Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 4 (2002-2003) - Review
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), Pp.viii + 166. ISBN 3447042729.
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.
"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.
" '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
"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.
"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.
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
"Wunschsätze mit mi yittin im Biblischen Hebräisch" argues that
contrary to what is commonly assumed, the phrase Nty-ym is actually not a frozen, desemanticized form but a productive and
semantically transparent use of the Ntn 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.
Seth L. Sanders