Monday, December 14, 2009

Sixth Annual Ralphies

The Ralphies. "Are they still around?" Yes, they are, VIrginia. And you get to read them.

Most of the year my mind was on my work, for a change, and therefore I kind of lost touch with the outside world – which, as far as I can tell, is not a bad thing. But still, no one can totally cut themselves off. So, without more ado, here are the awards for ...

Best TV Show: It's Lost, OK? Lost, Lost, Lost, Lost, Lost! Only one more year to go, and I expect it to be good. I also very much like Fringe, and Walter Bishop is my new role model.

Best Movie: Ummmmmm, didn't see many movies this year. I saw a couple of blockbusters – Harry Potter and (on DVD) Star Trek. Not bad, I guess, but not great. Am I getting too old for this fanboy stuff? Gee, I hope not. But the movie I liked best (although I think it dates to 2008) was Gran Torino.

Best Record: Oh gee, here's another category I've lost touch with. Most of what I hear is unsystematically gleaned from the radio, not from buying records or downloading tracks. Via the radio I have to admit I always tapped my toe, or some other appendage, whenever Katy Perry's "Hot n Cold" came on. Another guilty pleasure was John Mayer, whose "Gravity" I first heard on an episode of House, loved it, and then was red-faced when I found out it was the work of that poseur. But the Ralphie goes to the recordings of a Washington state bluegrass group, Molly & Tenbrooks. Highly recommended.

Best Non-FIction Book: I read a ton of stuff for work, but I don't know what to pick out of that stack for higher praise than anything else. So this will have to lie fallow this year.

Best Fiction Book: Not a lot of new stuff came through; this year, the pleasure reading mostly was confined to old favorites. In London I bought a paperback copy of Stephen King's Under the Dome, which reinforced my impression that, although King knows how to start a story, he doesn't know how to end one. No, the best fiction book I read, though it was not new, was The Annotated Innocence of Father Brown, by G. K. Chesterton, with notes by Martin Gardner. Although Gardner is not completely in sympathy with Chesterton's worldview, he does provide a lot of interesting information in his annotations.

Best Blog: I just wanted to tip my hat to a blog that everyone who is interested in Hebrew studies should read regularly, John Hobbins's Ancient Hebrew Poetry. I bet this guy preaches some interesting sermons.

OK, boys and girls! That's it for this year! Be very, very good and there will be more Ralphies in the years to come!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Poetic Tenses (cont.): Hidden Preterites and False Preterites

1. As I noted previously, the SC2 can appear in poetry without the waw which usually accompanies it in prose. The same is true (and this is more widely accepted) of the PC2, which can appear in poetry as the type wayyiqtol, as in prose, or simply as yiqtol. Examples are ready to hand, such as Ps. 24:2, כי הוא על ימים יסדה || ועל נהרות יכוננה , "for he founded it (the earth) on the seas, and made it firm on the rivers." The past orientation is clear from the context, which deals with the creation of the earth. Other examples are Deut 32:10-13, Ps. 18: 4-19; etc. (There is an excellent post here on this very verse, with stimulating discussion in the comments.)

Another example, precisely of the same sort, is found in Ps. 78:58: ‏‏ויכעיסוהו בבמותם ובפסילים יקניאוהו. "They angered him with their high places, and with their images made him jealous." Only the most captious or over-subtle interpreter could find a difference in the time reference of the two verbs here.

2. More controversial are examples of the opposite kind, in which verbs vocalized as preterites (PC2) must be understood as PC1 (imperfect) or jussive (PC3). This entails a rejection of the Masoretic vocalization, but the overall implicature of the poem, along with lexical and syntactical cues – in short, the context – make such a move necessary in many cases. An example is Ps. 94:23: ‏‏וישב עליהם את אונם וברעתם יצמיתם. "May he turn against them their sin, and destroy them for their evil."

In this case, the first verb wayyashev must be understood as PC3, not PC2. The LXX translates both verbs in the future tense (see the BHS apparatus). Another example is Ps. 29:9, where ‏וַיֶּחֱשֹׂף must be understood as PC1, in accordance with the sense and form of the verb ‏יְחוֹלֵל in the previous line. Here also the LXX translates the first verb as present participle, the second as future; note also that the targum translates both by participles.

