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Hebrew Studies 31 (1990) 249 Reviews simple reworking. That led to the conclusion that there was an independent priestly "Grundschrift," which, incidentally, rested on the assumption of the old sources and referred the reader to them. This overall hypothesis certainly affects also the judgment on the earliest priestly layer in the sanctuary texts of Exodus and Leviticus, but from an analysis of these texts, it can neither be proved nor rejected. In this section of the Pentateuch the question remains open. These comments, however, are marginal; they do not diminish the importance of the positive work which is done in this powerful book. It is to be hoped that it will be the starting point of a new wave of studies on these generally very neglected texts of the Torah. Norbert Lohfink HochschuJe Sankt Georgen D-6000 Frankfurt. West Germany CONTEXT AND MEANING IN PROVERBS 25-27. By Raymond C. Van Leeuwen. SBL Dissertation Series 96. pp. xi + 171. Atlanta: Scholars, 1988. Paper. One of the unique features of the book of Proverbs is that much of itin particular, 10:1-22:16 and chaps. 25-29-consists of short units, mainly in the form of poetical couplets, each of which, read in isolation, is entirely self-contained, and which with few exceptions appear to have been disposed without regard to either formal or thematic congruity. For a long time it was assumed by scholars that there was no more to be said on this matter. The formation and publication of collections of literary items such as proverbs or short poems in no obvious logical order is not, after all, by any means an unknown phenomenon in either the ancient or the modem world, any more than is, in modem times, the random collecting of such things as snuff boxes or postage stamps. That all the items comprised in a collection are snuff boxes or postage stamps may well be considered a sufficient justification for its existence. More exact congruity is not essential. The view that the above-mentioned chapters of Proverbs are for the most part an entirely random collection continues to be held by some scholars-notably W. McKane. However, since the publication in 1928 of G. Bostrom's Paronomasi i den iildre hebreiska maschallitteraturen, a Hebrew Studies 31 (1990) 250 Reviews number of attempts have been made to examine the question whether in fact significant links can be shown to exist between contiguous sayings in these texts. Bostrom himself did not attempt to find a thematic structure here. He confmed himself to examples of paronomasia or sound- and wordplay , and, moreover, he drew attention mainly only to internal paronomasia within single sayings: only occasionally did he find such links between two or more contiguous sayings. He did, however, make the interesting observation that for the ancient Israelite, as in the ancient world in general, sound and meaning were closely linked: word- and sound-play were not merely superficial phenomena. Vanleeuwen's aim in this book is more ambitious than that of BostriSm: he looks for both thematic and other kinds of patterns in these chapters extending over a much wider area. Taking chaps. 25-27 as a sample text, he reaches the conclusion that these chapters comprise several examples of more or less tightly unified "proverb poems," the most extensive of which runs to twenty-six sayings (25:2-27). In thematic tenns it has long been recognized that chaps. 25-27 contain some passages which are exceptions to the general rule. Thus 26:1-12 is clearly a collection of proverbs about fools: the word "'O~, "fool," occurs in every verse except v. 2, and in addition several of these sayings characterize the fool by means of a comparison. Prov 26:13-16 similarly are all concerned with the "sluggard" <,,~l». Prov 27:23-27 is not a collection of separate sayings but a single, unified poem. Van Leeuwen accepts these rather self-evident judgments and seeks to provide further confrrmation of them while also attempting to find deeper meanings in these passages than had previously been adduced. It is, however, mainly by his analyses of the remaining sections-25:2-27; 26:17-28; 27:1-22-that his work must be judged. After a survey of work in this field since Bostrom-H. J. Hermisson, O. Ploger, B. Kovacs, R. N. Whybray, G. E. Bryce-Van Leeuwen sets out his methods and then proceeds to a detailed analysis of each of the texts in question. His conclusion is that 25:2-27 and 26:17-28 are unified "proverb poems" (25:28 being an isolated verse related to the preceding section only by its fonnal structure), but that 27:1-22 is "a loose collection structurally, poetically, and thematically"-that is, a random collection of sayings. He uses this last conclusion to claim that this very lack of unity allows one to conclude that "the high degree of literary unity which prevailed in the earlier sections was a result of detennined purpose and superlative artistry" (p. 125)! Hebrew Studies 31 (1990) 251 Reviews Van Leeuwen's method is to approach the text from three different but complementary viewpoints: structural, poetic, and semantic. He eschews a "diachronic" approach, that is, the question of redaction criticism, especially