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The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies Provides a comprehensive survey of Biblical scholarship in a variety of disciplines.



Form, Source, and Redaction Criticism

Johannes P. Floss

Form Criticism

1. Presuppositions

Form criticism, like source criticism, literary criticism, and redaction criticism, is a scientific method of interpreting the texts of the Old Testament. Before the method and its procedures are described, its presuppositions will be stated: first, in relation to its subject-matter (the texts of the Old Testament); second, in relation to its objectives (interpretation); and third, the qualified sense in which it is scientific.

1.1 The Priority of the Original Languages

The original languages of the texts of the Old Testament, Hebrew and Aramaic, demand the strictest attention. The only working basis for a methodical interpretation is the Hebrew/Aramaic text. Not even a translation that aims to reproduce the syntax of the Hebrew/Aramaic is a satisfactory basis for a scientific interpretation. This stems from the fact that the languages of the Bible are ‘dead’: that is, since antiquity there have been no native speakers of these languages, and thus there are no competent informants. Israeli speakers of modern Hebrew cannot count as such (Kutscher 1984: 243: ‘Israeli Hebrew is a New Entity’, and against Buss 1999: 75: ‘Jews had known since biblical times how to speak Hebrew’; cf. Kahle 1927 [1967]: 23). This lack of linguistic competence cannot be compensated for by Hebrew philology, because the knowledge of the language by philologists is secondary, and is influenced by the theoretical assumptions of Western grammars and the language systems of European languages (Richter 1978: 6). An additional problem arises from the two successive periods of the transmission process of the text of the Old Testament: that of the consonantal text, which ended at the beginning of the first century CE, and that of the vocalization of the consonantal text, which followed it from the early seventh to the tenth centuries CE. While the form of the pure consonantal text contains the structures of the words and the structures that bind the words together (morphology and morphosyntax) as well as the syntax, the aim of the vocalization is to make the text readable for the purposes of worship and study. The construction of vowels and syllables thus has a primarily phonetic aim. The vowels of classical Hebrew are retained only partially in the vocalized text (i.e. the Masoretic Text, from the technical term massora, meaning ‘tradition’), and their structural (phonemic) reconstruction is thus possible on the basis of a knowledge of the Masoretic laws of sounds and syllables (see the morphemic reconstruction of the texts of the Old Testament in Biblia Hebraica transcripta, edited by Richter 1991–3). The morphemic reconstruction of the Old Testament makes possible a functional analysis of the different text levels (the levels relating to sound, word, phrase, sentence, and sentence connection). The functional analysis does not confer any linguistic competence in classical Hebrew, but can be understood as a partial substitute for such competence. Above all, it serves as a control and restraint upon the subjective contributions of interpreters. Functional analysis makes possible the transparency, intersubjectivity, and critical examination of interpretation. In addition to the Old Testament texts being written in dead languages, it has to be taken into account that the extant remains of biblical Hebrew/Aramaic are fragmentary (Richter 1978: 9 notes Ullendorf's comment that biblical Hebrew is ‘no more than a linguistic fragment’). This inevitably has a not inconsiderable detrimental effect on grammatical, morphological, and syntactic analysis.

1.2 Categorizing the Term

Form criticism, like source, literary, and redaction criticism, is deliberately subordinated to the general term ‘interpretation’. Corresponding to the breadth of its meanings in Latin (interpretatio can mean ‘clarification’, ‘interpretation’, ‘meaning’, ‘translation’, ‘understanding’, while the Greek verb hermeneuo similarly has a wide range of meanings), this term integrates not only the methods described in this chapter, but also the most diverse methodological approaches to determining the meaning of a text. Further, the term has the capacity to unite the various specialisms within Old Testament scholarship, and those who represent them. This unity, which results from the subject of research, is in no way endangered by necessary disagreements about hypotheses and methods. One such is the recently advocated supposed opposition between understanding and elucidating the final form of the text and the exposition of the genesis of the text (Dohmen 2001: 91, 104). Such pseudo-oppositions imply that there is only one method appropriate to a text (understanding and elucidating), as opposed to the allegedly inappropriate method of elucidating its literary genesis. To the latter is accorded the stigma of atomizing the text, and it is often branded as being untheological. But the inappropriateness of such an opposition is indicated by the emphasis on the term ‘final form’. This indicates, by definition, that a text has experienced successive forms of literary genesis. The illumination of the literary genesis of the final form of a text is thus an integral part of its elucidation and its understanding.

