Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar/138. The Relative Pronoun

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§138. The Relative Pronoun.
Cf. Philippi, Stat. constr. (see heading of § 89), p. 71 f., and especially V. Baumann, Hebräische Relativsätze, Leipzig, 1894.

138a Relative clauses are most frequently (but not necessarily; cf. §155b) introduced by the indeclinable אֲשֶׁר (see § 36).[1] This is not, however, a relative pronoun in the Greek, Latin, or English sense, nor is it a mere nota relationis,[2] but an original demonstrative pronoun [as though iste, istius, &c.].[3] Hence it is used—

(1) In immediate dependence on the substantival idea to be defined, and virtually in the same case as it (hence belonging syntactically to the main clause); e.g. Gn 247... יְהֹוָה אֲשֶׁר לְקָחַ֫נִי... הוּא יִשְׁלַח the Lord, iste, he took me... he shall send, &c. (= who took me); Gn 22 and God finished מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה his work, istud, he had made (it). Such qualifying clauses may be called dependent relative clauses.

138b Rem. 1. In the above examples אֲשֶׁר in Gn 247 is virtually in the nominative, in Gn 22 in the accusative. A further distinction between the examples is that in Gn 247 the main idea (יהוה), to which אֲשֶׁר is added in apposition, is only resumed in the qualifying clause by the subject (he) inherent in לְקָחַ֫נִי, while in Gn 22 it is not resumed at all. This suppression of the retrospective pronoun[4] takes place especially when it (as in Gn 22) would represent an accusative of the object, or when it would be a separate pronoun representing a nominative of the subject in a noun-clause, e.g. Gn 17 הַמַּ֫יִם אֲשֶׁר מִתַּחַת לָֽרָקִיעַ the waters, those, under the firmament, &c. In negative sentences, however, the retrospective pronoun is not infrequently added, e.g. Gn 1712 הוּא; 7:2 הִיא; 1 K 920 הֵ֫מָּה; Dt 2015 הֵ֫נָּה; but cf. also אֲשֶׁר הוּא חַי Gn 93. The addition of הִיא in a verbal clause, 2 K 2213, is unusual.

The very frequent omission of the retrospective pronoun is noticeable in cases where the predicate of the qualifying clause is a verbum dicendi, e.g. Nu 1029 we are journeying unto the place, אֲשֶׁר אָמַר יָהוָֹה אֹתוֹ אֶתֵּן לָכֶם that place, the Lord said (of it), It will I give to you; cf. Nu 1440, Ju 815, 1 S 917, 23, 24:5, 1 K 829, Jer 3243.

138c 2. When the substantive, followed by אֲשֶׁר and the qualifying clause, expresses an idea of place, it may also be resumed by the adverbs of place שָׁם there, שָׁ֫מָּה thither, מִשָּׁם thence, e.g. Gn 133 אֲשֶׁר־הָיָה שָׁם אָֽהֳלֹה עַד־הַמָּקוֹם unto the place, that one, his tent had been there, i.e. where his tent had been; cf. Gn 323 מִשָּׁם, Ex 2113 שָׁ֫מָּה. But even in this case the retrospective word may be omitted, cf. Gn 3514, Nu 2013, Is 6410, where שָׁם would be expected, and Gn 3038, Nu 1327, 1 K 122, where שָׁ֫מָּה would be expected.—When the appositional clause is added to a word of time, the retrospective pronoun is always omitted, e.g. 1 S 2031 for all the days, אֲשֶׁר בֶּן־יִשַׁי חַי those—the son of Jesse is living (in them); cf. Gn 456, Dt 146, 97, 1 K 1142; see Baumann, op. cit., p. 33.

138d 3. If the governing substantive forms part of a statement made in the first or second person, the retrospective pronoun (or the subject of the appositional clause) is in the same person, e.g. Gn 454 I am Joseph, אֲשֶׁר־מְכַרְתֶּם אֹתִי he—ye sold me, i.e. whom ye sold; Nu 2230, Is 4923; 41:8 thou, Jacob, אֲשֶׁר בְּחַרְתִּ֫יךָ he—I have chosen thee; Jer 3319, Ec 1016 f.; Gn 157 I am the Lord, אֲשֶׁר הֽוֹצֵאתִ֫יךָ he—I brought thee out, &c., Ex 202 (Dt 56).

