Sunday, May 13, 2018

The PhD: It is Finished ... Well, Mine is

Hello World!

After the many years this blog has lain dormant, I don't expect anyone to actually still be paying attention to whether I've put up a new post. But just in case, I have an announcement. The blog has been on hiatus indefinitely because I've been trying to finish my PhD thesis while still working full-time as an academic editor. At long last, the PhD thesis has been completed, submitted, examined, and accepted.

My Thesis Title

My thesis is titled "To Conceal or Reveal? Self-censorship and Explicitation in the Ancient Bible Versions." (Yes, "explicitation" is a word, despite spellcheckers everywhere failing to recognize it.) The nature of the PhD proposal process was such that this title was "locked in" with my accepted proposal way back in 2010. A bit of advice. If you ever have to title a piece of technical research before you've completed it, avoid cutesy rhetoric and buzz words. Use a bland, descriptive title that does most of the work for you to explain what your research is about. I still have to tell you what my thesis is about because the title only hints at the subject.

My Subject

It took a lot of reading and thinking for me to narrow in on my subject. My proposal was quite broad as accepted, so I had a massive subject area to survey before I could hone in on what would work as a manageable thesis topic. The subject was broadly and vaguely defined as how the ancient Bible versions would handle "troublesome" texts like Genesis 22 or Ezekiel 16 and 23. In the end, I came to see a more general analysis of how those versions dealt with Biblical Hebrew idioms and euphemisms as a necessary precursor to a detailed analysis of specific texts. My subject and primary conclusions are spelled out below in the abstract from my thesis.

My Thesis Abstract

This study explores Biblical Hebrew figures of speech and their translations in the ancient Bible versions in Greek (the Septuagint), Syriac (the Peshitta), and Aramaic (the Targums). The research is grounded in the methodologies of Translation Studies and linguistics — with Translation Studies providing the theoretical basis for describing translation and linguistics providing the theoretical basis for analysing figures of speech and their construal by ancient translators. The research question is: how did ancient Bible translators respond to Biblical Hebrew figures of speech, especially when those figures of speech were used for mitigating taboo topics like blasphemy or bodily functions?

Since figurative language requires the translator to make a decision about what the figure of speech was meant to communicate, it was hypothesised that the translators’ strategies related to figures of speech might provide insights into their decision-making process. Figures of speech that are used to conceal taboo topics are euphemisms, so the primary focus of analysis was on Biblical Hebrew euphemisms and their translation. While the sociocultural importance of taboo subjects increases the likelihood of the translator’s intervention in suppressing content (self-censorship), this study also addressed figures of speech from neutral, or non-taboo, subject areas in order to establish a standard of comparison for how the versions handled the implicit meaning of figurative language when the stakes were not as high as with a sensitive topic. The opaque meaning of figurative expressions also provides an opportunity for a translator to intervene to make the meaning explicit to the audience (explicitation).

The major finding of the study is that while literal translation is the predominant approach to translating figures of speech in all the ancient versions, the versions also used figurative language to translate figures of speech from their source text far more than was expected based on the hypothesis that the ancient versions are highly literal and rarely engage in substitution of one figure of speech for another. This assumption that the versions did not make significant use of idiomatic or figurative substitution was not supported by the evidence analysed in this study. The significant number of blended (literal and figurative) renderings and figurative renderings indicates at least some translators of the ancient versions possessed a more sophisticated understanding of translation and were capable of varying their strategies to bring the text closer to the natural language of their audiences, even if their default mode was to translate literally. Further, it was found that figurative language in the area of euphemism carried over between languages at a greater degree than anticipated. A translation that appeared to be strictly literal because it used a word from the same semantic, conceptual domain as the source could in fact be figurative because the target language had developed the same figure of speech through the same processes of semantic extension (i.e., metaphor or metonymy). Overall, it was shown that the ancient translators were capable of more interpretive renderings that reoriented Biblical Hebrew idiomatic phrases toward the expectations of the audience of the translation. With taboo topics, there can be a wide range of acceptability norms. The varying strategies used in the ancient versions with euphemistic figures of speech likely reflect an awareness of what was acceptable to the target audience.

A Return?

Does the completion of my thesis signal a return to regular blogging? Maybe. Maybe not. I have a lot of stuff to catch up on. Netflix. World news. My kids' names and ages. We'll see.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

3 Things I (Re)learned from SBL Baltimore

I just returned from the combined annual meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) and the American Academy of Religion. Here are the three most important things I (re)learned.

