Archive for January, 2014

I’ve always struggled with the change of verb tense in Hebrew poetry. The first line will use the qatal and the second line the yiqtol. The change in tense does make sense in some situations, but in other places the change is odd. Take Psalm 93:3:

The floods life up (qatal), O LORD
the floods lift up (qatal) their voice
the floods lift up (yiqtol) their roar

Kugel notes that such changes are not merely stylistic:

As noted above: if avoidance of repetition were the point, why does one find qtl-yqtl differentiation of the same verbal root, or actual repetition of the same words in the very verses which illustrate some other differentiating feature. If “elegant variation” were the point, would it not operate first and foremost on the level of lexis?

In other words, if the author wanted to vary his style, would he not only change the word? Because the root remains the same in both lines, the parallelism remains despite the tense change. Yet, the change in tense does communicate a noticeable difference, and it is a problem for translating (how do you communicate the tense change in English, for instance, without making the line sound funny?). Kugel suggests that the variance in verb tense expresses communicates the complete unity of a parallel line:

To understand these alterations as supplying “variety” seems contradicted by the very repetition of the verbal root; instead, something closer to completion or complentarity seems to their role, the integration of A and B into a single whole.

Not all parallelisms are semantic. The change in tense have of the effect of making the reader read both lines together. In Adele Berlin’s words:

There is almost always some degree of grammatical correspondence between parallel lines, and in many cases it is the basic structuring device of the parallelism – the feature that creates the perception of parallelism…The important thing to remember is although there is a difference in the two grammatical structures, they are in some way equivalent to one another. In nonparallelistic discourse only one would occur, and either one could substitute for the other (semantics permitting); but in parallelistic discourse they are both present. Thus grammar has been projected from the axis of selection to the axis of combination. (Bold mine)

Thus, for both Berlin and Kugel changes in grammatical structure of a line help link two lines together in a parallelistic structure. What makes this change fascinating is that in the case of qtl-yqtl, the verbs could lose their tense and should be translated in a manner that fits the context. I still wonder if there isn’t anything more to that change in verb tense. Though Kugel says that the change isn’t stylistic variance, I can’t help but thinking that isn’t much more than stylistic. Change in verb tense may indeed strengthen the parallelism, but in two lines that communicate more or less the same idea how does the change in tense help line B communicate something more than line B? I can only answer: לא ידעתי ולא אדע 

Note: the quotes are from James Kugel’s Idea of Biblical Poetry: Parallelism and Its History and Adele Berlin’s The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism.


Read Full Post »

Powerful Parallelism

My father-in-law and I finished the first assignment in Hebrew Poetry.  In the six hours we spent on this assignment, we spent our time dealing with first three verses of Psalm 6 (actually, we went through the title and the first two verses of the psalm). Six hours is a long time to think about two verses! Typically, I like to work through large sections of texts quickly in order to get the picture of the whole in my mind, but after this assignment I can’t say that I’m not appreciative of the longer gaze at the first few verses.

Psalm 6:2-3 read:

                יְֽהוָ֗ה אַל־בְּאַפְּךָ֥ תוֹכִיחֵ֑נִי
וְֽאַל־בַּחֲמָתְךָ֥ תְיַסְּרֵֽנִי
                 חָנֵּ֥נִי יְהוָה֮ כִּ֤י אֻמְלַ֫ל אָ֥נִי
רְפָאֵ֥נִי יְהוָ֑ה כִּ֖י נִבְהֲל֣וּ עֲצָמָֽי

2 O LORD, Do not in your anger rebuke me!
Do not in your burning wrath discipline me!
3 Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am distressed!
Heal me, O LORD, for my bones are terrified!

The relationship among these lines depict the very personal prayer of a person who is going through a period of darkness in his life. The first two lines seem to echo the same exact thought: Do not because of your anger punish me. These two lines portray the beauty of Hebrew parallelism. “Rebuke” and “discipline” are both used in contexts that involve judgement against evil doers. God’s wrath, of course, burns against sinners. I have to confess that I’m not sure how the first and second line are different from each other except to say that the repetition heightens the intensity of the feeling of distress in the psalm. At this point, we ask what has the psalmist done that he is now in such a dire situation? Will he say to God to rectify the situation?

