Updates

Spring 2015 Update

With things blooming, daylight enduring, and undergraduates looking nervous about exams, it is finally spring here in Cambridge. Now that Easter Term has begun at the university the town is much fuller and livelier. I thought it would be good to give a year-to-date review of my activities for anyone interested. Here’s what I’ve been up to:

PhD Research

The biggest chunk of my time obviously goes into this category. It’s hard to believe that I am entering into the last third of my first year already. But there is a lot to show for it, thankfully. My work thus far this year has progressed relatively well, despite some unforeseen circumstances. Most notably, my advisor, Jim Aitken, has been on leave since the beginning of the calendar year for health reasons, so I have been temporarily re-assigned to work with Dr. Peter J. Williams. Pete is an excellent scholar and has been a great supervisor. He also happens to be the “warden” at Tyndale House, where I conduct my research, so it is easy to catch up over tea.

Until mid-March I was working on a large section examining rare words in the Greek translation of Judges. This mainly consisted of about twenty-six “hapax legomena,” or words used just once in a given corpus. I considered each word etymologically, but also synchronically to whatever extent possible with lexical evidence from post-classical documentary evidence. Not all of the words had new evidence, of course, but some did and that helped draw observations upon word-use in LXX-Judges. I will be presenting excerpts from this research (the more interesting cases, I hope) at an upcoming conference at the Faculty (see below).

First Year Registration Assessment

As far as I am aware, no new PhD student shows up at Cambridge as a “real” PhD student. Instead, you are officially registered as a “probationary” candidate for the degree. At the end of your first year, each student must submit a portfolio of your work thus far. This includes a chunky writing sample, a bibliography, a summary of your dissertation, and a table of contents with prospective timeline for completion. It’s a big project, and it took up quite a bit of my time. In early May I submitted the portfolio, which included a fuller version of the paper I presented at the last SBL conference in San Diego as the writing sample.

Recent and Upcoming Presentations

Oxbridge

As mentioned, I presented a paper on the rare word studies I’ve been up to at the Oxbridge Biblical Studies conference (see Greg Lanier’s post here). This was a great opportunity to get some feedback from other students of either Cambridge or the Other Place doing similar work.

SBL

As outrageous as it is considering it is still over six months away, planning has commenced for the annual Society of Biblical Literature conference. This year it will go down in Atlanta, and so you can count on a lot of biblical scholars making very forced and embarrassing references to various aspects hip-hop culture. That notwithstanding, the conference is a great opportunity – I’ve written about the value of attending one of these even as a graduate student (here and here).

I will be presenting at the conference again this year. There’s nothing quite like reading about an obscure topic you’ve spent months investigating to a group of jet-lagged scholars exhausted from hauling new books through miles of conference center hallways. But I digress. For lack of better judgment, I submitted two proposals and so will be presenting twice. More on that as I come to terms with it.

ETS

Much like an eager younger brother, ETS unabashedly follows SBL around every year, but usually turns out to be a lot more fun. I will write more about it as I find out details of this year’s conference. I may have yet another presentation, but I have not heard one way or another at this point.

Göttingen Septuaginta Summer School

Not too long ago I posted about the Septuagint “summer school” that happens through the University of Göttingen each summer. As it turns out I have the opportunity to participate, which I am greatly anticipating. I don’t really have any more details about it than what I wrote up in the earlier post, but I’ll be sure to provide them as I find out more.

Publications

I’ve had a few things published this year so far also. I recently began periodically contributing to the Gospel Coalition blog. This year I’ve done two pieces (here and here) with a few others on the boiler. It’s a lot of fun to have a more creative (i.e. less lexicographical) outlet, so I’m grateful for the opportunity.

On the academic end of the spectrum, I had an article accepted for publication in the Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, known to anglophones as simply ZAW. As this is my first peer reviewed publication in a journal, I am especially pleased. The ZAW is an excellent resource of high end biblical studies research, so it is an honor to be included. The article is a culmination of an investigation that I began back in seminary into the so-called “broken acrostic” of Nahum 1. I examine the Septuagint translation and then interact with scholars who attempt to emend (i.e. alter) the Hebrew text to square with what they think it should be to sync up with the perceived acrostic. In the end, I find this approach untenable, and of course make a totally bulletproof case. It should come out in the fall.

