Rüdiger Bartelmus and Norbert Nebes, eds., Sachverhalt und Zeitbezug: Semitistische und alttestamentliche Studien Adolf Denz zum 65.Geburtstag.
(Jenaer Beiträge zum Vorderen Orient, 4; Wiesbaden: Harassowitz, 2001), viii, 166 pp. ISBN 3-447-04272-9.
Reviewed by Seth L. Sanders
Chicago, IL

The eleven essays collected in this book honor Adolf Denz, a Semitist who taught in Munich from 1975 through 2000. His influence was achieved not through massive publication—the essays cite a single book, his study of Die Verbalsyntax des neuarabischen Dialektes von Kwayris (Irak). Mit einer einleitenden allgemeinen Tempus- und Aspektlehre, and a single essay on tense and aspect—but through his impact on students, no less than ten of whom are now professors of Semitics. As Denz says, “I am paid to think, not to write.” The effects of Denz’s thinking can be measured in the rich writings gathered in this little book. Three biblical studies are singled out for comment because of the way they connect linguistic forms to bigger questions.

Rüdiger Bartelmus’ “Sachverhalt und Zeitbezug: Pragmatisch-exegetische Anwendung eines noetischen Theorems auf 1 Kön 1,” confronts a frustratingly typical impasse in the interpretation of biblical texts. Bartelmus describes the three current views of how the first chapter of 1 Kings fits into the overall “Succession Narrative” of David and Solomon: 1) it is pro-Solomon 2) it is anti-Solomon 3) it is anti-Solomon, but has been edited to look pro-Solomon. In other words, nobody agrees on what, if anything, the text’s message is. But, he argues, recent literature has not much considered the text’s language. In this exegetical muddle, Bartelmus argues, a look at the story’s handling of time and ordering of events can provide us a place on which to stand. He argues that through the very ordering of events, the author has made a pro-dynastic view impossible.

Thomas Krüger’s “ ‘An den Strömen von Babylon … ’ Erwägungen zu Zeitbezug und Sachverhalt in Psalm 137” is a similar use of linguistics as a way of listening to the text. Krüger uses deictics—demonstratives and verbal forms that mark the speaker’s relationship to the topic as something near or far, completed, ongoing or yet to come—to attune our ears to the Psalmist’s relationship to the events he speaks of: the trauma of exile. In contrast with the almost forensic methods of biblical philology, which use unintentional clues in the text to deduce a historical and social context (the familiar “Sitz im Leben”), Krüger reads the text’s intentional deictic language to reconstruct its communicative context. By virtue of his attention to the explicit ways that the Psalmist addresses his audience and situation, Krüger’s methods could actually be said to be more empirical. The speaker of Psalm 137 situates “the waters of Babylon” as something remote and in the past, and the joyous return from exile as a fait accompli. By contrast, the performance of this psalm actually demands a present-tense pledge of allegiance to Jerusalem (the famous “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem … ”). With these moves, the speaker inserts the text squarely in the middle of a heated contest over Jerusalem’s fate in the present: Further attention to the text’s context in the psalter, and the inner-biblical exegesis this implies, strengthens Krüger’s arguments. That debate over this psalm’s meaning and use will never end is a testament to its poetic force. But Krüger’s attentive study of just how the text makes its claims on the reader advances that debate, moving biblical interpretation in the direction of linguistic anthropology.

Augustin R. Müller’s “Die Freiheit, ein Und zu gebrauchen. Zur hebräischen Konjunktion w” also invokes anthropology by engaging in a fierce argument about what linguistic forms say about culture. It is a polemic against H.-P. Müller’s study of “Non-junctive uses” of the Hebrew conjunction waw (ZAH 1994). Here Müller produces an interesting catalogue of biblical expressions involving waw that cannot be translated with the usual German conjunction “und.” He attributes this to a vagueness typical of primitive people’s languages, citing the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski. In this battle of Müller vs. Müller, Augustin Müller scores a crucial point by showing that all of H.-P.’s “primitive” uses are also found in German, in such non-primitive contexts as Goethe, Grimm’s dictionary, or modern wine journals. What we have to do with here is not a primeval fog but the interaction of linguistic form and context to produce meaning and force. The subject has been well studied since Malinowski, and A. Müller could have nuanced this cutting critique by drawing on discussions of pragmatics and implicature, some of which are cited in Cynthia Miller’s “The Pragmatics of waw as a Discourse Marker in Biblical Hebrew Dialogue,” ZAH (1999) (doubtless too late to be utilized in this book).

Stefan Bombeck’s “Das althebräische w-Perf. für Gegenwart und Vergangenheit in den hinteren Propheten und den Psalmen” extends his dissertation work on the Hebrew verbal system in the light of Aramaic translations, which sounds tantalizing. He challenges the view of the we-qatal form as expressed in the standard grammars of Gesenius and Bergstrasser. The reviewer wonders what Bombeck would have made of the work of Alberto Niccacci or Mark S. Smith.

Walter Groß’s “Die Stellung der Zeitangabe in Sätzen mit zei oder mehr nominalen.pronominalen Satzteilen vor dem Verbum finitum in alttestamentlicher Poesie” deals with a difficult grammatical category: sentences with 2 or more noun phrases before a finite verb. These constructions are practically ignored in BH grammar, and are impossible to translate directly into German. What makes the topic interesting is the way in which they violates the standard theory of Hebrew sentence structure. One of the delights of German philology, with its joy in completeness, can be found in Groß’s source for an “ausführliche” study of the Biblical Hebrew sentence: Bloch’s 1949 syntax of Classical Arabic. This contribution is valuable not least for citations.

Hans-Georg von Mutius’ “Der hebräische Text von Genesis 2,1 im Licht der Septuaginta und der rabbinischen Schriftauslegung” examines a traditional Jewish reading of this passage, which derives כל צבאם‎ from צבי‎ “ornament, beauty” rather than צבא‎ “host.” von Mutius argues that the reading, registered in late sources such as the Talmud and Maimonides, was probably original, and readers need not be convinced by his semantic and text-critical arguments to appreciate the history of interpretation he unfolds.

Theodor Seidl’s “Wunschsätze mit mi yittin im Biblischen Hebräisch” argues that contrary to what is commonly assumed, the phrase מי־יתן‎ is actually not a frozen, desemanticized form but a productive and semantically transparent use of the נתן‎ root.

There are three studies of other ancient Semitic languages: Manfred Krebernik and Michael Streck’s piece on “Der Irrealis im Altbabylonischen.” is a work of fundamental research which analyzes the evidence for counterfactual expressions in Old Babylonian. Assyriologists and comparative Semitists will want to add a reference to this work to their GAGs. Norbert Nebes’ “Das Inzidenzschema im klassischen Arabisch. Ein Vorbericht” studies the way past events of the form “while X was happening, Y happened” are expressed in Semitic languages. He suggests a plausible-sounding linguistic universal: in languages with verbal systems based on a perfective/imperfective opposition, event X should be imperfective, Y perfective. Nebes finds Classical Arabic to be the parade example within Semitic, clearly and exhaustively laying out the logical possibilities. Finally, Stefan Weninger’s “Die Wochentagsbezeichnungen im Syrischen” finds a basic error in all the standard grammars and lexica of Syriac, which list the first five days of the week in their stem form. In fact, only the first two commonly appear this way, while 3–5 appear with ‚a:, a fact Weninger convincingly attributes to the well-known gender asymmetry of Semitic numbers. While some of the essays will be rough going for those not well versed in both modern German and ancient Semitics, it is the merit of this book to combine substantial linguistic research with some fresh insights on the role of the Bible’s language in ancient Israel’s life.