The Resumptive Repetition (Wiederaufnahme)
Scribal Practices Then and Now
When we now write books or articles, we give a lot of thought to formatting. If we wish to add references, we use footnotes or endnotes. If we want to add parenthetical remarks, we put the remarks in parentheses or between em dashes. If we wish to include a long quote, we indent it. We have other ways of communicating messages through formatting as well; we can change font style or letter size, we can use outline forms or bullet points, we can color code; nowadays we can even hyperlink. For the ancient scribe, whether writing an original work or copying over an earlier one, none of these methods were available. In general, a scribe was expected to produce an attractive scroll, all in one hand and in one format.
How could a scribe include a parenthetical remark? He would have little choice but to write it in and hope that the readers are not confused. For example, the famous parenthetical remark about marriage in the Adam and Eve story is narrated in a way that it does not distract readers from the main story line; nevertheless, in translation, it is best inserted in parentheses, which did not exist in the biblical period:
בראשית ב:כב וַיִּבֶן יְ־הוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶת הַצֵּלָע אֲשֶׁר לָקַח מִן הָאָדָם לְאִשָּׁה וַיְבִאֶהָ אֶל הָאָדָם: ב:כג וַיֹּאמֶר הָאָדָם זֹאת הַפַּעַם עֶצֶם מֵעֲצָמַי וּבָשָׂר מִבְּשָׂרִי לְזֹאת יִקָּרֵא אִשָּׁה כִּי מֵאִישׁ לֻקֳחָה זֹּאת: ב:כד עַל כֵּן יַעֲזָב אִישׁ אֶת אָבִיו וְאֶת אִמּוֹ וְדָבַק בְּאִשְׁתּוֹ וְהָיוּ לְבָשָׂר אֶחָד: ב:כה וַיִּהְיוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם עֲרוּמִּים הָאָדָם וְאִשְׁתּוֹ וְלֹא יִתְבֹּשָׁשׁוּ:
Genesis 2:22 And the Lord God fashioned the rib that He had taken from the man into a woman; and He brought her to the man. 2:23 Then the man said, “This one at last Is bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh. This one shall be called Woman, For from man was she taken.” (2:24 Hence a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, so that they become one flesh.) 2:25 The two of them were naked, the man and his wife, yet they felt no shame.
In this passage, the author or editor wishes to tie marriage, a phenomenon well-known to the reader, to the Adam and Eve story, perhaps even suggesting that men marry women because they are searching for their lost rib – to paraphrase the famous line of Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello) in Moonstruck. The author/editor wishes to make this point. Having made it, he jumps right back into the main story: Adam and Eve are naked but unaware of the significance of this.
What is a Resumptive Repetition?
What is an author or editor to do, however, if he wishes to include a long parenthetical remark, or note, or supplementary source? How is the reader going to be able to jump back into the main story line once this is done? How does the scribe keep the reader from getting lost? Enter the ancient scribal technique of Weideraufnahme, also called a resumptive repetition or epanalepsis.
Simply put, after including the note, parenthetical remark or supplementary source, the ancient scribe would restate or paraphrase the last point in the narrative before the extra piece was added. It functioned similar to the stock subtitle “meanwhile back in the ranch” from silent westerns. It would remind the readers what happened last, which the narrative that follows is continuing. (In truth, the technique was even used after some relatively short insertions; length of the insertion is important, but not the only or main criterion.) The repeated passage in the Wiederaufnahme is not narrating something new, but is a restatement of something that was already narrated. We will look at three examples.
Example 1 – Did Joshua Die Twice?
