Review of Raymond de Hoop, Marjo C.A. Korpel, and Stanley E. Porter (eds.), The Impact of Unit Delimitation on Exegesis

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 9 (2009) - Review

Raymond de Hoop, Marjo C.A. Korpel, and Stanley E. Porter (eds.), The Impact of Unit Delimitation on Exegesis (Pericope; Scripture as Written and Read in Antiquity 7; Leiden, Boston Brill, 2009).Pp. VIII + 288. Hardback. US$125.00. ISBN-10 9004171626 ISBN-13 9789004171626.

With The Impact of Unit Delimitation on Exegesis the “Pericope”-group delivers another collection of valuable insights on the scribal traditions of arranging, structuring and delimiting biblical texts. Yet in contrast to previous volumes the focus of these ten contributions, one of them (by S.E. Porter) again with a New Testament perspective, shifts to more hermeneutical issues as the title implies. And indeed the contributions do more than justice to the superscription under which they are combined: the authors successfully demonstrate—still in varying degrees, but on the whole in a consistent and conclusive form—the relevance of traditions of textual arrangement for the interpretation of both individual biblical passages as well as for books as a whole. Interestingly, the majority of the contributions deliberate on pericopes from the prophetic corpus, which can be ascribed to the obvious problem of the punctual opacity of these texts. For exactly this reason Unit Delimitation may be of great value as the following summaries outline.

Framed by an enjoyable anecdote from his student days, R. de Hoop's “Unit Delimitation and Exegesis: Isaiah 56 as an Introduction to the Theme” offers an interesting interpretation of the beginning of so-called Trito-Isaiah. While Isa 56:9 is generally understood as the opening of a new passage, de Hoop demonstrates that the gap between 56:1-8 and the following verse is not as wide as often assumed. By checking into the layout of various manuscripts (Codex Leningradensis, 1QIsaa, Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Ambrosianus, each displayed in illustrating plates) he is able to discern the scribal tradition of putting 56:9 in direct connection with the preceding passage—a fact totally obscured by the text-critical layout of modern editions like BHS. Consequently, he proposes that this should be reflected in the interpretation of the opening of Trito-Isaiah. As de Hoop sees it, 56:9 is not an ironic or sarcastic remark directed against Israel, but joins in the vision of universal hope. Yet, as he alerts, the verse contains a polemic undertone because the ‘universality’ is restricted to those who keep the covenantal commandments. Thus, de Hoop understands the entirety of Isa 56 as a commentary on Isa 55 as well as a hermeneutical key to the following chapters. De Hoop's essay offers an illustrating demonstration of the exegetical possibilities of Delimitation Criticism.

With “Textual, Literary and Delimitation Criticism: The Case of Jeremiah 29 in MT and LXX” R. de Hoop delivers a contribution to the ongoing debate about the historical priority of LXX or MT in the book of Jeremiah. He weighs the arguments favoring the priority of MT and finds that they are not applicable to Jer 29 (MT) / 36 (LXX). In using his proposed version of a polyglot Bible edition (cf. De Hoop, R., Diverging Traditions, pp. 185-214, in: Korpel, M.C.A. et alii (eds.), Method in Unit Delimitation (Pericope 6), Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2007), he analyzes various quantitative differences between LXX and MT, the issue of Ketib / Qere in a supposed LXX-Vorlage and the overall rhetorical structure of Jer 29. He thereby illustrates that - at least in the case of Jer 29 (MT) - the preference should be given to a historical priority of LXX, arguing amongst other things with the poetical nature of the Hebrew Vorlage of LXX which he outlines in a characterization of Jer 36 (LXX). The main impetus for Unit Delimitation in this contribution lies in the usage of the named polyglot edition. And indeed a synoptic layout as given there seems helpful - at least for Jer.

In the light of Van der Toorn's thesis of the extensive influence of Temple scribal activity on the preservation of prophetic words, J. Dekker treats the much discussed verse of Isa 8:18, hoping to illuminate further the phrase “binding up the testimony.” In the accordingly named contribution “Bind up the Testimony: Isaiah 8:16 and the Making of the Hebrew Bible” he outlines that with respect to different delimitation traditions the verse should be read in correlation with the subsequent verses and—following this and based upon literary connections—as the prophet's reply to 8:11-15. Consideration of the meaning of belimmudāy, as well as that of tzôr and chatôm (all 8:16) in view of various intertextual connections (for the latter e.g. Job 14:17 and Isa 29:11) leads him to conclude that writing down the prophet's words must have originated in a prophetic community and at the impetus of the historical Isaiah himself. While the cross references concerning the ‘sealing’ seem plausible, more effort should have been exerted in broadening the data that serves as the foundation for Dekker's assumptions—especially since the examinations in Unit Delimitation, undertaken only to a limited extent, do little to promote his thesis.

G. Goswell takes a closer look at “The Divisions of the Book of Daniel.” After providing a catalogue of functions of textual partitioning (1. differentiation/disconnection, 2. connection of related material, 3. highlighting certain material, 4. downplaying textual features), he analyzes three levels of divisions throughout the book of Dan: the traditional structuring (by the editors, Masoretes or respectively Langton) into chapters, paragraphs and lessons, the genre division (narration ó vision) and the partitioning through the change of language. His observations lead him to the conclusion that all four cited functional types of divisions are present in the book. And thus, the divisions are in fact a hermeneutical guide to the text, which itself comments on the text and leads (or sometimes misleads) the reader. While the categorization of the four functions seems basically plausible, it should however be better founded in secondary literature so that it will not be mistakenly considered arbitrary. Additionally some kind of summary presentation of the findings would have been helpful. Regardless, the contribution represents an elucidating und profound study.

M.C.A. Korpel's “The Demarcation of Hymns and Prayers in the Prophets (I)” focuses on the identification of poetic passages in prophetic texts, or more precisely, as the title suggests, of hymns and prayers. With sideward glances at the attempts at genre definitions by form criticism and at near eastern parallels—where a few illuminative analogies of the integration of hymnic passages in prophetic contexts are to be found—she looks deeper into Hos 6:1-3 and Isa 42:10-12. By fruitfully applying observations from various manuscripts, she comes to the conclusion that each of them is an integral part of a larger section, Hos being words of royal speakers quoted by the prophet, and Isa representing not a Psalm, but strictly speaking a ‘prophetic adaptation of the hymnic style’ (134). She preliminarily concludes that hymns and prayers in the prophetic corpus are ‘firmly embedded in the context’ (135) and this has to be accounted for in interpreting the texts. Thus, in her well considered and balanced deliberations she is able to demonstrate the profitability of Delimitation Criticism in exegetical contemplation without denying the limits of this method. One curiously awaits the forthcoming parts of this larger study.

Following James Muilenberg's famous presidential SBL-address in 1968, J.R. Lundbom aims in “Delimitation of Units in the Book of Jeremiah” at demarcating textual units in Jeremiah by using rhetorical criticism because he is convinced that ‘Jeremianic discourse is structured not according to form-critical models, but according to canons of ancient Hebrew rhetoric’ (153). After establishing criteria for delineating textual units (e.g. shifts in text type or genre, messenger formulas, inclusion, parallelisms, keywords etc.), he focuses on the delimitation of oracles in Jeremiah's poetry (in Jer 2:5-9; 2:33-37; 5:1-9; 8:18-21; 8:22-9:1; 20:7-13; 20:14-18) as well as his prose (in Jer 7:1-15; 31:23-40). In this study the method of Unit Delimitation accounts merely for a background feature of his observations: he consults manuscripts at various points but only applies the data en passant and not always as precisely as would be desirable. Furthermore, a concentration on a smaller number of passages with more illustrations from the Hebrew text, would probably have been preferable. Also a final summary or conclusion would have been very helpful.

Linguistically speaking the question of the nature or even the function of a paragraph remains unresolved. In “Pericope Markers and the Paragraph: Textual and Linguistic Implications” S.E. Porter addresses exactly this question with profound textual contemplations and an illuminative outcome. In an instructive summary of current approaches he lists seven main categories for establishing the notion of ‘paragraph’: conjunctions/particles, cohesion/segmentation, participants/pronouns/anaphora, referential distance, topic, theme, literary and text types. While the usage of this terminology is still somewhat foreign in the practice of exegesis, his application of these categories to Mark and Romans in the Codex Sinaiticus offers important insights. First and foremost the ancient Greek scribal tradition put a tremendous focus on formal structuring elements in texts like conjunctions rather than on aspects of content. Porter subsequently establishes a hierarchy of paragraphing features from more to less formal: 1. Mode (conjunctions, cohesion), 2. Tenor (participants, referential distance), 3. Field (topic, theme, word order). He continually observes differences with respect to partitioning in the two analyzed text types: while narrative texts are structured more by formal characteristics like conjunctions, in expository texts as Romans other features (e.g. participant structure) are emphasized. Thus, he concludes, the ancient scribes had a distinctive and understandable, yet not explicitly defined notion of ‘paragraph’.

