Wednesday, December 31, 2014

In Memoriam HFM

take your hands
your mother’s hands
and fold them in your dress
all the time i’ve known you’ve had them out
flashed about
and helping where you can
oh you give & give you give & give you give & give you give & give & it’s
time to rest
and now you need to breathe it in
i want you to receive
and go to sleep
i will watch over you
nothing will go wrong
i won’t sit until you’re strong
i’ve got lots to give
i’ve got all you’ve given to me
all you’ve given to me
breathe it in
and mama go to sleep.
- Hey Rosetta! "Trish's Song" (click here for the song on youtube)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Greek (and Hebrew) Psalms in a Year

I made it through Isaiah in Greek (and Hebrew) this year, thanks to the "Greek Isaiah in a Year" reading group. When I joined, the group was in its second year, and so there weren't very many of us who stuck it through to the end, but the list was discipline enough to keep me on track, and the experience was one of the highlights of 2014.

Russell Beatty has now started a spin-off "Greek Psalms in a Year" Facebook group, with a schedule (looks like 5-10 verses / day) that begins on January 1, 2015. For more information, check out the Facebook group or Abram K-J's blog (here and here).

It's a great opportunity to maintain and develop a biblical language*, and to spend time each day in the Psalms. Anyone care to join me?

* Don't be put off by the group name: As far as I am concerned, there is no need to read in Greek if you prefer Hebrew, Syriac or Latin (or some combination). Select your preferred ancient language, and follow along.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Shaye Cohen on the value of pre-modern Christian exegesis

"Jewish and, to some extent, Christian scholarship has long recognized the continuing value of much of medieval Jewish exegesis for an understanding of the Hebrew Bible, and I do not understand why contemporary scholarship on the New Testament (excluding, of course, textual criticism) ignores practically all works that predate the nineteenth century." - Shaye Cohen, "Was Timothy Jewish?" in Shaye J. D. Cohen, The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999), 367 n. 9.

For the record, Cohen's answer to the question, "Was Timothy Jewish?" is no. 

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) 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.)