The following interview is part of an ongoing series titled Scholars in Press, which aims to showcase a particular variety of scholars who contribute to biblical studies through their linguistic skills. Find out more about this series and a list of past contributors, here.
Ph.D. (Northwest Semitic Philology), University of Chicago
M.A. (Northwest Semitic Philology), University of Chicago
M.Div. (Biblical & Theological Studies), Southern Seminary
B.A. (Mathematics), University of Oklahoma
Favorite winter/summer pastime: I enjoy cooking indoors in the winter and outside in the summer.
How did linguistics intersect with biblical studies in your life (or vice-versa)?
I began taking courses in Attic and Hellenistic Greek as an undergraduate. This study began a long love affair with learning languages and about language. At seminary, I started learning Hebrew, which was my first non-Indo-European language experience. Graduate school led me to explore linguistic theories that intersect with Semitic philology and biblical studies. Finally, my educational journey culminated in my thesis project on the evolution of Hebrew prepositions. [KL: I wonder if Idle Musings has finished reading it yet?]
What informal or personal educational experience stands out the most to you in your learning career?
The first experience of something oftentimes is the most vivid. For me, this was learning the dialects of classic Greek and seeing the differences in Koine and Hellenistic Greek. It was transformative and fostered over the years by excellent teachers and mentors.
What would you say is your linguistic niche, or what are you most interested in? (limit of two topics)
I consider myself primarily a historical linguist and a philologist. These are overlapping, of course, serving complementary purposes. Both allow for dedication to studying language qua language but with a desire to make application to a specific text or group of texts. My most recent research has been in the area of grammaticalization and contact linguistics.
Where is your field headed? What advances are being made others might should be aware of?
As I alluded to previously, I work in several different fields of study: biblical studies (particularly Old Testament studies), historical linguistics, Semitic philology, and the broader Ancient Near East. So it is difficult to pin-point one particular field of study. Possibly the most exciting advances are at the intersection of two or more of these fields. For instance, helpful conversations are ongoing that incorporate not just old methodologies but integrate approaches from outside biblical studies in the discussions of textual diachrony, verbal tense/aspect, and word order in Biblical Hebrew. These are fruitful and hopefully will lead to the reassessment of other traditional questions using outside methods.
How do you hope your work will contribute (or counter) to this end?
Primarily I attempt to contribute to this trend through demonstrating how linguistic theories can help better understand debated texts or problems. This means communicating clearly what the theory is, how it can be reformulated to explain a known problem, and then exploring the solution in specific texts.
What is your end goal with your training? (e.g., teach, research, preach, translate, etc.)
For those of us lucky enough to have jobs in academia, there is a strong desire to give back to the scholarly community. I seek mainly to do that through teaching, research, and mentoring students. Possibly the best part of my current job is offering an academic MA program in Old Testament (link), which requires a broad range of specialized study. We offer courses in Historical Hebrew Grammar, Comparative Semitics, Aramaic, Syriac, Interpretation History, Septuagint, Textual Criticism, Rabbinics, ANE History, Dead Sea Scrolls, etc. I don't know of another similar program of study in the US.
What books / articles are you currently reading or enjoying most? (Limit 3)
Eugene Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Developmental Composition of the Bible, VTS 169, Brill, 2015
Re-reading: Salikoko Mufrene, The Ecology of Language Evolution, Cambridge, 2001.
I'm looking forward to Joan Bybee's new book, Language Change, Cambridge, 2015.
Who have been your biggest role models?
Besides my academic mentors, my main role model is my father. He is also an academic, a physicist. He is the model of an excellent teacher, researcher, and individual.
What is one piece of advice for those following in your tracks?
Read and learn from as many different people you can—in the diversity of influences you will find your own voice. The world does not need another researcher identical to me, rather be yourself and follow your own interests with your whole person.