Biblical Languages at the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies, eh?

For those interested in biblical languages, visiting Regina in late May ‒ or both ‒ this is for you!

At the 2018 CSBS/SCÉB Annual Meeting, to be held May 26-28, 2018, at the University of Regina, Regina, SK (that’s Saskatchewan, not South Kentucky, for those of you who’ve forgotten your northern geography), there will be a special session devoted to biblical languages. Depending on the number of accepted proposals, this may result in one or two meeting slots. If you love Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Latin, Armenian, Ge’ez, or any other primary language critical to biblical studies, consider submitting a proposal. The papers should be focused on language, but need not be formally linguistic (i.e., theoretical) in nature. The call for proposals is below:

Biblical Languages and Linguistics

A special session devoted to biblical languages and linguistics has been approved for the 2018 and 2019 annual meetings of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies. Proposals concerning any ancient language relating to the biblical texts and/or ancient Versions, from Hebrew and Greek to Syriac and Ge‘ez, are welcomed. Preference is for papers that focus on some feature of grammar as it relates to the interpretation of biblical texts. Comparison of specific features of language traditions (e.g., some Syriac grammatical phenomenon in the Peshitta compared to the Hebrew or Greek of the Vorlage) is also encouraged. Please submit 250-word abstracts by January 8, 2018 to Robert Holmstedt


The Lord’s Prayer kerfuffle, from a Hebraist’s perspective

Pope Francis has a gift for generating news, even over the nuttiest things. I’m not a big fan (even though I’m Catholic), but I do recognize the genius of his media strategy (assuming it’s a strategy).

His latest news-making comment was an offhand remark about translating the Lord’s Prayer / Our Father, specifically the line “Lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13). He apparently suggested that, since a father doesn’t lead his children into temptation, nor would God; rather, this is what Satan does. (See here and follow the youtube link for the interview with Pope Francis).

Now, apart from the theological fireworks this engendered (see here or here for basically intelligent discussions, or here for a less intelligent conversation, or google it and read until you drop), it has also raised questions about translation. One might think that this is interesting, but in fact the lack of grammatical thinking about the issues has made it a largely misguided discussion.

But not to fear, a grammarian is here!

The Greek in question is this: μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν, in which the verb εἰσφέρω “to bring in” is inflected as a 2nd person singular aorist active subjunctive. But let’s forget this Indo-European language and consider what the Hebrew or Aramaic prayer would have looked like and what that could have meant.

Though I think it entirely plausible that Jesus and disciples spoke Hebrew or perhaps Aramaic, rather than starting with a reconstruction, it’s easier and philologically more defensible to begin with an attested text, in this case the Syriac Peshitta. The relevant text is below:

ܘܠܳܐ ܬ݁ܰܥܠܰܢ ܠܢܶܣܝܽܘܢܳܐ

In the Syriac, the verb used is ܥܠܠ or in square script, עלל, which is functionally equivalent to Hebrew בוא. The form of the verb is a 2ms imperfect in the Aphel, with a 1cp attached pronoun as the object (like Hebrew Hiphil jussive אַל תְּבִיאֵנוּ or in the imperfect לֹא תְּבִיאֶנּוּ), hence “do not cause us to enter” or “do not bring us in” and the following PP is “to trial” or “to testing” (or even, if you really prefer, “to temptation”). So this seems pretty straightforward, no?

No. In Syriac, as in Hebrew, the causative formation can have a modal nuance that indicates permission or toleration; thus, the connotation could also be “do not allow us to enter” or “do not permit us to enter”. And I strongly suspect the Greek can tolerate the same range of nuances (pun intended).

And so Pope Francis’ wild and hairy suggestion may have some real (Semitic) traction. Whether or not Jesus intended this permissive nuance or the more straightforward nuance is almost beside the point (as it often is, really); the absence of any grammatical nuance in the plethora comments about Pope Francis’ suggestion is the real point — why doesn’t anyone study grammar deeply anymore? This whole non-issue has been painful to read about.

As a final thought, concerning the theology of God inducing temptation, what about putting that damnable tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden and then proscribing its juicy fruit? Seems kind of temptation-inducing, doesn’t it? But oops, that’s just the text getting in the way of theology again.


Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew sessions at SBL 2017

For those of you looking for sessions to attend, the Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew unit has plenty going on this weekend, including joint sessions with National Association of Professors of Hebrew, Qumran, and Philology in Hebrew Studies.

S19-127 Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew; National Association of Professors of Hebrew
Joint Session With: Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew, National Association of Professors of Hebrew
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: 304 (Third Level) – Hynes Convention Center (HCC)
Theme: Historical Linguistics of Biblical Hebrew
Papers will be read and discussed. Everyone is welcome.
Cynthia Miller-Naude, University of the Free State, Presiding
Eric S. Fredrickson, Harvard University
Starting Assumptions in Diachronic Method (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Nili Samet, Bar-Ilan University
The Linguistic and Textual History of the Biblical Root hbq (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Jun Sato, Toronto School of Theology, University of Toronto
Grammaticalization of the Qatil Verbs in Biblical Hebrew (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Kevin Grasso, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Yiqtol as an Irrealis-Imperfective Form (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Jarod Jacobs, Warner Pacific College
Adding Up the Numbers: A Statistical Visualization of the Linguistic Relationship Between Biblical Hebrew and Qumran Hebrew (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)

S19-230 Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Grand Ballroom EF (Fourth Level) – Marriott Copley Place
Theme: Theoretical Approaches to Anaphors and Pronouns in Biblical Hebrew
All papers will be read and discussed. Everyone is welcome.
Jacobus A. Naude, University of the Free State, Presiding
Vincent DeCaen, University of Toronto
Generalizing Asymmetric Coordination with Anaphoric Pronoun (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Matthew Anstey, Charles Sturt University
A Construction Grammar Account of Anaphora in Biblical Hebrew (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Lénart de Regt, United Bible Societies
Anaphoric Accessibility in Biblical Hebrew Narrative: Global and Local Participant Tracking Across Clause Boundaries (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Tshokolo Johannes Makutoane, University of the Free State
The Contribution of Linguistic Typology for the Study of Biblical Hebrew in Africa: The Case of Pronouns in Sesotho (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Mary L. Conway, McMaster Divinity College
Narrative Appraisal as a Linguistic Approach to Evaluation in Text: The Case of Pronouns (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Elitzur Bar-Asher Siegal, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Interrogatives as indefinite pronouns in Biblical Hebrew (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)

S19-328 – Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: 304 (Third Level) – Hynes Convention Center (HCC)
Papers will be read and discussed. Everyone is welcome.
John Cook, Asbury Theological Seminary, Presiding
Adina Moshavi, Bar-Ilan University
Biblical Dialogue in the Light of Conversation Analysis: An Analysis of Responses to Yes-No Questions (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Yoo-ki Kim, Seoul Women’s University
Responses to polar questions in Biblical Hebrew (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Phillip S. Marshall, Houston Baptist University
Pardon the Interruption: Interruptive Quotative Frames in Biblical Hebrew (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Richard W. Medina, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
On the Usage of YHDW, YHD, and BYHD in Biblical Hebrew and Qumran Hebrew (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Femke Siebesma-Mannens, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
HLK with Prepositional Phrases in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Tanakh (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Ellen van Wolde, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen
Niphal anew (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)

S20-337 – Philology in Hebrew Studies; Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew
Joint Session With: Philology in Hebrew Studies, Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: 103 (Plaza Level) – Hynes Convention Center (HCC)
Theme: The Relationship between Linguistics and Philology for the Analysis of Biblical Hebrew
Tania Notarius, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Presiding
Jacobus A. Naude, University of the Free State and Cynthia Miller-Naude, University of the Free State
Linguistics and Philology – Separate, Overlapping or Subordinate/Superordinate Disciplines? (25 min)
Jacqueline Vayntrub, Brandeis University
The Relationship between Linguistics and Philology: A Response to Jacobus Naude and Cynthia Miller-Naude (10 min)
Jeremy Hutton, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Philology as Exchange Floor (25 min)
John A. Cook, Asbury Theological Seminary
The Relationship between Linguistics and Philology: A Response to Jeremy Hutton (10 min)
Discussion (5 min)
H. H. Hardy II, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
The Archaeology and Genealogy of Grammar: liqra’t as a Test Case (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Martin Ehrensvärd, University of Copenhagen
Counting AND Weighing: On the Role of Intuition in Philology and Linguistics (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Benjamin Kantor, Cambridge University
Quality over Quantity: Modern Linguistic Studies on Cross Language Speech Perception/Production and the Greek Transcriptions of the Second Column (Secunda) of Origen’s Hexapla (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)

