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Journal: Obadiah’s ‘Day of the Lord’: A Semiotic Reading

Journal for the Study of the Old Testament
Vol 38.1 (2013): 109-124
© The Author(s), 2013. Reprints and Permissions: http://www.sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/0309089213492818

Obadiah’s ‘Day of the Lord’: A Semiotic Reading


Baylor University, One Bear Place #97284, Waco, TX 76798, USA


The semiotics of Yuri Lotman employs a theoretical contradiction. A symbol, by definition, must be both repeatable and unrepeatable within the same semiotic system. This paradox precludes the possibility of a perfectly static symbol in poetry. Every symbol, by nature of its syntagmatic axis, must develop as the surrounding semiotic system unfolds. This article demonstrates that when Lotmanian semiotics is applied to the poetry of Obadiah, it becomes evident that Obadiah’s use of ‘day originally appears to be two distinct symbols as determined by their differing syntagmatic values. Yet as the system develops, the apparently separate usages of the symbol are drawn together in a heightened state of tension before their fusion into a single unified sign for the day of the Lord’ within the system.

Keywords: Day of the Lord, Obadiah, Edom, Hebrew poetry, semiotics, Yuri Lotman.

1.  Introduction

The semiotics of Yuri Lotman has an unusual difficulty that could run the risk of ordinarily being discarded as a weakness of little value to the Hebrew scholar. The theory contains a self-identified contradiction

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between the necessitated multiple occurrences of a symbol in a semiotic system, and the unrepeatable character that symbol assumes in its unique utilization within a belletristic text.1 Though logical inconsistencies of this type may ordinarily ward off biblical scholars in search of new ways to look at old texts, I believe it is within this very contradiction that a benefit of Lotmanian semiotics lies for biblical scholars. The present study intends to survey the paradox of Yuri Lotman and the assistance it may yield for the study of Hebrew poetry. The conclusions drawn from this paradox will then be demonstrated in assessing the semiotic development of the ‘day of the Lord’ in the book of Obadiah.

2.  The Lotmanian Paradox

Yuri Lotman views language as a semiotic system. ‘Natural language’, as he calls it, becomes the primary sign system from which literature is constructed.2 Thus all literature, whether poetry or prose, should be approached as a semiotic system.3 Poetry in particular is developed as a secondary sign system imposed upon the natural language. The additional linguistic rules and constraints could ordinarily be expected to restrain the information-transmitting capacity of the language, but Lotman curiously observed that this was not the case. He found that poetry actually had the unique capacity to bear more information with the added linguistic rules. This observation eventually led Lotman to the publication of Analysis of the Poetic Text.4
Lotman observed that in poetry, the denotata of a symbol is deter- mined by two axes: the paradigmatic and the syntagmatic. That is to say, a word is properly defined within a poem by both its semantic domain in the natural language, and its linguistic ordering within the secondary modeling system of the poem.5 The nomenclature utilized in Hebrew poetics to explain this concept is more commonly drawn from Roman Jakobson’s  description  of  the  ‘axis  of  selection’  and  the  ‘axis  of

1.      Yuri Lotman admits this paradox in his discussion of the poem as a symbol in; see Yuri Lotman, Analysis of the Poetic Text (trans. Donald B Johnson; Ann Arbor, MI: Ardis, 1976), p. 114.
2.      Lotman, Analysis of the Poetic Text, p. 19.
3.      Lotman, Analysis of the Poetic Text, p. 17.
4.      Lotman, Analysis of the Poetic Text, p. 32.
5.      Lotman, Analysis of the Poetic Text, pp. 18-19.

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combination’.6 As a word is placed in a poetic system, its natural meaning is nuanced and adjusted by the systemic relationships it holds with the words and structures around it. Lotman supports this fact by observing how readers draw upon the contextual system of the poem to interpret pronouns and previously unknown vocabulary.7
It logically follows, therefore, that in poetry there is no such thing as true repetition. If a symbol is defined by both paradigmatics and syntag- matics, then the symbol may never truly be repeated within a poem. While a word may draw its meaning from the same paradigmatic value, it may never repeat the identical syntagmatic positioning within a poetic system.8 Thus the grapheme may be repeated, but the semiotic value it represents may never be perfectly identical to a previous or subsequent usage.
An example of this may be found in Obadiah. Obadiah exhibits what may be identified as several variations of repetition throughout the poem. Among these is the identical repetition of the phrase i1li1, C�J (‘declares the Lord’) in vv. 4 and 8. Strict repetition of this sort is often considered significant by commentators9 and occasionally labeled a poetic refrain.10 Yet Lotman would caution against reading v. 8’s i1li1, C�J as an exact duplicate of v. 4’s i1li1, C�J. Though drawing from identical paradigmatic values, these repeated phrases differ in their syntagmatic relationships.