To sum up: in Biblical Hebrew poetry, the form known as wayyiqtol (preterite) in prose can be simply yiqtol in poetry, but still a preterite. On the other hand, forms that the Masoretic text presents as wayyiqtol preterites must sometimes be understood from the context to be imperfect or jussive with conjunctive waw (and therefore the MT must be vocalized differently).

I think these principles are fairly uncontroversial. I'll try to get to more debatable ones (e.g., the prophetic perfect) sometime in the near future. In the meantime, comments are welcome.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Toward a Theory of Hebrew Poetic Tenses

A simplistic take of the Hebrew verbal system is that there are two conjugations, the prefix-conjugation (or imperfect), or PC, and the suffix-conjugation (or perfect), or SC. Formally, this is not far from the truth, but it is generally recognized now that there are actually three different PCs: the imperfect (PC1), the preterite (PC2) and the jussive-cohortative (PC3). All of these have diverse historical origins. Although formally they often fall together in Biblical Hebrew, occasional differences in morphological form are discernible between these three.

There are also two kinds of SC: the perfect (SC1) and a second form (SC2) sometimes called the "converted perfect," or just we-qatal (because in prose the SC2 is usually preceded by the conjunction ו). My impression is that the SC2 is currently the most discussed of these forms. Although SC1 and SC2 may have the same historical origin, they function synchronically in different ways, and should always be distinguished.

The workings of these five conjugations is pretty well understood now in prose texts: PC1 for future, general present, modal, or past habitual; PC2 for narrative past; PC3 for volitional mood. SC1 is also used for past tense when narrative sequence is not in view, while SC2 is used in the same way as PC1 with the added feature of sequentiality. There are various fine-tunings of all these functions, but the broad outlines are agreed upon.

As I said, this picture is valid for prose only. When it comes to Hebrew poetry, the outline is not so clear. Various conjugations appear in neighboring poetic lines without clear difference in function. PC1 appears to sometime be used for the past, SC1 for the future. Plus "odd" uses of SC1, such as the precative perfect or the prophetic perfect, are claimed to appear in poetry.

Without going into the whole history of discussion, I propose that Hebrew poetry is more like prose than usually thought, but with the difference that word order is variable and the usual conjunctive particles that in prose differentiate the conjugations are either absent or replaced with different particles. More particularly, I think that the "odd" uses of the SC1 are often actually "normal" uses of SC2. The reason this has been hard to notice is because usually SC2 in prose occurs with the conjunction ו, but in poetry the ו is optional. In other words, in poetry you can have the וקטל without the ו. This accounts for some anomalies in Hebrew poetry.

For instance, in Ps. 23, all the finite verbs are PC1 except for v. 5, ‏dishanta. (The questionable form veshavti in v. 6 I leave out). Although dishanta is SC, it is almost always translated in accordance with the presumed general present tense of the other verbs: "thou anointest (my head with oil)." Here it makes most sense to take this SC as SC2, continuing the tense of the PC1. In prose, the line would read as follows: תערך שלחן -- ודשנת בשמן וגו , "you prepare a table ... and anoint with oil," etc.

Another example is from Ps. 11:2: הרשעים ידרכון קשת כוננו חצם , "the wicked string the bow, they set their arrow (on the string)."** Most English translations again use the general present for both verbs, although the first is PC1 and the second is SC. In prose, the second verb would be וכוננו , "and then they set," etc. It is SC2, not SC1.

The picture is complicated, of course, by the fact that SC1 is also used in poetry, both in a past sense and, depending on the Aktionsart of the verb, as a present. Plus it should be asked whether there was some kind of suprasegmental differentiation (such as stress accent) between SC1 and SC2 in poetry. In a future post, time permitting, I might go into these issues and also the question of the prophetic perfect and the precative perfect as poetic usages of SC2, but this necessarily brief survey gives the general idea. Comments and reactions are welcome.

**Many translations obscure the fact that the idiom דרך קשת means "to string the bow" (by stepping on one end and bending the other end down to attach the string), not "to bend the bow (for shooting)." Hence stringing has to precede setting the arrow, and the second verb cannot be taken as past or as conceptually prior to bending.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Note on the Translation of Gen 3:15

A Roman Catholic deacon, in a talk I heard yesterday, asserted that the usual English translations of Gen 3:15b, "He/it shall bruise your head," are mistaken. The proper translation, he said, was "she shall bruise your head," and refers allegorically to the Virgin Mary.

