J. Y. Jindo, Biblical Metaphor Reconsidered: A Cognitive Approach to Poetic Prophecy in Jeremiah 1–24

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 11 (2011) - Review

Jindo, Job Y., Biblical Metaphor Reconsidered: A Cognitive Approach to Poetic Prophecy in Jeremiah 1–24 (HSM, 64; Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2010). Pp. xv + 343. Hardcover. US$39.95. ISBN: 1-57506-936-9.

Biblical Metaphor Reconsidered: A Cognitive Approach to Poetic Prophecy in Jeremiah 1–24 is a revised Jewish Theological Seminary of America dissertation (2006) written under the supervision of Stephen A. Geller and revised under the guidance of Michael Coogan and Peter Machinist. The book advances an exegetical approach for analyzing biblical metaphors that combines cognitive linguistics and poetics and demonstrates the efficacy of this approach by analyzing the prophetic metaphors of Jeremiah 1–24. Whereas past treatments of biblical metaphors have tended to view metaphors as rhetorical ornaments, Jindo's book argues that metaphors are fundamentally cognitive, having to do with the thought-world of the poet or prophet (Chapter 2). Using this insight, Jindo makes an attractive argument for the unity of Jeremiah 1–24 at the conceptual level (Chapters 4 and 5).

Jindo states that his proposed approach is “a synthesis of studies conducted in a variety of disciplines, mainly in cognitive linguistics and poetics” (p. 27 n. 7, Jindo's emphasis). The many insights and suggestions in the book testify to the wealth of the growing literature on cognitive linguistics and poetics from which Jindo draws to formulate his approach. To give an example which is central to Jindo's work, he transposes the debate about Mesopotamian and Israelite city-laments from genre studies to a cognitive linguistic framework. He proposes that the verbal and literary commonalities between these corpora of laments are not necessarily indicative of a common genre,[1] but rather of a common way of thinking—the existence of a “fundamental metaphor they lived by”: THE COSMOS IS A STATE (p. 145).[2] The simplicity of this move belies the power of Jindo's use of cognitive linguistics here. Jindo effectively argues in this way that Jeremiah shares with his Mesopotamian contemporaries not only a common mode of expression but, more importantly, a common thought-pattern, represented by the global metaphor: THE COSMOS IS A STATE. This metaphor, under which Jindo subsumes all the local metaphors found in Jeremiah 1–24, is the concept that frames and structures Jindo's discussion of the unity of Jeremiah in Chapters 4 and 5, as we will see below.[3]

Jindo's claim that his approach is a synthesis, on the other hand, is an overstatement. The book's theoretical trappings are a medley of theories, often suggestive, at times contradictory, but something short of a systematic synthesis. Technical terms, concepts, and their relationships are not always clearly defined in Jindo's eclectic theoretical discussion. For example, Max Black's interactive theory of metaphor undergirds Jindo's method of analyzing a metaphor as a trope that helps us understand one domain (what Black calls the target domain) by means of a “model” from another (the source domain).[4] For example, according to the global metaphor above, Jeremiah might conceptualize the COSMOS (target domain) in terms of the STATE (source domain). Since this aspect of Black's theory is important to Jindo, Jindo follows Black in defining a model as “a type of (conceptual) structure or pattern of relationships” (p. xiv; see p. xiv n. 3). However, he rejects Black's equally important pair of terms “frame” and “focus” (p. 30 n. 13; p. 51 n. 54) and reserves the term “frame” for a different pair of terms: “frame” and “script” (pp. 48–52, discussed below). Such eclecticism leads to disorienting gaps within an established set of terms and to an unhelpful proliferation of terms and doublets. What should the reader make of the implied equation of “metaphor” with “model” in the title of Chapter 4, “Global Metaphor in Jeremiah 1–24: the Destruction Model,” or the equation of “the frame of reference” (Harshav's term[5]) with “metaphorical model” (Black's term[6]) (p. 250)? Synthesis of scholarly discourse and vocabulary across several disciplines is difficult, so the book's inelegance in this regard is understandable. But this does render the book less useful for those seeking an introduction to cognitive linguistics and poetics, though Jindo's ample bibliography should prove a good starting point.

