitle of the paragraph in which this observation
occurs (Reflexive Niphal), appears to be indicative of his intentions.
Cf. the case of Qal and
above (notes 62 and 69).Cf. also M ANNEYs observation that active inflected verbs also occur
in all three of the above-mentioned semantic classes (i.e., the three semantic classes together comprising the middle voice domain,
PBH) (1998, 41).
Cf. GZELLA (2009a, 295) for this case and other instances of the same phenomenon.
Cf. GRNEBERG (2003, 634) and GZELLA (2009a, 305, note 32).


loci throughout the Hebrew Bible. Furthermore, KEMMER (1993, 169, 175, note 123) provide an
additional argument, namely, that verbs associated with committing suicide appear to occupy
some status in between middle voice and reflexivity. She cites STIMM (1973, 13), who provides the
following sentence from Surselvan: s-ha l pandieu he has hanged himself, which is middle
marked (se), but occurs in a potential direct reflexive situation (KEMMER 1993, 175).
Furthermore, in note 123 Kemmer refers to the Greek , the morphological middle of
to strangle, which means to hang oneself. To my mind, the semantic distribution
between the middle marked and non-marked verbal form as it occurs in Greek could well be
projected into Hebrew, which would then suggest to conceive of Niphal as a middle voice
rather than a reflexive. A translation to die by strangling rather than to strangle oneself or to
hang oneself would, in this case, be more fit, thus leaving open the possibility of the suicidal
connotation for this root and binyan.

Emotion Middle Voice and Emotive and Other Speech Actions

Three classes within middle voice semantics are taken together in this subparagraph. These are
KEMMERs (1993, 189) classes of emotion middle (be angry, grieve), emotive speech actions
(complain, lament) and other speech actions (confess, boast). In her class of emotion
middles, KEMMER includes verbs describing an emotional reaction (1993, 18). This category of
middle voice probably accounts for the Niphal forms of to be angry, which occur thrice in
the Hebrew Bible.160 A clearer case of emotion middle is provided by Niphal. The Qal of this
root is a transitive verb meaning to cause pain, to hurt, while the Niphal could best be
explained as an emotion middle meaning to be hurt.161 BADENs (2010, 36) example from Daniel
2:3 also points to emotion middle voice. Here, the root occurs both in the Niphal and the
Hithpael, but should not be analyzed as reflexives. The most illustrative case of the category of
emotive speech action middles is the root , which is a deponent, e.g., occurs only in the
Niphal, and means to groan.162 Another root probably beloning to this class is Niphal. The
Piel of this verb is most commonly employed in the sense to comfort, while the Niphal usually
means to repent (cf. Genesis 6:6, 7). This meaning is, obviously, connected with ones emotions,
and this usage of the Niphal could well be categorized under either emotion middle or emotive
speech action middle voice.163


Canticles 1:6, Isaiah 41:11, 45:24.

Vide Genesis 45:5, 1 Samuel 20:3, 34, 2 Samuel 19:3, Nehemia 8:10, 11, Ecclesiastes 10:9.
The root occurs in Exodus 2:23, Isaiah 24:7, Jeremiah 22:23, Ezekiel 9:4, 21:11, 12, Joel 1:18, Proverbs 29:2, Lamentations 1:4, 8, 11, 21.
On its middle voice semantic character, cf. GZELLA (2009a, 306).
Cf. Latin misereor to pity and the remarks by GRNEBERG (2003, 55) and GZELLA (2009a, 306).


Better represented is the class of other speech actions. Within KEMMERs analysis, this
category appears to serve as a rest category, in which middle-marked speech actions are taken
together, even though most of them have what KEMMER calls emotional overtones (1993, 19).
The Niphal of the root occurs four times in the Hebrew Bible.164 In three of these instances,
e.g., Psalms 119:23, Ezekiel 33:30, and Malachi 3:13, the usage of this root and binyan is similar,
and have a negative connotation which may well be interpreted as KEMMERs emotional
overtone. The prepositions employed (either or )appears to give to the clauses in which
Niphal occurs, the meaning of to speak against. These verses seem to sufficiently testify to the
usage of Niphal as expressing speech action middle voice.165 To my mind, there is no need to
interpret all instances of Niphal as expressing reciprocal semantics.166 Yet it certainly appears
that this verbal form in Malachi 3:16 does express a reciprocal idea. In Hebrew, this semantic
category is expressed by means of a type of descriptive phrase: a man speaks to his neighbour,
and this is the construction employed in Malachi 3:16 as well.167 The usage of Niphal has
already been discussed above, and has been categorized as a type of indirect (benefactive)
reflexive.168 Yet, naturally, this verb could also be classified as speech action middle voice. In any
case, it appears that the two instances of to answer Niphal ( I in BDB, 773) in Ezekiel 14:4,
7 should be conceived of as an other speech action middle voice. The other instances of the
Niphal of this root in Job 11:2, 19:7 and Proverbs 21:13 appear to represent passive semantics.
Morphologically identical forms, e.g., Niphals of the root to humble ( III in BDB, 776),
either represent passive semantics or change of body posture middle voices, even though these
latter could be interpreted figuratively. That is to say, the verb to humble or III could
originally have indicated a change in body posture, but could also be employed for the attitude
behind this change in posture. As such, III Niphal is employed both for denoting middle
voice, thus meaning humbling oneself or being modest (Exodus 10:3), and for expressing
passivity, thus meaning to be humbled or to be afflicted (Psalms 119:107, Isaiah 53:7, 58:10).169
Lastly, the verb to swear occurs almost exclusively in the Niphal, and also belongs to the
category of speech action middles, even though its etymology is unclear.170


Psalms 119:23, Ezekiel 33:30, Malachi 3:13, 16.

Pace EWALD (1863, 327), 123b, who defines this usage as reflexive.
Pace GRNEBERG (2003, 478), who cites Ezekiel 33:30 as an illustrative example.

Cf. pages 378 above.
Cf. the analysis of GRNEBERG (2003, 50), who refers, in his turn, to B OYD (1993, 2107). GKC 51.2 had listed the Niphal of the
root as a case of semantic reflexivity.
The only exception is Ezekiel 21:18, which has a Qal.



Body Grooming Middle Voice

One last category deserves attention here, and this constitutes verbs dealing with personal
grooming. As this is the class most commonly mistaken for true semantic reflexives, they deserve
special discussion, even though Niphal occurrences from this class appears to be rather illrepresented within the Biblical Hebrew corpus.171 Yet from a universal linguistics perspective it is
hardly possible to accept GRNEBERGs (2003, 48) suggestion that the verbs of grooming could be
analyzed as reflexive, due to their scant distribution within Biblical Hebrew. Three examples are
mentioned here. First, GRNEBERG (2003, 48) is right in his contention that Niphal, which
occurs only in Psalms 65:7, could be included in this category of middle voices. From loci in
which this verb occurs in the Qal, it seems clear that its meaning should come close to to gird
(transitive). The Niphal would then mean to gird oneself, which comes closes in meaning to to
dress. Second, Niphal could have the meaning to undress. GRNEBERG (2003, 48) supports
this contention with references. It should be remarked here, however, that, due to the various
meanings often assumed for the Qal of this same verb, the meaning of this verb in the Niphal
could also vary. For instance, in Genesis 35:7, Deuteronomy 29:28 and other loci, Niphal
should mean to be uncovered, in the sense of: to be revealed, and could well have passive
semantic value.172
Lastly, Jeremiah 16:6 deserves special discussion. In his analysis of this verse, BADEN (2010,
36) argues that the semantic value of Niphal is determined here by the semantic value of the
preceding Hithpael, or Hithpolel, . As BADEN tones down the importance of passive
semantics in relation to the Hithpael binyan (2010, 345) and rightfully so ,173 he does not
allow for the Niphal to bear passive meaning here, either, and concludes that we should read it,
with virtually all modern translations, as reflexive (2010, 36). Yet I would contend that this
particular case of Niphal is also related to grooming or body care, and that the subject of this
verb should be visualized as an Actor rather than an Agent, and that not only in the Niphal, but
also in Qal and Hiphil.174 After all, the verb, also in the Qal, never takes a real Patient, but only
takes as its grammatical subject baldness, but does include a thematic role on which the
action is performed ( Leviticus 21:5 and in Ezekiel 37:31). In light of this, I would concur
with GRNEBERG (2003, 48), when he treats Niphal as a grooming middle verb.


GRNEBERG (2003, 48).

Although the verbs of appearing, such as Niphal and Niphal could also be conceived of as middle voice dealing with
spontaneous events (KEMMER 1993, 19).
Cf. the similar remark by GRNEBERG (2003, 194) that the hithpael in general is rarely passive.
The Qal of this verb is found in Leviticus 21:5 and Micah 1:16. The Hiphil is found in Ezekiel 27:31 and the Hophal in Ezekiel
29:18. The fact that Ezekiel employs a Hiphil where Leviticus and Micah use a Qal and Jeremiah employs a Niphal, where the three
binyanim appear to have the same meaning, could be attributed to a difference in style, but this, of course, remains highly
hypothetical. On this phenomenon, vide GZELLA (2009a, 306), who rightfully states that the variation may express a subtle
difference hard to individuate without a substantial body of evidence or the intuition of a native speaker.


