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Wednesday, February 24, 2010
  The Invention of Hebrew: Chapter 2: What was the alphabet for?
Chapter two does live up to my expectations, though it challenges some of my preconceived ideas. I had accepted the conventional view that, since the alphabet is a much simpler technology of writing, it of itself promoted a "democratisation" of writing in cultures that adopted it by comparison with syllabic writing. In particular I have assumed and taught that this was so in the (Southern) Levant compared with Mesopotamia or Egypt. Now Seth asks the very good question: If alphabetic writing was so superior to sylabaries how come it was adopted so slowly between the first known examples and its widespread use?
A specimen of Proto-Sinaitic script from Wikipedia
For most of the second half of the 20th century the earliest alphabetic writing seemed to be the Proto-Siniatic inscriptions from around 1500BCE. However, since 1999 the Darnells' discovery of an earlier example of alphabetic writing at Wadi el-Hol pushes the likely date of the invention of the alphabet back to probably between 2000 and 1800BCE.

If the superior or easier technology of alphabetic writing was not the driver of its adoption, what was? "What was the alphabet for?"

Sanders suggests the new form of writing, associated as it was by its origin with those on the margins of organised society (as is the [presumed?] case for examples of Proto-Siniatic), was adopted to express a different and more inclusive vision of society. At Ugarit (Late Bronze Age) one ritual text was found in multiple locations, while all others were found only in one copy. The exception is a communal liturgy of atonement.

In Hebrew too, in the biblical texts (presumed to come from the [late?] Iron Age), one text stands out, the scapegoat ritual in Lev 16. It was retained among the traditions preserved in Scripture, despite fitting poorly with the ethos and ideology of Leviticus or of its presumed Tradents. It like the ritual at Ugarit involves "the people" as a significant actor.

Alongside this Sanders criticises the tendency among biblical scholars to focus on the state (witness all the excitement recently about some substantial walls in Jerusalem that may now be dated to the tenth century), whilst there is evidence for an alternative politics not based on the polis or state, but rather tribal, and typical of speakers of West Semitic languages. He writes eloquently of the flexibility (with membership determined not merely by birth, but also and perhaps more significantly by ritual and declaration) and durability of tribal authority when compared with a "state" and its kingship.

[An interesting, almost throwaway line, suggests a connection between the Hebrew Bible's unusual prominence of narrative prose and the somewhat lengthy and discursive political addresses found in the Mari diplomatic correspondence.]

Intriguingly, but frustratingly, chapter two does not explicitly answer its title. To discover, for sure, what Sanders believes was the purpose of the adoption of the alphabet one has to read on...

As you can see this is page-turning stuff ;) indeed this chapter alone asks biblical scholars to overturn a number of (too little examined) presuppositions. If even most of Seth's many theses are widely accepted this book will be a landmark in the discipline of Old Testament studies.



If you have read this book, and have reviewed it please post a link in the comments to your review, if you have not (but either agree or disagree with the opinions and reactions poszted here) please post a comment explaining how. I am finding this book exciting reading and one reason for posting my reactions as I read is in the hopes of reading with other interesting and interested readers!

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Friday, February 05, 2010
  The Invention of Hebrew: first and last paragraphs
Not having read the whole book, or even (yet) the beginning and ending of each chapter put me at a disadvantage in reading the "Conclusion". I am not sure whether it is a "tell 'em what you told them" or a "so here's what that all means" conclusion.

Maybe I'll have to rethink and read the first and last paragraph(s) of each chapter first - different books need to be read differently. Actually already with chapter one it is clear that I should read the first few paragraphs, down to the first section heading, as evidently these are Seth's intro to the chapter as a whole.

Actually, I'm going to revise my approach. Not just because (unusually) I am reading the whole of this book - my normal approach to reading is geared at avoiding reading more than I need ;) But because (having peeked at the beginnings and endings) the chapters look so exciting I want to read them properly before I savour the conclusion.

This is how books should be written!

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Thursday, February 04, 2010
  The Invention of Hebrew: Introduction
In the "Introduction" Seth lays out the four chapters, paying particular attention to the questions that will be raised, and thus providing engaging teasers drawing the reader in.

The book as a whole is situated within a framework which stresses both the direct appeal of biblical texts to their hearers ("you") and to the (usually) communal identity of those hearers ("Hear, O Israel!"). As a Baptist, inheritor of the Anabaptists, I love the stress on the way Scripture produces and moulds the community that reads it. This emphasis will be crucial to the book as a whole.

So, the first chapter will situate the discussion in the broad sweep of intellectual history, and is intended to make a case for the claim that this book aims at a significant paradigm shift to viewing language and its literatures as constituitive of social identity as well as its product.

Chapter two focuses on the Ugaritic literature that precedes and in many ways prefigures the Hebrew Scriptures. It will claim that the combination of the technological form of that writing (alphabet rather than Cuneiform syllabary), its language (Ugaritic rather than Akkadian) and its literary style (address to "you") combine to make it revolutionary. It will also trace this political consciousness back into the Mari texts as well as onward into the Hebrew writings.