1.3 Indicators of the Scientific Nature of a Method

While it is impossible here to enter into a theoretical discussion of models of scholarship and science that are current in the philosophy of science (e.g., ‘deductive-a priori’ or ‘inductive-verificatory’ models), it is necessary at least to mention the generally acknowledged indicators of what is meant by ‘scientific’. The first characteristic is that of the argumentation context. The knowledge gained from research on the texts of the Old Testament, and the conclusions drawn from them, need a systematic context of argumentation. This context is above all that of the text itself, and only to a very limited extent, extra-textual data. Another characteristic relates to the making of hypotheses. If a hypothesis comprehensively explains all the relevant factors, it can count as verified, and thus as a theory. If there are details that it does not explain, it has only a greater or lesser degree of probability. The possibility of being verified is a third, and indispensable, characteristic. Statements can be called scientific only if they prove comprehensible and verifiable. Verifiability, in turn, constitutes the pre-condition for intersubjectivity, which is an indispensable aspect of scientific method.

2. Definition of Form Criticism

To begin with, the two elements of the term (form and criticism) need each to be redefined separately.

2.1 Form

The first element, which is used in different senses in linguistics and literary criticism, is understood here as the form of a linguistic sign. As part of a language system, each linguistic sign of this system must assume a form. All linguistic signs of all linguistic levels are by necessity constituted as a form (see 1.1 on text levels). This view of the form goes back to F. de Saussure: ‘la langue est une forme et non une substance’ (1968: 276). Because of the lack of linguistic competence (Fr. langage) for the biblical languages and the termination of any recent actual language use (Fr. parole), attention to the form of the linguistic signs receives the highest priority.

2.2 Criticism

The second element of the term, criticism, indicates the analysis of the form as defined in 2.1. Correspondingly, it is also possible to speak of form analysis. Because the term ‘criticism’ has been used as a term or part of a term for methods of the scientific interpretation of texts since the Renaissance and the Enlightenment in dependence upon antiquity, it will be employed here (Bormann and Tonelli 1976: 1249–66; Kraus 1982: 65–70; Buss 1999: 92–155). However, the general term ‘form criticism’ requires to be distinguished from similar definitions of the same term.

2.3 Delimitation

Because ‘form criticism’ is frequently used interchangeably with ‘form history’ (German Formgeschichte; cf. Meurer 1999: 82 f.: ‘Form criticism … goes … back to the work of Hermann Gunkel’. Meurer even speaks of ‘form or genre criticism as an instance of the diachronic methods of interpretation’. See also Soulen and Soulen 2001: 61: ‘The term form criticism is a translation of the German word Formgeschichte’), more precise delimitations are urgently needed.

2.3.1 Formgeschichte according to M. Dibelius

Formgeschichte as understood by M. Dibelius (who was inspired by Hermann Gunkel's research into genre criticism and its further development and alteration into the criticism of forms by Franz Overbeck and Eduard Norden) was adapted for research on the gospels, and did not mean the linguistic analysis of a specific text. ‘Specifically, he defined Formgeschichte as a study of the “laws which make the rise of these small genres understandable” ’ (1919: 3; Buss 1999: 288). Dibelius thus investigated the written individual forms as found in the transmitted text from the point of view of their conditions of origin in the pre-literary oral phase of transmission. On the basis of structural elements, he drew conclusions about the history of the oral genesis of these forms. As a result, he dispensed (necessarily) with the synchronic analysis of individual forms, in order to deal with their diachronic history. However Dibelius's contribution may be judged (see the very informative observations of Buss 1999: 287–308), the adoption by Old Testament scholars of the term as determined by Dibelius, together with the tacit acceptance of the alteration in the meaning of the term has not always led to methodological clarity, as the quotation from Meurer above indicates. It is also necessary to note other delimitations.

