Pericope: Scripture as written and read in antiquity










Paul Sanders' Thesis 2

Only if a distinctive Masoretic accent is preceded by a weaker distinctive accent (for instance zaqef qaton preceded by pashta), the Masoretes assumed the end of a colon after the word bearing the stronger distinctive accent (in this case after zaqef qaton).

Reaction Prof. J. Revell to Paul Sanders' Thesis 2

The thesis appears to depend on what I would consider a mistaken view of the accents. They represent melodies, not divisions, as pointed out by Mordecai Breuer in Ta'amei Hamikra Bekhaf Alef Sefarim Uvesifrei Emet (The Accents of the Bible in the 21 Books and the Three Books), 368. (For a study of the accents from the points of view both of Music and of Linguistics, see D. M. Weil, The Masoretic Chant of the Bible, Jerusalem: Rubin Mass, 1995.) A Biblical verse is a passage set off by tradition on the basis of its content as an independent unit. The accents which divide a verse do not mark a set of discrete entities which make up that unit. They mark the boundaries and relationships of the semantic subdivisions of the unit, reflecting the understanding of that unit. This is, of course, the reason why Korpel and de Moor found themselves `able to suggest that the Masoretic distinctive accents rest on rabbinic exegesis' in some cases in which they did not support the suggested division of cola (The Structure of Classical Hebrew Poetry, 11). If the accents do not delimit the cola in such cases, they are not `wrong'. They are carrying out the Masoretic intention.

The view presented in the thesis is most commonly cited in attempts to find objective support for analysis of the structure of Biblical poetry. Marjo Korpel (Pericope 1, 27) states that the use of the term `colon' in the analysis of a text does not imply that it is considered to be poetry, but the views described are certainly cited most commonly in the analysis of poetry, and I have seen no clear definition of how `colon' should be defined when used of Biblical texts in prose. I can see no persuasive evidence that the Masoretes had any interest in representing the structure of Biblical poetry. Certainly, the ongoing debate as to what is prose and what poetry in, for instance the Book of Jeremiah, indicates that they left no clear evidence there. Sanders, among others, accepts that the accents were not added to indicate correct colometry (Pericope 1, 280). Certain passages of the Bible are written `colometrically', following a long tradition which no doubt did originally represent poetic structure accurately, but even the best manuscripts of the Torah do not present what is now considered to be the structure with full consistency. In most manuscripts the `colometric' writing outside the Torah is simply a conventional pattern irrelevant to the poetry. Similar patterns (ignored by BHS) are used, with similar irregularities, in the writing of lists, as 2 Sam 23:24-39 in the manuscripts A, C, and L.

Most, whatever their views on the nature of pausal forms, would accept that they stand at the end of a major unit. If such a unit can be considered a colon, the thesis must be abandoned. A disjunctive accent with no preceding lesser disjunctive is, from time to time, used on a pausal form, e.g. tifha Judg 17:1, revia in 1 Sam 8:11, zaqef 1 Kgs 17:21, zaqef gadol 1 Sam 3:18, 7:12. Occasionally, the first word in a verse is a pausal form, as with shalshelet Gen 19:16, 24:12, Lev 8:23, Isa 13:8, Amos 1:2.

The thesis, if accepted, would narrow the usual understanding of a colon in poetry. Many verses of Ps 119 would consist of one only (as v. 8, 12) despite the Masoretic colometry), others could be seen as two (as v.2, 7). I would suggest that the thesis could represent, at best, only a `general rule'. The relationship of the accents to poetic structure which undoubtedly exists is presumably an accidental side-effect of the close relation between linguistic units (semantic or syntactic) and poetical cola. Price comments `In good poetry, grammatical syntax and poetic structure exhibit considerable harmony' (The Syntax of the Masoretic Accents, 17), and the relationship is, of course, implied by the term `enjambment'.

Reaction Johannes de Moor and Marjo Korpel

We agree with Prof. Revell and others that the second of Sanders' theses (which he may have introduced to elicit a discussion on De Hoop's early opinion on this matter) represents, at best, a general rule. In our later publications we have adopted the policy to always argue why we feel that we have to deviate from this 'general' rule. Not only 'enjambment' but also ellipsis proves that a colon is not always a distinctive 'sense unit' with a meaning independent from its context. Yet we are less sceptical than Prof. Revell about the role of the major Masoretic accents as colon dividers. Where the ancient scribes from the Judaean Wilderness allowed themselves to waste precious writing material in order to write portions of text colometrically, for example 1QIsa with regard to Isa. 61:1--62:9, their delimitation of cola agrees to an astounding degree with the placing of the major distinctive Masoretic accents. True, these accents were meant primarily to help the cantor with his performance. They delimit breathing units rather than sense units. But we have to grow accustomed to the fact that these breathing units did not obey to any metrical rule and could vary from 1 to even 8 or 9 words, or combinations of words united by the maqqef. If one word, the cantor had to use all his breath on it, either by volume or by drawing it out, thus lending special emphasis. If 9 words, he had to hurry, lending the performance a sense of quickening.
In any case it seems preferable to base a colometric analysis of the biblical text primarily on markers like pausal forms and distinctive Masoretic accents rather than to deviate from these venerable traditions at will, as has been the practice in BHK, BHS, BHQ and countless commentaries.

Reactions can be sent to the webmaster who will place them on the site.


[ Home ] [ News ] [ Pericope series ] [ Pericope data ] [ Previous page ]

[ Next page] [ Contact ]

©2007 Marjo C.A. Korpel