Linguistics

New IBR Research Group: Linguistics and the Biblical Text

It’s been pretty quiet on here for a while and there is one simple reason for that: Moving from Cambridge to Charlotte while getting ordained and prepping  new classes as a brand new professor. Chaotic, but simple. But now that the semester is slowing down and our new house is mostly put together, things will hopefully pick up a little more on the blog.

Another new thing that has entered my life over the last six months is helping to organize a new research group for the annual meeting of the Institute for Biblical Research (IBR). I have been a member of IBR for a number of years and have enjoyed attending the sessions, which tend to fall on the day between the ETS and SBL conferences. I’ve always found that appropriate since from a theological and academic perspective that is exactly where IBR belongs. Historically, IBR has always been broadly evangelical but places more emphasis upon participation in the biblical studies academy proper. Most of the book reviews I have written have been published in the associated Bulletin for Biblical Research (BBR), which usually provides good reading.

But I digress. In the autumn of last year a new research group began to take shape focused on linguistics. Although I am not a linguist by training, much of my work in the Septuagint finds a natural ally in linguistics. So I have done a fair bit of reading and ended up down a number of research rabbit trails that are more overtly linguistic in nature. One such rabbit trail was the 2017 Tyndale House Greek Preposition Workshop that I co-organized with Steve Runge in Cambridge. It was also during my time in Cambridge that I got to know Elizabeth Robar, who was the prime mover in this new IBR research group, which is called Linguistics and the Biblical Text.

Here is the description from the IBR website:

This new research group explores applied linguistics within the field of biblical research. The theme for the first session will be the role of linguistics within biblical studies. Linguistics has proven unique in its ability to expose just how the biblical message is presented and how interpersonal communication is portrayed and effected. But, simultaneously, linguistic studies are notorious for incoherent jargon that only distance their readers from the Word of God. Four invited scholars, a mix of experienced and younger, will present a review of the history of linguistics and the biblical text and a recommendation for how linguistic studies should be presented in order to promote fruitful engagement with all of biblical studies (and, conversely, what other biblical studies scholars ought to be able to expect from linguistics).

Now I freely acknowledge that amid all the activity in the past six months, Elizabeth did virtually all the legwork organizing our first year’s session. (I am assured that will change in the future.) But we are excited to announce a great panel for the 2019 San Diego meeting. The rundown of contributors is as follows:

Elizabeth Robar, Tyndale House, Cambridge, Presiding

    • Steve Runge, Faithlife Corporation / Stellenbosch University – “Using Linguistics vs. Doing Linguistics: Some Lessons from Koine Greek”
    • Randall Buth, Institute for Biblical Languages and Translation – “Linguistics as a Two-edged Sword, Cutting in Both Directions”
    • Kaspars Ozolins, Tyndale House (Cambridge) – “Linguistics and Dating the Biblical Text”
    • Kevin Grasso, Hebrew University of Jerusalem – “Doing Theology or Grammar: Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew Verbs”

If you’re planning to be at ETS or SBL — both of which overlap with IBR this year — then consider joining us for this session!

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

djr_0110_16590503644_o

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.

___________________

[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

Visiting Oxford Fellowship in Septuagint Studies (2017-2018)

ochjs_logoAs much as it pains me to admit it, one of the top-tier locations for the study of the Septuagint is the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish studies (CHJS), which has been in existence now for almost fifty years. The focus of the Center is to promote education, scholarly research, and publication that embraces “the full scope of Hebrew and Jewish Studies from antiquity to the contemporary world.”

So, among the many lectures and projects under way at the Centre, the Septuagint frequently finds a prominent place. And two of the top scholars involved in the discipline are currently fellows there as well, Allison Salvesen and Jan Joosten (also see here).

Seminars in Advanced Jewish Studies

There are currently two research projects going on at the CHJS. The first is “Jews, Liberalism, Anti-Semitism: the Dialectics of Inclusion (1780-1950),” on which more can be found here. But the second is focused directly upon the Septuagint, and is entitled:

Greek expanded, Greek transformed: The Vocabulary of the Septuagint and the Cultural World of the Translators

This seminar is under the leadership of Drs. Jan Joosten (Oriental Studies, University of Oxford) and Philomen Probert (Classics and Linguistics, University of Oxford), with other members including Eberhard Bons (Faculté de théologie catholique, Université de Strasbourg), Trevor Evans (Ancient History, Macquarie University), and Gary Anderson (Theology, University of Notre Dame).

The seminar will run from January to June 2018, and is described as follows:

This Oxford Seminar will bring together an international team of scholars from different disciplines to work on the religious and political vocabulary of the Septuagint, combining the expertise of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, where it will be based, with the resources of the Oxford Classics Faculty and the Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics. The project will illuminate for biblical scholars the cultural world of those who produced and read the books of the Septuagint, and will illuminate for classical scholars the ways in which Jews of the Greek world adapted to the dominant culture and influenced it in turn.

Visiting fellows will be granted access to lib-3-e1446124895749the Leopold Muller Memorial Library and the Bodleian Library in Oxford. As it’s title indicates, the focus of this project is focus upon political and religious vocabulary used in the Septuagint and situate it within the Jewish Hellenistic context. This undertaking will bring together study of literary Greek in the Classical and post-Classical periods with investigation of the rich lexical evidence from Ptolemaic papyri and inscriptions. This is a lively area of research in Septuagint scholarship at the moment (and the one upon which my own dissertation is focused), so the results of this seminar should be very fascinating.

The intersection of a wide variety of cultures, religions, and languages in Ptolemaic Egypt produced a remarkable social context in which the Jewish translation project known as the Septuagint was undertaken. With that in view, there is a good deal of research going on at the moment into dialect, sociolect, bi-/multi-lingualism, context of situation, and usage-based linguistics in relation to the Septuagint. So when I read the prospectus for this seminar, I was glad to see the affirmation that the Greek of the Septuagint exerted its own influence within its linguistic community. This was more or less the idea that I addressed in a recent lecture at a conference in Wuppertal this past July, focusing upon one particular construction (see here).

The Seminar Schedule

This seminar will meet weekly in Oxford over two terms beginning in January of 2018, with a concluding conference in on 25-27 June. The window for application is currently open to senior scholars, postdoctoral students, and those at advanced stages of their doctoral program. The deadline for submitting an application is 16 December 2016. You can find more details about the entire seminar here.