Perhaps the most striking example of this technique occurs with the death of Joshua. The end of the book of Joshua (ch. 24) reads:
יהושע כד:כח וַיְשַׁלַּח יְהוֹשֻׁעַ אֶת הָעָם אִישׁ לְנַחֲלָתוֹ: פ כד:כט וַיְהִי אַחֲרֵי הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה וַיָּמָת יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן נוּן עֶבֶד יְ־הוָה בֶּן מֵאָה וָעֶשֶׂר שָׁנִים: כד:ל וַיִּקְבְּרוּ אֹתוֹ בִּגְבוּל נַחֲלָתוֹ בְּתִמְנַת סֶרַח אֲשֶׁר בְּהַר אֶפְרָיִם מִצְּפוֹן לְהַר גָּעַשׁ: כד:לא וַיַּעֲבֹד יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת יְ־הוָה כֹּל יְמֵי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ וְכֹל יְמֵי הַזְּקֵנִים אֲשֶׁר הֶאֱרִיכוּ יָמִים אַחֲרֵי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ וַאֲשֶׁר יָדְעוּ אֵת כָּל מַעֲשֵׂה יְ־הוָה אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל:
Josh 24:28 Joshua dismissed the people to their allotted portions. 24:29 After these events, Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of one hundred and ten years. 24:30 They buried him on his own property, at Timnath-serah in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. 24:31 Israel served the Lord during the lifetime of Joshua and the lifetime of the elders who lived on after Joshua, and who had experienced all the deeds that the Lord had wrought for Israel.
After this, the book concludes with the burial of Joseph and Elazar. Then the book of Judges opens, “after the death of Joshua,” and describes a number of conquests and failed conquests by various tribes. Then it describes an Angel of the Lord accusing the people of breaking the covenant, after which everybody cries. The text then reads:
שופטים ב:ו וַיְשַׁלַּח יְהוֹשֻׁעַ אֶת הָעָם וַיֵּלְכוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אִישׁ לְנַחֲלָתוֹ לָרֶשֶׁת אֶת הָאָרֶץ: ב:ז וַיַּעַבְדוּ הָעָם אֶת יְ־הוָה כֹּל יְמֵי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ וְכֹל יְמֵי הַזְּקֵנִים אֲשֶׁר הֶאֱרִיכוּ יָמִים אַחֲרֵי יְהוֹשׁוּעַ אֲשֶׁר רָאוּ אֵת כָּל מַעֲשֵׂה יְ־הוָה הַגָּדוֹל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל: ב:ח וַיָּמָת יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן נוּן עֶבֶד יְ־הוָה בֶּן מֵאָה וָעֶשֶׂר שָׁנִים: ב:ט וַיִּקְבְּרוּ אוֹתוֹ בִּגְבוּל נַחֲלָתוֹ בְּתִמְנַת חֶרֶס בְּהַר אֶפְרָיִם מִצְּפוֹן לְהַר גָּעַשׁ:
Judg 2:6 Joshua dismissed the people and the Israelites went to their allotted territories and took possession of the land. 2:7 The people served the Lord during the lifetime of Joshua and the lifetime of the older people who lived on after Joshua and who had witnessed all the marvelous deeds that the Lord had wrought for Israel. 2:8 Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of one hundred and ten years, 2:9 and was buried on his own property, at Timnath-heres in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.
Did Joshua die twice? Did he send the people away twice? Was he buried in his city twice? The answer seems to be that the book of Judges proper begins in Judge 2:10 and that everything between the first mention of Joshua’s death and the second mention of his death is a supplement. So as not to confuse the ancient reader—and confusing the modern reader in the process!—the scribe virtually repeats the death notice so that the framing of the book of Judges would be as it was, suggesting that the intervening material be read as an aside.
Example 2 – How Many Times was Joseph sold to Egypt?
Another telling example comes from the Joseph story. After Joseph’s brothers throw him into the pit, the Torah records the following:
בראשית לז:כח וַיַּעַבְרוּ אֲנָשִׁים מִדְיָנִים סֹחֲרִים וַיִּמְשְׁכוּ וַיַּעֲלוּ אֶת יוֹסֵף מִן הַבּוֹר וַיִּמְכְּרוּ אֶת יוֹסֵף לַיִּשְׁמְעֵאלִים בְּעֶשְׂרִים כָּסֶף וַיָּבִיאוּ אֶת יוֹסֵף מִצְרָיְמָה: …לז:לו וְהַמְּדָנִים מָכְרוּ אֹתוֹ אֶל מִצְרָיִם לְפוֹטִיפַר סְרִיס פַּרְעֹה שַׂר הַטַּבָּחִים:
Gen 37:28 When Midianite traders passed by, they pulled Joseph up out of the pit. They sold Joseph for twenty pieces of silver to the Ishmaelites, who brought Joseph to Egypt. …37:36 The Midianites sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, a courtier of Pharaoh and his chief steward.
The story of Judah and Tamar in ch. 38, which follows upon the story of Joseph’s sale discussed above, brings the reader far from the story of Joseph and his brothers and focuses on a specific set of incidents in Judah’s family. Nevertheless, Judah is not the main character in the Joseph saga, and the weight of the story will focus on Joseph’s experiences in Egypt. So, to bring the reader back to the main narrative, after the tangent of the Judah and Tamar story, ch. 39 begins with this verse:
בראשית לט:א וְיוֹסֵף הוּרַד מִצְרָיְמָה וַיִּקְנֵהוּ פּוֹטִיפַר סְרִיס פַּרְעֹה שַׂר הַטַּבָּחִים אִישׁ מִצְרִי מִיַּד הַיִּשְׁמְעֵאלִים אֲשֶׁר הוֹרִדֻהוּ שָׁמָּה:
Exod 39:1 And Joseph was taken down to Egypt, and a certain Egyptian, Potiphar, a courtier of Pharaoh and his chief steward, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him there.
This rephrases the last verse of ch. 37,
בראשית לז:לו וְהַמְּדָנִים מָכְרוּ אֹתוֹ אֶל מִצְרָיִם לְפוֹטִיפַר סְרִיס פַּרְעֹה שַׂר הַטַּבָּחִים:
Exod 37:36 The Midianites sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, a courtier of Pharaoh and his chief steward,
This is a classic example of a Wiederaufnahme.
Example 3 – Moses tells God about his Uncircumcised Lips: Déjà vu?
Perhaps the best and clearest example of Wiederaufnahme appears in this week’s parashah (Vaeira). In chapter 6, verse 2, God introduces Moses to his name YHWH. After his first speech, God goes on the tell Moses to speak to Pharaoh.
שמות ו:י וַיְדַבֵּר יְ־הוָה אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר: ו:יא בֹּא דַבֵּר אֶל פַּרְעֹה מֶלֶךְ מִצְרָיִם וִישַׁלַּח אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאַרְצוֹ: ו:יב וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה לִפְנֵי יְ־הוָה לֵאמֹר הֵן בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא שָׁמְעוּ אֵלַי וְאֵיךְ יִשְׁמָעֵנִי פַרְעֹה וַאֲנִי עֲרַל שְׂפָתָיִם:
Exod 6:10 YHWH spoke to Moses, saying, 6:11 “Go and tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the Israelites depart from his land.” 6:12 But Moses appealed to YHWH, saying, “The Israelites would not listen to me; how then should Pharaoh heed me, a man of impeded speech!”
At this point, the Torah says that YHWH commanded Moses and Aaron to speak to the people and Pharaoh. This leads into a genealogical list of the first three tribes of Israel: Reuben, Simeon and Levi. At the end of the list of Levi’s descendants, the Torah makes clear why the genealogy appears here:
שמות ו:כו הוּא אַהֲרֹן וּמֹשֶׁה אֲשֶׁר אָמַר יְ־הוָה לָהֶם הוֹצִיאוּ אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם עַל צִבְאֹתָם: ו:כז הֵם הַמְדַבְּרִים אֶל פַּרְעֹה מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם לְהוֹצִיא אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מִמִּצְרָיִם הוּא מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן:
Exod 6:26 It is the same Aaron and Moses to whom YHWH said, “Bring forth the Israelites from the land of Egypt, troop by troop.” 6:27 It was they who spoke to Pharaoh king of Egypt to free the Israelites from the Egyptians; these are the same Moses and Aaron.
