The Accusative of Specification

In the videos for Genesis 3:15c and 3:15d we ran across the ‘accusative of specification.’  In this post I will provide a description of this adverbial accusative.

  1.  What is the ‘accusative of specification’?
    • It is an adverbial accusative that “specifies the area of application for another noun, for a subject and its verb, a verb and its object” (Fuller, Biblical Hebrew Syntax, §13j).
    • Joüon-Muraoka define ‘specifiction’ this way: “The part to which an affirmation is limited.” (JM, §126g)
    • The ‘accusative of specification’ limits the application of a proposition.
    • For example, in our passage – Genesis 3:15c – the word רֺאשׁ clarifies the verb, indicating where the seed of the woman will bruise the serpent:
      • the action of bruising is limited to the serpent’s head.
    • Generally, without the ‘accusative of specification,’ the statement is somewhat ambiguous.  The ‘accusative of specification’ makes the statement a bit clearer.
  2. Are there indicators to help identify this accusative?
    • the word functioning as the ‘accusative of specification’ is typically:
      • indefinite
      • a primary noun – these are common nouns like feet, head, heel, king, tree, etc.
        • another adverbial accusative takes a descriptive noun (adjective, participle) – so it is important to know that the accusative of specification takes a primary noun and not a descriptive noun!  More on the other adverbial accusative later.
      • Sometimes you’ll come across a word that doesn’t seem to fit the sentence.  If you were to translate Genesis 3:15c literally, it would read “And He will bruise you head.”  That just sounds odd in our ears.  When this happens, you are likely dealing with an adverbial accusative.  Likewise, Psalm 3:8 (below) would read “For you have stricken all of my enemies cheek.”  “Cheek” is an adverbial accusative.

 

  1. The ‘accusative of specification’ answers the questions:
    • “in terms of what”
    • “by what specifically”
    • or “with respect to what”
    • Genesis 3:15c a more literal translation reads: “and He will bruise you with respect to the head.”
  2. Take Psalm 3:8 as an example:

כִּי־הִכִּיתָ אֶת־כָּל־אֹיְבַי לֶחִי

“For you have stricken all of my enemies with respect to the cheek”

  • In Ps 3:8 the word “cheek” לֶחִי is an indefinite, primary noun.
  • Functioning as an ‘accusative of specification,’ לֶחִי specifies/clarifies the verb הִכִּיתָ – the striking is limited to the cheeks of the enemies.
  • The NASB, KJV, ESV, and NIV identify the adverbial accusative, translating the clause “on the cheek” (ESV, NASB, NIV) or “upon the cheek bone” (KJV).

See also: Waltke-O’Connor, Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, pg. 173.

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