Review of Korpel, Marjo C. A.; Oesch, and Stanley E. Porter (eds.), Method in Unit Delimitation

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 8 (2008) - Review

Korpel, Marjo C. A.; Oesch, and Stanley E. Porter (eds.) Method in Unit Delimitation (Pericope; Scripture as Written and Read in Antiquity - PERICOPE 6; Leiden: Brill, 2007). Hardback Pp. viii, 232. € 79.00, US$ 115.00.  ISBN 978 90 04 16567.


Method in Unit Delimitation incorporates eight papers from various meetings of the “Pericope” research group—published as the Volume 6 in the eponymous series (now by Brill, not by Van Gorcum as before). The main goal of the “Pericope”group is to analyze, evaluate and, if necessary, revise the division of textual units in primarily the biblical books, with some emphasis on the Old Testament. Generally speaking, the means to that end are inquiries in the diverse traditions of delimiting textual units throughout history; however, the methodologies in face vary widely—point that becomes apparent in the present volume in the wide range of features concerning scribal characteristics as well as the traditional background of the manuscripts treated.

In their contribution “Paragraphing in a Tibero-Palestinian Manuscript of the Prophets and Writings” J. C. de Moor and M. C. A. Korpel focus on the “study codex” B.N. hébreu 80 (BN) from the collection of the National Library of France.” This manuscript likely dates to the 13th or 14th century and contains features of both the Ben Naftali/Palestinian and the Ben Asher/Tiberian family. After describing the manuscript the authors address the textual layout by accurately listing (and later explaining the origin of) the pluses and minuses in paragraphing (Petuhah / Setumah) of BN compared to the Leningrad Codex (LC). As a sample, the paragraphing in Isaiah is cross-referenced to other medieval Hebrew manuscripts in great detail. Through this large amount of statistical data the authors are able to demonstrate that BN has often preserved an older delimitation of the Masoretic mainstream paragraphing tradition. However, the essay might have benefited from more interpretation instead of just plain presentation (something undertaken e.g. by S.A. Nitsche in Jesaja 24–27: ein dramatischer Text [Stuttgart: Kohlhammer 2006]). In the end their observations lead the authors to the conclusion that it is vital for biblical scholarship to delimit textual units not only on the basis of LC alone, but instead to consider a broader basis of data about paragraphing and spacing in manuscripts. They therefore suggest that critical editions should include such data much like textual critical data is included.

K. De Troyer analyzes two substantially older manuscripts, MS 2648 and MS 2649 in her article “The Leviticus and Joshua Codex from the Schøyen Collection: A Closer Look at the Text Divisions.” These papyri were originally part of a second–third century CE codex and display some similarities to the Chester Beatty papyri. Yet unlike those, the present manuscripts show no signs of text division, whether paragraphing or spacing. On the basis of E. Tov’s distinction in Scribal Practices and Approaches Reflected in the Texts Found in the Judean Desert (StTDJ, 54; Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2004), De Troyer thus ascribes Mss 2648 and 2649 to the third and final historical stage in the tradition of text division in which no large sense divisions are indicated even though the present manuscripts lack the typical the paragraphoi or ektheses found in this stage.

In the sole New Testament contribution of the volume, “The Influence of Unit Delimitation on Reading and Use of Greek Manuscripts,” S. E. Porter discusses a fifth century lectionary, emphasizing specific features related to performance in worship services. He accordingly concentrates on the delimitation of the given pericopes from all four gospels and its consequences for reading it aloud. Porter analyzes the internal and external division as well as the explanatory framework (especially at the beginning) of the passages. He is thereby able to discern two additional levels of internal division beyond the primary separation in pericopes These levels consist of a variety of highlighting and partitioning characteristics (from punctuation to paragraphing), but the distinction between secondary and tertiary divisions is based only on the quantity of separating features. Furthermore, Porter argues convincingly for the “merit in utilizing the lectionaries much more thoroughly in textual criticism” (55) as these early editions do not present the text according to the later lectionary cycle but in a comparatively reliable and independent manner.

In “The Accents: Hierarchy and Meaning,” E. J. Revell concentrates on the dividing accents, the מפסיקים, and their semantic usage within the structure of the verses. He describes his task as explaining “how the accents guide the interpretation of the text” (65). Quoting a number of examples from all over the Tanakh, he convincingly argues that disjunctive accents—which Revell classifies in major (silluq, atnah, zaqef, segolta, šalšelet and, likewise, capitals in manuscripts) and minor disjunctives (the rest)—can bring new and elucidating insights to exegesis as their hermeneutical function is not to be confused with the European syntactical punctuation. Rather, it represents an interpretational framework with a value of its own beyond syntax and the textual plain sense of the verses, sometimes even in contrast to them. Specifically, by analyzing the various disjunctives—in their hierarchy, their number, their correlation to each other and to the pausal forms as well—one can discover the nuances of the Masoretic exegesis and at times even establish a deeper understanding of a verse.

Admittedly, the portrayal of the accentuation system in its hierarchy and meaning and their correlation to the pausal forms is not always as compelling as desired; Revell himself concedes that the principles of the latter are not yet understood fully and even that “a rigid consistency [in the accentuation] is not to be expected” (70). In any case, the numerous illuminative examples provide ample evidence that one can gain fundamental insights by deliberating on the Masoretic accentuation—particularly in respect to its origin: the chanting of the verses which establishes in its melody and mode of presentation a semantic of its own.

