Lexicography

Announcement: The Tyndale House Workshop in Greek Prepositions

Tyndale House Workshop in Greek Prepositions

djr_0085_17212375711_oI am pleased to announce an event that will bring together experts in a variety of disciplines in order to tackle an age-old problem with new theoretical approaches. This summer those pesky Greek prepositions are getting a lexicographical makeover at a two day “workshop” in Cambridge, England. The event is called:

The Tyndale House Workshop in Greek Lexicography: Cognitive Linguistic Approaches to Lexicography and Theology

This event will take place from 30 June-1 July 2017 at Tyndale House, Cambridge, the biblical studies research library par excellence. Although it is a fairly brief event, this workshop is structured to offer the maximum punch to advance the state of the question in the semantics of Greek prepositions. And, as is evident from the tagline, cognitive linguistics is central to our approach.

The Back Story

Last June I found myself in the small, bible-software-saturated city of Bellingham, Washington, shortly after finishing up a seminar in Septuagint studies at Trinity Western University. The idea for this preposition workshop began to take shape during this visit – naturally, over some delicious local brews. I sat down with Steve Runge, Rick Brannen, and Mike and Rachel Aubrey to discuss collaborating on a longer-term project applying newer linguistic theories to challenges within traditional approaches to Greek grammar.

This workshop will focus on prepositions and is the first in what we hope will be a series of similar events that will subsequently deal with connectives and particles. It remains to be seen whether and how that plays out, but at the moment Steve and I are teaming up to organize a top-notch preposition workshop and then
making the proceedings available in published form.

In case you are wondering: Yes, this workshop is intentionally designed to replicate the Linguistics and the Greek Verb conference held at Tyndale House in July of 2015 (see here). That model of highly-focused and interdisciplinary analysis of a single – albeit multifaceted – issue in Greek proved very effective. It was the genesis for the very well-received volume The Greek Verb Revisited (Lexham, 2016 [Amazon]), edited by Chris Fresch and Steve Runge.

Issues with Greek Prepositions: A Cognitive Answer

What’s wrong with Greek prepositions? Well, nothing.

But scholars have long been aware that they are exceptionally difficult to pin down. And for that reason they often play a pivotal (if seemingly subtle) role in biblical interpretation and theology. [1] Ignore for now the question about what actually counts as a preposition, versus the so-called “improper” prepositions like ἐπάνω that do not prefix to verbs. djr_0242_17025394410_oThe “traditional” Greek prepositions have been enough to constantly challenge biblical lexicographers and exegetes alike as they seek to properly understand them (pardon the pun).

The problem is a semantic one. First of all, what is the best approach to describing the meaning of Greek prepositions given the variety of functions they serve in the Koine period? Second, to what extent are Greek prepositions polysemous and (where necessary) how can we correctly determine the number and boundaries of the senses? Third, by what means can our semantic description of Greek prepositions accurately and accessibly present relevant information in English (i.e., in a lexicon entry)?

These and other questions are largely theoretical in nature. So a central goal of this workshop is to bring the insights of general linguistics – and specifically cognitive linguistics – to bear upon the study of Greek. Unlike other theories, cognitive linguistics approaches polysemy using a structured model known as prototype theory. This reformulates the notion of a single “core” or “basic” meaning, and instead attempts to provide a motivated account of the various senses of a word in terms of a “radial network.” An important assumption of this approach is that meaning is conceptual and embodied. Human experience of the physical world informs the conceptual structure on which linguistic meaning is built. In this account, more basic shemas like DIRECTION are mapped onto more abstract concepts like PURPOSE or RECIPIENT.

over

A radial network for the English preposition “over.”*

Judging by the often comically long entries for prepositions in Greek lexicons, you might think that these words are so polysemous that it’s barely worth the effort to understand them. (I’ve often felt this way about German prepositions.) But very often, huge lexicon entries are the inevitable consequence of non-isometric semantic overlap between Greek and English. This requires traditional lexicographers to use a wide array of English prepositions – whose meanings do not everywhere overlap with the Greek preposition under discussion – to gloss the various meanings where they ostensibly do overlap.