The terminological difficulty aside, the basic theoretical framework for the proposed approach (Chapter 2) and description of method (Chapter 6) are accessible and constitute an advance in the field. A summary description of the method can be found on pp. 250–251 (repeated verbatim from pp. 238–239) and is quite clear. In regards to theory, Jindo makes three key points in Chapter 2.

The first point is that the metaphors a prophet uses to describe a historical event (target domain) themselves create, or at least point to, a parallel reality (source domain), which Jindo describes variously as poetic, prophetic, or conceptual. Jindo makes passing acknowledgements of the fictive nature of the poetic world. At the same time, he appears to assume that the poetic world is as real as and perhaps even more important than historical events. It is, after all, in the poetic world that YHWH and Jeremiah speak, act, and lament. Furthermore, because of the imputed independence and unity of the source domain, even a single metaphor (e.g., “the seed of Abraham” in Isa 41:8) implies the existence of two independent domains (TREE and HUMAN LIFE) and necessarily activates all related correspondences between the source domain (TREE) and the target domain (HUMAN LIFE) (see p. 33). “[T]he phenomenon of metaphor involves systematic correspondences between two conceptual domains” (p. 34). The weakness of this way of analyzing metaphor is that it separates what the ancient prophets certainly did not: historical event and poetic reality. And the strength of Jindo's maximalist view of metaphor is that it allows for a rich discussion of the unity of Jeremiah 1–24 in Chapters 4 and 5, which at times borders on over-reading on account of the same.

The second key point is a consequence of the maximalist view of metaphor, adopted from Benjamin Harshav's essay “The Structure of Non-Narrative Fiction.”[7] Harshav, building on the work of Russian Formalists, distinguishes between the Text Continuum and the Reconstructed Level of texts. Harshav's Text Continuum is akin to, but not identical to, what Russian Formalists call sjuzhet, the way a literary text presents a story. And the Reconstructed Level is like the fabula, the reader's reconstruction of that story. Harshav writes, “Characters, plot, ideas, time, space, style, etc., are built by the reader from discontinuous elements in the text and are reorganized according to their inherent principles (e.g., time elements are reorganized in their chronological order, ideas in their logical order, streets or trees in a spatial order, etc.).”[8] Jindo applies the distinction between Text Continuum and Reconstructed Level to the analysis of Jeremiah's poetic prophecies. The received text of Jeremiah is the Text Continuum. And the poetic reality, the source domain of the prophetic metaphors, is the Reconstructed Level. By supplementing cognitive linguistics with Harshav's poetics, Jindo lays the ground for ascribing the characteristics of narrative (plot and character) to the poetic world of Jeremiah's non-narrative oracles. This brings us to the third key point.

Jindo argues that the poetic reality (source domain) as constituted by the metaphors is “a conceptually integrated structure” composed of a “frame” and a “script” (p. 50; see the helpful chart on p. 99 that analyzes Jeremiah in these terms). The concept of “frame” here seems to be synonymous to what Jindo elsewhere calls “domain.” A frame contains elements (or characters) that are proper to it. So the frame DIVINE ASSEMBLY contains the elements: divine judge, sinner, intercessor, executioner, etc. The concept of frame, with its elements, organizes the second half of Chapter 4, where Jindo presents his readerly reconstruction of the characters of the historical drama of Judah's destruction as characters (elements) of the poetic drama of the divine assembly (frame): YHWH as divine judge; the people of Judah as defendant; Jeremiah as intercessor; etc. (pp. 100–142). The concept of “script,” akin to the concept of fabula, structures Chapter 5 where Jindo analyzes the plant metaphors within a reconstructed narrative order (script).

The unstated thesis for Chapters 3, 4, and 5 is that Jeremiah (1–24) is a unity. In Chapter 3, Jindo, following Alexander Rofé, argues that the Hebrew text of Jeremiah exhibits signs of structural unity “with a clear logic of progression,” marked by editorial devices such as inclusion, concentricity, and transitional patterning (p. 57).[9] This, then, serves as the justification for looking for cognitive unity in the following chapters.

