In late September I sent out a survey via Jack Sasson’s Agade list. The topic was the pedagogy of less-commonly-taught ancient Northwest Semitic languages (that is, courses in Hebrew epigraphy, Phoenician and Punic, Aramaic, and Ugaritic). My interest is to learn from others by determining a sort of ‘best practices’ short list for teaching these languages.
You may wonder why I am concerned. It’s not because I’ve had poor teaching results. Final exam results and the quality of research projects illustrate that my students are learning about as much as is possible in a term (indeed, they might say is that my “as much as possible” is actually “inhumanly” possible, based on how hard I push them!). Rather, what drives the survey and this post is my own dissatisfaction with how the course unfolds. I become … I hesitate to admit it … bored with my own techniques about half way through the term. There must be a better way (or ways)!
As with my undergraduate Biblical Hebrew courses, I am always looking for better techniques—techniques that are both more effective and more fun. For BH this motivated our second textbook, which recognizes the student interest in learning to “read Bible” but also tries to draw what we reasonable can from modern language techniques. The question is, can we do something similar for the less-commonly-taught ancient NWS languages? Is that even possible, given the nature of the evidence? For example, Ugaritic has a large corpus, but little narrative and very little vocalization. How could it be taught more “communicatively”. And if we could find a way, would the method serve our teaching goals (i.e., would the [mostly graduate] students learn enough of what we want them to learn)? [For a thought-provoking blog discussion of this issue on BH, I suggest starting here and following the various links.]
I wrote the simple survey to probe others who teach NWS languages regarding their goals, curricular structure, and pedagogical style. I received only 8 replies, but they were instructive and represented an interesting distribution (seminary and research university, North America, Europe, and Israel).
I used the survey comments to provoke a discussion at the just-finished MICAH gathering (that is, the Mainz International Colloquium on Ancient Hebrew**). Many commented and below I have summarized both the email survey responses.
** What a blast this event was! The level of expertise, and thus papers, on Hebrew and Semitic languages represented by the participants was impressive and inspiring. So much to learn …
I am indebted to the organizer, Dr. Reinhard Lehmann for inviting me to speak and participate in the panel discussion. I will also take this chance to thank publicly those who organized the event with Dr. Lehmann: Dr. Johannes Diehl, Dr. Anna Zarnacke, Kwang Cheol Park, Anna Schneider, Karoline Ehinger, and Editha Lefebre. Vielen Dank!