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Publication: Journal of the American Oriental Society
Date published:
Language: English
PMID: 27321
ISSN: 00030279
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(ProQuest: ... Greek characters omitted or Cyrillic characters omitted.)


In earlier studies (Li 2009 and 2010), I suggested that the active participle in the Aramaic of Daniel functioned as a general atemporal imperfective that was on its way to becoming a present. I also proposed that the past time instances of the active participle in the corpus should not be ascribed to a "historical present" function, but rather to the fact that it was a general imperfective whose function was not temporally restricted. Since the aforementioned studies were focused on the Aramaic of Daniel, I did not present extensive comparisons with other corpora. In this present study, I intend to provide additional evidence for my conclusions by presenting comparative evidence from another Aramaic corpus, the Syriac New Testament Peshitta of Matthew, where, as will be demonstrated, participial constructions that express past imperfective and present are clearly distinguished.

For the sake of clarity, it is useful to begin by briefly explaining the grammatical terminology adopted in this article - there is no universally accepted terminology. The labels used here follow those of Comrie 1976. Whereas tense describes the relationship between the event and some other point in time, such as the moment of speech (e.g., past, present, future), grammatical aspect describes how its internal temporal structure is viewed. That is, aspect may describe a portion of the time of occurrence (beginning, middle, or end), or the frequency of occurrence, etc. Thus, "the perfective looks at the situation from outside, without distinguishing any of the internal structure of the situation, whereas the imperfective looks at the situation from the inside" (Comrie 1976: 4).

For example, in the sentence, "John was reading the book, when I entered" (Comrie 1976: 4-5), the last verb, "entered," can be said to be "perfective" in that the action is viewed as a single whole, whereas the verb phrase "was reading" is "imperfective," because it makes an explicit reference to a portion of the action; i.e., in this case, the act of reading is described in the middle, excluding the beginning and the end of the action. Comrie (1976: 24-25) also subdivided the imperfective aspect into "habitual" and "continuous," the latter including "progressive." However, Bybee, Perkins, and Pagliuca (1994: 137-39) subdivided imperfective aspect into "habitual" and "progressive," because they observed that, although examples can be found of grammatical forms expressing habitual, progressive, and imperfective aspects, there are no examples in cross-linguistic data of a non-progressive continuous. The label "habitual" refers to customarily repeated actions. As used in this article, it also serves as an umbrella term for not only habitual actions, but also those that are iterative, i.e., repeated actions that have a well-defined end point, or frequentative, i.e., actions that occur frequently in a specific period of time. The label "progressive" refers to a grammatical expression that describes an action as ongoing at reference time. And the label "imperfective" refers to a construction that can express both habitual and progressive meanings.

At the risk of oversimplification, I will further illustrate these labels with the following examples:

1. Sara was reading the novel.

2. Sara used to read novels.

3. Sara kept on reading the novel.

Sentences 1 to 3 illustrate some varieties of imperfective aspect, all in past time for the sake of comparison. Sentence 1 is progressive, expressing an action in process at reference time. Sentence 2 is habitual, indicating a customary or habitual action, not an action in process. And sentence 3 is, depending on context, either iterative, expressing repetition, or continuative, expressing the deliberate continuance of an action. In languages with an imperfective, i.e., a grammatical construction capable of expressing most or all shades of imperfective aspect, the imperfective construction can express any of the meanings of sentences 1 to 3, with the exact shade of meaning being determined by the context.

English does not have such an imperfective construction, but other languages do. For example, sentence 4 below contains a French imperfect ("imparfait"), which is a past imperfective.

4. Elle lisait. [She was reading/used to read.]

The French imperfect in sentence 4 above can be translated either as a past progressive, "she was reading," or a past habitual, "she used to read," depending on the context, and is therefore a past imperfective. Of course, an imperfective can, and often does, coexist with grammatical constructions for more specific types of imperfectivity, such as progressives, habituais, iteratives, etc. Bybee, Perkins, and Pagliuca (1994: 126) also noted that imperfectives are more often restricted to the past, as in the Spanish and French imperfect tenses, but may also be applicable to present and the future, as in Russian.

There is also a relationship between imperfective aspect and present tense. Bybee, Perkins, and Pagliuca (1994: 126) argued that the present tense is a type of imperfective, because present tense constructions in most languages can usually express not only the actual present, i.e., an action that is occurring at the moment of speech (e.g., "Sarah is reading a novel"), but also the general present, i.e., a statement of fact or an action that habitually or customarily occurs but may not be occurring at the moment of speech (e.g., "Sarah reads novels").1 That is, since the first type of present is in essence progressive and the latter is gnomic or habitual, the fact that both can be expressed by the same construction means that it is proper to consider the present tense a present imperfective. 2 Therefore, a general (i.e., atemporal) imperfective construction has both past imperfective and present functions. In contrast, in most contexts, a past imperfective construction does not express the present, nor does a present construction express the past imperfective.

Furthermore, progressive constructions can often develop into imperfectives or presents. According to Bybee (1994: 250), "a progressive restricted to the present by the existence of a past imperfective will become a present tense, while a progressive that is not so restricted will become an imperfective - expanding to cover as many functions as possible." Although it is indisputable that the Aramaic active participle developed from an atemporal progressive to a present, or at least to the base of a grammatical construction for the present tense (e.g., Rubin 2005: 31-32), the evidence from my research on the Aramaic of Daniel suggests that the path of development was not direct, but that the active participle first became a general imperfective (see Li 2009: 55-56, 90-92, 95-96, 147-48; 2010).

Finally, the present tense may be employed to narrate past events in some languages such as Koine Greek, a function called "historical present." Some have explained past time instances of the Aramaic active participle as historical presents on the assumption that it is primarily a present tense (e.g., for Biblical Aramaic, see Bauer and Leander 1927: 294-95; Rosenthal 1961: 55; Johns 1972: 25; Cohen 1984: 413, 477; Rogland 2003: 430-32; GzelIa 2004: 120-31). However, most of the possible instances involve participial expressions introducing direct speech (see Li 2009: 43-45, 52-55), and the label "historical present" may be inaccurate for such expressions. Goodwin (1889: 17) noticed that in classical Greek, in "such expressions as he said, he commanded," "the action is of such a nature that it is not important to distinguish its duration from its occurrence." That is, the aspectual opposition between the Greek aorist indicative (i.e., the past perfective/simple past) and the imperfect indicative (i.e., the past imperfective) was sometimes neutralized when applied to verbs introducing direct speech, and both aspects could be used interchangeably, their distinction being "occasionally indifferent" (Goodwin 1900: 270).

It is possible that this phenomenon occurs in other languages, including ancient Aramaic. If so, the use of the active participle with verbs introducing direct speech in Aramaic should not be classed as the historical present, but as the "occasionally indifferent" use of the imperfective aspect in expressions introducing direct speech. That is, the active participle of ... and other verbs introducing direct speech was originally employed instead of the suffix conjugation in past time narrative not as a historical present, but because the aspectual difference between simple past and past imperfective was often neutralized in such expressions. Then, in later Aramaic, when participial expressions for the present and past imperfective became clearly distinguished, the use of the simple participle with verbs introducing direct speech persisted as a vestige of earlier usage.


There is general agreement that the Syriac active participle is used in the expression of, inter alia, the present or present-future tense (e.g., Duval 1881: 312-16; Brockelmann 1899: 93; Nöldeke 1904: 211-18; Muraoka 2005: 66-67) and that the combination of the Syriac active participle with ... expresses a past imperfective (e.g., Duval 1881: 321-22, etc.; but see the discussion of Joosten 1996 below), so much so that some grammars have labeled it the Syriac "imperfect" tense (Hoffman 1827: 337-38; Phillips 1866: 170-71; they applied the label "future" to the prefix conjugation and "preterite" to the suffix conjugation). However, since the use of the past imperfective in many languages can often be a stylistic choice made by a speaker/writer rather than a requirement, an a priori assumption as to how imperfective aspect is rendered can sometimes result in circular reasoning. For example, if one assumes that a certain grammatical construction has an imperfective function, it is tempting simply to conclude that whenever said construction is used, the author/speaker is expressing imperfective aspect. Therefore, I have decided to base this study on a Syriac text that is a translation from the Greek, i.e., the Syriac New Testament Peshitta of Matthew.