6.      Adele Berlin and Michael O’Connor both utilize the terminology of Roman Jakobson; see Roman Jakobson, ‘Linguistics and Poetics, in Krystyna Pomorska and Stephen Rudy (eds.), Language in Literature (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1987), pp. 62-94 (71); Adele Berlin, The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, rev. and exp. edn, 2008), pp. 7, 11, 27, 32, 155; Michael O’Connor, Hebrew Verse Structure (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1980), p. 13.
7.      Lotman, Analysis of the Poetic Text, pp. 65, 85.
8.      Lotman, Analysis of the Poetic Text, p. 39.
9.      In addition to the structural purposes explored by Gillingham and O’Connor, repetitions and refrains are also suggested by Alonso Schökel to be a way of providing emphasis, or recalling/prolonging the communication of a message. This particular repeti- tion served as a guidepost for Paul Raabe’s structuring of Obadiah. See S. Gillingham, The Poems and Psalms of the Hebrew Bible (The Oxford Bible Series; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 196; O’Connor, Hebrew Verse Structure, p. 141; Luis Alonso Schökel, A Manual of Hebrew Poetics (trans. Adrian Graffy; Rome: Editrice pontificio Istituto biblico, 1988), p. 66; Paul R. Raabe, Obadiah: A New Translation with Intro- duction and Commentary (AB, 24D; New York: Doubleday, 1996), p. 18.
10.      Wilfred G.E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry: A Guide to its  Techniques
(JSOTSup, 26; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1986), p. 295.

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Though the syntagmatic differences emerge on many levels,11 Lotman’s theory necessitates a difference in the relationship i1li1, C�J has with its parallel occurrence. The two usages of i1li1, C�J form a system within which each one serves a different purpose. Verse 4s utilization is unprecedented in the poem. Verse 8’s employment of the phrase, by nature of being second, establishes a sequential relationship that remained previously unknown to the audience during the reading of verse 4. Every repetition necessitates at least a primary occurrence, and a secondary occurrence. The function of each repeated symbol is syntagmatically different in relation to its parallel occurrence. Thus the syntagmatic axis of i1li1, C�J shifts between the occurrences resulting in a different nuance of force and function.
Herein lies the logical inconsistency of Lotmans approach to semi- otics. A symbol may never truly be repeated in a belletristic text. Yet by definition, for a symbol to be a symbol it must be repeated enough within a semiotic system to establish a relationship between the signan and signatum.12 Lotman writes that ‘the text is a concrete expression of the system.13 Thus the primary means for understanding the secondary modeling system governing the syntagmatic coding of symbols within a poetic text is the poem itself. This approach to poetics necessitates an emphasis on the unity of the line, the stanza, and the poem as a whole.14 These units become key constituents in properly determining the denotata of a symbol within its system. Thus the symbol must repeat within these systems. Lotman writes, the resemblance of sign and object constitutes the minimal act of repetition’.15 A symbol by definition, therefore, may only be established by intra-systemic repetition, but may not be truly

11.      Verse 4 employs ‘declares the Lord’ at the close of the verse, closing the first stanza of divine speech promising divine action in vv. 2-4. Verses 5-7 comprise the second stanza engaging divine speech concerning human actions against Edom. Then, v. 8’s ‘declares the Lord’ opens a new stanza returning to divine speech promising the divine action introduced in the first stanza. These three stanzas are chiastically structured around the active agents carrying out judgment upon Edom. Each occurrence of ‘declares the Lord’ serves a very different purpose within its stanza and within the poem as a whole. Verse 4’s utilization of the speech formula serves as the apodosis to the preceding clause while v. 8’s occurrence is employed in conjunction with an interrogative clause.
12.      Roman Jakobson, ‘The Quest for the Essence of Language, in Pomorska and Rudy (eds.), Language in Literature, pp. 413-27.
13.      Lotman, Analysis of the Poetic Text, p. 120.
14.      Lotman, Analysis of the Poetic Text, pp. 91-94, 95, 114.
15.      Lotman, Analysis of the Poetic Text, p. 114.

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repeated within a poetic system. In short, a symbol must be both repeat- able and unrepeatable within the same semiotic system.
This conflict could at first glance be troubling for the biblical scholar. It may represent a portion of Lotman’s system that is in need of revision or softening prior to approaching a Hebrew poem. After all, the i1li1, C�J of Obadiah either functions as a symbol, or it does not. I propose that within this paradox, the student of the Hebrew Bible will find immense insight into the development of a semiotic system within poetry.
Instead of engaging the paradox as an ‘either/or contradiction, perhaps it could be approached as a ‘both/and’ tension. Thus the necessitated repetition and the unrepeatable nature of symbols become two sides of the same coin. Lotman observes that poetic structure emerges on numer- ous levels within the poem.16 The interaction between these levels yields either complementing or conflicting structural patterns.17 Lotman writes: ‘in a text a polylogue of different systems is constantly taking place; different modes of the explanation and systematization of the world, different pictures of the world, come into conflict. The poetic (belletristic) text is in principle polyphonic.18
This leads to two logical conclusions. First, there must be enough repetition from the paradigmatic and the syntagmatic axes of a word for the value of its semiotic usage to be established within a system. Second, as the poetic system unfolds and develops, the syntagmatic employment of a symbol will inevitably shift. The shift of the syntagmatic axis of a symbol within a poetic system will inevitably produce a shift in the nuance of the symbol’s denotata. Thus it can be expected that a symbol repeated within a poem will undergo development and change as the semiotic system defining its syntagmatic value develops around it. In short, there are no static symbols. Shifting semiotic values is necessitated by Lotman’s theory.
With these two conclusions in mind, the biblical scholar approaching Hebrew poetry as a semiotic system would look for several things. Not only would the scholar seek to identify the various systems of a poem interacting on the numerous linguistic levels. The scholar would also approach the poem as a developing unified system, and seek to under- stand how the unfolding system shapes and nuances the ever changing symbols employed within that system. The scholar could seek to track the

16.      Lotman, Analysis of the Poetic Text, pp. 46, 63, 68.
17.      Lotman, Analysis of the Poetic Text, p. 60.
18.      Lotman, Analysis of the Poetic Text, p. 109.

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growth and development of the poetic symbols. This approach to Hebrew poetry will now be demonstrated by exploring Obadiah’s use of the ‘day of the Lord’.

3.  The Semiotic Development of Obadiah’s ‘Day of the Lord’

Obadiah was written as a prophetic oracle against Edom for the sins they committed against the people of Judah. There is a fair amount of diversity in dating Obadiah. Most scholars understand the Edomite participation in the 587 BCE fall of Jerusalem as the occasion warranting Obadiahs accusations against Edom. Thus dates typically fall sometime in the exilic period.19 It is suspected that the oracle against Edom was occasioned by

19.      Some scholars, such as Young, Keil, Delitzsch and von Orelli, proposed an earlier date, suggesting this oracle could speak of an Edomite revolt against Jerusalem that occurred under the rule of King Jehoram in 850 BCE (2 Kgs 8.20-22; 2 Chron. 21.8-10). Cresson recognizes that this early dating could be supported by the lack of Aramaisms, references to the destruction of the temple and references to Nebuchadnezzar. Many scholars, however, believe the description of events found in Obadiah best fits the context of the fall of Jerusalem. This leads to two scholarly opinions concerning the date of composition. First, authors such as Wolff, Limburg, Cresson and Armerding suggest a two-staged composition history in which the first half of the poem originates in a pre- exilic environment and the second half of the poem develops in an exilic context in close temporal proximity to the fall of Jerusalem. The second opinion suggesting a unified composition in the exilic period is held by commentators such as Smith, Brown, Page and Renkema. Many scholars suggest a date of final composition to within close proximity of the 587 destruction of Jerusalem. William P. Brown, Obadiah through Malachi (Westminster Bible Companion; Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1996),
p. 7; Samuel Pagan, ‘The Book of Obadiah’, in The New Interpreter’s Bible. VII. The Twelve Prophets (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), pp. 433-60 (436); Bruce C. Cresson, ‘Obadiah’, in The Broadman Bible Commentary. VII. Hosea–Malachi (Nash- ville, TN: Broadman Press, 1972), pp. 142-51 (143-45); Hans Walter Wolff, Obadiah and Jonah: A Commentary (trans. Margaret Kohl; Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1986), p. 18; Carl
E. Armerding, Obadiah’, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. VII. Daniel—Minor Prophets (Grand Rapid: Zondervan, 1985), pp. 335-60; James Limburg, HoseaMicah (Interpretation; Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988), p. 127; Billy K. Smith and Franklin S. Page, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah (NAC, 19B; Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1995),
p. 172; Johan Renkema, Obadiah (trans. Brian Doyle; HCOT; Leuven: Peeters, 2003), pp. 29-36; Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament: The Twelve Minor Prophets (2 vols.; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1871), I,
p. 340; Edward J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament (repr., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), p. 260; Conrad von Orelli, The Twelve Minor Prophets (trans. J.S. Banks; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1893), pp. 156-58.