The second two lines are also synonymous, but the second line more obviously communicates something in addition to the first line. The first line calls for gracious because “I am distressed.” In the second line, he asks for healing because “my bones are terrified.” The word for bones probably a metaphor for the psalmist’s entire being. He is both physically and spiritually in danger; he is both physically and emotionally shaken. He is in an utterly helpless state and is now asking God to move in mercy on his behalf. The first line explicitly asks for grace; the second line explicitly asks for restoration.

He begins with an odd request: Do not punish me in your anger. When God is wrathful against a person of a group of people, he usually angry because of some sin. Punishment would be the correct action to take against a rebellious person. Psalm 6, however, does not explicitly mention any sin as the reason for God’s anger. The psalmist’s positive appeal furthers the oddity of the request: “Be gracious to me! Heal me!” not forgive me. Again, the psalmist does not explicitly mention guilt. Rather, he points out his current distress as the rationale for God’s action. The prophets refer to God’s restoration of a people tore apart from God’s judgement as “healing.” He may be implying some sin on his part. Yet, he does not come out and say “I have sinned.” Why?

What strikes about this feature is his high view of God’s sovereignty. Not that acknowledgement of sin in any way diminishes God’s sovereignty – it doesn’t!  The “non-acknowledgement” highlights the value he places on God’s mercy. God’s wrath would destroy him. God’s grace would heal him. What happens to him is in God’s hands.

The psalmist approaches his situation from a position of faith. God is sovereign. My actions may be evil, but my life rests in God’s hands. I believe that God has the power to save me or crush me. I believe God is merciful. I believe God is present. I believe God hears. I will trust in him.

Read Full Post »

When Life Throws You Lemons…

Today was the first day in a long time that I dropped a class. Adding and dropping classes aren’t normally a big deal. I did adds and drops on a regular basis in college; albeit, I rarely dropped after the semester started. At about 2:40pm yesterday after already sitting in the class for 2 hours, I already knew I had to drop it. Still, I went through several different emotions as I was driving home. The feel of inadequacy hit me hardest. Am I not tough enough to continue in this class? Do I lack the intellectual capacity to continue in this class? Am I just a lazy student? I still wanted to continue and prove my imaginary doubters wrong. I can get through this.  I’m not weak. The thought of continuing, however, was overbearing still. I had no excitement of enduring 4 1/2 months of these feelings. After talking over the situation with friends and family (thank you Grace, Jacob, and Doug for your advice!), I understood that, for a variety of reasons, I needed this class less than I thought I did. What’s more is that there was another class that I needed more. My new textbook is in the mail, and I will be studying with my father-in-law (yes, he’s in my program too) tomorrow night.

I’m still upset over my experience. I really was looking forward to taking this class. I put a bit of mental prep into getting ready for the semester. Dropping the course altered my study plans. I’m not going to be studying a subject I thought I would be studying since October. I’m now going to be studying a subject I wasn’t expecting study until today. What seems so small was actually pretty big. But it all worked out for the better, and I’m glad to come to this realization before it was too late. Goodbye Greek 4. Hello Hebrew Poetry.

Here’s to lemonade.

Read Full Post »

I just began reading Steven Runge’s Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament. I just want to list several points that I thought were significant:

1. Runge’s work is both cross-linguistic and function-based. Runge does not just focus on Greek alone but looks more broadly at the nature of languages in general to formulate rules that all languages follow. His work is function-based in that he focuses on what each discourse piece accomplishes.

2. Choice implies meaning. How one decides to communicate and the choices one makes in the words he or she uses can communicate meaning beyond syntax and semantics. To draw on an example from the book, if you ask your wife how her day was and she says “Your kids…” she is not just employing the 2nd person pronoun as a stylistic variation in her speech. She is communicating something about her day and it relates to the children by distancing herself with the use of that pronoun.