I checked this when I got home and the Hebrew clearly says הוא ישופך ראש, "he/it will bruise your head." Whence the good deacon's assertion? The Septuagint also clearly uses the masculine form. But the Vulgate says ipsa conteret, "she will bruise." A little research turned up a boatload of comment on this reading (a controversy of which I had been until yesterday completely unaware). The RC Douay Rheims translation follows this reading. However, the Nova Vulgata, the revised Latin version authorized by the Vatican now reads ipsum conteret, "it will bruise." This is no doubt correct in terms of the original text; nor can I believe that St. Jerome's original translation of the Hebraica veritas was anything but ipsum.

What amazed me in the literature was the fierceness of the opposing sides. Apparently in a previous age, up to the 19th century, the question of Gen 3:15 seemed to both RC and Protestant to involve crucial questions, and that to retreat amounted to surrendering a key point. But there could only be one outcome to the debate, and the RC church has accepted it, recognizing, I think, that its claims about Mary are not really at risk in the question of the translation of this verse. Nevertheless, I can tell you that at some levels, among the laity, the old debate is still very much alive.

UPDATE: Translation of ipsum corrected to neuter, with thanks to Scott Johnson.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Apposition in Biblical Hebrew

I've been going through Waltke and O'Connor's Intro to Biblical Hebrew Syntax with some students, giving it a detailed read and appraisal. It's been tremendously influential and is without question a magisterial work. However, I must admit I'm not wholly sold on everything in it.

An example is the treatment of apposition (Chapter 12). Apposition is described as a "sequence of nouns ... with the same syntactic function and agreement and with comparable reference" (p. 226). This is not very clear, as W&OC seem to recognize. I want to discuss a different set of criteria, without discussing all the details of the chapter.

The appositive phrase is basically of the structure N1 N2. This is similar to the structure of the construct phrase, but in the construct phrase the N2 cannot be omitted without disturbing the phrase structure. In apposition N2 can be dropped and the phrase structure is left intact. For instance in the construct phrase nehar Perat, "the river Euphrates", while notionally appositional, is syntactically a construct phrase and Perat cannot be omitted leaving only nehar. But in the phrase ha-melek Dawid, "king David," Dawid could be omitted leaving ha-melek to function as a one member noun phrase. So the first test is omission of N2.

The omission test doesn't work against adjectival phrases however. In the phrase N-Adj, Adj could be dropped, just like N2 in the appositional phrase, e.g., ish tov, "a good man" could be pared to just ish. We could say that tov has a "distinct sort of reference" (W&OC 12.1c) as an adjective, but not every word used attributively in Biblical Hebrew is morphologically an adjective, e.g., ish yoshev ba-bayit, "a man dwelling in the house," where Adj = participle + prepositional phrase.

In fact, it is not easy to find further tests to differentiate appositional phrases from adjectival, but I propose two possibilities. One is the reversibility test. One could conceivably reverse the order of N1 and N2 in apposition, e.g., ha-melek Dawid = Dawid ha-melek. One could not similarly reverse ish tov into *tov ish. Thus the adjectival phrase shares with the construct phrase the trait of irreversibility.

However, I am not sure this works all the time. My intuition (as well as W&OC) tells me that ishah almanah "woman, widow" in Hebrew is apposition, but it is not reversible. One could not say, I don't think, *almanah ishah just as well as ishah almanah. Perhaps this means we should actually understand this phrase and others like it as adjectival modification, and not apposition.

Another possible test is the repetition of the preposition test (or: "rep of prep"). In apposition, a governing preposition may be repeated before N1 and N2, e.g., livni le-Yitzxaq, "to my son, to Isaac" (Gen 24:4). The same could not happen in the adjectival phrase, e.g., ha-ish ha-tov "the good man" cannot become *la-ish la-tov "to the good man." But as W&OC point out (12.3f), the preposition or other particle is not repeated in apposition if N1 is a proper name. It is not clear why this is.

