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Bible Lexicons

Gesenius Hebrew Grammer

Part 138

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

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. Genesis 24:7... יְהֹוָה אֲשֶׁר לְקָחַ֫נִי... הוּא יִשְׁלַח‎ the Lord, iste, he took me... he shall send, &c. (= who took me); Genesis 2:2 and God finished מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה‎ his work, istud, he had made (it). Such qualifying clauses may be called dependent relative clauses.

Rem. 1. In the above examples אֲשֶׁר‎ in Genesis 24:7 is virtually in the nominative, in Genesis 2:2 in the accusative. A further distinction between the examples is that in Genesis 24:7 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 Genesis 2:2 it is not resumed at all. This suppression of the retrospective pronoun[4] takes place especially when it (as in Genesis 2:2) 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. Genesis 1:7 הַמַּ֫יִם אֲשֶׁר מִתַּחַת לָֽרָקִיעַ‎ the waters, those, under the firmament, &c. In negative sentences, however, the retrospective pronoun is not infrequently added, e.g. Genesis 17:12 הוּא‎; 7:2 הִיא‎; 1 Kings 9:20 הֵ֫מָּה‎; Deuteronomy 20:15 הֵ֫נָּה‎; but cf. also אֲשֶׁר הוּא חַי‎ Genesis 9:3. The addition of הִיא‎ in a verbal clause, 2 Kings 22:13, 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. Numbers 10:29 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. Numbers 14:40, Judges 8:15, 1 Samuel 9:17, 23, 24:5, 1 Kings 8:29, Jeremiah 32:43.

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. Genesis 13:3 אֲשֶׁר־הָיָה שָׁם אָֽהֳלֹה עַד־הַמָּקוֹם‎ unto the place, that one, his tent had been there, i.e. where his tent had been; cf. Genesis 3:23 מִשָּׁם‎, Exodus 21:13 שָׁ֫מָּה‎. But even in this case the retrospective word may be omitted, cf. Genesis 35:14, Numbers 20:13, Isaiah 64:10, where שָׁם‎ would be expected, and Genesis 30:38, Numbers 13:27, 1 Kings 12:2, 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 Samuel 20:31 for all the days, אֲשֶׁר בֶּן־יִשַׁי חַי‎ those—the son of Jesse is living (in them); cf. Genesis 45:6, Deuteronomy 1:46, Deuteronomy 9:7, 1 Kings 11:42; see Baumann, op. cit., p. 33.

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. Genesis 45:4 I am Joseph, אֲשֶׁר־מְכַרְתֶּם אֹתִי‎ he—ye sold me, i.e. whom ye sold; Numbers 22:30, Isaiah 49:23; 41:8 thou, Jacob, אֲשֶׁר בְּחַרְתִּ֫יךָ‎ he—I have chosen thee; Jeremiah 33:19, Ecclesiastes 10:16 f.; Genesis 15:7 I am the Lord, אֲשֶׁר הֽוֹצֵאתִ֫יךָ‎ he—I brought thee out, &c., Exodus 20:2 (Deuteronomy 5:6).

(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. Exodus 14:13 b, and in a dependent relative clause Isaiah 7:17. 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. Numbers 22:6 אֲשֶׁר תָּאֹר יוּאָר‎ iste—thou cursest (him)—is cursed, i.e. he whom thou cursest, &c.; Exodus 22:8;[5] אֲשֶׁר‎ as object, Genesis 44:1, 49:1, 1 Samuel 16:3 ff., Micah 6:1 (אֵת אֲשֶׁר‎); and even preceding the verb, e.g. Isaiah 52:15, Psalms 69:5; אֲשֶׁר‎ as genitive, Ezekiel 23:28 I will deliver thee שָׂנֵאת בְּיַד אֲשֶׁר‎ into the hand of those—thou hatest (them); depending on a preposition, e.g. לַֽאֲשֶׁר‎ Genesis 44:4, 2 Kings 10:22; בַּֽאֲשֶׁר‎ Genesis 21:17, בַּֽאֲשֶׁר הוּא שָׁם‎ in that (place)—he is there, i.e. where he is; cf. Jul 17:8 and Ruth 1:16 אֶל־אֲשֶׁר‎ whither;[6] 1 Kings 18:12 עַל־אֲשֶׁר‎ whither; מֵֽאֲשֶׁר‎ Exodus 5:11.

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. Genesis 44:9 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 Genesis 31:32 עִם אֲשֶׁר תִּמְצָא‎ with whomsoever thou findest, where אֲשֶׁר‎ is a relative pronoun in the English sense; on the other hand, in Isaiah 47:12 (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’.]

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, Psalms 104:26 לִוְיָתָן זֶה־יָצַ֫רְתָּ‎ (there is) leviathan, he—thou hast formed (him), i.e. whom thou hast formed; Isaiah 42:24 (זוּ‎); in the accusative, Isaiah 25:9, Psalms 74:2 (in both eases with a retrospective pronoun; זוֹ‎ is used without it in Psalms 132:12); in apposition to a genitive dependent on a preposition, Proverbs 23:22 שְׁמַע לְאָבִ֫יךָ זֶה יְלָדֶ֑ךָ‎ hearken unto thy father, him—he begat thee, i.e. who begat thee; Psalms 17:9 (זוּ‎).—In Psalms 104:8 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

  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, Genesis 35:2.
  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 (Genesis 49:30, Genesis 50:13, Jeremiah 31:32) 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..., Jeremiah 14:1, Jeremiah 46:1, Jeremiah 47:1, Jeremiah 49:34.
  6. In Zechariah 12:10 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 Isaiah 31:6, 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.
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