Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

Biblical Formatting: Visual and Virtual

Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

Biblical Formatting: Visual and Virtual

Article excerpt

"Formatting" is the use of visual indications in a text to achieve certain literary effects. Besides standard punctuation, modern printing provides a variety of formatting signs, each with its own effect. It is routine practice to use:

a. boldface, italics, and underlining to indicate emphasis;

b. parentheses, dashes, and strikeout to indicate de-emphasis;

c. tables and columns to indicate simultaneous contrastive and unifying emphasis;

d. bullets to indicate contrastive emphasis; and

e. paragraph-formats, such as indentation and line spaces, to indicate unity.

Halakhic requirements direct how the text of the Bible be written. Nevertheless, we intend to show that biblical authors used specific visual and literary techniques to accomplish some formatting effects. Specifically, the Bible uses:

a. word repetition to indicate emphasis, similar to the modern use of boldface, italics and underlining;

b. visual dotting of a word to indicate limitation, similar to the modern use of parenthesis, dashes and strikeout;

c. columns and parallel verbal structures to indicate simultaneous contrastive and unifying emphasis, similar to the modern use of tables;

d. repetition of connective words, to indicate contrastive emphasis, similar to the modern use of bullets; and

e. a theme-detail-theme style to indicate paragraph unity, similar to the modern use of line spaces and indentation.

Literary critics unanimously agree that the modern text is not perceived as containing two layers of meaning; a simple meaning imposed by the author and an exegetical meaning imposed by the reader. Rather, it is perceived as conveying one intended message of an author, certain parts of which are explicitly presented by words, while other parts of the message are hinted at by visual format.

In a biblical text, there is similarly a unique, unified, intended meaning, with certain parts of the message explicitly presented by the words, while often certain nuances are hinted at by formatting, both visual and verbal.

This approach, classifying exegetical textual techniques as implicitly intended by the author, was powerfully defended by Samson Raphael Hirsch. (1) By using the model of taking notes at a lecture, Hirsch opens the door to perceiving exegetical nuances as an intended meaning of the author.

The Written Law is to be to the Oral Law like short notes [taken at] a full and extensive lecture on any scientific subject. For the student who has heard the whole lecture, short notes are quite sufficient to bring back afresh to his mind at any time the whole subject of the lecture. For him, a word, an added mark of interrogation or exclamation, a dot, the underscoring of a word, is often quite sufficient to recall to his mind a whole series of thoughts or remarks. For those who had not heard the lecture from the master, such notes would be completely useless. If they were to try to reconstruct the scientific contents of the lecture from such notes they would of necessity make many errors. Words, marks, and so forth, which serve those scholars who had heard the lecture as instructive guiding stars to the wisdom that had been taught and learnt, stare at the uninitiated as unmeaning sphinxes.

On the basis of Hirsch's theory, we associate five note-taking techniques with five methods of formatting, visual, verbal and virtual, that are common to biblical and modern writings, albeit in different forms. Visual formatting refers to items like boldface or italics which achieve their effects, not through words, but through visual changes in the written text. Virtual formatting refers to items like a parallel verbal structure which achieve the effects of visual formatting without words or visual changes in the text. Verbal formatting refers to items like repeating words which achieve the effects of visual formatting.


Example 1: In Torah script, "dotting" means inking in a super-dot above one, or more, or all letters in a word. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.