With this much (hopefully) in place the second half of the book promises to trace more closely the development of these literary phenomena against the history of the Late Bronze and Iron Ages. This seems to be where the book will become more than merely very interesting! In particular the notion of Assyrian vassals "pirating" the "genres of imperial sovereignty". It is here that Sanders will claim that in this process local rulers "invented" their local languages, and deliberately distinguished them. I love Seth's commentary here (6) on the opening words of the Mesha stele: "'I am Mesha, king of Moab, man of Diban.' Rather than claiming to be king of the universe [as Assyrian rulers routinely did] Mesha claims to be a native of his hometown." I resonate too with the recognition that: "Alphabetic writing, low-budget and easier to learn and produce, circulated outside the court" allowing Levantine communities to speak back to their rulers :)

The discussion of scribal culture and training sounds really exciting too, and the claim that alphabetic scribal practice (in cultures of the Levant) may not have been like that of Imperial syllabic scribal culture seems both obvious and interesting. Here Sanders' determination to deal with the datable (epigraphic) texts from the period sounds excitingly new and powerful.

Yes! I'm sold, this is a book I'll enjoy reading, but already in ways I have not had time to explore here I am aware that it will not merely confirm my prejudices but also challenge and enlighten them, not least by the way Seth intends to situate the discussion rigorously in a broader than biblical context.

This is a proud book, the first sentence under "Limits and goals" claims: "This book is not a history of biblical literature, but ... an explanation of how shuch literature became possible." (7)

[Yesterday, I planned to deal with the "Conclusion" as well as the "Introduction" today, but time is passing and thoughts of land and earth call me back to Amos...]

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010
  The Invention of Hebrew: First impressions
At SBL Seth told me that in exchange for a review here (and/or in a journal) his publisher would be willing to send me a copy of his new book:
Sanders, Seth L. The Invention of Hebrew. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009.

How could I refuse, the pre-publication hype and Seth's own descriptions of the book suggest that I'll either love or hate it. It seems it addresses my passionate interest in the intersection of culture and technology, especially writing and communications technologies. And it is focused on the "invention of Hebrew". My only sadness was that I had to wait till I returned home from a ten week working trip/holiday in Thailand and other interesting places. I'm home, and along with other goodies the book was waiting for me :) I'll post the review here in several parts, and I'll follow my usual procedure for reading a book (rather than for writing a traditional review, which aims to become a seamless whole) and post piecemeal as I read.

So first I looked at the most important bits (at least for getting an overall idea of a book):
  • Publishers blurb
  • Table of contents
  • (Index etc.) not a read just a quick scan
  • Preface (unless the first sentence or two suggest it is a waste of time)
The Invention of Hebrew is an attractively produced small volume (171 pages of text - no small is good, big just means more waffle like an airport block buster a waste of time, and in an academic book probably not entertaining either). The paper feels nice, though the print could be larger and sharper or I could be younger and sharper. It has a short but useful looking index and a bibliography. (Don't you hate books where you have to hunt the notes for the first mention of a work you need to consult!) Priced at $50 but the publisher (University of Illinois Press, who have a strong stable of interesting Bible related works now) it is even better value at Amazon for $40. By only complaint so far - and if you read this Seth please pass it on to the series editor - is that it follows the idiotic habit of listing the notes at the back and numbering them separately for each chapter. (This device developed in the BC period when it was hard work for poor writers and editors to keep track of all the notes and difficult for typesetters to place them at the foot of the relevant page. Computers changed all this. But graphic designers like "clean-looking pages" and actual users are not considered, once we have bought a copy publishers have no interest in our reading experience. Readers of academic texts need references, so either use the Harvard system of inline references, or use footnotes!)

The publishers blurb claims that Seth's book is groundbreaking: "absolutely innovative", "makes new knowledge", "first book to..." It also suggests that the work has an interesting thesis that Hebrew was a "self-conscious political language" promoting "a source of power previously unknown in written literature: 'the people' as the protagonist of religion and politics". Which is nicely sweeping and in a bookstore would lead me to open the work.

The preface is not at all one of the dead and dull ones that give "preface" a bad name, it is lively, quasi-autobiographical, and tells us that Seth intends to address loads of interesting questions:
  • Language and identity: "Did writing always flow from your spoken language and everyday identity, or did the relationship change? And if it did could that change who you were?"
  • Bible and politics The history of how "the Bible exercises power: through the manner in which it speaks to people". Have maximalists and minimalists both connived at reducing politics in Ancient Israel to the exercise of state power? (A question dear to the heart of every aspiring Anabaptist ;)
  • Biblical Studies and the academy "What does biblical studies have to say to the rest of the academy?"
The table of contents reads as if the book were a collection of unrelated essays:
  1. Modernity's Ghosts: The Bible as Political Communication
  2. What Was the Alphabet For?
  3. Empires and Alphabets in Late Bronze Age Canaan
  4. The Invention of Hebrew in Iron Age Israel
The four chapters are enclosed by an "Introduction" and a "Conclusion", but their titles do not strongly suggest their coherence and progression. Each looks interesting but they do not obviously work together. However, the sort of questions foregrounded in the "Preface" suggests that the blurb may not be exaggerating, this could be a ground breaking and interesting book. So I am hoping the "Introduction"will reveal how the chapters work.

