On the Syntax of BH Poetry

Saturday morning I presented a paper at the annual Canadian Society for Biblical Studies. In the paper, I addressed some issues of poetic syntax. Why am I studying poetry? I’m not really that poetic or creative or literarily sensitive. (I will confess that much of what passes for poetry mystifies me, but then I’d probably have rebuked E.E. Cummings and told him to take a course in punctuation.)

Why I’m studying poetry is simply that this is the road some recent linguistics research led me down. I wouldn’t be on this road otherwise. Regardless, I’m interested in getting feedback on my notions. To that end, my paper is posted below.

Holmstedt_Syntax of Hebrew Poetry_CSBS2017

In a small nutshell, I’m attempting to reduce the syntactic options that an ancient Hebrew poetic faced when concluding a poetic line. My argument is that it can be described as a binary choice, between apposition and non-apposition, rather than the six tropes that Michael O’Connor described in his magisterial Hebrew Verse Structure. I see all uses of language through a grammatical lens. My first question when I encounter some conventional use of language is always, “How does that work syntactically?” I take the position that no matter the convention (of prose, poetry, epistolary, etc.), they are always bound by grammar.

So, let me know if I’ve convinced you, even in part.

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Reviewing a review of my The Relative Clause in Biblical Hebrew

*edited on May 30 due to a copyright challenge of my posting the PDF of the RBL review for non-SBL members; see here for more discussion*

Writing a book review, especially of a technical monograph, is not an easy task (I wrote on this topic over 6 years ago, here). This is why I have until now hesitated to address Frank Polak’s RBL review (here; no longer posted here for those without subscription–sorry, see my newer post on this change) of my book on the relative clause (Eisenbrauns link). Actually, I had decided not to respond at all until I saw Larry Hurtado’s blog post in which he discussed John Kloppenborg’s review of Hurtado’s book Destroy of the Gods. Since some of Hurtado’s problems with the review of his book are similar to my thoughts about Polak’s review of mine, reading Hurtado’s post prompted me to write this post (which I’ve now finally found the time to do).

I really do appreciate Frank’s deep engagement with my book and I read the review as mostly positive. The first three pages present a good summary of my chapters and his last paragraph is encouraging. If it were not for a major methodological point on p. 4 of the review, I would not be writing this brief post. In the first full paragraph on p. 4, where Polak begins his criticism, he laments that “more place has [not] been given to functional linguistics, in particular in the tradition of Michael Halliday” and he also calls my discussion of what “(a) language” is (pp. 33-35, where I introduced a philosophy of language discussion by Trevor Pateman) “misleading.” Since I can not post the PDF for those without SBL memberships, I quote below from the relevant paragraph:

There can be no doubt regarding the value of Holmstedt’s study. Treatment along similar lines of other phenomena will advance our knowledge of Biblical Hebrew and other Semitic languages most considerably. Still, some details are slightly disappointing. On a general level, it is to be regretted that no more place has been given to functional linguistics, in particular in the tradition of Michael Halliday. I say this in order to underline the importance of a general observation in the opening of Holmstedt’s study (1) concerning the general human preference for expanded phrases and expressions, a tendency to which Halliday has paid much attention in his treatment of expansion and enhancement as general features of syntax. By the same token, the definition of language as a social fact (33–35) seems slightly misleading. Is not language a social semiotic system used in communication by means of audial, grammatical, and lexical entities? Holmstedt finds the foundations of language usage in the personal idiolect, but this assumption is undermined by the communicative context. By contrast, Biblical Hebrew has lost its immediate social context and thus is no more than a “grapholect,” in the terms of Walter Ong. (Polak, review of Holmstedt’s Relative Clause in BH, RBL 04/2017, p. 4)

These criticisms betray a linguistic naivete, in the first place, and a faulty reading of my argument, in the second.

On the use of functional linguistics, I make it clear in my outline of linguistic theory that, while I adopt the data-richness of typological linguistics, I do not adopt the often underlying functional paradigm; rather, I adhere to the generative theory of language. This is an important point in my book (and all my research) because it is a deeply flawed notion I have encountered again and again in Biblical Hebrew studies that one can simply mix and match linguistic theories. This is not so. Linguistic theories are almost always the outworking of very different notions of what human language is and how it works and how linguistic research should be carried out. The assumption behind Polak’s criticism, that I could have easily included functional linguistics, is horribly wrong-headed. (Would that I never encounter it again in Biblical Hebrew studies!—though the realist within me suggests I will have to suffer it again and more than once).