Since it is generally agreed that the Greek present and imperfect indicative tenses express the present and past imperfective respectively, the use of a translated corpus is more objective than an original Syriac composition, because, although the Syriac translator is free either to depart from the aspect and tense of the Greek original or to translate it mechanically even when it is unnatural for genuine Syriac, one expects a preponderance of instances where the original is rendered by a Syriac expression that has a similar range of meanings.3 Therefore, since in a translated text the employment of Syriac past imperfective is motivated by the Greek original in the majority of instances, rather than solely by the stylistic choice of the Syriac translator, one can use the instances of past imperfective in the Greek original as a preliminary guide to the instances where the Syriac translator most likely intended to express it.

A study of various aspects of the Syriac language of Matthew was done by Joosten 1996, and it is not my purpose here either to redo or revise his excellent work, though I inevitably cite some of the same passages that he cited. Rather, the present study builds on his main conclusions with a few modest refinements. Furthermore, although Joosten' s study of the Syriac construction active participle + ... was very thorough, he did not address the expression of the present tense in Syriac verbal clauses, nor did his survey of "qatel" distinguish the simple active participle from the participle with enclitic pronouns.

It should also be acknowledged that although a translated text has in its favor an element of control in the interpretation of the Syriac, it also has the disadvantage of introducing issues related to translation technique and, in the case of a biblical text, textual criticism. Though such issues cannot be avoided, my focus remains on morphosyntactic function rather than translation technique or text-critical issues. Therefore, I have not discussed matters related to translation technique or textual criticism unless they are relevant to the purpose of this present study. While acknowledging the important role of translation technique, I have nevertheless assumed that the most common Syriac verbal conjugation used to translate a specific Greek tense was so used because it was the construction that came closest to expressing the most common function(s) of the Greek original. Likewise, although I have discussed some relevant passages from the Old Syriac Gospels that have been cited in the literature, I have not engaged in a full survey of the Old Syriac Gospels, because, since it is possible that the Greek textual basis of the latter may have been different from that of the New Testament Peshitta version (e.g., Brock 2006: 33-35), comparing the Old Syriac and Peshitta readings could introduce complex text-critical issues that are at best peripheral to this study. For studies that include more comprehensive discussions of translation technique and textual criticism in the Syriac Gospels, see Joosten 1996 and Williams 2004. 4

Also, this study is limited to instances of Greek finite indicative verbs, because temporal distinctions are grammatically expressed in the indicative mood, but not in the other moods or non-finite forms. Thus, although the distinction between present and aorist participles in Greek is relevant to the study of imperfective aspect, said forms are atemporal, resulting in more subjectivity in distinguishing between past imperfective and present (the context usually makes the temporal sphere clear, but a greater degree of subjectivity on the part of the reader/translator is nonetheless introduced). Furthermore, the functions of some constructions may be different in subordinate clauses from main clauses. Therefore, this study focuses primarily on the use of the Syriac active participle in the translation of the Greek present and imperfect indicatives, as well as the few instances where it occurs in the translation of the aorist indicative.

Additionally, because my earlier observations on the active participle in the Aramaic of Daniel show a marked difference from its employment in the expression of the past imperfective and the present in Syriac, I have also included a brief discussion that highlights this difference. 5

In the passages cited as examples below, I include both the Greek and the Syriac for comparison, but provide only a translation for the Syriac, except in cases where differences between Syriac and Greek are relevant for discussion.


As mentioned above, a very thorough study of the translation of the Greek imperfect indicative as well as the Syriac active participle + ... construction was done by Joosten (1996: 109-29). According to him, the Greek imperfect and the Syriac active participle + ... do not express precisely the same notion. He distinguishes aspectual opposition, i.e., cursive/linear vs. constative/punctual, from Aktionsart, i.e., durative, frequentative, punctual, etc. (as well as the text-linguistic opposition between background and foreground) (pp. 115-16). Whereas aspect denotes the speaker's viewpoint of the action, e.g., cursive denotes an action in process and constative denotes an action as a fact, Aktionsart describes the nature of the action itself, e.g., a durative Aktionsart denotes an action that continues for a stretch of time ma frequentative Aktionsart consists of a succession of identical actions. According to Joosten, the Greek imperfect denotes primarily past time cursive aspect, but can be employed to express Aktionsart, whereas the Syriac active participle + ... denotes primarily durative Aktionsart in the past, but can also be used to express frequentative Aktionsart and cursive aspect. In fact, he acknowledged that the Syriac active participle + ... may have been "on its way" (p. 128) to becoming an expression of aspect. Though Joosten' s assessment of the Greek imperfect may be oversimplified,6 his conclusion that the Greek imperfect and the Syriac active participle + ... do not express precisely the same range of functions appears to be supported by the data of the corpus.

Viewed from the perspective of Comrie's (1976: 16-48) terminology, cursive aspect corresponds to the label "progressive," frequentative Aktionsart corresponds to the label "habitual" (which here includes frequentative, iterative, etc.), and grammatical constructions that can express both progressive aspect and habitual/frequentative Aktionsart can be labeled "imperfective."7 Furthermore, as Comrie's discussion suggests, there is some inevitable variation from language to language, and grammatical constructions for "progressive," "habitual," or "imperfective" do not always express precisely the same range of meanings across languages. Thus, although the distinction between cursive aspect and certain types of Aktionsart (durative, frequentative, etc.) is acknowledged, they can be viewed as subdivisions under the broader umbrella of "imperfective." And since both the Greek imperfect and the Syriac active participle + ... can express both notions, though differences are acknowledged, both qualify for the label "past imperfective."

There are 142 instances of the Greek imperfect indicative in Matthew. However, some of these instances are invalid for comparison because Syriac could express the equivalent with a verbless sentence or some other expression which is semantically but not grammatically equivalent, including 38 instances of the verb ... 'to be' and 7 instances of ... 'to have'. Also excluded are 26 instances of the verbs ... and ... because these are commonly used to introduce direct speech. As explained above, the aspectual opposition between the Greek aorist and the imperfect was neutralized in the case of verbs introducing direct speech, and therefore, these verbs are not good objects for the study of aspectual correspondences between Greek and Syriac.

Of the remaining 71 instances of the Greek imperfect in Matthew, at least 38 instances are rendered by means of the Syriac active participle + ... construction. 8

Matt. 12:23



And all the crowds were amazed.

Matt. 26:59



Now the chief priests and elders and the whole Council kept trying to find witnesses against Jesus.

In the above examples, the Syriac participle + ... construction is employed to express both single progressive events (12:23) and a series of frequentative events (26:59). It is also employed to render the Greek inceptive imperfect, which expresses the beginning of an action, as in the following example.

Matt. 8:15



And the fever left her, and she got up and began serving him.

In two additional instances, the active participle can be understood as continuing a participle + ... expression, where the verb 'to be' serves double duty (e.g., 21:8b; 27:36).

Matt. 21:8



But others were cutting branches from trees and spreading them on the road.

In only two instances the Syriac translator rendered the Greek imperfect with a simple active participle without ... . Both of these instances could be considered as occurring in subordinate clauses. In Matt. 15:22 the Greek imperfect is rendered with ... + participle. The instance in Matt. 2:18 is an Old Testament quotation, where the choice may also have been influenced by a preceding participle functioning as an adverbial adjunct. The latter instance deserves further comment.

Matt. 2:18



[Peshitta:] Rachel weeping for her children, and not willing to be comforted.


[Sinaiticus:] The voice of Rachel who was weeping for her children, and was not willing to be comforted.

In the above example Joosten (1996: 118) observed the addition of ... to ... in the Sinaiticus text, and explained it as an instance of a correction "for translation-technical reasons," i.e., it is a wooden translation that goes contrary to true Syriac idiom. However, the syntax of the two translations is very different, since Sinaiticus translates ... as ... making explicit that this passage is an expansion of the previous poetic lines, and adds the particle ... to turn the next two clauses into a compound relative clause, with ... added to both participles ... and ... . Furthermore, Joosten' s suggestion that, aside from this passage, the Greek imperfect of ... is "always translated with" the Syriac perfect in Matthew (citing 18:30 and 22:3) is not borne out by the evidence. To begin with, in Matt. 27:15 ... is rendered as ... . Also, in the other Gospels the imperfect of ... is normally rendered by the Syriac active participle + ... (e.g., Mark 6:19, 48; 7:24; Luke 15:28; 18:4, 13; John 6:21; 7:1, 44; 16:19). The translation of the imperfect of ... by the Syriac participle without ... (e.g., John 21:18) or the Syriac perfect (e.g., Mark 3:13) occurs less frequently. Thus, the employment of the participle by itself in the Peshitta of Matt. 2:18 should be understood as an attempt to follow the exact wording of the Old Testament Peshitta passage that is quoted (Jeremiah 31:15), and the correction by Sinaiticus should be explained as an attempt to render it in idiomatic Syriac.

