All posts by Brenda Kronemeijer-Heyink

About Brenda Kronemeijer-Heyink

Campus Pastor at University of Toronto. PhD Candidate at the VU University (Amsterdam), doing a linguistic analysis on the text of the Old Testament book of Ezekiel.

The relevance of Redaction Criticism?

Having received much of my theological/biblical education in fairly conservative circles, I’ve noticed that I have certain assumptions in relation to redaction criticism (a short, adequate definition of redaction criticism can be found on Wikipedia. I’ve come to suspect that these assumptions come into conflict with the assumptions made by others who have had a different background.

During university, I’m pretty certain that I heard about redaction criticism and why it could be helpful. But growing up in a conservative Christian background with a limited understanding of what inerrancy in the text meant, I’m fairly certain that very little related to redaction criticism really registered.

In Seminary, we focused on exegesis and reading the text (itself). We wouldn’t have used those exact words – it seemed fairly obvious in these circles what exegesis involved. Questions about the authenticity of the text were discussed in relation to textual criticism in the New Testament, but seeing as the Old Testament had an established text (the Masoretic), this seemed somewhat irrelevant (although there was mention of how the Dead Sea Scrolls helped show where certain things might be missing in the text). We focused more on language and literary methods – with a bit of form criticism mixed in for good measure – all with the end goal of asking why the text was relevant to the person listening in the pew. We might have asked about the intention of the author, one small part of redaction criticism, but otherwise redaction criticism was generally ignored, and I understood it as being generally poor scholarship that was rather irrelevant to understanding the text.

And then I came to a secular university in Europe. All of a sudden, redaction criticism moved from being something I ignored to something that everyoned assumed was a relevant part of understanding the text. After the initial shock to the system, I started to recognize that my ignoring redaction criticism led me also to ignore valid questions about sections of the text whose writing and grammar did not seem to fit the established rules. Taking the text seriously meant looking also at the potential problems within the text; the unexpected repetitions, the switch in participants, illogical verbal tenses, and addition/subtraction of words helpful for understanding. These were all questions raised by redaction criticism.

Yet, some of my initial suspicions of poor scholarship remained. As much as I value the questions related to discrepancies that generally raised through redaction criticism, the solutions to these problem areas often feel a bit subjective. The answer to the problem often seems to be that it was the result redaction, a problematic solution as it doesn’t solve the question of why (or how) the redactor(s) left these problems in the text. And how does it help the reader? Well, the reader is advised to try to get into the head of the (long-dead) author/redactor, a rather speculative task. Or the reader is advised to take the redacted parts less seriously, looking for the original and paying attention to the evidence of other voices in the text. Unfortunately, there is limited consensus about what is a problematic section in the text and what is not, causing there to be very few areas in the text where a majority of scholars agree about what is redacted. That there are such a wide range of suggestions for what is redacted causes me to question how subjective the criteria is, and it makes me wonder how valuable it really is.

But in the end I feel I’m missing something about the value of redaction criticism, a value that seems to be an intrinsic assumption to many people involved in biblical work in continental Europe (and other places). It seems to be considered an important part of understanding the text, as it is important to understand the voices that are layered into the text. And to some degree, I can understand this desire to be objective about the text; it seems the best way to take the text seriously. But then wouldn’t one want to take the text that we now have, that has been affirmed by the Jews and the church for thousands of years, instead of a text we think is redacted? And in terms of looking objectively at the various voices in the text, I’d have to argue that the text itself wasn’t intended to be objective: the text was written to proclaim a message and, as such, certain voices are purposely silenced. Thus, taking the text seriously means also taking it seriously on its own terms.

Considering the relevance placed on redaction criticism, I feel like there must be a logical glitch in my argument and problems with redaction criticism, but I’m not sure where it is.

Intellectually Flabby

If you don’t exercise enough, you get out-of-shape (i.e., flabby). I feel a bit like that’s been happening with me intellectually. It’s not that I do nothing; it’s just that I don’t have all that many deadlines, and I’ve spent a lot of time in the last while away from my own research. I have been thinking, but it’s been about other things.