There are two main sections to Chapter 4, the topics of which we have broached above. In the first section, Jindo introduces the global metaphor: THE COSMOS IS A STATE. The metaphor contains the insight that the divine assembly (target domain) is made up of the same members (elements of a frame) and functions in the same manner (script) as a human royal court (source domain). Within this global metaphor, Jindo identifies what he calls “the destruction model,” in which we find the cast of characters acting out a fairly uniform script concerning the destruction of a city: “(1) JUDICIAL DECISION/LAWSUIT; (2) DESTRUCTION/WARFARE; (3) LAMENTATION/ AFTERMATH” and “(4) RESTORATION” (p. 78). Jindo presents an array of texts from Mesopotamia to demonstrate that the Mesopotamians perceived and experienced the historical destruction of cities according to this “global metaphorical model,” i.e., the Epic of Atrahasis, the Curse of Agade, and the Poem of Erra (p. 71; see pp. 84–91). He argues that Israelite texts, including Jeremiah, share this conceptual pattern. In the second section of the chapter, Jindo analyzes Jeremiah 1–24 as a text whose writer(s) experienced, perceived, and represented the destruction of Judah according to the “destruction model” with helpful notes on the differences between the Mesopotamian exemplars and Jeremiah. He does this, curiously, by reconstructing the participating characters (elements of the frame) but not the narrative story (script). He does offer a suggestive, if gapped, chart with both the “frame” and “script” components on p. 99, about which he comments: “the frame and the script of the destruction model are fully manifest in Jeremiah” (p. 99). Nevertheless, a detailed analysis of the “script” would have strengthened his argument for unity.

Chapter 5 somewhat compensates for Chapter 4's lack of an analysis of the script, since the analysis of the (local) plant imagery follows the narrative flow of the script (pp. 179–221). It should be noted, however, that this script is assumed and never argued for in detail. In the first half of Chapter 5, Jindo identifies a central metaphorical concept: THE LAND OF ISRAEL IS YHWH'S ROYAL GARDEN (p. 161). He then subsumes all plant and horticultural metaphors under it. Undoubtedly, Jeremiah shared with other biblical writers the notion that Israel belonged to God in one way or another and that the land was at times thought of as God's royal garden (pp. 152–179). However, this observation does not necessarily mean, as Jindo assumes, that all plant imagery in Jeremiah participates in this “fundamental metaphor they lived by.” Jindo again commits the maximalist fallacy in pursuit of an integrative reading. This penchant for coherence, fortunately, does not detract from the attractiveness of Jindo's close analysis of the plant imagery. Though the examples are not always as clear nor the garden as thickly populated as one might wish, Jindo succeeds in unveiling a highly suggestive coherence of the Text Continuum and the Reconstructed Level that deserves attention and further study. He takes care, too, to integrate other important metaphors into his discussion of the relationship between YHWH and Israel, such as the marriage metaphor (pp. 179–182) and metaphors from the domain of warfare (pp. 185–205). A particularly elegant suggestion for unity is the observation that the plant imagery in Jeremiah 4–6 and 8–9 follows “the agricultural calendar: ‘tilling’ and ‘sowing’ (4:3–4), ‘pruning’ (5:10), ‘harvesting’ (6:9), ‘ingathering’ (8:13), ‘end of ingathering’ (8:20), and ‘after the ingathering’ (9:21)” (p. 185). The fact that the horticultural order parallels the script of the destruction model (cf. p. 99) adds to this elegance.

In regards to Chapters 4 and 5, I remain suspicious of the distinction Jindo makes between global metaphors (i.e., THE COSMOS IS A STATE) and local metaphors (i.e., ISRAEL IS YHWH'S GARDEN). To say that the former has to do with the structure of Jeremiah because it is that through which the writers understand the world (p. 73) and that the latter privies us to the perspective of the literary characters (p. 238) is unconvincing and introduces a false hierarchy. Despite this and other shortcomings, in my opinion, Chapters 4 and 5 are Jindo's most valuable contributions to the ongoing discussion about the relationship between thought, metaphor, language, and reality and considerably advance the way we think about metaphors in the Hebrew Bible. These chapters also present an integrative reading of Jeremiah 1–24 that deserves consideration.

