Something to Remember

Referring to the collection of essays he edited in Puns and Pundits: Word Play in the Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Literature, Scott Noegel writes,

The essays also necessitate a re-evaluation of ancient conceptions of literature, for they suggest a very different understanding of words and speech than represented in most literary studies of ancient texts. Indeed, they call into question the very definition of “literature” in ancient Near Eastern cultures. We only need remind ourselves that the ancient Mesopotamians credited an exorcist with authoring (or redacting) the great Epic of Gilgamesh, to realize that as moderns we tread on unfamiliar literary terrain.

His remark about treading on unfamiliar literacy terrain applies as much to that most familiar of ancient literature, the Hebrew Bible, as it does to the Epic of Gilgamesh.
By the way, the essays and essayists that Noegel brought together for this volume should be required reading for all serious students of the Hebrew Bible. I know of no better argument for reading ancient texts in their original languages than the accumulated effect of these essays. I know of no better argument for Biblical scholars to be skilled in the languages and literatures of the whole of the ancient Near East than the accumulated effect of these essays.
Might we reasonably quibble with this example or that example or even with this essay or that essay? Of course. But when all our quibbles are annunciated we are still left in unfamiliar literary terrain. If one only reads the six essays specifically on word play in the Hebrew Bible (and one should read the whole book) one will wonder at how hermeneutics as we know the endeavor, hermeneutics that attempts to translate these ancients text into a contemporary context, can continue without major modification even as to its very goals. No, word play, as in internal hermeneutical device in ancient texts, is not in every verse or even every chapter of the Hebrew Bible. At least I think it isn’t. But it is everywhere from Genesis 1:1 (Gary Rendsburg, “Word Play in Biblical Hebrew” An Eclectic Collection’) to Zechariah (Al Wolters, “Word Play in Zechariah”) It is found in the account of Jocob and Laban (Scott Noegel, “Drinking Feasts and Deceptive Feats: Jacob and Laban’s Double Talk”), in Samuel (Moshe Garsiel, “Word Play and Pun as a Rhetorical Device in the Book of Samuel”) in the prophets in general (Stefan Schorch, “Between Science and Magic: The Function and Roots of Paromomasia in the Prophetic Books of the Hebrew Bible” and Daniel (Bill Arnold, “Word Play and Characterization in Daniel 1”). And just because there aren’t any essays specifically dealing law and wisdom, don’t think punning is not an important element of expressions in these texts also.
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