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Sunday, December 17, 2006
 

The new magical imperial toolkit: part 2

In part one I summarised the proposals of Freedman and his colleagues, which present a count of what they called "prose particles":as a simple way to distinguish biblical Hebrew prose and poetry. By Andersen and Freedman's 1989 Amos commentary (in the Anchor Bible series) this new toolkit was seen as almost magical, they applied their counts to units as small as a single verse!

Amos 1:1 was prose, with a count of 8.7%, while 1:2 was poetry with a neat 0.0% (somehow in during the 1980s the article ה had ceased to count, or the scores would have been 16% and 15% respectively (or both "clearly prose") on the old scheme!

In this part I'll present my first attempt to test their hypothesis.

Three Chapters of Ezekiel as a Test Case

In 1987 Freedman had proposed:
We can test the system in a provisional way against the book of Ezekiel... First, it is clear from every point of view that much of Ezekiel is straight prose. There are fourteen chapters over 15%, while another eighteen are in the range between 10% and 15%. The remaining sixteen chapters are under 10%; of these, twelve are in the range 5% and 10%, while four are under 5% (chs. 19, 21, 27, 28).1
So, let's look at these chapters.

Ezekiel 21 is treated the same by both BHS and BHK with 109 words printed as poetry and 420 as prose. The 109 words of poetry with 6 of the particles have a score of 5.5%, which is only very slightly higher than Freedman's 5% threshhold, however the 420 words of prose have 19 particles and so score only 4.5% or more poetic than the poetry!2

Ezekiel 27 is printed somewhat differently by BHS and BHK. BHS has 181 words in prose and 226 as poetry, while BHK had 145 prose and 262 poetry. The scores are:

BHS prose 2.2% poetry 4.0%
BHK prose 1.4% poetry 4.2%

Either the editors of neither BHS nor BHK can accurately distinguish prose and poetry or the method is flawed. Every test so far has given the reverse of the predicted results!

At first sight Ezekiel 28 gives some comfort to Freedman's proposed toolkit. BHS prints it all as prose, but BHK gives 122 words as prose with a score of 6.6% and 230 as poetry with only 2.2%. The sort of result Freedman et al. would predict.

However, things get more complex and more interesting when we look at the location of the "prose particles". All of the particles in the prose sections occur in just three verses, vv.24-26. Many commentators see these three verses (or perhaps only two of them) as later additions to the text. If even the two verses are left out of the calculation the score drops to 1.3% (it would be 0% of course if all three were omitted).

These particles are commonly seen as typical of later biblical Hebrew. (Kaiser in his introduction to exegesis regards this as a fact not needing footnote support, Rooker and others include them in their characteristics of Late Biblical Hebrew.)

So, my provisional evaluation of the new magical imperial toolkit is that it does not function as neatly or well as advertised. But:


1. D.N. Freedman, "Another look at Biblical Hebrew Poetry" in E.R. Follis (ed.) Directions in Biblical Poetry (JSOTS 40; Sheffield, 1987), p.17. [return]
2. My counts differ from Andersen and Forbes only by one word (or less than 0.2%), therefore the differences in scores are negligible. [return]
3. F.I. Andersen & A.D. Forbes, "'Prose Particle Counts of the Hebrew bible", in C.L. Meyers & M. O'Connor (eds.) The Word of the Lord Shall Go Forth: Essays in Honor of David Noel Freedman in Celebration of his Sixtieth Birthday(Philadelphia, 1983), pp.165‑183.[return]

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