The Rings of the Lord

Assessing Symmetric Structuring in Numbers and Judges

in Vetus Testamentum
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Examining the ring compositions that recent studies claim to have discovered in Numbers and Judges, the article argues that in both cases the reconstructions involve questionable treatment of the text’s literary divisions and especially of the alleged and actual parallels between them. This, in turn, places a question mark over the entire quest for book-scale symmetric literary structures in the Hebrew Bible.

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References
  • 2

    Douglas 2007pp. 43-71.

  • 4

    Apart from Dorsey Way (2014 p. 248 n. 5) singles out only B.G. Webb The Book of Judges (JSOTSup 46; Sheffield 1987) and G.T.K. Wong Compositional Strategy of the Book of Judges: An Inductive Rhetorical Study (VTSup 111; Leiden 2006) as following in Gooding’s footsteps although one might also add J.P. Tanner “The Gideon Narrative as the Focal Point of Judges” BibSac 149 (1992) pp. 146-161; idem Textual Patterning in Biblical Hebrew Narrative: A Case Study in Judges 6-8 (Unpublished Ph.D. diss. Austin 1990) to the list. On the critical side Mieke Bal commented already in 1988 that even the most basic symmetric division of Judges “into introduction bulk and epilogue” is “clearly modeled on a rhetorical prescription alien to biblical culture” (M. Bal Death and Dissymmetry: The Politics of Coherence in the Book of Judges [Chicago Studies in the History of Judaism; Chicago 1988] p. 15) and in 2002 Marc Zvi Brettler decried “chiasmania” in general and in particular assessed Gooding’s schema as “coherence imposed” (M.Z. Brettler The Book of Judges [otr; London 2002] pp. 11-12 105-106; quotation on p. 106). For some other critiques of chiastic reconstructions overall and in specific texts see J. Kugel “On the Bible and Literary Criticism” Prooftexts 1 (1981) pp. 224-227; J.A. Emerton “An Examination of Some Attempts to Defend the Unity of the Flood Narrative in Genesis” vt 37 (1987) pp. 401-420; 38 (1988) pp. 1-21; M. Butterworth Structure and the Book of Zechariah (JSOTSup 130; Sheffield 1992) pp. 18-61; M.J. Boda “Chiasmus in Ubiquity: Symmetrical Mirages in Nehemiah 9” jsot 71 (1996) pp. 55-70.

  • 5

    Boda pp. 56-58 lists as many as thirteen possible “errors in the rhetorical analysis of chiasmus” (p. 56). Seven of them fall under my rubrics of “arbitrary and inconsistent segmentation” (“irregular arrangement” and “questionable demarcation”) and especially “selective use of textual parallels” (“arbitrary omission and inclusion” “arbitrary labelling” “methodological isolation” “frequency fallacy” and “accidental odds”) while two others are inapplicable to prose (“metrical maneuvering” and “metrical consistency”). “Lopsided design” (with allegedly matching units substantially differing in length) also does not look like a major problem as far as prose is concerned but if it is one the schemas of both Douglas and Way grossly fail the test: as will be seen below the former sees 108-word Num 10:1-10 as a counterpart of 87-verse Numbers 28-30 and the latter draws a similar connection between Othniel’s judgeship (84 words) and that of Samson (96 verses). Boda’s criterion of “atypical patterns” (“chiastic structures which have been discovered in numerous passages are more reliable than one restricted to the particular passage at hand”) is falsified by Gen 9:6a which is clearly chiastic despite the fact that no similar structures are found in the chapter. Finally the interrelated errors of “purposeless structure” and “presupposition that center is important” will be briefly addressed in the conclusion of the present article.

  • 7

    Douglas 2007pp. 43-53 61-71; cf. Douglas 1993 pp. 102-103.

  • 12

    Douglas 2007p. 58.

  • 13

    Douglas 2007p. 68. In her earlier book on Numbers Douglas regards chap. 36 as a separate unit (1993 pp. 103 108). This would resolve both the problem of symmetry and that of generic distribution but completely destroy the “latch” (see 3.1.7 below). Ultimately Douglas ascribes Numbers 36 to an inept editor (2007 pp. 68-71) in other words brings diachronic speculations into an otherwise strictly synchronic discussion. If the current ending of Numbers is redactional why not other parts of the book—as claimed for example by Noth pp. 4-11?

  • 16

    Gooding pp. 72*-78*; Dorsey pp. 106-107 111-112 116-120; Way 2014 p. 248.

