Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Randall Buth on a Living Approach to the Biblical Languages

When I joined what is now the Biblical Greek Forum in the late 1990's, Randall Buth was a lonely voice in the wilderness, calling for an approach to teaching the biblical languages that draws on best practices in second language acquisition. The effect, in my case, was to sow the seeds of dissatisfaction with the traditional grammar-translation method of learning Hebrew and Greek. Now, almost 20 years later, there is a (small and diverse) movement of people committed to recovering and developing a living approach to teaching and learning the biblical languages.

In a recent interview with Seumas Macdonald, Randall talks about why he moved to a living approach. Here are a few excerpts:
Both Greek and Hebrew were first introduced to me as “grammar translation” languages....Things changed when I went to Israel and learned to speak Hebrew fluently. In the process, I noticed that my reading of biblical Hebrew changed. ...Basically, Hebrew changed from being very fast, instantaneous crossword puzzles to a real language, to reading a language for content from within the language. I was young, early 20’s, and naively assumed that the field would gradually move in this direction over the coming decades. I could not imagine a program ignoring the benefits involved, nor had I ever met anyone who had gone through this process up to a fluent level that regretted the time spent or did not see it as qualitatively improving one’s reading and access to the text.
Reading theory linguists attribute these outcomes to automaticity where the morphological nuts and bolts of the language are backgrounded and dropped below conscious focus, which allows more of one’s working memory to focus on interpretation and content. In a word, spoken fluency remarkably improves one’s reading skills.
During the 1980's Randall spent time in Africa working with Bible translators (my claim to fame: I went to boarding school with the Buth children):
In Africa I was responsible for recommending training programs for occasional translation projects. One of the discoveries was finding out that there were no Christian institutions or seminaries to send students where optimal language learning methods were being taken seriously. African translators were multilingual and good language learners but intuitively they were often puzzled and frustrated by what would take place in “biblical language” classes. My sensitivity to the need of a radical, paradigmatic change in biblical studies was reinforced by watching Bible translators from Africa go off for two or more years of training in biblical language(s) and returning with skills far below what is possible, for example, in programs like Goethe Institute for German and German literature. 
As with Seumas's other interviews, the whole interview (here or here) is well worth your time.


I have written about my reasons for working toward a living language approach in previous posts (here, here, and here).

Monday, December 1, 2014

Birger Gerhardsson on Routinization of the Religious Life

"Routinization of the religious and ethical life comes to expression not only in thoughtlessness and weakness but also as a defense against God's true and living demands. Indeed, behind a fanatic zeal for God there may lie obduracy and hatred. An intense ethical program may be pursued at the same time as the heart is hardened and rebellious." (61)

"The opposite of the 'love' which is the ideal attitude in life (Deut. 6:5)...is egoism: withholding one's 'heart' from God and other people, regarding life as one's own possession, grabbing for oneself instead of giving to others." (139)

"Behind the façade and the routines, the center of the personality may very well remain unengaged, free to pursue its own interests. The heart is still closed to God; he is not permitted to rouse a living love or to inspire living deeds." (139-140)

Quotations from: Birger Gerhardsson. The Ethos of the Bible. Translated by Stephen Westerholm. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981. 

(It's an oldie, but a goodie: an exposition of the ethos of Matthew, Paul and the Johannine literature, with a focus on the role of the Shema in shaping early Christian ethics. Well worth reading if you can find a copy--and apparently still available, thanks to a Wipf&Stock reprinting.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Reading Law as Prophecy: Torah Ethics in Acts

A public service announcement for sojourners in Southern Saskatchewan:

This year's Briercrest College and Seminary Colloquium series kicks off on Friday, November 28th, just before the start of Briercrest's Christmas Festival. (Why not come for an academic paper, and stay for the music? ...Or vice versa.) 

I am up first this year. My paper is entitled "Reading Law as Prophecy: Torah Ethics in Acts." Here is the abstract:
The author of Acts distinguishes between Jewish Christians, who remain oriented to the law, and Gentile Christians, who are not subject to the law. Luke draws on the law’s demands as well as its predictions to present Torah-observant Jewish Christians as faithful Israel, and to demonstrate that salvation extends to Gentiles apart from the law without violating the law. Although Acts does not directly articulate a Torah ethic for Gentiles, Luke probably assumed that Torah should guide Gentiles ethically in the same way that he applied the predictions and demands of biblical prophecy by analogy to audiences not directly addressed by the prophets.
Please join us on Friday, November 28, in room 144 @ 12:30 PM if you can make it out. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

E.P. Sanders on Learning Hebrew as a Living Language

Excerpts on learning languages (mostly Hebrew) from E.P. Sanders's intellectual autobiography:
"I learned many things from going to church, but not that reading the Bible required Hebrew and Greek, nor that understanding it required German and French" (13).

