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38 SHOFAR Winter 1996 Vol. 14, No.2 SOME ASPECTS OF BIBLICAL PUNNING by Nahum M. Waldman Nahum M. Waldman is Professor of Bible at Gratz College, Melrose Park, PA. He is the author of 1be Recent Study of Hebrew (Cincinnati and Winona lake, IN: 1989) and numerous articles in Semitics and ]udaica. Introduction In this paper I wish to concentrate upon a well-known literary device, the pun, where words of similar sound but of different meanings occur. Various types of puns will be distinguished. I am also interested in how the themes of the pun relate to the primary motifs of the text. Since the pun is, partly, a study ofsounds, there are punning passages where other patterns of sound, assonance, and alliteration appear and cannot be ignored. I will also take note, when appropriate, of another device: chiastic structures in a punning cont~xt, where one finds the A:B::B':A' pattern in a single verse or an extended passage.l These devices appear together in many passages and enhance the meaning of the text. It should, however, 'be remembered that not all biblical passages display these literary devices in the same measure or even at all. Perhaps a goal for future study is a "unified theory" of the relationship between these different kinds of sound and meaning patterns occurring in the same passage. 'Ao Ceresko, "The A:B::B:A Word Pattern and Nonhwest Semitic with Special Reference to the Book of]ob," Ugarit-ForschulIgen 7 (1975), pp. 73-88; Ceresko, "The Chiastic Word Pattern in Hebrew," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 38 (1976), pp. 303-11; Ceresko, "The Function of Chiasmus in Hebrew Poetry," CBQ 40 (1978), pp. 1-10; ]. W. Welch, ed., Chiasmus ill AlItiquity: Structures, AlIalyses, Exegesis (Hildesheim: Gesternberg Verlag, 1981). Some Aspects ofBihlical Punning The Pun 39 We need a definition of "pun."2 It is a play on words, which can be identified in serious or in humorous contexts. Two words, with shared sounds but without shared meaning, are compared or contrasted, or one word is seen to have two meanings at the same time. Examples of this category are "To England will I steal, and there I'll steal" (Shakespeare, Henry V, V.1.92) and "... having done that, Thou haste done I feare no more" (John Donne, Hymn to God the Father; the second "done" is a pun on John Donne's name). A second category is represented by "Out sword, and to a sore purpose" ("sword" and "sore" being phonetically close but not identical (Shakespeare, Cymheline, 4.1.25).3 More detail is provided by the Princeton Encyclopedia ofPoetry and Poetics: the pun is "a figure of speech depending upon a similarity of sound and a disparity of meanings. For a successful pun, the hearer as well as the presenter must recognize the possibilities of multiple meanings in a context where all these meanings can be applied." A funher comment is that, in addition to comic effect, the pun serves as a means of emphasis and an instrument of persuasion.4 Moses ibn Ezra, author of Shirat Yisrael,5 in the founh chapter gives many examples of different kinds of word play in the Bible, e.g., rahhu me":Jarhe, "they are more numerous than locusts" (Jer. 46:23); kalu kily6t..ay bi!heqf, "my hean yearns within me" (Job 19:27); w~r6ceh k~sUfm yer{jCa, "he who consorts with dullards comes to grief" (prov. 13:20). 2N. Frye, S. Baker, and G. Perkins, The Harper Handbook to Literature (New York, 1985), p. 379. Essentially the same is the definition ofM. H. Abrams, A Glossary ofLiterary Terms (New York, 1957), pp. 139-40. Awide variety of different definitions of "pun" are provided in Walter Redfern, Puns (Oxford and New York: Basil Blackwell, 1984). See also M. M. Mahood, Shakespeare's Wordplay (London, 1957); Frankie Rubinstein, A DictioTlary ofShakespeare's Sexual Puns (London, 1984); Edward I.e Compte, A Dictionary ofPuns in Milton's English Poetry (New York: Columbia, 1981); Jonathan Culler, ed., On Puns: The Foundation ofLetters (Oxford and New York: Blackwell, 1988). ~Alex Preminger, ed., Princeton Encyclopedia ofPoetry and Poetics (princeton, 1965, 1974), p. 681. 4Alex...


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