In any case, I think it is clear that some of the further cases mentioned by W&OC, e.g., shloshah banim, "3 sons," cannot possibly be apposition. The relation between numeral (or other quantifier) and the quantified noun does not meet any set of criteria for apposition, including W&OC's. Further discussion of quantifiers will have to wait, however. For now, I'd be interested in hearing comments about apposition.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Teaching Aramaic: Diachronic or Synchronic?

This note is more jottings for my own benefit --a form of thinking out loud -- than a fully considered proposal. Comments from scholars are welcome.

In teaching introductory Aramaic, the decision has to be made whether a synchronic or diachronic approach is to be used. The textbook I currently use (an unpublished text by another scholar) uses the synchronic approach, with the Aramaic of Targum Onkelos as the beginning dialect.

For a certain class of nouns, the synchronic approach leads to certain problems. Consider the two words gabra "man" and nahra "river." Although they are alike on the surface, a diachronic approach would discern historical etymons of a different shape, namely [gabr] and [nahar]. Because of differing processes of historical change, these forms have a similar outcome. Because of changes affecting monosyllablic nouns ending in a consonant cluster, [gabr] becames at a certain point [gabar] (with anaptyxis), and then [gbar] (with pretonic short vowel reduction in open syllables), although the base form for suffixes remains [gabr]. On the other hand, [nahar] was bisyllabic from the beginning, and only underwent the vowel reduction yielding [nhar] for the absolute, while the base form for suffixes also underwent vowel reduction, yielding [nahr-] out of [nahar].

But in the synchronic approach, is there any reason to posit different historical base forms? Can one come up with a set of rules that generates all the relevant forms, both absolute and determined, without appeal to historical forms?

Let's propose for both forms the underlying base forms [gabr, nahr]. The next rule would be:
A. CVCC bases must be changed to CVCVC in free-standing forms. This gives us [gabar, nahar]

Next rule:
B. Short vowels in open unstressed syllables reduce to shewa or zero. This gives us [gbar, nhar].

One could even reduce it to one rule, as follows:
A'. CVCC bases must be changed to CCVC in free-standing forms.

Does this work? Let's try it on two more nouns: sipra "book" and zimna "time."
A'. The rule rewrites [sipr, zimn] as [spar, zman]. These are the correct absolute forms.

But the rule should probably specify that the vowel in the rewritten form has to be /a/.
A''. CVCC bases must be changed to CCaC in free-standing forms.

Does this work? Let's try two more, malka "king" and laxma "bread." Application of A'' should yield [mlak, lxam]. However, these forms are not correct. The absolute forms are [málak, lxem]. Now what?

For malka, there has to be another rule modification, namely
A'''. CVCC bases must be changed to CCaC in free-standing forms, or else to CáCaC.

For laxma, the rule needs a further modification, namely
A'''''. CVCC bases must be changed to CCaC or CCeC or CáCaC in free-standing forms.

This rule might cover most forms. However, the rule has to be understood as predicting the parameters of possible lexical surface forms, and not as generating forms on its own.

I'm starting to think that the diachronic approach might just as well be introduced at this point. For instance, the diachronic approach will predict correctly that historical CVCC bases can become CáCaC or CCaC or CCeC, while historical CVCVC bases will become only CCaC or CCeC. This seems like a useful distinction to make.

Of course, this doesn't even start to deal with the question of spirantization. Maybe I'll deal with that in the next post.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

More Dylan Thefts, II: Rollins, Pynchon, Hemingway, etc.

A while back I reported on some passages of other authors that Bob Dylan had re-used in Chronicles. I've continued to find more, as have others, especially the indefatigable Scott Warmuth.

Some of the more interesting borrowings I've found are the following:

The Portable Henry Rollins (1998), p. 131:
"Roads full of debris and sadness, old music shifting on the radio. The smell of gasoline on my hands."

Chronicles, p. 74:
"Radio sounds came shifting out of cafes. Snowy streets full of debris, sadness, the smell of gasoline."

Hemingway, "The Battler," The Nick Adams Stories:
"Nick saw that his face was misshapen. His nose was sunken, his eyes were slits, he had queer-shaped lips. Nick did not perceive this all at once; he only saw the man's face was queerly formed and mutilated. It was like putty in color."