S21-130 Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew; Qumran
Joint Session With: Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew, Qumran
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: 311 (Third Level) – Hynes Convention Center (HCC)
Theme: Biblical Hebrew Linguistics and Qumran Hebrew
All papers will be read and discussed.
Adina Moshavi, Bar-Ilan University, Presiding
Ken M. Penner, Saint Francis Xavier University
The Distinctiveness of Qumran Hebrew (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Eric Reymond, Yale Divinity School
Different Dialects in the Dead Sea Scrolls? (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Noam Mizrahi, Tel Aviv University
Qumran Hebrew in the Light of Historical Syntax (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Johan de Joode, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and Pierre Van Hecke, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
Is Orthography Style? The Classification Problem of the Dead Sea Scrolls from a Computational Stylistic Perspective (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Aaron D. Hornkohl, University of Cambridge
The Book of the Twelve in Masoretic, Judean Desert, and Other Sources: A Case Study on Linguistic Stability and Change (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)

Posted in Uncategorized. Comments Off on Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew sessions at SBL 2017

RBL and hiding its reviews behind its paywall — not good

Readers who are not SBL members should note that I was asked in short order to remove the link to the PDF of Frank Polak’s review of my book in my previous post. I have done so, and have edited the post by quoting from the review. Since I am interacting with and criticizing the review, but only a small part of it (one paragraph out of twelve on one page out of five, and the one paragraph I quote is out of four critical paragraphs), and this work interacts with my own work, my use certainly falls under the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law.

But to the larger point: why are RBL reviews now hidden behind a paywall?!

When this happened (last year?), I briefly noted to myself that it was a bad move, but I did not stop to consider the ramifications at length. Of course, now I’ve been encouraged to think through it, and I’m not pleased at all. In my opinion, reviews of SBL members’ books or reviews written by SBL members should be made freely available to the public. Certainly some part of the ever-rising dues of SBL should support this as an outreach dimension of the society.

These reviews are NOT published by a journal from a publisher without a membership — SBL’s membership is significant and our dues are not trivial. Moreover, are the reviewers not volunteer? Is the editorial board not also volunteer? Are the books not provided free of charge to RBL for the purposes of the reviews? Quite different than monographs and even peer-reviewed articles, reviews are nothing if not a service to the discipline and its public image and as such should be as widely available as possible.

Take a look at SBL’s mission statement: It seems to me that hiding RBL reviews behind a paywall runs counter to the 3rd and 4th goals.

This move, and the clearly aggressive monitoring of the subscription-only material, does nothing to serve the advancement of biblical studies in the general public. Quite the opposite, it takes the useful summaries (of well-written reviews, like Frank Polak’s, that is) as well as the sometimes very interesting exchange of ideas and hides them from view, so that all those academics and non-academics who don’t pay the significant SBL membership dues cannot watch what we in this discipline do within the context of our largest professional organization.

Who else finds this deplorable?

(Wow, my sabbatical is starting off with a bang, eh?)

–typos fixed–

On the Syntax of BH Poetry

Saturday morning I presented a paper at the annual Canadian Society for Biblical Studies. In the paper, I addressed some issues of poetic syntax. Why am I studying poetry? I’m not really that poetic or creative or literarily sensitive. (I will confess that much of what passes for poetry mystifies me, but then I’d probably have rebuked E.E. Cummings and told him to take a course in punctuation.)

Why I’m studying poetry is simply that this is the road some recent linguistics research led me down. I wouldn’t be on this road otherwise. Regardless, I’m interested in getting feedback on my notions. To that end, my paper is posted below.

