Review of J. Martinez Delgado (ed.), El viaje lingüístico de la Biblia

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

Martínez Delgado, José (ed.), El viaje lingüístico de la Biblia (Granada: Editorial Universidad de Granada, 2011). Pp. 348. Softcover. €16.00. ISBN 978-84-338-5315-8.

This book gathers together the papers given at a symposium on “Languages and Sacred Texts in the Middle East, Mediterranean and the Red Sea” held at the University of Granada in April 2009. Aimed at researchers in other fields and students with some familiarity with the Bible, the main objective of the symposium was to show the continuity of linguistic and literary traditions, with an emphasis on texts. Participants included Spanish researchers from the universities of Alcalá de Henares, Córdoba, Granada, Girona and Madrid (Complutense), as well as research centres like the Instituto de Estudios Islámicos y de Oriente Próximo of Zaragoza and the Instituto de Lenguas y Culturas of the CCHS-CSIC of Madrid.

In his brief introduction, Federico Corriente sums up the present state of biblical scholarship and the issues it is currently facing. The volume itself is divided into two large blocks. The first covers the origins of the Bible and the historical, cultural and religious framework within which the various books emerged. The second focuses on the different languages into which the Bible has been translated.

The first part, Los orígenes de la Biblia [The Origins of the Bible] has five chapters. “Una aproximación a la Biblia hebrea: Cuestiones generales y ejemplo práctico: la parábola de los árboles que querían ungirse un rey” [A broad approach to the Hebrew Bible: General Questions and a Test-Case: The Parable of the Trees who Wished to Anoint a King over Them] by Lorena Miralles Maciá provides a panoramic overview of the Hebrew Bible and its influence in later periods, as seen in the production of Jewish and Christian exegetical literature and in various other kinds of cultural and artistic manifestations.

In “Religión y lengua fenicias” [Phoenician Religion and Language], José Ángel Zamora analyzes Phoenician inscriptions (votive, funerary, magical and administrative)—the only texts preserved in this language—with the aim of determining the nature of religion in the Phoenician world, whose cultural context is considered very close to that of the Bible.

Greek is the language of the Septuagint, the first translation of the Bible, and it is also the language of the Gospels and other books making up the New Testament. Ángel Urbán's “El griego de la Biblia (LXX y NT)” [The Greek of the Bible (LXX and NT)] includes interesting reflections on the issues and difficulties facing all translators and illustrates these ideas with some examples of unfortunate translations which have affected subsequent interpretation.

The intertestamental period was one of literary creation and great dynamism, witnessing the emergence of works from various different perspectives. Jaime Vázquez Allegue's “La memoria en el hebreo de Qumrán” [Memory in the Hebrew Corpus of Qumran] tackles the subject of religious interpretation in the Community of Qumran and the importance of apocalypticism, eschatology and resurrection in the thinking of the tense and conflict-rich period of the origins of Christianity.

The article “Usos del texto bíblico en la literatura rabínica” [Uses of the Biblical Text in Rabbinic Literature] considers the perspective from which rabbis read the biblical text and the methods they employed for studying it. In this essay Olga Ruiz Morell attempts to bridge the gulf between our understanding of the biblical text and that of previous periods by unpacking the logic and worldview underlying the derash method.

The second part of this work, El viaje lingüístico de los textos sagrados [The Linguistic Journey of Sacred Texts] comprises seven chapters. The journey begins with Aramaic and the targumim in “El mundo de las versiones arameas de la Biblia” [The World of the Aramaic Versions of the Bible] by Joan Ferrer. It continues with Arabic, a language used by Christians and Jews for more than a thousand years. Biblical translations and exegetical literature within the Christian environment are studied in “Las Biblias en árabe: entre el texto y sus contextos” [Bibles in Arabic: Between the Text and its Contexts] by Juan P. Monferrer Sala. Translations made into Judeo-Arabic by Jews are the subject of “De Saʿadia a Šarh: traducciones de la Biblia al judeo-árabe” [From Saʿadia to Šarh: Judeo-Arabic Translations of the Bible] by María Ángeles Gallego. This article presents in detail the distinctive and differentiating features of the translation by Saʿadia Gaon.