All in all, I can hardly wait to read the "Introduction" and "Conclusion" tomorrow!

(But today I must make more progress on my chapter for The Gospel and the Land of Promise. My chapter will either be titled: "'Exile away from his land:' is landlessness the ultimate punishment in Amos?" or perhaps: "Land and earth, judgement and gospel in Amos".)

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Sunday, January 10, 2010
  The Earliest Hebrew Inscription (so far)
Some 18 months back the excavators of Khirbet Qeiyafa near the Elah valley in the Judean Shephelah announced the discovery of an ostracon (potsherd) with an inscription they believed to be in Hebrew. The ostracon was dated from its context to the 10th Century BCE, the time many people would date the United Monarchy of David and Solomon. At the time photos were published that did not really allow one to read the inscription and only a few words had been tentatively deciphered.

Now a text and English translation have been published (at least informally in the news media). Since this publication is NOT scholarly but promotional, and since no other scholars have had access to either the text or to good photographs this text must be treated with some caution!

Credit: Courtesy of the University of Haifa Usage Restrictions: This image may only be used with the given credit.

However, if Prof. Galil's reading of the text is even approximately correct this discovery is very important. He reads (and translated) the text like this:
1' you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].
2' Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]
3' [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and]
4' the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.
5' Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.
If this is roughly correct, while it does not (despite the quoted claims in the press article) either contain ideas that were "unfamiliar to all the cultures in the region besides the Hebrew society" and alone it certainly cannot support Prof. Galil's claim that:
It indicates that the Kingdom of Israel already existed in the 10th century BCE and that at least some of the biblical texts were written hundreds of years before the dates presented in current research.
But it might help support the likelihood that biblical accounts of Daviod and Solomon are not entirely fictional, and cause significant increase in estimates of the likelihood that significant texts could have been composed and written in Hebrew at that time. And, unless closer examination shows that it was not written in Hebrew, it IS the earliest evidence for Hebrew writing so far!



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Saturday, May 23, 2009
  Eternal life?
Ilkka Rauhala posted this video to his facebook status. It nicely states some of the communication issues in presenting "the gospel" to a Buddhist.



I can't help wondering if (even for Western cultures and languages) "eternal life" is the best translation of ζωή αἰώνιος? Might αἰώνιος not suggest more life of the age that's coming, so be suggesting something like the dreams of a new age in texts like Rev 21:1ff. or Is 11:1ff.; 61:1ff.? Can any of you Greek/NT scholars help clarify this for me?

I am an INFP so I work most easily with intuitions, and my intuition is that ζωή αἰώνιος sounds like "life of the age to come" especially if I back translate to something like עוֹלָם...

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Saturday, May 02, 2009
  Carnival 41
James McGrath has produced another copious Biblical Studies Carnival, the fourthy first! As usual there are lots of posts to notice that one failed to notice. I had not seen at the time The Floppy Hat's interesting post On Literacy in Ancient Israel, in case you missed it my own ראשׁ as headland? got a mention. Life has still been too busy for me to convince myself one way or the other on the question, so if you have thoughts on whether  רֹאשׁ הַכַּרְמֶל is a "crest" or a "headland" do add your comments so I can ponder them!

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Thursday, April 02, 2009
  ראשׁ as headland?
Carmel ridge from south.
One of the delights of writing a commentary, at least one that is published publicly (here I intend to imply, rudely, that print publication seeks to privatise works, while electronic publication actually publishes them ;) though that is not the purpose of this post), is that readers write back. Today I had an email from such a reader.
...reading your commentary, I am not happy with the "dried crest of Carmel", for the crest of every mountain is dry, naturally, even without Adonai roaring, and the crest ist scarcely a pasture.

How about taking ro'sh not in the partitive sense (top of mountain), but in the metaphorical (huge rock rising from the plain), as in the european languages "Cape", from Latin caput head? Head of Carmel would then be a poetical version of the prosaic "Mount Carmel" and we can easily imagine meadows in the lower parts.

I want to propose this idea to you as an experienced scientist, while I am quite new in Hebrew.
from Carmel north-east
This is an interesting suggestion. Certainly in English not only "cape" but also "headland" and "head" itself (as in Bream Head) would seem to be direct uses of "head" metaphorically of just such a geographical feature. However, I can find (on a quick look - life is hectic at present, selling our home and B having medical tests etc.) no evidence for this usage in biblical Hebrew.

Does anybody know either of such Hebrew usage, or of such an expression in a related language? If so please let me know!

I am not as convinced by the argument that this makes better sense of the verse in Amos, because (at least in modern times) the Carmel Ridge is quite forested and green. But again does anyone know if this is from modern irrigation or whether it would likely have been green in the Iron Age?

The mention in the commentary is at Amos 1:2.

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Thursday, February 05, 2009
  Hebrew and Greek fonts
If you are using (or used to use) "legacy fonts" to put Hebrew and/or Greek into documents your help is needed. You will know if you are using such fonts instead of Unicode when you give the document to someone else, it may look strange (or even like comic book swearing ;) to them.