3. Not all word choices reflect a “special” meaning over and above the semantic meaning. Runge calls the form that does not communicate “special” meaning default, and the form that does, he calls “marked.” Runge explains from the previous example:

Consider the aforementioned example of “my” children compared to “your” children. I could organize the various options for referring to my kids into a qualitative set. When I have no special task to accomplish, I most typically use “the kids” as a referring expression. Taking this expression as the default, using expressions such as “your kids,” “my kids,” or “Ruth and her sister” would be expected to signal the presence of some quality or discourse feature that “the kids” would not have signaled. Using “the kids” does not explicitly signal whether I am distancing myself from them or not, whereas “your kids” does.

Thus, we need to pay attention to what is default versus what is marked. We also need to know what is idiomatic in a language since such expressions may seem strange to us but normal to the speaker of that language.

4. These types of devices give a story its texture. Using these discourse devices can bring prominence and contrast to features in a narrative and draw the reader’s attention to what the main point is.

Read Full Post »

Ellis Brotzman’s short introduction to Old Testament Textual Criticism lives up to its title. The book provides a glimpse into different areas which the textual critic would be concerned with while providing the intermediate student the tools and the “how-to” of the field. His thesis is:

This book is written with those bewildered students in mind. It aims to help them understand the textual transmission of the Hebrew text and, even more, to actually involve them in the critical study of the Old Testament text.

The book is broken up into eight chapters an introduction and a conclusion. Chapters 1-4 introduce the reader to the writing, history, and texts of the Old Testament. Chapters 5-8 show the reader how to use the methods of textual criticism to discover the “best” text. Each chapter except for 8 is about the same length.


Chapter 1 deals with the type of writing used in the ancient Near East tracing the development of writing from the non-Semitic language of Sumerian to the Phoenician alphabet which ancient Hebrew used. Chapter 2 talks about the transmission of the Old Testament from its close at the end of Micah through the period of the printing press. In this chapter he discusses important issues like continuous writing (which he says the scribes did not practice), the consonantal text and the addition of vowels, the tendencies and traditions of the Masoretic scribes, and the main extant Hebrew texts of the Old Testament (not including the DSS). Chapter 3 is an excellent introduction to the different versions, how they developed, and their value to the textual critical enterprise. He discusses the different Targums, the Septuagint and Old Latin, the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Vulgate. Chapter 4 contains Brotzman’s discussion on the Dead Sea Scrolls. He notes the different types of scrolls (biblical and non-biblical) and their value to textual criticism.

The remaining chapters focus on the task of textual criticism. In other words, where should we start and how should we do it? Chapter 5 is a brief introduction to BHS. He simplifies the complex notations and presentation of information in BHS by through the use of a nice two-page graphic – a copy of two pages from the BHS text with a diagram overlaid on top of it. He describes the purposes of the different margins, explains how BHS presents textual critical information, and gives some of the meanings of the major abbreviations found in BHS. Chapter 6 describes scribal textual errors in three categories: material defects, unintentional, and intentional changes noting that the second category is the culprit for the most number of errors. Chapter 7 lays out the theory behind the practice of textual criticism.  The three principles he provides are: determining which reading best explains the rise of the others, identifying the more difficult reading, and identifying the shortest reading. Chapter 8 is the longest of the book. He steps through all the textual notes in the BHS on Ruth briefly describing the type of error and which reading is the best one. Have your BHS handy for this chapter. Finally, he concludes with a short summary and steps forward for the intermediate and advanced students.

This book is a fine introduction for one who is not familiar with some or any of the areas his book discusses with maybe an exception to his chapter on ancient writing. I think that he could have strengthen the chapter by providing a little more information to explain the development of the ancient Near Eastern languages and how that directly affects textual criticism of the Old Testament. The chapter seemed like a defense of a position (Moses was in fact literate) rather than contributing to the overall thesis. I was a little confused how that chapter fit in with the rest of the book.

His chapters on the texts and versions are excellent, and his guidelines and classification of errors are extremely helpful. I thought his chapter on the versions was his best. Personally, the chapter helped me chart the development of the different ancient translations of the Old Testament. The chapter on the layout of the BHS filled gaps in my knowledge of the masorah parva the masorah magna. His chapter on Ruth introduces the reader to the complexity of some of the textual errors that the reader will encounter in the Old Testament and very appropriate given his overall purpose in providing a practical introduction to Old Testament textual criticism.

