Journal of Hebrew Scriptures
- Volume 4 (2002-2003) - Review
Korpel, Marjo and Josef Oesch, eds.,
Studies in Scriptural Unit Division (Pericope 3; Assen: Van Gorcum,
2002), Pp. vii, 288. Hardcover, ISBN 9023238400. $ 70.
A basic issue in any interpretation of a biblical pericope is the
division of the text into its larger and smaller units. It is
not unusual to see substantial differences among scholars about
how to divide a particular text into these basic units. Noting
in their preface (pp. vii-viii) that the ancient scribes who
copied the various biblical books stood much closer in time to
the creation of these books, Korpel and Oesch lament the failure
of modern scholarship to pay sufficient attention to the various
indicators left by these ancient scribes denoting how they divided
the text. Most of the articles gathered by the editors in this
volume address specific texts, which are used as examples of
how paying careful attention to the ancient markers of text division
can assist in our understanding of the text. These articles are
informative, and collectively help support the importance of
close attention to ancient text divisions. Unfortunately, the
texts discussed are not broadly representative of the major groups
of literature in the Tanak. There is a complete absence of any
treatment of texts from the Pentateuch, or from the corpus from
Joshua through II Chronicles. One wonders why. This leaves a
significant gap, with almost all attention focused on texts from
the “writing” prophets and from the wisdom literature of the
Despite this gap, most scholars who study this volume will likely
acknowledge the importance of studying the textual divisions in the
ancient manuscripts, even though not all will see these indicators
to be as important as the editors propose (as will be discussed below).
In order to highlight both the advantages and the complexities involved
in carrying out a detailed study of the division markers in ancient
manuscripts, I will focus on two articles from the volume.
Johannes C. de Moor’s “The Structure of Micah 2:1-13: The Contribution
of the Ancient Witnesses” (pp. 90-101) addresses the often debated
issue of the proper subdivision of Micah 2:1-13. This unit may be
divided into two major parts, 2:1-2 and 2:3-13 or, as is often the
case in modern scholarship, the unit may be divided into three parts:
2:1-5, 6-11, and 12-13. There also is much debate about the colometric
divisions of the text. De Moor claims that a careful study of more
than 100 ancient Hebrew manuscripts, along with a smaller number
of manuscripts from several major ancient versions indicates that,
while the manuscripts of some major ancient versions present interesting
alternatives for colometric division of the text, a comprehensive
examination of all the manuscript evidence indicates that the colometric
text divisions in the Masoretic text are to be preferred (p. 99).
Furthermore, de Moor argues that a careful study of the delimitation
marks in the ancient texts confirms the preference among most modern
scholars for dividing the text of Micah 2 into three primary parts
De Moor also notes that, “with regard to paragraphing, the testimony
of the ancient manuscripts cannot be accepted uncritically. One must
always weigh the total available evidence very carefully.” (p. 99).
This is certainly true, as shown by the substantial disagreement
De Moor uncovers between the various ancient manuscripts on Micah
2:1-13. In light of this, he concludes by appealing for a “full collation
of all extant manuscripts” (p. 101) and a careful study of their
unit delimitations, a goal clearly advocated by the various contributors
to this volume (see, for example, de Bruin, p. 88), and also emphasized
on the back cover of the book, which discusses the goals of the Pericope
De Moor’s comments lead well into the observations of Wim de Bruin
in his article “Interpretive Delimiters: The Complexity of Text Delimitation
in Four Major Septuagint Manuscripts” (pp. 66-89), which focuses
on text delimiters in four major Septuagint manuscripts of Isaiah
1-12. I will highlight some of de Bruin’s points, and add some observations
of my own.
De Bruin notes that, unlike the detailed accent system of the Masoretes,
which often serves to distinguish between pericopes, verses, cola,
and clauses, the versions he examines provide neither an extensive
not a fixed system of delimeters. In fact, the use of delimeters
varies widely between, and even within, the several version manuscripts
treated by de Bruin (pp. 66-67), and he sees this diversity and lack
of uniformity of meaning for the delimiters to apply more broadly
to ancient version manuscripts (p.67).
These points indicate the complexity (and potential pitfalls) of
attempting to understand delimiters as used by ancient scribes. An
interesting question is whether the detailed, mediaeval system of
the Tiberian Masoretes (late first millennium CE) has a strong link
to text divisions and delimiters in Hebrew manuscripts from the ancient
world, or is perhaps the end product of the gradual refinement and
standardization of an earlier situation in Hebrew manuscripts that
was just as complicated and varied as in the four version texts de
De Bruin also notes that version delimiters may have served a variety
of purposes, some even liturgical. This leads to a final series of
points I wish to make. As valuable as it no doubt is to scan the
many ancient manuscripts available to us, can we assume that the
scribes had in mind the same purposes in dividing the text into units
as modern scholars typically have? These ancient scribes’ intentions
may not always have been “exegetical” in the same sense in which
we understand that term today, especially if we talk about the “intention”
of the writer(s)/editor(s). Reader response criticism reminds us
that we must keep in mind the perspective and intentions of both
the creator(s) of a text and of each subsequent interpreter, including
Furthermore, while they stand closer in time to the “origin” of the
texts (in itself a complex matter), many ancient scribes typically
worked hundreds of years after the final redaction of a text, and
they may have had no more an accurate knowledge of the writer/editor’s(s’)
intended divisions of the text than we do today. There is no foundation
for assuming that intended divisions of the text were passed down
from writers/editors to the scribes who copied their texts. That
does not mean that these ancient scribes’ attempts to divide the
text are not valuable. It just means that we need to be careful not
to over-accentuate the importance of their efforts at unit division
due to the antiquity of these efforts. No doubt they were striving
to understand and interpret the text within the specific contexts
in which they lived, just as today we work with our many tools to
interpret the text in our own 21st century context.
The importance of this book is that it shows the value of a careful
study of text divisions in the many ancient manuscripts we possess,
and it accentuates the need to make available to scholars in collated
form the text divisions in these manuscripts, as is the laudable
goal of the Pericope series. But even given that value, these ancient
text divisions can form only one part of contemporary attempts to
divide the text into sense units upon which to base our exegesis.
Alan J. Hauser, Dept. Of Philosophy and Religion
Appalachian State University, Boone, NC 28608
Addendum: List of Chapters in the
Bob Becking, “Petuhah and Setumah in Jeremiah 30-31” (pp. 1-45).
Johann Cook, “Unit Delimitation in the Book of Proverbs In the
Light of the Septuagint of Proverbs,” (pp. 46-65).
Wim de Bruin, “Interpreting Delimiters. The Complexity of Text
Delimitation in Four Major Septuagint Manuscripts,” (pp. 66-89).
Johannes C. de Moor, “The Structure of Micah 2:1-3. The Contribution
of the Ancient Witnesses,” (pp. 90-120).
Timothy Janz, “A System of Unit Division from Byzantine Manuscripts
of Ezra-Nehemiah,” (pp. 121-43).
Konrad Jenner & Wido Van Peursen, “Unit Delimitation and the
Text of Ben Sira” (pp. 144-201).
John Olley, “Paragraphing in the Greek Text of Ezekiel in P967
With Particular Reference to the Cologne Portion” (pp. 202-25).
Paul Sanders, “The Colometric Layout of Psalms 1 to 14 in the
Aleppo Codex” (pp. 226-57).
Johannes C. de Moor, “Workshop on Unit Delimitation” (pp. 258-75).
A preface by M. Korpel and J. Oesch, and an index of authors and
texts complete the volume