Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 19 (2019) - Review

Van Hecke, Pierre, From Linguistics to Hermeneutics: A Functional and Cognitive Approach to Job 12-14 (Studia Semitica Neerlandica 55; Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2011). Pp. xvi + 439. Hardcover. US$224.00. ISBN 978-90-04-18835-8.

As the subtitle indicates, this monograph applies the theoretical categories of two recent methods of linguistic analysis, namely functional grammar and cognitive semantics, to the interpretation of three chapters in the book of Job, specifically those comprising Job's third response to his friends.

The book consists of eight unequal chapters, ranging from 6 to 115 pages in length. We can think of the whole work as an ellipse with two foci. The two foci are chapters Three and Six-Seven, where we find the detailed exegetical application, respectively, of functional grammar and cognitive semantics to the chapters in question. Together these chapters constitute almost two-thirds of the book. The remaining chapters either lead up to these central chapters with broadly theoretical discussions (so chapters One, Two and Five), or look back to them with summaries and conclusions (so chapters Four and Eight).

The eight chapters are distributed over three Parts. The initial Part is called “Prolegomena,” and is essentially coterminous with Chapter One (37 pages); it addresses fundamental methodological issues. Here Van Hecke first deals in broadly philosophical terms with the question of the relationship of linguistics (understood as the objective scientific study of language) and hermeneutics (understood as the subjective understanding of the meaning of texts). He does this by first surveying the different approaches to this question by Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger, Gadamer, and Ricoeur, and then essentially aligning himself (with one significant qualifier) with Ricoeur's view, namely that linguistics and hermeneutics are not to be kept strictly separate, but must be understood as the two poles of a dialectical relationship, in which each presupposes the other. The significant qualifier is that Ricoeur understands the linguistic pole of this dialectic in terms of the structuralism that was dominant in the 1970s, whereas Van Hecke wants to understand this pole in terms of more recent linguistic theories, specifically the contributions of functional and cognitive linguistics. Accordingly, the second part of the initial chapter gives a brief exposition of the main features of these two currents in contemporary linguistics, taking the work of S.C. Dik and T. Giv√≥n as the main representatives of functional linguistics, and that of R. Langacker as the main representative of cognitive linguistics. In Van Hecke's view, however, these two currents in contemporary linguistics are not to be viewed as being in competition with each other, but rather as being complementary modes of linguistic analysis. On the basis of this discussion, the third part of the chapter proposes a further revision of Ricoeur's view of the relationship of linguistics to hermeneutics, especially by significantly qualifying the French philosopher's notion of the “autonomy” of the text.

Chapter Two, “Pragmatic Structures of the Hebrew Clause: Theoretical Overview” (62 pages) is the first chapter of “Part I: Pragmatic Analysis of Job 12–14.” In this chapter the author first explains a number of key pragmatic categories in functional theory, especially Topic (that about which something is said) and Focus (that which is said about it). These pragmatic functions (especially Focus) are linguistically marked in various ways in different languages, the most important of which is prosody (that is, giving prominence through emphatic pronunciation). Unfortunately, however, since this feature of Classical Hebrew is now lost to us, we are forced to rely on other clues in the written remains to discern where Focus is indicated. Apart from a number of relatively rare focus markers and constructions, the most important clue to the pragmatic structure of Hebrew clauses in the extant written text is “constituent order,” that is, the sequence of the basic grammatical elements in the clause. Since the default order for verbal clauses is different from that of nominal clauses Van Hecke deals with them separately. In his discussion of the significance of departures from the default word order in verbal clauses he surveys the views of Muraoka, Rosenbaum, Buth, Gross, and Lunn. In his discussion of the same issue in nominal clauses he surveys the views of Andersen, Hoftijzer, Muraoka, Buth, and Revell.