I’m glad he wrote a separate chapter on the DSS. His conclusion in that chapter is worthy of a quote:

The finds at Qumran have provided actual manuscripts with which the text critic can work. The great majority support the Masoretic Text, but there are also manuscripts that support the readings of the Septuagint and Samaritan Pentateuch, as well as others that are not aligned with any previously known text type. It is fair to say that the Qumran finds have revolutionized the field of textual criticism. (96)

The chapter rightly draws attention to the significance of the Qumran texts especially as it relates to the field of textual criticism although it could have been a little more in depth. I know that the Qumran texts largely confirm the antiquity of the MT, but how does the presence of other non-MT aligned manuscripts impact textual criticism? I would like to know more concretely how the Qumran finds “revolutionized” the field of textual criticism as well.

I also think he could have explained better the concept of what the “original” or “acceptable” or “best” text of the Old Testament is. He only really dealt with the subject on a page in the introduction. Given the scope the work, I understand why he did not go into a full discussion on the topic, but I am still confused as to what his definition of “original” is.

I love that he goes through each textual note in Ruth. I think his brief commentary is one of the most helpful parts of the book. One can see how everything comes together in the practical application of everything Brotzman had been saying in the previous chapters.

Ultimately, I do recommend this book as an introduction. I think it provides the reader a grammar to enter into some of the difficult discussions of texts and translations and lays the foundation for the student to do textual critical work on his or her own. The book purports itself as a practical introduction, and it does not fail to be less than that.

Read Full Post »

I decided to write on Hermann Gunkel’s contribution to Old Testament studies during the past semester in my Reformation and Post Reformation Interpretation of the Old Testament class. The class was among the best that I’ve taken so far. I really enjoyed this final project since I got to read a bunch of works that I had not read before (but really wanted to read). Like the course, I found Gunkel’s work and Sitz im Leben challenging and informative. I hope you enjoy reading the paper as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Thesis: What makes Gunkel the focus of this paper is how a philosophical idea, Romanticism, drove Gunkel’s genius as a biblical scholar to create a way of thinking about the Bible that set the agenda for Old Testament scholarship in the twentieth century.

Download it here: Gunkel.

Read Full Post »

New Textbooks

Next semester, which starts in a couple of weeks, I will be taking Intermediate Greek Exegesis and Old Testament Textual Criticism. I am excited about both classes. I really like the challenge. Here are a couple of the textbooks that I’m excited about:


In Greek, I will be reading Runge’s Discourse Grammar of the New Testament. I’ve already finished Dan Wallace’s introduction, and he knows how to generate excitement for this 400 page book in just a couple of paragraphs. Wallace says

It almost goes without saying that not all grammarians or linguists will agree on every one of Runge’s points. Yet even on those issues over which one might disagree, there is much food for thought here. I have learned a great deal from this volume and will continue to do so for many years. To students of the New Testament, I say, “The time has come. Tolle lege!

I am looking forward to reading this book.

I will also be reading Brotzman’s introduction to Old Testament Textual Criticism. Brotzman’s work was published around the same time as Tov’s work on textual criticism. Watke says in his foreword to the book:

Tov’s and Brotzman’s work compliment each other. Brotzman takes the time to present the contribution of the ancient versions, Tov deliberately slights them. Tov devotes an entire chapter to textual criticism and literary criticism, especially in the light of five (not three) recensions attested among the Dead Sea Scrolls, but Brotzman in his discussion of the Dead Sea Scrolls does not elaborate on this contribution to our understanding of the development of the Old Testament.

I have read Tov’s work (although I might have to find time to refresh myself), so now I have the opportunity to read Brotzman.

Finally, I will be using Muraoka (the long book on the left) for my reading of the LXX and Hebrew texts. This “Greek ~ Hebrew/Aramaic Two-Way Index to the Septuagint” identifies the Greek words used to translate the Hebrew and the Hebrew words from which the Greek words are translated. Muraoka says:

This set of information is important all the same for better understanding of the Septuagint, its translation techniques, the Septuagint translators’ ways of relating to the Hebrew/Aramaic words and phrases in their original text.