There are also two instances where the Greek imperfect is translated by the Syriac passive participle + ... (26:20; 28:6). Both instances involve Greek deponent verbs with related roots expressing stative notions (... 'to recline at table' and ... 'to lie down'). In these instances the phrase with the passive participle is equivalent to active participle + ... (on the active function of the passive participle, see Nöldeke 1904: 220; Goldenberg 1992: 118).

Matt. 28:6



Come, see the place where our Lord was lying.

Similarly, there are five instances of a qattll adjective followed by ... (7:28; 8:24; 14:24; 19:25; 26:63), where the qattll adjective could be interpreted as either equivalent to a passive participle or as an adjective. On the fact that such participial adjectives can function verbally, see Goldenberg 1983: 115-17. On the rendering of stative imperfect verbs by adjective + ... see Joosten 1996: 120.

Matt. 8:24



But Jesus was asleep.

In twenty instances, the Greek imperfect is translated as a Syriac perfect (1:25; 8:2; 9:2, 10, 18; 13:1, 8; 15:23, 25, 29, 36; 18:26, 29, 30; 20:11; 22:3, 46; 25:5; 26:58b; 27:23). Joosten (1996: 119-21) explained most of these instances by suggesting either that some verbs "regularly take" a perfect because they express "a state or an activity of the inner person" (1:25; 2:18; 8:2; 9:18; 15:25; 18:26, 30; 22:3, 46), or that other instances of Greek imperfects rendered by Syriac perfects are grammatically motivated, because the former is "not quite coextensive" with participle + ... (9:2; 13:8; 20:11; 26:7).

Matt. 1:25



But he did not know her.

However, Joosten (1996: 121) also acknowledged that in some cases (15:23; 18:29; 19:25), the translation of the Greek imperfect "is not regulated by strict rules." For example:

Matt. 15:23



And his disciples came and requested of him, saying, . . .

In contrast to the above example, Joosten (p. 121) cited another instance of the imperfect of ... translated by the Syriac active participle + ... in 16:13 (... 'he was asking'). However, his caution that the Syriac verb in the latter is ... seems irrelevant since the imperfect of ... is rendered by a participial form of ... in the other Gospels. For example:

Mark 7:26



And she kept asking him.

Compare also the instances of the Greek imperfect of ... in John chap. 4. Although ... 'they were requesting' occurs in both vv. 31 and 40, it is translated in v. 31 by ... (participle + ...) and in v. 40 by ... (perfect). It would be rather forced to conclude that the disciples' request for Jesus to eat in v. 31 was iterative, but the Samaritans' request for him to stay with them in v. 40 was not. Also, in v. 47, which narrates a royal official's request to Jesus, ... 'he was asking' is translated by ... (participle + ...).

In addition to Joosten' s observations, I would also suggest that some instances of Greek imperfects translated into Syriac perfects may be characterized as idiomatic, not because of the specific words or grammatical forms involved, but because a literal rendering of a sequence of Greek tenses/aspects/moods would be rather cumbersome in Syriac. For example:

Matt. 15:36


[Greek:] Having given thanks, he broke it [the bread], and was giving it.


[Peshitta:] And he gave thanks, and broke it [the bread], and gave it.

Although the above Greek sequence, aorist participle + aorist indicative + imperfect indicative, could be correctiy translated into corresponding Syriac forms, the resulting sequence is cumbersome in Syriac. Thus, the series of Syriac perfects in the above example is best seen not as motivated by individual words or forms, but by the sequence of forms.

In this connection, the instance in 20:11 is worthy of special comment. Joosten (1996: 114, 121) cited the Sinaiticus rendering of the Greek imperfect with a simple participle as an example of a historical present:

Matt. 20:11


[Greek:] And having received it, they were grumbling I began to grumble against the house owner.


[Peshitta:] And when they had received it, they grumbled against the house owner.


[Sinaiticus:] When they had seen it, they were grumbling /began to grumble against the house owner.


[Curetonian:] And when they had seen it, they grumbled against the house owner.

In the above example, though the participle ... in Sinaiticus could be interpreted as a historical present, it could also be a past imperfective, especially since the Greek ... is imperfect. Thus the difference among the Syriac witnesses could be stylistic rather than grammatically significant. See below for further discussion of the historical present.

For the sake of completeness, I should mention that the Greek imperfect was rendered in a single instance with an adjective + ... (... for ... 18:28a) and in one instance with an infinitive (... for ... 24:1). There is no need to discuss them further in the context of this present study.

The above observations may be summarized as follows: it is very clear that the preferred grammatical construction for translating the Greek imperfect indicative in the Syriac Peshitta of Matthew is active participle + ..., and that there is a significant overlap in their range of functions. As can be seen from the examples cited above, participle + ... is employed to render various types of imperfective aspect, not restricted only to progressive, durative, or habitual notions, and thus it is appropriate to consider it a past imperfective. On the other hand, as discussed above, the fact that both the Greek imperfect and the Syriac active participle + ... are past imperfectives does not mean that they must have precisely the same range of meanings, and Joosten is justified in concluding that the instances of Greek imperfects translated by a Syriac perfect suggest some divergence in function between the Greek imperfect and the Syriac active participle + ... . However, though the Greek imperfect is also translated by a Syriac perfect, the latter does not express past imperfective notions. The simple participle alone without ... can be employed to express the past imperfective, more often in subordinate contexts, but the instances are too few to draw general conclusions.


There are at least 751 instances of the Greek present indicative in Matthew. There may also be some additional instances where the second person present indicative and the present imperative are indistinguishable (e.g., ... 24:33), and, conversely, two of these present indicative instances are translated in Syriac by an imperative (both in 26:45). Also, the same types of constructions must be excluded from consideration as with the Greek imperfect, which may be listed as follows: 180 instances of ... 31 instances of ... and 150 instances of verbs of speaking commonly used to introduce direct speech (... and ...). In addition, the following other constructions have been excluded: five instances of the auxiliary ... + infinitive, because the construction actually expresses the future rather than the present, and eight instances of ... .

The Greek Present Indicative as a Historical Present

Of the 375 remaining instances of the Greek present indicative in Matthew, one must distinguish true "presents," i.e., those that express present time, from instances where the Greek present is used to express non-present-time functions. Among the many functions of the Greek present indicative is that of denoting a historical present, i.e., a past time event expressed by a present tense. Excluding verbs of speaking that can introduce direct speech, there are at least 22 clear instances of historical presents (2:13, 19; 3:1, 13, 15; 4:5, 8a, b, 11; 9:14; 15:1; 17:1a, b; 22:16; 25:11, 19a, b; 26:36, 40a, b, 45a; 27:38). All of them are translated by the Syriac perfect.

Matt. 2:13



The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.

No doubt, some of the remaining instances of the Greek present may also have been interpreted as historical presents by the Syriac translator, e.g., ... for ... 6:2, 5; ... for ... 3:14. Therefore, in addition to the clear instances of historical presents one could add at least ten more instances where the Greek present is translated by a Syriac perfect because the Syriac translator understood the Greek as a historical present (3:14; 6:2, 5b, 16b; 13:44a, b, c; 15:32b; 25:8; 27:47).

Matt. 13:44


[Greek:] And because of his joy, he goes, and sells all that he has, and buys that field.


[Peshitta:] And because of his joy, he went, sold all that he had, and bought that field.

In the above example, the Greek presents may or may not be historical presents. But they are so interpreted by the Syriac translator.

