Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 4 (2002-2003) - Review

Marjo Korpel and Josef Oesch, eds., Delimitation Criticism. A New Tool in Biblical Scholarship (Pericope. Scripture as Written and Read in Antiquity 1; Assen: Van Gorcum, 2000), vii, 365 pp. ISBN 90-232-3656-4. $ 69.95.


The volume includes a collection of papers read during two sessions of a workshop on Unit Delimitation in Classical Hebrew during the First Meeting of the European Association for Biblical Studies, held at Utrecht from August 6-9 of 2000. As a result of the workshop, a new series entitled Pericope: Scripture as Written and Read in Antiquity was established with the explicit goal of collecting all available data on unit delimitation and making it available (sometime in the future) in digital format freely accessible to interested scholars (p. vii). The book contains 10 articles dealing with theoretical, practical, and exegetical studies based upon delimitation criticism. With the exception of E. Tov's "The Background of the Sense Divisions in the Biblical Texts" (pp. 312-350), which appeared in a slightly different form in a volume on the Interpretation of the Bible (Sheffield, JSOTSup 289, 1998), all chapters are original studies focusing upon an important, albeit often overlooked aspect of ancient texts, i.e., the delimitation of sense units based upon internal graphic systems. The topic is important and needs further research, especially in view of the fact that most Hebrew class work focuses upon morphology, semantics, lexicography and on a more advanced level syntax. However, there are few grammars that include a substantial section dealing with sense units and their indications as found in the Masoretic divisions or evidence taken from the versions (which, after all, represent the oldest exegetical works, when one considers that translation is interpretation, and thus had to understand and wrestle with division markers in the MT). The new Pericope series seeks to fill this need.

M. C. A. Korpel's "Introduction to the Series Pericope" (pp. 1-50) provides an invaluable introduction to the issues at the stake, introducing basic concepts and questions that are generally discussed by a limited group of highly specialized scholars and do not necessarily appear on the curriculum of doctoral programs at major universities or are considered "electives." Korpel concludes that unit divisions (on all levels) are "extremely old and may well go back to the earliest 'authoritative' copies of a literary work in Classical Hebrew" (p. 22). Therefore, before attempting to read and interpret the text, this system needs to be understood, which involves accessing all available manuscript data (as conserved in the MT and other ancient versions). While unit delimitation was not always faithfully transmitted in later manuscripts, this should not lead to ignoring the evidence altogether. Thus, Korpel calls for a critical method to discover these systems in all extant version and the Hebrew MT (p. 23), similar to text critical work which needs to weigh distinct readings. Interestingly, Korpel suggests that an impressive 92% of text delimitation of the Masoretic tradition on the cola level has been confirmed by other ancient witnesses (p. 25). Following this, she systematically introduces the reader to the major divisions found in the MT: feet marker (smallest unit, consisting of a word or combination connected by a maqqef), whose existence can be demonstrated by means of comparative evidence from other ancient contemporary inscriptions (Tell Fekherye; Mesha; Deir 'Alla; Qumran; etc.; pp. 25-27); cola, which Korpel does not apply only to poetical texts, but utilizes in the classical sense of "sentence" or "clause/group of clauses" (pp. 27-33); lines, consisting of one or more cola (including the bicolon and tricolon; pp. 33-40); strophes, which often correspond to masoretic verses separated by a sof pasuq (pp. 40-43); paragraphs, including one or more strophes (pp. 43-46) and macrostructural units (pp. 47-48), although Korpel does not suggest a method to check for macrostructural delimitations. For each division Korpel provides a review of the practice in antiquity (or its lack) and in the extant versions. The chapter is practical and provides a good introduction to the following studies which seek to apply some type of delimitation criticism (although they do not represent a homogenous methodology).

Marianne van Amerongen contributes a study of the structuring division markers in Haggai (pp. 51-79), focusing upon Codex Leningradensis, five LXX manuscripts, four Peshitta manuscripts, and the text-critical edition of the Vulgate. Clearly, her list of sources already indicate a specific weakness of delimitation criticism (which can be overcome, although it will require time), since its practice requires access to original manuscripts in most cases, which automatically disqualifies scholars and students working in countries that are not as blessed with research funds in the areas of religion or the humanities in general. Hopefully, this handicap can be somewhat leveled by easy (and free) access to the digital database envisioned by the founders of the workshop. Van Amerongen's analysis is easy to follow and logical, although she is obviously discussing a rather technical question. Among her conclusions two are intriguing: (1) most cola divisions of the MT are confirmed by evidence from the versions, with exceptions due to exegetical reasons (p. 62); (2) the difference of colometry between the Syriac and Greek manuscripts suggests a lesser dependence of the Peshitta upon the LXX in Haggai that is of importance for text-critical studies (p. 63). The study is accompanied by an extensive appendix of the colometry of Haggai.

