Review of M. Kartveit, Rejoice, Dear Zion

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 13 (2013) - Review

Kartveit, Magnar, Rejoice, Dear Zion: Hebrew Construct Phrases with “Daughter” and “Virgin” as Nomen Regens (BZAW, 447; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2013). Pp. viii, 200. Hardcover. $ 112.00; € 79.95. ISBN 978-3-11-030915-7.

Kartveit's very fine study discusses the construct phrase בת ציון from a syntactical perspective. In short, Kartveit proposes that construct phrases in biblical Hebrew should be considered lexemes in their own right. When analysing these phrases, equal attention should be given to the nomen regens (the first word) and the nomen rectum (the last word). Contrary to the opinion of most grammarians, Kartveit demonstrates that the nomen regens is not always the key word which is further qualified by nomen rectum. Instead, the semantic meaning of the Hebrew construct phrases must be reached in close dialogue with its literary context. As to the particular phrase under consideration, בת ציון, Kartveit argues that the nomen regens qualifies the nomen rectum: Zion is the key word which is qualified by the term “daughter.” Further, in view of the metaphorical sense that lends itself to the term “daughter,” the construct phrase בת ציון may convey the nuance of “dear Zion” or “beloved Zion” or even “poor Zion.”

The road to this conclusion goes via six rather dense chapters of grammatical discourse. In the first chapter, Kartveit discusses the background of his study. He surveys recent key studies on “Daughter Zion” which all have as their starting point the existence of a female figure called “Daughter Zion.” Kartveit also highlights the bewildering variety in terminology used in these studies, as well as the lack of clarity in terms of understanding her role(s) in the biblical texts: is “Daughter Zion” a “literary persona,” a “metaphor,” a “personification,” or an “image”? Moreover, we do not know for certain that the biblical authors wished to portray a distinct figure when using the term “Daughter Zion.” To rectify this confusion, Kartveit calls for a fresh, linguistic investigation of the construct phrase בת ציון, carried out in close dialogue with the study of the Hebrew language. In short, what is the sense that the term בת may have when used in expressions where it is the nomen regens of a following geographical name or of the term עמי?

Chapter 2 asks whether the expression בת ציון refers to a collective or an individual. Kartveit begins by demonstrating that in the later texts of the New Testament, this expression denotes a collective, i.e., the population of Jerusalem (e.g. Matt 21:5; John 12:15). He further looks at Isa 62:11 and Zech 9:9 upon which the aforementioned texts draw, and concludes that the collective population of Jerusalem is assumed also there. This understanding runs counter to most grammarians' explanation, early and modern alike, namely that this type of construct phrase is an example of the explicative genitive. In such cases, so the grammarians argue, the correct translation is Daughter Zion. The word “of,” normally used for translating the so-called genitive constructs, can in these cases be omitted. As Kartveit points out, however, the grammatical analogue between expressions such as “the river Euphrates” (נחר פרת) and “the land of Egypt” (ארץ מצרים) on the one hand and בת ציון on the other, does not stand closer scrutiny. While in the first two cases, the Euphrates and Egypt constitute a subdivision of rivers and countries respectively (i.e. Euphrates is one river among many, and Egypt is one country among many), this is not true for the expression בת ציון. Zion is not one daughter among many. This difference, in turn, raises the question as to whether we may in fact be dealing with two distinct syntactical constructions. In short, should we really classify the expression בת ציון as a genitive construct? There is no evidence to suggest that the term ציון qualifies the term בת in the expression בת ציון along the same lines as the term פרת qualifies the term נחר in the expression נחר פרת (which river? the river Euphrates). Further, if the grammarians were correct in their understanding, would that not suggest that the authors of the NT misunderstood the expression בת ציון when they used in as a collective to denote the population of Jerusalem? Likewise, have most exegetes who understand this expression, as well as the related one “virgin of Israel” (בתולת ישראל), as referring to a collective entity such as the people of Israel (cf. Amos 5:2) misunderstood the matter? The grammarians, Kartveit points out, would advocate the fundamentally different reading according to which Israel would be the name of a specific virgin. However, grammarians tend to avoid this inference. GKC, for example, argues that the expression בת ציון is a “collective poetical personification of the people,” and that this appositional use of the construct state is wider than the normal use. Following this line of reasoning, it would be correct to translate בת ציון as “Daughter Zion.” According to Kartveit, the source of the problem lies in the common way of understanding a construct phrase along the lines of a genitive construction, where the nomen rectum always qualifies the nomen regens.