There remains, however, one more issue concerning Chapters 3–5. Granting for now that Jindo is correct that Jeremiah (1–24) is coherent at the structural (Chapter 3) and conceptual (Chapters 4 and 5) levels, this does not tell us how these different levels of coherence relate to each other. There may be a way in which these different kinds of coherences reinforce and bolster each other, making Jeremiah more a unity than Jindo realizes. It is also possible that these coherences do not have anything to do with each other. What exactly does structure have to do with conceptual metaphors? As Jindo recognizes, an editorial hand was responsible for the structural unity of Jeremiah. However, the conceptual unity may not belong to the editor or even to the writers of Jeremiah as individual genii but to them as members of a cultural phenomenon. Jindo states that his study is synchronic in nature (p. 75). The diachronic is the “path not taken” (p. 2). Thus, he sidesteps some of these issues about who and when and where. But the questions remain: Is there dependence between structural unity and cognitive unity, one way or the other? Who is responsible for the structural unity of the Book of Jeremiah, and is the same person or group responsible for its cognitive unity? Answering these questions may not have made all the difference, but it would have made a certain difference for the better.

In the end, this book is a fine contribution to the on-going discussion about biblical metaphors, touching on such fundamental issues as the nature of language, thought, and reality. It also represents a fresh reading of the Book of Jeremiah as a coherent unity. It is a learned work, and the bibliographies on the various topics it deals with, often presented in the informative footnotes, are valuable in themselves. Its major weaknesses, the lack of theoretical synthesis and clear definitions of terms and its underexamined overemphasis on concepts and the conceptual world, do not detract from the book's overall achievement. It is my pleasure to recommend the book to both those interested in the topic of biblical metaphor and the Book of Jeremiah.

Paul Kang-Kul Cho, Harvard University

[1] As argued for and against respectively by W. F. Dobbs-Allsopp (Weep, O Daughter of Zion: A Study of the City-Lament Genre in the Hebrew Bible [BibOr, 44; Roma: Editrice Pontifico Istuto Biblico, 1993]) and Adele Berlin (“Review of Weep, O Daughter of Zion: A Study of the City-Lament Genre in the Hebrew Bible by F. W. Dopps-Allsopp,” JAOS 115 [1995], 319). reference

[2] For a full discussion of this issue, see pp. 71–74 and pp. 142–147; see also pp. 255–260 for further suggestions along this line. reference

[3] Jindo prioritizes concepts over metaphors in order to resist the “tendency [of cognitive linguists] to (over)emphasize the significance of metaphor” (p. 29 n. 11). Jindo overreacts and needs to provide a more robust defense of this reprioritization. His defense of the position on p. 29 n. 11 is inadequate. This point bears noting because of two reasons. First, if a metaphor is just one way of giving expression to a prior concept, then Jindo's claim that metaphors cannot be paraphrased cannot be maintained (p. 5; p. 45 n. 43). If the concept is primary, then it is possible to formulate more than one metaphor to express that concept, which means that any given metaphor can be stated in other words, paraphrased. The second, weightier reason is that the reprioritization creates the Sun and turns metaphors into heliotropes. The assumption of the prior existence of concepts before metaphors introduces a questionable hierarchy between the (metaphorical) concept and the (subordinated) metaphors that fill out the world defined by the concept. reference

[4] See Max Black, Models and Metaphors: Studies in Language and Philosophy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1962). reference

[5] See Benjamin Harshav, “Poetic Metaphor and Frames of Reference: With Examples from Eliot, Rilke, Mayakovsky, Mandelshtam, Pound, Creely, Amichai, and the New York Times,” in Explorations in Poetics (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007), 32–75. reference

[6] See Black, Models and Metaphors. reference

[7] “The Structure of Non-Narrative Fiction: The First Episode of War and Peace,” in Explorations in Poetics (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007), 174–209. reference

[8] Ibid., 179. reference

[9] See “Excursus 2: Transitional Patterning in the Book of Jeremiah” (pp. 69–70). reference