LXX

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

LXX Summer School in Salzburg

This summer from 3 – 7 July a summer school will be held at the Faculty of Theology at the Universität Salzburg in Austria. The course will be a fantastic opportunity if you are interested in Septuagint studies, and is entitled

On Biblical Manuscripts and Their Use in Biblical Studies. The Hebrew and Greek Texts of Esther

Because this course will focus on manuscripts in both Hebrew and Greek, it should be very appealing even if you are primarily interested in textual studies of the Hebrew Bible, rather than the Septuagint. Plus, you might be able to get course credits for it.

Don’t Pass it Up

I have brought this up several times in the past, but graduate courses focused upon Septuagint studies are unfortunately quite rare, making it very difficult for interested students to get oriented to the discipline by means of direct instruction. These are rarer still if you only count courses taught by scholars who themselves were trained in the discipline and are currently active in the guild. Personally, I’m thrilled to see this opportunity at the Universität Salzburg and hope they continue to offer it annually.

Aside: Two other courses like this happen occasionally, one at Trinity Western University’s John William Wevers Institute for Septuagint Studies (see here) and another at the Septuaginta-Unternehmen at the Universität Göttingen (see here).

This summer school will be taught by Dr. Kristin De Troyer. Not only is Dr Troyer a very well respected scholar in the Septuagint community, she is also a recognized textual critic who specializes in the Historical Books. So she will make a sure guide for this interesting and intricate subject matter.

Scholars have long recognized the complexity of the textual history of Esther. In almost every verse of the book the Hebrew and Greek texts differ by a word, a clause, or even whole phrases. And it is unclear whether this is the result of a different Vorlage (the Hebrew source text translated), a translator taking liberties (the Greek of Esther is fairly expansive), or the result of textual transmission and revision in Greek. Plus there is the major issue of the so-called “Additions to Esther.” These constitute six long portions (labelled as Sections A-F) of over a hundred verses of text that do not appear in the Masoretic Text (MT), nearly doubling the length of the book.

Just as intriguing to Septuagint scholars, the book of Esther was translated into fairly idiomatic Greek with a style not strictly adherent to the Hebrew syntax of the MT. In other words, Esther was translated into conventional Greek with relatively less concern to mimic the underlying grammatical structure than many other books in the Greek Old Testament. Along these lines, the two royal edicts in Additions B and E constitute some of the most literary Greek found in the Septuagint. There is still uncertainty with regard to whether these (and the other) Additions constitute original Greek compositions, or rather preserve a translation of a now-lost Hebrew text. Moreover, LXX-Esther has a rich array of vocabulary and apparent neologisms awaiting fresh study.

If you are intrigued by Septuagint scholarship – plus good chocolate and hiking for that matter – then you should give serious consideration to applying for this course.

Course Flyer

 

Peter Williams on the so-called “Septuagint”

Not too long ago it was conference season for biblical scholars everywhere. Now we are all feeling the afterglow of Christmas and the saccharine lull until the New Year begins. With that subdued state in mind, I thought I would post something a bit more lively and entertaining (which is not to say uninformative!).

As you may recall, the 2016 ETS Septuagint Studies consultation had a stellar line-up. One of our panelists was Dr. Peter J. Williams of Tyndale House, Cambridge. Pete was recently given the scholastic title “Principal” of Tyndale House, which I must say conjures up slightly more benign imagery than his previous title, “Warden.” Thankfully, Pete is as personally congenial as he is academically rigorous, which is why our steering committee asked him to contribute to the 2016 panel.

“The” Septuagint

I often tease Pete for being a tinfoil-hat conspiracy theorist when it comes to the Septuagint, since he is often heard denying its existence. But really, Pete’s hyperbole on this point betrays the fact that he is more aware than most of what we (think we) mean when we say “Septuagint,” and the manifold problems that the term itself entails.

The video below is a recording of his lecture at the 2016 Septuagint Studies session, “On the Invention and Problem of the Term ‘Septuagint’,” in which he presents the fascinating history of the word itself and the concept(s) associated with it. And, of course, Pete does this with characteristic flair.

So grab one more glass of eggnog and enjoy Pete’s lecture!