Concerning the mistaken reading of my language argument, I had simply summarized Pateman’s conclusions before moving to the well-trod discussion that the formal notion of “a language” to use in linguistic study is the idiolect (and at this point I used a lengthy and insightful quotation from Jacobus Naudé). [Addition: Note that in generative theory, the idiolect is a formal concept, the “I-language,” that relates to the competence vs. performance distinction. As for the “grapholect” nature of the biblical data, I address this at length in the book and quoting Ong does nothing to address my arguments.] So, in fact, I never asserted anywhere in my book that language is a social fact. I’m not sure why Polak picked up on this issue and made an inaccurate point of it in the review. But it stands out, and I think it’s worth clarifying.

Finally, as a smaller point, Polak misreads my reconstruction of the history of אֲשֶׁר, and actually cites a study by Faist and Vita on the Akkadian ašar used in the Emar texts against me, even though I use that very study as support in building my argument! (I could point out similar issues I have with his comments on שׁ relatives and ה relatives, but I’ll let my book do the work it’s supposed to do).

Again, I thank Frank Polak for the substantive engagement with my admittedly technical, dense, and probably-not-too-fun-to-read study of the Hebrew relative clause. Frank and I disagree on many things related to Biblical Hebrew grammar, but since we met a decade or so ago, we have been able to do so amicably. I am grateful for this.

As a postscript to this review of a review, I will add a few meta comments. I find things like the use of the same data or source by two scholars to criticize each other’s argument ironic and humorous. When I read or experience this, it often provokes a bit of reflection—for a least the duration of a good cup of coffee—about the nature of debate in academia: is it about discovering truth or scoring rhetorical points? Of course, it does not escape me that this post can be accused of engaging in the rhetorical combat! I can only forestall such a conclusion by noting that this post reflects what I have said or written many times, that a clear methodology and a theoretical (self-)awareness are critical if we are to push forward in seeking the truth (on BH grammar, or any other topic). My adamant stance on this, as well as high expectations that arguments and counter-arguments are logical and sensible (two slightly different notions, in my opinion), are undoubtedly at the heart of why I have gained a reputation in some circles as … ahem … someone hard to get along with. I have clearly stepped on a few (dozen) toes (or feet) over the last decade or so. I make no apology for this, since what I have said or written has never been ad hominem or intentionally negative; however blunt my responses have been, they have had the singular goal of sorting out Hebrew grammar better. (And my wife and seven children know I’m actually nice.)

My SBL papers—abstracts and handouts

In a rare occurrence, this year I am actually finished with both my papers and the handouts before I fly to the annual meeting. To celebrate this oddity, I’m posting my handouts here for interested folks, along with the abstracts and the meeting information (for those going to San Antonio). After the conference, I’ll follow-up with summaries of how the papers were received.

#1) Ugaritic and Northwest Semitics unit

Sunday (Nov 20) morning, 9am, Mission A (2nd Level) – Grand Hyatt (GH)

Clarifying Apposition in Ugaritic // The Displacement of “Parallelism”

The juxtaposition of two constituents of the same category, such as noun apposition (e.g., Niqmaddu, the king) or noun-numeral apposition (e.g., thirty (shekels), lapis lazuli), is a fundamental noun modification strategy, alongside adjectival modification, noun cliticization (the bound relationship), and relativization. Though studies of Ugaritic grammar have long noted the use of apposition, particularly with numerals, the distribution and semantics of apposition are worthy of a focused analysis, which I will undertake in this study. Moreover, I will provide an initial investigation into the possible relationship between verb phrase or clausal apposition (types of apposition rarely recognized in Ugaritic or Hebrew studies) and the use of parallelism in poetic texts.

Handout here.

#2) Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew unit

Tuesday (Nov 22) morning, 9a, 303C (3rd Level) – Convention Center (CC)

Parenthesis in Biblical Hebrew

Like other interruptive structures, such as vocatives, exclamatives, and even non-restrictive relatives and appositives, parentheses pose challenges for linguistic analysis. In general linguistics, the terms “parenthesis” and “parenthetical” are used for a wide range of phenomena, which may or may not represent a single linguistic construction (Burton-Roberts 2006). It is thus not surprising that there has emerged no consensus on how parentheticals relate to their the adjacent or surrounding clause with which they share an apparent connection. This general state of confusion is well-represented in the only full study of parentheticals in Biblical Hebrew (Zewi 2007)—parenthesis is described as simultaneously “syntactically unattached” and “maintain[ing] a certain syntactic connection”, and a wide range of arguably disparate Hebrew constructions are cited as varieties of parenthesis. The current study is an attempt to bring some order to the relative chaos and so present a coherent analysis of parenthesis in Biblical Hebrew.