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Edom’s part in the siege and sacking of Jerusalem as well as seizing land from the former kingdom in its weakened state.20
There has also been a fair amount of scholarly diversity in deciphering the textual unity of Obadiah. Obadiah 1-8’s relationship with Jeremiah 49 indicates the likelihood of Obadiah’s employment of pre-existent prophetic material.21 This has led several scholars to suggest a multi- staged compositional development of the final text currently found in the Book of the Twelve.22 Though a redactional process is probable, the final form bears remarkable structural unity,23 indicating that the poem may still be read as a unified whole.24 Paul Raabe comments that the stylis- tic shifts often occasioning redactional hypotheses are characteristic of prophetic discourse, which is inclined toward shifts on all levels of language.25
By way of introduction, I divide Obadiah into seven stanzas, with v. 1 set apart both conceptually and grammatically as an introductory beckon- ing to the audience.26 Each stanza is semantically and grammatically linked to the preceding stanza, tightly binding the unity of the poem. Furthermore, each stanza conceptually builds upon the previous stanza in the development of the semiotic system. Though numerous symbols are

20.      1 Esd. 4.45 indicates Edomite participation in the burning of the temple. See also the arguments in Cresson, ‘Obadiah’, p. 144; Wolff, Obadiah and Jonah, p. 18; Armerding, ‘Obadiah, pp. 335-36, 337; Raabe, Obadiah, pp. 47-56.
21.      For further exploration, see Raabe, Obadiah, pp. 22-31.
22.      See Raabe and Allen for a full survey of redactional hypotheses: Raabe, Obadiah, pp. 14-18; Leslie C. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), pp. 129-36.
23.      Renkema, Obadiah, p. 38.
24.      Even if a redactional process were concluded, the poem would still lend itself to be read as a unified prophetic composition. The pre-existent material would still be inter- woven with the words of the final textual hand to create a unified product intended to speak to the redactor’s time and circumstances.
25.      Raabe, Obadiah, p. 17.
26.      Verse 1 employs the only reference to Edom in the feminine. Furthermore, it is the only place in the poem with speech from the envoy to the nations. This grammatically sets
v. 1 apart. The first stanza is composed of vv. 2-4 characterized by divine speech
concerning divine action. The second stanza entails vv. 5-7 in which the divine speech continues but shifts to human agency imagery. The third stanza returns to divine speech concerning divine action in vv. 8-9. The sins of Edom are recounted in the fourth stanza,
vv. 10-11. This recollection further develops into the highly structured sequential patterning of vv. 12-14 in the fifth stanza. The sixth stanza finally articulates the day of the Lord’ that the poem has been leading up to in vv. 15-18. The poem closes with the seventh stanza’s establishment of the kingdom of the Lord in vv. 19-21.

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employed in Obadiah, one of prime importance is the ‘day of the Lord’. The references (both direct and indirect) to the ‘day of the Lord’ occur frequently enough that the nuanced value of the symbol can be observed shifting throughout the course of the poem as its syntagmatic placement changes.
The paradigmatic value of the ‘day of the Lord’ can be drawn from its utilization in the natural language. Though the natural language of ancient Israel is largely lost to modern researchers, some of its paradigmatic value can be determined from literary and prophetic occurrences outside the poetic discourse in Obadiah. The ‘day of the Lord is directly referenced
by some combination of the words i1li1, Cl, over two dozen times in the
Old Testament.27 Scholars are not entirely sure when the concept devel- oped. Gerhard von Rad has suggested the tradition developed from holy war ritual in ancient Israel. This emerged from the image of God as a divine warrior who is the decisive force in battle.28 For this reason, many scholars believe the ‘day of the Lord was originally directed against other nations until Amos radical reappropriation of it against the northern kingdom of Israel.29
More frequently it occurs in prophetic literature in an abbreviated form of ‘the day’. This condensed expression is often used in oracles after the author has already begun describing the actions of God ‘in that day’.30 Scholars suspect this alternative expression became more popular during the post-exilic period after the tetragrammaton fell out of use.31 The ‘day of the Lord’ is referenced in this form over two hundred times.32 It can often be expressed along with the name of the target group (e.g. ‘the day of Midian’ in Isa. 9.4), or a description of what the day will be like (e.g. ‘the day of trouble in Ezek. 7.7).
References to the ‘day of the Lord’ are broadly used to describe a time in which God intervenes in human history (Isa. 13.6; Ezek. 13.5; Amos 5.18). More specifically, they often speak of divine judgment and vio- lence. Thus it frequently appears in oracles against the nations (such as

27.      Richard Hiers,Day of the Lord, in ABD, II, pp. 82-83.
28.      Gerhard von Rad, ‘Origin of the concept of the Day of Yahweh’, JSS 4.2 (1959):
29.      Hiers, ‘Day of the Lord.
30.      ‘Day of the Lord, in Leland Ryken et al. (eds.), Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), pp. 196-97.
31.      Dale C. Allison, ‘Day of the Lord’, in The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols.; Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2006), II, pp. 46-47.
32.      Hiers, ‘Day of the Lord.

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Obadiah). In addition to speaking of divine judgment, it also incorporates an element of divine justice in which the oppressed will be delivered (Hos. 2.21-22; Zech. 3.18-20; 9.15; 14.10-11; Mal. 4.4; Isa. 25.6; 29.17;
35.8-10; Zeph. 3.18-20).33 Sixty of the biblical references to the ‘day of the Lord’ involve some form of restoration of inheritance to Israel.34
The ‘day of the Lord’ does not begin to emerge semantically until the third stanza of Obadiah. Its centrality in the poem is prefigured in the first two stanzas. The poems first stanza (vv. 2-4) is composed of divine speech concerning the active divine agency in Edom’s coming judgment. The stanza opens with two parallel curses being proclaimed against Edom in the prophetic perfect.35 This promise of divine judgment is followed in
v. 3 by a statement concerning Edomite pride.36 Verse 4 then serves as a response, or resolution to the prideful questioning of the Edomite heart in
v. 3. In v. 3 Edom asks, Who will bring me down to the ground?’ In v. 4 the Lord responds, ‘from there I will bring you down’. The stanza ends with the previously mentioned i1li1, C�J. This stanza foreshadows the ‘day of the Lord’ in two ways. First, it asserts that Edom has lifted him- self up, and second, it declares that the time is coming when the Lord will bring him down.
The second stanza (vv. 5-7) opens with a reduplication of the structural parallel protasis C� clauses that closed the first stanza. This provides a clear structural link between the two stanzas. The notable shift between the first and second stanzas is the active judgment agent. In the first stanza, the Lord was the active agent carrying out judgment on Edom. In the second stanza, the active party becomes human agents. Verse 5 employs the metaphor of the thief and the grape-gatherer, to demonstrate

33.      Ryken et al. (eds.), ‘Day of the Lord’, II, pp. 196-97.
34.      Hiers, ‘Day of the Lord.
35.      In each parallel, the effect of the curse (‘small’ and ‘despised’) emphatically occurs at the beginning of the phrase. These have been identified by Douglas Stuart as a curse of decimation (C,lUJ ,nnJ ��p, ‘I will make you small among the nations’) and a curse of degradation (1�r. i1n ,lTJ, you [will be] greatly despised). See Douglas Stuart, Hosea–Jonah (WBC, 31; Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987), p. 417.
36.      The verse may be divided into a tri-cola structure with clear intra-colon parallelism in colon B. The first half of the colon, .iJL1 ,lUnJ ,J:::iL, ‘living in the clefts of the rock’, thus inversely parallels lnJiL Cl1r., ‘the seat of your height, with the verbal participle
,J:::iL functioning as a gapped verb between the phrases. .iJLC, ‘rock’, is of course a word- play on the Edomite capital city. Excavations of the natural fortress have been published
by William Morton. See Pagan, ‘The Book of Obadiah, p. 447; Cresson, ‘Obadiah’,
p. 147; William Hardy Morton, Umm el-Biyara, BA 19, no. 2 (1956), pp. 26-36.

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that each leaves something behind. Verse 6 then introduces Edom in contrast to this metaphor expressing that nothing will be left behind from Edom. Verse 7 has no shortage of fascinating problems and peculiarities that are beyond the purpose of the present study. It is sufficient to say that
v. 7 closes the second stanza articulating the betrayal and infliction Edom will receive from their allies.37 Once again, a coming judgment is foreshadowed in this stanza.

37.       The first two lines of this tri-cola verse are relatively clear. The parallel sequential relationships emerge on semantic, lexical, and grammatical levels. The problem is the third line of the verse. Two enigmas preclude a clear translation. The first is the verse’s opening ‘to your bread. Several proposed emendations have been suggested to remedy the peculiarity. Pagan describes this as an uncertain idiom. Allen revocalizes the con- sonantal text to imply ‘those who eat bread with you’ thus reaching a semantic equivalent of your guests’. This reading has support from the LXX, Targums, Vulgate and Sym- machus. Wolff similarly renders it your friends’. Stuart revocalizes the text to read ‘comrades’ based on the verb ‘to fight’. Prince likewise reads ‘those at war with thee. The NEB produces a unique translation of your own kith and kin, which Davies presumes is based upon an Arabic cognate laf:tmun influencing an understanding of the Hebrew
 r.nL to mean meat, flesh’. Davies provides an argument against such a reading and
rather proposes that a word has been lost from the text he proposes inserting lof:tam ê. The relationship of r.nL to the rest of the line can be elucidated by its syntagmatic rela- tionships with the rest of the verse. The first two lines are comprised of two essential elements: a description of what will be inflicted upon Edom and a description of the men who will do the inflicting, described in terms of their close relationship to Edom. If the third line is considered part of this parallel, then we can expect to see these two elements. The first element is readily perceived in colon B of the final line. Thus the word  r.nL would have to serve as a description of the active agent in relation to Edom. The relational element is included in the second person pronominal suffix. What is missing is the ,iLJ of the first two lines. If ,iLJ is read preceding r.nL, then it would not only fit the parallel, but also read men of your bread’, which is far more  intelligible than the current rendering. The present lack of ,iLJ in the Masoretic text could be attributed to a scribal error, or more likely to the simple practice of poetic gapping. The verse therefore reads, ‘To the border they have driven you, all the men of your covenant. They have had power, they deceived you, your men of peace. [Men of your] bread, they placed a trap beneath you. There is no understanding of it.’
The second problem is the hapax legomenon 1lTr.. The matter has been confused by the
presence of a homonym in Jer 30.13 and Hos. 5.13. The word employed in these verses means ‘to wound’. Such a reading is notably difficult to reconcile with the juxtaposed
 ,nnn, ‘under you’, in Obad. 7. Several scholars rather relate the word to a Post-biblical
Hebrew root 1Tr., meaning ‘to twist, weave, or cover’. From this root the meaning of ‘a
trap’ may be acquired.                                                                                                    For further arguments, see Pagan, ‘The Book of Obadiah, p. 446; Allen, The Books of
Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah, p. 150; Armerding, ‘Obadiah, p. 346; Wolff, Obadiah
and Jonah, p. 35; Stuart, Hosea–Jonah, pp. 411-12; John Dyneley Prince, ‘The Word

