Pericope: Scripture as written and read in antiquity









Eugene Ulrich on sense divisions:


I have no empirical proof but a strong hunch that, if one started with one hundred bright, trained young Hebraists who had no special knowledge of Isaiah and gave the text of Isaiah in prose format unmarked, unvocalized, with no accentuation or sense divisions, 70-80 % of their division-points would coincide. That is, most people looking at most texts would quite probably sense that the text ought to be divided at most of the same points, most of the time.


(E. Ulrich, `Sense Divisions in Ancient Manuscripts of Isaiah', in: M.C.A. Korpel, J.M. Oesch, Unit Delimitation in Biblical Hebrew and Northwest Semitic Literature, Assen 2003, p. 302)

Reaction Marjo Korpel to Ulrich's hypothesis

At first sight this seems an intelligent guess. But if Ulrich were right, how can it be explained that more often than not we encounter a bewildering multitude of divisions in the scholarly literature? Here are some examples: 

Micah 6:
* 9 commentaries
* 5 different structures
Micah 7:
* 40 commentaries and translations
* 20 different structures
Ruth 1-4:
* 20 commentaries
* 20 different structures
Song 6-8:
* 26 commentaries
* 18 different structures

For his example Ulrich starts with a hundred young Hebraists, but apparently the higher the level of experience they attain, the more idiosyncratic their structural divisions become. Apparently everybody wants to make his or her own unique imprint. Furthermore, these specialists already did have the vocalisation, accentuation and sense divisions at their disposal and nevertheless they failed to attain Ulrich's 70-80% agreement. If young bright Hebraists would do so much better than their more experienced teachers one would almost wish they had never become professors!

Statistics like these sufficiently demonstrate that there is a need for a database providing information about the way texts were divided in antiquity. It is irrelevant whether we believe that all manuscripts originally contained some kind of unit division which was by and large preserved at later stages of the transmission process OR that we believe unit division was left to the intuition of every individual scribe. I know we differ on this issue, but the point is that we cannot simply ignore the evidence from the manuscripts in modern discussions about the division of biblical texts, whatever our theories about the origin and interpretation of division markings. Fortunately this is recognised by an increasing number of scholars.  

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