Chronicles p. 75:
"His face was misshapen, looked queer formed, almost mutilated -- like putty in color."

Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow, p. 529
"...cast-iron flowers on spiral vine all painted white..."

Chronicles, p. 58:
"There were some iron flowers on a spiral vine painted white leaning in the corner"

Jack London, "The White Silence":
"All movement ceases, the sky clears, the heavens are as brass; the slightest whisper seems sacrilege ...."

Chronicles, p. 96:
"When I hear Hank sing, all movement ceases. The slightest whisper seems sacrilege."

"The Yellow Claw", Sax Rohmer:
"Through the leaded panes of the window above the writing-table, swept a silver beam of moonlight."

Chronicles, p. 166:
"From the far end of the kitchen a silver beam of moonlight pierced through the leaded panes of the window illuminating the table."

Scott has also uncovered a lot of other interesting material, which I'll leave to him to write about.

There are two ways to take all this. One is to say that Dylan is alluding, not copying; paying tribute, not ripping off; and conceivably playing a game with his readers, daring them to find (as he knows they will) the various authors whose words he has creatively re-used. This is part of his genius. This is a perfectly respectable point of view. The second perspective, however, is the one that I favor, which is to be disappointed that Dylan's descriptions, narrations, and word choices are, much of the time, not his. It seems like lack of imagination, and maybe a little distrust of his own abilities, to say nothing of the questionable ethics.

But whatever you think, isn't it better to know what his method is? Chronicles, it's now becoming clear, is comprised of some authentic reminiscence and some fiction (I take it that the characters Ray, Chloe, and Sun Pie, to name a few, are fictional). Within this mixture, typically when he is reaching for an eloquent description of the physical setting, or of his own tangled thoughts, he uses the words of others, sometimes heavily rewritten, sometimes only lightly retouched. Plagiarism or collage? It's your choice.

This is to be distinguished from the use of sources for the purpose of information. Scott has demonstrated that Dylan used an issue of Time magazine for his portrait of the early '60's. It can also be demonstrated, for instance, that Dylan's information about Balzac (Chronicles, pp. 45-46) is derived from Graham Robb's Balzac: A Biography (1995). (What, you thought Bob knew Balzac personally?) Nothing problematic about any of that. I would have cited these sources, but I'm an egghead, and Bob is not.

More of this stuff will come out. Eventually the palimpsest that is Chronicles will be as full of marginal glosses as the Talmud. Like his method or not, it is interesting to see what the dude has been reading. And if we didn't like Bob, it wouldn't matter, right?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Little Walter, Bob Dylan, and the Two Sonny Boys

Bob Dylan, in his autobiographical Chronicles, tells this story of Sonny Boy Williamson:
The only comment that I ever got [on my harmonica playing] was a few years later in John Lee Hooker's hotel room in Lower Broadway in New York City. Sonny Boy Williamson was there and he heard me playing, said, "Boy, you play too fast." [p. 257]
An interesting parallel is found in Blues with a Feeling: the Little Walter Story, by Tony Glover, Scott Dirks and Ward Gaines:
[Billy Boy Arnold] asked [Little Walter] if he knew Sonny Boy. Walter replied, "Yeah, I knew him. He was really good man, he was the best. He used to tell me 'you play too fast, you play too fast.' " [p. 89]
There are several possibilities here. One is that "Sonny Boy Williamson" really said that Little Walter and Bob Dylan played too fast and told them so. It is certainly true that the early Dylan occasionally played harmonica at a frantic, helter-skelter tempo.

On the other hand, since it is now clear that Chronicles contains generous helpings of fiction as well as fact, maybe Dylan appropriated this story to himself. It is a telling fact that the section in which Dylan's story occurs deals partly with Minnesota harpist Tony Glover, who is co-author of Blues with a Feeling. Also pointing to the fictional character of the story is the fact that the Little Walter anecdote refers to the first Sonny Boy Williamson, who died in 1948. Dylan's anecdote has to refer to Sonny Boy Williamson II, who died in 1965.

