[b-hebrew] Dahood on `ecah, derek, mow$ab

Trevor Peterson 06PETERSON at cua.edu
Thu Oct 2 08:53:06 EDT 2003

>===== Original Message From Peter Kirk <peterkirk at qaya.org> =====
>This is an interesting paper. But in the first part there does seem to
>be one big assumption, that 2 Samuel 22 || Psalm  18 is a text "where
>the variants seem to be wholly or almost wholly due to the usual
>processes of scribal transmission." This is probably true of some of the
>variants e.g. the "was seen"/"flew" variant in v.11. But there is no
>argument at all to reject the alternative hypothesis, that most of these
>variants are due to deliberate editorial changes made when the psalm was
>incorporated into its current contexts.

There's also the matter of how the song got into both passages. Was it
actually taken from a common written source, or was it a circulated song
written down from memory? If the latter, we might expect that there would be
variations. Until we understand the poetry better, I think it's going to be
hard to distinguish between variants that come about through written
transmission and those that come into the natural development of an orally
circulated poem.

Another problem I see in this first section is that he assumes too much about
the evidence he's looking at. He doesn't seem to consider the possibility that
the ancient versions have their own transmission problems, nor does he take
into account the various factors that can influence how much attention is
given to textual matters in BHS. Does more lines of textual notes add up to a
more corrupt text or to a text that has been studied by more people and with
more attention to textual issues? And in all of this, how do we know that the
variants are related to corruptions in the MT? The only point in his argument
where he can say this with any degree of certainty is where he talks about
duplicated material. The rest of the evidence he cites ought to be treated
differently, but he seems to just roll it all in together.

Of course, the bottom line is to get us to the point where we just give up on
ever finding the correct text and feel free to emend whenever and wherever and
for whatever reason we like. He says we shouldn't concern ourselves with
whether an emendation is attested in ancient witnesses (so apparently he
remembers that ancient witnesses can have their own problems when it's
convenient for his argument) and calls this postmodern. I find that a bit
funny, because the same prof that I mentioned before who doesn't like Dahood
takes what I would call a very modernist approach, and he has no problem with
conjectural emendations (and explains very carefully why they should not be
considered subordinate to readings attested in ancient witnesses). In fact,
Clines alludes in his paper to the way we are taught to suspect readings that
have no more support than the critical judgment of (often 19th c.) (often
German) scholars. Is he saying that a bunch of postmodernist ideas from the
19th c. were suppressed in the 20th c.? (He actually acknowledges at the end
of his paper that this was in fact the situation, although he doesn't seem
inclined to call the 19th c. Germans postmodernist.) Or is he just returning
to what modernism as such never really struggled with--the notion that
scholarly judgments of present readers can supersede ancient evidence? But the
problem with both versions of this approach, whether 19th c. or 21st c., is
that it tends toward a flattening of language. This is where textual criticism
comes into opposition with philology. Instead of allowing ancient texts to
teach us about ancient language, we let our modern sensibilities govern what
the texts can say.

Again, Clines ends up acknowledging this, but he does so to point out the
opposite extreme--that proposing new words ambiguates language. He uses the
evidence to say what he wants to say and calls it postmodern so people will be
afraid to contest it. (After all, how can you argue with such a slippery
thing?) He makes some interesting points in the course of his argument, but I
don't know that he really goes anywhere sustainable. All he does is point out
(and illusrate) some legitimate problems of taking arguments to their

Trevor Peterson

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