Thankfully, combining cognitive linguistics and prototype theory can provide a principled and organized account of prepositional semantics without falling into this polysemy fallacy. Doing so, in turn, can help us understand and translate the New Testament (and Septuagint) texts, and fashion better lexicon entries for these words for non-specialists.[2]

Two Relevant Monographs

We will not be the first to attempt to apply cognitive linguistics to the study of Greek prepositions. At least two others have done so in the last fifteen years:

  1. Bortone, Pietro. Greek Prepositions from Antiquity to the Present. Oxford University Press, 2010 (Amazon)
  2. Luraghi, Silvia. On the Meaning of Prepositions and Cases: Semantic Roles in Ancient Greek. Studies in language companion series 67; John Benjamins, 2003 (Amazon)

These books have been deftly reviewed and compared by Mike Aubrey in several posts (start here). If you’re new to this conversation, I highly recommend reading these.

The Details of the Workshop

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Steve Runge and I are motivated to make the complicated accessible, and to bring the best of linguistic theory into the service of biblical studies. So we have tried to invite the best on all sides of this cross-disciplinary topic. We are looking forward to participation by two cognitive linguists, two Classical Greek lexicographers, and several biblical scholars. Because of our tight topic and event time frame, we are not issuing a call for papers. But we want to facilitate participation, which is why we have done our best to make this event very affordable, with only a £50 registration fee.

So if you want to know more, or are convinced enough already, head over to our website:

http://www.greekprepositionworkshop.org

At the moment the event registration is not open. But you can sign up at the right to be notified by email as soon as it is.

And finally: spread the word! You can download a flyer to share here.

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[1] For a recent exploration of just one relevant topic, see Con Campbell’s Paul and Union with Christ (Zondervan, 2012 [Amazon]), which explores the theological implications of the phrase ἐν Χριστῷ (interview here). Also see Campbell’s essay in ‘In Christ’ in Paul: Explorations in Paul’s Theology of Union and Participation (eds. M. Thate, C. Campbell, and K. Vanhoozer; Mohr Siebeck 2014 [Amazon]).

[2] But wouldn’t this mean the same problems and solutions would apply to Biblical Hebrew, you ask? Yes indeed. All good things in time.

* Claudia Brugman and George Lakoff, “Radial network,” in D. Geeraerts, D., ed., Cognitive Linguistics: Basic Readings. Berlin: DeGruyter, 2006, p. 129.

Photo credit Doug Robar

Article Contribution to SBL Volume

I was glad to finally receive proofs last week of a piece I wrote nearly three years ago. Over the summer of 2013 I conducted research for a paper that I presented in Munich at the triennial IOSOT congress, in the IOSCS Section. This work was aimed at preparing myself for the sort of research I am currently involved in with my dissertation, namely Septuagint lexicography and the textual history of the book of Judges. You can read a bit about my preparations and reflections on the congress if you want.

The paper, which is entitled “Lexical Possibilities in Septuagint Research: Revision and Expansion,” picks up the lexicographical torch from John A. L. Lee’s dissertation by reinvestigating Koine documentary evidence contemporary with the translation of the Septuagint (~3rd c. BCE – 1st c. CE) for occurrances of ὁράω and βλέπω. Lee found a semantic shift and replacement between the former and latter in his own work, and I basically set out to find new instances of the words in the evidence since Lee to see if his conclusions hold up. Spoiler: they do.

Here’s the paper abstract:

This paper reviews the findings of John A. L. Lee regarding historical linguistic investigation of Koine Greek documentary evidence in his published dissertation. With the passage of over three decades since Lee’s work, much more papyrological and inscriptional evidence has surfaced. Moreover, a significant amount of the data is now digitized and searchable. Therefore, this paper begins to pursue the course set out by Lee himself in the introduction to the published version of his dissertation where he suggests it could surely “benefit from revision or expansion” in light of new data. To do so, here the digital databases of documentary evidence are investigated for occurrences of ὁράω and βλέπω that are additional to those found by Lee. After assessing the use of the two words in new evidence, a “revision” of Lee’s conclusions is offered. Even in light of new data, Lee’s conclusions prove remarkably accurate, suggesting the potential of his methodology for further application and even “expansion.” Accordingly, this paper also discusses the difficulties inherent in documentary evidence research and possible ways forward, with particular attention to the double text of LXX-Judges.

Me right between some schnitzel and a stein of Munich’s finest

If you’re really interested, you can read the paper on Academia.edu. Seeing as I just got proofs this week, it will hopefully be published before the SBL conference in November. It will appear in XV Congress of the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies (IOSCS), Munich, 2013. Edited by Wolfgang Kraus, Martin Meiser, and Michaël van der Meer. SBLSCS 64. Atlanta, Ga., SBL Press, 2016.