2.3.2 Formgeschichte according to K. Koch

Koch (1989) requires the form-critical investigation of literary units that are isolated from their context; but this procedure is for him a historical investigation. This conclusion results for Koch from his definition of Formgeschichte as a general term for all exegetical methods (which contain the element ‘criticism’ or ‘historical’ geschichtlich). Even though Koch's understanding of the term agrees with that of Dibelius only verbally, it is quite different from the view of form criticism that is described in this chapter.

2.3.3 Formgeschichte/Form criticism according to H. Barth and O. H. Steck

For Barth and Steck (1987) the form-historical aspect also concerns the linguistic shaping of a text. The description of this linguistic shape, however, is confined to the ascertainment of first-hand results, which are even then qualified as ‘provisional’. In the subsequent genre analysis these results would then be shown to be either corroborated, or in need of correction, or even eventually false. However, this raises the question of how a written linguistic sign can be provisional in relation to the various text levels. Of course, the understanding of the content of a text and the decision of an interpreter can be provisional. The consequences of an assumed closer connection between form and content are evident here, which is maintained against Richter (1971; Barth and Steck 1987: 58 n. 84). Later, it will be shown, in furtherance of the views of Richter, how methodologically indispensable it is to distinguish between form and content, on the one hand, and the function of this distinction, on the other. The ‘indissoluble connection between form and content’ that is claimed by Barth and Steck (1987: 58 n. 84), which undoubtedly exists and which, incidentally, has never been disputed by Richter, can also be explained from the notion of form that is maintained in this chapter. Additional proof is needed, however. Mere assertion (‘the linguistic utterance in its extant contoured form … includes the formed content’: Barth and Steck 1987: 57 n. 84) is no substitute for proof.

2.3.4 Biblical form criticism according to M. Buss

In his study published in 1999, Buss understands form criticism as genre criticism. ‘The study of literary (including oral) forms, or form criticism can be defined as the study of patterns of speech’ (Buss 1999: 15). Referring to Gunkel, the designation of form criticism is explicitly commented on : ‘in fact, it properly denotes a holistic design of speech, including its perceptible (physical) phenomena, its (referential) content and its (socio-psychological) role’ (1999: 16). The Handbook of Biblical Criticism by R. N. and R. K. Soulen also understands form criticism as genre criticism, as indicated by the observations under the entry ‘form criticism’. Irsigler (1995) offers a brief summary of the origin, subject aims, and the altered understanding of Formgeschichte, as opposed to form criticism.

3. Form Criticism according to W. Richter

3.1 Methodological Breakthrough

The separation of the terms ‘form’ and ‘genre’ is indispensable, according to Richter, because form has to do with a single text, whereas genre concerns a text type: that is, a number of individual texts with comparable, similar, or identical structural elements. The individual text that is to be analysed for its form must, according to Richter, be available in its original extent. If this original extent is not available, it has to be investigated by means of literary criticism (→Source/literary criticism). In that the literary unit that is to be the object of form-critical analysis is isolated by literary criticism, this methodological step (form criticism) necessarily presupposes literary criticism. Richter also acknowledges the possibility of form-critically analysing an individual text that has not been investigated by literary-critical means. Such form criticism will then, however, in his view, describe only the ‘last edited state’: i.e. the final form of the text (cf. the quotation summing up the preceding discussion at Richter 1971: 72). The narrowing of the investigation of form to the individual text, as well as the small literary units, yields their synchronic quality. Whereas Formgeschichte (form history) proceeds mainly diachronically, form criticism is strictly synchronic. Herein lies the most important difference between the view of form criticism that is adopted in this chapter and those referred to above in 2.3.1–4. Richter must take the credit for being the first scholar to offer terminological and methodological clarity. He divides form criticism into the analysis of the form and the function of the form. By means of the criteria for analysing the form (‘ornamental’ and ‘structural’ form), Richter delineates the procedure of form criticism. Weight is put unmistakably on the analysis of the structural forms (the procedures concerning ornamental forms are dismissed fairly quickly, because the indices of ornamental forms—sound, rhythm, rhyme, etc.—provide very little significant data in texts transmitted by writing). The structural form is further divided by Richter into ‘outer’ and ‘inner’ form. While the analysis of the outer form embraces the description of the syntax (on the levels of sentence and word) and statistics, attention to the inner form provides clues to the ‘deep’ structure of the unit. This is indicated by the semantic fields of the words and word groups, the alternation of action and speech, their position and movement in the text, as well as the semantic classes of the verbs. The occurrence of characters and the scenes, as well as scene changes, also indicate the deep structure of a text. In the process of illuminating the structural form, special attention is paid to the fixed expressions which, after all, conditionally offer criteria for deciding ‘whether a unit is a literary composition or was transmitted in a pre-literary manner’ (1971: 99; translation by author). Richter outlines his analysis of forms on the basis of nine examples of forms (1971: 104–13). Under the heading ‘Functions of the Forms’, Richter discusses the question of the purpose of a unit. Revealing a unit's structure by means of form-critical analysis makes it possible to answer the question of its purpose, which in turn reveals what the unit states or intends. It is important to discover whether this purpose is contained in the unit itself, or whether it refers to something beyond itself. In the latter case it is presumably part of a larger literary complex. In the context of this investigation the fixed expressions, formulae, and schemata may also enable larger contexts to be identified, whether their quality derives from originally literary or redactional activity. Richter makes use here of the term ‘horizon’, which was introduced by Eissfeldt in 1927 (Richter 1971: 117 n. 142). If all the information given in a unit can be understood from the unit itself, then the horizon will be limited by the beginning and end of the unit. If, however, in order to be understood, information from the unit needs additional details, either from the context preceding or that following the unit, these additional details indicate its wider horizon (forwards, backwards, or in both directions). The unit enables a wider horizon to be recognized in addition to its own horizon as defined by its beginning and end.