Thomas is preparing a tool to covert such documents to Unicode, now standard and much more transportable! But he needs help, a large collection of documents with old Hebrew and/or Greek text that he can test the conversion tool with to make sure no characters or accents etc. are not converted properly.

If you might have such documents email me, or leave a message in the comments and I will put you and Thomas in touch...

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009
  Hebrew Bible audio
For a course on Biblical Narrative I am teaching this year I want to give some students (who are beginners at Hebrew) a text that has parallel Hebrew and English translation, with also the Hebrew as audio. The Worms Document System allows me to create this, not just as a video but so that a student can click on a phrase to hear it, or hear each chapter while the text is highlighted and scrolls. (See Learning Jonah below for a video of this in operation.)

The trouble is that the Hebrew audio Bible commonly available on the web, by Shmuelof, is copyright and the copyright holders are difficult to contact and might not be willing to give permission. My own Hebrew reading is not good enough. I used it for the Amos commentary, but it was criticised in Ehud Ben Zvi's review of the published version (he suggested I could have used the Shmuelof version, perhaps unaware that it was copyright protected).

There are bound to be others who would be glad of such a resource. In fact I know that Charles Grebe, who produced the magnificent Jonah Comic, as well as a load of other brilliant Hebrew learning tools online, would be. So, does anyone have suggestions of people able (i.e. with good clear voices and good clear Hebrew) and willing to start recording the Bible under a CC or public domain licence? I'd be delighted to give technical assistance and encouragement!

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Sunday, August 31, 2008
  Hebrew vocabulary learning
Alan Lenzi has posted about his approach to teaching vocabulary to beginning Hebrew students. "The idea is rather simple: provide a simple or familiar context for each vocabulary word and one will more easily remember the word."

This approach is one we valued in developing דָּבָר Biblical Hebrew Vocabularies project. Along with the other contextual material: sound, picture, other forms, semantic field... we included a phrase from the Bible that uses the word to be learned. In our version the student can also hear n0t only the lemma, but also the example phrase.

Allan has prepared lists for about 1200 words. We only have about half that "done" so far. But if you notice that "vocabularies" is plural in the name we chose you may also spot that with our system you can produce the vocabulary you need for whichever grammar book or course you are using. If you need a word we have not yet done you can become a "contributor" and get a login to add data to the collection to fill in the gap.

Here is what one word would look like to the student.

BTW if you want Greek flashcards Danny has a system to offer. Which allows me to mention that דָּבָר Biblical Hebrew Vocabularies project also allows you to output your vocabularies for printing to use as flashcards. (Actually flash two sheets of paper that slide but that will save trees too!)

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Monday, January 28, 2008
  International Bibical Studies Writing Month: progress?
I have not reported for a while on my progress. Mainly because there has not been as much as I'd like :(

However, I have submitted the article: "The image of the invisible God: (an)iconic knowing, God and gender" and I have made good progress on notes on the poetics of biblical narrative (I am not sure if such textbook-type material really counts though :( and I have an abstract for SBL International (here in Auckland in July), which considering that at the start of the month I had not even a little idea to work on, indeed just a few days ago I was still idea-less, is not bad going. Here it is, though if you want to offer suggestions of criticism (especially constructive criticism) please be quick as the deadline is VERY close ;)

Diagnosing the mortality of metaphors in dead languages: בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל as an example

The term בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל is asserted to be a "dead metaphor", merely a demonym. The term "dead metaphor" is itself a dead metaphor, whose meaning is complex. However, the linguistic study of dead metaphors offers insights into the philosophy of mind and the psychology of language,[1] which have potential benefits for biblical scholarship.

Distinguishing "live" from "dead" metaphor is relatively easy in living languages, one can potentially interrogate native speakers, but correspondingly problematic in "dead languages". As Cohen notes, our language sample in the Hebrew Bible may be untypical, so frequency is perhaps not a good measure of the mortality of a metaphor.[2]

This paper will explore possible approaches understanding the functioning of such language by assessing the metaphorical mortality of the term בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. Is this term simply not a metaphor, rather as a "dead letter" was never alive? Is it, like a dead parrot, beyond resuscitation? Or, can we discern instances where, through interaction with the cotext, the metaphorical import of the term may be being revived by the text, much as I might revive even though "dead" tired?

Biblical uses of בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל will be analysed using Guttenplan's four point ordering of the mortality of metaphorical content.[3] Passages where this (possibly) dead metaphor is used in ways which if it were "live" would create a mixed metaphor, and examples where the metaphor is extended, will offer a means of assessing the liveliness of potentially dead metaphors in a "dead language".

This examination of the biblical term is not comprehensive, or quantitative, rather it seeks, through the use of selected examples, to show how Guttenplan's approach can help towards a more nuanced understanding of the usage of potentially dead metaphors in the Biblical Hebrew repertoire.



[1] Derek Melser, The Act Of Thinking (MIT Press, 2004), 171; Samuel Guttenplan, Objects of Metaphor (Oxford University Press, 2005), 183.