G.T.M. Prinsloo argues that both the rather new literary approach as well as the traditional redaction-critical approach cannot solve the problems with the textual structure of the book Habakkuk. Thus, in “Petuchot/Setumot and the structure of Habakkuk: Evaluation the Evidence” he seeks to establish a third perspective as an alternative to the two traditional approaches - Unit Delimitation. While the literary and redaction-critical approaches fail to compile conclusive evidence for a commonly accepted textual division (neither synchronic nor diachonic), Prinsloo gathers data from several manuscripts out of various scribal traditions (Qumran, Wadi Murabba’at, Nahal Hever, Masoretic texts), arranged in illuminative tables. This data shows a surprisingly consistent convention of delimiting the text over the three chapters: 1:1-17; 2:1-4; 2:5-8; 2:9-11; 2:12-14; 2:15-17; 2:18; 2:19-20; 3:1-7; 3:8-13; 3:14-19. These delimitations in fact contradict most of the present approaches to the structure of the book and thus presenting a challenge to exegesis, as Prinsloo states. In so doing he correctly raises the pivotal (and often unanswered) question regarding the criterion for demarcating textual units. But while Prinsloo’s findings should without doubt be pondered upon in the future, it seems dangerous to expect that the approach of delimitation criticism uses objective evidence because even consistent scribal traditions are to be assessed as hermeneutical and thus fallible approaches in their own right.

Discussing the controversial evidence of an acrostic in Nah 1, K. Spronk sheds light on some interesting graphical features of the Codices Alexandrinus and Marchialianus. As he points out in “The Line-Acrostic in Nahum 1: New Evidence from Ancient Greek Manuscripts and from the Literary Analysis of the Hebrew Text,” traces of an acrostically arranged Hebrew Vorlage seem to be found in the usage of capital letters written in ekthesis in the ancient texts. Additionally, Spronk refers to intertextual connections between Ex 34 and various passages in the Dodekapropheton, which are wordplays alluding to the name of the prophet, the content of his message, or his point of view. While the argument is not always as compelling as would be desirable (especially en detail, e.g. as in the seemingly vague characterization of the beginning of the book as ‘countdown’ to Nah 1:9), the demonstrated traces should be pursued further all the same, as they do show some promise.

In “The Abraham Narrative (Gen. 12:1-25:11) in Some Ancient and Mediaeval Manuscripts: The Exegetical Implications of Delimitation Criticism” S. Tatu compares the paragraphing of the ‘Abraham Cycle’ in some of the major biblical manuscripts (Codex Alexandrinus, Samaritan Pentateuch, Kennicott Bible, Codex Leningradensis; the Qumran manuscripts are too few and not well preserved, so he treats them only en passant) with his own analysis of the cycle’s narrative composition. By presenting the textual divisions in tables, he is able to demonstrate the far-reaching agreements between the traditional layout and the literary structure, even despite the diversity of the different scribal conventions. Yet the actual partitioning in the manuscripts is highly dependent on the hermeneutical assumptions and traditions of the editors, as far as he is able to discern. He is still able to identify some major criteria for the partitioning such as ‘character,’ ‘topic,’ ‘setting,’ and ‘plot’ (i.e. the alterations in one or more of these), however, structuring according to the larger narrative patterns (like ‘scene’ or ‘episode’) rarely occurs. Even though his analytic terminology and the perspicuity of his tables could still be enhanced, Tatu delivers an elucidating contribution. 

The volume provides extensive and informative indices (author and biblical texts). Future issues of Pericope should in any case be proofread more accurately, as more than a few small errors appear in various articles—especially in several Hebrew passages. Nonetheless, The Impact of Unit Delimitation represents a collection of instructive contributions illustrating the possibilities - and limits (cf. the review of Prinsloo’s article) - of Unit Delimitation in Biblical exegesis.

Matthias Hopf, Augustana Theologische Hochschule Neuendettelsau, Germany