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:


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.

To the Old Country

Over the past few months I have been keeping a fairly regular pace to my blog posts, usually adding one every two weeks (or “fortnight”) on Mondays. In that spirit, I wanted to post something today, on schedule. Seeing, however, that tonight I am boarding a plane with my wife and two children – plus three suitcases, three carry-ons, a stroller, a car seat, &c., &c. – bound for England on a one-way ticket, I thought a more personal entry might be appropriate (and manageable).

Some of you may have happened upon my more personal “family” blog already, here. We’ve already begun chronicling some of the biggest preparatory hurtles we’ve dealt with the past few months. Main features have been items like, say, having a second child, selling our car, finding a home in Cambridge, and obtaining visas. It has been a very full summer, and I have only barely been thinking much about things academic (!).

We decided to get over to England about as early as the authorities would allow. Considering that we have an 8-week-old with us, plus a highly energetic two-year-old, it seemed best to squeeze in as much adjustment time as possible. So after we arrive I will have about four weeks until Michaelmas term begins, and my work gets under way.

We are very excited, and of course I am quite enthusiastic about my upcoming research at Cambridge. I will hopefully keep this site filled with interesting things along the way. With that in mind, my next posts will be a two-part series entitled “How to Attend Biblical Studies Conferences – A Guide for Students,” so watch for it in a few weeks.

Tally ho!

Doctoral Studies in Old Testament

A few months ago I posted that I was working on doctoral applications and had begun to hear back from schools. As the cards have fallen, I have accepted a place as a doctoral candidate in divinity at the University of Cambridge. The decision took time given the many variables, but in the end I am very happy – honored, actually – to have the opportunity. Come Michaelmas Term of 2014, which begins 1 October, I will begin my work at Cambridge in Old Testament studies under the supervision of Dr. James Aitken (also here).

To those unfamiliar with how a British university system works (this is most of humanity), it comes as a surprise that my work will consist not of attending classes and taking exams. Instead, I will be conducting independent research and writing – lots and lots of writing. Much of this work will take place at my college, Fitzwilliam (“Fitz”) College,  and the Faculty of Divinity (which is a building, not just a group of people).

I have also arranged to conduct much of my research at the Tyndale House, which is located in Cambridge, close to Fitz and the Faculty (map). The Tyndale House is a research center specifically for Christian biblical studies scholars. It has carrels “to let” for long-term projects like mine, and even accommodations for shorter-term stays (like professors on sabbatical). It also has a fabulous library, of course!

So although many (many) details have yet to be worked out as to relocating my family across the pond, this is a basic picture of our next three or four years. I won’t discuss my research topic in detail here, but will leave it for a later post, perhaps. I will also likely post on some of the broad differences between British and American doctoral programs (and why my extended family is so confused about what I’ll actually be doing in England).

On a more personal note, my wife is hoping to keep up with posts on our “family blog,” The Ross Family in Cambridge, to post updates about our life in Cambridge. If you’re inclined, you can keep up with us that way!