Handout here.

Open letter to presenters and friends of the Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew Section of SBL

Dear presenters and friends of the Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew Section of SBL:

As the steering committee of the Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew Section, we wish to inform you of the current situation with regard to the renewal of the section.
The documentation for the renewal of the section was submitted to SBL in September 2015 and additional information was submitted as requested by SBL in November 2015. In spite of prolonged discussions with SBL, the section was not renewed for a full term. Instead, for 2017 and 2018, Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew will have the status of a seminar (not a section). LBH is also required to have joint sessions with the Philology and Hebrew Studies Section, a new section as of 2016. In 2018, Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew must apply to SBL again for renewal. It is the stated wish of the SBL Program Unit Committee that Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew merge with Philology and Hebrew Studies, thereby ceasing to exist as a separate program unit after 30 years of successful programs at SBL.  (It is important to note that the Philology in Hebrew Studies Section supports the continuation of Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew as a separate section and does not want a merger of the two units.)

We ask you scholars who have presented, attended and supported the Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew Section through the years to share your views and ideas about the future direction of the study of Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew. We see the following options:

  1. Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew continues as a full-fledged section of SBL (all avenues to achieve renewal of the section with SBL’s leadership have been exhausted by the steering committee; to achieve renewal will require a clear, unequivocal and overwhelming indication from SBL members that they want LBH to be renewed and to continue as a section).
  2. Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew ceases to function as a separate section and merges with the Philology and Hebrew Studies Section. This means that LBH will cease to have a presence on the program and sessions focused on linguistics will not be possible.
  3. Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew functions as a seminar (not a section) at SBL for two years (and then faces renewal). Seminars are defined by SBL as “long-range collaborative research topics/papers that require active participation and well-defined research topics or projects; unit chairs collect papers before meeting and distribute to participant group; papers are summarized and discussed, not read, at meetings.” The seminar format means that the range of topics and participation is restricted. It also does not allow LBH to continue one of its main goals through the years, which has been to educate biblical scholars concerning the application of linguistics to exegetical questions.
  4. Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew moves out of SBL and to another conference, e.g. ASOR (which meets just prior to SBL).
  5. Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew becomes an international association of Biblical Hebrew (and cognate) linguistics and holds annual or biennial colloquiums.

We ask you to share your views and ideas about the future direction of the study of Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew by writing to Prof Jacobus Naude, the program unit chair of LBH at naudej@ufs.ac.za  Please feel free to forward this letter to additional concerned individuals.

Further information, including the applications of LBH to SBL for renewal and subsequent correspondence with SBL are found in the previous post.

Finally, we provide below the program for the six sessions of LBH in 2016. We invite you to the Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew sessions at San Antonio (see the listing below). Your presence and participation are important.

Kind regards,
Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew Steering Committee
Jacobus Naude (chair)
Adina Moshavi
Tania Notarius
John A. Cook

 


Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew sessions at San Antonio

S20-131
Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew
11/20/2016
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: 304A (3rd Level) – Convention Center (CC)
Theme: Linguistic Aspects of the Biblical Hebrew Verbal System

Jacobus A. Naude, University of the Free State, Presiding
Ohad Cohen, Haifa University Israel
The Syntactic Status of Verb Forms Ending with a Final Nun in the First Temple Prose (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Daniel J Wilson, University of the Free State
The Contribution of HYH to Class-Membership Predicates (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Galia Hatav, University of Florida
Secondary Predication and the Double Infinitive-Absolute Construction (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Ulf Bergström, University of the Free State
The use of non-consecutive weqatal to express conceptual closeness between events in Biblical Hebrew prose (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Richard C. Benton, Jr., St. Elizabeth’s Orthodox Church
The lexical distinction between the Biblical Hebrew Niphal and Hitpael (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Ellen van Wolde, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen
The Niphal Construction as an Expression of the Middle Voice and Collective Motion Verbs (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
____________

S20-217
Joint Session: Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew, National Association of Professors of Hebrew
11/20/2016
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: 304A (3rd Level) – Convention Center (CC)
Theme: Historical Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew

Richard Benton, St. Elizabeth’s Orthodox Church, Eagan, MN, Presiding
Nili Samet, Bar-Ilan University
New Light on the Administrative Term ben bayît and Its Implications for Linguistic Dating (30 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Niek Arentsen, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Aramaisms in Parallelism and the Dating of Second Isaiah (30 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Jarod Jacobs, George Fox University
Ancient Hebrew Through the Eyes of Dendrograms (30 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Øyvind Bjøru, University of Texas at Austin
A Minute Case of Assimilation of Middle waw in Biblical Hebrew and Northwest Semitic (30 min)
Discussion (15 min)
____________