"I studied German in Göttingen from June until October 1962 and then went to Oxford to see what David Daube could arrange. This resulted in my working on rabbinic Hebrew for two terms. Dissatisfied with my progress, I decided to study modern Hebrew to learn how to read unvocalized texts, and went to Jerusalem. There Yigael Yadin twisted the arm of Mordechai Kamrat, who accepted me as a private pupil, and I began to acquire a serious amount of Hebrew" (14).

"In the fall of 1968, my beloved friend and teacher, Mordechai Kamrat, took me in as a student again. Kamrat was one of the two most remarkable people I have ever known....Kamrat knew all languages.... [Footnote: As far as I discovered, he knew Latin and Greek, as well as all of the Slavic, Germanic, Romance, and Semitic languages that are spoken today.] And he could teach anyone anything. Like many Israelis, he was chronically short of money. I paid him a weekly sum that seemed reasonable at the time; it was about the same as I later paid for my daughter's piano lessons. Dr. Kamrat had started studying the Talmud at the age of four in Poland. Befriended by a Catholic priest, he was given access to a library and began to acquire languages other than Yiddish, Aramaic, Hebrew, Polish, and Russian, and knowledge other than Talmudic. He ended up with a Ph.D. from the University of Krakow in pedagogical psychology, went to British-controlled Palestine (the only one in his family to escape the HOlocaust), and figured out how to teach Hebrew to immigrants from anywhere. He taught me modern Hebrew and rabbinics in the same way: inductively, with drill." (18)

Source: Sanders, E. P. “Comparing Judaism and Christianity: An Academic Autobiography.” Pages 11–41 in Redefining First-Century Jewish and Christian Identities: Essays in Honor of Ed Parish Sanders. Edited by Fabian E. Udoh, Susannah Heschel, Mark A. Chancey, and Gregory Tatum. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Erwin Goodenough as a Precursor to "Common Judaism"

In the previous post I suggested that it was apparently Jacob Neusner not E.P. Sanders who first coined the term "common Judaism." Here I consider the influence of Erwin Goodenough on both Sanders and Neusner.


In the final volume of his massive Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period, Goodenough referred to a "common Jewish denominator" and "minimal Judaism":
"In discussing the Judaism of hellenistic Jews, therefore, we must assume that if they remained Jews they were loyal to some common Jewish denominator....
"This I may call minimal Judaism, if in that term I paraphrase my 'common denominator.' Jews are still Jews, as they have always been, insofar as they give their best to their fellow Jews, not as one would simply be loyal to one's relatives, but with the sense that the Jewish group is different from all other groups, and that its identity must at any cost be kept alive. For the Jewish People had their importance as bearers of the Covenant with Yahweh, as revealed in the Torah. The mass of Jews find the metaphysical and theistic confirmation of their group explicit in the ritual of synagogue and home, and in the Bible."
- Erwin R. Goodenough, “Chapter One: Literary Sources for Hellenistic Judaism” in Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period Volume Twelve: Summary and Conclusions (Bollingen Series; New York: Pantheon Books, 1965), 12.7-8
Sanders later wondered if this passage had sub-consciously influenced his references to "common Jewish piety", a "common Jewish theme" (239, 293), and "common to Judaism" in Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Fortress, 1977), 239, 293, 422:
"In rereading Erwin Goodenough's Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period...in the spring of 2004, I discovered that he had written that Jews were loyal to 'some common Jewish denominator'....These pages, which I had read in 1964 or 1965, contained no pencil marks indicating that I had regarded the terms or the proposal as important. I nevertheless wonder whether they lodged in my subconscious mind, to surface ten years later. I wish that I had rememebered these pages, since I would have been delighted to have Goodenough's support on both Philo and Judaism in general." - E.P. Sanders, “Common Judaism Explored” in Common Judaism: Explorations in Second-Temple Judaism (Wayne O. McCready and Adele Reinhartz, eds.; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008), 228 n. 8. 
For his part, Neusner edited a volume of essays in Goodenough's memory and much later abbreviated Goodenough's massive project into a single volume. The preface to volume 12 in Goodenough's Jewish Symbols also contains this note: "A new obligations has arisen for the critical aid that a recent acquaintance, a brilliant young scholar, has given during the last two years, Jacob Neusner."



Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Origins of "Common Judaism"

About 10 years ago, I tried to track down the origins of "Common Judaism," the expression that E.P. Sanders popularized in Judaism: Practice & Belief. Now, thanks to Google Books search, I believe I have found the answer.