Major Secret Thing

The final update I’ll give is The Major Secret Thing. Of course, that’s all I can say about it. More to come.

Lexicography for the Church

In the bleak midwinter of England, it’s easy to start questioning everything. Roughly halfway through my first year of doctoral research at Cambridge, there have been times already that I have wondered “why am I doing this?” From what I gather at tea time with my fellow researchers at Tyndale House, this is not an uncommon experience.

At least at this point in my work, for the most part I do Greek lexicography. Yes, I am an “Old Testament guy” by disposition, but the Septuagint is in many ways a textual and historical “bridge” between the testaments, with lots of challenges all to itself. These challenges unavoidably influence the Hebrew and Greek Bible, and how we understand them. That is what makes Septuagint studies so important (and incredibly underworked, especially among conservative Biblical Scholars, but that is a post for another day).

Justifying (& Explaining) My Work

One of the most significant ways that Septuagint studies are important for understanding the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament is lexicography. Recently I was reading an article by the eminent lexicographer John A. L. Lee. In it, he makes a series of observations that I think neatly encapsulate why work like mine is, in fact, relevant not just to the academy, but also to the Church.

Lee points out that, as long as the New Testament and other ancient Greek texts are read, there will be a need for lexicons. For that reason (along with others), Lee rightly notes that the discipline of Greek lexicography is certainly far from over:

Not only will lexicography be in demand, but it will continue to carry a weighty responsibility. This is because of the special character of lexicons. Lexicons are regarded by their users as authoritative, and they put their trust in them. Lexicons are reference books presenting a compressed, seemingly final statement of fact, with an almost legal weight. The mere fact that something is printed in a book gives it authority, as far as most people are concerned. And understandably: if one does not know the meaning of a word, one is predisposed to trust the only means of rescue from ignorance.*

Lexicography & Scripture

To put it succinctly, if we wish to understand Scripture accurately, then we must understand Greek accurately. (This includes the Greek of the Septuagint since, among other things, it is a textual witness to the Hebrew Old Testament.) Greek lexicography is therefore directly connected to the practice of the Church.

But it is important to note a key phrase in Lee’s quote: “seemingly final.” Lee goes on to say that lexicographical work in Greek – especially the vocabulary of the LXX – is far from over not just in terms of demand, but in terms of accuracy. There is a huge amount of sources not yet incorporated into our understanding of Koine Greek. Undertaking exhaustive and integrative analysis of this body of language is therefore essential to interpreting Scripture rightly.

While the modifications to our current state of Greek lexical knowledge may prove to be minimal, surely there is no improvement too small to abandon the formidable lexicographical task before us, whether it be a better grasp upon a NT Greek word or phrase, or upon the sense of a text in the Greek Old Testament quoted in the NT, or upon an ancient Jewish translator’s understanding of his source text that sheds light on the Hebrew bible. Greek – even Septuagint – lexicography is foundational to the task of Biblical scholarship, and therefore of great value in the life of the Church as well.

And so, we press on.

____________

*Lee, John A. L. “The Present State of Lexicography of Ancient Greek.” Pages 66-74 (here 66) in Biblical Greek Language and Lexicography: Essays in Honor of Frederick W. Danker. Edited by Bernard A. Taylor, et al. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2004.

The 2014 Conference Season: A Review

San Diego was Awesome

It probably goes without saying, but this year’s biblical studies conference location is the best I’ve yet experienced. This was only my third year participating in these events, but 70 degrees and sunny every day sure beats the dreary, sub-freezing temperatures I was met with in both Chicago (’12) and Baltimore (’13).

That being said, it was about a 20-hour journey there from Cambridge, all told, so it did not come without pain on my part. Nevertheless, I did have the opportunity to present at both the ETS and SBL conferences, as I wrote about here.

A Study in Contrast

It should go without saying that not everyone who participates in the one conference participates in the other. Indeed, ETS, being as it is evangelical (‘E’), is quite a bit smaller than SBL. The latter tends to throw conferences that are dumbfoundingly well-organized and impressive, fueled by the huge amounts of members and funding poured into the society year after year. On the other hand, ETS is – well – poor. As a result, ETS is rarely in the same venue as SBL for these conferences, and this year the difference was particularly humorous. Both sites were nice, don’t get me wrong. But that was due largely to the fact that they were both in sunny San Diego where palm trees grow like dandelions.

I’ll let you puzzle out which conference center was the venue for which society.

Option A:

Option B:

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The Papers

Naturally, I benefited equally from both conferences, however. Just because ETS is poor does not mean it’s not worth your time. Just the opposite! It’s the perfect reason to become involved. The smaller group makes it actually a bit more fun than SBL, where one tends to float anonymously through seas of scholars of all stripes.

“‘There is No Spoon’: Text-Critical Question-Begging in the So-Called ‘Acrostic’ of Nahum 1

To briefly overview the topics I presented on, at ETS I discussed the acrostic of Nahum 1, which in truth is really only a partial acrostic. If you don’t know what an acrostic is, it only gets more obscure from here. The partial acrostic in the first eight verses of the book has a few “problematic” lines, which do not begin with the “right” letters. It is fairly common, therefore, for commentators to “fix” or “emend” the text in one way or another to “restore” it. To attempt to do so is fine as far as it goes. But the problem is that most commentators go too far.

One of the challenges of OT studies is the scant textual evidence at hand. Basically, we have the Masoretic text, the versions (the Latin Vulgate, the Septuagint, and other translations), and the Qumran scrolls. This makes arguments for changing the MT very challenging to make well. In short, in this paper I go through the common arguments for changing the MT to “restore” this acrostic on the basis of the LXX as a text-critical witness, and pick them apart one at a time. Mostly, the arguments are poorly founded or misuse the evidence, especially when the LXX version is understood in light of its translational character.

I am hoping to get this paper turned into a published article.

The Divergent Battle Language in LXX-Judges: ΠΟΛΕΜΕΩ and ΠΑΡΑΤΑΣΣΩ

This paper is directly related to my dissertation research. I have realized that the most straightforward way to explain what I am doing here at Cambridge is to say “Greek lexicography.” Now, that may not help some people, but it is accurate. And I am using the Greek texts of LXX-Judges as a “heuristic environment” of sorts. Basically this means I’m looking at the ways in which the two Greek translations of the one Hebrew book phrase things in different ways, and then investigating why that might be the case.

The way I do that is to dive into Greek documentary evidence for better understanding of the word or words in question. Believe it or not, there is a vast body of Greek writing out there that is mostly ignored by Greek scholars. The reason (simply put) is because it is koine Greek, and not the high-flying and academically respectable Classical Greek that has been so popular for, oh, two thousand years. There is a bit of an academic tradition of snubbing koine Greek, although a major reason for that is because we didn’t quite know that koine Greek was a thing until about a century ago. Until then, the Greek Bible was about the only existing koine document, which is why scholars though it was “Holy Ghost Greek” or a special Jewish-Greek dialect.

But when huge amounts of papyri and inscriptions written in the same kind of Greek were literally dug up about a century ago, all that changed, although there is still lots of work to be done. That’s where I fit in. My paper focused on the differing terminology used for “to battle” or “battle” in both translations. I found that in the B-text, the less common and seemingly unlikely words were chosen in most places. As I investigated the data, I uncovered what I believe is a previously unnoticed semantic change in the words in question: παρατάσσω and παράταξις. These words are used in ways similar to the B-text of Judges as in koine historical literature, and so I suggest that the B-text has literary or specialized terminology in it.

Other Points of Interest

There is too much else to say about these conferences. Suffice it to say that I truly enjoyed my involvement in the Institute for Biblical Research (or IBR, here), and the Scripture and Hermeneutics sub-group (through the Paidaia Centre, here). It was also a great pleasure to meet and talk with many senior scholars in various fields. I’ve said before that attending these conferences pays for itself in terms of the conversations that are available there. The feedback on one’s work and the chance to learn about initiatives and opportunities you did not and would not otherwise know about are invaluable.

I’m already looking forward to next year! As a teaser, there are rumblings of a new Septuagint section at the next ETS conference. But we will have to wait and see what happens.