[2] Mordechai Z. Cohen, Three Approaches to Biblical Metaphor: From Abraham Ibn Ezra and Maimonides (BRILL, 2003), 25 n.81.

[3] Guttenplan, Objects of Metaphor, 192-3.


Yes, it is true, I confess. The idea for the paper and the work to check that it is viable all happened in the last few days, as a look at the previous post might suggest, almost... I had been thinking along these lines off and on for a while, but it had never become a "research project" till now.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008
  Testing metaphors for signs of life
Languages are in part composed of dead metaphors, words and phrases that are used with meanings that may once have been metaphorical, but which now no longer carry such metaphorical force. Wikipedia lists some good and some not so good examples, I think "windfall", "foot" (of a mountain or hill), "branches" (of government) illustrate the phenomenon well. Biblical Hebrew is doubtless no exception. So, Charles (considering the claim in Dille, Sarah J. Mixing Metaphors God as Mother and Father in Deutero-Isaiah. Journal for the study of the Old Testament, 398. London; New York: T & T Clark International, 2004)
that:
the phrase bene-yisra’el (’children of Israel’), ... is so conventional elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible that it is essentially a dead metaphor
asks an interesting question: how would one prove this assertion?

Much of literary, and therefore biblical scholarship, is unprovable. However, often one can provide a way to disprove it, or to suggest that it might be true. In this case (it seems to me) that looking for usages of the term where the supposed connection with parenting is made explicit offers such disproof or confirmation. If in no, or only very few, case(s) does the author make a connection to parenting in the context, then it is likely to be a dead metaphor, if in many cases there is such a reference it is likely not to be a dead metaphor.

For if authors had a live sense of implied parenting when using the term then surely at least sometimes they would express these parental thoughts in the cotext?

So, I think that the phrase "as numerous as the sands of the sea shore" had essentially died, or at least was seriously indisposed in the biblical period. However, Job resurrects it:
Job 6:2-3 O that my vexation were weighed, and all my calamity laid in the balances! 3 For then it would be heavier than the sand of the sea; therefore my words have been rash.
My gut feeling yet to be tested is that there are very few contexts in which use of the term "children of Israel" does elicit such a parental thought... more later if I have time...

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Sunday, November 25, 2007
  Learning Hebrew Vocabulary
John, the prolific, Hobbins has posted, as a demonstration of concept The Human Anatomy in Ancient Hebrew: An Introduction. Basically he is proposing a better way to present and learn vocab. Through displaying a semantically related collection of words and their relationships. What he is proposing goes far beyond what we can achieve through דָּבָר : Biblical Hebrew Vocabularies project. Though we have tried, by using semantic field as one of the ordering categories, to make something approaching John's dream more possible.

At present, with only about 550 words, we are far short of the thousands John's dream requires, though that's the beauty of a distributed collaborative project, if John, and you, join in the full list would soon be done! As a sample of the sort of thing a student would see I have outputted the currently available "kinship terms":
If you want to play with the system email me: tim (at) carey.ac.nz
.

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Friday, July 27, 2007
  Hebrew tattoos and would-be superstars
Apparently Victoria Beckham has a much admired Hebrew tattoo, and John (of Hebrew Poetry) had the good sense to provide a patient explanation of what is going on with the Hebrew. (And "incidentally" to offer some sound words about the Bible.) So, if anyone is interested in having Victoria Beckham’s Hebrew Tattoo Patiently Explained John is the guy to explain it!

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007
  Unicode for Dummies II (on Windows XP)
Mark has posted a fuller and more detailed post that links to sets of instructions for those who are not geeks but want to use Unicode to make their biblical language text transportable to other computers (like my post below, he focuses ion Windows XP - one day enough people will have Vista for someone to worry about the differences!). So if:
  • you are not at all tech savey and just want to type Hebrew, Greek or transliterations that others can read - go HERE and use the Tyndale Font Kit
  • you are a bit tech literate AND you would like a choice of fonts - go HERE after installing the Tyndale Font Kit (but BEWARE do not follow the advice at Greek Geek to install or use BW fonts, they are great for users of the BibleWorks program but they are "legacy fonts" and do not transport well)
  • you are moderately techie, and want (possibly better) a choice of different keyboards and fonts perhaps even for Syriac or Coptic - go HERE and feast
I have been remiss in not highlighting the SIL fonts and system, I just wanted to keep things as simple as possible for the people who ask me about "fonts" for Hebrew. The SIL fonts and systems for many many languages are HERE, just make sure that if one is listed as "Unicode" you choose that one!