Additionally, there are also at least four instances where the Greek present occurs in subordinate clauses in past time (2:4, 22; 20:30; 24:43). The fact that these instances occur in subordinate contexts can create challenges for classification. For example, Brooks and Winbery (1979: 86) considered the instance in Matthew 2:4 (... Syriac ...) a tendential present, an action that is being contemplated, proposed, or attempted, but not actually taking place, whereas Turner (1963: 63) and Blass and Debrunner (1984: 267) categorized it as a type of futuristic present. Nevertheless, whatever nuances might be ascribed to the Greek verbs in these instances, it is clear that the context is in past time, and that the Syriac translation reflects the (at least semantic if not always syntactic) subordinate nature of the clause. Of these four instances in subordinate clauses, three are translated by a simple Syriac active participle without ... (2:4; 20:30; 24:43), and one by ...n + noun (2:22).

Matt. 24:43



If the owner of the house had known at which hour the thief would come . . .

Blass and Debrunner (1984: 266-67) considered the above instance a futuristic present, no doubt because the larger context of the chapter is prophetic. However, what may be more relevant for the Syriac translator is that it occurs in a past time subordinate clause, since the context is a parable/illustration that is set in the past. Note that the preceding verb is ... a pluperfect that serves as a past tense of ... (which, in turn, is a perfect with a present sense), and the subsequent verb is aorist indicative ... . Therefore, the use of the Syriac participle may reflect the subordinate nature of the clause. Also, the absence of an enclitic ... may be due to the fact that it is not always necessary to specify the temporal sphere in subordinate contexts.

Thus, it is clear that, except for subordinate clauses, the Syriac translator understood Greek historical presents to be simple pasts, not past imperfectives. Greek presents in past subordinate clauses may have been considered imperfective due to their subordinate function. It is also clear that, other than for verbs of speaking, Syriac does not generally employ the historical present.

In passing, it should be mentioned that Joosten (1996: 1 14) cited a number of other instances where the active participle functions as a historical present. These include ... for the aorist ... in Matt. 28: 8 (see below for a discussion of the translation of the Greek aorist), as well as the Sinaiticus of 9:27; 12:46; 20:11; 27:19. However, in most cases, these participles could be alternatively interpreted as expressing some type of past imperfective aspect.

Matt. 28:8


[Greek:] And having gone quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, they ran to tell his disciples.


[Peshitta:] And they went quickly from the tomb with fear and with great joy, running to tell his disciples.

In the above example, it is possible that the Syriac translator simply reversed the relationship between the clauses for idiomatic reasons. That is, whereas in Greek the initial clause of the verse is subordinate (... aorist active participle) to the following clause (... aorist active indicative), the Syriac makes the first clause the main clause (... perfect) and the following clause subordinate/circumstantial (... active participle).9

Likewise, most of the above referenced instances of active participles in Sinaiticus are better understood as past imperfectives than as historical presents. In 9:27 the Greek present participle ... 'crying out' is translated in the Peshitta ... 'who were crying out' and in Sinaiticus ... 'crying out' (or, 'and were crying out'). The instance in 12:46 is interesting because of the differences among the Syriac translations.

Matt. 12:46


[Greek:] While he was speaking with the crowds, look, his mother and his brothers were standing outside seeking to speak with him.


[Peshitta:] Now while he was speaking with the crowds, his mother and his brothers showed up standing outside and seeking to speak with him.


[Sinaiticus:] And while he was speaking with the crowds, look, his mother and his brothers were standing outside and wishing to speak with him.


[Curetonian:] And while he was speaking with the crowds, look, his mother and his brothers were standing outside and seeking to speak with him.

In the above example, the Greek ... is the pluperfect of ... and functions as a past tense of the perfect ... which in turn has a present stative meaning 'to stand, be there' (e.g., v. 47). The Peshitta ... had a past subordinate/circumstantial function. 10 One might consider ... in Sinaiticus a historical present, were it not for a comparison between Sinaiticus and Curetonian. Curetonian has ... with the participle in both the temporal protasis, ... and the main clauses, ... . . . ... all clear past imperfectives, whereas Sinaiticus leaves it out in all instances. Possibly, the presence/absence of ... with one of the participles may have been influenced by its presence/absence with the other (and ... is clearly not a historical present). Therefore, there is no reason to read any of the three Syriac witnesses in 12:46 other than as past imperfectives. As for the instance in 20:11, see the discussion above.

The only instance that is more likely to be a historical present occurs in 27:19, where the aorist ... 'she sent' is rendered by the active participle ... in Sinaiticus (but the Peshitta has a perfect ...). However, in context ... means 'to send a message' and could be classed among verbs that introduce direct speech (e.g., the message from Pilate's wife is introduced by two participles in Sinaiticus ... . . . ... instead of perfect and participle ... . . . ... [Peshitta]).11 As mentioned above, the distinction between perfective/simple past and imperfective is sometimes neutralized when applied to verbs that introduce direct speech. Thus, most of the instances Joosten cites of participles serving as historical presents are more likely past imperfectives, some in subordinate contexts, and the only possible exception involves a verb that occurs in an expression introducing direct speech.

The Greek Present Indicative in Other Non-Present Functions

Not only can the Greek present indicative function as a historical present, but there are also at least fourteen instances where it is used to express the future (24:40a, b, 41a, b, 42, 44b; 26:2a, b, 18, 24a, b; 27:49, 63; 28:7).

Matt. 27:63



After three days, I will rise.

There is general agreement that the above example expresses future time (e.g., Burton 1898: 9; Turner 1963: 63; Brooks and Winbery 1979: 89; Blass and Debrunner 1984: 267; Fanning 1990: 225). As in the above example, most instances of Greek present indicatives expressing future time are translated by expressions containing Syriac active participles, but three instances are translated with a Syriac imperfect (24:40a, b, 44b). Although the use of the Syriac imperfect often carries a modal nuance, it is sometimes indistinguishable from a simple future. As Joosten (1996: 114) observed, the Syriac imperfect "is the older form expressing the future, which is slowly being pushed aside by" the active participle.

Matt. 24:40

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.)

Then two will be in the field. One will be taken and one will be left.

Turner (1963: 319) cited the above Greek example, and explained the first clause, which contains a Greek future, as an instance of an independent clause serving as "the protasis of a condition" (i.e., semantically equivalent to "if two . . ."). Be that as it may, the following clauses, the apodosis, have Greek presents expressing future time. All these clauses are translated by Syriac imperfect verbs.

In addition to the above instances, there are at least four instances where the Syriac imperfect clearly expresses a modal nuance which may or may not have been present in the context of the original Greek present indicative (9:16b, c; 12:25; 18:7).

Matt. 9:16


Lest the patch pull away from that garment, and the rupture become worse.

In the above example, the Greek present indicative is translated by the Syriac imperfect expressing not a present or future tense but a negative result, "lest'7"so that . . . may not. . . ."

In another instance (16:21), a Greek present indicative modal auxiliary de? expressing necessity or obligation is translated by an equivalent Syriac auxiliary -uh^., which is also capable of expressing the future. 12

Matt. 16:21


And from then on, Jesus began to make known to his disciples that he had to go to Jerusalem.

The Greek Present Indicative as a True Present

The remaining 320 instances of the Greek present indicative function in the present, and the overwhelming majority of these are translated into Syriac by means of an expression that includes the active participle. A distinction exists between first and second person expressions and third person expressions. Whereas the first and second person constructions include an enclitic personal pronoun, the third person constructions do not. This distinction is significant for the present study, because although both the simple participle (without explicit or null markers) and the participle + null (third person) personal marker appear the same, they belong to two different grammatical constructions, as will be explained below. As Goldenberg (1983: 114) observed, the tendency for predicate participles to be accompanied by enclitic pronouns has been noted since the eighteenth century, though this "conjugated" participle has often been regarded as a nominal sentence rather than a present tense. 13

There are at least thirty- two instances of Greek first person present indicative verbs translated by a Syriac active participle and a first person enclitic. 14

Matt. 3:11


I baptize you with water for repentance.

The example above expresses a general present. The Syriac construction active participle + enclitic pronoun can also express an actual present. For example:

Matt. 8:25


Lord, save us, we are perishing.

Thus, the Syriac present tense construction can express both types of "presents," just like the Greek present indicative.

There are also at least sixty-seven instances of Greek second person present indicative verbs translated by a Syriac active participle, which is followed in almost all instances by a pronominal clitic. 15

Matt. 6:28


And why do you worry concerning clothing?