Reflections and Conclusions

Above, many cases of Niphal have been discussed. In these discussions, most attention have been
paid to middle voice rather than reflexive semantics. Yet all loci and verbal roots discussed above
have been chosen by selecting from the traditional grammars employed in this thesis those roots
and loci which have been related to reflexivity. The value of our discussion is, thus, that it shows
that those cases traditionally analyzed as expressing semantic reflexivity, in fact do not express this
specific semantic domain, but various different categories from the semantic middle voice domain,
as they have been defined by KEMMER (1993).
On the basis of the above evidence, which is not conclusive, but to my mind represents the
situation of the usages of Niphal in Biblical Hebrew quite faithfully, it could thus be concluded that
Niphal does not express reflexivity in Biblical Hebrew. However, as the semantic domains of
reflexivity, passivity, and middle voice are closely related,175 it cannot be ruled out that, in certain
specific instances, the usage of Niphal does come close to semantic direct reflexivity. The
occurrence of Niphal in 2 Samuel 17:23 could be a case of this phenomenon, and, in fact, is to
my mind the only convincing example from GRNEBERGs (2003, 625) analysis. In light of these
doubtful passages, our assumption that Niphal never expresses reflexivity could perhaps be
restated as to indicate that Niphal is, in any case, not a reflexive marker in Biblical Hebrew, as its
reflexive use, if it exists at all, is so rare.
In defining the semantic range of the Niphal binyan, I would thus contend that this
semantic range is best covered by the term medio-passive, which is owed to LAMBDIN (1971, 1758).
It has been suggested that, on a more general level, the use of this term to describe the semantic
range of the Niphal implies that a distinction between middle voice and passive semantics could
not be drawn for Hebrew Niphal, but that, in fact, this binyan expresses a semantic range not
parallelled in any other language.176 Reckoning with the notion of polysemy, however, I would
rather contend that Hebrew Niphal in general does not represent some abstract medio-passive
semantic domain, but could express both middle voice and passivity, and, in theory, expresses only
one of them every time this binyan is employed, thereby of course realizing that there are quite
some cases which are not clear-cut. It is these latter cases which I define as medio-passive within
this chapter,177 but I do not wish to apply the occasional inability to distinguish between middle
voice and passivity more generally to the Niphal binyan as a whole. Thus, in general and as far as
reflexivity goes, I concur with those displaying a critical attitude towards the reflexive Niphal.178

Cf. pages 45 above and the title as well as the contents of BOYDs (1993) dissertation.
Vide, inter alii, JENNI (1978, 131).
Cf. page 28 above.
Cf. the scholars cited on page 34. Apart from these, the dissertation of BICKNELL (1984) deserves mention. On page 107, the
comes to the conclusion that the distribution of the data thus completetly fails to confirm the characterization of Niphal as
primarily or even substantially reflexive.


2.3. Hithpael
Apart from the Niphal, the second binyan often related to semantic reflexivity is the Hithpael.
In the same manner as the above paragraph has discussed most of the illustrative usages of
Niphal throughout the Hebrew Bible, this paragraphs aims at shedding light on the question
whether or not the Biblical Hebrew Hithpael could really be said to have direct reflexivity as its
primary semantic range.

Stative Verbs: Hithpael, Niphal, and Middle Voice

Perhaps the most common example adduced in favour of reflexive Hithpael is Hithpael,
which is translated as to sanctify oneself or sich heiligen in English and German.179 This root
and binyan occur 24 times throughout the Hebrew Bible. In his dissertation, BENTON (2009,
2778) discusses Leviticus 11:44. Various forms of the root are encountered in this verse,
including a consecutive Perfect Hithpael 2nd pl. masc., and twice an adjective (). BENTON
shows that, in Leviticus 11:44, the Hithpael binyan expresses the process of becoming
sanctified, while the adjective, together with the auxiliary verb preceding it, emphasizes the
subsequent state in which the sanctified entity has become, e.g., is. Hence, BENTON concludes,
the Hithpael of should mean to become holy rather than to sanctify oneself. This is also
the opinion of GRNEBERG (2003, 199200), who adduces Joshua 7:13 as further evidence. Here,
Joshua is commissioned by God to sanctify the people by saying to them: become holy
() .180 As Joshua is here clearly the acting entity, it is hard to conceive how he would
sanctify the people by telling them to sanctify themselves. The above reasoning, as both
BENTON (2009, 2767) and GRNEBERG (2003, 199200) show, is equally valid for the root
to be unclean, which is the exact opposite of . This all goes to suggest quite
convincingly that the Hithpael of the roots and cannot unequivocally be conceived of
as expressing direct reflexivity.
How, then, could these Hithpael forms of the roots and be best analyzed? At
this stage of our discussion, it is important to pay attention to the stative nature of these two
verbs. After all, both roots are intransitive in the Qal or Grundstamm (the active tense) and
mean to be holy/unclean. As with most stative verbs, their transitive counterpart (to sanctify,
to defile) is attested by the Piel binyan, which is often referred to as the factitive Piel.181 This
poses a fundamental problem to how the relationship between the various Hebrew binyanim is
envisioned. The traditional understanding of Hithpael as expressing the idea of to sanctify

Grammars citing this root as an example of reflexive Hithpael include EWALD (1863, 328), 124a, GK 54, JM 53i, and
WILLIAMS (2007, 64).
For all this, cf. JM 41bf, 52d, sub factitive.


oneself is clearly based on the traditionally assumed Piel-Hithpael correspondence, in which

case the tD-stem (Hithpael) should be considered an adaptation of the D-stem (Piel). Yet, as
the contextual analyses of both BENTON and GRNEBERG have shown, the verbal form
Hithpael is most probably done best justice when interpreted as meaning to become holy,
e.g., not as describing the action of sanctifying oneself, but instead the change of state from
unholy (or at least less holy) to holy (or more holy). When interpreted thus, the Hithpael of
these roots appears to be an adaptation of the Qal or G-stem, both binyanim being intransitive
in nature, than of the Piel or D-stem. On the basis of our above analysis, we thus arrive at an
outline of the semantic distribution of the binyanim of the stative verbs and , which
differs from the paradigms advanced or implicated in the traditional grammars:



Semantic Categorization



basic intransitive



stative middle voice

+ adj.


synonym of N-stem (and/or G-stem?)



basic transitive



dynamic middle voice

This outline differs from the traditional paradigm in various regards. Most important for now
are the positions of the N-stem (Niphal) and the tD-stem (Hithpael). To both of these
intransitive stems I have ascribed middle voice value. At first sight, this may appear to be
counterintuitive for any one having studied the typology of middle voice syntax and semantics.
After all, many linguists hold that middle voice is characterized by its intransivity vis--vis a
transitive active counterpart.182 Yet, at the same time, modern treatments of the middle voice
often tend to display a more nuanced view to transivity and intransitivy, often perceiving these
two categories as two ends of a continuum.183 Furthermore, it is well-known that languages
such as German also know of middle voices which are derived from intransitive active verbs.184
Lastly, the semantic role most commonly associated with stative or intransitive verbs is that of
Theme.185 This role shapes the syntactic structure of sentences featuring both the Qal, Niphal,
and Hithpael binyanim of the rool , as all three of them are considered intransitive verbs,
and, thus, neither of these binyanim could be conceived of as expressing direct reflexivity


Cf. KEMMER (1993, 234, 2101); MANNEY (1998, 32).

Cf. most notably KEMMER (1993). As regards Biblical Hebrew, JM 41bf has some insightful remarks on the difficulties of
distinguishing between intransitive (stative) and transitive (active/action) verbs.
Cf. FAGAN 1992; MANNEY 1998, 32. To give only two examples, both taken from FAGAN (1992): Es fhrt sich gut auf der Autobahn
(from the summary preceding the actual book) and Hier schlft es sich angenehm (147).
Cf. BENTON (2009, 2723) and HAEGEMAN ( 2003, 49).


(which, after all, presupposed a coreference between an Agent and a Patient). All in all, in light
of the above evidence, I, too, tend to conceive of transitivy and intransitivity as a continuum,
and as the Niphal and Hithpael of the roots and of intransitive middle voices, while, of
course, both binyanim could also express the less debated category of passive semantics.
In those cases where Hithpael and Niphal are not passive, it is assumed that
they express middle voice semantics. In order to distinguish between them, I have dubbed the
middle voice expressed by the Niphal a stative middle voice and that expressed by the
Hithpael a dynamic middle voice. The terms have been invented by me, but for my
categorization I am highly indebted to BENTONs (2009, 2768) work. Analyzing the usages of
the root in the Hithpael and Niphal in Leviticus 11:43, the author has come to the
conclusion that the Hithpael expressed a change in state, while the Niphal expresses the
subsequent state something or someone is in. Thus, Hebrew is
translated by BENTON as do not become defiled (Hithpael) by them and so be defiled (Niphal).
This idea of BENTONs is lend further support by the text already cited above, e.g., Leviticus
11:44, in which Hithpael, again, expresses the change in state, while this time a
construction employing + an adjective expresses the state arrived at. In light of these
observations, I have come to categorize both Niphal and Hithpael of the roots and as
middle voices beloning to MANNEYs (1998, 41) cateogry of spontaneous states and changes of
state, just as Modern Greek to be/get covered with something. The only difference
between Hebrew and Greek in this regard is the fact that Hebrew employs two middle marking
verbal tenses to express this category, while Greek has only one. In other words: Hebrew
appears to distinguish between middle voices expressing a spontanesous state (Niphal) and a
change of state (Hithpael). In lack of better terms, I have for now dubbed these two middle
voices stative middle voice and dynamic middle voice.
One last point deserves discussion. By analyzing the usages of Hithpael and
Hithpael and Niphal in Leviticus 11:4344 and Joshua 7:13, I have defined this usage of the
Hithpael and Niphal binyanim of these two stative verbs as expressing middle voice, either
focusing on the state in which something is (Niphal) or on a change of state (Hithpael). In this
paragraph, I hope to adduce further evidence for my idea that a similar semantic distribution
between the binyanim could be hypothesized for other intransitive Hebrew verbs as well. The
side-by-side occurrence of Hithpael and Hithpael in Ezekiel 38:23 suggests that these
two stative verbs could bear the same semantic meaning. Other usages of Hithpael could be
said to be in line with the interpretation of stative Hithpaels offered above,186 but,

Cf. Isaiah 10:15, Daniel 11:36, 37. As far the the latter two loci go, the analysis of WILLIAMS (2007, 64) should be discarded, who
categorizes this usage of the root as reflexive-factitive.


unfortunately, no instances of Niphal are available to check our hypothesis. The root
may be more illuminating, even though its two connotations being (literally) heavy and being
honourable may slightly blur the picture. The Hithpael of this root occurs only twice. In
Proverbs 12:9, the verbal form appears to bear passive connotation.187 The occurrence of in
Nahum 3:15, however, is interesting. It is said here: . KJV translates make thyself
many, which is in line with the traditional understanding of this form. Yet, in this verse, the
translation to become heavy/many, translating a (dynamic) middle voice, would in fact fit in
neatly. As far as the Niphal of this verb goes, this binyan is often employed as the passive
counterpart of the Qal, meaning to be honoured.188 However, on the basis of Proverbs 8:24, it
could be maintained that Niphal could, indeed, also express (stative) middle voice, when it
says: springs heavy with (Niphal) water.189 On the basis of the evidence adduced above, it
could, to my mind, thus be convincingly hypothesized that the Hithpael of stative roots could
express what I have dubbed a dynamic middle voice, while the Niphal of these verbs could
express a stative middle voice. To be sure, further investigations into these areas are called
for, but it could already be safely concluded that, in these cases, neither of these binyanim is
likely to express direct reflexivity, and the semantic role determining the syntax related to
these tenses is a Theme, and not an Agent or Patient.

