Part 3: Specific Objections, Part A
Beyond the principled objection to it given above, a more practical objection against the project is the lack of any theoretically-oriented linguists involved. The enterprise of fully reconstructing a text (beyond “simple” scribal errors, however we define these) certainly requires a deep knowledge of the available artifactual evidence and the plausible histories of transmission. Yet it is also a fundamentally linguistic endeavor and therefore requires a high sensitivity to the likely linguistic changes that may lie behind textual changes that are more than merely slips of the pen.1 Two brief examples out of Fox’s HBCE volume will suffice to illustrate the linguist’s concerns about decisions made by non-linguists.
The first example is one that Fox highlights in the introduction to his HBCE volume: the status of את הרשׁע in the MT of Prov 5:22, provided in (1).
(1) Prov 5:22: עַֽווֹנוֹתָ֗יו יִלְכְּדֻנ֥וֹ אֶת־הָרָשָׁ֑ע וּבְחַבְלֵ֥י חַ֝טָּאת֗וֹ יִתָּמֵֽךְ׃
Fox notes that the phrase את הרשׁע in the first half of 5:22 is not represented in the Septuagint (G) or Peshitta (S) and is “not integrated into the Hebrew syntax” (5). He considers the phrase therefore to be “an epexegetical gloss clarifying the object of ילכדנו” and as such “is not really necessary” (123; see also Fox 2009: 204-5). In response, the linguist would note that, strictly speaking, many types of modification in language are “not really necessary.” But the desire for perspicuity in the use of language for the communication of ideas leads to a great deal of “unnecessary” clarification. The goal of clarification lies behind the use of any nonrestrictive relative clause or appositive, both of which are abundantly attested in the Bible. Indeed, apposition is the syntax behind the “synonymous parallelism” that lies at the heart of Hebrew poetic style: taking the idea of one line and reformulating in a second line in order to clarify the desired proposition or image (see Holmstedt f.c.).
Therefore, while Fox is accurate in identifying את הרשׁע as a phrase used to clarify the object attached to the verb in ילכדנו, to say that it is not syntactically integrated is simply mistaken. What occurs in Prov 5:22a is what is called in traditional grammatical descriptions “prolepsis” of the object (see, e.g., Rendsburg 1990: 125-32; Joüon and Muraoka 2006: §146e) and what would be analyzed in linguistic terms as either as apposition with a pronominal anchor or right-dislocation (see Holmstedt 2014 on right-dislocation; see Holmstedt and Jones 2017 on apposition).2 To bypass the technical linguistic details, the basic communicative result for either analysis is to clarify and/or highlight the precise referent (הרשׁע) of the anchor (the 3ms pronoun attached to the verb in ילכדנו). Interestingly, Fox notes this very syntax, though with the pronoun attached to a noun, in Prov 13:4a:
(2) מִתְאַוָּ֣ה וָ֭אַיִן נַפְשׁ֣וֹ עָצֵ֑ל
‘craving (but nothing!) is his appetite, the sluggard’ (Prov. 13:4a)
In his Anchor Bible commentary on Proverbs 10-31, Fox notes the syntax of the “anticipatory suffix” as support against emending נפשׁו to נפשׁ, i.e., omitting the pronoun (2009: 562). The obvious question, apart from any Septuagint evidence is, Why is the syntax acceptable in 13:4a and not in 5:22a? And perhaps the lack of את הרשׁע in 5:22 of the Septuagint should receive a similar explanation as Fox gives for the lack of נפשׁו in 13:4 in the Septuagint, Vulgate, Peshitta, and Symmachus: “Since there is no good explanation for the loss of this word, it was probably present in their source texts (contrary to BHQ) but considered as adequately implied by the notion of desiring. The difficulty of the syntax may have motivated this approach” (207).
The second example I will discuss concerns Prov 3:24, given in (3):
(3) Prov 3:24
MT (L): אִם־תִּשְׁכַּ֥ב לֹֽא־תִפְחָ֑ד וְ֝שָׁכַבְתָּ֗ וְֽעָרְבָ֥ה שְׁנָתֶֽךָ׃
LXX (G): ἐὰν γὰρ κάθῃ, ἄφοβος ἔσῃ, ἐὰν δὲ καθεύδῃς, ἡδέως ὑπνώσεις·
The issue seems straightforward: Fox emends תִּשְׁכַּ֥ב to תֵּשֵׁ֥ב, based on the Septuagint’s κάθῃ and the Syro-Hexapla’s ܬܬܒ. Fox argues that the MT’s תשׁכב resulted from the scribal error of “near dittog[raphy] ב → כב” (103; also Fox 2000: 162-63). To support this change, he argues that the use of ישׁב in the first half “fits into a sequence of actions that represent the totality of a day’s activities: walking (3:23), sitting down (3:24a), going to sleep (3:24b).” Fox also asserts that the MT’s use of שׁכב “in both stichoi is pointlessly repetitious.” This example is highlighted by Hendel, who suggests that the supposed dittography is “motivated by the scribe’s anticipation of the verb in the second half of the verse” (2016: 156); Hendel also suggests that the result in the MT yields a “banal parallelism.”
In the fourth and final post, I will wrap up my criticism of eclecticism.
1. Holmstedt 2013 for an illustration of this with regard to a הוּא and הִיא variation in the witnesses to Lev 1:17 and 25:33
2. Prov 5:22 is listed among the examples of the “anticipatory pronominal suffix” in Rendsburg 1990: 125-32.