Upcoming Presentations at SBL 2016

Remember the Alamo! (And the book exhibit. Never forget the book exhibit)

It’s still six months away, but there’s increasing buzz already about the 2016 Biblical Studies conference season. This year, ETS, IBR, and SBL will be held in San Antonio, Texas, between the 15th-22nd of November. I’ve said this many times before, but the annual conferences are a great experience, if completely exhausting. If you are a poor graduate student interested in going, you should definitely consider it (something I’ve posted about here and here). I have repeatedly benefited from joining and participating in the biblical studies societies ever since I was in my master’s degree program, so I always recommend it to others.

Each year I attend, these conferences get more enjoyable. This is due mostly to the fact that I have gotten to know more and more people, and attending the conferences is sometimes the only place I will see them and get to catch up. Another reason they get better over time is by participating. I’ll be presenting at ETS and/or SBL for my third year now (here and here) and I have found that it’s always worth the time for useful feedback from colleagues.

Upcoming Presentations

As I mentioned in my last post, this year’s Septuagint Studies session at ETS will be an exciting event. Since I am on the steering committee and presented at the inaugural panel for this session in 2015, I won’t be presenting anything at ETS this year. However, I am really jazzed to see what kind of crowd shows up for what is a stellar lineup of biblical scholars talking about one of my favorite subjects.

Although I wasn’t sure it would work out this way, I have two presentations scheduled for the SBL conference. “How unwise,” you may think, “You’ll never get two quality papers written.” Well, yes that may be true, but it is just slightly more feasible than my predicament last year, when I had three presentations. So writing two papers seems quite manageable to me at this point.

The IOSCS Session

As someone involved in Septuagint studies, I’ve been a member of IOSCS for several years, and I’m looking forward to presenting at this session at SBL for the third time. Because of a family health crisis that began in summer of 2015, I have had to step away from my dissertation for this academic year and focus on other important things. Thankfully, however, I have been able to stay active in various personal projects, one of which is the paper I’ll be presenting at the IOSCS session (and which is an outgrowth of part of my dissertation research).

The title of this paper is “The Lexical Value of the Septuagint for the Koine: The Use of ΠΑΡΑΤΑΞΙΣ in Marcus Aurelius,” and it will focus on one particular use of παράταξις in the Confessions. In the midst of discussing valorous ways to die as a devout Stoic, Aurelius uses Christians as a counter-example, stating that their manner of martyrdom is disdainful. The phrase where the reference occurs is disputed as a late scribal insertion, however, in part because it is one of the earliest references to Christians in ancient secular literature. But another reason is because the use of παράταξις in the phrase is difficult to construe. My paper will look at contemporaneous usage of the word (a considerable amount of which occurs in the LXX) and engage with the arguments for and against the phrase’s meaning and originality. This will also demonstrate the value of the Septuagint as a legitimate kind of lexical “database” for standard Greek usage (hence the paper title).

The Cognitive Linguistics in Biblical Interpretation Session

My second paper will be in a session that I’ve never participated in before, Cognitive Linguistics in Biblical Interpretation. This may seem like a random juke in terms of the general focus of my research. But I’ve been interested in cognitive linguistics for several years now, and a lot of my research requires that I read in theoretical linguistics anyway. The fascinating book featured right (which I’ll be reviewing for BBR in time) is just one example of the growth of this approach in biblical studies.

The paper I’ll be presenting here is called “‘Build Up the Walls of Jerusalem’: The Cognitive Unity of Psalm 51.” The idea for this actually grew out of a piece I wrote for the Gospel Coalition. In sum, it’s common to read in commentary upon Ps. 51 that the last “chunk” of the psalm (usually vv. 15ff) was a later addition. The reason often given is that the sudden “topic” shift in v. 15 and mention of (what sounds like) a destroyed Jerusalem in v. 18 exhibits a second and later (i.e., postexilic) hand. My paper will examine this psalm from a “cognitive” perspective and demonstrate its unity and coherence in the face of the typical redaction critical conclusions.

Plenty of Time … Right?

Of course, these papers don’t exist yet. I’ll need to write them at some point. The challenge, I often find, is translating a proposal into a full-blown paper that is worthwhile and constructive … oh, and doing it on time for the conferences. Hopefully the next six months will allow just that to happen!