Book reviews — Text and Transmission: An Empirical Model for the Literary Development of Old Testament Narratives by Hans Jurgen Tertel

Fleming, Daniel E

HANS JURGEN TERTEL, Text and Transmission: An Empirical Model for the Literary Development of Old Testament Narratives (BZAW 221; Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 1994). Pp. x+311. DM 152.

Hans Jurgen Tertel attempts a better “empirical model” for literary development in biblical narrative than J. Tigay’s Akkadian epic. For the process of redactional expansion so often invoked to explain existing biblical texts he demands an external verification of actual habits of transmission. Even the relation between Samuel-Kings and Chronicles involves more than simple revision of one Vorlage, with only two developmental stages at best. Only the Assyrian royal annals display repeated revision with direct dependence sufficient to demonstrate the practice of transmission. T. devotes the core of his book to analysis of selected annals of Sennacherib and Ashurbanipal. For each text he establishes a hierarchy of dependence, explores the earliest version, and evaluates later revisions. In each case he finds evidence for redactional abbreviation, so that the more complex versions are the earliest. T. concludes with consideration of 1 Kings 20 and 22, two narratives whose formations have commonly been explained as multiple redactional layers. He argues that internal evidence requires no serial revision, and the Assyrian analogy supports complex narrative in the initial rendition.

Introduction of the Assyrian annals into a discussion of textual transmission in the ancient Near East is a substantial contribution to a problem not limited to the field of biblical study. Selection of Sennacherib’s first campaign and of four affairs from Ashurbanipal’s early career suit the search for repeated revisions which can show the procedure of transmission, though this evaluation would benefit from further attention to the formal scribal culture of Mesopotamia, which does not offer a simple equation to Israelite scribal settings. While the analogy with Chronicles is treated carefully, T. supplies too little basis for choice of the two texts from Kings for his own biblical comparison. This choice assumes bounds for a definition of “text” appropriate for the Assyrian analogy without defending them.

Tertel proposes that Samuel-Kings and the Assyrian annals contain accounts with essentially similar narrative structures, measured by rhetorical intensity and shifts of “participant orientation” (the roles of players in the main flow of action). High rhetorical level and clustered changes in participant orientation mark peaks in plot profile. This reader finds the analytical method cumbersome and occasionally liable to obscure the essential options in T.’s carefully argued readings. For example, the precise number of agent-patient reversals in Sennacherib’s first campaign is less significant that the interplay between him and Merodach-baladan. The only drama in the first attested edition lies in the initial defeat of the Assyrian advance forces, and its removal in revision strips away entirely the minimal tension in the earlier version. On the basis of discourse analysis T. argues that the Assyrian defeat is a lull between narrative peaks (pp. 81-82).

Two trends in the transmission of Akkadian texts provide an intriguing center to this study. Epics preserved for centuries in scribal schools often acquired a repeating framework which tended to be homogenized over time, with reduced variation. With some exception, accounts of royal successes in the Assyrian annals tended to be reduced in length and, in the process, to lose their dramatic complexity. T. perhaps insists too strongly on a linear dependence between attested versions in the annals, but the overall pattern is convincing.

The most problematic aspect of the book lies in T.’s final goal, an empirical model for biblical redaction. Here, differences between the Assyrian annals and the narratives in the Book of Kings deserve further consideration. Assyria’s royal monuments were both created and revised by palace scribes employed to exalt the king. At every stage, these texts are bound to linger approvingly on the king and his achievements and to minimize his failure or vulnerability. The purpose of the biblical accounts, by contrast, is not merely that of advertising the depicted kings. Even in praise, they adopt an independent critical stance and divide attention to kings with interest in prophets. Such material is already inclined toward the higher rhetorical level which T. associates with early stages of transmission and with greater movement among participant roles. The annals and Kings do not share a common narrative baseline.

Furthermore, hypothetical biblical redactions are generally supposed to reflect reproduction of existing narrative under different auspices, unlike the Assyrian palace efforts. Revision does not supplement the received text; it replaces it (unlike the annals, and 2 Kings 18:2 with its parallel, 2 Chronicles 32; see p. 156). A revison would aspire to hold received material in tension with a new interpretive framework. The Book of Kings covers several centuries, and T. neglects the large problem of defining the editorial work necessary for composition of the deuteronomistic history.

Even if the Assyrian annals fail to prove an adequate analogue to biblical narrative as a whole, T. is right to demand one, and his work suggests much more diversity in processes of transmission than is assumed with the idea of steady accretion on an untouched core. This is a fresh and creative effort, well worth the time spent with it.

Daniel E. Fleming, 58 Elm Street, Millburn, NJ 07041

Copyright Catholic Biblical Association of America Jan 1996

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved