The Internet of Ancient Texts

We live in a happy age when Bible-related text resources that I as an Aussie would once have had to cross the seas to see are available in my web browser any time. Here are a few of my recent favourites, with a focus on resources for textual criticism:

Origen’s Hexapla

This great six-column comparative text-critical resource from the smartest, if not the most orthodox, thinker in the ancient church, Origen, was largely lost in subsequent centuries (many of his works were deliberately purged), but there is a portal that talks about a new forthcoming edition of the surviving fragments and offers links to previous editions of the great work: http://www.hexapla.org/

The Aleppo Codex

This manuscript’s bigger and younger brother, the Leningrad Codex, can be accessed in many Bible software packages and websites, and forms the basis of the diplomatic Hebrew text of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (in the process of being updated as Biblia Hebraica Quinta). But it isn’t so easy to get to the Aleppo Codex, also more than 1,000 years old and covering the majority of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew Univerity Bible offers an Aleppo Codex-based text, but only the Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel volumes were ever published to my knowledge. But now you can see it all visually at http://www.aleppocodex.org/, including those occasional places where your BHS apparatus identifies divergences between the major Masoretic manuscripts.

The Dead Sea Scrolls

I still love and regularly use the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library, where you can go and look directly at the Qumran textual evidence for a particular Old Testament textual question. Sometimes it all hangs on a letter, or even reconstructed line spacing without any extant letters! But so real, so…textual! E.g. Isaiah 1:15 from the Great Isaiah Scroll below:Snapshot of Isa 1.15 from Gt Isaiah Scroll.png

You can personally check the evidence with your own eyes, if you know Hebrew in the Aramaic square script and once you get used to the particular style of the scribe.

The Old Testament in the Syriac Peshitta

This is not as easy to find on its website, being a bit buried in the site structure, but you can look at the Peshitta for any OT book and click on any word to get its analysis. I recommend you print off a chart of the Syriac alphabet in order to decipher the letters. The language actually works rather like biblical Hebrew, and if you’ve boned up on biblical Aramaic at all, you’re better prepared again, though you’ll need to come to terms with an unfamiliar script. A ready reference chart on your office wall helps.

Snapshot of Peshitta Isa 1.1-8 RHS from CAL D'base.png

This is part of the opening chapter of Isaiah, in a snapshot I saved for a class, though what my particular point was, I can’t remember now. Don’t be put off by how it looks. With a knowledge of Hebrew, a reference chart and the clickable analysis function, you can navigate your way to the particular word that relates to the textual issue you’re studying.

Brief Note on Rare Old Testament Names for God

This has appeared before, and is mainly posted for easy reference for my OT students as we talk about the book of Job next week. This chart does not show the common names or titles used for God, particularly Yahweh and Elohim. But I note that both terms are strikingly scarce in the body of the book of Job, but not the narrative frame in chs. 1-2 and 42. Instead, the archaic or otherwise scarce names Eloah, El and Shadday dominate in a way that makes this part of Job very distinctive indeed within the OT canon.

Rare OT Names of God Sshot

By the way, many of their other occurrences outside of Job are limited to just a few key chapters of the OT, such as the Balaam narratives in Numbers 22-24 or the (it is argued by some, notably David Noel Freedman and his associates) archaic poetry of Exodus 15 and Deuteronomy 32. Use of ‘Yahweh’ for God appears to become increasingly common in Judah’s biblical corpus over time, unsurprisingly.

An Embryonic Example of Teaching Hebrew Vocabulary Visually in Semantic Fields

This is a work in progress, lacking order and featuring only one or two hundred of the most common terms from OT biblical Hebrew, but you can see the principle I’m pursuing: representing vocabulary words that students need to learn in natural association and with visual clues. I’ve tried out more than one principle of association, and would like to cluster the circles together in related bubble masses in time, though the prezi will at some point begin to grind to a stop with its graphical content. So there is builder’s rubble and scaffolding lying around here.

Heb Vocab Fams Scrshot Smaller

The impetus for this visual aid I owe to David Gormley-O’Brien, whom I heard speak at the SCD Teaching & Learning Conference in Sydney last September, where he called for the teaching of biblical languages in semantic domains, while I was there presenting a paper on, yes, visual communication in the theological classroom. So this is my attempt to put David’s call into practice, such as it is so far.

From a method point of view, I have had to create the frame in prezi, take a screenshot of that and paste it into an Inkscape (i.e. vector graphics) document, type in Hebrew terms in SBL Hebrew font and manipulate them as needed, then select assemblages of Hebrew terms and export them as png files which I could then open from within prezi and drop into place, where they were tailored to fit as needed.

The link: https://prezi.com/cbqtqi7bqwgs/hebrew-vocabulary-by-semantic-fields/

Feedback is most welcome.

‘Why should I study Hebrew?’

Well put by a fellow Hebrew instructor!

