Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 5 (2004-2005) - Review

Marjo Korpel and Joseph Oesch, eds., Unit Delimitation in Biblical Hebrew and Northwest Semitic Literature (Pericope 4; Assen: Van Gorcum, 2003).  Pp. vii + 320.  Cloth. ISBN 90-232-3978-4. € 75.00.

This is the fourth volume in the Pericope series that “aims at making available data on unit delimitation found in biblical and related manuscripts to the scholarly world and to evaluate these data for the benefit of biblical interpretation” (back cover). In Volume 4 eight authors contribute ten articles that were read during the Third Pericope Meeting at the International Meeting of SBL in Berlin, 2002. Two of the articles are in German; the rest are in English. Unfortunately, the meeting’s opening lecture by Emanuel Tov could not be included in this volume; it appeared elsewhere.

For those new to the Pericope series, and hence to this volume in particular, it will prove helpful to read the reviews to the previous three volumes found on the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures web site at the following URLs:

Volume 1: Delimitation Criticism: A New Tool in Biblical Scholarship (2000)
Volume 2: The Structure of the Book of Ruth (2001)
Volume 3: Studies in Scriptural Unit Division (2003)

In addition, it is particularly advisable to read in Volume 1 the first article by M.C.A. Korpel, “Introduction to the Series Pericope” (pp. 1–50) and the last article by E. Tov, “The Background of the Sense Divisions in the Biblical Texts” (pp. 312–350). The first article defines key terms and outlines the main issues of “delimitation criticism.” The article by Tov documents the non-uniformity of sense divisions as found in various manuscript traditions.  

Throughout the volumes in the Pericope series, one finds a certain tension among the various contributors in regard to the feasibility of capturing something of the “original” in regard to sense divisions. All agree that the critical evaluation of delimitation markers in the various manuscript traditions is a long-neglected task which the Pericope series with justification has taken on. Not all agree on the interpretation of the data being collected by the Pericope project. This is not surprising in view of the relatively recent onset of this enterprise.

I provide here a brief summary of each chapter in Volume 4. I will then end the review with a couple general observations and a list of errata.

R. de Hoop begins the volume with two articles, the first of which, entitled “Genesis 49 Revisited: The Poetic Structure of Jacob’s Testament and the Ancient Versions,” examines the macrostructure (via setumot and petuhot) and microstructure (via Masoretic accents and structural analysis of the cola) of Genesis 49. The delimitation detail is provided at the end of the article in Appendix 1.

Hoop’s second article is entitled “‘Trichotomy’ in Masoretic Accentuation in Comparison with the Delimitation of Units in the Versions, with Special Attention to the Introduction to Direct Speech.” The Masoretic accents are generally considered to divide textual units successively in half (hence, “dichotomic structure”). Hoop examines cases of trichotomic accentual patterns against the versions and provides in appendices detailed data for the Obadiah, Micah, Haggai, and Ruth.

M.C.A. Korpel’s first of two articles is “The Priestly Blessing Revisited (Num. 6:22–27).” Delimitation is thoroughly examined beginning with the Ketef Hinnom inscriptions, which are the oldest witnesses to any biblical text (not just the Priestly Blessing). Korpel continues with observations on other Hebrew texts as well as the following textual traditions: Samaritan, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, Greek, Syriac, Latin, Rabbinic. The following structural analysis points to “the conclusion that the three verse-lines of Num. 6:24–26 should be taken as one canticle,” with 6:22–23 forming the introduction and 6:27 the epilogue.

Korpel’s second article, “Who Is Who? The Structure of Canticles 8:1–7” is an important contribution not only to delimitation criticism, but more broadly also to textual criticism, comparative religion, cultural history, history of interpretation, and the connections between these approaches. Whether one agrees or not with Korpel’s conclusions that “Cant. 8:1–4 and 8:5b–7 both consist of four strophes and probably belong together” and “Cant. 8:5b–7 could have been spoken by both partners...,” Korpel explores in greater depth than many articles in the series what the data actually mean for interpretation issues. It would have been nice to have dates provided next to each of the 62 Hebrew manuscripts listed in Appendix 2.

I. Kottsieper’s article “Zu graphischen Abschnittsmarkierungen in nordwestsemitischen Texten” (Engl. “On Graphical Delimitation Marks in Northwest Semitic Texts”) is the primary reason for the second half of the volume’s title, “…and Northwest Semitic Literature.” Kottsieper systematically presents a wealth of information on the practice of delimitation in numerous Northwest Semitic texts and shows that the use of delimitation marks found in continuous texts (as opposed to lists) of pre-Persian and Achæmenid periods was not a standard practice of Northwest Semitic scribes. Texts that have such marks are typically from outlying areas and may be influenced by non-Northwest Semitic scribal practices. It is very interesting that this distinction holds for the Amarna letters: Division lines occur frequently in letters from Amurru and Egypt, which show Hurrian-Akkadian influence, but occur rarely in other groups of letters, such as those from Byblos and Jerusalem. In addition to the evidence presented by Kottsieper, one may also note the two division lines found in the continuous first two lines of the Gezer calendar, but not in the following lines, which assume the form of a list. (This is noted in HAE, Bd. 1, 31: “Es finden sich ‘Satztrenner’, wenn mehrere Einheiten auf einer Zeile zu stehen kommen [Z. 1–2]”).

J. Oesch investigates the manuscript differences in handling setumot and petuhot by drawing upon key rabbinical discussions in his article “Skizze einer formalen Gliederungshermeneutik der Sifre Tora” (Engl. “Outline of a Formal Delimitation Hermeneutic of the Sifre Torah”).

J. Olley’s “Trajectories in Paragraphing of the Book of Ezekiel” explores especially how paragraphs relate to dating phrases and speech phrases in Ezekiel.

G. Prinsloo’s “Unit Delimitation in the Egyptian Hallel (Psalms 113–118)” begins by noting that, whereas many Psalms come pre-demarcated by virtue of their superscripts, Psalms that do not have superscripts are problematic in the various textual traditions. Prinsloo discusses exegetical implications for problems associated with Psalms 113–118.

P. Sanders’ “Pausal Forms and the Delimitation Cola in Biblical Hebrew Poetry” identifies inconsistencies in the correlation between pausal forms and Masoretic accents. Sanders recommends the creation of a database to further “discussion about the relevance of the pausal forms for the delimitation of cola.”

E. Ulrich’s “Impressions and Intuitions: Sense Divisions in Ancient Manuscripts of Isaiah” challenges the hypothesis that delimitation criticism is capable of providing evidence of the “original” authors’ intentions. The inconsistency of the data from Qumran leads Ulrich to the conclusion that “there was no ‘system’ of sense divisions…The scribes copied or inserted divisions in the text, but we have no idea who ‘originally’ inserted them.” The content of this final chapter of Volume 4 is exactly parallel to that of E. Tov’s final chapter of Volume 1 of this series, in which Tov issued a similar challenge.

Future discussions of delimitation criticism should more deeply discuss real implications, if any, for exegesis. Collection of data is a necessary beginning, but, with a few notable exceptions, the significance of the collected data has generally received too little attention. Inclusion of more photographs of manuscripts to illustrate key issues would be helpful.


p. 2, line 4: “worthy of discussion them”
p. 34, line 4: “However” needs a comma after it
p. 61, line 6: a comma is needed after “follow suit”
p. 65, bottom paragraph, line 3: “an open space the to left after”
p. 104, line 10: “is supporting ithe division”

Gary Martin
University of Washington