The Language of Colour in the Bible (A Short Review)

Today I want to draw attention to a fascinating new book dealing with linguistic theory and biblical lexicography, two areas of research that are near and dear to my heart. This volume, entitled The Language of Colour in the Bible: Embodied Colour Terms Related to Green, was edited by a team of scholars that includes my friend and colleague in philology, Anna Angelini, who was kind enough to send me a copy. 

The volume was produced through The Language of Colour in the Bible study group based at the University of San Pablo (also here). Although the title may tempt you to think that this is a very narrow topic, in fact it touches on quite a wide array of issues. For one, there is the matter of biblical interpretation in general, and reception history more particularly. As the editors put it: 

Colour is present in the biblical text from its beginning to its end, but it has hardly been studied, and we appear to have forgotten that the detailed study of the colour terms in the Bible is essential to understanding the use and symbolism that the language of colour has acquired in the literature that has forged European culture and art.

With that in mind, the editors articulate their goals clearly, and these are “to provide the modern reader with the meaning (both literal and symbolic) of the colour lexemes found in the biblical corpus (in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin), and thereby approximate the worldview of the listener/hearer in biblical times” (p. 29). Of course, approaching this kind of study requires some sort of theoretical framework, method, and practical outputs, and this volume has all three.

As for theory, I was very pleased to see Cognitive Linguistics brought to bear in this project. There are numerous points of overlap between the scholars involved in this volume and the ongoing Diccionario Griego-Español del Nuevo Testamento project, which is being carried out within a structuralist framework. (See my RBL review of a relevant volume here.) As the editors of The Language of Colour in the Bible rightly recognize, however, that approach, while effective for some tasks, presents “insurmountable obstacles for the study of colour language” (p. 22). So instead, the editors chose cognitive linguistics as their theoretical framework, which was (in my humble opinion) the correct decision. (If you’re interested, a classic discussion of color categories from a cognitive linguistic perspective is the first chapter of John R. Taylor, Linguistic Categorization.)

On top of good theory, this volume also has solid practical lexicographic practice as well, with well structured essays/entries, detailed (Hebrew, Greek, and Latin) philological analysis, definitions (not just glosses), and even the occasional full-color image. Two of the overarching conclusions are articulated in the last chapter, where the two essential characteristics of color language in the biblical corpus are described as:

  1. colour lexemes in the Bible are never used in isolation, but are instead intimately linked to the entities they describe. From this, it can be affirmed that colour terms are embodied lexemes and it is therefore necessary to analyze each of the pericopes in which a given lexeme appears, together with the entity it describes;
  2. each colour lexeme typically suggests a broad chromatic spectrum or pantone, from which it may be deduced that most are polysemic. (p. 208)

My hearty congratulations to the editors for this excellent volume. I can only hope others of similar quality will follow in due course.

Book Announcement: Postclassical Greek and Septuagint Lexicography

Just a short but exciting bit of news to share today. I’m very pleased to report that my new book Postclassical Greek and Septuagint Lexicography has now been published with SBL Press in the Septuagint and Cognate Studies series. This book is the “official” — and only lightly revised — version of my doctoral thesis, which I completed in 2018 at the University of Cambridge under the supervision of James (Jim) K. Aitken (see below). (more…)

Book Announcement: Postclassical Greek Prepositions and Conceptual Metaphor

I’m very pleased to make a formal announcement today of a new book that I have co-edited with Steve Runge. This volume is to be published with De Gruyter in their FoSub series and is currently scheduled for release in November. 

Some of my regular readers may recognize the fact that this book is the long-awaited results of the Tyndale House Workshop in Greek Prepositions. Steve and I organized and hosted that event in Cambridge back in 2017 and had both a great turnout and excellent discussion. 

Yes, there were significant delays in the process of turning a bunch of presentations into a published volume. It’s quite a lot of work, if you’re wondering. And it hasn’t exactly been an uneventful five years for either me or Steve … or for the rest of the world. Even so, it’s finished now and we are very pleased with the results, which we’re sure will be just as relevant as ever.

Here’s the description:

Traditional semantic description of Ancient Greek prepositions has struggled to synthesize the varied and seemingly arbitrary uses into something other than a disparate, sometimes overlapping list of senses. The Cognitive Linguistic approach of prototype theory holds that the meanings of a preposition are better explained as a semantic network of related senses that radially extend from a primary, spatial sense. These radial extensions arise from contextual factors that affect the metaphorical representation of the spatial scene that is profiled. Building upon the Cognitive Linguistic descriptions of Bortone (2009) and Luraghi (2009), linguists, biblical scholars, and Greek lexicographers apply these developments to offer more in-depth descriptions of select postclassical Greek prepositions and consider the exegetical and lexicographical implications of these findings. This volume will be of interest to those studying or researching the Greek of the New Testament seeking more linguistically-informed description of prepositional semantics, particularly with a focus on the exegetical implications of choice among seemingly similar prepositions in Greek and the challenges of potentially mismatched translation into English.

There are informal plans afoot to continue working in similar veins as this event on prepositions and the earlier Greek verb event at Tyndale House that was coordinated by Chris Fresch. Here’s to hoping that work in these areas will continue to be possible!