Pretentions of the Hithpael

Traditional grammars acknowledge a particular usage of the Hithpael binyan, usually
translated as to present oneself as, to pretend to be or to act as. This usage appears to be
well-established throughout the Hebrew Bible, and is usually conceived of as a particular
instance of reflexive Hithpael.190 Yet the most commont categorization of this particular usage
of the Hithpael is highly problematic in light of the above-advanced definition of reflexivity, as
the semantic roles featuring in a sentence as I act as a thief191 are not to be defined as Agent
and Patient, not even when the sentence is reformulated as I present myself as a thief.192 Once
again, the notion of reflexivity commonly associated with this usage of the Hithpael binyan


The semantic developments behind this meaning could be reconstructed as follows: to be honourable (Qal)  to honour
(factitive Piel)  to be honoured (passive Hithpael).
Thus coming close to the meaning of the passive Hithpael. Yet, this is not the room to discuss the relationship between these
two connotations.
GK 54e; JM 53i; WOC 26.2; W ILLIAMS ( 2007, 64).
For this example, vide 2 Samuel 19:4 and JM 53i (148).
The sentences adduced as examples here contain the semantic roles of Actor and Theme, not of Actor and Patient. After all, the
thematic roles born witness to by the phrases as a thief or myself do not so much undergo the action expressed by the verb, but
are merely affected by it. Cf. HAEGEMAN ( 2003, 50).


appears to be based on translations from the Hebrew into other languages rather than on
sound linguistic arguments.193
Many roots have been adduced as evidence of this simulating usage of the Hithpael.194
Within the context of this thesis, it suffices to discuss only the most important ones, which I
have deemed the Hithpaels of the roots 195, 196, and 197. Apart from these three roots,
the alleged instance of simulating Hithpael in Proverbs 13:7 and the case of Hithpael shall
be subject to discussion. To start with, it has been suggested that the Hithpael of in
Proverbs 13:7 should be interpreted as one pretending to be rich, while Hithpael, occurring
in the b-colon of the same verse, should mean one pretending to be poor.198 Yet, to my mind,
this understanding of the verse is somewhat awkward. After all, the nuance of pretending
implies a certain consciousness from the side of the subject of the verb by which the action
expressed by the verb is undertaken. In this light, it could be possible to envision why someone
would make a conscientious effort to pretend to be rich, but not so much why one would
pretend to be poor, especially when, in reality, he is rich.199 Hence, I would suggest not to
reckon Proverbs 13:7 among the simulative Hithpaels found throughout the Hebrew Bible.
Rather, it appears to me that the Hithpael of the stative roots and fulfils the exact
same function as the Hithpael of other stative roots, e.g., dynamic middle voice (cf. above).
The verbal forms /mitar/ and /mitr/ should then be translated and understood as one
becoming rich and one becoming poor and the pointe of Proverbs 13:7 does not lie in a rich
man pretending to be poor and vice versa, but, rather, in a comparison between two sorts of
wealth: a man can be wealthy in a material way (/mitar/), but poor in another, more
spiritual, way and vice versa. Admittedly, this interpretation is not beyond dispute itself, but,
to my mind, the notion that richness exists in more than literally having much money is clearly
discernible in this chapter of Proverbs. Cf. Proverbs 13:8. It should furthermore be remarked
here that this understanding of the verse comes forth from our analysis of the stative Hithpael

I concur with GRNEBERG here, when he states that in conducting oneself in a certain manner one simply acts thus (though
conduct oneself perhaps adds a nuance of deliberateness), rather than performing on oneself an action which one might equally
perform on another (2003, 205).
The term simulative usage is based on JM 53i. To my mind, this term might tie in with the principal semantic value of this
usage of the Hithpael, but it should not go to suggest that a distinct simulative semantic domain should be hypothesized to exist
for this binyan. Rather, I would contend that the simulative Hithpael is an extension from the dynamic middle. Cf. below. Cf. also
GRNEBERG (2003, 206), who raises what appears to be a problem to the term simulative Hithpael, e.g., the fact that not every
subject of a simulative Hithpael conscientiously simulates a certain state. He cites 1 Samuel 18:10 as an example and comments
that Saul would hardly have acted thus if he had any choice in the matter (on Hithpael). Keeping in mind GRNEBERGs
remark and my own side-note, I would still retain the term simulative throughout this thesis. Relatively elaborate lists of roots
analyzed as simulative instances of Hithpael may be found in GK 54; GRNEBERG (2003, 2056); and JM 53i.
Cf. GKC 54; GRNEBERG (2003, 2056); JM 53i; WOC 26.1.2c.
GKC 54.
GKC 54; GRNEBERG (2003, 205); JM 53i.
Cf. JM 53i. Most commentators appear to adhere to this traditional translation of the verse; cf., inter alii, GARRETT (1993, 135);
MURPHY (1998, ad loc.); TOY (1919, 263).
The translation one person acts rich and another acts poor, found in CLIFFORD (1999, 134), makes better sense, but, to my
mind, still misses the pointe of the verse. TOY (1919, 264) suggested that the rich mans pretending to be poor could have been
related to the desire not to give alms, but he himself already admits that such an allusion is not obvious.


forms above and would be impossible to envision within the traditional framework conceiving
of the Hithpaels of stative verbs as direct reflexives. As such, our understanding of Proverbs
13:7 has two advantages over against the traditional, simulative, one. First, it does justice to
the contents of the verse, and does not have to go into hypothetical explanations of the second
simulative Hithpael, e.g., why anyone would pretend to be poor when he is rich, and ties in
neatly with the direct context of the verse. Second, and perhaps more importantly, our analysis
is in line with our preceding analysis of Hithpaels of stative roots and lends further credence to
our previous suggestions.
The second case I which to discuss is that of Hithpael. In fact, this is a very peculiar
issue, as the Hithpael of this root appears to express various middle voice nuances. In 2 Samuel
14:2, the verbal form /hitabbl/ appears to express the simulative Hithpael, e.g., pretend to
mourn.200 As far as the semantic categorization of simulative Hithpaels goes, I would prefer
to conceive of them as middle voices rather than direct reflexives. As has been elaborated
above, the participant roles associated with pretending to be or acting as are not to be
envisioned as Agent and Patient, but, rather, as Agent and Theme. Furthermore, it could, to
my mind, be argued that the semantic nuance of simulative Hithpaels is a particular exponent
of dynamic middle voice. The issue of stative vs. non-stative verbs plays a role here. As we have
seen above, the stative simulative Hithpael in Proverbs 13:7 could, to my mind, be better
analyzed as a dynamic middle voice. On the other hand, the non-stative simulative form in 2
Samuel 14:2 does indeed express the notion of pretending to be or act as. It is suggested here,
perhaps somewhat tentatively still (but cf. below), that a distinction could be envisioned
between stative and non-stative middle voices expressed by the Hithpael. The middle Hithpael
of stative verbs would often express dynamic middle voice indicating a change of state, while
middle Hithpaels of non-stative verbs would tend to express what I shall deem another type of
dynamic middle voice indicating a change of action from the side of the subject. This latter
usage of the dynamic middle voice equals the simulative Hithpaels from the traditional
The above analysis should be evaluated as an attempt to make sense of the rather
enigmatic category of simulative Hithpaels and not as a mapping of the middle voice nuances
expressed by the Hebrew Hithpael. In general, it appears that the simulative nuance is rather
rare, and that other middle voice nuances may equally frequently be expressed by the Hithpael
binyan. For instance, turning back to the root , which provided the impetus to our

JM 53i.
Thus, I relate the simulative Hithpael to the dynamic middle voice expressed by the Hithpael of stative verbs. In its turn, this
stative dynamic middle voice has been related to the Qal or Grundstamm rather than the Piel. All in all, within my analysis, the
suggestion of GRNEBERG (2003, 2056) that the simulative Hithpael is related to the Piel is not followed. A relationship between
the simulative Hithpael and what I have called dynamic middle is also suggested by BENTON (2009, 2956).