R. de Hoop's study of the qinah-metre of Lamentations with its 3+2 (or rather alternating) patterns (including 4+3 or 4+2) takes issue with C. Budde's classical and ground-breaking study on the specific phenomenon of Hebrew poetry. Comparing some test cases from Lamentations (Lam 1:2, 6, 7, 19: 3:19-21, 25-27, 35), de Hoop concludes that alternating patterns (3+2, 4+2, 4+3) are not exclusively restricted to the genre of laments but can be found in other poetic sections (such as prophecies of hope, love songs, and wisdom psalms) in the MT (p. 103). As a matter of fact, qinah-metre represents less than 50% of laments of the HB. The Masoretic accentuation does not support the supposed alternating pattern of the qinah, a fact which is also born by the evidence of the LXX and Peshitta (p. 104). Consequently, the quasi-dogmatic interpretation of Lamentations (and other laments) following the qinah-metre should be abandoned based upon the internal Masoretic accentuation and upon the versional evidence. The exegetical implications, especially as concerns genre identification, of de Hoop's well presented study are staggering and easily visible.

K. D. Jenner studies the unit delimitation of the Syriac text of Daniel and its bearing upon the interpretation of the book (pp. 105-129). After providing a helpful overview of MT 23 units of Daniel based upon empty spaces, Jenner presents ten different markers used in the Peshitta (represented by six different manuscripts) and including 21 tables demonstrates unit markers in all of these manuscripts. His discussion is rather technical and without access to the manuscripts (or good photos of them) difficult to verify or challenge. Interestingly, he suggests that the East-Syriac tradition incorporated two different unit delimitation system which may indicate two different systems of reading and interpreting the book of Daniel (pp. 121, 129) or may point to different translation techniques. One would have liked Jenner to provide more details concerning these different reading/interpretation system, although that may have gone beyond the scope of the paper.

The following chapter by Korpel focuses upon the (basically non existent) unit divisions in the book of Ruth (pp 130-148), utilizing data from 55 different Hebrew manuscripts (in the MT tradition), five Syriac manuscripts, two Greek manuscripts, and the Vulgate. Focusing upon Ruth 3 Korpel argues that Ruth should be considered narrative poetry (following Berlin in this regard) and that the chapter displays a symmetric structural pattern (p. 139) and the delimitation into smaller cola units is consistent. Korpel suggests by implication that also the larger macro-structures (i.e. chapters) were already present in antiquity and known to scribes and copyists. Korpel includes a helpful appendix containing the structure of Ruth 3 (pp. 140-148).

Johannes de Moor studies Micah 7:1-13 in the following chapter (pp. 149-196), and taking as his point of departure H. Gunkel's (1924) study on the section. A crucial observation (which apparently has not been noted by critical scholarship) is the setumah unit delimitation after Mic 7:8 (pp. 155-156). De Moor is the first (of the so far reviewed chapters) to formulate five basic principles of delimitation criticism (pp. 158-160): (1) Evaluation needs to take the relative age of witness into account; (2) the spread (time, geography, tradition) of the testimony needs to be evaluated; (3) the structure of the immediate context; (4) some alternative delimitations of the structure of the wider context; and (5) a plausible explanation for the origin of a false division. Thus, it appears that de Moor understands delimitation criticism basically in the tradition of textual criticism; whereby principles 4 and 5 seem to go beyond the mere description and evaluation of the evidence and invite creative reconstructions. Based upon these principles and utilizing the evidence of the unit dividers present in the MT and the versions, de Moor's findings can be summarized as follows (and indeed they are quite unconventional and fresh when compared to present scholarship on this section): stylistically (and without that ill-fated division suggested by Gunkel after Mic 7:7), the original prophet Micah (= de Moor calls him proto-Micah) could have written the section, especially when compared to the first person singular style preferred by the prophet in the earlier chapters, fondness for wordplays, and recurring themes (pp. 162-165). De Moor also suggests that there is substantial manuscript evidence for a 2ms suffix ending in Mic 7:10 which BHS has as 2 fs and which has been utilized as an argument for the interpretation of the "I" as referring to Lady Zion instead of the prophet himself (pp. 166-67). Around the turn of the era, ancient translators and scribes began to reinterpret the passage in terms of Lady Zion and the pointing of the suffix was modified. De Moor's study includes a large quantity of raw data in form of appendices of structure and unit delimitation (pp. 173-196). All in all, an important contribution to the study of the Micah passage, involving a fresh approach and a careful argumentation of the available data.