The only instances where the Syriac participle is not accompanied by a second person pronominal enclitic occur in 6:32b, where the Syriac translator employed an idiomatic third person Syriac expression, and in 11:4b, where the pronominal clitic of a previous participle may serve double duty.

Matt. 6:32


Your father who is in heaven knows that also you need all these things [lit., all these things are necessary to you] .

Matt. 11:4


Go, tell John what you hear and see.

In the last example above, the second participle does not have an enclitic pronoun because the preceding participle is already marked with one (see Nöldeke 1904: 247).

There are at least 194 instances of Greek third person present indicative verbs translated by a Syriac active participle. 16 With only one exception (see below), the Syriac active participles are unaccompanied by enclitic pronouns.

Matt. 6:19


Do not place for yourselves treasures on earth, where the moth and the worm destroy, and where thieves break through and steal.

Included in the list are at least seven instances where third person Greek present indicative verbs were translated by a Syriac active participle with additional words added to form Syriac idiomatic expressions (10:38b; 11:12a; 12:30; 13:23a; 15:17c, 22; 24:48). However, in none of these instances are enclitic pronouns added to the participles.

Matt. 13:23


He bears fruit.

The only instance of a Greek third person present indicative in Matthew translated by the Syriac active participle accompanied by an enclitic pronoun occurs in 22:42, where the Syriac translator rendered the Greek third person impersonal expression into an idiomatic Syriac second person expression.

Matt. 22:42


What do you think concerning Christ?

Compare the above example with the instance in 6:32, discussed above, where the reverse occurs, i.e., a Greek expression with a second person verb is translated by a Syriac idiomatic expression where the participle has a third person subject.

In addition to constructions based on the active participle, there are a few instances where other means were employed to translate the Greek present indicative in the Peshitta of Matthew. A number of instances are translated by Syriac passive participles (first person 19:20; second person 6:26e; 7:2b; 10:31; 23:13(14)a; third person 3:10a; 9:2, 5; 17:15b; 22:40; 23:25b, 27c), which could be understood as reflecting the passive voice of the Greek original (3:10a; 9:2, 5; 22:40; 23:25b, 27c), or functioning actively in lieu of an active participle (7:2b; 17:15b; 19:20; 23:13(14)a), or functioning nominally /adjectivally (6:26; 10:31). The placement of pronominal enclitics on passive participles seems to follow the same pattern as on active participles; i.e., Greek first and second person present indicatives are translated by expressions that contain enclitic pronouns, and third person expressions are translated without enclitic pronouns.

Matt. 19:20


What do I lack!

Matt. 17:15


And he is ill.

It is not difficult to see that passive participles are used in the above examples because they are rendered in normal idiomatic Syriac rather than by means of an awkward literal translation. Another instance of a Syriac idiomatic translation occurs in 22:16b, where the Greek expression containing a third person verb is translated by the Syriac passive participle and a second person clitic.

Matt. 22:16


And you do not favor any man.

In at least ten instances, the Greek present indicative is translated by Syriac nominal clauses (5:29b, 30b; 9:24; 12:12; 15:8b; 17:15a; 18:6; 19:10; 20:25a, b).

Matt. 5:29


For it is better for you.

Some of these instances of nominal clauses involve expressions where the adjective is commonly used in place of the participle. In fact, Goldenberg (1983: 115-17) observed that participial adjectives behave syntactically like participles, and occur in constructions that can function either nominally or verbally (e.g., ... "she is asleep" for ... in Matt. 9:24).

There are also six instances of Greek present indicatives that are not historical presents, but are translated by Syriac perfects. One of these may be due to a possible textual variant (21:13).

Matt. 21:13


But you have made it a den of robbers.

In the above example, it is possible that the Syriac translator was working with a Greek text that had either the aorist ... or the perfect ... instead of the present ..., and that this accounts for his translation with a Syriac perfect. The remaining instances could be explained as idiomatic translations, as all of them involve stative verbs. In these instances the Greek present is not a historical present, but expresses a present state, and it is translated idiomatically by the Syriac perfect. They include two instances of the Greek ... '(it) is red' (16:2, 3a), two instances of ... 'you understand' (16:9a, 11), and one instance of ... 'you are here' (26:50).

Matt. 16:2


It is/will be fair weather, for the sky is red.

Matt. 16:11


How do you not understand!

Matt. 26:50


My friend, why have you cornel

In summary, the verbal expression of the present tense in the Syriac Peshitta of Matthew involves the use of the active participle, either in combination with enclitic pronouns for the first and second persons or without an enclitic pronoun for the third person. Passive participles and verbless clauses are also employed. The use/non-use of enclitic pronouns with passive participles follows the same pattern as with the active participle. Also, the Syriac perfect can be employed to express a present state. The distinction between the presence of an enclitic pronoun in first/second person forms and its absence in third person forms may be compared to the West Semitic suffix conjugation, e.g., the Syriac perfect, where no pronominal affix is added to the 3ms form (this similarity was also observed by Goldenberg 1983: 113-14). 17 Therefore, at least for the diachronic period represented by the Peshitta of Matthew, the active participle is not itself the present tense, but rather serves only as the base of the present tense construction, which consists of active participle + personal marker, i.e., first /second person enclitic pronoun or a null/zero marker for the third person. 18

The apparent common form of the simple participle (without explicit or null markers) and the third person form of the grammatical construction for the present tense (i.e., participle + null third person marker) may be the reason why the distinction between the simple participle and the present tense is sometimes ignored. However, instances of the grammatical construction for the present tense occur with sufficient consistency to suggest that third person instances have a null marker, and should be distinguished from simple participles without markers. The distinction between the simple participle (without explicit or null markers) and the grammatical construction participle + personal marker (enclitic or null), along with the recognition that only the latter, not the former, is a true present tense, is not new, but has sometimes been ignored in the literature. 19


The foregoing suffices to demonstrate that the Syriac active participle functions as the base of constructions that express the past imperfective (participle + ...) and the present (participle + personal marker). In this section, I would like to briefly discuss its use in the translation of the Greek aorist indicative.

There are 937 instances of Greek aorist indicative verbs. Of these, one must exclude as not relevant for comparison 150 instances of ...), seven instances of ..., and one instance of ... (Matt. 22:28). 20 As expected, the majority of instances are translated by the Syriac perfect. These include not only instances expressing the simple past, but also instances where the Greek aorist expresses a resultative sense (depending on context, these instances could be "ingressive," "culminative," "gnomic," or "dramatic" according to the traditional terminology of Greek grammars).

Matt. 3:17


This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.

Burton (1898: 29-30) explained ... in the above example as a "rhetorical figure," which some later grammars labeled "dramatic" (e.g., Dana and Mantey 1955: 198; Brooks and Winbery 1979: 102-3), i.e., expressing a present reality with the certainty of a past event. "It is commonly used of a state which has just been realized, or a result which has just been accomplished, or is on the point of being accomplished" (Dana and Mantey 1955: 198). In any event, regardless of whether the Syriac translator understood the fine nuances explained in modern grammars, he certainly understood the verb in question as denoting a present state and translated it with an appropriate Syriac equivalent.

As Joosten (1996: 114-16) observed, the opposition between the Greek imperfect and the aorist indicative is roughly similar to the opposition between the Syriac active participle ... and the perfect. Nevertheless, just as the Greek imperfect was sometimes translated with a Syriac perfect, so there are at least fifteen instances in the Peshitta of Matthew where the Greek aorist indicative is translated with the Syriac active participle ... (12:1a, 7, 10; 14:5; 20:29, 31a; 21:8; 24:22b, 43a, b; 25:24, 27; 26:67b, c; 27:29b).

According to Joosten (1996: 123-27), the use of the Syriac active participle ... to translate the Greek aorist is often due to the influence of the Greek imperfect in parallel passages, or due to lexical or syntactic factors such as verbs introducing direct speech or the verb ..., as well as due to the Syriac translator's need/desire to express durativi ty. In regards to the latter, the fact that several of his examples (see p. 126) show variation between the Peshitta and the Old Syriac suggests that, at least in some instances, the Syriac translator's decision was stylistic.

Matt. 20:10


[Peshitta:] They thought that they would receive more.


[Curetonian:] They were thinking that they would receive more.