discussion, we note that the Hithpael of this verb could express another middle nuance, e.g.,
that of emotion middle. In Genesis 37:34, to mention only one locus, it is said that Jacob
mourned (/wayyitabbl/) for his son. GRNEBERG (2003, 197) points attention to this usage of
the Hithpael binyan, by referring to Hungarian /bnkd-/ to mourn. This goes to show that all
the various nuances expressed by middle voice semantics are closely interrelated, and one and
the same root could, occasionally, occur expressing various middle nuances.
After these preliminary issues, we turn to discussing the three roots most commonly
associated with simulative Hithpael. A simulative Hithpael of the root to prophesize has
been detected in 1 Samuel 18:10, where it is said of Saul: and a bad spirit from God came upon
Saul, and he prophesized (/wayyitnabb/) inside the house. JM 53i translate this verbal form
as to play the prophet and argue that Saul is never called a prophet, and, thus, that this verb
cannot be taken literally. However, regarding this verse, I tend to concur with GRNEBERG
(2003, 205), who remarks that Saul would hardly have acted thus if he had any choice in the
matter. Such an understanding tones down JMs analysis of this verse, as the translation to
play the prophet suggests that Saul did have a choice in the matter.202 In his discussion of this
verbal root and binyan, GRNEBERG tends not to conceive of it as a reflexive form, but, rather,
as an expression of middle voice, and offers as one of its possible understandings to act as a
prophet. This comes close to the way I tend to see these forms: not as simulative Hithpaels
per se, but, rather, as an intensive form or as a dynamic middle voice indicating a change of
state in relation to the other verbal stems. Where the Niphal of this root would simply mean
to prophesize, the Hithpael indicates prophetic frenzy.203 This comes to the fore in the verse
advanced above, where Saul is explicitly stated to be under the influence of a bad spirit from
God () . The issue of frenzy plays a role in 1 Kings 18:2829 as well, where it is said
of the prophets of Baal that they cried out with a loud voice and they cut themselves/one
another, after their manner, with swords and lances, until blood poured over them [] and
they prophesized (/wayyitnabb/). Furthermore, 1 Samuel 10:6 appears to suggest that Saul
would prophesize (/whitnabbt/) under the influence of the spirit of the Lord.204 After all, it
appears that Hithpael refers not so much to people pretending to be prophets even
though this binyan is never applied for Israels prophets in a strict sense but, rather, to those
undergoing prophetic frenzy. Hence, these verbal forms cannot be adduced as evidence for
reflexive Hithpael, but should perhaps be conceived of as dynamic middle voice, when they


For this notion, cf. note 114 above.

GRNEBERG (2003, 205).
Cf. GRNEBERG (2003, 206), note 67. This verse has perhaps been overlooked by JM 53i and tones down their main argument
for translating to play the prophet in 1 Samuel 18:10. Cf. above.


express a change of action or state due to a certain sort of frenzy. The translation to act as a
prophet, to behave like a prophet would suit the semantic nuance of these forms well.205
The root is peculiar in still another regard, which touches on our semantic analysis
of its usage: unlike the roots , , and discussed above, the root is a denominative.
On closer analysis, it appears that denominative roots, which tend to occur in the D-stem in
Semitic languages,206 form a distinct category, perhaps even the most basic category, of verbs
constituting the simulative Hithpael semantic nuance.207 Another example from this category
of denominative simulative Hithpaels is the Hithpael of the root to act like a
prince/ruler.208 In Numbers 16:13, Moses is rebuked with the words: would you really pretend
to be prince over us!209 In regard to these denominatives simulative Hithpaels, I tend to
follow BENTONs (2009, 2956) main conclusion, namely that, in these instances, the
employment of the Hithpael binyan indicates a change from one state to another. In the words
of BENTON himself (2009, 295): Both examples assume a transformation that the subjects
undergo by their actions without realizing the final state, that is, a subject once was not X, but
then approximated X or acted like. As has been suggested previously, this understanding of
the simulative Hithpael ties in neatly with our findings regarding dynamic middle voice for
stative verbs, and, in fact, it would, to my mind, even be possible to capture both the
simulative Hithpaels and the middle Hithpaels of stative roots under this one header of
dynamic middle voice.
A final example concerns the root to be sick. At first glance, this root is stative in
nature, as its Grundstamm expresses a state someone finds himself in. This would, then, mean
that the Hithpael binyan of this root would be a dynamic middle, meaning to become sick.
This could be the nuance of Hithpael in 2 Samuel 13:2. It is this chapter from the book of
Samuel in which the only occurrences of this root and binyan are attested, and the evidence for
determining its meaning is, thus, scarce. Yet it appears that in 2 Samuel 13:5 and 6 Hithpael
could only mean to feign sickness, to pretend to be sick. Hence, even though the evidence is
scarce, the simulative Hithpael associated with this stative root210 goes to show that even
stative verbs may, at times, receive the simulative meaning. Perhaps this association of stative

BENTON (2009, 823) categorizes this root under the header of to perform the actions of, and accordingly translates to
prophesize. This seems correct.
This phenomenon is already attested for Akkadian (HUEHNERGARD 2005, 2568), 24.3, and, likewise, could be seen as a general
tendency in Biblical Hebrew also (JM 52d).
This is assumed by BENTON (2009, 295), when he states that: these verbs (i.e., verbs expressing the idea to act as; PBH)
exemplify denominative Hitpaels signifying act like X, where X represents the noun from which the verb derived.
The root is clearly related to the hollow root , which bears the same meaning. The only occurrence of Hithpael is
Numbers 16:13. Other instances adduced as occurrences of this root in BDB, 979 could as easily be explained as forms from the root
. Cf. Esther 1:22, Proverbs 8:16, and Isaiah 32:1.

It could be maintained that is inflected as a transitive root, mainly on the basis of the participle, which is /l/, yet this is a
tricky argument for showing that the root is not stative.


verbs with simulative Hithpaels occurred via the adjective derived from the stative verb, or
perhaps the semantic nuance originally associated with denominative verbal roots spread in
later times, and became associated also with the Biblical Hebrew stative verbal inventory.

Dynamic Middle Voice: A Recapitulation

In the previous two paragraphs, I have discussed the dynamic middle voice associated with
stative verbs as well as the simulative Hithpaels commonly associated with denominative
verbal roots, as well as with some others. In the preceding paragraph, I have suggested that
both usages of the Hithpael binyan could be categorized under the header of dynamic middle
voice. This paragraphs aims at summarizing our above analysis and defining the category of
dynamic middle voice.
It is known from other languages than Biblical Hebrew, for instance from Greek, that
the middle voice semantic domain could be associated with the subject of a verbs being in a
state or changing state.211 In Modern Greek, as in many other languages, no morpho-syntactic
distinction is made between the various classes or nuances of middle voice semantics (MANNEY
1998). However, by analyzing the situation aspect of the Niphal and Hithpael binyanim,
BENTON (2009) has laid the basis for our suggestion that Biblical Hebrew does distinguish on a
morpho-syntactic level between various middle voice nuance, at least between middle voice
nuances expressing the state something or somebody is in (Niphal), and nuances expressing a
change of state somebody or something undergoes (Hithpael). For the lack of better
terminology, I have called the first middle nuance stative middle voice and the second
dynamic middle voice.212
This latter category of dynamic middle voice manifests itself in various ways,
depending on the stative (intransitive) or transitive nature of the verb or, rather, of its
Grundstamm. I have attempted to show that the Hithpael of stative verbs often expresses the
change of state the subject of the verb undergoes, while the Niphal refers to the state the
subject is subsequently in, e.g., expresses stative middle voice. In my analysis, I have been
largely indebted to BENTONs (2009, 2768) remarks on Leviticus 11:4344. On the other hand,
Hithpaels of denominative verbs may tend to express a change of action somebody undergoes,
e.g., bear a nuance of pretending to be or acting like. In the paragraphs dedicated to this
subject, I have attempted to show that certain usages of the Hithpael (such as Proverbs 13:7),
which have been previously analyzed as simulative could be better analyzed as stative
dynamic middle voice, but also that the nuance of pretending is certainly there as far as

MANNEY (1998, 41). Cf. pages 458 above.

For all this, cf. pages 4553 above.


denominatives, such as and go. To these two categories may be added certain
exceptions, which may have come about under the influence of diachronic developments. The
root , for instance, is attested in a simulative Hithpael in 2 Samuel 13:5, while its
Grundstamm appears to be stative. Also, the root in 2 Samuel 14:2 bears simulative
nuance, while it is not a denominative.
All in all, the category of dynamic middle voice could be defined as a particular
category within the middle voice semantic domain, which expresses a change in state or action
regarding the subject of the verb. In Hebrew, this type of middle voice appears to be expressed
by the Hithpael binyan.

Indirect Middle Voice

The rather elaborate discussion of dynamic middle voice above should not go to suggest that
this is the only type of middle voice commonly associated with the Hithpael. Other, more wellestablished categories of middle voice are also expressed by this binyan, and they shall be
discussed in the remainder of this chapter. Most, if not all, of them, have already been
discussed for the Niphal binyan above. Indeed, their appears to be an overlap as far as semantic
categories expressed by the Niphal and the Hithpael go, and the choice for either one of these
binyanim may oft have been determined by morphological rather than semantic
One of these categories is that of indirect or benefactive middle voice. This category
contains verbs whose subject has some personal interest in executing the action expressed by
the verb (KEMMER 1993, 178). Perhaps the most illustrative Hebrew roots fitting in with this
category are to seek favour, to beseech and to pray. Even though, on a semantic level,
these roots may occasionally appear to come close to indirect reflexivity (to seek favour for
oneself may be understood thus), they could best be understood as middle voices. This may
be shown from a cross-linguistic examination: GRNEBERG (2003, 1989) rightfully point to
Latin precor to pray and Greek to pray. Furthermore, he mentions Greek
to beseech, which comes close to the meaning of Hithpael. It appears, thus, that the
Hithpael could express various middle voice nuances apart from dynamic middle voice, even
though the exact categorization of these various nuances may be subject to some debate.


Verbs occurring in the D-stem may have preferred Hithpael, verbs in the G-stem and deponents may have preferred Niphal.