Bible Texts in Unicode (for cut and paste if you do not have Logos and can't make BibleWorks export in Unicode):
  • TanakhML Hebrew Bible Browser (nb. at the right under "Display" you have a choice of turning vowels, accents and other marks "On" or "Off" to make your text maximally readable turn accents "Off" - they will show as little empty boxes for people without the specialised fonts, while the basic consonants and vowels should display OK even for them)
  • Greek NT and LXX (I was not able to find an accented Greek

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Thursday, June 14, 2007
  Unicode for Biblical Studies (on WindowsXP)

Ancient History (aka the 1970s-1990s)

In the "bad old days" computers did not understand non-Roman alphabets (like much in this post this is a gross over-simplification, if that troubles you you are in the wrong place - try Alan Wood’s Unicode Resources for a more complete presentation). To overcome this biblical scholars (at least those who were also geeky enough to want to process words in Hebrew, Greek...) needed to install special fonts that fooled the poor machine into thinking that a lowercase "x" looked like this: ח or, on other occasions like this: Χ, in other words the font represented Hebrew, Greek etc. characters, while telling the computer that they were proper American ones (the coding system was called ASCII "American Standard Code for Information Interchange").

This was simple, until you wanted to give your document (on a "floppy" remember those - once they were floppy too!) to someone else. At that point they had fun decyphering text like this: "d#r&k m*H$s@" and most gave up saying "It's all Greek to me!" at which point one informed them gently that it was actually Aramaic and everything went downhill from there!

I've seen the present - and it works!


All that is changing.

WindowsXP and most programs designed for it (like your Wordprocessor or Browser) understand Unicode. Like ASCII, Unicode represents characters by number codes. Unlike ASCII (which only had 128 characters, 33 of which wouldn't print anyway!) Unicode even in its simpler forms has THOUSANDS of characters so "x" means x and not ח or Χ which each just stand for themselves. And... when you send your document to someone else there is a very good chance the "foreign" alphabets will be readable, even if still without good fonts they may not be pretty. (The sad exception to this is complex accents and the like which risk showing up as little rectangles. The good news is though that whatever font they download that contains these signs will display them this sometimes looks untidy, but it is way more readable than "d#r&k m*H$s@".)

How to do it: Unicode for (Biblical Scholarly) Dummies


It is not difficult, just download the Tyndale House Font Kit. Install it, (you can pretty much take the defaults), so that basically means a double click after you download and then double click again on the install file.

After installation, at the bottom of your screen you will see a new little square with two letters (these represent the language you are using, EN = English, FR = French etc. - for these purposes Americans are understood to be using "English" ;-) If you click on the button (once will do, do NOT get overenthusiastic, Jean) you will see a popup like this:

This will allow you to select Greek or Hebrew as your input language (temporarily) Greek includes transliteration characters for Hebrew transcriptions too (just use shift lock). At first you will probably need the keyboard layout, so print out the file called: Keyboards.doc in the C:\Program Files\Tyndale Unicode Font Kit directory.

That's all folks!



Post Scriptum:

Except to add that as Daniel mentions in his comment below:
Another cool thing about Unicode is that when you copy and paste text into your word processor from a program like Logos Bible Software the fonts just...work. This painlessness is what persuaded Logos to adopt the Unicode Way back in 2001...
Thanks, Daniel, yes it has been a good feature that Logos adopted early, Bibleworks is still playing catch up in cutting and pasting.

BW users need to know that they have to go: |Tools| |Options| |Fonts| and tell the program that the "Export Fonts" should be Unicode, rather like this:


Post Scriptum II


Daniel (below) also points to Windows Keyboards for Ancient Languages as well as Greek and Hebrew (and transliteration) include also Syriac and one tailored for the entry of Coptic. If you have Logos installed these are probably both the easiest and best Unicode keyboards to use. If you use BibleWorks or another (non-Unicode) program then the Tyndale Font Kit is probably the easiest way to go. Either way your text will be readable by more people! (Everyone using WinXP+ or MacOSX+ if you use no accents... for accents they will require a suitable scholarly Unicode font but it does not matter which one they have :)

Post Scriptum III

Bible Texts in Unicode (for cut and paste if you do not have Logos and can't make BibleWorks export in Unicode):

  • TanakhML Hebrew Bible Browser (nb. at the right under "Display" you have a choice of turning vowels, accents and other marks "On" or "Off" to make your text maximally readable turn accents "Off" - they will show as little empty boxes for people without the specialised fonts, while the basic consonants and vowels should display OK even for them)
  • Greek NT and LXX

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Friday, April 13, 2007
  Sounds like Shaddai in Song 2:7
Bob MacDonald in a comment to my post "El Shaddai as the breasted god" (below) points to Song of Songs 2:7 and the "sounds like..." effects there. The verse reads:
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
by the gazelles or the wild does:
do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready! (NRSV)
 הִשְׁבַּעְתִּי אֶתְכֶם בְּנוֹת יְרוּשָׁלִַם
בִּצְבָאוֹת אוֹ בְּאַיְלוֹת הַשָּׂדֶה
אִם־תָּעִירוּ וְאִם־תְּעוֹרְרוּ אֶת־הָאַהֲבָה
The phrase concerned is the middle line above and transliterates as something like: bitseva'ot 'o be'aylot hassadeh which (it is suggested) sounds like two names of God each with the preposition prefix b: יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת where tseba'ot = "hosts" as in LORD of Hosts and אֵל שַׁדַּי 'el shadday. It is this pair of possible "sounds like..." effects together in a context that speaks of "adjuring by..." that suggest an intended association.