The above example is interesting, because Joosten observed that the Syriac perfect was used to render some Greek imperfect verbs because they expressed "an activity of the inner person" (see above). Nevertheless, in the above example, the aorist ???µ?sa? (from ??µ??? 'think, consider, presume', which is also an activity of the inner person) is translated with the Syriac active participle + rtaai in Curetonian, and it cannot be ascribed to translation technique. Another example is the following:

Matt. 27:55


[Peshitta:] Those who had followed Jesus from Galilee


[Sinaiticus:] Those who had been following Jesus from Galilee

In the above example, the Peshitta renders the Greek aorist indicative with perfect + rta<r>, whereas Sinaiticus has participle .... It is curious that Joosten ascribed some instances of Syriac active participle ... in the translation of the Greek imperfect to translation technique, but did not ascribe any instances of the Syriac perfect for the Greek aorist indicative to translation technique. Though I acknowledge the significance of translation technique, I suggest that stylistic considerations also played a role. Just as English translations of the Bible differ from each other for many reasons other than syntax and idiom, so the Syriac translators had some room for individual choice at their disposal.

In addition to Joosten' s explanations, I would add that several instances of aorists rendered by participle ... in the Peshitta of Matthew express an element of hypothetical modality (24:22b, 43a, b; 25:27). It is well known that Greek conditional sentences, notwithstanding their modal nuance, can employ the indicative mood (e.g., Dana and Mantey 1955: 286-91; Brooks and Winbery 1979: 182-84; Blass and Debrunner 1984: 301-4). In Syriac both the perfect and the construction participle ... can be used in hypothetical conditional clauses (Nöldeke 1904: 204-5, 217; Muraoka 2005: 65, 68). Therefore, it should not be surprising that Greek aorist indicatives were translated into Syriac as participle + rfooe in some instances of hypothetical conditional sentences.

Matt. 24:43


If the house owner had known at what watch the thief was coming, he would have been alert, and would not have allowed his house to be broken into.

The above example is a clear instance of a Greek contrary-to-fact conditional statement. The Syriac participle ... is employed both in the protasis, where it translates ... (a pluperfect that serves as a past tense of ..., which in turn is a perfect with a present function 'to know'), and in the apodosis, where the expression is used twice for two Greek aorist indicatives accompanied by the modal particle .... The instances of ... participle ... in Matthew are too few to distinguish its function from ... perfect.

Finally, it should be mentioned that the Greek aorist indicative is translated in the Peshitta of Matthew in five instances by perfect ... (1:19; 26:48; 27:55, 57; 28:17), 21 in three instances by the active participle (13:24b; 21:15a; 28:8), once by a passive participle (27:60b), twice by passive participle ... (25:36b; 26:57b), twice by the imperfect (8:17a, b),22 twice by ... imperfect (2:22b; 14:29b), once by adjective ... (11:23b), and is twice omitted in translation (9:10; 27:46c). For the purpose of this study it is not necessary to discuss all of these, except to comment briefly on the instances translated by the active participle. The instance in 13:24b (...) may be considered a third person present, since the Greek aorist passive ... implies a present state 'to be compared to, be similar to, be like' (cf. 18:23 and 22:2, where the same Greek word is translated with a Syriac ethpaal perfect ... all three instances can be understood as denoting a present state in Syriac). The instance in 21:15a occurs in a subordinate clause (Greek a ..., Syriac ...). And the instance in 28:8 was already discussed above.


Before I present a brief comparison between the function of the active participle in Syriac and in the Aramaic of Daniel, a summary of the foregoing observations is in order. First, in the Syriac of the New Testament Peshitta of Matthew, the most common way of expressing the past imperfective is by means of the construction active participle .... The simple participle without ... is rare as a past imperfective, and occurs more frequently in past time subordinate clauses than in main clauses, though my brief survey turned up too few instances to draw definite conclusions concerning its usage or function. Also, at times, the Syriac translator chose to render a Greek imperfect by means of a Syriac perfect, which does not express a past imperfective notion.

Second, although it is widely recognized that the Syriac active participle is used in the expression of the present tense, the foregoing study suggests that, at least for the diachronic period represented by the Peshitta of Matthew, the participle is not itself the present tense, but rather serves as the base of a compound verb phrase that expresses the present tense. That is, the present tense in the Syriac of the Peshitta of Matthew consists of active participle + personal marker, i.e., first/second person enclitic pronoun or a null marker for the third person.

Third, although the existence of the historical present in Syriac is not ruled out, there are no indisputable examples in the Peshitta of Matthew, except possibly for verbs introducing direct speech. However, the fact that Greek historical presents are consistently translated with the Syriac perfect suggests that historical presents would be understood as simple pasts, not as past imperfectives. No clear instances of participle + pronominal marker occur in past time contexts (only participle + first/second person enclitics would be unequivocal), and the few instances of the participle without r^om in past time other than verbs introducing direct speech are best characterized as past imperfectives, not historical presents.

Fourth, since the active participle serves as the base for two distinct grammatical constructions in the Syriac Peshitta of Matthew (i.e., the addition of ... yields past imperfectives and the addition of pronominal markers yields presents), there is a clear differentiation between present and past imperfective constructions. Thus, when the active participle combined with pronominal markers to develop into the present tense, the new present tense construction did not express the past imperfective. In contrast, grammatical constructions that express both the present and the past imperfective are best characterized as general (i.e., atemporal) imperfectives, not as presents.

In comparing/contrasting the function of the active participle in Syriac with that of the Aramaic of Daniel, one must begin with the obvious fact that there are no enclitic pronouns in the Aramaic of Daniel, and, therefore, the present tense in Daniel cannot be active participle + enclitic pronoun. However, the active participle does express the present tense.

Dan. 2:8


You are buying time.

Dan. 4:34


Now, I Nebuchadnezzar do praise, exalt, and glorify the king of heaven.

What is more significant than the absence of enclitic pronouns in the Aramaic of Daniel is that, in contrast to Syriac, the same construction expresses both the present tense and the past imperfective. The basic atemporal imperfective function of the simple active participle in the Aramaic of Daniel is reflected in the fact that the temporal sphere is in some instances subject to various possible interpretations. For example:

Dan. 5:23


You and your nobles, your consorts and your concubines are/were/have been drinking.

For further discussion of possible interpretations of the participle in the above passage, see Li 2009: 56.

Furthermore, the addition of ... to the active participle in past time contexts appears to be optional, since both the participle alone and the construction ... participle overlap in the expression of the past imperfective.

Dan. 6:11


And three times a day he kept on kneeling on his knees, praying, and giving thanks to his god, just as he used to do before this.

In the above example, notice the concurrence of three instances of simple participles and one instance of ... participle in the same verse. Both grammatical constructions have a past habitual function, with no apparent difference in meaning. However, it is possible to disregard the Masoretic pointing of ... in ... and to reinterpret it as the verb 'to be' rather than as a pronoun (cf. ... above), though one must also assume a unique situation where the auxiliary governs three participles.

Likewise, the present tense in Daniel may be expressed not only by the active participle alone, but also by the combination of ... participle.

Dan. 2:26


Are you able to make known to me the dream that I saw and its interpretation?

The above example from the Aramaic of Daniel differs from Syriac usage, because when the Syriac ... is followed by a participle, the latter is substantival rather than verbal (Wertheimer 2002: 13-14). For a discussion of ... participle in the Aramaic of Daniel, see Li 2009: 83-85.

Thus, whereas Syriac developed separate constructions to express the present and the past imperfective, the Aramaic of Daniel employs the simple active participle for both. That is, in contrast to Syriac, where the simple active participle is neither the present tense nor the past imperfective (occasional exceptions occur, mostly in past time subordinate clauses), but is normally employed in compound constructions that serve the said functions, the simple active participle in the Aramaic of Daniel does serve both functions, with the addition of ... consisting of an optional means of specifying the temporal sphere of the participle. This situation suggests that the active participle in the Aramaic of Daniel is better characterized as a general (atemporal) imperfective than as a full-fledged present tense. 23


Since this study has been based on a specific Syriac corpus, the conclusions are appropriate only to that specific corpus and that specific diachronic stage of Syriac. More extensive research based on a larger corpus that also pays attention to diachronic development within Syriac could shed additional light on the diachronic development of the active participle in Syriac.24 Nevertheless, the foregoing study has provided sufficient evidence to conclude that the Syriac Peshitta of Matthew employs two distinct participial constructions for the present and the past imperfective. This in turn also supports the conclusion of my previous research that the active participle in the Aramaic of Daniel is better characterized as a general imperfective than as a present tense.