Josef Oesch's study focuses upon the interrelationship between synchronic and diachronic delimitation criticism (which he calls in German "Gliederungskritik") in the context of textual criticism (pp. 197-229). This is the most technical and least transparent chapter, perhaps due to the fact that Oesch prefers formula type descriptions of different delimitation systems. He provides a helpful discussion of the Hebrew sources as regards their delimitation systems, as well as other pertinent versions (Greek, Syriac). Finally, he proposes that both synchronic as well as diachronic research should be conducted in delimitation criticism, initially as independent enterprises which may then be correlated and utilized to describe the overall picture (pp. 227-228).

Johan Renkema studies the literary structure of Obadiah (pp. 230-276), basing himself upon MT, five Greek MSS and 4 Syriac MSS. Renkema provides a logical analysis beginning with the smallest unit, i.e., colon (pp. 235-246), via de verse (pp. 246-256), to the strophe delimitation (pp. 257-264). He suggests 10 canticles in Obadiah and five structural macro-units. I found the study very detailed, although the final punch as, for example, in de Moor's chapter was lacking. In order for delimitation criticism to make a contribution to exegesis, emphasis should be made upon its integration (or at least the results of the delimitation critical process) with exegesis.

Paul Sanders presents a colon delimitation of 2 Samuel 22 and Psalm 18, which are essentially the same poem (pp. 277-311). After a brief introduction to the relevant markers (accents, pausal forms, lay out in Hebrew MSS) for colons (pp. 279-287), Sanders looks at the colometric layout of Greek codices (pp. 287-290). This is followed by a verse-by-verse colometric discussion. Sanders suggests that textual differences between 2 Samuel 22 and Psalm 18 are "partly due to the ambiguity of the Hebrew colographic tradition and the consequent appearances and disappearances of breaks (line breaks, blank spaces)" (p. 306). Also, it appears that colometric lay-outs were present in the oldest Qumran MSS of the Psalms (8QPs and 5/6HevPsalms) and thus should be taken into consideration as part and parcel of the earliest written form. As an appendix Sanders provides the two chapters with accent indications and in colometric layout.

The final chapter by Tov is a revised version of an earlier paper and focuses upon the background of sense divisions in the biblical texts (pp. 312-350). Characteristically, Tov speaks of texts (plural!), since he favors a parallel text family tradition as observable in his Textual Criticism of the Old Testament (2002). As should be expected, as the general editor of the DSS, Tov discusses predominantly the evidence from the DSS, as it relates to unit division. He provides an incredible amount of helpful data, covering not only Qumran, but also later Hebrew codices and finally suggests a three stage development of these sense divisions in ancient translations and the Samaritan Pentateuch (pp. 342-348). Following this last chapter, the volume includes two helpful indices (authors and references).

All in all Delimitation Criticism, being the collaborative effort of nine different authors, provides a very useful introduction to a new method in biblical studies which focuses upon how the ancients (scholars, scribes, copyists, translators) read and thus understood the texts they were working with. In this sense, delimitation criticism provides a rare glimpse into ancient interpretation techniques. Most of the chapters are very readable and provide the data in an intelligent manner. Some of them are challenging and shed new light on old questions. However, all of them challenge the advanced student or accomplished scholar to look more carefully at ancient traditions that need to be taken seriously. The production quality of the book is very high. I only found one mistake, namely the missing of a shewa in setumah on p. 3. One caveat that I have with the method (and that I already touched upon above) is the need for top-notch library resources, since delimitation criticism properly done requires access to original manuscripts or good photographs of these manuscripts. Frankly, living in Argentina, I will never have access to these, due to financial constraints. Even in the USA very few small colleges, seminaries or even mid-size universities would have access to these manuscripts. Therefore, it is hoped, that the laudable aim of providing accessible databases for all interested scholars will soon be a reality. Congratulations to both editors and the publishing house for a new series which will provide scholars with needed raw-data, combined with challenging conclusions.

Gerald A. Klingbeil
River Plate Adventist University Argentina