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I’ve been intrigued by Biblical Hebrew’s lack of verb tenses (past, present, future) and what it might have to say about the psychology of the people who originally spoke it.

Considering the Bible account, it seems likely that Hebrew or something like it was the original human language. According to one way of thinking, the worshipers of the true God would not have gotten involved in the rebellious centralization and tower-building project of Nimrod and his cohorts, so presumably their language would not have been confused (see Gen 11:1-9). So the language of Jehovah’s true worshipers would have been preserved, and this would be the one in which the Bible got written.

Although the Bible writers were able to express ideas of past, present, and future, time as a factor in Hebrew verb expression has a relatively low priority. Rather, Hebrew verbs are expressed in two states, perfect (action completed) and imperfect (incomplete action).

Kyle M. Yates, in The Essentials of Biblical Hebrew, writes:

The time as understood in most modern languages is not the same as that of the Semitic mind. The discernment of the time of an action is not of vital importance to the Hebrew thought pattern. It is necessary for the Indo-germanic thinker only to fit the action into his overemphasized estimation of time. The understanding of the condition of the action as to its completeness or incompleteness was sufficient generally to the Semite and if not, there was some word of temporal or historical significance which would bring time into focus.

So the question is, what does this indicate about the psychology of the original speakers of this language? Did they have a different view of time from modern humans, because they had a longer lifespan (and originally the prospect of living forever)? Interestingly, the Bible encyclopedia Insight on the Scriptures (Vol. 1, Watchtower, 1988) follows this line of thinking:

If, as the Bible indicates, Hebrew was the original tongue used in Eden, this lack of emphasis on verbal time may reflect the outlook of man in his perfection, when the prospect of everlasting life was before Adam and when life had not been reduced to a mere 70 or 80 years.

— ARK, 3 Dec. 2010

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