whether an originally "secular" text has been glossed with "Yahwehsayings ," on the grounds that the character of the text as it stands ought methodologically to be investigated fIrst and also that the use of categories such as "secular" is misleading. Van Leeuwen's structural analysis is specifically modelled on "postSaussurian linguistics." Each "poem" is analyzed formally in various ways: in terms of the pattern formed by the distribution within it of the two basic units of wisdom literature, the Saying (or statement) and the Admonition; of its positive or negative mood; of the order in which motive clauses (or "Comment") are placed-before or after the main clause ("Topic"); and so on. Such patterns, Van Leeuwen claims, can be found in all the texts analyzed except 27:1-22. The value of structural analysis of this kind in connection with biblical texts is of course much disputed by OT scholars. The technical jargon (a table explaining "sigla and technical terms" is provided at the beginning of the book) and the numerous diagrams employing these sigla make the book hard going for the reader not trained in modem linguistics. Any method, however, must be judged by its success. Structuralism has recently been defined as "a variety of methods which seek to understand the meaning conveyed by a text to those who read it rather than the meaning which the author intended to convey" (The New Dictionary of Christian Theology, 1983). This reviewer was left wondering-as with some other applications of structural methods to biblical texts-whether the original intended readership of Proverbs was really able to grasp instinctively the subtle linguistic patterns which modem readers can only grasp with the aid of a knowledge of modem linguistics. It would seem, moreover, that Van Leeuwen does not believe that the authors of these texts were unaware of the "deep structures" which they had written into them, but expected their readers to understand what they were trying to do: he speaks of them, for example, as men of "superlative artistry" who "use a variety of means: what will work," and of their work as "a verbal work of art" (p. 39). Van Leeuwen's second method of analysis is the "poetic," which he explains as being akin to "rhetorical criticism." He explores "techniques of literary binding" which go beyond the modest discoveries of Bostrtsm which were confmed to single, or, at the most, contiguous sayings, arguing for the existence of such devices as inclusio. In this way he discovers Hebrew Studies 31 (1990) 252 Reviews in these "proverb poems" a "macrostructure" which among other things serves to confirm his division of the text into separate poems, especially the otherwise not so obvious division between 26:17-28 and 27:1-22. In this analysis of poetics, Van Leeuwen points out a number of features which are unlikely to be accidental (an example is the occurrence of -'::0 in 25:2 aud 27, marking out the limits of this section). Rhetorical criticism is, however, an art rather than a science, and by no means all of his observations will carry conviction. It is perhaps in his use of his third method, that of semantics or meaning, that Van Leeuwen has made some valuable advances in comprehension . Thus he is able to show that 26:1-12 is not merely a random collection of individual sayings about fools: the section as a whole is concerned with the question of what is "fitting," and so to draw some conclusions about where true wisdom lies. It is "a... 'treatise' on the 'hermeneutics' of wisdom." On the other hand, his characterization of 25:2-27 as a poem unified by two themes, hierarchy and the resolution of social conflict, is less convincing. He himself admits that this "poem" is less tightly knit than 26:1-12, and some of its component sayings do not very obviously fit into his scheme. Nevertheless, the thesis deserves serious consideration. On the other hand, his interpretation of the unified poem 27:23-27 as a metaphorical piece referring not to agriCUlture but to the duties of the king as shepherd of his people is somewhat far-fetched. In general, his disposition to see a court setting in these chapters as a whole seems to run beyond the evidence. This book is a noteworthy attempt to push back the boundaries of our understanding of the meaning of Prov 25-27. The admission that no real unifying factor can be found in one of the sections discussed-27:1-22indicates that the author has not attempted to force the evidence, and this should encourage us to work carefully through his arguments in spite of the difficulties. In many details, if not at every point, he has made a distinct contribution to this thorny subject. As he remarks in his closing words, similar investigations of other parts of Proverbs-notably 10:1-22:16-are clearly desirable and would assist in checking his results. At the same time, the diachronic or redactio-critical aspect should not be forgotten. R. N. Whybray Emeritus, University of Hull Hull HU6 TRX England ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-1681
Print ISSN
0146-4094
Pages
pp. 249-252
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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