Change of Body Posture and Grooming Middle Voice

Two other middle voice nuances which could be related to the Hithpael are the change of body
posture middle voice and the grooming middle voice. Of both these categories I shall advance
some illustrative examples. Above, attention has already been paid to Niphal, meaning to
hide.214 The Hithpael of this root has traditionally been interpreted as bearing the same
semantic value as the Niphal, whether this be reflexive or not.215 This would mean that the
Hithpael of this root should, just as the Niphal, be categorized as a change of body posture
middle voice, which I indeed tend to suggest. Yet it appears that the Niphal and Hithpael of
this root, and possibly all roots showing a correspondence between these two binyanim as far
as their semantic value goes, do not bear exactly the same semantic connotation. This has been
suggested by BENTON (2009, 190202) who, here again, distinguishes between the actionfocused nuance or aspect of the Hithpael (the act of hiding) and the state-focuses aspect of
the Niphal (being hidden). A second example of a change of body posture middle may be
attested to by Hithpael, a verbal form which is quite prominent in the prologue to the book
of Job (Job 12). It means to station oneself. Apart from the category of change of body
posture middles, the Hithpael binyan could also express grooming middle voice, such as with
the roots to gird oneself and to dress.

Some Genuine Direct Reflexive Hithpaels?

Above, many instances of Hithpael have been discussed which have been related to direct
reflexivity in the traditional grammars of Biblical Hebrew. They have all been shown to belong
to the middle voice rather than the reflexive semantic domain. Thus, the above discussion has
suggested that the semantic domain of direct reflexivity is not the primary, perhaps not even
one of the primary, semantic domains expressed by the Biblical Hebrew Hithpael binyan. Yet,
in some cases, the Hithpael of a certain root does appear to express direct reflexivity.
For instance, the Hithpael of the root may provide an example. The Qal of this verb
means to cut, to attack. The Hithpael occurs in the context of lamenting, and once to
describe the behaviour of the prophets of Baal.216 Within these context, the word should
probably mean to cut oneself, even though a reciprocal meaning could not altogether be ruled
out: we simply have insufficient knowledge on these customs and the way in which they were
practiced in Ancient Israel.217 Reasoning, however, from the traditional understanding of this


Vide page 40 above.

Cf., for instance, BADEN (2010, 36).
Deuteronomy 14:1, Jeremiah 16:6, 41:5, 47:5. On the behaviour of foreign prophets, vide 1 Kings 18:28.
In fact, the reverse is often true, and our knowledge on these ancient rites and customs is based on an interpretation
commonly as a reflexive, not a reciprocal form of the verbal form employed. Cf., inter alii, DAY (2010, 2134).


verbal form, it should be admitted that it indeed expresses direct reflexivity, and ties in neatly
with our definition of this semantic category. The verses in which this verbal form occurs are
all single event frames. Furthermore, within the event frame associated with the verb to cut,
the participant roles involved are that of Agent and Patient, e.g., of one executing the action
upon the other. The Hithpael tense appears to express coreference between these two
participant roles. Third, the Patient is the object of the event frames in these verses. Thus, it
appears that Hithpael does express direct reflexivity in the verses cited in note 135.
Even though GRNEBERG (2003, 20610) dedicates an entire paragraph to the direct
reflexive Hithpael, the examples adduced by him are not altogether convincing. Most
importantly, much attention is paid to the root Hithpael, and GRNEBERG admits that it is
hard to decide whether or not the Hithpael of this root expresses direct reflexivity or not. To
my mind, the same argumentation which has been advanced above for Niphal applies to
the Hithpael of this root as well, meaning that it could best be understood as a middle voice.
On the basis of the example advanced above, e.g., Hithpael, I do, however, tend to leave
room for direct reflexive Hithpaels, even though they may be rarer than is assumed in
traditional grammars. In the words of GRNEBERG (2003, 206): the Hithpael in fact seems
comparatively rarely directly reflexive and, on the other hand: the use of the hithpael for what
are clearly a variety of reflexive-like situations might appear to be good evidence that it can
encode semantic direct reflexivity.

Reflections and Conclusions

As has been the case in our discussion of the Niphal binyan above, our analysis of the Hithpael
binyan has mainly focused on the middle voice semantic domain rather than on direct
reflexivity. Again, the goal of this analysis has been to show that most examples of direct
reflexive Hithpael adduced by the traditional grammars could be done better justice when
analyzed as examples of middle voice and, thus, not of semantic direct reflexivity.
In the first two paragraphs dealing with the Hithpael, a particular category within the
middle voice semantic domain has been developed, e.g., the dynamic middle voice. Apart
from this category, examples of verbal roots belonging to other middle voice categories have
been presented in the other paragraphs on this binyan. The discussion provided above does
not attempt to be exhaustive. Rather, it contains what I consider to be an illustrative and
representative overview of the various usages of the Hithpael within Biblical Hebrew. As when
discussing the Niphal, the passive connotations of the Hithpael binyan have been left aside.
On the basis of the above observations, it could be concluded that the Hithpael is not
the primary reflexive marker of Biblical Hebrew, as it expresses direct reflexivity only rarely. In

the last paragraph of this section on the Hithpael, some examples have been adduced which
point to the existence of a direct reflexive Hithpael, but it seems that the traditional grammars,
which almost univocally assume that reflexivity is the primary semantic value of this verbal
tense, are in need of thorough revision. I tend to attach to the Hithpael binyan the same label
as to the Niphal: medio-passive. The expressing of direct reflexivity, reciprocity, etc. are to be
explained from the general closeness of the middle voice, passive, reflexive, and reciprocal
semantic domains.
Even though the Hithpael and the Niphal could both be said to be medio-passive, they
are not entirely identical. In his lucid discussion of these two tenses, BENTON (2009) has shown
that the situation aspect of both binyanim tends to differ: Niphal most commonly bears the
connotation of the state something is in, while the Hithpael appears to refer to the change of
state the subject of the verb undergoes. Apart from this different connotation, it should not
altogether be ruled out that the choice for Niphal or Hithpael in expressing middle voice is
determined by morpho-syntactic rather than semantic considerations: the Niphal often
corresponds to the meaning of the Grundstamm, the Hithpael to that of the D-stem. Yet here,
too, this correspondence is not strict. It appears that further research on this subject is

2.4. /et/ + suffix

The association of pronominal suffixes with reflexive semantics is found in all important
grammars of Biblical Hebrew.218 The most extensive lists of instances are found in EWALD (1863,
777), 314c and GKC 135i, and the two largely overlap. From these lists it is clear that
pronominal suffixes are usually associated with various kinds of reflexivity, including indirect
reflexivity (cf. Judges 3:16) and reflexive prepositional phrases (reflexivity outside single event
frames; cf. 1 Samuel 1:24). The particular construction involving the nota obiecti /et/ has been
related to semantic direct reflexivity. In this paragraph, I have chosen to discuss the examples
of this latter construction provided by these two grammars, not only because it is convenient
to work from the lists compiled by others, but also because instances of /et/ + suffix
expressing semantic direct reflexivity appear to be quite rare, and these list quite probably
contain all important loci.219
In Exodus 5:1519, it is described how the officers of the people of Israel are rebuked by
Pharaoh as they complain about the situation in which the Israelites are to execute their work

Vide, inter alii, EWALD (1863, 777), 314c; GKC 135i; JM 146k; WOC 23.4c.
This idea is based on a quick search in the computer programme Bible Works. It appears to be communis opinio that the
occurrence of /et/ + suffix expressing direct reflexivity is quite rare; cf. JM 146k.


as slaves in Egypt. It is then said in verse 19 that the officers of the people of Israel saw
themselves in a bad situation, or: the officers of the children of Israel did see that they were in
evil case (KJV). In Hebrew, the verse reads , and the suffigated nota
obiecti appears to express direct reflexivity. This clause from Exodus does correspond to
the first criterium from our definition of direct reflexivity (for which, cf. pages 1923 above), as
the verb and the suffigated nota obiecti occur within one and the same single event frame
and the subject of the verb and the object designated by the nota obiecti are coreferential. It
should be noted that the nota obiecti also constitutes a prepositional phrase with the following
, but this issue is irrelevant for our current discussion. The second criterium is, to the letter,
not applicable in this situation, as this phrase does not deal with one Agent acting on one
Patient. Yet, as has been explained in the paragraph containing our definition of reflexivity, the
aim of this formulation of the second criterium has been the elimination of possible reciprocal
event frames from our analysis. Now, it is clear that Exodus 5:19 could not possible be
interpreted as reciprocal: the officers saw themselves, not one another, and, thus, it could be
said that the second criterium is also fulfilled by this clause. Regarding the third criterium, the
Patient indicated by the nota obiecti is here clearly the object of the verb. All in all, it appears
that Exodus 5:19 provides evidence for a case of semantic direct reflexivity, which is expressed
by the suffigated nota obiecti /et/.
Cases semantically similar to Exodus 5:19 are found in Jeremiah 7:19 (with double duty
of the verb phrase ) , Ezekiel 34:2, 8, and 10 (where the expression /
occurs thrice). An apparently disputed case is 2 Samuel 15:25, which is listed by EWALD as a
case of direct reflexivity expressed by /et/ + suffix, but is the only one of EWALDs references
which is absent from the list contained in GKC. Indeed, the Hebrew of this verse is ambiguous
when it reads:
if I find grace in the eyes of the Lord, he
shall bring me back and show me it/himself, and his habitation. The issue here is the
referential value of the suffigated nota obiecti /t/. Basically, there are three possibilities: the
construction refers back to the ark of God mentioned earlier in the verse; the construction
referes to a furthermore unknown identity; or the construction refers back to God himself.
Only in the latter case would this construction denote coreference between Agent and Patient.
The issue here is that a reference back to the ark of God is not logical within the context of the
verse, while it is hard to envision why reference would be to a furthermore unknown
antecedent. All in all, EWALDs implict suggestion (he does not elaborate on the verse) that
direct reflexivity is indeed attested to by this verse is not to be discarded too easily, and is
indeed possible that 2 Samuel 15:25 could be interpreted as another example of this semantic
domain expressed by /et/ + suffix.

