Tamar Zewi: Parenthesis in Biblical Hebrew.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Stordalen, Terje
Pub Date: 01/01/2009
Publication: Name: Acta Orientalia Publisher: Hermes Academic Publishing Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Hermes Academic Publishing ISSN: 0001-6438
Issue: Date: Annual, 2009 Source Volume: 70
Topic: NamedWork: Parenthesis in Biblical Hebrew (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Zewi, Tamar
Accession Number: 300652474
Full Text: Tamar Zewi: Parenthesis in Biblical Hebrew (Studies in Semitic Languages and Linguistics, vol. 50, Leiden: Brill, 2007). 201 pp. ISBN 978-90-04-16243-3.

This would be the first thorough study ever of the phenomenon of parenthetical units in biblical Hebrew. Tamar Zewi, Senior Lecturer, Department of Hebrew, University of Haifa, gives a "thick" scholarly description, drawing on disciplines such as philology, comparative Semitics, linguistics, text linguistics, discourse analysis, literary studies, and Bible translation studies. Having complicated the analytical perspective, she defines her material more narrowly: her analysis concentrates on historical narrative books of the Tanak only. Several short stories (like Jonah), short prophetic narratives (like Hosea 1-3), and all poetical texts are left unconsidered. Left out are also all extra-canonical material from the biblical period, regardless of its being narrative or not. Within the selected text corpus, the book is fairly detailed, although Zewi does not identify every parenthetical instance. Rather, her aim is to exemplify all different classes of parenthetic expression in narrative Biblical Hebrew, their means and expressions, and to do so by way of a multi-disciplinary analysis. In the end, Zewi offers her monograph "not as the final word on parenthesis, but in the hope of stimulating more studies on this topic" (p. 174). Indeed, the book has successfully focused an intriguing, and previously much neglected, area of research. It also leaves some questions open, and space for others to join into the discussion - not at all a bad record!

The first chapter (pp. 1-30) gives a survey of earlier research (from various disciplines) on parenthesis in general and in biblical Hebrew in particular. The chapter argues that it is difficult to define parenthesis by linguistic (syntactical) means, and hence also often difficult to identify with confidence parenthetic expressions in biblical Hebrew narrative. Very often functional-pragmatics analysis would be more effective for identifying parenthetic expressions. Zewi still designs a study that attempts to give basically a linguistic description of parenthetical units. Hence, chapter two and three (the material parts of the book) give linguistic analyses of types of parenthesis that have been pragmatically identified.

Chapter 2 (31-101) focuses on parenthetical clauses. The types of parenthetic expressions include references to a speaker, appeal and plea, and various kinds of information that Zewi classifies as 'external' to the narrative proper: background information, foreshadowing, various kinds of remarks. Particularly interesting is the investigation of oath patterns and narrative formulae (pp. 52-64). Here and elsewhere Zewi identifies language patterns that are very useful for practical analysis.

Chapter 3 (103-70) is dedicated to parenthetical words and phrases. Again, these are understood as units 'with content that belongs outside the clause in which it appears' (103). Here Zewi counts for instance references to earlier speech (kidbar 'adonay), identification of a saying as 'oracle of the Lord', et cetera. She also counts temporal markers (lifney, etc.); epistemic modal markers (lachen, 'amen, 'ulay, etc.), and vocatives. She also identifies parenthesis initiated by a number of time co-ordinates (bayom hahu, ba'et hahi', etc.). All this is useful for practical analysis.

In a brief "conclusion" (171-74) Zewi emphasises that the definition and identification of parenthesis are elusive from a linguistic point of view, and so one needs to employ in particular functional-pragmatic and literary analysis. She summarises a number of patterns identified throughout her work, finding that there is a tendency (but not an absolute rule) that parenthetical expressions are syntactically independent or very loosely connected to their context. Also, there is a tendency that parenthesis constitutes separate pragmatic trajectories in a text.

Clearly, the elusiveness of the phenomenon of parenthesis would be a challenge to any analysis. Stressing that one should use a broad and flexible definition of parenthesis, Zewi identifies many instances through a general reading of content. However, for instance in a narrative perspective, unambiguously identifying 'content that belongs outside the clause in which it appears' is not easy and also not always a lucid criterion for identifying parenthesis. For this and other reasons one might wish to question her identifying specific expressions as parenthetic (such as Num 36:7, p. 37; Judg 4:4-5, p. 69; Gen 3:1, p. 74, etc.). This, however, is not to diminish the achievement of Zewi's discussion, but rather to appreciate the complexity of its topic.

The perhaps least convincing aspect of the book is its use of various (ancient and modern) translations in arguing for the interpretation of individual parenthetic expressions. Zewi gives no discussion of procedures and aims in the very diverse translations, nor a consideration of linguistic complications in the relevant target languages. Quite often, the cited translations do little more than confirm that someone else would have understood the text in fashions similar to what Zewi does.

Also, the reader might have wished that the discussion of individual passages had been shorter and more precise on occasion. This could have given room for a more comprehensive discussion, allowing Zewi to not limit herself to narrative literature only, when considering formulaic phrases of parenthesis that are more relevant in poetic than in narrative literature. Presumably for pragmatic reasons, Zewi also avoids all use of extra biblical literature. However, for instance the Hebrew books of Samuel evidently contain a text that in its present form is from about the same time as, say, large parabiblical narratives like Jubilees or Sirach. Hence a more precise discussion of a broader material might have been desirable.

Finally, one might have wished a few words on the issue of linguistic consistency. Zewi is well aware that biblical texts are heavily edited and that very often what she identifies as parenthetical units are located in editorial remarks. At least some of the editorial marks were made in periods producing so-called late biblical Hebrew. Does it make sense to regard all this as linguistically consistent?

The presence of these and other questions, however, only indicates that Zewi was successful in her hope to stimulate more discussion and study on the topic of parenthesis in biblical literature. The book will remain a "must-read" in this field.

Terje Stordalen

University of Oslo
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