We have here a typical example of a qatal // yiqtol sequence, often found in Hebrew poetry, much to the frustration of translators. That qatal refers to the past is clear, but how do we translate the yiqtol (underlined)?
כִּי־הוּא עַל־יַמִּים יְסָדָהּ
A translation found in some of the older commentators (Briggs, Kittel, Bäthgen) translates it in the present tense:
for he has founded it upon the seas(Bäthgen even saw cosmological significance in the distinction:"Das Perf. יסדה geht auf die Schöpfung, das Imperf. יכוננה auf die Erhaltung.”).
and upon the rivers he establishes it.
But this isn't the view of most modern scholars. Gesenius opted for an even more unlikely translation: he lists יכוננה as an example of the frequentive use of yiqtol in the past rather than the present (§107.1a; giving the odd translation: "was continually being established").
All English translations, including most modern commentators, translate it in the past ("established").
I'm trying to grasp this from the perspective of Alviero Niccacci's fascinating essay (Eisenbrauns, 2006) which, as far as I can see, is the first attempt to consistently translate the verbs in poetry along the same lines as in prose. It would appear that for Niccacci, yiqtol never refers to the present. The present tense is always referenced by either a verbless or a participle clause. This leaves us with yiqtol for either the future or the past. The future translation is well known (e.g. Ps 6:10: “The Lord has heard my supplication; the Lord will accept my prayer). When the qatal/yiqtol sequence refers to the past,
they signal a shift from main-line, punctual information (qatal) to secondary-line, repeated/habitual/explicatory/descriptive information” (yiqtol), p. 253.So, in sum, on Niccacci's reading, יְכוֹנְנֶהָ
- cannot be present (because yiqtol never refers to the present);
- could theoretically be future, except that it is excluded due to the context (i.e. it doesn't make sense; are there formal indicators as well?)
- is probably past, and given the semantics in the Psalm probably either communicates either secondary-line descriptive or explicatory information. If explicatory, it wishes to clarify the process by which God founded the earth on the seas; if descriptive, it wishes to represent the event more “graphically,” even to “celebrate” it, giving the event “depth of field” (to uses Niccacci's terms). Here, the yiqtol would have a “relief function.”
The best translation for this that I can think of is the gerundive, which expresses the "dynamicity” of an action, i.e.:
for he has founded it upon the seas
establishing it upon the rivers.
- Does Niccacci's theory hold water?
- Does the gerund do justice to the form?
- What's your favourite translation?