(Biblical) Hebrew loves such effects. They are hugely common especially in prophetic speech and in poetry. However, it is only - as perhaps is the case in this verse - where there are pointers suggesting the association that we can have any confidence that it was either intended by the writer(s) or likely to have been perceived by the hearers.

(BTW, I think that in this case, as in the one I discussed below, these sound effects do not tell us much about the meaning of the words used - but they may, probably do tell us about the meaning effects of the passages concerned!)

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Sunday, December 17, 2006
 

The new magical imperial toolkit: part 2

In part one I summarised the proposals of Freedman and his colleagues, which present a count of what they called "prose particles":
  • the sign of definiteness (or "article") ה
  • the direct object marker את
  • and the relative אשׁר
as a simple way to distinguish biblical Hebrew prose and poetry. By Andersen and Freedman's 1989 Amos commentary (in the Anchor Bible series) this new toolkit was seen as almost magical, they applied their counts to units as small as a single verse!

Amos 1:1 was prose, with a count of 8.7%, while 1:2 was poetry with a neat 0.0% (somehow in during the 1980s the article ה had ceased to count, or the scores would have been 16% and 15% respectively (or both "clearly prose") on the old scheme!

In this part I'll present my first attempt to test their hypothesis.

Three Chapters of Ezekiel as a Test Case

In 1987 Freedman had proposed:
We can test the system in a provisional way against the book of Ezekiel... First, it is clear from every point of view that much of Ezekiel is straight prose. There are fourteen chapters over 15%, while another eighteen are in the range between 10% and 15%. The remaining sixteen chapters are under 10%; of these, twelve are in the range 5% and 10%, while four are under 5% (chs. 19, 21, 27, 28).1
So, let's look at these chapters.

Ezekiel 21 is treated the same by both BHS and BHK with 109 words printed as poetry and 420 as prose. The 109 words of poetry with 6 of the particles have a score of 5.5%, which is only very slightly higher than Freedman's 5% threshhold, however the 420 words of prose have 19 particles and so score only 4.5% or more poetic than the poetry!2

Ezekiel 27 is printed somewhat differently by BHS and BHK. BHS has 181 words in prose and 226 as poetry, while BHK had 145 prose and 262 poetry. The scores are:

BHS prose 2.2% poetry 4.0%
BHK prose 1.4% poetry 4.2%

Either the editors of neither BHS nor BHK can accurately distinguish prose and poetry or the method is flawed. Every test so far has given the reverse of the predicted results!

At first sight Ezekiel 28 gives some comfort to Freedman's proposed toolkit. BHS prints it all as prose, but BHK gives 122 words as prose with a score of 6.6% and 230 as poetry with only 2.2%. The sort of result Freedman et al. would predict.

However, things get more complex and more interesting when we look at the location of the "prose particles". All of the particles in the prose sections occur in just three verses, vv.24-26. Many commentators see these three verses (or perhaps only two of them) as later additions to the text. If even the two verses are left out of the calculation the score drops to 1.3% (it would be 0% of course if all three were omitted).

These particles are commonly seen as typical of later biblical Hebrew. (Kaiser in his introduction to exegesis regards this as a fact not needing footnote support, Rooker and others include them in their characteristics of Late Biblical Hebrew.)

So, my provisional evaluation of the new magical imperial toolkit is that it does not function as neatly or well as advertised. But:
  • there is considerable evidence (not least from Andersen and Forbes3) that these particles are more common in biblical Hebrew prose than poetry
  • there is some evidence (in a notoriously difficult area) that they may be more frequent in later texts.


1. D.N. Freedman, "Another look at Biblical Hebrew Poetry" in E.R. Follis (ed.) Directions in Biblical Poetry (JSOTS 40; Sheffield, 1987), p.17. [return]
2. My counts differ from Andersen and Forbes only by one word (or less than 0.2%), therefore the differences in scores are negligible. [return]
3. F.I. Andersen & A.D. Forbes, "'Prose Particle Counts of the Hebrew bible", in C.L. Meyers & M. O'Connor (eds.) The Word of the Lord Shall Go Forth: Essays in Honor of David Noel Freedman in Celebration of his Sixtieth Birthday(Philadelphia, 1983), pp.165‑183.[return]

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Saturday, December 09, 2006
 

The new magical imperial toolkit: percentages, prose and poetry ::

I've decided, now I am (at last) home from SBL (Washington, DC, USA), family (Exmouth, Devon, UK) and the Aotearoa New Zealand Association for Biblical Studies (Christchurch, South Island, NZ), I need a bit of a rest! But I also need to blog, because as I discovered in the middle of the year an empty blog breeds unsubscribers. So, over the next week or so I will gradually post the guts of my paper from ANZABS.

Biblical Hebrew Poetry

Biblical Hebrew (BH) poetry is both beautiful and problematic.

The beauty rings echoing in the ears even of those who read it in translation, yet the problems are not minor.

Firstly, the very existence of BH poetry is denied. Scholars have argued (quite cogently and somewhat convincingly) that there is simply no distinction between prose and poetry in the Bible. And, if there is no distinction, then there is no poetry, since the concepts "poetry" and "prose" are each helpfully defined as being "not the other"!

Secondly, and if we admit that BH poetry does in fact exist: Which texts are which? How do we know? This problem is specially poignant for a student of biblical prophecy, no two editors seem ever able to entirely agree on which parts of a prophetic book are which.

So, thirty years ago (a couple of weeks back on the occasion of the Imperial annual festival of biblical studies, SBL) David Noel Freedman made his presidential address. In those days high profile SBL presidents like (most prominently) Muillenberg, in 1968, had used this opportunity to launch new approaches to biblical studies.

In his paper "Pottery, Poetry and Prophecy" Freedman claimed:
We have devised recently a mechanical test to separate poetry from prose in the Bible, and preliminary tests show that it will work efficiently in most cases.
How deliciously "modern" this quote now sounds, with its talk of a "mechanical test" - actually electronically mediated - and working "efficiently". With its stress on numbers and testing this is biblical studies fit for a world of managers!

In his paper Freedman leaves the nature of the test undefined, though earlier that year Radday and Shore had published results of counting the article (as a percentage of its potential carriers "nouns, adjectives, and numerals... (and) certain toponyms"). They showed that this percentage (of articles to potential articles) was significantly different between halves of books that scholarship often sees as divided (by genre or origin),3 and also between prose books and poetic books.

In 1983 Andersen and Forbes published counts for every chapter in the Bible of what were becoming known as "prose particles":
  • the sign of definiteness (or "article") ה
  • the direct object marker את
  • and the relative אשׁר
These figures demonstrate clearly that at chapter level the percentage these particles form of the total number of words neatly distinguishes prose from poetry with a high degree of accuracy.

By 1987 Freedman was quantifying this (in "Another Look at Biblical Hebrew Poetry"):
  • less than 5% of these particles the text is poetry
  • more than 15% and it is clearly prose
  • text with scores in the 5-15% range are either mixed or perhaps elevated or prophetic speech.
So, by the end of the 'eighties the stage was set and the empire of biblical studies was being promised a magical new toolkit that would deliver the "holy grail" of distinguishing "scientifically" between BH prose and poetry (thus proving the existence of Hebrew poetry).

Coming soon: Part 2 - the "boy" examines the imperial toolbox...



1. D.N. Freedman, "Pottery, Poetry and Prophecy", JBL 96 (1977), 5-26. [return]
2. Y.T. Radday & H. Shore, "The Definite Article: A Type and/or Author Specifying Discriminant in the Hebrew Bible", Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing Bulletin 4 (1976), pp.23 31. [return]
3. Except the book of Zechariah, which did not show a significant difference (see also below). [return]
4. D.N. Freedman, "Another Look at Biblical Hebrew Poetry", in E.R. Follis (ed.), Directions in Biblical Hebrew Poetry (JSOTS 40; Sheffield, 1987), p.16. [return]

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Sunday, November 19, 2006
 

Linguistic Dating of Biblical Hebrew ::

A downunder blog that I have not come across before but which promises interesting Hebrew Bible reading - it's called דבר אחר (if you want to know why Simon explains) - discusses the use of linguistic features to date biblical texts.

Simon provides a nice simple clear explanation of why there is an interest in using linguistic features to date texts, and why attempting to do so is problematic.

Simon then summarises what he found in his investigation of the use of locative he in Chronicles (the topic of his honours dissertation).

[For non Hebraists, basically this means a letter added to a word which indicates movement to or from the indicated place, or that that place is the location where the event described took place.]

In short, and his post is well worth reading - clear, simple and well argued - Simon loked at the use of this feature in Chronicles - often used as a known "late" text. He found that although the crude occurrence counting usually used shows lower levels of this feature, a more sophisticated investigation shows that the rates are not truly significantly different from those elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible.

He concluded:
In recent years, such has been the content of a great deal of critical scholarship and, as a result, the entrenched position regarding the possibility of charting the Hebrew language over time (and using that to date texts) has been shaken to the core. Scholarship in this area is a little like the long-necked dinosaur that might receive a mortal blow
yet take a while to have that information relayed to its brain. Once the many problems settle in, the school of thought that proposes linguistic dating will ultimately keel over and die; they’ve already been hit, but such things take a little while.
This was not intended to suggest that Simon's work was that final blow, but does provide a vivid image of his conviction that seeking linguistic criteria for dating biblical texts is an impossible quest. But is it? Granted that previous use of the frequency of locative he in Chronicles over-simplified the case, yet it may still be that a still more careful investigation will provide more support.

Both Duane, who discusses the epigraphic evidence for this construction in the 6th century; and Tyler, who (in a comment) asks about the differences between the "synoptic" and non-synoptic passages of Chronicles seem to share my own hope that this dino may still have some life breathed into its dry bones!

(I have a vested interest, my paper at ANZABS next month will suggest that the so-called "prose particles" may also provide clues to dating. In the mean while I am at SBL, and must post about one brilliant paper I listened to this afternoon, but first a bite to eat...)

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