138e (2) Not depending (adjectivally) on a governing substantive, but itself expressing a substantival idea. Clauses introduced in this way may be called independent relative clauses. This use of אֲשֶׁר is generally rendered in English by he who, he whom, &c. (according to the context), or that which, &c., or sometimes of such a kind as (qualis), cf. Ex 1413 b, and in a dependent relative clause Is 717. In reality, however, the אֲשֶׁר is still a demonstrative belonging to the construction of the main clause as subject or object, or as a genitive dependent on a noun or preposition, e.g. Nu 226 אֲשֶׁר תָּאֹר יוּאָר iste—thou cursest (him)—is cursed, i.e. he whom thou cursest, &c.; Ex 228;[5] אֲשֶׁר as object, Gn 441, 49:1, 1 S 163 ff., Mi 61 (אֵת אֲשֶׁר); and even preceding the verb, e.g. Is 5215, ψ 695; אֲשֶׁר as genitive, Ez 2328 I will deliver thee שָׂנֵאת בְּיַד אֲשֶׁר into the hand of those—thou hatest (them); depending on a preposition, e.g. לַֽאֲשֶׁר Gn 444, 2 K 1022; בַּֽאֲשֶׁר Gn 2117, בַּֽאֲשֶׁר הוּא שָׁם in that (place)—he is there, i.e. where he is; cf. Jul 17:8 and Ru 116 אֶל־אֲשֶׁר whither;[6] 1 K 1812 עַל־אֲשֶׁר whither; מֵֽאֲשֶׁר Ex 511.

138f From these examples it follows that in independent relative clauses the retrospective suffix, or adverb of place, may be, and in fact generally is, omitted. As a rule, however (as in the dependent relative clause), this does not apply to eases in which the retrospective pronoun, by the construction of the sentence, depends on a preposition,[7] e.g. Gn 449 f. אֲשֶׁר יִמָּצֵא אִתּוֹ... וָמֵת he—it (the cup) is found with him,—shall die (for the Wāw of the apodosis in וָמֵת cf. §143d). In such cases אֲשֶׁר preceded by the preposition is quite anomalous, as in Gn 3132 עִם אֲשֶׁר תִּמְצָא with whomsoever thou findest, where אֲשֶׁר is a relative pronoun in the English sense; on the other hand, in Is 4712 (and probably also 56:4) בַּֽאֲשֶׁר is to be explained (with Baumann, op. cit., p. 37) by reference to 47:15, as a demonstrative pronoun, stand now with thine enchantments..., with those—thou hast laboured (with them).

[With regard to the preceding explanation of אֲשֶׁר, the student will of course understand that, in Hebrew as we know it, אֲשֶׁר never occurs as a mere demonstrative. A particle which, whatever its origin, is uniformly used with reference to something in another, contiguous clause, will naturally have acquired in practice that force which we denote by the term ‘relative’.]

138g Like the original demonstrative pronoun אֲשֶׁר, the demonstratives proper זֶה, זוֹ, זוּ (the last commonly),[8] and sometimes the article, are used somewhat frequently in poetic language to introduce both dependent and independent relative clauses. With regard to the construction of זֶה, &c., the remarks on אֲשֶׁר, under a and e, also hold good.


(a) זֶה in apposition to a governing substantive in the nominative, ψ 10426 לִוְיָתָן זֶה־יָצַ֫רְתָּ (there is) leviathan, he—thou hast formed (him), i.e. whom thou hast formed; Is 4224 (זוּ); in the accusative, Is 259, ψ 742 (in both eases with a retrospective pronoun; זוֹ is used without it in ψ 13212); in apposition to a genitive dependent on a preposition, Pr 2322 שְׁמַע לְאָבִ֫יךָ זֶה יְלָדֶ֑ךָ hearken unto thy father, him—he begat thee, i.e. who begat thee; ψ 179 (זוּ).—In ψ 1048 אֶל־מְקוֹם זֶה יָסַ֫דְתָּ לָהֶם unto the place which thou hadst founded for them (cf. §130c), זֶה is in the genitive after the construct state מְקוֹם to the place of that, thou hadst founded (it) for them; on the same analogy we may also take, with Baumann (op. cit., p. 48), ψ 7854, (חַר זֶה) and Ex 1513 (עַם־זוּ גָאָ֑לְתָּ), 15:16, Is 4321, ψ 916, 102, 315, 328, 6212, 1424, 1438 (all examples of זוּ).

138h To introduce independent relative clauses זֶה is used as a nominative in Jb 1919; as accusative, Jb 1517 and זוּ Hb 111, ψ 6829 (after a preposition, זֶה Ex 138; but the text is evidently corrupt).

