Hebrew Bible Monographs 18. Colin Toffelmire McMaster Divinity College Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

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1 RBL 08/2012 Buss, Martin J. Edited by Nickie M. Stipe The Changing Shape of Form Criticism: A Relational Approach Hebrew Bible Monographs 18 Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, Pp. xiv Hardcover. $ ISBN Colin Toffelmire McMaster Divinity College Hamilton, Ontario, Canada Edited by Nickie Stipe, The Changing Shape of Form Criticism: A Relational Approach is a volume containing, after a fashion, a précis of Martin Buss s work on the concept of form and form criticism in biblical studies. Part 1 is a collection of Buss s essays that have appeared in a variety of other publications over the course of his long career, while part 2 and the accompanying appendix are new and represent an updated presentation of Buss s relational view with a particular focus on interdisciplinary connections. As a summary of the work of one of the most significant practitioners of form criticism in the history of modern biblical criticism, The Changing Shape of Form Criticism is an essential volume for scholars and advanced students interested in the theory and practice of form and genre criticism of the Bible. Buss s work is particularly valuable in two ways. First, it presents an explicit and nuanced philosophical theory of form and genre, grounded in a primarily synchronic and structuralist perspective. Second, it is deeply, almost astonishingly, interdisciplinary in scope. Especially in part 2 and the appendix Buss casts his net so widely that disciplines as varied as theoretical mathematics and rhetorical criticism are examined. Though such a dispersed field of examination has the potential to create discontinuity and confusion (and there are points of difficulty, as I will discuss below), Buss does an exemplary job of

2 tying all of this seemingly disparate information together under the aegis of relational theory. This interest in relational theory and its potential for a more nuanced theoretical lens through which to analyze biblical forms and genres is the hallmark of this volume. Students of biblical form criticism who are familiar with Buss s work will likely have encountered many, if not all, of the essays found in part 1, though it is notable that each of these has been updated to varying degrees, making them somewhat different from their original versions. Though they range over a variety of specific topics, the unifying feature of these essays is a concern with the theory of form criticism. Buss has long been a critic of the classic form criticism pioneered by Hermann Gunkel and appropriated widely within the biblical studies guild, particularly in the beginning and middle of the twentieth century. That said, while Buss is critical of certain aspects of classic form criticism, he is more than a mere naysayer. Instead, over the course of his career he has attempted to reconceptualize certain aspects of form criticism, working to redeem elements of Gunkel s project and criticizing others. The specific contribution that he has made, which is brought to the fore throughout this volume, is his focus on relational theory and its value for the study of form and genre in the Bible. Though a complete overview of all of the essays presented in the volume would be both onerous and rather redundant (as most have been published elsewhere), I will engage with several of the reprinted essays and also with the new material (including the appendix) in an attempt to give potential readers a sense of the content and general direction of the volume as a whole. To begin, essay 2, Form Criticism and Morphological Criticism, was originally part of the introduction to Buss s first monograph, The Prophetic Word of Hosea: A Morphological Study (Berlin: Töpelmann, 1969), and contains the seeds of Buss s orientation toward the study of form in the biblical literature. Here Buss lays out an approach that is grounded in structuralism, that is primarily (though not exclusively) synchronic, and that involves a multidimensional, cross-cutting procedure (16). Another element that is mentioned in this early piece is that this approach is explicitly probabilistic. This emphasis on probabilistic relations drives a middle path through a focus on specific details alone (with no room for an account of nonarbitrary patterns and relationships), on the one side, and preconceived or essentialist genre categories, on the other. This was, of course, a dramatic departure from many of the traditional aims and methods of form criticism, particularly as it was practiced by Gunkel and his near disciples. Indeed, as essay 3, Appropriate and Not-So-Appropriate Ways of Relating Historical and Functional Methods: A Draft, makes clear, there are a variety of ways in which Buss s approach to form differs quite dramatically from classic form criticism. For