I’ve noticed that I’ve gotten lazy; as well, I’m super easily distracted and content to do little for longer periods of time. The following description that I found on Alan Jacobs’s blog, text patterns, resonates with me:

these days

Tom Bisell, from his book Extra Lives, an extended defense of the art of the video game and the value of spending large chunks of your life playing them:

Once upon a time, I wrote in the morning, jogged in the late afternoon, and spent most of my evenings reading. Once upon a time, I wrote off as unproductive those days in which I had managed to put down “only” a thousand words. Once upon a time, I played video games almost exclusively with friends. Once upon a time, I did occasionally binge on games, but these binges rarely had less than fortnight between them. Once upon a time, I was, more or less, content.

“Once upon a time” refers to relatively recent years (2001-2006) during which I wrote several books and published more than fifty pieces of magazine journalism and criticism — a total output of, give or take, 4,500 manuscript pages. I rarely felt very disciplined during this half decade, though I realize this admission invites accusations of disingenuousness or, failing that, a savage and justified beating. Obviously, I was disciplined. These days, however, I am lucky if I finish reading one book every fortnight. These days, I have read from start to finish exactly two works of fiction — excepting those I was not also reviewing — in the last year. These days, I play video games in the morning, play video games in the afternoon, and spend my evenings playing video games. These days, I still manage to write, but the times I am able to do so for more than three sustained hours have the temporal periodicity of comets with near-Earth trajectories.

I remember writing paper after paper while working on my master’s degree(s) in the United States; it wasn’t always easy nor were they always of the highest quality but I was ‘in shape’ to do that. And I worry about fossilizing, about not moving forward in my knowledge. I don’t think that’s happening (except perhaps with my dutch knowledge), but it’s enough of a concern that I’m looking for some extra exercise (intellectually) this summer.
A variation of this post was originally posted at “so this fits how?

Reading the Discourse in the Book of Ezekiel (or finding the mainline in the text)

Part of my work for the WIVU last year included determining the mainline in the text for each of the chapters. That meant determining what clauses moved the story/discussion/dialogue further and what clauses were merely supporting and/or interruptive material. To make it a slightly less subjective activity, some of the ways to determine what fit into the mainline included: a repetition of verbal forms, repetition of person, gender, and/or number, logical connections (e.g. conjunctions and prepositional forms), and general connections between all of these elements.

If you have experience in creating clausal outlines of texts and/or trying to determine the mainline in texts, you will know that clausal outlines for narrative texts are easier than those for poetical texts. In narrative texts, there is a fairly obvious main verbal form (wayyiqtol), and clauses not containing this form are generally not included in the mainline. This makes clausal outlines for narrative texts fairly objective.

Poetic texts are much different. Many clauses do not have verbal forms and determining where clauses break is problematic. Moreover, there are often sudden shifts in verbal forms and in person, gender, and number. Furthermore, many ideas and concepts are repeated, making it difficult to see what might be the main ideas and what would be subordinate. On account of all these things, determining mainlines in poetry is often quite difficult. One might even choose, as many do, not to use the same syntactical concepts for narrative as for poetry – in this situation, the discourse should be seen in terms of parallelism and not in terms of a mainline.

After trying to sort out the mainline in the text of Ezekiel and coming across the apparent impossibility of doing that in some chapters, I came up with the hypothesis that, in some texts, there was more than one independent mainline. And those mainlines weave through each other at times. This allows one to take the syntax in the text seriously (and how different verbal forms and different participants interact), while also taking seriously the repetitions and parallels in the text. At the moment this hypothesis seems the best means I know of for providing a systematic and objective means of reading the discourse in the text.

Hopefully I’ll be posting some examples of how this works soon.

Explaining אָח in Ezekiel 18,10.

The last clause of Ezechiel 18,10 is as follows:וְעָשָׂה אָח מֵאַחַד מֵאֵֽלֶּה׃ .

There are questions about the validity of אָח in the text, along with questions of how to translate it. According to the entry in the BDB dictionary (and also in the Baumgartner/German dictionary), it is considered to be a textual error and should be seen as an interjection (translated “ah”). The BHS also has a text critical note, indicating the problems surrounding this word.

However, there is another possible explanation for אח :אח might refer not to the interjection, “ah”, but to the noun, “brother,” which has the same form. A noun form in the middle of a series of clauses listing actions of a righteous person is more logical than an interjection in the middle of a clause. A possible translation would then be that of the NASB, which is as follows: ‘and who does any of these things to a brother.” This explanation is further justified by recognizing that the noun form of אח could also be seen as having a similar function to אש, which appears to be a possibility raised by Gesenius’ Grammar.