Therefore if both stories are true, then Sonny Boy I told Little Walter that he played too fast, and Sonny Boy II told Dylan that he played too fast. This is certainly possible. But I have to favor the idea that, given other evidence of Dylan's borrowing of sources, he also borrowed this one, without noticing that he assigned the saying to the wrong Sonny Boy.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Williamson on the Oxford Hebrew Bible Project

I've been sort of planning to write a critique of the plans for the Oxford Hebrew Bible, and why I think the whole plan is misconceived; but H. G. M. Williamson beat me to it. Good, it saves me some time.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Saludos Lakers, Campeones Mundiales

This is a rare post about sports. Those who know me know I'm a Lakers fan. I come by it honestly, living for 13 years in LA during the height of the Magic-Kareem era. Despite my travels since then, I've retained an allegiance to the purple & gold.

So I'm jazzed the Lakers won the NBA championship this year. I have to say, though, that any feelings for or against Kobe, so prominent in media coverage, had little to do with it. I love what Kobe does for the Lakers, I admire his abilities, and I root for him. But I don't find Kobe all that appealing as a person, and the style of his game doesn't galvanize me. When I was a kid we called players like Kobe "hot dogs," and it was not a compliment. Nowadays every above-average player is a hot dog, and the league is the worse for it.

So these days I'm actually more interested in two other kinds of players. One is the non-hot-dog, the guy who plays (seemingly) without arrogance but with excellence. My two favorite non-hot-dogs -- let's call them hamburgers -- my two favorite hamburgers are Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol. It's always good to see hamburgers get rings.

The second kind I like is the big man. My heart has always been with the big men of the Association. The first team I ever loved and rooted for in the NBA was the Philadelphia 76ers of 1967, with Billy Cunningham, Hal Greer, Matt Guokas, coach Alex Hannum, etc. -- but mainly, if you were a kid like me, you noticed Wilt Chamberlain, freakishly large, a man among boys. Kids like the big men for the same reason they like dinosaurs, and if you need any further explanation, then you don't get it. I've never grown out of this, and my favorite players have been the giants, like Wilt, Kareem, Shaq, Yao, even Rik Smits, Ralph Sampson, Manute Bol, Shawn Bradley. I want to see them succeed and amaze me while they're doing it. (No, Dwight Howard isn't in this category. He's just not tall enough. Good player, though.)

On the Lakers, there's only one big who fits in this superhuman category, and that's Andrew Bynum. He's shown flashes of greatness, but he's been hampered by injuries. But he's the guy that really interests me. I hope that the Lakers make it back to the Finals next year, with Bynum performing superhuman feats of dunking and blocking, helped by a couple of hamburgers and, OK, maybe the one hot dog.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Bob Dylan, Young Thief

Looks like Bob Dylan got an early start "borrowing" lyrics, according to this. His career winds down as it began, passing off the words of others as his own.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

"Lost": The Godgame Returns

A while back, I wrote about "Lost as Godgame." After watching last night's season finale, I think I was right, although possibly there are two godgames going on.

We met Jacob last night, the white figure (and therefore good guy), and his nemesis, dressed in black. Let us call him Esau, although Seth (nemesis of Osiris) would be quite as suitable. I think everything that has happened thus far is due to the manipulations of one of these two figures.

Some significant reveals of the finale:

Dead means dead. No one returns from the dead on the island. Therefore "Neo-Locke," as we discover, is a tool or meat puppet of Esau. When Neo-Locke told Richard Alpert to tell the real Locke that he had to die, this was a con of some kind. Esau needed Locke's corpse in order to con Ben and the Others.

This presumably means also that "Christian Shephard" is also a meat puppet or manifestation of Esau. (Note that Neo-Christian and Neo-Locke never appear on screen together.) Therefore everything "Christian" has said to anyone is a con of some kind. He doesn't speak for Jacob. Locke was not supposed to move the island or die. Jack wasn't supposed to come back.

If so, then Esau at the moment can only work through one kind of being: dead people: Christian Shephard, John Locke, Yemi, Alex Rousseau.

Since the Smoke Monster (through Alex) told Ben that he had to obey Neo-Locke, we have to assume that Smokey is also a manifestation (or perhaps is) Esau. Ben Linus's "judgment" was also a con. (Is there more than one Smokey? Is there a white Smokey, too?)

We saw Greek and Egyptian last night, and we heard some Latin. Would it have killed them to put some Aramaic in the show?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

New Ancient Document

This (HT: Paleojudaica) looks like it might be interesting. Kudos to the IAA for providing a hi-res photograph link.

The cursive script is hard to read. The beginning of the text, at least, is in Aramaic: בתרין עשר (on the 12th day) and then dated to לחרבן בית ישראל -- an unusual dating formula, to be sure ("after the destruction of the house of Israel"). However, I am told that the rest of the text is in Hebrew, and that it will be published in due course by Esti Eshel and Ada Yardeni.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Once again, I encountered the spelling "free reign" in a magazine. This is starting to happen a lot. NO. This is not correct. The correct spelling is free rein. Get it right or pay the price.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Make no mistake: if He rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers
each soft Spring recurrent;
It was not as his Spirit, in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of His eleven Apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that-pierced-died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendance;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time which will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Dylan Quellenforschung

In advance of the new album, a track has been released from Bob Dylan's new album, "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'." It's a blues number that won't blow anyone's mind.

All the Dylanologists are saying, though, that it "sounds like 'Black Magic Woman'." That song, it will be remembered, was originally recorded by Fleetwood Mac, although the one everyone knows is the cover version by Santana.

However, in my opinion, the real template for the Dylan song is Otis Rush's "All Your Love," right down to the recurrent words "pretty baby." As with "Black Magic Woman," the more famous version is someone else's, in this case John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, with some absolutely scorching guitar licks from Eric Clapton. Give all of these a listen, and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Wheel in the Wind

In Ps. 83:14, God is enjoined to make the wicked ‏kglgl, which the KJV translates as "like a wheel" (similarly LXX and Vulgate). Although the word glgl does mean "wheel," it makes little sense in context, and exegetes have generally seen in the Hebrew a reference to some other round thing that the wicked could intelligibly be compared to. Since in this verse glgl is compared to qash, straw, driven before the wind, and in Isa. 17:13 to motz , chaff, whipped up by the storm, many take glgl in these two verses to be a reference to a plant, Gundelia tournefortii, which, when dry, forms a kind of tumbleweed. (It is also an extraordinarily ugly plant.)

Although HALOT, in giving this information, refers us in the first instance to Gustav Dalman's Arbeit und Sitte in Palästina (1928-42), Dalman got his information from Immanuel Löw's Die Flora der Juden (1924; still a great reference tool). And where did Löw get it from? From the great 12th century commentator Rashi, who made the identification more than 900 years ago.

Most modern translations reflect this insight, such as NIV "make them like tumbleweed" and JPS "make them like thistledown." But it is surprising how many translate as "like the whirling dust" (ASV, NAS, NRSV), which is less apt. Possibly these translators were under the influence of the older lexicon BDB, which interprets this glgl as "whirl (of dust or chaff), sim. of foes put to flight by God."

I first noticed all this while reading through the 16th century Aramaic lexicon, Meturgeman, by Elias Levita. Levita, as expected, understands the word as does Rashi, glossing it as ‏פרח עשב שהוא מתגלגל, a plant growth that rolls. The citation he gives from the Psalms Targum is ‏היך גלגלא דמתגלגל ואזיל ניח במודרון, understood as "like a glgl, that keeps on rolling, coming to rest on a slope."

However, Levita's text differs from other Targum texts, which read ‏ולא ניח במודרון, "... and does not come to rest on a hillside." The second reading fits the context better, but the image as a whole is obscure to me. Does it mean the wind blows the weed without stopping, so that even when it comes to an obstacle it keeps on rolling? Or is it possible that the reference really is in this case to a wheel, so that we must understand it as "like a wheel that keeps on rolling and does not stop, down a slope"? The last translation is the one I gave in my Psalms Targum text; but now I am not sure. Anybody out there have any thoughts on the Aramaic?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

New Dylan Album

Bob Dylan has a new record coming out. Sounds like it could be interesting; supposedly a rock record, but with lots of accordion on it. Is it zydeco? I doubt it. The name of it is Together Through Life.