3.2 Further Developments and Procedures

Form criticism as understood by Richter obviously presupposes grammar, and in particular a linguistically based grammar, because the description of the various text levels in form criticism cannot be undertaken without their grammatical definition. Richter is well aware of this as his Grundlagen einer althebräischen Grammatik (Foundations of a Grammar of Ancient Hebrew) begun in 1978 shows, together with the additional volumes published in 1979 and 1980. In his methodological programme published in 1971, Richter gives only a brief account of the relationship between literature and structural linguistics (pp. 29–30). The methodology advocated by Fohrer and others (1973, cited here according to the 6th edn. of 1993), which in many aspects agrees with that of Richter (e.g. in the operation and aims of literary criticism) pays particular attention to linguistic prerequisites. This expresses itself in the designation of the second methodological step after the literary criticism which he puts under the heading of ‘linguistic analysis’, and not form criticism. Above all, the point is emphasized that the texts of the Old Testament are ‘ossified linguistic events’ (Fohrer et al. 1993: 59). For this reason the linguistic signs divided into their particular levels receive special attention. The term ‘form criticism’ is then deliberately avoided, because, as Richter shows, it goes beyond the methodological separation of the two aspects and in fact divides form and content, and thus creates the impression that ‘formal analysis can be undertaken with the deliberate neglect of the aspect of meaning’ (Fohrer et al. 1993: 65). The objection, which is not expressed as strongly as that of Barth and Steck cited above, is not all that convincing, especially since in further procedures of linguistic analysis except for semantic analysis Fohrer et al. agree extensively with Richter (1993: 76–8). In this way the attempt is made to come nearer to the level of meaning, starting from the lexical morphemes. Utzschneider and Nitsche also prefer the term ‘text analysis’ to form criticism (2001: 59–112). R. Knierim (1985) provides an informative overview of the development of the discussion about form up to 1985 (pp. 136–8). His question as to whether the analysis of the structure of a text belongs to literary criticism or form criticism must be answered in favour of form criticism. Form criticism according to Richter's intention and to some extent in the sense of Fohrer et al.'s linguistic analysis first became possible on the basis of Richter's foundational Hebrew grammar (see above). Richter's grammatical description of the morphology, morphosyntax, and sentence syntax on the basis of the categories of linguistics made possible a form criticism based on the linguistic levels of a text. I have developed a ‘level-specific analysis in order to present the structure of the plane of expression (Ausdrucksseite)’. By means of metalinguistic categories of description, the data of each text level from word to sentence connection levels is registered in ascending order, and evaluated in regard to their effect in each immediately superior text level. In a syntactic synthesis the networks connecting the four levels are described. Through the syntactic synthesis of all the signs qua means of expression, the uncovering of the semantic function of the expression plane (Ausdrucksseite) in a semantic matrix is achieved, which in turn serves as the basis for an analysis of the structure of the content plane (Floss 1982: 88–178; for the procedure, Floss 1991: 691–2). Form criticism as the level-specific analysis of modes of expression was taken up and further developed by Seidl (1982) and Irsigler (1984). Along with bringing greater precision to the criteria and procedures of analysis, Irsigler, going beyond Floss and Seidl, has integrated aspects such as lexis, stylistics, and text typology into form criticism. The result is designated by Irsigler as ‘criticism of the text-structure’ (1984: 140).

4. Form Criticism as an Impetus for Research into Old Testament Texts and Language

Form criticism, as expounded by Richter, carries many traits of provisionality. It is a component of ‘An Outline of an Old Testament Theory of Literature and Methodology’. Outlines are provisional, and not forever. Their purpose is to provoke, and not to legislate. Although books of method following Richter have appeared (unaltered) in a number of editions, as though there had been no advance in research, there were no further editions of Exegese als Literaturwissenschaft (Exegesis as the Study of Literature). Richter's first ‘outline’ drew attention to gaps in scholarship: for example, the lack of a foundation Hebrew grammar. While at the end of the twentieth century interpreters of the Old Testament were still indebted to the grammars of the nineteenth (Gesenius and Kautzsch) or the first quarter of the twentieth century (Bergsträsser, Joüon, Brockelmann), and while authorities such as de Saussure and Chomsky seemed to be unknown to members of the scholarly guild, Richter was swimming against the (sluggish) current and writing a foundation grammar based on linguistics. The form criticism that was continued on this basis by Richter's students consisted in discovering further gaps. The morphemic transcription of the often uneven Masoretic Text in respect of orthography, phonemics, and syntax may have seemed completely superfluous to the mainstream of Old Testament research; but it challenges each interpreter ‘before ascending into the realm of spiritual dimensions to grapple with the small matters of grammar, lexicon, text and writing’ (Richter 1983: 2). Richter's publication entitled ‘Transliteration and Transcription’, from which this quotation is taken, not only offers the possibility of such ‘grappling’; it also provides the basis for the already mentioned Biblia Hebraica transcripta (BHt) published under Richter's editorship in 1991–3. Its use enables time-consuming attention to the ‘small matters of grammar’ to be considerably reduced, in so far as such questions are in any case of interest to interpreters. Those who look further than their noses will immediately recognize the value of BHt for computer-based text analysis (see further below). Form criticism as level-specific ‘analysis of the expression plane’ (Floss) or as ‘criticism of the text structure’ (Irsigler) uncovered further gaps in scholarship. How do verbs function? What valency do they possess? Attention has focused especially upon the syntax of verbal clauses, concerning which there has hitherto been scarcely any extensive information in the grammatical literature, so that ‘the Hebrew verbal clause appears as an accidental linguistic form’ (Richter 1985: 2). Richter's investigations into the valency of Hebrew verbs published in 1985 spear-headed the advance of form criticism of the ‘outline’ of 1971. Following up the investigation of 1985 into valency were the works of Richter (1986), Seidl (1997), and Häusl (1997). Nissim's 2000 publication provides an investigation of the valency of all ancient non-agentive Hebrew verbs. Valency research has revealed further desiderata for the descriptive syntax which is part of form criticism. Gross investigated in 1987 ‘the pendens construction of biblical Hebrew’, and thus provided syntactic elucidation for one of the most frequent and important aspects of style in biblical Hebrew. In 1995 Rechenmacher presented a concise but convincing investigation of the attributive sentence in which he went beyond observations on syntax to treatment of modes of speech typology. Gross, with the assistance of Disse and Michel, dedicated to Richter in 1996 an exhaustive investigation concerning the order of constituents in the verbal clause of Old Testament prose, which opened up further avenues for research. All these advances, which were the result of the impetus to research provided by the 1971 ‘outline’, eventually led Richter with the Biblia Hebraica transcripta to the decision to make use of computers for the interpretation of Old Testament texts, because only by means of analyses based upon computation could the interpretation of Old Testament texts be carried out with greater precision and success. Eckhardt, a member of Richter's circle, published in 1987 a ‘computer-based analysis of ancient Hebrew texts’, and thereby established a programme of the ‘algorithmic recognition of the morphology’. He was followed in 1990 by Specht's ‘knowledge-based analysis of ancient Hebrew morphosyntax’, which he named ‘the AMOS expert system’. Richter devoted his time and energies exclusively to the basic research initiated by his form criticism. The subtitles of the ‘materials for a data bank of ancient Hebrew’ can be briefly mentioned in the order of their year of publication: ‘Personal names in biblical Hebrew and Aramaic analysed morphologically and syntactically’ (1996), ‘Nominal forms’ (1998), ‘Phrases (2000), ‘Verbal forms (2002). These materials were produced with the assistance of Rechenmacher and Riepl, as was ‘the transcription of ancient Hebrew inscriptions’ (1999).

