December 20, 2007
The Wisdom & Poetry of DOTWPW
In May 2008 we will be publishing the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings (DOTWPW), edited by Tremper Longman III and Peter Enns. This is the third OT volume, and seventh overall, in our “Black Dictionary” series on Scripture. (Incidentally, the “Black Dictionary” rubric originated in the bookselling trade, based on the black dust jackets of the series.) The focus of this volume is Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, Song of Songs, Lamentations, Ruth and Esther. (Yes, we’ve defined our own category of “Writings,” different from the Ketuvim of the Hebrew Bible divisions. We did this based on the what seemed to work best for the series and our perception of what most of our audience wants in each volume.) Right now I calculate this volume will weigh in at around 960 pages. Currently I’m spending a lot of time on this project, putting articles through copyediting, moving them on to typesetting and then proofreading. For the next few months I hope to comment occasionally on aspects of this project as it comes together.
First, I’ve got to say that working closely with this project—rather than simply turning it over to other eyes and hands—is one of the things I value most about my job. While I no longer copyedit the articles, as I did in the early days, I do comb through the articles rather closely, sometimes when they arrive, always after copyediting and at least once at the page-proof stage. This ongoing project is “my baby.” I conceived of the initial volumes back in the late 80s, though I was not then sure that we’d see the series take on the entire canon. We’re shooting for nine volumes now—with prophets and OT background still to go. While over the years these volumes have inflicted many an early morning and weekend of work—I believe in it! I should add that working with the successive “editors of note” for these volumes has been a highlight of my career. In this case, Longman and Enns have been fun to work with and, more importantly, have brought a great deal of expertise to the project.
So what is happening in the DOTWPW world? Let’s take a look at an article I was reading (for the second time, at least) several days ago: “Editorial Criticism,” by Jamie Grant. “Editorial Criticism.” The title alone has got to make the blood surge for any editor worth his or her cold blue pencil! It reminds me of the eight-word response by Pete Enns when he read one of Tremper Longman's dictionary articles: "I read it. It stinks. Do it again." (That was a joke, by the way.) Actually, if you are on the inside loop, you know that the topic here is the detection of editorial work in the arrangement of and linkages within the books of Psalms and Proverbs in our literature. (Yes, that’s right. “David” didn’t climb atop a stool—harp in hand—in a dimly lit Jerusalem coffee house and breath into the mike, “I’m glad you all came out tonight. I’ve, uh, got a few songs here that have really meant a lot to me, . . . uh . . . really just come from my heart. And I, . . . uh . . . thought I’d share them with you. I know the order is a bit random, but I hope you don’t mind.”) Editorial criticism is a fascinating topic, not only for the clues it provides for understanding the message of these books but also for the ancient editorial craft evidenced in the long process of the production of the Hebrew Bible. We are talking here mostly about “macro editing,” the arrangement of the psalms in groupings and order, but some “micro editing” too. And, of course, this topic takes us right up to, and maybe across, the threshold of canonical criticism. A big name in “editorial criticism” of the Psalms is the late Gerald Wilson, who wrote his influential PhD dissertation under Brevard Childs and published it as The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter (Scholars Press, 1985).
Here is one interesting tidbit from the article to whet your appetite:
Why are Psalms 1—2 the only psalms without a superscription in Books I-III of the Psalter? Well, it seems that Psalms 1—2 were meant to be read and understood together as a joint introduction to the book of Psalms, an introduction that focuses on choosing a way of Torah-based devotion to Yahweh and absolute submission to his lordship. However, this double message is clearly heard only when we read these psalms in their canonical context.
Increasingly, scholars are becoming aware of the importance of context even within gathered anthological books such as Psalms and Proverbs. Not that psalms cease to function as individual units for interpretative purposes; it is rather that their context—where the psalm is found in the Psalter—impinges upon the interpretation of that individual unit. It can therefore be argued that individual compositions within the Psalter have limited interpretative autonomy: each psalm is a literary unit in its own right (akin to any pericope within a narrative text), but the meaning found in each unit is often nuanced or influenced by its near neighbors or the collection within which it resides. To read and understand a psalm properly, we must be aware of its setting within any subcollection of which it may be a part, within its book and, indeed, within the whole Psalter.
The article goes on to give some of the evidence of editorial linkage between Psalms 1 and 2. The article is a bit over 5,000 words and includes the editorial shaping of Proverbs. This article is a great example of what these dictionaries offer readers. A similar article in a traditional Bible dictionary or encyclopedia would have to cover the entire canon. Here, the article can go deeper and at greater length, focusing on a particular corpus of the Old Testament.
This is just a hint of the wealth of discussion you will find in the DOTWPW. With articles on the books themselves, their ANE background, their history of interpretation, the various critical issues, theological themes, clusters of imagery and a variety of literary features, this volume offers a rich and thick description of this slice of biblical literature.