S20-334
Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew
11/20/2016
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: 303C (3rd Level) – Convention Center (CC)
Theme: Mitigation and Intensification in Biblical Hebrew

Tania Notarius, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Presiding
Edward Bridge, Macquarie University
Mitigation and Intensification in Genesis 44 (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Yoo-ki Kim, Seoul Women’s University
The Additive Focus Particle gam in the Book of Qoheleth (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Adina Moshavi, Bar-Ilan University
ME’UMA and DABAR: A Comparison of Two Biblical Hebrew Negative Polarity Items (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Grace J. Park, University of the Free State
Rhetorical questions formed with kî ’im in Lamentations 5:22 (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Andrew W. Dyck, McMaster Divinity College
“My Sad Face”: An Interpersonal Metafunction Analysis of the Dialogue between Nehemiah Son of Hakaliah and King Artaxerxes in Nehemiah 2:1-10 (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Frank Polak, Tel Aviv University
Interaction and Pragmatic Import of Pronominals in Dialogue in Biblical Narrative (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
____________

S21-139
Joint Session: Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew; National Association of Professors of Hebrew
11/21/2016
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: 303C (3rd Level) – Convention Center (CC)
Theme: Linguistic Features of Rhetoric in Biblical Hebrew Prose and Poetry

John Cook, Asbury Theological Seminary, Presiding
Peter Bekins, Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion
The Omission of the Definite Article in Biblical Poetry (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
SungGil Jang , Westminster Graduate School of Theology, Rep. of KOREA
Linguistic and Rhetorical devices of Jeremiah 33.1-13 in relations to Jeremiah 30- 31 (poetic discourse) and 32 (prose narrative) (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
David M. Dalwood, Ambrose University
Information Structure Beyond Word Order: A Taxonomic Model with Application to Exodus 3:1-4:17 (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Cody Eklov, Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion
Style Switching in the Speech of the Rabshakeh? A Study on the Nature of the Composition of 2 Kings 18:17–19:13 (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Brian D. Lima, McGilvary College of Divinity at Payap University
Hebrew Words and Texts – From a Symbol’s Limited Abstracted Meaning to Its Referential Meaning in Linguistic Co-text: The word tselem in Genesis as a Case Study (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
____________

S21-305
Joint Session: Biblical Hebrew Poetry; Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew
11/21/2016
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: Lone Star B (2nd Level) – Grand Hyatt (GH)
Theme: Linguistics Differences in Poetry and Prose
Adina Moshavi, Bar-Ilan University, Presiding

Jeffery Leonard, Samford University
Narrative Parallelism: Considering the Forms of Parallelism Found in Israel’s “Prosaic Poetry” (25 min)
Frank H. Polak, Tel Aviv University
Information Structure, Focus and Intonation Boundaries in Ancient Hebrew Verse (25 min)
Tania Notairus, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
The principle of “double segmentation” and syntactic analysis of biblical poetic language (25 min)
Silviu Tatu, Institutul Teologic Penticostal din Bucuresti
Is the Prophecy of Amos Written as Poetry? (25 min)
Karolien Vermeulen, Antwerp, Respondent (15 min)
Fred Dobbs-Allsopp, Princeton Theological Seminary, Respondent (15 min)
Discussion (20 min)
____________

S22-132
Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew
11/22/2016
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: 303C (3rd Level) – Convention Center (CC)
Theme: Interruptive Syntactic Structures in Biblical Hebrew
John A. Cook, Asbury Theological Seminary, Presiding

Robert D. Holmstedt, University of Toronto
Parentheticals in Biblical Hebrew (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Christo van der Merwe, Universiteit van Stellenbosch – University of Stellenbosch
Fronting and left-dislocation: an exploratory study from a functional perspective (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Cynthia L. Miller-Naude, University of the Free State and Jacobus A. Naude, University of the Free State
Left Dislocated and Tripartite Verbless Clauses (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
John Screnock, University of Oxford
Numeral Syntax in Diachrony: Complex Adding Numerals as a Case Study (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Aaron D. Hornkohl, University of Cambridge
Biblical Hebrew Constituent Order in the Verbal Clause: Some Suggestions for Improving Current Approaches (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Josh Westbury, Logos Bible Software
Towards a Grammatical Analysis of wayhî + X + wayyiqtol Constructions in Biblical Hebrew (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)

Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew SBL program unit

Dear Colleagues,

We want to share with you our disappointment and concern over the recent downgrading of  the Linguistic and Biblical Hebrew program unit from a section to a seminar (on the distinction, see here) by the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting Program Committee. We are sharing this development with as many of our colleagues as possible, because it is deeply concerning in several respects and we think it deserves a response from the scholarly community.