Holmstedt_Syntax of Hebrew Poetry_CSBS2017

In a small nutshell, I’m attempting to reduce the syntactic options that an ancient Hebrew poetic faced when concluding a poetic line. My argument is that it can be described as a binary choice, between apposition and non-apposition, rather than the six tropes that Michael O’Connor described in his magisterial Hebrew Verse Structure. I see all uses of language through a grammatical lens. My first question when I encounter some conventional use of language is always, “How does that work syntactically?” I take the position that no matter the convention (of prose, poetry, epistolary, etc.), they are always bound by grammar.

So, let me know if I’ve convinced you, even in part.

Reviewing a review of my The Relative Clause in Biblical Hebrew

*edited on May 30 due to a copyright challenge of my posting the PDF of the RBL review for non-SBL members; see here for more discussion*

Writing a book review, especially of a technical monograph, is not an easy task (I wrote on this topic over 6 years ago, here). This is why I have until now hesitated to address Frank Polak’s RBL review (here; no longer posted here for those without subscription–sorry, see my newer post on this change) of my book on the relative clause (Eisenbrauns link). Actually, I had decided not to respond at all until I saw Larry Hurtado’s blog post in which he discussed John Kloppenborg’s review of Hurtado’s book Destroy of the Gods. Since some of Hurtado’s problems with the review of his book are similar to my thoughts about Polak’s review of mine, reading Hurtado’s post prompted me to write this post (which I’ve now finally found the time to do).

I really do appreciate Frank’s deep engagement with my book and I read the review as mostly positive. The first three pages present a good summary of my chapters and his last paragraph is encouraging. If it were not for a major methodological point on p. 4 of the review, I would not be writing this brief post. In the first full paragraph on p. 4, where Polak begins his criticism, he laments that “more place has [not] been given to functional linguistics, in particular in the tradition of Michael Halliday” and he also calls my discussion of what “(a) language” is (pp. 33-35, where I introduced a philosophy of language discussion by Trevor Pateman) “misleading.” Since I can not post the PDF for those without SBL memberships, I quote below from the relevant paragraph:

There can be no doubt regarding the value of Holmstedt’s study. Treatment along similar lines of other phenomena will advance our knowledge of Biblical Hebrew and other Semitic languages most considerably. Still, some details are slightly disappointing. On a general level, it is to be regretted that no more place has been given to functional linguistics, in particular in the tradition of Michael Halliday. I say this in order to underline the importance of a general observation in the opening of Holmstedt’s study (1) concerning the general human preference for expanded phrases and expressions, a tendency to which Halliday has paid much attention in his treatment of expansion and enhancement as general features of syntax. By the same token, the definition of language as a social fact (33–35) seems slightly misleading. Is not language a social semiotic system used in communication by means of audial, grammatical, and lexical entities? Holmstedt finds the foundations of language usage in the personal idiolect, but this assumption is undermined by the communicative context. By contrast, Biblical Hebrew has lost its immediate social context and thus is no more than a “grapholect,” in the terms of Walter Ong. (Polak, review of Holmstedt’s Relative Clause in BH, RBL 04/2017, p. 4)

These criticisms betray a linguistic naivete, in the first place, and a faulty reading of my argument, in the second.

On the use of functional linguistics, I make it clear in my outline of linguistic theory that, while I adopt the data-richness of typological linguistics, I do not adopt the often underlying functional paradigm; rather, I adhere to the generative theory of language. This is an important point in my book (and all my research) because it is a deeply flawed notion I have encountered again and again in Biblical Hebrew studies that one can simply mix and match linguistic theories. This is not so. Linguistic theories are almost always the outworking of very different notions of what human language is and how it works and how linguistic research should be carried out. The assumption behind Polak’s criticism, that I could have easily included functional linguistics, is horribly wrong-headed. (Would that I never encounter it again in Biblical Hebrew studies!—though the realist within me suggests I will have to suffer it again and more than once).

Concerning the mistaken reading of my language argument, I had simply summarized Pateman’s conclusions before moving to the well-trod discussion that the formal notion of “a language” to use in linguistic study is the idiolect (and at this point I used a lengthy and insightful quotation from Jacobus Naudé). [Addition: Note that in generative theory, the idiolect is a formal concept, the “I-language,” that relates to the competence vs. performance distinction. As for the “grapholect” nature of the biblical data, I address this at length in the book and quoting Ong does nothing to address my arguments.] So, in fact, I never asserted anywhere in my book that language is a social fact. I’m not sure why Polak picked up on this issue and made an inaccurate point of it in the review. But it stands out, and I think it’s worth clarifying.