3 instance, while classic form criticism is well-known for its attempts to get behind the text as it is, using idealized oral forms in order to reconstruct its historical development, Buss says quite explicitly that form criticism in the sense of a reconstruction of the prior history of a text is in principle illegitimate or, in any case, highly problematic (23). It is not that Buss denies the importance or value of diachronic analysis, but he is certainly cautious with regard to the re-creation of underlying textual or oral material. This, of course, is entirely consistent with the development of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible form criticism in the second half of the twentieth century. At the core of Buss s turn to structuralism and his move away from certain patterns of analysis fundamental to classic form criticism is his movement away from two philosophical systems and toward another. Throughout his work one of the central, oftrepeated themes is the dismissal of both Aristotelian essentialism and nominalist particularism (see, e.g., 48 n. 17, 79, 84 85, 146). Instead, Buss advocates relational theory, which envisages particular objects that are not entirely independent but enter into nonarbitrary relations with one another, these relations also having status in reality. 1 With regard to form criticism, this means that, while there are no preexisting, ontologically essential genres, neither are relations between things merely arbitrary. Patterns are observable, and the relations that these patterns suggest have status in reality, yet there remains a significant degree of flexibility. In essay 6, Principles for Morphological Criticism with Special Reference to Letter Form, Buss gives a set of seven clearly articulated principles that should guide the analysis of form and genre in biblical studies: (1) genres in history are not clearly divisible; (2) genres exist within a system and relate to one another; (3) genres are formed by multidimensional patterns and therefore can share significant features with one another (and can be grouped in a variety of ways); (4) genres are probabilistic; (5) genres relate to human, not spatio-temporal situations; (6) genres change and develop, as do human situations; and (7) structures are not merely conventional; they point to what is fitting or appropriate within a certain system of relations As should be clear from this list, Buss s method is focused upon the observation of patterns in a text or set of texts and is consequently strongly textually and structurally oriented. Here Buss is consistent with the work of a wide variety of recent form critics who are moving toward a more text-centered approach (e.g., Marvin Sweeney, Ehud Ben Zvi, Michael Floyd). 1. For a much more extensive examination of relational theory, including its history of development and Buss s arguments in its favor, see Buss, The History of Form in the Twentieth Century (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2008).

4 Part 2 of this volume is taken up by a single lengthy essay that deals with the concept of situation from a wide variety of disciplinary perspectives, all in an attempt to build a more useful and accurate theoretical undergirding for the concept of Sitz im Leben. This essay is subdivided into fifteen analyses of Sitz im Leben, all from a relational perspective and each dealing with a different academic discipline. These subsections proceed in a more or less chronological order, but the focus is on movement from one discipline to another, demonstrating the growth and potential of relational theory in each. The range of different perspectives in this chapter is frankly dizzying, and at times it is difficult to situate oneself within the overall argument, and particularly that argument s relationship to biblical form criticism. This is likely simply a by-product of the range of perspectives and topics under consideration. Just some of the disciplinary perspectives discussed in this chapter include sociology, psychology, philosophy, rhetorical theory, sociolinguistics and discourse analysis, and classics. The core of Buss s argument is not significantly different in this new set of essays. He continues to argue for the value of relational theory and traces its development in these various other disciplines, accentuating the ways in which many of them might be brought to bear on the analysis of biblical texts. The overall argument, of the volume as a whole generally and part 2 particularly, is for a nuanced and careful examination of various patterns in the text of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, with an eye for both generality and particularity (214). Part 3 is an appendix that addresses the development of relational theory in several other disciplines (including those already mentioned and a few others, including mathematics and the physical sciences), but with little interaction with biblical studies. It is difficult to assess the entirety of Buss s interdisciplinary interactions, given their breadth, but one subsection did stand out, illustrating one of the problems with expansive interdisciplinary breadth. The subsection on modern linguistics is strong and gives a good general introduction to certain aspects of various linguistic theories, but it tends to downplay significant theoretical disagreements between certain camps in that academic guild. I was very surprised to see, for instance, Michael Halliday and Noam Chomsky mentioned in the same paragraph ostensibly agreeing with one another. Though there are some very broad topics upon which these two scholars would agree (e.g., essentially all of post- Saussurean linguistics is indebted to structuralism to some degree), I cannot think of two modern linguists who disagree more radically on such a wide variety of subjects, including (perhaps especially!) language acquisition, which is one of the topics of the paragraph in question. It is not that Buss misrepresents either linguist. He does distinguish between them and even gives a sense of how they differ (drawing the classic formal/functional distinction), but if one were not rather well-read in modern linguistic theory this subsection might give the impression of a discipline more or less unified,

5 which could hardly be further from the truth. Again, I must emphasize that I do not see this as an authorial error; it is simply one of the inevitable (and likely tolerable) byproducts of taking such a broad view. When the net is cast so widely, it is not at all surprising that strange things end up rubbing up against each other. Having noted this downfall to an interdisciplinary approach, let me also note that the breadth of Buss s study uncovers a wealth of surprising and fascinating interconnections between the development of thought on form across these various disciplines. Just one such gem for this reviewer was the discovery that the notion of linguistic situation and speech types in Hallidayan linguistics (one of my subspecialties) can trace a more or less direct line of development back to Hermann Gunkel himself (154 55). Additionally, the panoramic view provided by this interdisciplinary approach helps to place the theories and methods of biblical form criticism into perspective, offering both insight and challenges. The Changing Shape of Form Criticism is a stimulating and challenging presentation of Martin Buss s approach to form and genre in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible and beyond. While it does not offer much in the way of practical application, it does provide a clearly articulated, strongly argued, coherent theory of form and genre, which must certainly be the first step toward a nuanced examination of form in the biblical literature. Whether or not readers agree on all points, Buss s thought must be engaged by serious practitioners of form criticism, and this volume is an ideal resource for that engagement. I strongly recommend this volume for scholars and advanced students.

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