138i (b) More certain examples of the use of the article as a relative pronoun (more correctly, perhaps, of the demonstrative which is otherwise used as article) are 1 Ch 2628 כֹּל הַֽהִקְדִּישׁ שְׁמוּאֵל all that Samuel had dedicated, &c.; 1 Ch 298 (where נִמְצָא can only be perfect Niphʿal); 2 Ch 2936, Ezr 1014. In connexion with a plural, Jos 1024 the chiefs of the men of war הֶהָֽלְכוּ אִתּוֹ who went with him; Ezr 825, 1017, 1 Ch 2917. Finally, in the sense of id quod, Jer 513 (where, however, we should read with the LXX הַדָּבָר). Cf. moreover, 1 S 924 the thigh וְהֶֽעָלֶ֫יהָ and that which was upon it (but see k below); 2 Ch 14 בַּֽהֵכִין equivalent to בַּֽאֲשֶׁר הֵכִין to the place, that he had prepared.

138k In all the examples adduced except 1 S 924 (where וְהָֽאַלְיָה should probably be read for וְהֶֽעָלֶ֫יהְ the הַ is followed by undoubted perfects; almost all the examples, moreover, belong to the latest Books (Ezra and Chronicles). On the other hand, another series of instances (even in the older texts) is extremely doubtful, in which the Masora likewise requires perfects, either by placing the tone on the penultima, as in Gn 1821, 4627, Jb 211 הַבָּ֫אָה; Is 5110 הַשָּׂ֫מָה; Ez 2617 הַֽהֻלָּ֫לָה Ru 122, 26 and 4:3 הַשָּׁ֫בָה, or by the punctuation, Gn 213 הַנּוֹלַד; 1 K 119, Dn 81 הַנִּרְאָה; Is 563 הַנִּלְוָה, while no doubt the authors in all these cases intended participles (and in fact perfect participles, cf. §116d) with the article, thus הַבָּאָ֫ה, &c., Ez 2617 הַֽהֻלָּלָה for הַמְהֻלָּלָה according to §52s, and in the other examples הַנּוֹלָד, הַנִּרְאֶה, הַנִּלְוֶה.

  1. The etymology of the word is still a matter of dispute. Against the identification of אֲשֶׁר, as an original substantive, with the Arabic ‛at̄ar, trace, Aram. אֲתַר place, trace, Nöldeke urges (ZDMG. xl. 738) that the expression trace of... could hardly have developed into the relative conjunction, while the meaning of place has been evolved only in Aramaic, where the word is never used as a relative. According to others, אֲשֶׁר is really a compound of several pronominal roots; cf. Sperling, Die Nota relationis im Hebräischen, Leipzig, 1876, and König, Lehrgeb., ii. 323 ff., who follows Ewald and Böttcher in referring it to an original אֲשַׁל. According to Hommel (ZDMG. xxxii. 708 ff.) אֲשֶׁר is an original substantive, to be distinguished from שֶׁ· and שַׁ· (an original pronominal stem), but used in Hebrew as a nota relationis, or (as זֶה and זוּ are also sometimes used, see below, g and h) simply for the relative pronoun. Baumann (op. cit., p. 44) sees in the Assyrian ša, Phoenician, Punic, and Hebrew שֶׁ, the ground-forms, of which the Phoenician and Punic אש (see above, § 36 note) and the Hebrew אֲשֶׁר are developments.
  2. E.g. like Luther’s use of so, in die fremden Götter, so unter euch sind, Gn 352.
  3. This is the necessary conclusion both from the analogy of the Arabic ʾallad-i, which is clearly a demonstrative (like the Hebr. הַלָּז, הַלָּזֶה), and from the use of זֶה and זוּ as relatives.
  4. The instances in which, instead of a retrospective pronoun, the main idea itself is repeated (Gn 4930, 5013, Jer 3132) are most probably all due to subsequent amplification of the original text by another hand.
  5. The absolute use of אֲשֶׁר is very peculiar in the formula אֲשֶׁר הָיָה דְבַר יי׳ אֶל־ this (is it)—it came as the word of the Lord to..., Jer 141, 461, 471, 4934.
  6. In Zc 1210 also, instead of the unintelligible אלי את אשר, we should probably read אֶל־אֲשֶׁר, and refer the passage to this class.
  7. Such a strong ellipse as in Is 316, where מִמֶּ֫נּוּ would be expected after העמיקו, is only possible in elevated poetic or prophetic language.
  8. The etymological equivalent דִּי, דְּ in Aramaic is always a relative.