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Studies in Verbal Aspect and Narrative Technique in Biblical Hebrew Prose.

Contending that earlier accounts of verbal aspect in Classical Biblical Hebrew narrative can be improved by using Frithiof Rundgren's theory of an aspectual hierarchy with neutralizations, Eskhult reviews the workings of Hebrew aspect and discusses as illustrations a variety of narratives, including the Moabite Stone and major sections of the Deuteronomistic History; he treats briefly the Joseph story, the Elijah and Elisha stories ("Narratives from the North"), and 2 Sam 13-20, and comprehensively Judges 6. Some developments associated with Late Biblical Hebrew are sketched. Numerous specific features of verbal usage are illuminated, e.g., performatives (pp. 21, 60, 80, 110; Eskhult uses the Germanism "coincident case," while some German writers now use such Anglicisms as "Performative Ausserung") and the ingressive character of prefixing forms of stative roots (e.g., pp. 59, 79).

The powerful figure of Rundgren, linguist and Semitist versed in the great literary traditions, dominates this book, as it does the recent Uppsala dissertation of Isaksson (1987) on Qoheleth. Eskhult is among the contributors to the magnificent collection, On the Dignity of Man: Oriental and Classical Studies in Honour of Frithiof Rundgren (Orientalia Suecana [henceforth OS] 33-35, 1984-1986). Rundgren's work has been neglected, and its complex evolution, from studies of aspect to linguistic approaches to literature and back to aspectual studies, with illustrations drawn from Hebrew, Syriac, and Arabic, may furnish a context unfamiliar to readers of Eskhult's book. Rundgren's prose is as demanding as his work is ambitious; his linguistic vision of culture and text in his recent papers may remind American readers of Kenneth L. Pike. One major issue, then, in Eskhult's work is its text-linguistic approach to narrative art, and it may be that he provides too little background (pp. 10-11, 35-36) for his view to be fully grasped. I was not, at any rate, surprised to note that Walter Gross, in a review (Theologische Quartalschrift 170 [1990]: 307-8), refers to Eskhult's approach to narrative (and specifically the foreground/background distinction) as "grobschlachtig." Gross prefers (as I do) to allow for more complexity in the relationship between literary and linguistic studies than Rundgren and Eskhult find warrant for. Among scholars who would take a comparable approach is R. E. Longacre, whose book on the Joseph story (1989) appeared too late for Eskhult to consider, as did David Cohen's book on aspect (1989).

The decision to use the Moabite Stone as a text sample is justified in terms of the language of the text (p. 12 n. 12) and is at least arguably acceptable on formal grounds (p. 45), though it may better be read as a freestanding text (so, e.g., Smelik 1990). The inclusion may not, however, have been wise: even apart from disputed readings, the transcription is faulty (line 15, KAI bllh, Eskhult blylh; lines 19, 20, KAI yhs, Eskhult yhs; this erroneous form is repeated on p. 49) as are quotations (the declaration of war, Ahab's or perhaps, see Smelik 1990: 29, Jehoram's, in line 6, nw. t.m b, is reported as t m b nw on p. 48); comparable errors in the Hebrew are rare (e.g., p. 97 at Judg 6:34). A more serious problem involves the form mlk in lines 4-5; both mlk `king' (lines 1, 10-11, 18, 23) and mlk `to reign' are found (the latter in line 2, by.mlk. l.m b, cf. 1 Kgs 15:1 for a geographical or ethnic name, Judg 9:8 for a personal referent; lines 2-3, w nk.mlk-ty. hr. by, cf 1 Kgs 1:24, 30; lines 28-29, w nk.mlkt[y ??] m t bqrn - usually no restoration is made, but l seems likely). In lines 4-5 Eskhult renders mry mlk ysr l `Now Omri reigned over Israel', contra, e.g., W. Rollig ("Nominalsatz," KAI 2:172), Gross, and Smelik (1990: 29, cf. 23), among many others who have noted that the verb mlk in Biblical Hebrew does not directly govern the ruled group or land, and so it seems unlikely that it would do so in Moabite. It is thus not certain that the clause is "a subj - qtl clause" (p. 48), as Eskhult insists in his argument that such clauses, in "pre-exilic" biblical (and Moabite) narrative (p. 12), have a "delimiting function ... a function by which a narrative is structured into episodes" (p. 45, cf pp. 39-40, 122).

This rather technical point leads to the more important question of the distinction between nominal and verbal clauses. Eskhult is aware of the problematics of the usual distinction, and in fact discusses Nyberg's advocacy of the radically different view of the Arab grammarians (pp. 41-42) but does not take it up, allowing for the distinction recognized by most linguists (see, e.g., pp. 33, 87 and n. 79). Rundgren, in contrast, follows and extends the grammarians' view, and has contended that "from the point of view of ... Semitic the distinction between nominal and verbal clauses has no place in a text linguistic analysis" (1987-1988a: 65). Apparently in response to Rundgren's view, Eskhult has reevaluated the active participle in its "verbal function" (p. 27) and integrated it into his scheme (see, e,g., pp. 37, 86-87, 113-14, 120; the suggestion that spota in Judg 4:4 is probably an Arabic III, i.e., an L, Form, p. 69, is odd). Theory and close study of texts are here conjoined to enrich the field.


Cohen, David. 1989. L'Aspect verbale. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. Eskhult, Mats. 1984-1986. [h.sup.a]kaf in Jdc. 8, 6.15. OS 33-35:117-21. Isaksson, Bo.1987. Studies in the Language of Qoheleth. Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis. Studia Semitica Upsaliensia 10. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell. Longacre, Robert E. 1989. Joseph, A Story of Divine Providence: A Text Theoretical and Textlinguistic Analysis of Genesis 37 and 39-48. Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns. Rundgren, Frithiof. 1987-1988a. Aspectology in the Light of Text Linguistics. OS 36-37:57-76. _____. 1987-1988b. Some Remarks on the Ketaba de- al ida ta da-srara. OS 36-37:77-83. _____. 1987-1988c. Odor suavitatis: On the Phenomenon of Intertextuality. OS 36-37:85-97. Smelik, K. A. D. 1990. The Literary Structure of King Mesha's Inscription. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 46:21-30.
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Author:O'Connor, M.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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