I am looking forward to familiarizing myself with these works and growing much deeper in my knowledge and love of the Bible.

Read Full Post »

Idiom, in any language, is difficult to translate. Usually when I come across a difficult sentence to translate or understand, I chalk it up the idiom of the language or style of the narrator. For example, 1 Samuel 2:13 talks about the custom of the priests when people would bring the sacrifice to the Tabernacle in Shiloh. The servant of the priest would boil the meat and then does this: והמזלג שלש השנים והכה בידו , which translates literally as “the fork of three teeth in his hand and strike…” The sense is not terribly difficult to ascertain. The servant of the priest takes a three-pronged fork and sticks it in the boiled meat.

Not everything is just “the way the narrator says it.” One such example is 1 Samuel 1:4-6: “The day would come when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughter a gift, but to Hannah he would give one double portion for he loved Hannah and the LORD had shut her womb (כי…ויהוה סגר רחמה ). And her adversary would provoke her to anger – grievously irritating her for the LORD had shut the opening of her womb (כי סגר יהוה בער רחמה).” Now the parallel is clear. Elkanah’s and Peniah’s actions are both motivated by the closing of the womb. I had, however, always read the reference to the LORD as an editorial aside. Elkanah and Peninnahdid because Hannah had no children. By the way, Yahweh had closed her womb. I had thought that since the explanation is from narrator’s mouth he was editorializing. This early reference to Yahweh’s action with Hannah serves to introduce him as a character who has complete control the situation with Elkanah, Hannah, and Peninnah.

While the reference does express the belief of the narrator, it also expresses the beliefs of the characters. They are motivated to act the way they do because Yahweh had done what he had done. Elkanah acts out of love and gives her what he can since he cannot do anything about Yahweh’s action. His belief about Yahweh’s act of closing the womb also explains the kind of comfort he gives her: “Am I not better than 10 sons?” For Peninnah, her belief about the LORD’s actions with Hannah legitimizes her torture of Hannah: “God had shut her womb, but opened mine. Clearly this act means that I am more significant than she is.” Understanding this dual belief further underscores God’s grace with Hannah and presents a powerful narrative introduction to Hannah’s hymn to the God of her salvation. God is stronger than anyone on earth. He lifts up the humble and brings down the proud.

Polzin’s insight is particularly good on this literary phenomenon. He begins by talking about the ways in which the narrator speaks in the narrative. He’s omniscient. He uses iterative weqatals to bring the reader up-to-date as to what would customarily happen during Elkanah’s yearly visit to Shiloh and then narrative wayyiqtols to bring the reader’s attention to what was different about this time. Polzin then says this:

Other voices speak in this chapter, but the narrator introduces these in not so obvious a fashion as in preceding cases. For example, when the narrator tells us in verse 6 that Peninnah, Hannah’s rival, “used to provoke her sorely, to irritate her, because the LORD had closed her womb,” the question arises whether this characterization of Hannah’s barrenness (“the LORD had closed her womb”) proceeds in fact from the narrator’s convictions, from Peninnah’s convictions, or from a combination of both. Again, when the narrator tells us in the preceding verse (1:5) that Elkanah gave Hannah one portion, for “the LORD had closed her womb,” the same type of question arises: is this the narrators or Elkanah’s view or both? If one contends, as I do, that these two verses report at least the motivation of Elkanah in verse 5 and of Peninnah in verse 6, then we have in the words “for the LORD had closed her womb” the concealed reported speech of Elkanah and Peninnah – if not of a portion of the Israelite populace – is represented by these words, and it remains to be seen whether the narrator as well as the implied author who controls narrator’s speech share this view in the same way and with the same emotive accents as do Elkanah and Peninnah.

Polzin’s point, I believe, provides good insight as to the tendency of the narrator in, at least, 1 Samuel. The implied author can conceal the voice of his characters in the voice of the narrator in order to bring multiple perspectives to a certain situation and draw attention to points that the reader may quickly pass over as inconsequential or an editorial aside.