  • 17

    Quoted from Way 2014p. 248. Globe (p. 246) differs only in treating the sequences of “minor judges” in 10:1-5; 12:8-15 as a single unit and matching it to the notice on Shamgar in 3:31. Accordingly he sees seven rather than six structural tiers in the book.

  • 20

    Brettler 2002pp. 92-102 even argues that Judg 1:1-2:10 is the original conclusion of Joshua.

  • 24

    Sweeney pp. 520-522. Cf. T.C. Butler Judges (wbc 8; Nashville 2009) pp. 10-12.

  • 28

    Way 2014pp. 254-255. He claims to follow Douglas’s concept of a “latch” (2.1 above) but she does not split the central unit of her ring reconstruction in any way (which in any case would not be easy given the fragment’s strong narrative continuity) seeking instead to connect it as a whole to the book’s beginning and ending (3.1.7 below).

  • 29

    Way 2014p. 254.

  • 31

    Brettler 2002p. 11 was among the first to draw attention to this pattern. He quotes David P. Wright’s oral suggestion to call it “chiastic interference” (p. 118). Since this seems to presuppose the existence of a chiasmus or at least the desirability of discovering it I will henceforth use the strictly descriptive term “distributed parallel.”

  • 32

    Douglas 2007pp. 69-70.

  • 34

    Douglas 2007pp. 58-64.

  • 36

    Way 2014p. 254.

  • 37

    Way 2014pp. 254-255.

  • 38

    Way 2014p. 255 n. 28.

  • 40

    Way 2014p. 256; cf. Gooding p. 76*; Dorsey pp. 118-119.

  • 41

    Way 2014p. 256.

  • 42

    Way 2014p. 256; cf. Gooding p. 76*; Globe p. 247; Dorsey pp. 118-119.

  • 43

    Way 2014p. 256; cf. Gooding p. 77; Globe p. 247.

  • 44

    Dorsey pp. 118-119.

  • 45

    Way 2014p. 256; cf. Gooding p. 77*.

  • 46

    Way 2014p. 256.

  • 47

    Way 2014pp. 256-257; cf. Gooding pp. 76*-78*; Dorsey pp. 118-119.

  • 48

    Way 2014p. 257; cf. Dorsey pp. 118-119.

  • 49

    Way 2014p. 257; cf. Gooding pp. 76*-78*; Globe pp. 246-247; Dorsey pp. 118-119.

  • 50

    Dorsey p. 119.

  • 51

    Way 2014p. 257.

  • 52

    Way 2014p. 257; cf. Gooding pp. 76*-78*; Globe pp. 246-247; Dorsey p. 119.

  • 54

    Dorsey p. 119; cf. Gooding pp. 76*-78*.

  • 55

    Dorsey p. 119.

  • 56

    Way 2014p. 251.

  • 57

    Way 2014p. 251; cf. Gooding pp. 73* 77*-78*; Globe pp. 246-247; Dorsey pp. 114-115.

  • 58

    Way 2014pp. 251-252.

  • 59

    Way 2014p. 252; cf. Dorsey pp. 114-115.

  • 60

    Way 2014p. 252.

  • 61

    Dorsey p. 114.

  • 62

    Way 2014p. 252.

  • 63

    Way 2014p. 252; cf. Gooding pp. 73* 78*; Globe pp. 246-247; Dorsey pp. 114-115.

  • 64

    Way 2014p. 252; cf. Dorsey pp. 114-115.

  • 65

    Way 2014p. 252; cf. Gooding pp. 73* 78*; Globe pp. 246-247; Dorsey pp. 114-115.

  • 66

    Way 2014p. 252.

  • 68

    Dorsey p. 114.

  • 69

    Way 2014p. 252.

  • 70

    Way 2014p. 252; cf. Gooding pp. 73*-74* 78*; Globe pp. 246-247; Dorsey pp. 114-115.

  • 71

    Way 2014pp. 252-253.

  • 72

    Way 2014p. 253.

  • 82

    Douglas 2007pp. 58-64.

  • 83

    Douglas 2007pp. 64-67 also claims that Numbers is particularly interested in Josephite tribes and Benjamin but she fails to demonstrate how her ring schema promotes this interest.

  • 84

    Way 2014p. 260.

  • 85

    See e.g. Sweeney pp. 523-524; Frolov 2013pp. 95-97 113-117 142-147 358-359.

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