Finally, as a smaller point, Polak misreads my reconstruction of the history of אֲשֶׁר, and actually cites a study by Faist and Vita on the Akkadian ašar used in the Emar texts against me, even though I use that very study as support in building my argument! (I could point out similar issues I have with his comments on שׁ relatives and ה relatives, but I’ll let my book do the work it’s supposed to do).

Again, I thank Frank Polak for the substantive engagement with my admittedly technical, dense, and probably-not-too-fun-to-read study of the Hebrew relative clause. Frank and I disagree on many things related to Biblical Hebrew grammar, but since we met a decade or so ago, we have been able to do so amicably. I am grateful for this.

As a postscript to this review of a review, I will add a few meta comments. I find things like the use of the same data or source by two scholars to criticize each other’s argument ironic and humorous. When I read or experience this, it often provokes a bit of reflection—for a least the duration of a good cup of coffee—about the nature of debate in academia: is it about discovering truth or scoring rhetorical points? Of course, it does not escape me that this post can be accused of engaging in the rhetorical combat! I can only forestall such a conclusion by noting that this post reflects what I have said or written many times, that a clear methodology and a theoretical (self-)awareness are critical if we are to push forward in seeking the truth (on BH grammar, or any other topic). My adamant stance on this, as well as high expectations that arguments and counter-arguments are logical and sensible (two slightly different notions, in my opinion), are undoubtedly at the heart of why I have gained a reputation in some circles as … ahem … someone hard to get along with. I have clearly stepped on a few (dozen) toes (or feet) over the last decade or so. I make no apology for this, since what I have said or written has never been ad hominem or intentionally negative; however blunt my responses have been, they have had the singular goal of sorting out Hebrew grammar better. (And my wife and seven children know I’m actually nice.)

My SBL papers—abstracts and handouts

In a rare occurrence, this year I am actually finished with both my papers and the handouts before I fly to the annual meeting. To celebrate this oddity, I’m posting my handouts here for interested folks, along with the abstracts and the meeting information (for those going to San Antonio). After the conference, I’ll follow-up with summaries of how the papers were received.

#1) Ugaritic and Northwest Semitics unit

Sunday (Nov 20) morning, 9am, Mission A (2nd Level) – Grand Hyatt (GH)

Clarifying Apposition in Ugaritic // The Displacement of “Parallelism”

The juxtaposition of two constituents of the same category, such as noun apposition (e.g., Niqmaddu, the king) or noun-numeral apposition (e.g., thirty (shekels), lapis lazuli), is a fundamental noun modification strategy, alongside adjectival modification, noun cliticization (the bound relationship), and relativization. Though studies of Ugaritic grammar have long noted the use of apposition, particularly with numerals, the distribution and semantics of apposition are worthy of a focused analysis, which I will undertake in this study. Moreover, I will provide an initial investigation into the possible relationship between verb phrase or clausal apposition (types of apposition rarely recognized in Ugaritic or Hebrew studies) and the use of parallelism in poetic texts.

Handout here.

#2) Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew unit

Tuesday (Nov 22) morning, 9a, 303C (3rd Level) – Convention Center (CC)

Parenthesis in Biblical Hebrew

Like other interruptive structures, such as vocatives, exclamatives, and even non-restrictive relatives and appositives, parentheses pose challenges for linguistic analysis. In general linguistics, the terms “parenthesis” and “parenthetical” are used for a wide range of phenomena, which may or may not represent a single linguistic construction (Burton-Roberts 2006). It is thus not surprising that there has emerged no consensus on how parentheticals relate to their the adjacent or surrounding clause with which they share an apparent connection. This general state of confusion is well-represented in the only full study of parentheticals in Biblical Hebrew (Zewi 2007)—parenthesis is described as simultaneously “syntactically unattached” and “maintain[ing] a certain syntactic connection”, and a wide range of arguably disparate Hebrew constructions are cited as varieties of parenthesis. The current study is an attempt to bring some order to the relative chaos and so present a coherent analysis of parenthesis in Biblical Hebrew.

Handout here.