Read Full Post »

I decided to read Robert Polzin’s Samuel and the Deuteronomist alongside my own reading of 1 Samuel. He argues that contemporary biblical studies concerned with the Deuteronomistic author (Dtr) recognizes the creativity of that author of the text. Contemporary scholarship, however, sees the “real text” (as opposed to hypothetical pre-texts), as fraught with redactions, harmonizations, contradictory themes, etc. that obscure the brilliant work of Dtr. He addresses Noth, Cross, and Van Seter’s work on the Deuteronomistic history. What he says of Van Seters represents what he thinks of the others:

The price he has to pay for calling his pre-text ‘a literary work of superb accomplishment’ is his corresponding contention that the real text, the present form of the Deuteronomistic History in general and the present books of Samuel in particular, is in fundamental ways and strategic places an incoherent mess.

Polzin says that these types of studies may (or may not) be legitimate in reconstructing the texts and histories behind the real text. They do, however, compromise the study of the only real text we have. Instead, he aims his study at the task of adumbrating the artistic genius of the present text despite some of its deficiencies caused to the hands of later redactors. I look forward to his final form reading of 1 Samuel.

Read Full Post »

I just want to jot a few notes down on my initial impressions of the beginning of 1 Samuel.

First, it begins with ויהי איש אחד. The ויהי can mark the beginning of a new narrative, or it can just be the normal “to be” verb. In the case of the former, the ויהי would be translated as “And it was.” The translation for this verse, however, would be something like: “There was one man” or “Now a certain man was.” Thus, the ויהי is probably just regular narrative continuation wayyiqtol. Leviticus begins with the same kind of wayyiqtol (ויקרא), so the situation in Samuel is not unique. The author does, however, seem to view his story as a continuation from Judges. “Now a certain man was…” appears two times at the end of Judges. First, in connection with Samson’s parents in Judges 13, and in connection with Micah in Judges 17. By itself, the phrase is not an indicator of dependence or connection, but it is our first indicator of connection.

Second, the characters are an interesting choice to begin this storied account. A faithful man, Elkanah, has two wives. The most loved wife, Hannah, is barren. The other wife, Peninnah, has many children. Peninnah tortures Hannah for her lack of children. Elkanah comforts Hannah by saying that he’s worth “ten sons” to Hannah. I’m not sure if Elkanah’s comfort speech meant to highlight the extent of Hannah’s discomfort – the gifts and love of her husband aren’t enough bring her comfort – or to highlight a character flaw on Hannah’s part – she wants children so much she refuses to be comforted by the love of her doting husband. Eli is another interesting character. We find out that his sons are priests by the third verse of chapter 1. We find out they are wicked priests in chapter 2. Eli upbraids Hannah for being drunk in the temple; meanwhile, his sons are desperately wicked. Irony to say the least.

Third, the etiology for Samuel’s name involves the Hebrew word שׁאל and the pual participle שׁאול not the Hebrew word שׁמע. Samuel’s name means something like “God hears,” but שׁאל means requested. שׁאל is more fitting word Saul’s name (שאול).

Finally, Hannah responds to God’s gift of Samuel with a hymn to the LORD’s salvation. Her hymn praises God for lifting up the lowly and bringing down the proud. The hymn praises God for his salvation and portrays Yahweh as a king. Again, this response may strike me as odd because I read the narrative with  21st century eyes. Why does the giving of a child evoke a hymn about God’s salvation? Oh, and by the way, the hymn also makes a reference to Yahweh’s king. No king in Israel at this time. Is she referring to Saul (שאול), David, or the ideal king?

All these elements help set the theological agenda of the book. God’s saves the lowly. He hears the cries a barren woman and comforts her in a way that only he can do. He does this act not because of anything desirable on her part. She made a request, that’s it. God heard and answered and showed mercy. From this narrative emerged a hymn which demonstrates the kind of God who would hear and answer a barren woman. This God is the same God that Israel rejected time and again. The book also deals with real people with real trials. God deals with the everyday man or woman not just with kings and priests.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »