Marjo Korpel and Josef Oesch, eds. Layout Markers in Biblical Manuscripts and Ugaritic Tablets.
(Pericope, Scripture as Written and Read in Antiquity, 5; Assen: Van Gorcum, 2005). Pp. vii + 227. Cloth, €69,50. ISBN: 90-232-4178-9.
Reviewed by Wesley Hu
Wycliffe College & China Evangelical Seminary

This is the fifth volume in the Pericope series. Following the previous works, it aims to elucidate our understanding of the textual markers as witnessed in the ancient manuscripts. These markers, regardless of their realization in a particular textual tradition, are not meaningless. They reflect, however imperfectly, how these texts were read and written in antiquity. No serious reader of ancient literature could afford to neglect them.

The contributions in this volume, in my opinion, can be divided into three groups. The first group deals with the nature of the markers. How are they used? What do they indicate? Two articles fall under this category. One is Clark’s study of the Book of Numbers. The other is Dijkstra’s investigation of the Book of Amos. Both examine the opening words of a unit, a method developed by J. W. Olley. Both conclude that the markers form a system and operate on a rationale.

The second group takes us one step further. Since the delimiters are significant in textual division, their occurrence and distribution may help us in understanding a text, especially its composition. De Moor’s study collates various manuscripts in the attempt to determine the structure of Micah 6. With the same goal and method, van Amerongen turns to Zechariah 4. De Hoop also makes use of the division found in the versions of Job 1:1–5, in addition to poetic analysis, and conclude that this framing story of Job is poetry.

In my judgment, four articles (de Bruin, Korpel, Porter and Trobisch) in the book can be classified as the third group that successfully establishes textual delimiters as a cultural phenomenon in ancient literature. In the vertical aspect of time, these articles take us up to Ugaritic and Babylonian materials and down to New Testament manuscripts and further down to Jerome’s commentary. In the horizontal aspect of place, the studies sweep through Canaan, Babylon, and the Greek world.

The strength of the Pericope series should be obvious now. It is widely recognized that the current form-critical, stylistic and rhetorical methods of analysis possess insufficient potential to attain a basic form of scholarly agreement about the structure of a text. Therefore it is a welcome addition to our methodical arsenal to look at the paragraphing found in manuscripts from antiquity, as advocated and demonstrated again by the studies published in this book.

There is, however, a methodological issue. It seems that in the study of these ancient markers, the tradition behind each manuscript has not been given due consideration. To take de Moor’s study of Micah 6 as an example, based on the evidence available it is reasonable to argue that the tradition producing a manuscript of Micah 6 with two delimiters only (GW) was distinctive from the one that had five markers (GA). But this factor is not considered in his discussion and the neglect is a problem. It goes without saying that each tradition had its own history and ideology. In terms of the transmission of a text, history related the source of the text while ideology determined how that particular text was received and transmitted. In other words, what constituted a sense unit may differ to a great extent from one scribal tradition to another, even though they all used textual delimiters to mark their way of reading. Lumping the evidence together (a mixture of many ancient ideologies) and then weighing the evidence based on a particular modern ideology (e.g., De Moor’s method of analyzing poetry) in the hope of delimiting the units correctly seems to be flawed. The disregard for the distinct features in the ancient traditions cannot be reconciled with the call to appreciate the markers produced by these traditions.