1. These English present examples also illustrate the fact that modern English dynamic verbs do not have a true "present tense," but rather two separate constructions for progressive and general present.

2. Bybee (1994: 236) does allow for exceptions. The present can be perfective in performatives or in the narration of ongoing events, such as a sports event. Otherwise, presents are imperfectives.

3. The issue of language interference in Syriac translated texts has been and still is widely discussed in the literature (e.g., Dirksen and van der Kooij 1995, especially the interchange between Goldenberg and Muraoka in that volume).

4. Though not all agree with Joosten' s text-critical conclusions; e.g., D. G. K. Taylor 2000.

5. At first glance, one may be tempted to expect such a comparison to be based on the Syriac translation of Daniel. However, since the Syriac of Daniel reflects how the Syriac translator understood the Aramaic of Daniel, such a comparison would result primarily in the Syriac translator's interpretation of the verbal system of Daniel, which may or may not be correct. For a discussion of the Syriac Peshitta of Daniel, see R. A. Taylor 1994. On the other hand, in the case of a translation from the Greek New Testament, there is little doubt that the Syriac translator correctly understood the Greek present and imperfect indicatives, and that, therefore, he translated them with a corresponding Syriac expression in the majority of cases.

6. This may be due to the fact that Matthew "apparently chose . . . not to utilize the descriptive or customary notions of the imperfect as frequently as the other NT writers have done" (Fanning 1990: 254).

7. As for durative Aktionsart, which denotes the objective duration of an action, it is best contrasted with what Comrie (1976: 41-44) called "semelfactive," i.e., a category of verbs whose lexical meaning can only denote an instantaneous /punctual occurrence. For Comrie, durative Aktionsart is only lexical, whereas Joosten' s discussion dealt with grammatical function rather than lexical meaning. It is beyond the scope of this article to resolve the issue of whether durative Aktionsart is lexical or grammatical. Nevertheless, if Joosten' s appeal to the grammatical expression of durative Aktionsart may be provisionally accepted as valid, durative could also be subsumed under the broader umbrella of imperfective aspect, since it describes an action without regard to its beginning or ending.

8. Matt. 2:4, 9; 3:5, 6, 14; 4:11, 23; 5:2; 8:15, 31; 9:24, 35; 12:23; 13:54, 57; 14:36; 16:7, 13; 18:28b, 33; 21:8a, 9, 25; 22:33; 23:23; 25:27; 26:9, 16, 55, 58, 59, 69; 27:15, 30, 39, 44, 48; 28:2. When more than one instance of a Greek grammatical form occurs in the same verse, the assignment of letters (a, b, etc.) after the verse number identifies which instance is referred to. The letter sequence ignores instances excluded from comparison (e.g., ... ).

9. On the other hand, I admit that instances of this kind of reversal are rare, so that the unlikely possibility that the Syriac participle may be a progressive in a main clause, ". . . and were running . . . ," cannot be completely ruled out. For another example of a reversed clause hierarchy, see Matt. 24:1, where the Greek ... . . . ... (aorist participle . . . aorist indicative) is rendered by the Syriac ... . . . ... (perfect . . . infinitive). More typically, Greek circumstantial aorist participles (such as in the genitive absolute constructions, etc.) were translated into Syriac either with ... + perfect (e.g., Matt. 2:1, 9; 17:9) or a simple perfect in a main clause with no reversal of clause hierarchy (e.g., Matt. 2:4, 11). I have not detected any pattern in the alternation /distribution of these two options.

10. Contrast the example in 12:46 with Joosten' s (1996: 121) discussion of ... + imperfect in 9:2 translated by the Syriac perfect for a punctual action.

11. An alternative explanation is that, since ... never occurs in the imperfect, Sinaiticus may have rendered it in Matt. 27:19 as an imperfective in spite of its form, i.e., "she was sending a message."

12. On the theological motif expressed by de? in this and similar contexts, see Newman and Stine 1988: 542.

13. A notable exception is Arayathinal (1957-59: 1:145-48), who called this construction the "Present Tense." He subdivided the present tense into "active," consisting of "present" (i.e., active) participle + enclitic pronoun, and "passive," consisting of "perfect" (i.e., passive) participle + enclitic pronoun.

14. Matt. 3:11; 8:3, 25; 9:13, 14a, 28b; 10:16; 11:3, 10, 25; 12:7, 27a, 28, 38; 15:32a, 32c; 20:13, 14, 15, 18, 22c; 21:24, 26, 27, 29; 23:34; 25:26a, b; 26:39, 53b, 61, 63. To these one may also add at least two more instances that express the future (26:18; 27:63).

15. Matt. 5:36, 47a; 6:24b, 28a, 32b; 7:2a, 3a, b; 8:2, 31; 9:4, 28a; 10:27; 11:4a, b, 14; 12:34; 13:17a, b, 28; 15:3, 17a, 28; 16:3b, c, 8, 9b, 23; 17:4; 18:28; 19:17a, b, 21; 20:21, 22a, b, 32; 21:16, 23; 22:16a, c, 18, 29; 23:13(14)b, c, 15a, b, 23, 25a, 27a, 28, 29a, b, 31; 24:2, 32, 44; 26:10, 26:15, 17, 53a, 62a, 66; 27:13a, 17, 21; 28:5.

16. Matt. 3:9, 10b, c; 5:13, 14, 15a, b, c, 29a, 30a, 32a, b, 39, 45a, b, 46, 47b; 6:2, 3, 5a, 7, 16a, 19a, b, c, 20a, b, c, 24a, 26a, b, c, d, 27, 28b, c, d, 30, 32a; 7:8a, b, 15, 16, 17a, b, 18, 19a, b, 24a, b; 8:9a, b, c, 27; 9:3, 11, 14b, 15, 16a, 17a, b, c, d, e, f, 34; 10:29, 38a, b, 40a, b; 11:5a, b, c, d, e, f, 12a, b, 27a, b; 12:2, 5, 24, 26, 27b, 29, 30, 33, 35a, b, 39, 43a, b, 44, 45a, b, c, d; 13:13a, b, c, 14, 16a, b, 19a, b, 21, 22a, b, 23a, b, 32, 40a, b, 52; 14:2; 15:2a, b, 8a, 9, 11a, b, 17b, c, 18a, b, 19, 20, 22, 23, 27; 16:2, 3a, 4, 24; 17:10, 11, 15c, 24, 25a, b; 18:5, 8, 9, 10, 12a, b, 13; 19:9, 11, 25; 21:5, 28, 31; 22:17, 30a, b, 42, 43, 45; 23:3, 4a, b, c, 5a, b, c, 6, 16, 18, 20, 21, 22, 27b, 37, 38; 24:6, 27a, b, 48, 50a, b; 25:32; 26:42, 45d, 54, 62b, 73; 27:13b, 24a, b, 42, 43.

17. Additionally, since the third person enclitic pronoun am can also be used to give "focus or prominence" to the immediately preceding clause constituent (Muraoka 2005: 87; see also Nöldeke 1904: 175), it is not clear to what extent its absence in this construction may have been further reinforced by the desire to avoid ambiguity.

18. The distinction between the first/second person pronominal marker and the third person null marker also occurs in Babylonian Jewish Aramaic, where, however, the pronominal markers are not written separately, but actually fused to the base form (e.g., Margolis 1910: 40). Frank (2003: 32-33) called the combination of active or passive participles with pronominal markers in the Babylonian Talmud the "present tense." The fact that the participle and pronoun are written together in Talmudic Aramaic suggests a more advanced stage of grammaticalization than in Syriac, where, because they are not yet fused together, the enclitic pronoun can occasionally serve double duty.

19. For example, the distinction was recognized by Hoffman (1827: 177, 344-47) and Phillips (1866: 91-93, 168-70), though they did not recognize how seldom if ever the third person pronominal enclitics occur in the present tense, as well as by Arayathinal (1957-1959: 1:143-50, 2:45), though his use of the label "present participle" for the active participle could be confusing. On the other hand, it is absent from, for example, Duval 1881, Nestle 1889, Brockelmann 1899, Nöldeke 1904 (who nevertheless acknowledged that the active participle was not a "true Present," p. 211), Joosten 1996, Muraoka 2005, and Peursen (2007: 279-316). The last three included excellent discussions of the function of enclitic pronouns in nominal clauses, but did not discuss the verbal expression of the present tense by means of participle + personal marker or its distinction from the simple participle.