The pronominal suffix, as a morphological characteristic of Biblical Hebrew, has been

related to other types of reflexivity too, as has been made reference to above. In most of these
non-direct reflexive semantic frameworks, the suffix is added to another preposition than
/et/.220 On the other hand, when occurring with the nota obiecti and bearing reflexive force,
the pronominal suffix appears to attest to direct reflexivity passim. An interesting exception to
this general tendency is advanced by WOC 23.4c, when they cite Leviticus 19:18:
and thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. It is clear that the noun phrase is the
Patient or Stimulus of the verb , indicated by the quite unusual accusative marker .221 The
grammatical subject of the verb is to be conceived of as an Agent or Experiencer.222 In the
second part of this commandment, the phrase assumes double duty of the verb: as (thou
shalt love) thyself. Thus, taken together with the verb, the pronominal suffix in the second
part of the clause occurs in a single event frame, expresses Agent-Patient coreference, and has
the Patient as the object of the clause. Hence, it appears that this, also, is a case of semantic
direct reflexivity, as is also contended by WOC.
Bearing the above in mind, it could, and probably should, be concluded that the
construction /et/ + suffix does indeed mark semantic direct reflexivity in certain instances,
even though these instances are quite rare. Apart from this, other suffigated constructions may
also express this semantic category, but this phenomenon is even more seldom.

2.5. /nepe/ + suffix

The construction of /nepe/ + suffix has been related to reflexive semantics by various
grammarians.223 A critical remark on this analysis of the construction is made by JM 146k,
who state that this noun retains its lexical meaning to varying degrees.224 On close
examination, it indeed appears that the loci adduced by EWALD as evidence for reflexive
suffigated /nepe/ are not altogether convincing. In the clause
in Isaiah 46:2, the
construction of /nepe/ + suffix could not possibly indicate direct reflexivity, as the verb is
intransitive and, thus, no Agent-Patient coreference could occur. EWALDs analysis, here,
appears to be based on his German translation ihre seele ging gefangen. Hosea 9:4 contains

Suffixes added to verbs appear to never express reflexivity. Cf. JM 146k and note 1.
On the semantic role of Stimulus and its close relationship with the role of Patient, cf. my remarks in note 10 above and the
works cited there. On the lamed as accusative marker, cf. JM 125k. JENNI (2000, 122) categorizes this employment of the lamed
under the heading meliorative Transitiva. He interprets the lamed as a lamed applicationis, arguing that the lamed indicating a
verbs direct object is only found in Late Biblical Hebrew, possibly as an Aramaism (JENNI 2000, 1302). Jenni may be right, but
even if the object of the verb is not a real Patient, but rather a Stimulus (which would fit in better with JENNIs argumentation),
direct reflexivity could still be expressed by this sentence. Cf. our definition of direct reflexivity on page 22 above.
Cf. the phrase Maigret likes love stories, in HAEGEMAN (2003, 50), in which case the grammatical subject of the sentence is
defined as Experiencer, but the object as Theme rather than Stimulus.
Cf., inter alii, BECKER (1942, 73); EWALD (1863, 777), 314c.
Cf. also the references in JMs note 2.


the preposition phrase which could, at best, indicate indirect reflexivity, and not direct
reflexivity. Lastly, in Leviticus 17:14, the word /nepe/ indeed appears to retain its lexical
meaning, broad however as this may be.225 On the basis of EWALDs analysis, thus, the
conclusion seems warranted that /nepe/ + suffix does not denote semantic direct reflexivity.
Yet some other loci may provide evidence to the contrary, e.g., to /nepe/ + suffix
expressing direct reflexivity. In 1 Samuel 1:15, Hannah explains her behaviour by saying that she
is not drunk, but was pouring herself ( )out before the Lord.226 In this verse, the
construction /nepe/ + suffix appears to denote the Patient of the verb, and an Agent-Patient
coreference within a single event frame appears to be extant. Thus, it could be contended that
the construction /nepe/ + suffix denotes semantic direct reflexivity here. At the same time,
some critical remarks are in place. First, the action of pouring oneself out comes very close to
that of some middle voices, particularly those categorized as change in body posture middles
or nontranslational motion middles.227 After all, what is the distinctive semantic difference
between to bow or to lie down and to pour oneself out? This suggests that the construction
in this verse could better be analyzed as a case of middle voice semantics. The reason that no
Niphal or Hithpael is employed here suggests that the noun /nefe/ has retained some
semantic value of its own.228 Second, expressions as to pour ones heart out in English or zijn
hart uitstorten in Dutch suggest that a heart or soul (both could be translations of Hebrew
/nefe/) is something which could be poured out: pouring out ones heart means to express
ones deepest feelings. Such an understanding of this Samuelic verse would fit in neatly with
its context and with the meaning of /nefe/ as the inner being of man (BDB, 661) and suggests
that, rather than simply marking reflexivity, the word /nefe/ has, indeed, retained a lexical
meaning. In this light it should be noted that pouring out ones heart could be argued to exist
as an expression in Biblical Hebrew as well, and is constituted by the verb and the noun
. In this construction, the soul is always being poured out by its owner: cf. Psalms 42:5. In
those cases where the verb occurs in the Hithpael, a passive understanding of this verbal
form is, in light of the semantic value of the expression, called for: cf. Job 30:16 and
Lamentations 2:12. All in all, it appears that 1 Samuel 1:15 could not be considered a convincing
example of direct reflexivity expressed by the construction /nepe/ + suffix.
A particular group of loci pertinent to our discussion consists of those texts speaking of
saving oneself. Most commonly, a form of the verb is employed (Isaiah 44:20, Ezekiel 3:19 =
21), but Piel is also attested once (Ezekiel 18:27). I treat these instances as bearing witness to

On the many semantic nuances associated with this noun, cf. page 19 above and JENNI-WESTERMANN (1976, 7491).

On these categories, cf. KEMMER (1993, 17).
In fact, all cases of Niphal (8 times) or Hithpael (3 times) have been interpreted as passives by KJV. At first glance, this
appears to be justified, especially in those cases where is the grammatical subject of the verb (cf. below).


one and the same semantic phenomenon, and concentrate my analysis on Ezekiel 3:19 (= 21),
as, to my mind, these verses most clearly express the various possible nuances /nefe/ may
have in this kind of constructions. In Ezekiel 3:1621, the Lord instructs Ezekiel about his
responsibilities towards his fellow Israelites: he should warn the wicked, that they may repent.
If Ezekiel refuses to do so, he, the wicked, shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I (God, PBH)
shall ask from thy hand (18). On the other hand, and here verse 19 comes into play: if you
warn the wicked, and he does not return from his wickedness and his wicked way, he shall die
in his iniquity, but you have saved yourself.229 This verse clearly revolves around an antithesis.
At first glance, this antithesis is between the prophet and the wicked he has to warn. When the
prophet has warned the wicked, but he does not repent, the wicked shall die, but the prophet
has saved himself. When understood thus, an Agent-Patient coreference within a single event
frame is well conceivable to be extant here, and the usage of /nefe/ comes close to expressing
semantic direct reflexivity. Yet another reading of this verse is also possible, and perhaps even
more correct. After all, this verse revolves not only around an antithesis between the figure of
the wicked and that of the prophet, but also of that between death and life. As the contrast
between the wicked and the prophet is, to my mind, sufficiently expressed by the emphatic
usage of the personal pronouns /h/ and /att/,230 the word /nefe/ is most like to contrast
with the notion of dying ( )in the first half of this clause, and not so much with the figure
of the wicked. This is to suggest that the semantic value of the word /nefe/ in this verse, and
by extrapolation in all verses dealing with saving ones soul, is not so much that of self, but
rather that of life. Cf. English save our souls. Thus, even though this usage of the word
/nefe/ comes closer to expressing direct reflexivity than that in 1 Samuel 1:15, it should be
concluded also for these verses that the Hebrew noun retains much of its lexical meaning
rather than functioning as a reflexive marker.
The last verse prone to discussion here is Ecclesiastes 2:24. Here, one of Israels wisdom
teachers recommends his readers: there is nothing good for man, than to eat, and drink, and
show oneself good in labour.231 It is this latter part of the verse, to show oneself good in
labour, which is of relevance here. The Hebrew reads and the
construction appears to be similar to that from Exodus 5:19 discussed above.232 As in the
Pentateuchal verse, the verse from Ecclesiastes contains a single event frame in which the verb
and the noun occur, while the noun at the same time functions in an event frame
with the adjective and noun following it. The Hiphil tense changes the meaning of the verb

On the contrastive usage of personal pronouns with finite verbal forms, vide MURAOKA (1985, 4759).

Cf. the paragraph on /et/ + suffix.


from to see (in Exodus) to to show (in Ecclesiastes), but this has no particular bearing on our
discussion, as both binyanim are transitive and take an Agent and a Patient. It appears, besides,
that the lexical meaning of Hebrew /nefe/ has been largely reduced in this verse, and the noun
functions indeed as a reflexive marker. Hence, it could be said that the single event frame
consisting of

the verb and the noun in Ecclesiastes 2:24 shows Agent-Patient

coreference (which is here indeed between an individual Agent and Patient, unlike Exodus
5:19), and, thus, expresses semantic direct reflexive semantics.
Concluding, it could be said that JM are mostly right in their contention that the
Hebrew noun /nefe/, which has oft been related to reflexive semantics, retains its lexical
meaning to varying degrees.233 These varying degrees have been illustrated above by
discussing clauses which might be understood as expressing direct reflexivity, but in which the
lexical value of /nefe/ was still fairly obvious (1 Samuel 1:15) from clauses which should
probably be analyzed as witnesses to direct reflexive semantics, even though it should not
altogether be ruled out that the Hebrew noun retained some of its lexical semantic value here,
too (Ecclesiastes 2:24). It appears that the Hebrew noun has, apart from a wide range of
semantic nuances, a wide range of usages, of which the expression of direct reflexivy could be
one component, be it quite a rare one.234

