Saturday, April 25, 2009

Recently . . .

Like John, I'm preparing for preliminary exams (our version of comps - but I have until July 27). At the moment, I'm finishing up with William Dever's book Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? (2003). Dever apparently likes long questions for titles. The last book of his I had to read was What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? The book gives a broad overview of the theories on Israelite origins and especially develops Dever's own preferred version of an indigenous origins model. I think he may be right in many ways, but that's not why I'm writing.

Dever has a tendency to introduce quotations from secondary literature using the adverb "recently." For example, "Thomas Thompson has . . . stated recently that . . ." or "other biblical scholars have also weighed in recently . . . Diana Edelman . . . begins her chapter . . ." (pp. 191-192). These are just two representative examples from pages that I've read in the last few minutes. It caught my attention earlier in the book, too, and struck me as odd because most of the literature he's citing in these contexts is not what I would call recent.  I consider "recent" to refer mainly to the immediate past. In scholarship, a book that came out in the prior 2-3 years is passable enough as "recent."  Now the dictionary does give a technical meaning of "recent" from geology that pertains to the last 10,000 years, so in that sense, Dever's citing "recent" literature.

Thompson's book from which Dever quotes on p. 191 was from 1977. Edelman's book - 1996. And one earlier occurrence that I noticed was directed at a book from 1989. 

Granted, an adverb of time is often relative to the perception of the user, but 1977 was before I was born.  In 1996, I graduated from High School. In 1989, I started 6th grade.

So is the last 32 years of Bible scholarship that vivid and immediate to Dever that he feels it can all be accurately referred to as "recent" or is it just a stylistic tic that a good editor should have pointed out and corrected?

Thoughts? What qualifies as "recently"?


  1. Interesting. Context and audience would seem to matter quite a bit. In a book, especially a popular level one, I would think scholarship from the past ten or possibly even 20 years years could be "recent," especially if it was something truly novel. In a presented paper or journal article directed at experts, though, I wouldn't expect anything more than a few years to be called "recent."

    And then there are blog posts, where a few weeks no longer seems recent! ;)

    Does he ever qualify his use with "more recently" (than the previous) or "in recent years/decades"?

  2. Ken, that's the funny thing. It's pretty much always just an unqualified "recently" just like the examples I gave that are 1 page apart. I say "pretty much always" because I didn't systematically catalog it, but my impression from noticing it in passing is that it was generally unqualified. I guess this was more of a popular-level book in some ways.

  3. Perhaps Dever wrote some of the material for this book in the 70s and some, well, "more recently," like in the 90s?

    Ok, that's an unhelpful response.

    I only ever use the word "recently" in the context of citing the most up-to-date-scholarship on a topic at the time of my writing. So I will say "most recently so and so has argued ______." Aside from that, I try (or hope I do at least) to limit such language. I find it confusing.

  4. Perhaps "recent" is his code word for "modernist/post-Albright". I dunno and I haven't received Dever's book that I bought last month from Alibris.

  5. The only way to explain referencing a period of 30+ as 'recent' is to postulate that the person in question is enjoying a pre-Noahic life span of 400 years or so. Otherwise, it would seem one should use 'recent' to imply five or less years and absolutely NEVER to include a time period wherein a paradigm shift has taken place for members of the relevant field of study.