This second explanation does not in any way answer the question of whether the inclusion of אח in the text is a textual error. This alternative explanation does not remove the confusion surrounding it. Nonetheless, if one wants to take seriously the text as we now have it, one should look for the most logical explanation for the presence of אח, without dismissing it too quickly as a textual error.

The Challenge of Ph.D. work in the Netherlands (and Europe)

As mentioned previously, the system for getting a Ph.D. in the Netherlands is somewhat different than that in North America. More specifically, there is a difference in time, focus, and funding/cost. In the Netherlands, a Ph.D program is most often considered to be a 4 year full-time job, where one is hired to fill a need/grant to do research in a specific area, and this results in a Ph.D. at the end, assuming that the research is (also) published in the form of a dissertation. Thus, there are no required courses and no cost for the program. There is also limited opportunity to do one’s dissertation specifically on what one is interested in; one adapts one’s interests to the job/research opportunities available.

The other option is to choose to be an ‘outside’ Ph.D. candidate. This also has no cost and no course work. Acceptance into the program is based on the approval of one’s research proposal by the faculty and the presence of someone in the faculty willing to be the dissertation supervisor. This gives one much more flexibility concerning the topic and concerning time to finish. The only challenge is funding, which can be difficult to find. Hence, many outside Ph.D. candidates have a “real” job to pay the bills, and they work on their dissertation in their free time.

For a number of reasons, I’ve been following the second method. I’ve enjoyed the freedom to do what I want when I want. Funding has come from various places, most notably connections with my church back in North America and working temporarily for the Werkgroep Informatica of the Vrije Univesiteit (WIVU). This has provided me with enough money to live on (although not much more) and given me lots of experience in different areas, most notably teaching. So I don’t regret my choice, although it hasn’t exactly been much of a choice – I haven’t exactly seen any openings for research positions in my field of expertise. That changed, however, when the large general research body of the Netherlands decided to make a number of grants available to Ph.D. studies in several areas, including theology.

So all of a sudden there is the possibility that I received funding to do the research I want to do, on the research proposal that I’ve developed – a fairly unusual possibility in the Netherlands. This means that I’m jumping somewhat head-first into the language and culture of grant applications – a rather daunting process, but one that could serve me well, not only if I manage to receive a grant for my Ph.D. but also as I look for funding in years to come.

Balancing Life Within Biblical Studies

Working on my dissertation is my default activity. The problem is that there’s a lot of other things in my life which ask for attention. On the one hand, I get frustrated by all of these things that take me away from thinking and writing and studying. On the other hand, I recognize that if I spend too much time in my head, I don’t like the person I become. [For example, I become less concerned about the people around me, I lose my ability to hold conversations about non-academic things, and I get stressed irritated with things that would otherwise cause me little concern.]

So I struggle with the question of how to be properly inwardly and outwardly focused. I have discovered that teaching helps provide a means to balance the focus on study and being concerned with others – but that’s not always an option. Nor is it necessarily the best way for me to balance life, for depending on who and what I’m teaching, I could get lost in a tiny little world of details and forget what life is like for the rest fo the world – those that don’t read Hebrew or are concerned about being Calvinistic or Reformed. And so I have chosen a different option, one that doesn’t exclude teaching or research but instead includes them alongside of a choice to be an active participant in a Christian [new monastic] community. And thus not only is my faith something I talk and think about, it also becomes something I do.

I wonder whether others feel the need for balance and reality checks as much as I do, and what they have chosen to do to create healthy balances.

Quote of the day – on subjectivity, Biblical Hebrew, poetry, and verbs

I came across the following quote today in my research into the verbal system in Biblical Hebrew Poetry.

“It was and still is fairly a [sic] common opinion among scholars, although not always openly declared, that the verbal forms in poetry, more than in prose, can be taken to mean everything the interpreter thinks appropriate according to his understanding and the context.”