20. The resulting 779 instances of Greek aorist indicatives in Matthew may be listed as follows: 1:2a, b, c, 3a, b, c, 4a, b, c, 5a, b, c, 6a, b, 7a, b, c, 8a, b, c, 9a, b, c, 10a, b, c, 11, 12a, b, 13a, b, c, 14a, b, c, 15a, b, c, 16a, b, 18, 19, 20, 24a, b, c, 25a, b; 2:1, 2a, b, 3, 7, 9a, b, c, 10, 11a, b, c, 12, 14a, b, 15, 16a, b, c, d, 17, 18, 21a, b, 22a, b, 23; 3:7, 16a, b, c, 17; 4:1, 2, 5, 11, 12a, b, 13, 16a, b, 17, 18, 20, 21a, b, 22, 24a, b, c, 25; 5:1a, b, 12, 17a, b, 21, 27, 28, 33, 38, 43; 6:12, 29; 7:22a, b, c, 23, 24, 25a, b, c, d, e, 26, 27a, b, c, d, e, 28a, b; 8:1, 3a, b, 4, 5, 10a, b, 13a, b, 14, 15a, b, c, 16a, b, c, 17a, b, 18, 23, 24, 25, 26a, b, 27, 28, 29a, b, 32a, b, c, 33a, b, 34a, b; 9:1a, b, 7, 8a, b, 9a, b, 10, 13, 18, 19, 20, 22, 24, 25a, b, c, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30a, b, 31, 32, 33a, b, 36; 10:1, 5, 8, 25, 34a, b, 35; 11:1a, b, c, 7a, b, 8, 9, 13, 17a, b, c, d, 18, 19a, b, 20a, b, c, 21a, b, 23a, b, 25a, b, 26, 27; 12:1a, b, c, 3a, b, c, 4a, b, 5, 7, 9, 10, 13a, b, 14, 15a, b, c, 16, 18a, b, 22a, b, 26, 28, 38, 41, 42, 44; 13:2, 3, 4a, b, 5a, b, 6a, b, 7a, b, c, 8, 15a, b, c, 17a, b, c, 24a, b, 25a, b, c, 26a, b, c, 27, 28, 31a, b, 33a, b, 36a, b, 44, 46, 48a, b, c, 51, 53a, b, c, 58; 14:1, 2, 3a, b, 5, 6a, b, 7, 9, 10, 11a, b, c, 12a, b, c, 13a, b, 14a, b, c, 15a, b, 19a, b, 20a, b, c, 22, 23, 25, 26a, b, 29a, b, 30a, b, 31a, b, 32, 33, 34, 35a, b, 36a, b; 15:6, 7, 12, 13, 21, 23, 24, 28, 29, 30a, b, c, 31, 36a, b, 37a, b, c, 39a, b; 16:1, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 12, 17, 20, 21, 22; 17:2a, b, c, 3, 5a, b, 6a, b, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12a, b, c, d, 13, 14, 16a, b, 18a, b, c, 19, 23, 24, 25; 18:1, 2, 15, 23a, b, 24, 25, 27a, b, 28, 30, 31a, b, 32a, b, 33, 34; 19:1a, b, c, d, 2a, b, 3, 4a, b, 6, 7, 8, 12a, b, c, 13a, b, 15, 20, 22, 27a, b, 29; 20:1, 2, 3, 5a, b, 6, 7, 9, 10a, b, 12a, b, 13, 17, 20, 24, 28, 29, 30, 31a, b, 32, 34a, b, c; 21:1a, b, c, 6, 7a, b, c, 8, 10, 12a, b, c, 14a, b, 15a, b, 16a, b, 17a, b, 18, 19a, b, c, 20a, b, 23a, b, 25, 29, 30, 31, 32a, b, c, d, 33a, b, c, d, e, f, 34a, b, 35a, b, c, 36a, b, 37, 39a, b, 42a, b, c, d, 45, 46; 22:2a, b, 3, 4, 5, 6a, b, 7a, b, c, 10a, b, c, 11, 12a, b, 15, 19, 22a, b, 23a, b, 25a, b, 27, 31, 34a, b, 35, 41, 46; 23:2, 23, 35, 37a, b; 24:1, 3, 22a, b, 38, 39a, b, c, 43a, b, 45; 25:1, 3, 4, 5, 7a, b, 9, 10a, b, c, 14a, b, 15a, b, 16a, b, 17, 18a, b, 20a, b, c, 22a, b, 24a, b, c, 25, 26a, b, 27, 35a, b, c, d, e, 36a, b, c, d, 37a, b, c, 38a, b, c, 39a, b, 40a, b, 42a, b, c, d, 43a, b, c, 44a, b, 45a, b; 26:1a, b, 3, 4, 7a, b, 8, 10, 12, 13, 15, 17, 19a, b, c, 22, 24, 26, 27, 30, 37, 39, 40, 42, 43, 44, 47, 48, 49, 50a, b, 51a, b, 55a, b, 56, 57a, b, 60, 65a, b, c, 67a, b, c, 69, 70, 71, 72, 74a, b, 75a, b; 27:1, 2a, b, 3a, b, 4, 5a, b, 7, 8, 9a, b, c, 10a, b, 11a, b, 12, 14, 18, 19a, b, 20, 23, 24, 26a, b, 27, 28, 29a, b, 30, 31a, b, c, d, 32a, b, 34a, b, 35, 37, 42, 45, 46a, b, c, 50, 51a, b, c, 52a, b, 53a, b, 54, 55, 57a, b, 58a, b, 59, 60a, b, c, 62, 63, 64, 66; 28:1, 2a, b, 4a, b, 6, 7, 8, 9a, b, c, 11, 12, 13, 15a, b, c, 16a, b, 17a, b, 18, 20.

21. Joosten (1996: 110-12) noted a difference in the use of perfect + koot between the Peshitta and the Old Syriac, expressing anteriority in the former and background in the latter. He also suggested that "a corrector" of Sinaiticus consistently changed perfect ... into a simple perfect. However, Wilson (2002: xxxv-xxxvii) observed a broader pattern in the presence or absence of the enclitic nfom. That is, on the one hand Sinaiticus uses participle ..., but rarely perfect ..., On the other hand, Curetonian often has an enclitic ... in instances where Sinaiticus has either the simple participle or the simple perfect, with very few instances of the reverse.

22. See Williams 2004: 199 for a discussion of the two instances in Matt. 8:17.

23. For further discussion of the active participle in the Aramaic of Daniel and full lists of the passages where it expresses either the present or the past imperfective, see Li 2009: 39-57, 79-97.

24. An excellent and thorough study of the Syriac version of Ben Sira/Sirach was done by Peursen, who concluded, inter alia, that the participial constructions with enclitic pronouns in that corpus have not yet become equivalent to finite verbs, since there are a few examples that do not follow the pattern (Peursen 2007: 309-16). It is beyond the scope of this study to explore the relationship between the language of Sirach and that of the New Testament Peshitta of Matthew. However, I would make two observations. First, the example cited for the pattern Pr^sub prcp^ -Su^sub pron 3rd pers^ (participle + 3rd person pronoun), ... "And He is a redeemer" (p. 311), involves a different type of predication from the verbal present tense, which would be ^auucaa "And He redeems." Second, although Peursen correctly concluded that the pattern Supron 2nd/ist pers " Pfptcp (2nd/lst person subject pronoun + participle) diverges from the paradigm of the present tense (pp. 311, 314), the only example cited out of the alleged eight instances, ... "That you step between snares" (p. 311), comes from a subordinate clause, where, as I observed in the present study, participles may function differently than in main clauses. Thus, the exceptions to the pattern are fewer than claimed, and the only ones cited do not in fact go counter to the paradigm. Therefore, though Peursen may be correct that the morphological paradigm of the participle as the base of the present tense was "not fully developed" in Sirach (p. 316, though I wish he had cited the rest of the exceptional examples), it was not far from being fully developed.


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