First, it is concerning that the decision is being made by a committee as to what are in the interests of the scholarly community, rather than by the community itself. The very structure of program units (consultations, seminars, and sections) suggests that the community is the primary determiner of where its own scholarly interests lie. The Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew section has been an active and well-attended participant in the annual meeting for 30 years, contributing to biblical scholarship through its educative aims (see description of the program unit below) and the numerous publications that have emerged from the sessions.

Description of Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew program unit: The goals of this section include: (1) to provide a unique, cross-disciplinary forum for the application of modern linguistic theory and methodology to the study of biblical Hebrew; (2) to encourage interest in linguistics and its advantages for biblical exegesis and interpretation among biblical scholars who do not have prior training in linguistic theory; (3) to promote publication of scholarly works which apply linguistics to biblical Hebrew.

Second, we found the process of renewal to be confused and unprofessional. The decision was dragged out for almost half a year, during which time the steering committee worked to put together the sessions for 2016 without any certainty that the section would be allowed to continue.

The below links are intended to document the process and outcome of our renewal attempt. We thought it important to share all of these with our colleagues before asking that you share your support for the Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew program unit and concern over the decision making process and outcome of the SBL Annual Meeting Program Committee. We ask you to share your views and ideas about the future direction of the study of Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew by writing to Prof Jacobus Naude, the program unit chair of LBH at naudej@ufs.ac.za.*

*Note: An earlier version of this post mentioned a petition. The committee has one “waiting in the wings,” and may yet utilize it. For now, we think it is prudent to begin with a call that support be expressed to the steering committee chair, Jacobus Naudé at the above e-mail address (see the open letter for list of option being contemplated).

Sincerely,
Jacobus Naudé, chair
Tania Notarius
Adina Moshavi
John A. Cook

Initial Proposal (October 2015)

Response to Initial Proposal (2015/10/20)

Revised Proposal (2015/11/10)

Response to Revised Proposal (2015/12/21)

Final Decision (2016/03/02)

Letter to John Kutsko (2016/04/15)

SBL Resolution Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew (2016/05/10)

Clarification e-mail to John Kutsko & Response (2016/07/03)

Email exchanges

אשׁר and שׁ in Jonah — a new article in Vetus Testamentum

As part of my long-term research on the relative clause in Hebrew (see my book in the sidebar), I mulled over the variation of אשׁר and שׁ in the book many, many times. I felt like I had most of the pieces, but there was a critical perspective missing (communication accommodation theory — thanks, Alex!). This is perhaps the most wonderful benefit of teaching—learning from a sharp student. My co-author studied with me at U of T for only a year, but in that time he not only provided me with the key to sorting out the Jonah problem, he wrote an excellent paper on Ezekiel, which is also in press as a joint article with another excellent young scholar, Peter Bekins.

Anyway, Alex’s and my article on Jonah just came out in VT and here it is.

Update on our projects

It has been over a year since we’ve posted on this blog. That does not mean, though, that we’ve been idle.

First, we both went through promotion reviews this last year and can now drop any qualifiers to our professorial status. For John, I had no doubt of the positive outcome.  For my part, I considered it a trial run and was more than pleasantly surprised by the success.

Second, we (with Phillip Samuel Marshall at Houston Baptist) have finished our Ecclesiastes commentary for Baylor (in the BHHB series). This follows the Ruth and Esther volumes for me (see left sidebar) and the precedes the Biblical Aramaic volume that John is finishing.

Third, we’ve seen some articles come out in print and others finished an submitted. More importantly (because ultimately, our research serves our teaching), we have drafted most of our Intermediate Biblical Hebrew textbook, to follow our Beginning Biblical Hebrew (again, see the sidebar), a large part of our Advanced Biblical Hebrew textbook, and we have both begun drafting respective primers on BH syntax and the BH verbal system. Finally, a reflection of our stance on the use of linguistics to study BH, we have also initiated a volume we’re calling Linguistics for Hebraists, which will include introductions to various linguistic theories (including case studies) aimed at the student of ancient Hebrew.

As some of these projects are completed, we hope to return to a few more blog posts in the next year (at least, more than the zero of last year!). For my part, I’ll be throwing out a few ideas very soon in posts following this one.