[Alviero Niccacci, “The Biblical Hebrew Verbal System in Poetry” in Avi Hurvitz, Stephen E. Fassberg (ed.), Biblical Hebrew in Its Northwest Semitic Setting: Typological and Historical Perspectives (Hebrew University Magnes Press, Jerusalem & Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, 2006): 247 (full article: 247-68)]

There’s nothing quite as comforting to a Ph.D. student as when one of the biggest names in verbal forms points out the general subjectivity found in the discussion the verbal forms in poetry. At the same time, it’s a bit frustrating to recognize that I’ll have to weed through a lot of claims made that are built on limited evidence.

“Thanks for talking about the Bible that way”

When I was thinking further about methodology and this blog (many thoughts of which have not (yet) made it to this blog), I realized that one area in which I had something to contribute was in relation to the confrontation (and ongoing reconciliation) of my conservative North American Christian upbringing and its understanding of the Bible with the European academic world and assumptions about the Bible. I’m still learning how best to hold on to my belief that the Bible is God’s Word and has a claim on our lives today while also seeing it as a text with a long history, whose creation, design, and reception are complicated. A lot of assumptions are made regarding the Bible and its study – and I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few years wondering about these, especially the ones I have made and what ones assume I make and what ones I’m allowed to make. Hopefully I will talk more about all this in the future, but for now I will simply share an anecdote.

I recently substitute taught a Hebrew reading class that is primarily for Bible translators. They were good students and eager to learn, and I enjoyed getting to share my knowledge of Hebrew with them. One comment from a student really struck me, though. [To provide some context, he was an African student who had asked me if I was a Christian after my introducing myself and saying that I wanted to help people read the Bible better. This seems to indicate to me that he comes from a fairly evangelical sort of background.] This student said that he really appreciated how I talked about the Bible. And I think I looked a bit puzzled when he said that because I hadn’t really said anything profound; I had just been talking about how certain aspects of grammar weren’t all that cut-and-dry (this is the only sane claim one can make after spending a month trying to analyze the grammar of the last eight chapters of Ezekiel), and I had mentioned how this might have something to do with how the Hebrew of the Bible encompasses at the least several hundreds of years. But to him, I had done something unusual in my acknowledging the ambiguities of certain things in Hebrew grammar and mentioning that trying to put together a grammar based on 500 years worth of English would produce a lot of inconsistencies. He related that he’d experienced exegesis where people made claims based on the obviousness of a certain grammatical element – and I could see that the student was frustrated by these claims, recognizing that something wasn’t quite right. And I was thankful that my ramblings about grammar and the Bible in terms of a receptive text could be helpful to him, especially since to some people this uncertainty in the Bible and this inconsistency might shake their notions of what God’s Word is and ought to be.

As for myself, I do believe that it is God’s Word – I’m just disappointed that we often try to shape the God of that Word to be rather uncomplicated and lacking in mystery (and we can’t quite see the beauty in His Word being full of puzzles and layers and wonder).

Evaluating Ph.D. Programs – My own experience at the VU University (Vrije Universiteit) in Amsterdam

This is in response to John Anderson’s re-opening the discussion on Ph.D. programmes.
When people ask me why I’m working on my Ph.D at the VU University (Vrije Universiteit in dutch) in Amsterdam [Netherlands], I sometimes tell them that it had to do with the simplicity of the application. I wrote an email to the supervisor I wanted to work with and a few weeks later he wrote back agreeing to be my supervisor. And hence I was accepted. I’m somewhat joking when I say this, but the story is true – minus, of course, the personal connections and the complicated elements.

Five years ago, I took advantage of a loophole related to my parents’ country-of-origin and the year of their immigration, and I applied for and receive dutch citizenship with very few difficulties. This citizenship (or a citizenship in any EU country) removes many of the complicated elements of residency and regulations and costs of living and studying and working in the Netherlands.

The email to my supervisor mentioned above had been intended as a sort of inquiry into whether my studying there would be feasible – an introduction into who I was, what I was interested in, and a mentioning that I studied under and worked for people that he admired and appreciated. I had considered it to be the beginning of a rather long complicated process, and in some ways it was, but in other ways it wasn’t, as I had the guarantee of acceptance (the support of a supervisor) right from the beginning.

