Today I wanted to focus on something that I mentioned back in my Spring Update post quite a while back. (If you’ve published in academic journals then you know how long it can take for these things to finally surface in print.) I am pleased to have had an article accepted in Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, or simply ZAW for those less inclined to pronounce long German phrases. The journal is published quarterly, and my piece will be in the upcoming September issue (127/3). According to their website, ZAW “has been the leading international and interconfessional periodical in the field of research in the Old Testament and Early Judaism for over one hundred years.” Needless to say, it is an honor to have my own work included in this journal.
The Main Points of Argument
My article is entitled “Text-Critical Question Begging in Nahum 1,2-8: Re-evaluating the Evidence and Arguments.” In it, I examine the text of Nahum 1, where many scholars have drawn attention to what is almost an acrostic (in the Hebrew text). There are a few letters missing, namely daleth, zayin, and yod lines, and so it is fairly common in critical commentaries for scholars to suggest various ways of emending the Hebrew text in order to “restore” the acrostic to its supposed proto-form. While this may sound somewhat reasonable, this near acrostic is also, admittedly, a partial acrostic. This means that it only spans part of the alphabet (just the first half) even in its theoretical “original” form. In my view, that makes the whole assumption that it is, in fact, supposed to be an acrostic, much more speculative and therefore suspect.
So what I do is examine each of the three places where there is a “wrong” letter and where emendations are usually proposed. I summarize common arguments for altering the Hebrew text in a way that “restores” the acrostic. For the most part these must build on versional information (mainly the Septuagint, but also Latin and the Peshitta), since there are no proper variants in the extant Hebrew manuscript tradition. Then, I examine the text of the acrostic in the Old Greek version of Nahum (Zeigler’s text) to evaluate the translation technique that characterizes that unit of the book (1:2-8). I show that the divergences in the Greek version from the Hebrew MT are better accounted for as features resulting from the process of translation rather than a different Vorlage, namely one that contained the theoretical “acrostic.” Finally, I martial the results of other scholars’ studies conducted in the LXX-Twelve Prophets, which is thought to have been translated by a single individual, to demonstrate how their characterization of the translation technique of the entire Twelve further corroborates the translational and textual trends present in LXX-Nahum 1:2-8 (and therefore my argument against a different Hebrew Vorlage).
In the end, the “payoff” of my paper is to seriously challenge what has become a tradition of messing with the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible unnecessarily. While it is certainly true that the MT does occasionally need emending (based as it is upon a 10th century codex), making the decision to actually alter the Hebrew text is one that must be preceded by much careful investigation, constantly reevaluated in light of further textual evidence. One of the reasons for my interest in Septuagint studies stems from my concern for the Hebrew text of Scripture. When examined from a text-critical standpoint, scholars of the Hebrew Bible must reckon with the Septuagint. Yet so often this does not happen, or does not happen very convincingly because of the technical nature of many aspects of Septuagint scholarship. (Hence, in part, this blog!)
When it comes to the so-called “acrostic” of Nahum 1:2-8, I find it much more interesting and exegetically rewarding to reckon with the possible reasons that the text is, in fact, nearly an acrostic … but not quite. I believe Tremper Longman’s view is fairly satisfactory here as he takes a literary critical approach: in the context, the judgement and wrath of the Lord brings upheaval upon all of creation to such a massive extent that even the very text involved in describing it is jarred and disrupted.* To me this approach to the text of Nahum 1 rightly expects much of the literary capabilities of biblical authors, and of the competence and meticulousness of later scribes.
Unfortunately, I can’t distribute the article itself in PDF form. But you can find it shortly in the forthcoming ZAW.
*Tremper Longman, “Nahum,” in The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical and Expository Commentary, ed. Thomas E. McComiskey (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009): 765–830.
Well said. May your caveat be trumpeted from the rooftops. And may your numbers increase.
All the best!