1. Bring comfortable shoes.

Last year, I made a wise decision in my choice of footwear and had no discomfort despite the massive amount of walking that was required due to the sheer size of the convention center in Chicago. This year, even though everything was relatively nearby, I had to buy a different pair of shoes after day 1 because I made a bad choice of footwear this year.

2. Lose the laptop.

If you're not giving a paper or having to write or revise your paper at the last minute, do not bring your ancient, massive, heavy laptop. You will not use it at all and you will not want to carry it around everywhere. Your smartphone is now more than adequate for 99% of what you used to bring your laptop for. If you have a light, small, awesome newer laptop, this may not be a problem for you.

3. Bring a coat to the East Coast. 

Even if the 10 day weather forecast for an East Coast city says the weather should be cool but not wintry during SBL, bring a hat, coat, and gloves anyway, not just a blazer and a scarf. Weather forecasters can't always see the Arctic cold snap coming that far in advance. Remember this when SBL is in Boston again in a few years.

Bonus Tip: Practice people skills.

Social interaction among academic types can be awkward at times. Navigating new relationships and just-made acquaintances can be complicated for those of us who tend more on the introverted side of things. Before next year, I plan to prep a little better and practice interpersonal communication skills, building rapport, and reading between the lines.

Friday, November 15, 2013

See You in Baltimore, Greenhorns?

A week from tomorrow you will be able to find me in the exhibitor's hall at the SBL/AAR annual meeting in Baltimore, Maryland. According to Le Donne's taxonomy of participants, I am primarily an "Observer." (I've also moved from regular participant to occasional observer in the biblioblogosphere, too, but you already knew that.)

I especially enjoy observing "Greenhorns" (like Joel and Jeremy, but especially Cliff) in all their wide-eyed idealism, basking in their fledgling exposure to academia, dreaming that one day they, too, will be respected scholars and tenured professors. I imagine they are the ones keeping the booksellers in business, too.

Perhaps I should have a booth in the exhibit hall where I could dispense free career advice to the master's students daydreaming over their future careers where "work" involves reading by the fireplace in an overstuffed leather chair. Ah, greenhorns, publishers need your purchases and schools need your enrollment and tuition, but they've run out of places for you to teach and make a living once you finish.

Most of my advice would be variations on what they can read for themselves at the following links:

If they think things might be different in Bible or Theology, I would point them to these 2012 posts from Peter Enns' blog:
If they insist on going forward with their plans (and the ones I talk to are unswayed by my cynicism), I'll recommend they head over to Wipf & Stock and buy Nijay's book: Prepare, Succeed, Advance: A Guidebook for Getting a PhD in Biblical Studies and Beyond.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Really, Wipf & Stock?

I'd never heard of Preston Kavanagh until today, but apparently, he's solved all the authorship and dating questions related to the composition of the Hebrew Bible. Wipf & Stock has been publishing his 'brilliant" discoveries since 2009 with The Exilic Code: Ciphers, Word Links, and Dating in Exilic and Post-Exilic Biblical Literature, followed by the The Shaphan Group: Fifteen Authors Who Shaped the Hebrew Bible in 2011, and now Huldah: The Prophet Who Wrote Hebrew Scripture (apparently forthcoming per a publicity email I received through the Agade mailing list).

