A Linguistic Profile of the Book of Esther (SBL 2013)

A doctoral student in my department, John Screnock, and I are co-presenting a paper in the SBL Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew section in Baltimore on Sunday. The paper is a much shortened version of a large section of our introductory chapter in the Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Bible volume on Esther that we are writing (the volume is now 99% drafted).

Since we have finished the paper much sooner than I typically do, I have posted the paper and handout below. (It’s a relief to anticipate a flight without finishing my paper—what an odd feeling.)

See you in Baltimore!

Paper

Handout

Basic Word Order in Biblical Hebrew, update

Back in April and May I wrote a 6-part series on basic word order in the Biblical Hebrew finite verbal clause (see: #1#2#3#4#5, #6). I am now pleased to announce that the full article, with the full lists of examples and fuller interaction with secondary literature, has appeared in The Journal of Hebrew Scriptures (an excellent journal that has an exceptionally timely turn-around from submission to online publication).

The direct link to the PDF article is here.

In brief, I argue that Biblical Hebrew can and should be classified as a Subject-Verb language from a cross-lingusitic typological perspective. Moreover, I challenge those who hold the traditional Verb-Subject analysis to defend their position with linguistic arguments. Recently I heard the issue of BH word order characterized as follows: “Everyone believes that Hebrew is VS except for this one fellow Holmstedt.”  This is depressing but not surprising. Though no one has actually argued the VS position from a linguistic perspective (of any sort), the tradition holds for those unwilling to have what they were taught in introductory Hebrew turned on its head.

It is the essence of scholarship to question previous positions using newer analytical frameworks. To remain stubbornly attached to the 18th-century views of Gesenius, as brilliant as he was, is the type of attitude that so often makes Biblical Hebrew studies an embarrassment to those of us who do interdisciplinary scholarship. “I’ll keep thinking Hebrew is VS because … that’s what I was taught” or “… that’s what it seems to me when I read texts” are not acceptable scholarly responses. It is incumbent upon those who think my SV argument is wrong to make the argument using the tools of modern linguistics. Tradition is not an argument (at least not in scholarship).

In my previous word order studies I took a softer rhetorical approach, hoping to woo both senior and junior scholars by the linguistic and aesthetic appeal of my analysis. No more soft wooing. I am coming to the realization that I am probably not going to get through to those who stubbornly hold to the VS position despite sound linguistic arguments to the contrary. So now I am waiting for scholars who are willing to engage linguistics as it is currently formulated. Whoever you are, I invite you to embrace my analysis, contribute to its perfection, or dismantle it. Regardless what you do, if you make a good linguistic argument, I will applaud you. Indeed, I look forward to it!

I have thrown down the gauntlet. Will someone accept the challenge?

Basic Word Order in the Biblical Hebrew Verbal Clause, Part 5

In this series (see post #1, #2, #3, #4), I have argued that the study of Biblical Hebrew word order has lacked methodological rigor. In this, the penultimate post, I introduce the last criterion by which the word order data must be filtered.

I have been a bit slower putting up this post since I wanted to check and re-check my data, questioning my judgments as I went in order to produce the best possible results. My eyeballs now hurt more than ever. But, I still hope to finish off the last section by the end of the weekend. From my two or so readers, I covet input.

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Basic Word Order in the Biblical Hebrew Verbal Clause, Part 4

The fourth post in a series on Biblical Hebrew Word Order, introduced here.

In the last two posts I introduced and discussed the criteria of frequency and distribution. In this post I will add the criterion of clause type as yet another important filter for the raw word order data.

The Criterion of Clause Type

The second criterion used to filter raw frequency results concerns ‘clause type’. This criterion is predicated on the observation that languages often exhibit different word order patterns in different clause types; in such cases, not all clause types present the language’s basic word order. Consider English interrogative clauses, such as When did Noah leave? This clause type in English has the inflected Verb, did, before the Subject, in contrast to the declarative counterpart, Noah left yesterday. On this basis, we would exclude interrogative clauses as a source for basic word order in English. Moreover, although interrogatives are typically a minority clause type in English texts and so their exclusion would not normally affect the frequency results, we can imagine a text that consists predominantly of questions, resulting in a highly skewed frequency-based analysis for English word order.

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Basic Word Order in the Biblical Hebrew Verbal Clause, Part 2

Nearly two months ago I posted the first part of what was to be a 3-part series on basic word order in Hebrew. The end of the term, grading, and other writing projets have kept me from writing the other posts. In fact, now that I have almost fully drafted the article related to this series, it has become clear that the wiser course (for readability) will be to break the remaining posts into five parts. Below I provide the second. The others will follow this quickly.

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Searching for Hebrew Word Order

Two different types of posts were promised and have been long in coming. The first is a series of example syntax searches to illustrate how to use the Hebrew Syntax modules in the Accordance Bible Software (see here for my introductory post on the project). The second belated post is the follow-up to my word order discussion.

I have finally begun slowly sketching the syntax searching guide, since now the search programming is sufficiently accurate to produce excellent results (I posted an initial discussion in the Accordance User’s Forum here). And although April was a wash for writing, due to a prolonged illness and grading for the end of the term, I have now begun to finish my word order article; thus, the posts from that article will appear soon.

But, in the meantime, I thought I’d illustrate how sometimes even I’m surprised by the ease of use of our syntax database.

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Basic Word Order in the Biblical Hebrew Verbal Clause, Part 1

I have recently finished working through Dr. Adina Moshavi’s 2010 monograph, Word Order in the Biblical Hebrew Finite Clause; see here for a table of contents. Below are my thoughts on her book—not a full review but rather an engagement with it. This post will constitute the first part of a 3-part series on Hebrew word order, each of which represents “blogified” components of a article I am writing. Hebrew word order has been an ongoing area of interest for me as long as it has for Moshavi (her book is a revision of her 2000 Yeshiva University PhD thesis).

I take issue with specific, critical parts of Moshavi’s argument. In the three posts of this series I will not interact with her book chapter-by-chapter, section-by-section, and example-by-example, which would be both tedious and a tacit surrender of how the study of word order variation should proceed. (And I don’t like tedium any more than I care to let others establish the parameters and direction of a debate I’m in, and in this case, a debate I overtly joined a decade ago). Instead, I will address Moshavi’s interaction with my previous work on word order in this post (post #1); then in post #2 I will detail what I consider sound methodology and describe what I take to be a balanced typological approach to the issue of basic word order; finally, in post #3 I will build on the previous posts and present an analysis of the data in Genesis, a revision of the analysis I carried out in my 2002 thesis.

It may be helpful to state up front at the beginning that none of these three posts will address the full scope of word order diversity and, in particular, fronting in the biblical texts. Although I am engaged in a long-term project to address this, I will simply say here that there is much in the preceding works on the topic (e.g., Heimerdinger 1999, Shimasaki 2002, Lunn 2006, and Moshavi 2010) with which I agree. While I occasionally gainsay their analyses of specific verses (see, for examples, my reviews of Shimasaki and Lunn), and there are slightly different approaches to defining the term Topic and Focus, etc., there remains some general agreement on the reason for and function of fronted constituents.

Now, to Dr. Moshavi’s book:

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