In his contribution “Graphic Devices Used by the Editors of Ancient and Medieval Manuscripts to Mark Verse-Lines in Classical Hebrew Poetry” S. Tatu outlines the development in the practices of arranging the layout and the usage of markers and graphemes in poetic texts. Tatu surveys the larger sections of poetry as Ps, Cant, and Lam, and also lyrical passages embedded in prose (e.g. the ‘Song of the Sea’ Ex 15:1b–19, for other cf. p. 93) throughout an extraordinarily wide scope of manuscripts. He concludes that the earliest textual witnesses set off poetic texts from prose graphically almost only in the lyrical books—and even then it occurs seldomly. Before the Masoretes standardized the arrangement of lyrical poetical texts (though still not too consistent and without perceivable logic), only the Greek transmission tradition came to regularly mark poetry. This essay contains a huge amount of data describing various manuscripts, which makes it very informative and impressive, though this fact renders reading a sometimes tiring exercise. Concentrating on fewer manuscripts and elucidating the arguments with tables and/or figures might have been more profitable.

In a somewhat more historic account, J. H. A. van Banning, SJ presents his “Reflections upon the Chapter Divisions of Stephan Langton.” Instead of deliberating on particular textual features, he discusses the historic process of partitioning of Tanakh in chapters which is—according to his description—in many ways entwined with the issuing of the ‘Exemplar Parisiensis.’ This edition of the Bible from “around the year 1224” (146), which long served as the standard scholar-edition at the newly founded Sorbonne, already displays Langton’s chapter division. Van Banning proposes that this partitioning, which had in fact been introduced by Langton less then two decades earlier, became popular through this edition and through the important commentary of Hugh of St. Cher, which is based on this edition. The author explains the given variations between the Paris exemplar, the named commentary, and Langton’s list by differences in the chapter lists used. He surmises that various chapter lists were circulating at that time, probably representing different stages in an editing process on behalf of Langton, and thus showing a certain development in the partitioning. How and by whom the final issue of the chapter division came into being, van Banning does not answer.

Presumably in response to calls for a stronger emphasis on hermeneutical aspects (cf. review of Pericope volume 4, http://www.arts.ualberta.ca/JHS/reviews/review163.htm), W. G. E. Watson was asked to write “Unit Delimitation in the Old Testament: An Appraisal.” By and large, his assessment of Delimitation Criticism is mainly positive, if somewhat cautious. He commends the impulse Delimitation Criticism has given to biblical research—that markers of any manuscript, accents and the like (paragraphing and other layout features he does not mention) should be taken into consideration in biblical interpretation. He also honours the effort undertaken to collect and analyze relevant data. Nonetheless, he puts his finger on some weaknesses of this enterprise: the “inconsistency in the Delimitation Criticism approach” (167) for example, or that “there are no overall conclusions for markers in ancient texts” (168). Thus he concludes “that there is still a great deal of work to do” and that “many of the conclusions reached so far are provisional.” Something he considers to be quite understandable given the ‘youthfulness’ of the approach. In the second part Watson applies delimitation critical methods (as he understands them) to Cant 1:15–17, concentrating on the usage of the accents in order to demonstrate that “data from manuscripts and codices cannot be ignored” (175) and that Delimitation Criticism “is not only valid and justified but also indispensable” (175).

The last contribution of the volume (Diverging Traditions: Jeremiah 27–29 (M, S, V) / 34–36 (G): A Proposal for a New Text Edition) by R. de Hoop functions as a call for a multilingual edition of the four main Old Testament groups of witnesses (MT, LXX, Vulgata, and Peshitta) containing important data on variants in paragraphing and marking from various manuscripts. The author weighs various arguments and options for this edition, concluding that at first the project should be confined to a printed edition and that MT should be used as the leading reference manuscript in the role of a “primus inter pares” in respect to text order, etc. On the last pages of the volume a sample of the aspired edition is presented (on http://www.pericope.net the whole sample is to be published in a downloadable file). This represents a very desirable project, even though some points should be reconsidered, e.g. the proposed neglect of textual critical data on grounds of workload arguments as well as some details in the critical apparatus (for example at the moment there is a doubled system of marking omissions, via apparatus and via underlining, of which the latter seems confusing in respect to four other textual witnesses). And finally the limitation to a printed edition is questionable: the only argument in its favour being the alleged custom and preference of researchers to use paper editions, something that is changing as supported by the electronic format of this review. But, on the whole, one is inclined to wonder why a project like that has not been undertaken earlier.

 Altogether, Method in Unit Delimitation represents another very interesting volume in the Pericope series.

Nonetheless I agree with G. Martin (http://www.arts.ualberta.ca/JHS/reviews/review163.htm) that more emphasis should be placed on hermeneutics, and also with W. Hu (http://www.arts.ualberta.ca/JHS/reviews/review249.htm) that still more thought should be given to the textual basis for the research—probably taking some sorts of measures for standardization.

Additionally one wonders why exactly the present title was chosen: none of the contributions deliberates on the methodology of Delimitation Criticism and none of the articles seem specifically to justify this label by their content or approach. This absence is further heightened by the difficulty encountered when searching for the consistent exegetical tool proposed by the Pericope board. The methodological approaches are too diverse, ranging from more or less text critical deliberations on paragraphing in antique manuscripts to aspects of syntax or accentuation to rather hermeneutical questions.

However, this is understandable given the youthfulness of the field. In spite of and sometimes even because of this diversity, the contributions in this volume present many important if not punctually remarkable insights that advance the understanding of biblical texts in their historical setting.

Matthias Hopf, Augustana Theologische Hochschule Neuendettelsau, Germany