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It is in the third stanza (vv. 8-9) that the ‘day of the Lord’ makes its first semantic appearance. Stanza three opens with the interrogative lLi1 clause linking it with the previous stanza. Verse 8 opens with, “Will not on that day, declares the Lord…’ As was previously discussed, the abbreviated Cl,J often serves as a contracted representation of the ‘day of the Lord’. This symbol is then nuanced by its syntagmatic employ- ment in the secondary modeling system of Obadiah’s poetic discourse. The occurrence of �li1i1 Cl,J is followed by two parallel constructions nuancing how this day is being utilized. Verses 8 and 9 read: ‘I will destroy the wise from Edom, and [I will destroy] understanding from Mount Esau. Your warriors shall be shattered, Teman, in order that [every] man will be cut off from Mount Esau, from slaughter.’ This day is now directly introduced as a symbolic representation of the coming divine judgment against Edom. The ‘day is Edoms, and it belongs to the future. This is the first utilization of the Cl,J symbol in Obadiah.
The fourth stanza (vv. 10-11) contains two additional usages of Cl,J. Though the abbreviated symbol is being repeated, the syntagmatic shifts surrounding each utilization reveal a change in the nuancing of the symbol. Stanza threes Cl,J was juxtaposed to the prophetic perfect empowered by divine agency indicating a future oriented event. Stanza four, however, opens with a description of the violence Edom committed against their brother Jacob.38 Edom becomes the active agent. The pro- phetic perfect ceases and the verbs suddenly express past completed action. Verse 11 then specifies Edoms crimes against Jacob ‘in that day’. The temporal nuance of the symbol has shifted. Whereas the first appearance directly addressed a future destruction of Edom, the second and third occurrences of the symbol reflect a past destruction of Jacob.

MZWR in Obadiah 7’, JBL 16 (1897), pp. 176-77; Graham I. Davies, ‘New Solution to a Crux in Obadiah 7’, VT 27 (1977), pp. 484-87; L.H. Brockington, The Hebrew Text of the Old Testament: The Readings Adopted by the Translators of the New English Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973), p. 254; Prince, ‘The Word MZWR in Obadiah 7’, p. 16.
38.      Fishbane and Wolff both explore the semantic domain of ‘brother’, concluding that it may refer to both familial and political relationships. Anderson notes that this verse is ironically reversed in vv. 11 and 18. Krause links this wording with Genesis’ descrip- tion of Esau’s intent to kill Jacob. See Bradford A. Anderson, ‘Poetic Justice in Obadiah’, JSOT 35 (2010), pp. 247-55 (249); Wolff, Obadiah and Jonah, pp. 52-53; Michael A. Fishbane, ‘Treaty Background of Amos 1:11 and Related Matters, JBL 89 (1970), pp. 313-18; Joachim J. Krause, ‘Tradition, History, and Our Story: Some Observations on Jacob and Esau in the Books of Obadiah and Malachi’, JSOT 32 (2008), pp. 475-86 (479).

