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 ויבן י-הוה א-להים את הצלע אשר לקח מן האדם לאשה ויבאה אל האדם: ב:כג ויאמר האדם זאת הפעם עצם מעצמי ובשר מבשרי לזאת יקרא אשה כי מאיש לקחה זאת: ב:כד על כן יעזב איש את אביו ואת אמו ודבק באשתו והיו לבשר אחד: ב:כה ויהיו שניהם ערומים האדם ואשתו ולא יתבששו:
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.
Three Examples of Wiederaufnahme
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 וישלח יהושע את העם איש לנחלתו: פ כד:כט ויהי אחרי הדברים האלה וימת יהושע בן נון עבד י-הוה בן מאה ועשר שנים: כד:ל ויקברו אתו בגבול נחלתו בתמנת סרח אשר בהר אפרים מצפון להר געש: כד:לא ויעבד ישראל את י-הוה כל ימי יהושע וכל ימי הזקנים אשר האריכו ימים אחרי יהושע ואשר ידעו את כל מעשה י-הוה אשר עשה לישראל:
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 וישלח יהושע את העם וילכו בני ישראל איש לנחלתו לרשת את הארץ: ב:ז ויעבדו העם את י-הוה כל ימי יהושע וכל ימי הזקנים אשר האריכו ימים אחרי יהושוע אשר ראו את כל מעשה י-הוה הגדול אשר עשה לישראל: ב:ח וימת יהושע בן נון עבד י-הוה בן מאה ועשר שנים: ב:ט ויקברו אותו בגבול נחלתו בתמנת חרס בהר אפרים מצפון להר געש:
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 (ch. 37):
בראשית לז:כח ויעברו אנשים מדינים סחרים וימשכו ויעלו את יוסף מן הבור וימכרו את יוסף לישמעאלים בעשרים כסף ויביאו את יוסף מצרימה: …לז:לו והמדנים מכרו אתו אל מצרים לפוטיפר סריס פרעה שר הטבחים:
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:
לט:א ויוסף הורד מצרימה ויקנהו פוטיפר סריס פרעה שר הטבחים איש מצרי מיד הישמעאלים אשר הורדהו שמה:
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,
לז:לו והמדנים מכרו אתו אל מצרים לפוטיפר סריס פרעה שר הטבחים:
37:36 The Midianites sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, a courtier of Pharaoh and his chief steward,
and 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 וידבר י-הוה אל משה לאמר: ו:יא בא דבר אל פרעה מלך מצרים וישלח את בני ישראל מארצו: ו:יב וידבר משה לפני י-הוה לאמר הן בני ישראל לא שמעו אלי ואיך ישמעני פרעה ואני ערל שפתים:
Exod 6:10 The Lord 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 the Lord, 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 God 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:
ו:כו הוא אהרן ומשה אשר אמר י-הוה להם הוציאו את בני ישראל מארץ מצרים על צבאתם: ו:כז הם המדברים אל פרעה מלך מצרים להוציא את בני ישראל ממצרים הוא משה ואהרן:
6:26 It is the same Aaron and Moses to whom the Lord 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:
ו:כח ויהי ביום דבר י-הוה אל משה בארץ מצרים: פ ו:כט וידבר י-הוה אל משה לאמר אני י-הוה דבר אל פרעה מלך מצרים את כל אשר אני דבר אליך: ו:ל ויאמר משה לפני י-הוה הן אני ערל שפתים ואיך ישמע אלי פרעה:
6:28 For when the Lord spoke to Moses in the land of Egypt 6:29 and the Lord said to Moses, “I am the Lord; speak to Pharaoh king of Egypt all that I will tell you,” 6:30 Moses appealed to the Lord, 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 already realized that this was a Wiederaufnahme, though they did not have recourse to this technical term. Rashi, for instance, writes:
(ל) 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 וירדפו מצרים ויבאו אחריהם כל סוס פרעה רכבו ופרשיו אל תוך הים: יד:כד ויהי באשמרת הבקר וישקף י-הוה אל מחנה מצרים בעמוד אש וענן ויהם את מחנה מצרים: יד:כה ויסר את אפן מרכבתיו וינהגהו בכבדת ויאמר מצרים אנוסה מפני ישראל כי י-הוה נלחם להם במצרים: פ יד:כו ויאמר י-הוה אל משה נטה את ידך על הים וישבו המים על מצרים על רכבו ועל פרשיו: יד:כז ויט משה את ידו על הים וישב הים לפנות בקר לאיתנו ומצרים נסים לקראתו וינער י-הוה את מצרים בתוך הים: יד:כח וישבו המים ויכסו את הרכב ואת הפרשים לכל חיל פרעה הבאים אחריהם בים לא נשאר בהם עד אחד:
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, the Lord 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 the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.” 14:26 Then the Lord 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 the Lord 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 vv. are framed by a repetitive resumption in vv. 22 and 29:
יד:כב ויבאו בני ישראל בתוך הים ביבשה והמים להם חומה מימינם ומשמאלם: … יד:כט ובני ישראל הלכו ביבשה בתוך הים והמים להם חמה מימינם ומשמאלם:
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
September 23, 2019
Dr. Rabbi Zev Farber is a fellow at Project TABS and editor of TheTorah.com. He holds a Ph.D. from Emory University in Jewish Religious Cultures (Hebrew Bible focus) and an M.A. from Hebrew University in Jewish History (biblical period focus). In addition to academic training, Zev holds 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, BZAW 457) and the editor of Halakhic Realities: Collected Essays on Brain Death (Maggid).
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