I can't find out anything more about this guy with Google. His author blurb on Wipf & Stock doesn't give me much confidence in his biblical studies training.
Twenty-four years ago, Preston Kavanagh retired from an executive position in a large company in order to seek the identities of those who wrote the Hebrew Bible. The Shaphan Group discusses what he found, as do his two prior books—Secrets of the Jewish Exile (2005) and The Exilic Code (Pickwick Publications, 2009). He and his wife, Lois, live quietly in Maryland.
The email announcement has an updated version of this bio. Apparently he has Ivy League degrees, but it's telling that the level of degree and the subjects studied are left unmentioned.
Preston Kavanagh holds degrees from Princeton and Harvard. He retired twenty-five years ago from an executive position in a large company to seek the identities of those who wrote the Hebrew Bible. Huldah discusses what he has found, as do several prior books, including The Exilic Code (Pickwick Publications, 2009) and The Shaphan Group (Pickwick, 2011). He and his wife, Lois, live quietly in Maryland.
So, let me get this straight, Wipf & Stock, you published these books by a retired businessman who devoted the last 24 years to cracking the Bible's coded data about who wrote it and when? Apparently, whoever acquired this guy's work forgot one of the prime rules of identifying crackpots: they are often untrained individuals who are somehow able to solve major perennial problems of the discipline. Also, hasn't "decoding" the hidden messages in the Hebrew Bible been widely debunked? (And yet, it won't go away.) So either this guy has new revolutionary ideas that deserve our attention or this is a shameless attempt to sell books to an undiscerning, popular audience that loves this stuff even though it's been disproven over and over (a la Michael Drosnin's bestsellers). I've looked at enough of Kavanagh's books on preview at to suspect the latter, but maybe, just maybe somebody can offer a good explanation or more info about Kavanagh to justify his claim to expertise. For now, he look to me to be just another crackpot.

It's a shame because Wipf & Stock otherwise publishes many quality studies by well-known Bible scholars such as Andre LaCocque, Stanley Porter, Richard Horsley, Marvin Meyer, and H.G.M. Williamson. I better not see this guy's stuff on the book tables at SBL. Anybody else have a similar reaction to this publicity email that came over Agade this morning? Here's the full description of the book.

Huldah: The Prophet Who Wrote Hebrew Scripture reveals—for the first time ever—the extraordinary impact of Huldah the prophet on our Bible.
Huldah was both a leader of exilic Jews and a principal author of Hebrew Scripture. She penned the Shema—the ardent, prayerful praise that millions of worshipers repeat twice daily. Moreover, Jesus quoted as his own last words the ones that Huldah had written centuries before—“Into your hand I commit my spirit.” Huldah was an extraordinary writer—arguably she ranks among the best in Hebrew Scripture. As such, she added to God’s Word a feminine aspect that has inspired numberless believers—men and women alike. 
This book’s new techniques reveal that though subjected to extreme verbal abuse, Huldah surmounted her era’s high barriers to women. As elder, queen mother, and war leader during the sixth century BCE, she helped to shape Israel’s history. And what, then, can this book mean to scholars—both women and men? Feminists need a rallying point and a heroine, and Huldah makes a superb one. In years ahead, experts might well place Huldah alongside the very greatest women of antiquity; indeed, they may even conclude that she is among the most influential people in human history.
Reading it again, I want to deconstruct every exaggerated and impossible statement, but I don't think his work is worth any more time or attention. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Forthcoming: Huehnergard's Introduction to Ugaritic

Since my graduate class on Ugaritic, I've felt the need for an accessible introductory Ugaritic grammar. The only true introductory text to date that I know of is Schniedewind's, but it appeared too late for my introduction the the language. Previous publications were too massive (Tropper) or written in languages I understood only slightly better than Ugaritic itself (Bordreuil and Pardee; only in French at the time I took Ugaritic) or ridiculously expensive (Sivan) or dated (Segert, Gordon). For those reasons, I'm excited to learn that John Huehnergard has finally published his own introduction. I've used many of his articles and other publications in the past on everything from Ugaritic to Aramaic and always appreciated his lucid explanations of complex issues. Here's the product description from Hendrickson's website:
Highly respected linguist John Huehnergard brings his command of and vast knowledge in the field of comparative Semitic linguistics to this introductory grammar. Every aspect of the grammar is enriched by his broad understanding, while maintaining an unexcelled directness and order to the learning of the fundamental grammar of Ugaritic.
Designed for students already familiar with Biblical Hebrew, this grammar contains the information necessary to help them become proficient in Ugaritic, and includes exercises to assist in learning basic grammar before commencing work with the actual Ugaritic texts. It is set apart from other gram¬mar books by its immense understanding of comparative Semitic grammar, and the concise and accurate manner in which Huehnergard presents the information.
Special Features:
• A glossary of all Ugaritic words used in the grammar
• An appendix by Ugaritologist John Ellison on the scribal formation of the Ugaritic abecedaries
• A number of full-color photographs of Ugaritic tablets
• Keys to the exercises
• Bibliographic information and indexes
I will definitely be spending a few minutes checking this volume out at Hendrickson's booth next month at SBL. If you teach Ugaritic, you should, too.

HT: Jim West