Chapter Three, “Pragmatic Analysis of the Clauses of Job 12–14” (115 pages), is the longest chapter of the book, and gives a detailed analysis of the pragmatic structure of each clause in these three chapters. In a preliminary section on methodology Van Hecke outlines his own use of the categories of functionalist linguistics. Especially significant is his refinement (modeled closely on the theoretical work of the linguist Dik) of the basic pragmatic concepts of Focus, for which he distinguishes no fewer than seven different sub-types, labeled Questioning, Completive, Rejecting, Replacing, Expanding, Restricting, and Parallel. In this way he seeks to overcome, among other things, the conceptual vagueness of the category “emphasis,” which is found in many Hebrew grammars.

In bringing these concepts to bear on the clauses of Job 12–14, Van Hecke looks for deviations from the default or “unmarked” pragmatic structure of Hebrew clauses, which he describes as follows: “unmarked verbal clauses have a clause-initial verb, followed by (if present) S [= Subject], DO [= Direct Object], IO [= Indirect Object], PO [= Prepositional Object], other complements and, finally, adjuncts. A nominal clause is unmarked when the relative order of S [= Subject] and P [= Predicate] is P-S when the S is pronominal, and S-P when the S is nominal” (121). With certain specified exceptions any deviation from this order of constituents is considered to make the clause in question “pragmatically marked,” which in almost all cases means that a particular type of Topic or Focus can be identified.

Chapter Four, “Results and Conclusions” (31 pages) wraps up Part I of the book. Notably, this summary also includes a new translation of the three chapters that have been analyzed, accompanied by a facing chart which lays out schematically the pragmatic structure of each case of marked constituent order, and the type of Topic and Focus assigned to each. Among other things, this chart also displays visually the major Topic chains which run through the various parts of these chapters. The major Topics turn out to be those of knowledge and speaking. This chapter also includes an extensive list of “areas for further study” with respect to constituent order.

Chapter Five (32 pages) is the first chapter of Part II: “Cognitive-Semantic Analysis of Selected Terms in Job 12–14.” The “selected terms” of this title have to do with terms relevant to “knowledge” and “speaking,” which have emerged in the foregoing analysis as the most important Topics in Job 12–14. Chapter Five is entitled “Cognitive Semantics: Theoretical and Methodological Issues,” and sets the stage for the subsequent analysis of the selected terms by introducing the theoretical distinctives of cognitive semantics, comparing and contrasting it with both the older historical and the more recent structuralist schools of semantic analysis which have dominated Hebrew lexicography for most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Cognitive semantics relates the meaning of words to the conceptual structures of human cognition and thus relates such meaning to “cognitive domains.” The meaning of a term may thus vary according to what a particular user knows about the cognitive domain in question. Certain features of that meaning will also be more central or salient than others. Furthermore, cognitive semantics pays a good deal of attention to the four basic ways in which the different senses of a word commonly relate to each other, namely specialization, generalization, metaphor, and metonymy.

Chapter Six (104 pages) is entitled “Semantic Analysis of Terms of Cognition and Perception in Job 12–14,” and applies the principles of cognitive semantics to some eighteen Hebrew terms related to the cognitive domain of “knowing” which occur in Job 12–14. Next to chapter Three, this is the longest chapter in the book. The discussion begins with an extensive discussion of the noun חכמה, both in Job and the rest of the Hebrew Bible, and continues with shorter treatments of terms like בין ,לבב hiphil, and ידע.

Chapter Seven, “Semantic Analysis of Terms of Speech in Job 12–14” (32 pages) is a much shorter treatment of terms relating to the second cognitive domain which the previous pragmatic analysis had revealed as dominant in this section of Job. In this chapter the semantic analysis is restricted to the two verbs יכח hiphil and דבר. As a result of his analysis Van Hecke points out that Job and his friends differ most significantly in the way in which they speak, and especially in the way in which they involve God in their speaking. Job speaks directly to God, but the friends speak only on behalf of God. This also sheds a telling light on God's concluding statement to Eliphaz in Job 42:7, which should be read as follows: “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken to [not of] me what is right, as my servant Job has” (386–90).

Finally, Chapter Eight (6 pages) gives a series of conclusions to the book as a whole, which summarizes much of the foregoing, and also opens up further perspectives for future investigation and elaboration.

