Noun Chains in the Gospels

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Compared to Greek and English, Hebrew has few adjectives. As noted in "Hendiadys in the Synoptic Gospels," one way Hebrew overcomes this scarcity of adjectives is by linking two nouns with the conjunction "and." Grammarians call this usage "hendiadys," two terms connected by "and" forming a unit in which one member is used to qualify the other. The Hebrew language developed a second way of overcoming its limited inventory of adjectives: the construct state. This grammatical structure is similar to hendiadys in that two nouns are juxtaposed. In contrast to hendiadys, where two nouns are linked together by the conjunction "and," construct state nouns have no connective between them. They stand in a relationship of possession: the first of the nouns is possessed by the second. "House-family," for instance, is understood in Hebrew to mean "house of a family," that is, "a family’s house."

Revised: 24-Aug-2012

Cats are a salient feature of Jerusalem’s scenery. Throughout the city, one can find them napping in gardens, reposing on lofty ledges, or slinking along the streets in search of their next meal. A pedestrian, walking past a trash bin, may be startled as several cats leap out. Likewise, Hebraisms in the synoptic gospels are as ubiquitous as cats in Jerusalem. While perusing the synoptic gospels, the informed reader may be startled, too, as Hebrew idioms leap out from both the Greek texts and their English translations.

Hebrew’s Limited Inventory of Adjectives

Compared to Greek and English, Hebrew has few adjectives. As noted in “Hendiadys in the Synoptic Gospels” (JP 52, pp. 14-15), one way Hebrew overcomes this scarcity of adjectives is by linking two nouns with the conjunction “and.” Grammarians call this usage “hendiadys,” two terms connected by “and” forming a unit in which one member is used to qualify the other.

The Hebrew language developed a second way of overcoming its limited inventory of adjectives: the construct state. This grammatical structure is similar to hendiadys in that two nouns are juxtaposed. In contrast to hendiadys, where two nouns are linked together by the conjunction “and,” construct state nouns have no connective between them. They stand in a relationship of possession: the first of the nouns is possessed by the second. “House-family,” for instance, is understood in Hebrew to mean “house of a family,” that is, “a family’s house.”

Illustration by Helen Twena


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  • David N. Bivin

    David N. Bivin
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    David N. Bivin is founder and editor of Jerusalem Perspective. A native of Cleveland, Oklahoma, U.S.A., Bivin has lived in Israel since 1963, when he came to Jerusalem on a Rotary Foundation Fellowship to do postgraduate work at the Hebrew University. He studied at the Hebrew…
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