Kartveit then turns to the lexicons. He notes that they may side with either the grammarians or the exegetes when translating this type of construct phrases. Kartveit concludes by observing the divide between, on the one hand, the grammarians and, on the other hands, the exegetes. This divide, in turn, suggests that we cannot advocate the same type of meaning for all construct phrases.

In chapter 3, Kartveit surveys the concept of “Daughter Zion” in recent research. He begins by summarizing and criticizing the theories by especially Aloysius Fitzgerald, Mark E. Biddle, William F. Stinespring, F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp, and Michael H. Floyd.[1] He then defines the concepts of personification, metaphor, and irony, going on to discuss how these concepts are used in connection with the construct phrase בת ציון and how they all point to different understandings of this phrase. Kartveit concludes by evaluating five common scholarly ways of understanding the phrase בת ציון. According to Kartveit, the phrase בת ציון implicates Jerusalem. Further, Stinespring's suggestion that בת ציון has a metaphor as nomen regens which is applied to the nomen rectum, needs further study (namely Kartveit's own monograph).

The fourth chapter is devoted to a detailed study of the genitive and the construct state in Semitic languages. Kartveit reviews how key grammarians define and categorize construct phrases. He points out that their vantage point is often Latin or English, or those Semitic languages which have cases (Akkadian, Ugaritic, and Arabic). Further, construct phrases are often understood and explained as a genitive / possessive relationship, wherein the nomen regens, expressed by the construct state, is the supported (נסמך), while the nomen rectum, expressed by the absolute state, is the supporter (סמך). According to this understanding, the second word in this type of constructions is the Hebrew equivalent of the Latin or English genitive. This terminology has, according to Kartveit, led to a (undue) focus on the nomen regens. Kartveit further notes that several grammarians jump too quickly from discussions of syntax (i.e., case) to discussions of morphology (i.e., states).

Kartveit also surveys the use of the construct state and the use of the genitive case in the different Semitic languages. Which “states” and which “cases” do Akkadian, Classical Arabic, Ugaritic, Hebrew, and Aramaic employ in order to express a construct phrase? Kartveit then proceeds to discuss the morphology of the noun in its various states in biblical Hebrew. He argues that the construct state should be understood as a morpheme in its own right and not as governed by the nomen rectum. Turning to the syntax of the construct state, Kartveit notes that Hebrew allows for constructions with two nomen regens in the construct state and one nomen rectum (and vice versa), and that waw copulative or a preposition can appear between the nomen regens and the nomen rectum. This variety, Kartveit argues, suggests that a noun in the construct state was a form which existed in its own right (rather than only as the less important part of a construct phrase). It is thus preferable to maintain that Hebrew, which lacks the ability to mark the nomen rectum morphologically, depends on the construct state to identify a construct phrase.

Finally, Kartveit criticizes the extant terminology and argues that the term genitive should be omitted when discussing construct phrases. In Akkadian and other languages, genitive is a morphological category, not a syntactical one, as it depends on the form of the word. Nor should the Hebrew terms נסמך and סמך be used, as they imply that the nomen regens “leans upon” the nomen rectum and thus stress the relative importance of the last word of a construct phrase. Kartveit himself prefers to use “construct state” and “absolute state” to express the morphological categories, and the term “construct phrase” for the syntactical construction consisting of one or more words in the construct state. He also advocates using the terms nomen regens and nomen rectum as syntactic expressions for the individual words within a construct phrase.

The fifth chapter offers a semantic analysis of such construct phrases which feature the terms “daughter” or “virgin” as nomina regentia plus a geographical name as nomen rectum (Zion, Jerusalem, Judah, Babylon etc.). In addition, Kartveit explores expressions where the term “my people” (עמי) is the nomen rectum, with the aim of seeing if the former can shed light over this latter difficult case. Kartveit begins by trying—in quite methodical fashion—to establish the semantic range of the lexeme בת, in close dialogue with extant lexicons. He establishes that, when used literally, it denotes a series of components: human + female + offspring + by birth or by legal action, denoting “daughter,” or “adopted daughter.” By extension, it can also denote “young” and when used metonymically also “girl, young woman.” Metaphorically, it can further denote the senses of “villages” or “produced by.” Lastly, when carrying emotional aspects, it may denote the sense of “dear” and “beloved.” In a similar way, Kartveit outlines the semantic realm of the terms בתולה and ציון.