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This is a significant shift that threatens to violate the necessity for consistent repetition. At first glance, this could qualify as two separate signs unified on the paradigmatic axis but divided on the syntagmatic axis. The first is Edom’s future oriented day of divine judgment while the second is Jacobs past tense day of destruction. The semiotic shift, however, continues in stanza five, demonstrating why this is not the case.
The fifth stanza (vv. 12-14) further elucidates the crimes of Edom against his brother Jacob. An important shift in content and structure occurs. Stanza five employs Cl,J no fewer than eight times, clearly linking it with, and developing it beyond, the previous stanza. Whereas stanza four addressed the passive sins of Edom (‘In that day you stood aside), stanza five moves to active transgressions. Furthermore, each transgression listed occurs in one of eight sharply paralleled lines. Each
line may be divided into a bi-cola structure in which the first colon opens with the waw adjoined to the negative particle L� followed by the second person imperfect verb.39 The second colon concludes the line with the Cl,J followed by a descriptor of the day. This pattern is only broken in the seventh line when the second colon does not contain the Cl,J formula.
Here, Cl,J finds itself syntagmatically related to two conflicting levels of the semiotic system. On the one hand, the strong connection between the fourth and fifth stanzas indicates that stanza five ought to be read as description of past completed actions. On the grammatical level, however, the stanza begs to be read as in the present or future tense. L� plus the imperfect typically refers to a specific command for a specific occasion in the present or future. It does not reach into the past nor extend its author- ity to universal maxims.40 This has led to a conflict between scholars who choose to translate this stanza contextually in the past tense,41 and schol- ars who attempt to preserve the grammatical temporal implications.42

39.      This is typically discussed as the imperfect with the jussive sense. Recall that L� occurs with the jussive and cohortative, but never the imperative, thus all second person usages must employ the imperfect. See S.R. Driver, A Treatise on the Use of the Tenses in Hebrew and some other Syntactical Questions (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 3rd edn, 1892),
p. 55; Paul Jou"on and Takamitsu Muraoka, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew (Rome:
Pontificio istituto biblico, 2006), p. 568; also TWOT, §90.0.
40.      John Bright, ‘Apodictic Prohibition: Some Observations’, JBL 92 (1973), pp. 186- 87; Bill Arnold and John H. Choi, A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 130.
41.      See, e.g., Wilhelm Rudolph, ‘Obadja, ZAW 8 (1931), pp. 222-31 (227).
42.      See, e.g., Robert B. Robinson, ‘Levels of Naturalization in Obadiah’, JSOT 40 (1988), pp. 83-97 (91-95).

WERSE Obadiah’s Day of the Lord’                           121

One cannot help but notice the irony of each structural level seeking simultaneously to pull the symbol into both the past and the future. Thus the repetition of the symbol serves to pull the previously established symbol into a semiotic system of conflicting tense.
The first line reads, ‘But you should not look in the day of your brother; in the day of his misfortune’. The dual employment of Cl,J occurs in the parallel expressions ,n� Cl,J (‘in the day of your brother’) and l1:::J Cl,J (‘in the day of his misfortune’). ‘Your brother’ has already been identified in v. 10 as Jacob. Drawing from the principle of equiva- lence between the two parallels, it can then be concluded that ‘his mis- fortune is referring to Jacob. The day being spoken of is, like in stanza four, Jacobs day. This construction necessitates a past tense reading of the line. Thus the opening of the line looks to the future while the closing of the line pulls from the past. The second line continues, ‘You should not rejoice over the sons of Judah in the day of their destruction. Once again,
this day belongs to the ‘sons of Judah, that is, to Jacob. The repeated line includes the tension of tense, establishing a sequential pattern for the usage of Cl,J. The third line reads, you should not make great your mouth in the day of distress’. A syntagmatic shift begins to occur in the employment of Cl,J. Like the preceding two lines, Cl,J is juxtaposed to a descriptor. Unlike the previous two lines, the Cl,J is not clearly linked to a target recipient. The sharp parallelism between the first, second and third lines would imply that the day is still Jacob’s. Yet the pronominal suffixes affixed to the descriptor and the clear identifiers of your brother’ and ‘sons of Judah’ have ceased, leaving the possibility for poetic ambiguity. The link between ‘the day’ and the target (Jacob) is weakened.
The next three lines in v. 13 raise the tension between the future oriented ‘day’ of Edom in stanza three and the past oriented ‘day’ of Jacob in stanza four to a new level. The first line reads, ‘You should not enter the gate of my people on the day of their calamity. Once again the line opens with the grammatical structure orienting the reader toward the future. Following this is found the reemergence of the clear target and corresponding pronominal suffix urging a past tense reading of Cl,J. The tension soars in the second colon’s concluding formula, reading C1, Cl,J. The word-play is unmistakable.43 Lexically and grammatically

43.      Several commentators have previously identified the word-play. See, e.g., Pagan, ‘The Book of Obadiah, p. 452; David W. Baker, Joel, Obadiah, Malachi (NIV Appli- cation Commentary; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), p. 182; Raabe, Obadiah, p. 181; Wolff, Obadiah and Jonah, p. 55.