5. The Problem of Form and Content

5.1 De Saussure's Theory of Signs and the Model of Semiological Constructivism

The notion of form was defined above (sect. 2.1) according to de Saussure's definition of the language system (langue). This in no sense means, as Barth and Steck allege of Richter's understanding of form, that form has no content. When de Saussure ascribes form to a language system but denies its substance, this is to be understood on the basis of his theory of the sign. Linguistic signs are realized for de Saussure in two ‘states of matter’, analogous to the solid and the liquid, as Jäger puts it (Jäger 1997: 205 n. 25): namely, first as elements of semiological consciousness. De Saussure calls the linguistic sign in this state a parasème. The second aggregate condition he calls an aposème. De Saussure describes the aposeme metaphorically as an ‘envelope de sème’ or even as a ‘cadavre de sème’ (Jäger 1997: 205 n. 25). The metaphorical description of the aposeme enables it to be recognized as the linguistic sign of expression.

5.2 ‘Paraseme’ and ‘Aposeme’ as Key Terms in the Form–Content Problem

The structural division of the linguistic sign (sème) by de Saussure and Jäger's model of semiological constructivism, built upon Saussure and W. von Humboldt, can contribute to the elucidation of the form—content problem. Parasemes are:

individual sediments of communication experiences; as such they are preserved picked up in the absent/present network structure of psychological systems (‘parasemies’). On the other hand they just as well appear as present entities in discourse, as aposemes, as ‘shells’ of the paraseme with no meaning in themselves… Above all in the state of presence the structural dichotomy, which is absolutely constitutive of the linguistic sign, is clear: aposemes are both expressions of the speech intentions of speakers in the course of making themselves understood and thus tied to the parasemic sense horizon and at the same time interpretation stimuli for the meaning-seeking procedures of the comprehending hearer, who thus activates his parasemic sense horizon. (Jäger 1997: 205; translation here and in subsequent quotations from Jäger by author)

There are two reasons for this long quotation. First, its makes clear the difference between form (= aposeme) and content (= paraseme), as well as their indivisible connection in the linguistic sign. On the other hand, the priority of noting and describing the form in ‘dead’ languages becomes immediately apparent. The indispensable attempts at mutual understanding between speaker and hearer according to the model of semiological constructivism are entirely lacking for texts in ‘dead’ languages. But does it follow that no use whatever can be made of a model that explains ‘living’ languages to grasp the meaning of texts in ‘dead’ languages? Too hasty an affirmative answer would yield grave consequences. It would never then be possible to grasp the meaning of texts in dead languages, because the parasemic sense horizon of the speaker (= the author of the texts) has long since become defunct, and thus there can be ‘no mode of familiar communication’ (Jäger 1997: 205) with present-day readers of these texts. A less hasty decision, however, raises the question of which elements from de Saussure's theory of linguistic signs and Jäger's account of semiological constructivism can be taken over for grasping the meaning of texts in ‘dead’ languages. This question gains its legitimacy from the fact that the ‘dead’ languages were once ‘living’ languages, linguistic systems to which de Saussure's theory of signs and the model of semiological constructivism would have been applicable. A further question is whether and how the parasemic sense horizon of the speaker or author that once existed and which has undoubtedly left its traces in the text can be grasped from the text. An answer to this question would be a great gain for settling the long-running argument about form and content in Old Testament scholarship.