2.6. /eem/ +suffix

The Hebrew noun /eem/ is the noun less commonly related to direct reflexivity in grammars
of Biblical Hebrew. JM 147a is perhaps most explicit, when they state that the word is used
with the meaning of the English pronoun self. The idea that the word expresses the substance
or self of things is also found in GKC 139g, when they say that /eem/ is to inanimate things
what /nefe/ is to persons.235 The association of the word /eem/ with direct reflexivity appears
to be based mainly on Modern Hebrew, in which language clauses like he hit
himself are perfectly correct grammatically and widely attested. This Modern Hebrew
construction triggered the following discussion of /eem/ + suffix in Biblical Hebrew and the


Cf. also the contention of GKC, 139f, note 5: in such cases is necer [...] a merely otiose periphrasis for the personal
pronoun, but always involves a reference to the mental personality, as effected by the senses, desires, &c.
The contention of PREZ FERNNDEZ (1999, 46) that is commonly used with reflexive significance in BH (my italics) is not
based on sound linguistic analysis, which is clear from the examples he cites, e.g., Joshua 23:11. This verse should, to my mind, be
analyzed as expressing middle voice semantics (hence the Niphal of ;cf. above), while /nefe/ in this verse most probably
retains its lexical meaning.
If GKC are right in their assumption, the semantic development the word /eem/ underwent from its original meaning bone
should be quite intricate. Space restrictions, however, do not leave us room to dig deeper into this matter. Worth mentioning is,
however, the solution by SEGAL (1927, 208), who states that it is obvious that a word meaning bone must have been applied first
to animate beings, and then only figuratively to inanimate objects. It is, therefore, clear that the expression must have been more
commonly used in colloquial speech than appears in the literary remains of BH.


investigation into whether or not this construction could denote semantic direct reflexivity in
the latter language as well.
The examples adduced by JM do not help much on our quest for direct reflexivity in
Biblical Hebrew, as they do illustrate that the Hebrew noun /eem/ could often be translated
into English with self, but include no examples of reflexivity. Some other loci in which
Hebrew /eem/ may be translated as self do not show any traces of direct reflexivity either. For
instance, in Job 2:5, Satan tempts God to strike Job with the words: touch his bone and flesh.
The Hebrew would allow for a translation and touch himself and his flesh,
even though this would be a bit unusual, but this is no case of Agent-Patient coreference, let
alone direct reflexivity. In fact, the hendiadys suggests that, here, the lexical meaning
of the Hebrew noun /eem/ is at play.236
At other loci, Hebrew /eem/ appears to be more detached from its original, lexical
meaning. In Psalms 22:5, for instance, the Hebrew would certainly allow for a
translation and I myself am completely scattered, especially in light of the preceding colon
. Yet, again, no case of direct reflexivity is witnessed to by this verse either,
as the verb Hithpael is intransitive and, thus, its participant roles cannot be Agent and
Patient. The same goes for Psalms 32:3, in which verse Hebrew /eem/ appears to be quite
similar semantically to Psalms 22:5. In this verse, the Hebrew reads: . Again, a
translation of this verse as for I have kept silence, and I myself became worn out is possible
besides the traditional my bones waxed old (KJV), but, againt, this is no case of semantic
direct reflexivity, for the same reasons as Psalms 22:5 cannot be conceived of as such.
In light of the above analysis, which has treated not that many, but to my mind at least
the most illustrative, loci in which Hebrew /eem/ comes closest semantically to expressing
reflexivity, it should be concluded that this Hebrew noun does not express semantic direct
reflexivity in Biblical Hebrew. In fact, the word in most cases appears to retain one of its
variety of lexical meanings. This means that the Modern Hebrew usage of this term as a
reflexive marker should be attributed to post-Biblical Hebrew linguistic developments within
the Hebrew language. To these developments some attention shall be given in the next


The hendiadys occurs regularly in the Hebrew Bible. Cf., for instance, Genesis 2:23, 29:14, Judges 9:2 et alia.


3. A post-Biblical Aftermath
In this chapter, I shall pay attention to post-Biblical developments regarding the expression
and marking of reflexivity in the Hebrew Language. In this enterprise, I have restricted myself
to offering some observations and suggestions rather than exhaustive analyses of post-Biblical
Hebrew phenomena. After all, the focus of this thesis has been Biblical Hebrew, and the
analysis of reflexivity in that language may be found in the preceding chapters.

3.1. The Language of the Sages

Rabbinic Hebrew is commonly defined as the next stage in the history of the Hebrew language
after Biblical Hebrew. This new stage is characterized by major changes in syntax, morphology,
and vocabulary vis--vis Biblical Hebrew, which are often caused by foreign influences, most
prominently Aramaic and, to a much lesser extent, Greek ones.237 As far as the semantic
domain of direct reflexivity goes, changes in the way it was expressed mostly concern the
nominal constructions, while the usage of the verbal binyanim appears to be close to that in
Biblical Hebrew: both Niphal and Hithpael may occasionally express direct reflexivity, even
though it remains doubtful if this could be conceived of as the primary function of these verbal
tenses.238 The only major change regarding the verbal system is morphological: the Biblical
Hebrew Hithpael binyan is replaced in Rabbinic Hebrew by a new stem, the Nithpael,
On the other hand, some significant changes are discernible when analyzing the usage
of nominal constructions in order to express direct reflexivity in Rabbinic Hebrew. Most salient
is the emancipation of the word /eem/ which we have shown not to express direct reflexivity
in Biblical Hebrew,240 but is widely employed in Rabbinic Hebrew, also in direct reflexive
semantic contexts.241 Examples of this usage of Hebrew /eem/ are adduced by SEGAL (1927,
207). For instance, m.Kiddushin 1:1 speaks of a wife acquiring herself ( ) and
m.Makkot 1:4 of witnesses refuting themselves () . Apart from the semantic value of
the Hebrew noun, which has broadened in comparison to its usages in Biblical Hebrew, its
syntax has undergone a significant change as well: the noun /eem/ is no longer employed in
connection to inanminate things solely, but could also refer to animate human beings.242 All in

On Rabbinic Hebrew, vide SENZBADILLOS (1993, 161201); SEGAL (1927, 120).

Cf. SEGAL (1927, 59, 66).
On this stem, vide KADDARI (1982); QIMRON (1981); SEGAL (1927, 647);
Cf. pages 6263 above.
Cf. JM 147a, note 3; PREZ FERNNDEZ (1999, 456); SEGAL (1927, 2068).
Cf. SEGAL (1927, 2078).


all, it could be said that the usage of the Hebrew root /eem/ in Rabbinic Hebrew, when
compared to that in the Biblical language, is indeed peculiar to MH.243
Apart from changes in the employment and semantic value regarding the noun
/eem/, other nominal constructions have also undergone some changes. In the preceding
chapter, it has been argued that Hebrew /nefe/ retains its lexical meaning to varying degrees
in almost all cases, even though it occasionally comes close to semantic direct reflexivity. In
Rabbinic Hebrew, this latter aspect of /nefe/ appears to remain rare or become even more
infrequent.244 Furthermore, the word /gf/ is listed in grammars of Rabbinic Hebrew as
bearing reflexive meaning. This usage of the noun meaning body could be based on the
Biblical locus Exodus 21, where we read in verses 3 and 4: he goes out by himself, but
its frequent employment with other prepositions and even as an independent nominal
element (cf. m.Avot 4:6, 8) is clearly an invention of the language of the Sages.
Lastly, some attention should be given to the employment of pronominal suffixes in
order to express semantic direct reflexivity. As has been elaborated in the preceding chapter,
2.4, the usage of the construction /et/ + suffix may express semantic direct reflexivity when
this construction indicates a Patient which coreferential with an Agent within one and the
same single event frame. It has also been shown that this expression of direct reflexivity may
occur with other prepositions as well, the occurrence of which is dependent upon the syntax of
the clause. A similar usage of the pronominal suffixes to employ direct reflexivity is attested in
Rabbinic Hebrew, even though it appears to have largely decreased in importance.245 Cf.
m.Kiddushin 2:1: a man may betroth by himself or by a messenger and,
likewise: a woman may betroth by herself or by a messenger.
Summarizing, it may be stated that some shifts are discernible on comparing Rabbinic
Hebrew and its expression of direct reflexivity to Biblical Hebrew. On the one hand, some
nouns come to the fore more prominently (/eem/, /gf/), while the importance of other
diminshes (/nefe/, the pronominal suffixes). The employment of the verbal tenses appears to
remain rather constant over time. It could, thus, be said that, even though Rabbinic Hebrew
has no specifically reflexive pronoun,246 certain tendencies which later on come to play an
important role are already observable in the Sages language.


SEGAL (1927, 207).

Cf. PREZ FERNNDEZ (1999, 46); SEGAL (1927, 208).
Cf. SEGAL (1927, 206).
PREZ FERNNDEZ (1999, 46).


3.2. Modern Hebrew

At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, a longing to revive Hebrew as a living language
originated among the maskilim in Eastern Europe. These enlightened souls initially wished to
free the Hebrew language from the foreign influences it had undergone during its long and
intricate history.247 Yet the language which would later come to be known as Modern Hebrew
could not escape undergoing quite some influence from other languages itself, most notably
from Russian (due to the Eastern Europaean background of the revival of Hebrew) and English
(due to the status of Palestine as a British mandate).248 In this light, it should not be surprising
that changes regarding the expression of direct reflexivity have also been part of the
developments born witness to by this most recent stage in the history of the Hebrew language.
The status of the verbal binyanim in Modern Hebrew appears to diverge only a little
from that in Biblical Hebrew. The Hithpael binyan is listed in the most influential Modern
Hebrew grammars as expressing reflexivity249 just as in the traditional Biblical Hebrew
grammars but the examples adduced are not convincing and all fall into the middle domain,
as our extensive analysis from chapter 2 shows. COFFIN-BOLOZKY (2005, 1056) refer to
Hithpolel to wake up, while this is can be shown to be a typically middle voice event. From a
cross-linguistic perspective, cf. English to wake up (semantically identical to to wash up for
to wash), Russian /prosjpatsja/, and Latin expergiscor, which are all middle marked verbs.250
Furthermore, these grammarians refer to a list of body grooming activities, which are, as has
been shown, also middle voices (cf. KEMMER 1993, 16). GLINERT (1989, 67) lists the Hithpael as a
reflexive binyan, but then adds: as a simple reflexive pattern based on the simple stem,
hitpael is generally limited to bodily actions again a clear case of middle voice semantics.
The American grammarian continues to state that to wake up is not the same as
wake oneself up, nor is be discovered identical to discover oneself.
GLINERT is obviously right here, but fails to explain why these forms differ: only the latter ones
express direct reflexivity, while the first ones are either middle voice ( )or passive ().
The semantic range of the Niphal binyan is strictly medio-passive in Modern Hebrew,
as it is in almost all cases in Biblical Hebrew as well. Contrary to the traditional Biblical
Hebrew grammars, Modern Hebrew grammarians do not associate this binyan with reflexive
semantics.251 Other meanings adduced for this binyan are first and foremost passivity and


SENZBADILLOS (1993, 26972).