Van Hecke's book is in many ways a tour de force, especially because it combines a broadly methodological and philosophical discussion of the relationship of linguistics and hermeneutics with both some sophisticated recent theoretical work in general linguistics, and a very detailed exegetical treatment of three chapters in the book of Job. The comprehensive scope of his discussion is very impressive, especially since all of the foregoing is also part of an even broader overall hermeneutical conception (one which Van Hecke only hints at in the current volume) in which the reader's existential “being-in-the-world” is also taken into account. This broader conception, also broadly inspired by the hermeneutics of Ricoeur, has the potential of helping to bridge the unfortunate chasm which has developed since the Enlightenment between the professional guild of biblical scholarship and the communities of faith for whom the Bible is a sacred text.

However, the broad scope of the book also makes it a challenge to read for most biblical scholars. Even for those who are acquainted with both philosophical hermeneutics and the detailed grammatical and lexical work of Hebrew exegesis will have a steep learning curve in order to familiarize themselves with the highly sophisticated recent developments in functional linguistics and cognitive semantics, not least because of its often daunting technical vocabulary, and the disagreements among its main advocates.

To this reviewer one of the main strengths of this volume, apart from its broad-ranging interdisciplinary competence, is that it mounts a very sophisticated challenge to the idea of a neutral “science,” whether in linguistics or biblical exegesis, which is or can be autonomous in the sense of being unaffected (at least in principle) by the broader interests of interpretation. Whether we like it or not, linguistics and hermeneutics are always to some degree dependent on each other, and they cannot be kept separate from each other.

It is impossible, within the constraints of this review, to interact in detail with the many well-argued and often provocative proposals, both of a broadly methodological and of a detailed linguistic kind, which this volume advances. However, it should be pointed out that, in his discussion of deviations from the default constituent order in the central chapter Three, Van Hecke consistently privileges explanations in terms of pragmatic function (in practice, this almost always means explanations in terms of the various kinds of Topic and Focus) over other possible explanations of such deviations. Thus, it is not uncommon for him to make statements like the following: “The fronted position of the locative Complement מפנִיך [in Job 13:20] can only be interpreted as having a marked pragmatic function” (182). However, Van Hecke elsewhere admits (and many other scholars have pointed out) that deviations from the default word order may have other explanations, such as considerations of style and orientation to the larger discourse. There seems to be no reason, apart from a general bias in favor of functional linguistics, to consistently privilege pragmatic functional explanations.

This leads us to another overall point worth making. Although to this reviewer it is altogether laudable that Van Hecke very forthrightly takes his point of departure in a particular tradition of philosophical hermeneutics (namely that of Ricoeur), and in two very specific recent developments in general linguistic theory (namely functional linguistics and cognitive semantics), this circumstance does relativize the cogency of his argumentation and conclusions for those who are not committed to these specific philosophical or theoretical points of departure. This is no criticism of Van Hecke, since he is simply being explicit about something which is true of biblical scholarship in general (although it is usually not so openly acknowledged), namely that it cannot help but depend in various ways on certain controlling paradigms with respect to the nature of interpretation and of language.

A final comment may be in order about Van Hecke's use of English. Although his mother tongue is Dutch (as is this reviewer's), his English overall is admirably clear and idiomatic. Only here and there does he use strange-sounding English expressions (often adverbs), such as “growingly” (4), “concededly” (188, 311, 312), and “exaggeratedly” (387), but these do not generally compromise intelligibility. Occasionally, however, we also find words used in the sense of their Dutch cognates, and this can be confusing. Examples are “paragraph” (30, 49, 59, 72 etc.), “I-person” (56, 118, 159, 176, 371), “qualify” (184, 308, 381), “motivate” (68, 263, 284, 353 etc.), and “expose” (296, 336). Especially striking is the use of the noun “process” to mean “lawsuit” (373). He also uses English “instance” in the sense of French instance (14, 16, 17, 37). However, these slight lapses in English diction are only minor blemishes in what can only be considered a very impressive work of biblical scholarship.

Al Wolters, Redeemer University College, Canada