SansBlogue  
Saturday, December 09, 2006
 

The new magical imperial toolkit: percentages, prose and poetry ::

I've decided, now I am (at last) home from SBL (Washington, DC, USA), family (Exmouth, Devon, UK) and the Aotearoa New Zealand Association for Biblical Studies (Christchurch, South Island, NZ), I need a bit of a rest! But I also need to blog, because as I discovered in the middle of the year an empty blog breeds unsubscribers. So, over the next week or so I will gradually post the guts of my paper from ANZABS.

Biblical Hebrew Poetry

Biblical Hebrew (BH) poetry is both beautiful and problematic.

The beauty rings echoing in the ears even of those who read it in translation, yet the problems are not minor.

Firstly, the very existence of BH poetry is denied. Scholars have argued (quite cogently and somewhat convincingly) that there is simply no distinction between prose and poetry in the Bible. And, if there is no distinction, then there is no poetry, since the concepts "poetry" and "prose" are each helpfully defined as being "not the other"!

Secondly, and if we admit that BH poetry does in fact exist: Which texts are which? How do we know? This problem is specially poignant for a student of biblical prophecy, no two editors seem ever able to entirely agree on which parts of a prophetic book are which.

So, thirty years ago (a couple of weeks back on the occasion of the Imperial annual festival of biblical studies, SBL) David Noel Freedman made his presidential address. In those days high profile SBL presidents like (most prominently) Muillenberg, in 1968, had used this opportunity to launch new approaches to biblical studies.

In his paper "Pottery, Poetry and Prophecy" Freedman claimed:
We have devised recently a mechanical test to separate poetry from prose in the Bible, and preliminary tests show that it will work efficiently in most cases.
How deliciously "modern" this quote now sounds, with its talk of a "mechanical test" - actually electronically mediated - and working "efficiently". With its stress on numbers and testing this is biblical studies fit for a world of managers!

In his paper Freedman leaves the nature of the test undefined, though earlier that year Radday and Shore had published results of counting the article (as a percentage of its potential carriers "nouns, adjectives, and numerals... (and) certain toponyms"). They showed that this percentage (of articles to potential articles) was significantly different between halves of books that scholarship often sees as divided (by genre or origin),3 and also between prose books and poetic books.

In 1983 Andersen and Forbes published counts for every chapter in the Bible of what were becoming known as "prose particles":
These figures demonstrate clearly that at chapter level the percentage these particles form of the total number of words neatly distinguishes prose from poetry with a high degree of accuracy.

By 1987 Freedman was quantifying this (in "Another Look at Biblical Hebrew Poetry"):
So, by the end of the 'eighties the stage was set and the empire of biblical studies was being promised a magical new toolkit that would deliver the "holy grail" of distinguishing "scientifically" between BH prose and poetry (thus proving the existence of Hebrew poetry).

Coming soon: Part 2 - the "boy" examines the imperial toolbox...



1. D.N. Freedman, "Pottery, Poetry and Prophecy", JBL 96 (1977), 5-26. [return]
2. Y.T. Radday & H. Shore, "The Definite Article: A Type and/or Author Specifying Discriminant in the Hebrew Bible", Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing Bulletin 4 (1976), pp.23 31. [return]
3. Except the book of Zechariah, which did not show a significant difference (see also below). [return]
4. D.N. Freedman, "Another Look at Biblical Hebrew Poetry", in E.R. Follis (ed.), Directions in Biblical Hebrew Poetry (JSOTS 40; Sheffield, 1987), p.16. [return]

Labels: ,



SEARCH Tim's sites
Posts listed by topic
My academic CV



Write to Tim

archives:
January 2004 / February 2004 / March 2004 / May 2004 / June 2004 / July 2004 / August 2004 / September 2004 / October 2004 / November 2004 / December 2004 / January 2005 / February 2005 / March 2005 / April 2005 / May 2005 / June 2005 / July 2005 / August 2005 / September 2005 / October 2005 / November 2005 / December 2005 / January 2006 / February 2006 / March 2006 / April 2006 / May 2006 / June 2006 / July 2006 / August 2006 / September 2006 / October 2006 / November 2006 / December 2006 / January 2007 / February 2007 / March 2007 / April 2007 / May 2007 / June 2007 / July 2007 / August 2007 / September 2007 / October 2007 / November 2007 / December 2007 / January 2008 / February 2008 / March 2008 / April 2008 / May 2008 / June 2008 / July 2008 / August 2008 / September 2008 / October 2008 / November 2008 / December 2008 / January 2009 / February 2009 / March 2009 / April 2009 / May 2009 / June 2009 / July 2009 / August 2009 / September 2009 / October 2009 / November 2009 /

biblical studies blogs:

other theology/church blogs:

x


Powered by Blogger


Technorati Profile

Yellow Pages for Auckland, New Zealand