On foreign influences on Modern Hebrew, cf. SCHWARZWALD (1999) and ZUCKERMANN (2003).
Vide GLINERT (1989, 67); COFFIN-BOLOZKY (2005, 1056).
On the middle markers of Russian and Latin, cf. sentences (1a) and (1b) on page 6 above.
Both GLINERT (1989, 4645) and COFFIN-BOLOZKY (2005, 7880) do not allow for real reflexivity to be expressed by the Niphal,
even though the latter speak of cases in which the meaning of this binyan could be described as reflexive (between quotation


middle voice,252 but also inchoative semantics. This latter semantic value refers to the entering
into a certain state; cf. for instance Niphal to become. This inchoative usage of the Niphal
is certainly attested, but I would opt for including it in the middle voice domain, e.g., as a
change of state middle voice. This suggests that the Biblical Hebrew difference in nuance
between Niphal and Hithpael, in which Niphal indicated a state something has arrived at,
while Hithpael indicated the process of change leading to that state, has diminished, but
further research is needed in regard to this point.
With regard to nominal construction, it is observable that the noun /eem/ has
completed its emancipation in Modern Hebrew, and has surpassed both other nominal
constructions including /nefe/ or the pronominal suffixes and the verbal tenses in becoming
the sole marker of direct reflexivity in Modern Hebrew. In other words: while it could still be
said of Rabbinic Hebrew that it has no specifically reflexive pronoun,253 Modern Hebrew does
have a particular reflexive marker, and it is the noun /eem/. The sentences below form
minimal pairs which show the difference between Biblical (a-sentences) and Modern Hebrew
(b-sentences) as far as the expression of direct reflexivity goes, and should suffice to prove the
point made here.


and they cut themselves


1 Kings 18:28

tak am
cut-QAL self-REFL.
he cut himself


GLINERT (1989, 67)


r bn yirl



officers sons of Israel


and the officers of the sons of Israel saw themselves




Moshe see-QAL
Moshe saw himself

Exodus 5:19


FALTZ (1985, 31)

marks). The examples adduced by the two grammarians cannot convince, and its appears that their terminology is not precise at
this point.
COFFIN-BOLOZKY (2005) are apparently not familiar with the term middle voice, as they never employ it. Still, most of their
examples adduced either for reflexive Hithpael, reflexive Niphal, or inchoative Niphal should be included in this category.
PREZ FERNNDEZ (1999, 46).


In both cases, the various Biblical Hebrew indicating semantic direct reflexivity have been
replaced in Modern Hebrew by a suffigated form of the noun /eem/.254 This goes to show that
it is this noun that has eventually made it through to become Modern Hebrews marker of
direct reflexivity, even though its relevance for our discussion of this semantic category in
Biblical Hebrew has been very limited.


Admittedly, ALCALAY (2000, 1:318) does know of a form Hithpael, which means to cut oneself. This appears to be a remnant
of Biblical Hebrew which is hardly in use in the modern language. This could also be due to the existence of a homonym to form
into groups, to gather in a crowd, which appears to be more common.


Summary and Conclusions

The preceding chapters have provided an overview of the various morpho-syntactic devices
employed in Biblical Hebrew in order to express the semantic domain of direct reflexivity. In
the first chapter, I have paid attention to the etymological and morphological background of
the five phenomena most commonly associated with direct reflexivity in Biblical Hebrew, e.g.,
the verbal stems (binyanim) Niphal and Hithpael and the nominal constructions /et/ + suffix,
/nepe/ + suffix, and /eem/ +suffix. Moreover, I have given attention to the meanings and
semantic values associated with these five phenomena in the most important grammars of
Biblical Hebrew and comparative Semitics.
The second chapter contains the actual analysis of these five phenomena. On the basis
of this analysis, the conclusion is warranted that the two binyanim Niphal and Hithpael could
express direct reflexivity, but only rarely. The basic function of these two verbal tenses is the
expression of middle voice and passivity, and most examples adduced in the traditional
grammars of reflexive Niphal or Hithpael should rather be reanalyzed as expressing middle
voice semantics. The two nominal constructions /nepe/ + suffix and /eem/ +suffix appear to
retain their lexical meaning to a certain extent almost passim, even though Ecclesiastes 2:24
may provide an example of direct reflexive suffigated /nepe/. On the other hand, it appears
that /et/ + suffix could express semantic direct reflexivity in those cases where the Agent of a
given single event frame is coreferential with its Patient. Yet this construction, too, appears to
be quite rare in Biblical Hebrew.
The two hypotheses advanced in the Introduction should, thus, be rejected. Biblical
Hebrew is shown not to be a reflexive marking language: it does not employ a well-identifiable
morpho-syntactic device to express direct reflexivity, but expresses this semantic domain by
employing devices which, in other context, express a different semantic domain, such as
middle voice, or a lexical meaning, or mark a Patient. This means that our second hypothesis,
e.g., that a direct reflexive marker could be identified for Biblical Hebrew is also to be rejected.
No particular reflexive marker exists in Biblical Hebrew, but various constructions usually
expressing related semantic domain may, in the right context, also express semantic direct
The situation is remarkably different in Rabbinic and particularly Modern Hebrew, as
has been shown in the third chapter. In Rabbinic Hebrew, the word /eem/ comes to gain
importance as a reflexive marker, but other reflexive markers are not abandoned yet. At this
stage within the history of the Hebrew language, it could still be upheld that Hebrew does not

possess one reflexive marker. Modern Hebrew, on the other hand, does possess such a marker:
the noun /eem/, which has by now completed its emancipation and has become the sole
reflexive marker in this stage of the language. This has been shown by adducing two minimal
pairs from Biblical and Modern Hebrew, in which cases /eem/ has replaced Biblical Hebrew
constructions expressing direct reflexivity.
Several issues are in need of further research. First, in order to obtain a clear view on
how reflexivity was at work and was expressed in the Hebrew language, it is mandatory to get
to grips with the semantic category of middle voice. Attention has been paid to this semantic
domain only recently, and the results of its analysis have entered Semitic linguistics only
sparsely. Yet, it appears that the issue of middle voice semantics is pivotal to an investigation
of Hebrew semantics: after all, most of our work in chapter 2 has consisted in showing that the
verbal forms formerly adduced as evidence of direct reflexivity do in fact belong to this middle
domain. The inclusion of middle voice semantics into a grammar of Biblical Hebrew is, thus,
certainly a scholarly desideratum.
Second, the diachronic developments related to Hebrew syntax and semantics are in
need of further investigation. In the third chapter of this thesis, some suggestions have been
advanced as to how the expression of direct reflexivity has developed from Biblical Hebrew via
Rabbinic Hebrew through the current-day Hebrew language, during which development
Hebrew became from a non-reflexive marking language into one that does mark reflexivity.
This raises questions as to how this development in Modern Hebrew came about: was it due to
influence from reflexive marking languages as English and Russian or was it an inner-biblical
development going back to trends already discernible in Rabbinic Hebrew?
All in all, this thesis hopes to have shed some light on the issue of direct reflexivity and
its expression in Biblical Hebrew. Besides this main goal, it hopes to provide an example of
how the analysis of middle voice semantics could be incorporated in the study of Hebrew
linguistics, and to give impetus to further research into the function, expression, and
development of Hebrew semantics.



a semantic role indicating the person acting in a middle voice

event frame


a semantic role indicating the executor of a certain action


the development in which a particular thematic role is expressed

less explicitly than in the default situation. Often related to the
role of Agent, which is demoted in passive semantics


verbs which only occur as middle-marked verbs

direct reflexivity

the referential identity of Agent and Patient

event frame

the main verb (head) with all its associated participant roles

event schema

a graphic representation of an event frame

indirect reflexivity

the referential identity of agens and Recipient or Beneficiary.


the differentiation of a form from an unmarked root form, in

order to express a certain semantic category.

middle domain

a generic noun covering all semantic categories categorized

under the umbrella term middle voice.

middle marker

a certain linguistic phenomenon expressing middle voice.

middle marking language

a language which employs one specific marker for expressing

middle voice.

middle strategy

any way of a language to express reflexivity which is not a

primary reflexive strategy.

one-form system

the system at work in languages which use one and the same
marker for expressing several related semantic domains, for
instance reflexivity and middle voice

participant role

a semantic role associated with a verb within an event frame. For

instance: Agent, Patient, Experiencer, or Actor


a semantic role indicating the entity which undergoes a certain












morphological or syntactic construction.

primary meaning

the most original meaning of a certain morpho-syntactic feature.

primary reflexive strategy

the primary way of a language to express reflexivity

reflexive marker

a morphological or syntactic construction constituting marking,

thus expressing the semantic category of reflexivity.

reflexive marking language

a language which expresses the semantic category of reflexivity

by means of marking.


the referential identity or equivalence of two grammatical terms,

generally propositional arguments, of a clause-sized grammatical

situation type

a set of semantic contexts that are systematically associated with

a particular form of expression

two-form system

the system at work in languages which use various markers for

expressing various semantic domains, for instance reflexivity and
middle voice


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