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this is ‘the day of their calamity’, meaning the past tense oriented day of Jacob. But phonetically, this becomes the ‘day of Edom’. The apparently distinct symbols of stanzas three and four are suddenly being drawn together in stanza five as a single entity.
The fifth line follows suit, reading ‘You should not look, even you, over his destruction on the day of his calamity’. Once again, the pronominal suffixes define the day as Jacobs. Yet at the same time the phonetic word-play persists. There is nearly identical repetition between colon B of the fourth and fifth lines. Though the pronominal suffix on the
repeated root 1, shifts from the third person plural to the third person
singular, resulting in the loss of the final labial phoneme completing the word-play, the alliterative relationship remains strong enough for the word-play to persist. Phonetically, the day remains Edom’s. The sixth line repeats the same tension, once again reading, ‘You should not send off his wealth on the day of his calamity’. Colon B perfectly parallels the word-
play, l1, Cl,J. The tension soars as some linguistic levels clearly nuance
the syntagmatic axis of Cl,J to denote the future-oriented day of judgment
against Edom in stanza three, while other linguistic levels sharply demand the syntagmatic axis of Cl,J nuance Jacob’s day of suffering in the past as found in stanza four. What originally appeared to be two separate symbols become merged together into a single semiotic sign.
Verse 14 closes the stanza with a prime representation of Lotman’s ‘law of three quarters.44 The seventh line reads, ‘You should not stand at the crossroads to cut off his fugitives’. The absence of the Cl,J formula of colon B disrupts the structural expectations of the reader immediately after the systemic tension reaches its peak. The closing line reads, You should not deliver his survivors on the day of distress’. The sequential patterning is reestablished, but the systemic tension is softened. Colon A includes a pronominal suffix that contextually would indicate Jacob as its antecedent, but colon B lacks the expected indication of whose day it is. The second colons use of i11� Cl,J is an exact parallel to the stanzas lowest point of tension in the third line. The day is not clearly defined as anyone’s day. Once again, poetic ambiguity begins to surface.

44.      This sequential break is reminiscent of what Lotman (Analysis of the Poetic Text,
p. 49) termed the ‘law of three-quarters’. He observed that a poetic unit divided into four sections will often employ the first two sections in establishing structural sequential patterning. The third section will break the pattern effectively disrupting the expectation of poetic progression, only to have the final section reestablish the syntagmatic sequence.

WERSE Obadiah’s Day of the Lord’                           123

Stanza five, therefore, took the future oriented symbol against Edom of stanza three, and the past oriented symbol of judgment against Jacob in stanza four, and held the two together in a system that both heightened tension and led to calm ambiguity. What appeared to be two symbols systemically grew into one, calling for both the future and the past orientation of Cl,J to reside in the mind of the audience.
The tension is finally resolved in stanza six (vv. 15-18). It opens, ‘For the day of the Lord is near against all nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you. Your actions shall return onto your own head.’ Here, the symbol finally appears in its fullness.45 It is no longer abbreviated as Cl,J but is fully written as i1li1, Cl,. It is followed by three expressions of lex talionis in vv. 15 and 16. Thus the symbol that Cl,J developed into incorporated both the day of Jacob and the day of Esau. It reached both into the present and into the future. The description of ‘the day spoke of the past transgressions Edom inflicted upon his brother Jacob. While at the same time, lex talionis reveals that those descriptions are likewise articulations of what is to come in Edom’s future ‘day’. There is one day of the Lord’. This one symbol is experienced by Jacob in the past at the hand of Edom, and will be experienced by Edom in the future as divine judgment.
The seventh stanza (vv. 19-21) closes the poem, gazing beyond the ‘day of the Lord’. It describes the expansion of Israel’s borders as restitution for the injustices suffered at the hands of its enemies. It finally closes with the establishment of Gods ultimate rule over the land.

4.  Conclusion

Lotmanian semiotics does include a conceptual contradiction at the theoretical level. This contradiction, however, may prove to be beneficial in practical application. Lotman’s paradox necessitates that symbols be both repeatable and unrepeatable within a semiotic system. From this paradox, the present study concluded that there is no such thing as a perfectly static symbol in a system. Every symbol, by nature of its

45. The combination of multiple lexemes to denote one semiotic value greater than the sum of the lexical units is identified by Roman Jakobson as a ‘phrase-word’. See Roman Jakobson, ‘Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances’, in Krystyna Pomorska and Stephen Rudy (eds.), Language in Literature (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1987), pp. 95-114 (98); see also, in the same volume, ‘On Linguistic Aspects of Translation, pp. 428-35 (429).

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syntagmatic axis, must develop as its surrounding semiotic system unfolds. This observation has the potential to yield great insight when applied to the poetry of the Hebrew Bible.
When applied to the poetry of Obadiah,  it became evident that Obadiahs ‘day of the Lord originally appeared to be two distinct sym- bols as determined by their differing syntagmatic values. Yet as the system developed, the apparently separate usages of the symbol were drawn together in a heightened state of tension eventually revealing their unified nature. There is one ‘day of the Lord’ that different nations may experience at different times.