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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

versão On-line ISSN 2224-7912
versão impressa ISSN 0041-4751


SNYMAN, SD (Fanie). A critical evaluation of the contribution of (Prof.) WS Prinsloo to the study of the Old Testament. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2022, vol.62, n.4, pp.853-866. ISSN 2224-7912.

This year marks 25 years since the untimely passing away of Prof. Willem Sterrenberg Prinsloo, the well-known Old Testament scholar and former dean of the Faculty of Theology at the University of Pretoria. It is thus an appropriate time to take stock of the legacy he had left behind and to endeavour a critical evaluation of his work. There is little doubt that Prinsloo exercised a tremendous influence on at least a generation of theological students who studied the Old Testament as part of their theological training. He also played an important part in a crucial stage in the academic study of the Old Testament in South Africa, especially during the last twenty years of the twentieth century. The problem addressed in this contribution is to provide the reader with a critical assessment of the contribution of Prinsloo to the study of the Old Testament. How Prinsloo's contribution to the study of the Old Testament may be evaluated is the central question asked in this article. The method followed in achieving this goal is to start by giving a brief overview of Prinsloo's career as a student and pastor in a local congregation before commencing an academic career as a staff member in the Department of Old Testament at the University of Pretoria. Secondly, a brief overview is given of the historical environment of Old Testament studies that coincided with Prinsloo's academic career. Prinsloo focused mainly on the psalms and consequently this investigation will especially concern itself with his publications on the psalms. However, his views on exegesis and the exegetical method he proposed will also be consulted. Lastly, a few conclusions are drawn in order to attempt an assessment of his contribution to Old Testament studies. The last three decades of the twentieth century were characterised by a close scrutiny of exegetical method. Whereas historical-critical methods focused on the development texts had undergone in the course of time, emphasis was now placed on texts in their so-called final form, irrespective of how these texts may have changed over time. Terms such as structural analysis, discourse analysis, text-immanent exegesis, diachronic or synchronic exegesis and surface structure vis-à-vis deep structure became part of the technical vocabulary scholars were using in the discussions regarding the topic of the exegesis of the Old Testament. It is within this context that Prinsloo developed his peculiar form of text-immanent exegesis. Although he acknowledges the value and achievements of historical-critical exegesis, he is quick to point out the fallacies and weaknesses of this method of exegesis. The main point of his criticism against historical-critical approaches to the Old Testament is that a study of the supposed changes to which texts had been subjected in the course of time resulted in a fragmentation of the text. The major advantage of text-immanent exegesis is the emphasis on the text in its final form. An important characteristic of Prinsloo's text-immanent exegesis is to apply a rigid sequence of exegetical steps. These steps start with the proper demarcation of a text, followed by text-critical considerations. The third step is an important one, which involves subjecting the text to a structural analysis. A basic point of departure in exegesis is that meaningful communication can only happen when language is used in a structured way. An analysis to determine the structure of a demarcated text is thus ofvital importance to arrive at the meaning of a text. The next step consists of an enquiry into the literary genre (or Gattung as it is called in scholarly circles) and the "situation in life" (Sitz im Leben) of the text. An analysis of possible traditional material (creation, ancestors, Exodus, Sinai, wilderness, the land, Zion and David) constitutes the next step. The text is then subjected to a redactional scrutiny to determine whether additions had been added to the text. Given the fact that the text in its final form is the point of departure in Prinsloo's exegetical approach, it follows that possible additions (as in the penultimate step above) would receive scant attention. With all the information thus gathered from the investigation, the theological meaning of the text may next be formulated. The meticulous reading of and focus on a demarcated text may be regarded as the most important legacy of Prinsloo's work. At the same time, this focus on a single text has a disadvantage as well. Texts cannot be studied by themselves in isolation of other texts surrounding them. This is also true of Prinsloo's focus on the individual psalm. Individual psalms also form groups of psalms and this aspect is neglected in his approach. A second point of criticism is the strict methodology at the core of his structured enquiry that had to be followed in the proposed exegesis. Method is important, but a rigid methodology where even the sequence of exegetical steps may not be changed, cannot be maintained any longer. Rather than a rigid focus on method, exegetes nowadays prefer to use the term "approach" to describe their exegetical method. A devaluation of the historical dimension of Old Testament texts is another point of criticism that may be raised against Prinsloo's text-immanent exegesis. Although Prinsloo is aware of the importance of the historical dimension of Old Testament texts, in practice hardly any evidence of attention to historical aspects may be discerned when scrutinising the manner in which an exegesis of a psalm is carried out by him. By contrast, Old Testament scholars nowadays agree that text and historical reality cannot be separated and that the historical dimension of an ancient text, such as the Old Testament, plays a vital and indispensable part in any endeavour to understand the text. Prinsloo displays a strange dualistic view on historical-critical methods of exegesis. On the one hand, he is highly appreciative of the achievements of historical-critical approaches to the Old Testament, while, on the other, he is simultaneously highly critical of historical-critical exegesis. His main accusations are that historical-critical exegesis is positivistic, evolutionistic and atomistic. Text-immanent exegetical approaches themselves are, however, not free from positivism -Prinsloo's emphasis on objectivity being a case in point. In addition, Prinsloo'spolemic style is another point of criticism that may be raised. He does not shy away from entering into a critical debate with colleagues and he is known for his highly critical remarks on the untenable results of historical-critical exegesis. The question can be asked whether this highly critical attitude to historical-critical exegesis is appropriate in scholarly debate. Furthermore, it may also be asked why only historical-critical methods are targeted, while other exegetical methods are also practised. Despite these critical remarks, Prinsloo will be honoured for having established a particular way of approaching a text, thereby ensuring a meticulous focus on the final text of the Old Testament.

Palavras-chave : exegetical method(s); historical critical exegesis; synchronic exegesis; structural analysis; text immanent reading; interpretation of the Old Testament.

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