When he first introduced the term, Sanders did not treat it as a new expression or even as a label:
Within Palestine, ‘normal’ or ‘common’ Judaism was what the priests and the people agreed on. . . . ‘Normal’ Judaism was, to a limited degree, also ‘normative’: it established a standard by which loyalty to Israel and to the God of Israel was measured. . . . Thus whatever we find to have been ‘normal’ was based on internal assent and was ‘normative’ only to the degree that it was backed up by common opinion – which has a good deal of coercive power, but which allows individuals who strongly dissent to break away.” - E.P. Sanders, Judaism: Practice and Belief: 63 BCE - 66 CE (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1992), 47
As he acknowledges on the following page, Sanders's definition of common Judaism is indebted to Morton Smith's earlier description of "normative Judaism": 
“Down to the fall of the Temple, the normative Judaism of Palestine is that compromise of which the three principal elements are the Pentateuch, the Temple and the ‘amme ha’arez, the ordinary Jews who were not members of any sect.” - Morton Smith, “Dead Sea sect in relation to ancient Judaism,” New Testament Studies 7 (1961): 356.
In that article, Smith refers to an earlier essay that he published in 1956, in which he states:
"If there was any such thing, then, as an 'orthodox Judaism,' it must have been that which is now almost unknown to us, the religion of the average 'people of the land.'" - Morton Smith, “Palestinian Judaism in the First Century” in Israel: Its Role in Civilization (Moshe Davis, ed.; New York: Israel Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary, 1956), 81.

Evidently the question about the core of "normative Judaism" was a live one, because William Farmer, in a book also published in 1956, says something along similar lines, but without the same emphasis on the common people:
“If there were such a thing as ‘normative Judaism’ in the first century A.D., we would have to define it in terms of this national resistance movement, which as we have seen placed so very great importance upon the Land, the Law, and the Temple. Certainly the popular theology of Jesus’ day had its roots in this nationalistic theology which reached back through the Maccabean period into the pre-exilic history of Israel” - W. R. Farmer, Maccabees, Zealots, and Josephus: An Inquiry into Jewish Nationalism in the Greco-Roman Period (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1956), 190. 

In his 2008 retrospective essay on "common Judaism," Sanders returns to Morton Smith's combination of "the Pentateuch, the Temple, and the ‘amme ha’arez":
"These words seemed totally convincing to me, for the good and simple reason that they corresponded to the evidence. And so I did what I could to reconstruct the Judaism of the common people, paying some attention, of course, to the famous parties but trying to focus on the Petnateuch, the temple, and the ordinary people. I could not use the words 'orthodox' or 'normative,' since both imply control, and I thought that there was relatively little control over what ordinary people did and thought (apart from their activities in the temple). The only term I could think of for Smith's Judaism was 'common Judaism.'" - E.P. Sanders, “Common Judaism Explored” in Common Judaism: Explorations in Second-Temple Judaism (Wayne O. McCready and Adele Reinhartz, eds.; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008), 17.
Sanders was not the first to coin the term, however. If Google serves me right, the first occurrence of the term in an equivalent sense is by the early Jacob Neusner in 1974:
"Before the destruction, there was a common 'Judaism' in the Land of Israel, and it was by no means identical to what we now understand as rabbinic Judaism. The common religion of the country consisted of three main elements, first, the Hebrew Scriptures, second, the Temple, and third, the common and accepted practices of the ordinary folk--their calendar, their mode of living, their everyday practices and rites, based on these first two." - Jacob Neusner, "Introduction" in Understanding Rabbinic Judaism, from Talmudic to Modern Times (Jacob Neusner, ed.; KTAV, 1974), 12.
(The statement reappears in essentially the same form in another 1978 essay by Neusner; by 1984 the later Neusner had apparently rejected the idea. The idea of a "common Judaism" is mentioned by Neusner only to be dismissed in 1986.)

Two Observations:
  1. Neusner's formulation of "common Judaism" is clearly a close paraphrase of Morton Smith's 1961 statement about "normative Judaism," but with no acknowledgement anywhere of Smith as the source. (Smith was Neusner's teacher--if I am not mistaken, his Doktorvater.)
  2. Since Sanders wrote Judaism: Practice and Belief and introduced the concept of "common Judaism" in part to respond to the later Neusner's insistance that we should speak of "Judaisms" in the plural rather than "Judaism" in the singular, it is ironic that the term apparently originated with Neusner himself.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Free Access to Ioudaios Articles

Shameless self-promotion alert: SAGE is offering free access to its journals in Theology and Religion during the month of November, including Currents in Biblical Research. So if anyone has been itching to get their hands on my series of articles on Ioudaios (or anything else published in CBR, JSNT, JSOT, JSP, Int, SR, or ExpT, to name a few), now is your chance.

Click on this link to register for free access.

And here are links to my articles:


Miller, David M. “Ethnicity, Religion and the Meaning of Ioudaios in Ancient ‘Judaism.’” Currents in Biblical Research 12, no. 2 (2014): 216–65.

________. “Ethnicity Comes of Age: An Overview of Twentieth-Century Terms for Ioudaios.” Currents in Biblical Research 10, no. 2 (2012): 293–311.

________. “The Meaning of Ioudaios and Its Relationship to Other Group Labels in Ancient ‘Judaism.’” Currents in Biblical Research 9, no. 1 (2010): 98–126.

(You could also email me for a copy under the terms of "fair use.")