As for the previous record, Modern Times, the always alert Scott Warmuth has some Chaucerian observations.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


I'll be speaking Monday at 5:15 pm at Catholic University on the topic "Recent Epigraphic Discoveries and their Bearing on the Origin of Christianity." The lecture is part of the Early Christian Seminar sponsored by the Center for the Study of Early Christianity and is open to the CUA community and invited guests. If any readers of "Ralph" are in the neighborhood and would like to come, let me know and I'll send you more info.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Song of the Week

Come on
Step up
Jump around
Step in
Get up
Stay up
Get down
Come on
Jump in
Move around
Come on
Step up
Get up
Way up
Get down
All right

Friday, March 06, 2009

Raphael Golb Arrest

Wow, this is a blockbuster that will have the community of Qumran scholars buzzing for months, if not longer. A vast quantity of relevant material has been collected by Bob Cargill here.

The sad thing about this scandal is not only the paranoia and vitriol on display in what was originally a scholarly dispute, but the tawdry and shoddy means used to propagate them. Incredible. The scholars who were the victims (particularly Cargill and Larry Schiffman) are to be congratulated for taking steps to bring this activity to an end, but it's a shame that their time had to be spent doing that instead of scholarship.

I'm just watching it all with disbelief from the sidelines. If I learn anything not available from other sources, I'll report it.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Linguistics Terms that Illustrate What They Mean

I see that I haven't blogged the ENTIRE month of February, which is a new record of some kind of futility (or possibly: commitment to work outside of cyberspace. Take your pick.).

To get the ball rolling again, I shall submit a list of terms from linguistics that illustrate what they mean. The late Herb Paper and I cooked these up years ago over lunch (although "haplogy" already existed as a joke among linguists).

HAPLOGY < haplology

DITTOTOGRAPHY < dittography

SYNCPE < syncope

APOCOP < apocope

'PHAERESIS < aphaeresis

NANSALIZANTION < nasalization

ANAPATYXIS < anaptyxis

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Book Fans Bid Updike Adieu

Now John Updike is gone. Time was when I thought he was the greatest American writer of them all. I moved away from that, but I never read an Updike book that didn't have me shaking my head in wonder at his mastery of the language. Some of his phrases have stuck in my mind ever since I first encountered them: the hand in Couples that "showed cornute against the cruciform mullions." The Russian accent of a man trying to speak French who "sloshed in the galoshes of Russian zhushes" (from The Coup). In Roger's Version, the aftermath of intimacy when a man sees his ejaculate "glistening on her belly like an iota of lunar spit." He was a wordsmith without parallel.

He was also the last Barthian in an age when Protestantism either became evangelical or went liberal. My hat's off to him for that, even though I think it left him without sufficient resources to fight off secularism. But I loved it when he told an interviewer that, although he had doubts, he refused to make the "leap of unfaith." Hopefully, he now has his reward.

(BTW: I always thought that Updike wrote this sentence: "His breath smelled of (though no banquet would serve, because of the known redolence of onions, onions) onions." But on looking it up, I find that it was penned by Anthony Burgess. Live and learn.)

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Richard John Neuhaus

Richard John Neuhaus has died. He was one of the great Christian voices in the US, from the 'sixties until now. His book The Naked Public Square (1984) played a big role in the formation of my thinking (such as it is) about Christian faith and public policy.

The obituaries will probably focus on his Catholic years, and probably rightly. But I don't want to forget a few things he did in his Lutheran days, either. One of them was to help convene the group that later issued the "Hartford Declaration: A Theological Affirmation." Its concerns are still valid today. Among the signatories, besides Neuhaus, were Peter Berger, Richard Mouw, Avery Dulles, Ralph McInerny, Lew Smedes, Robert Wilken, William Sloane Coffin, Stanley Hauerwas, and others — a veritable Who's Who of orthodox Christian theology in America.

Another was his book Time Toward Home (1975, now out of print), which rehabilitated the idea of American history and religion as a possible avenue of God's grace.

It was not long after TIme Toward Home came out that Neuhaus gave the Payton Lectures at Fuller Seminary while I was a student, and I met him briefly. I asked him some kind of convoluted question about resurrection and Pannenberg's theology, which he turned into some kind of sense and gave a thoughtful answer to. But in general he did not suffer fools gladly. He was an important advocate for the church, and we'll not see his like again. Recquiescat in pace.