With Meagre Powers

I’m often asked by people going to theological college or seminary, “Why should I study Hebrew?’ Less often, they ask, “Why should I study Greek?”

They’re good questions. Vital questions.

To answer, I want you to imagine this scenario.

You’ve just arrived at university, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. You’re there to study French literature. In fact, it’s been your dream for a few years now to study French literature. You love French culture. You’ve travelled to Paris and fallen in love with the place. You adore French cuisine. Now you want to sink your teeth into the masterpieces that French authors have produced. So you’ve enrolled in the course, bought all the books, and checked your timetable. You’re ready to begin.

And so the day finally arrives. You find the classroom. You walk in, find a seat, and try to get comfortable. But you find yourself shuffling in your seat with nervous anticipation.

Then the Professor walks in.

Your excitement piques…

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A New Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Study Tool Online

From time to time I add a new pin to my Pinterest board on tools for studying biblical Hebrew: https://www.pinterest.com/abrown5929/biblical-hebrew-teaching-and-learning/

But occasionally there comes along a new tool that’s worth noting more fully. Care of a student of Matthew Anstey (and of mine, at intervals), I’ve found out about one called Shebanq, which appears to permit searching of anything you’d like to find out about the Hebrew Bible/OT. I’m sure it can do a great range of different things, and you may want to explore the possibilities. Let me mention just one.

Some time back, I explored manual representation of distribution of important OT terms by means of a heat map. If you don’t know what a heat map is, it is a kind of chart commonly used in data visualization circles. Here is an effort done up in Prezi to show where Levites are mentioned in the OT, and where they aren’t: https://prezi.com/uhjbcpw1xiyn/references-to-levites-in-joshua-kings-chronicles/

Levite Refs in Hist'l Books Sshot

However, much better than a template that has to be filled in manually is a tool that creates a heat map (such as the circular one above) automatically. That is one thing that Shebanq does. As an experiment, I searched for the prefixed relative pronoun that usually appears as ‘שֶׁ’, typically in late biblical Hebrew contexts. In concert with a whole range of other terminological data, including the use of Aramaic and, more tellingly, Persian terms, it gives away parts of the OT canon as clearly postexilic, notably Book V of the Psalms, Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes. You’ll see what I mean in this screenshot from the program:

Shebanq rel pron example

You’ll find this at http://shebanq.ancient-data.org/hebrew/text, and the relevant term is tagged with the number 2640. To get there, select ‘Words’ in the header menu, select the Hebrew letter ‘שׁ’, then find ‘שַׁ’, the first option under that letter. Then, in the LH dialogue box, select ‘chart’, and (as we say here) ‘Bob’s your uncle’! A heat chart making the distribution of the term clear at a glance!

I find this kind of tool an instant buzz, and a doorway both into diachronic studies of term frequencies (over time) in biblical Hebrew, and into ‘synchronic’ studies of key biblical themes accessed through tracing ‘giveaway’ words for those themes.

Did I mention that it’s free?

A Whole Biblical Hebrew Beginner’s Subject Online for Free

If you want to learn biblical Hebrew and want a university/seminary level first-year course, but don’t need the formal credit, check out this video series from Master’s Seminary:

Pinterest pin on my Hebrew studies board: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/532198880942167746/

Main page: http://www.theologicalresources.org/the-masters-seminary/17-hebrew-grammar-i/

First video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qvh8yziVsCE

Can Loanwords in the Hebrew Bible be the result of scribal updating?

My comment: debates can be difficult to close based on individual terms, but statistical patterns can be pretty telling, especially when examining suites of terms. E.g. when an individual Aramaic term becomes current amongst Hebrew speakers may be hard to establish, but the sudden ‘Cambrian explosion’ of Aramaic terms in exilic to postexilic texts is unmistakable. Persian terms are a real bellwether in my book, being very unlikely to enter Hebrew vocabulary prior to 550. The logical process in my mind is to demonstrate the high prevalence of a set of loanwords in texts that are uncontroversially postexilic, like Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah, and then to ask whether they appear in the more debated cases. Sometimes they do (especially in, say, Song of Songs) and sometimes they don’t (e.g. rarely in supposedly post-exilic contributions to the Pentateuch). Repeating the process often builds up a pretty comprehensive picture of books and parts of books that appear to have arisen after the exile.

With Meagre Powers

A loanword is a word that originates in one language, but makes it into another language for common use.

The Hebrew Bible is replete with loanwords. These are interesting cases, because it makes us ask how and when these loanwords made it into Hebrew. They are often used as evidence for particular (usually late) dating of biblical texts.

I was recently asked whether it was possible for loanwords to have crept into biblical texts through editing. That is, could a later scribe, in the process of copying a text, have updated the language and replaced a Hebrew word in the early text with a loanword from another language? And if this is possible, what does this tell us about our methods of dating biblical texts?

Well, the scenario of later scribes inserting later loanwords into earlier texts is possible, but there is absolutely no way of verifying it without manuscript evidence of such a replacement occurring…

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