Kartveit then explores how the expression בת ציון is used in the Hebrew Bible. As he can detect no distinction between the term בת ציון and the often parallel term ירושלם and ישראל, he concludes that all three expressions carry a sense of “people” or “community.” The addition of the word בת is not responsible for the shift from geographical location to the population of that location. This metonymic sense is accomplished by the term ציון on it own; a term which can denote a location as well as its inhabitants. “Daughter Zion” is thus not the personification of “Zion.” What בת does instead is to add variation to the expression and possibly also a qualification to the characterization of ציון.

In the rest of the chapter, Kartveit systematically investigates the other attested examples of construct phrases in Biblical Hebrew where בת is the nomen regens and a geographical name is the nomen rectum. He concludes that although a literal sense of the word “daughter” can be upheld in a few cases, the majority of instances suggest a metaphorical sense. This metaphor, found in the nomen regens, is then applied to the nomen rectum.

The concluding sixth chapter looks at the wider implications of the aforementioned conclusion—namely that the nomen regens can be a metaphor applied in apposition to the nomen rectum—for our understanding of the construct phrase in Biblical Hebrew. Kartveit begins by discussing those cases, such as הר קדשו (“the mountain of his holiness” or rather “his holy mountain”), where the nomen rectum has adjectival force and defines the nomen regens. He then looks at select instances where the opposite is true. For instance, Kartveit argues that in the case of the expression תולעת יעקב in Isa 41:14, the nomen regens is a metaphor which defines the nomen rectum. The text is about Jacob (who is likened to a worm), not about a creeping thing who is called Jacob. Likewise, the expression פרא אדם in Gen 16:12 is about a man (nomen rectum) who is likened to a wild ass (nomen regens). The same is true for the expressions אבן ברד and הוד קולו in Isa 30:30. The first phrase is best translated as “hailstones”  and the second one as “his majestic voice.” In both cases, the nomen rectum is the focal point: his voice (קולו) is “like majesty” and the hail (ברד) is “like stones.” In addition, a number of phrases which describe God employ a metaphor as the nomen regens in order to describe a quality of God. For example, the focal point of the construct phrase צור  מעוז (Ps 31:3) is on the nomen rectum (מעוז, “shelter, refuge”): God is the one who provides shelter. The nomen regens describes this refuge metaphorically as a rock. On the basis of this investigation, Kartveit concludes that biblical Hebrew allows for the appositional use of construct phrases, not only where the nomen rectum is the predicate of the nomen regens, but also the other way around where the nomen regens predicates the nomen rectum.

Kartveit brings his study to an end by stating that there is no persona “Daughter Zion” in the sense of an independent living entity behind the text. “Daughter Zion” is no more of a persona than “Zion” is. What the text conveys, through the use of metaphoric language, is a grammatical construction. It is a description of a city and her inhabitants.

This is a very fine study which definitely deserves a full hearing. In my view, Kartveit's understanding of construct phrases such as בת ציון is convincing. Moreover, he is correct that בת ציון denotes the city of Jerusalem and its inhabitants. This, however, does not contradict the view that in some texts Zion (and Jerusalem) is personified. Moreover, it is fruitful to study the ways in which a given text portrays this personification of Zion (called either simply ציון or בת ציון depending on the connotations that the author wishes to express).

Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer, University of Aberdeen

[1] A. Fitzgerald, “The Mythological Background for the Presentation of Jerusalem as a Queen and False Worship as Adultery in the OT,” CBQ 34 (1972), 403–16; M. E. Biddle, “The Figure of Lady Jerusalem: Identification, Deification, and Personification of Cities in the Ancient Near East,” in: K. L. Younger, W. W. Hallo, and B. F. Batto (eds.), The Biblical Canon in Comparative Perspective: Scripture in Context IV (Lewiston, NY: Mellen, 1991), 173–94; W. F. Stinespring, “No Daughter of Zion: A Study of the Appositional genitive in Hebrew Grammar,” Encounter 26 (1965), 133–41; F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp, especially Weep, O Daughter Zion: A Study of the City-Lament Genre in the Hebrew Bible (BibOr, 44; Rome, Pontifical Bible Institute, 1993); idem, “The Syntagma of Bat Followed By a Geographical Name in the Hebrew Bible: A Reconsideration of Its Meaning and Grammar,” CBQ 57 (1995), 451–70; M. H. Floyd, “Welcome Back, Daughter of Zion!” CBQ 70 (2008), 484–504; idem, “The Daughter of Zion Goes Fishing in Heaven,” in M. J. Boda, C. J. Dempsey, and L. Snow Flesher (eds.) Daughter Zion: Her Portrait, Her Responses (Atlanta: SBL, 2012), 177–200. reference