Teaching the Infinitive Absolute to first semester Hebrew students is a killer. Its nuances of function cause grammarians to verbalize in generalities, leaving students little to do but eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and regurgitate INFA ambiguities in their language acquisition journey.
Duane A. Garrett and Jason S. DeRouchie list three primary functions of the Infinitive Absolute: “(1) as a kind of adverb, (2) as an infinitive or gerund, and (3) as a kind of surrogate for other forms.” These functions, described as a “a kind,” coupled with phrases like “sometimes seems to be,” and, “in some cases, many scholars believe,” demonstrate the difficulties of explaining how the Infinitive Absolute works in Hebrew to first year students. Gary D. Pratico and Miles Van Pelt also acknowledge in their first year grammar the ambiguities of effectively relating what the Infinitive Absolute accomplishes. Identifying it as a “verbal noun” (as they do with the Infinitive Construct), they explain how it “may be used with other verbs to emphasize or intensify the verbal meaning.” They list four of the “most common uses” of the Infinitive Absolute: “emphatic, imperatival, simultaneous, and complementary.” Intermediate grammars, by Bruce K. Waltke and Michael Patrick O’Connor or Paul Juoun and Takamitsu Muraoka, also wrestle with this verbal form, providing needed footnotes, one stating, “Strangely, the two infinitives [construct and absolute] have uses which correspond rather closely, syntactically speaking, to those of their names.” Even so, “scholars debate” the most appropriate meaning of certain contexts that contain the Infinitive Absolute.
What these scholars do agree upon is that “there is no precise English equivalent to the Infinitive Absolute.” So how do we teach the Hebrew function of this Hebrew form so that first year students avoid the temptation of acting out the Qal Hithpael of qtl? Seeking to connect with the approach to verb forms promoted by Robert E. Longacre and Andrew C. Bowling, this paper begins with the parallelism of the Infinitive Absolutes in Genesis 2:16-17 and then traces its continuing appearance in the Torah. This inductive strategy, focusing on Narrative with its various subgenres and discourse text types (Narrative, Predictive, Expository, and Hortatory), will provide points of contact for students to appreciate the distinctive contribution of the Hebrew Infinitive Absolute. What is needed is not only a clear understanding of the Infinitive Absolute, but a helpful pedagogy of the Infinite Absolute that equips students for reading, teaching, preaching, and counseling in a manner that reflects a type of learning nourishment received from Tree of Life.