This note makes it clear that the genealogy was added here in order to give the readers context about who exactly Moses and Aaron were, and how they fit into the Israelites as a whole. (This also explains why the genealogy ends with Levi.)
The genealogy, however, is rather long (vv. 14-27) and the reader may, understandably, have lost the thread of the story. Hence, unsurprisingly, the following passage follows:
שמות ו:כח וַיְהִי בְּיוֹם דִּבֶּר יְ־הוָה אֶל מֹשֶׁה בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם: ו:כט וַיְדַבֵּר יְ־הוָה אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר אֲנִי יְ־הוָה דַּבֵּר אֶל פַּרְעֹה מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי דֹּבֵר אֵלֶיךָ: ו:ל וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה לִפְנֵי יְ־הוָה הֵן אֲנִי עֲרַל שְׂפָתַיִם וְאֵיךְ יִשְׁמַע אֵלַי פַּרְעֹה:
Exod 6:28 For when YHWH spoke to Moses in the land of Egypt 6:29 and YHWH said to Moses, “I am the Lord; speak to Pharaoh king of Egypt all that I will tell you,” 6:30 Moses appealed to YHWH, saying, “See, I am of impeded speech; how then should Pharaoh heed me!”
This is the same dialogue God had with Moses in vv. 10-12! Did they have this exact discussion again? R. Tuvia ben Eliezer (Lekach Tov), R. Menachem ben Shlomo (Midrash Sechel Tov), R. Abraham ibn Ezra, and R. Bahya ben Asher think that they did, and they try to explain why it is that Moses would repeat the exact same claim three times (the first was in chapter 4). However, many of the classical meforshim (commentators) already realized that this was a Wiederaufnahme, though they did not have recourse to this technical term. Rashi, for instance, writes:
ויאמר משה לפני ה’ – היא האמירה שאמר למעלה (פסוק יב) הן בני ישראל לא שמעו אלי, ושנה הכתוב כאן כיון שהפסיק הענין, וכך היא השיטה כאדם האומר נחזור על הראשונות:
Moses appealed to the Lord – this is the same statement he made above (v. 12), “But the Children of Israel will not listen to me.” Scripture repeats it here because there was a break, and this is a [writing] technique, like a person who says “let’s go back to an earlier point.”
This interpretation is echoed by Rashbam and Chizkuni and makes much more sense in context. One couldn’t have wished for a more classic example of Wiederaufnahme—on this point classical and academic scholars alike can find agreement.
Some Concluding Reflections
by Prof. Marc Brettler
The Bible is full of repetitive resumptions, and no one has yet catalogued all of them. Furthermore, it is often unclear if the material between the repeated verse or phrase is primary or editorial, namely if it was an original aside composed by the original author, or an aside added by a later scribe. One example that is likely an original aside is found in the narrative about Israel escaping from Egypt and fleeing to the Reed Sea in Exodus 14. The focus of that story, not surprisingly, is on the Israelites, but it does contain one aside about the Egyptians, in vv. 23-28:
שמות יד:כג וַיִּרְדְּפוּ מִצְרַיִם וַיָּבֹאוּ אַחֲרֵיהֶם כֹּל סוּס פַּרְעֹה רִכְבּוֹ וּפָרָשָׁיו אֶל תּוֹךְ הַיָּם: יד:כד וַיְהִי בְּאַשְׁמֹרֶת הַבֹּקֶר וַיַּשְׁקֵף יְ־הוָה אֶל מַחֲנֵה מִצְרַיִם בְּעַמּוּד אֵשׁ וְעָנָן וַיָּהָם אֵת מַחֲנֵה מִצְרָיִם: יד:כה וַיָּסַר אֵת אֹפַן מַרְכְּבֹתָיו וַיְנַהֲגֵהוּ בִּכְבֵדֻת וַיֹּאמֶר מִצְרַיִם אָנוּסָה מִפְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כִּי יְ־הוָה נִלְחָם לָהֶם בְּמִצְרָיִם: יד:כו וַיֹּאמֶר יְ־הוָה אֶל מֹשֶׁה נְטֵה אֶת יָדְךָ עַל הַיָּם וְיָשֻׁבוּ הַמַּיִם עַל מִצְרַיִם עַל רִכְבּוֹ וְעַל פָּרָשָׁיו: יד:כז וַיֵּט מֹשֶׁה אֶת יָדוֹ עַל הַיָּם וַיָּשָׁב הַיָּם לִפְנוֹת בֹּקֶר לְאֵיתָנוֹ וּמִצְרַיִם נָסִים לִקְרָאתוֹ וַיְנַעֵר יְ־הוָה אֶת מִצְרַיִם בְּתוֹךְ הַיָּם: יד:כח וַיָּשֻׁבוּ הַמַּיִם וַיְכַסּוּ אֶת הָרֶכֶב וְאֶת הַפָּרָשִׁים לְכֹל חֵיל פַּרְעֹה הַבָּאִים אַחֲרֵיהֶם בַּיָּם לֹא נִשְׁאַר בָּהֶם עַד אֶחָד:
Exod 14:23 The Egyptians came in pursuit after them into the sea, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and horsemen. 14:24 At the morning watch, YHWH looked down upon the Egyptian army from a pillar of fire and cloud, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. 14:25 He locked the wheels of their chariots so that they moved forward with difficulty. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for YHWH is fighting for them against Egypt.” 14:26 Then YHWH said to Moses, “Hold out your arm over the sea, that the waters may come back upon the Egyptians and upon their chariots and upon their horsemen.” 14:27 Moses held out his arm over the sea, and at daybreak the sea returned to its normal state, and the Egyptians fled at its approach. But YHWH hurled the Egyptians into the sea. 14:28 The waters turned back and covered the chariots and the horsemen— Pharaoh’s entire army that followed them into the sea; not one of them remained.
These verses are framed by a repetitive resumption in vv. 22 and 29:
שמות יד:כב וַיָּבֹאוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּתוֹךְ הַיָּם בַּיַּבָּשָׁה וְהַמַּיִם לָהֶם חוֹמָה מִימִינָם וּמִשְּׂמֹאלָם: … יד:כט וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הָלְכוּ בַיַּבָּשָׁה בְּתוֹךְ הַיָּם וְהַמַּיִם לָהֶם חֹמָה מִימִינָם וּמִשְּׂמֹאלָם:
Exod 14:22 And the Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left… 14:29 And the Israelites marched through the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.
Here, the repetitive resumption is likely original, and highlights that at exactly the same time that Israel, the focus of the story, was fleeing, the Egyptians chased after them. Thus, when presented with repetitions in narrative contexts, the interpreter has three choices:
- They might form a repetitive resumption, marking the intervening material as secondary.
- They might form a repetitive resumption, marking the intervening material as parenthetical in nature, though by the same author as the surrounding verses.
- They might form a refrain, for emphasis.
Modern scholars often debate which is these three functions are implied by repetitions, but it is important for modern readers of the Bible to note such repetitions, which can function as the modern equivalent of parentheses; they often aid in interpreting difficult repetitive passages.
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December 24, 2013
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Dr. Rabbi Zev Farber is the Senior Editor of TheTorah.com, and a Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute's Kogod Center. He holds a Ph.D. from Emory University in Jewish Religious Cultures and Hebrew Bible, an M.A. from Hebrew University in Jewish History (biblical period), as well as ordination (yoreh yoreh) and advanced ordination (yadin yadin) from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) Rabbinical School. He is the author of Images of Joshua in the Bible and their Reception (De Gruyter 2016) and editor (with Jacob L. Wright) of Archaeology and History of Eighth Century Judah (SBL 2018).
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