The entire manner in which I describe my acceptance here gives some idea of how different the European system is compared to the American system. Things are changing so that the systems are somewhat more in line with each other (although the system in Germany still follows more of the older European system), but there are still many significant differences that should be noted, such as:
– the lack of classes and comprehensive exams prior to starting writing one’s dissertation. The assumption is that the student has learned all these things prior to starting their Ph.D work – or will learn them along the way. The Netherlands, or at least the VU University, is moving towards encouraging students to get (the second year of) a Research Master, where they would receive some course work and write a chapter of their dissertation or a mini-version of it, before beginning. Yet, it is still possible to enter immediately into the dissertation writing phase of the Ph.D. program if one has a solid proposal, a long writing sample related to this proposal, and the support of a Ph.D. supervisor. This leads us into…
– the necessity of the student to have a topic when they begin. One’s acceptance into the Ph.D. program is based on the acceptance of one’s research proposal and the support of a Ph.D. supervisor. This topic can be outlined/provided by the supervisor and the student then agrees to be employed for four years working on the topic with the results becoming their dissertation. This strange system is related to the fact that..
– one is not considered a student if one is working on a Ph.D. in the Netherlands. One is an employee who is employed by the supervisor or by a grant institution to do research on a proposal that has been developed with the supervisor and/or approved by the grant institution. This factor makes it complicated in terms of visas and/or funding for people who are either not dutch or are not intimately familiar with the dutch system. One can receive a visa as a research scholar and one can get one’s Ph.D using one’s own resources – but there is no large scholarship system that is present in many American schools. At the same time,
– there is no tuition cost for getting one’s Ph.D. The lack of cost and the lack of classes makes it easier for people to work on their Ph.D. part-time, either in a different country or while working somewhere in the Netherlands (or while a spouse is working in the Netherlands). In this way, a Ph.D. is much more attainable assuming that someone is independent and ambitious enough. The most difficult factor is
– the influence/sway of the supervisor – anyone nearing the end of their Ph.D. is well aware that their relationship to their supervisor (and their ability to work/learn under him/her) plays a significant role in whether their dissertation gets finished in a timely overall pleasant way, or even whether it gets finished. In the Netherlands, I learned that one’s acceptance to the Ph.D. program is dependent on having a supervisor’s approval and help. As well, since most of the Ph.D. program is independent and one takes few classes, one can be quite isolated from the University’s faculty and even more dependent on one’s Supervisor.

In many ways, I’ve really appreciated the system here in the Netherlands. It’s been a good fit, as I expected based on the recomendations of people whose advice I sought before coming here. I have a lot of freedom to discuss things that I care about – and I’m allowed to ask questions in my dissertation about why what we’re reading actually matters (Something that’s not present everywhere). But sometimes the freedom of the system is a bit much. One can flounder for quite awhile, as it feels like there’s a lack of structure and I have to pursue for myself opportunities to connect with other scholars and determine what I need to learn further and where to go. Yet, at the same time I’ve really enjoyed the independence. I am not pushed to be “a certain kind of academic” and instead can develop my academic (and non-academic) side at a pace and in a manner that fits me (for which I am very thankful). To give me more freedom with time and my topic, I’ve chosen not to pursue the option of being employed by the university through a supervisor – and this has meant some complications with funding, but through a grant from my church denomination, some teaching opportunities, and my supervisor’s help in my receiving some temporary work doing researching and editing at the university, the funding has worked out fairly well (although a non-EU citizen would have to have more secure means of funding than I have in order to live here legally).

As a final thought – in looking at John’s comments, I’d have to say that I agree with him about a lot of things and it sounds like good advice (although in my situation I managed to bypass some of the common sense things because I was applying to a European institution).
– A good fit is very, very important. It is also very important to be able to live in a certain place, especially if one has a family.
– When looking at whether something is a good fit, of high importance is the reason one is getting a Ph.D. and whether this school will help achieve that. For me, I’m getting a Ph.D. because I love studying the Bible and I want to teach students (most likely Christian students) about why the Bible matters. Where I study now gives me the freedom and opportunity to ask those questions, while also challenging me to see things a bit more broadly than I had in my more sheltered former academic institutions.
– European schools aren’t interested in the GRE and don’t have the same acceptance rates as schools in America, which makes a difference in how you approach applications. If you can find a supervisor who has time and energy and is excited about your project, you’re in. Finding the funding for the project is a lot more complicated, especially if you are outside the EU, but the opportunity to get the Ph.D. is much more attainable.