José Martinez Delgado (“La comparación de la lenguas semíticas en la Edad Media [Comparative Semitics in the Middle Ages]) looks at the early linguistic studies of biblical Hebrew carried out in Al-Andalus, starting with lexicography and going on to consider morphology and syntax. Comparison between Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic is a key element in such studies.

The journey of this volume breaks off at the Middle Ages in order to return to the third and fourth centuries c.e. to consider the first Christian translations into Coptic and Ethiopic. Mª Jesús Albarrán Martínez tackles the Sahidic and Bohairic versions in “Las versiones coptas de la Biblia” [The Coptic Versions of the Bible]. José Manuel Cañas Reíllo's “Versiones etiópicas de la Biblia” [Ethiopic Versions of the Bible] analyzes translations into Geʿez and the importance of the Ethiopic canon, since it is only through these versions that the full texts of Jubilees, Enoch and the Ascension of Isaiah have survived, in addition to other Christian works such as the First Epistle of Clement or the Didascalia. Finally Pablo A. Torijano, in “El armenio y sus textos bíblicos” [Armenian and its Biblical Texts], studies Armenian versions within the their geographical and historical framework and provides a description of the characteristic features of this language.

The second part of the volume is concluded by Julio Trebolle Barrera's “Los manuscritos bíblicos del Mar Muerto: La historia y crítica del texto de la Biblia después de Qumrán” [The Biblical Manuscripts of the Dead Sea: History and Critical Analysis of the Text of the Bible After Qumran]. This contribution provides an excellent summary of the current state of text criticism and the most relevant information on the biblical manuscripts of Qumran, which date from a period of transition between textual plurality and the establishment of the Masoretic Text. It includes a series of thought-provoking reflections on the complexity of studying the biblical text including, inter alia, on the need to study these texts both from the perspective of classical studies (Hebrew/Aramaic, Greek and Latin) and that of Semitic languages (Ugaritic, Akkadian and Hebrew/Aramaic).

Julio Trebolle then closes the volume with an epilogue on the current state of the Hebrew text of the Bible. The volume ends with notes, an appendix with texts in their original languages plus other complementary material such as maps and alphabets, and bibliographical references.

Considered as a whole, this work contains a very wide range of studies that cover issues relating to the literature, religion and languages of the Bible, though in some cases they also consider sacred texts from other religions. This is the case of the chapter on Phoenician, an exhaustive piece of work which nevertheless concentrates exclusively on Phoenician religion without making any connections to the biblical world. The great variety of issues and, above all, problematic questions about boundaries make difficult perceive a clear argumentative thread through the entire volume. It is striking that the section entitled “The Origins of the Bible” includes a work on rabbinic exegetical interpretation or that there should be a chapter on medieval philology in the section headed “The Linguistic Journey of the Sacred Texts”. Even if the aim of this chapter is to improve understanding of the biblical text, the essay is completely unrelated to the rest of the chapters in the section, which deal with translations of the Bible into Aramaic, Arabic, Coptic, Ethiopic and Armenian. In addition, there are some barely excusable absences in this book. Given the geographic environment selected, the volume should have included a chapter on Latin versions, the importance of which is unquestionable (cf. in this respect the chapter by J. Trebolle, pp. 252–53). The volume should also have included an essay on the vernacular translations made in Spain throughout the Middle Ages, especially because this is an area which has seen notable advances in recent years. One of the most important products of such work is the research project directed by A. Enrique-Arias, which has led to the creation of a free-access database that contains many of these translations (Biblia Medieval, http://www.bibliamedieval.es).

The decision to place the notes and bibliographical references at the end of the book reduces the complexity of the editor's task but brings discomfort to the readers, who are constantly forced to interrupt their reading to search for information in the final pages. In addition, authors do not follow the same criteria in determining which contents should go into the index: some include certain kinds of material in their chapters, whereas others refer the reader to the end of the work. There is one map in the appendix, but it would have been useful to include others in order to illustrate the geographic distribution of the Coptic and Armenian languages.

In spite of these observations, El viaje lingüístico de la Biblia is a useful and enjoyable work which presents the reader with an up-to-date overview of the themes discussed, commentary on numerous texts, thought-provoking reflections on the tasks still to be undertaken in each area and suggestions for the way to address these remaining tasks.

Guadalupe Seijas de los Ríos Zarzosa, Universidad Complutense de Madrid