5.3 Limits, Possibilities, and Conditions of the Appropriation

De Saussure's theory of the linguistic sign and the epistemological, semiotic, and communication-theoretical assumptions of semiological constructivism presuppose, as already indicated, the existence of spoken languages and recent speakers. If even a partial appropriation is to prove valid, the texts in the ‘dead’ language must enable text signals to be found which show conclusively whether the epistemological, semiotic, and communication-theoretical bases of semiological constructivism find confirmation even in a text in biblical Hebrew. I have recently (Floss 2005) tested the limits and possibilities of this appropriation on the basis of Psalm 77 and formulated the conditions thereof.

5.3.1 Epistemological assumption

If, according to the basic epistemological assumptions of Jäger's account of semiological constructivism (also building on W. von Humboldt and taking further the work of Antonio Damasio), ‘self-awareness … can only develop in the course of a somatic self-perception of the spirit’ (Jäger 1997: 203), it must be possible also in a text in a ‘dead’ language (in this case, Psalm 77) to rediscover signals of a (religious/believing) consciousness. As I (Floss 2005: 161–81) show in a detailed manner, the rediscovered topoi of the religious/believing traditions of Israel in the psalm have left a trace that cannot be overlooked or overheard. Also the genre of Psalm 77, that of the individual lament, leaves unmistakable traces that indicate that the self-aware religious/believing individual constituted through ‘somatic self-address’ (Damasio) and semiological interaction (Humboldt; Jäger 1997: 204) has not, in the extant text, faded into unrecognizability.

5.3.2 Semiotic assumption

As emphasized above, only a partial appropriation is possible: namely, the relevant part of the second ‘aggregate condition’. For today's reader/hearer of biblical texts, the interlocutor who constructs the meaning is lacking. In his grammar, Richter (see sect. 4 above) has supplied the prerequisites for making the functional analysis of the expression plane of a text in such a precise form, that they ‘can almost take on the role of a competent speaker’ (1978: 8). In relation to the terminological inventory of Jäger's semiotic assumption, this means that the linguistic signs that are found materially in the Hebrew text in the form of aposemes are observed according to indices which can indicate the communicative intention of the author and his parasemic horizon of meaning. Of course, this will not provide absolute clarity concerning the communicative intention of the original speaker/author. How will that be possible, when even in a contemporary linguistic interchange ‘no factor that transcends the discourse, no other criterion, exists other than that both partners in the discourse have learned the semanticisation of the aposemes interactively in similar speech games?’ (Jäger 1997: 205).

5.3.3 Communication—theoretical assumption

According to everything just said about the epistemological and semiotic assumptions of semiological constructivism, Jäger's communication-theoretical assumption cannot serve as the model for linguistic communication seen as a process of the transfer of information (from sender to receiver). For, as has been shown, the common stock of signs between informant and addressee relates within the same linguistic system only to the aposemes. The parasemes, because of the individual communicative experiences between informant and addressee, are no longer congruent. Between a (‘dead’) biblical Hebrew text and a contemporary reader/hearer there exists an even less common stock of signs. The aposemes are indeed accessible through philological studies. But the ‘efforts at mutual understanding which become a communicative site at which the partners in the discourse participate in establishing in a specific way that is constitutive of the communicated meaning’ presumed by Jäger for ‘living’ languages (Jäger 1997: 207) simply do not exist between a biblical text and its contemporary readers/hearers. The central element of Jäger's communication-theoretical assumption can, however, be utilized, and is decisive for the solution of the form–content problem. If this element consists ‘in working out the modality of the aposeme’ (Jäger 1997: 208), and an aposeme functions as ‘a structured expression’ of a semantic intention, then the aposeme in texts of a ‘dead’ language can be understood ‘as the interpretable mediating entity of the communicative interaction of the partners to the discourse’ (Jäger 1997: 208) in so far as the contemporary partners in the discourse (the readers/hearers of the biblical text) undertake the above-mentioned functional analysis and so to some extent become a substitute for the interlocutor who is no longer directly available. For the use of the basic assumptions of semiological constructivism as outlined in 5.3.1–2 see now Floss 2005).

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