Here is a great quote from Constance Hale’s Sin and Syntax (pp. 22-23):
Is it powermongering? Is it insecurity? Is it arrogance? Why do so many professors and professionals resort to pompous, ponderous, or just imponderable nouns?…Presense results when a writer preoccupied with his or her own diction loses sight of the primary goal: communicating with an audience. Choose words that are appropriate for the subject, the audience, and the forum. When a father talking to his child’s teacher mentions a “colloquy” with his seven-year-old daughter, he is not being articulate, he’s being ridiculous.
When you’ve got a choice, go with the plain talk, not the pomposity.
I came back from a wonderful weekend vacation and thought I would get back into a research and writing mindset by reading the new issue of the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. I was quite frustrated with the quality of writing of the first article that I read. It took me three times as long as it should have because the author was anything but clear and concise. Furthermore, the article seemed pompous and as if the author was more concerned about showing off than of presenting an idea in a beautiful and helpful form.
I urge all academic writers to take concrete steps this summer to improve your writing. I certainly am. The most helpful resource that I have found for doing so is a post by Angie Erisman. In her post, Writing in Biblical Studies, she surveys books that will teach and/or motivate you to write more clearly, elegantly, concisely, and beautifully. I liked her post so much that I checked out every book she mentioned. Over the next few days I’ll have some great quotes from one book on Angie’s list– Constance Hale’s, Sin and Syntax.
If all of us purposefully worked to improve our writing skills our fields–and our careers–would be much better off.
The IAA has more info about it if you’re curious.Â Those were the days when reverends and colonels deciphered Akkadian.Â If only we could get back to the days when cuneiform studies interested a broader audience.Â We can if we would write in an engaging and clear manner.Â More on this in the next few days…
I bet the title got your attention. It is a bit hyperbolic, but, with respect to the way in which many scholars employ source criticism of the Pentateuch, this title fits. Not all adherents of the Kaufman School completely disregard the documentary hypothesis, in fact, Dr. Kaufman himself does not. However, the Kaufman School is marked by a healthy suspicion of a scholar’s ability to accurately pinpoint various strata of the Pentateuch. Here are Kaufman’s words, “[T]he attempt to identify and reconstruct those sources in other than their broadest outlines is a consummately fruitless endeavor.”
The reason why Kaufman can get away with saying this is because he applied Pentateuchal source criticism to a control group–the Temple Scroll. The author of the Temple Scroll used a combination of exerpts from the Pentateuch in order “to forge new texts” (30). Since we have both the source material (the Pentateuch) and the new texts (the Temple Scroll), this provides us with a way to empirically test the techniques and assertions of the Documentary Hypothesis. Here is a summary of the results of this empirical test:
There is no way–that I have found–to regularly and accurately separate out and reconstruct the sources that have been used by the Temple Scroll. In many places it is even difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish between the earlier sources and the author’s own words. In general, tensions and problems in the text can be recognized, but proposed solutions usually prove far from the mark when we turn to the original texts for verification. Moreover, many composite texts show few if any signs of a composite origin while many signs of textual tension are misleading, frequently simply echoing a problem already present in the original source for who knows how many textual generations back (33-34).
Kaufman analyzes six compositional patterns within the Temple Scroll (TS):
- Original Composition– identified by late linguistic features (composite future imperfect–imperfect of hyh + participle, plural participle used to express the impersonal general present), kl + singular noun + plural verb, asher used syntactically like Mishnaic she, relative lack of textual tensions. Late vocabulary can be misleading because author often alters biblical vocabulary to conform with later usage, but also sometimes falls into biblical idiom. Only the sum total of features is significant; isolated peculiarities are often misleading.
- Paraphrastic Conflation– Dependent upon Pentateuchal passages for their content, themes, and phrasing but contain a relative lack of textual tensions. “It is conceivable that the critic could correctly identify the two basic strands of the latter text; the strands of the former seem irrecoverable, even were the critic successfully able to recognize that he was dealing with a source-based text rather than a free composition.”
- Fine Conflation– Highly biblical in style not neccessarily totally devoid of late syntax. “Has any literary critic ever been bold enough to suggest that in a biblical text several verses long each and every phrase comes from a different source? Doubtful indeed. Yet the presence of this kind of conflation in the Temple Scroll, albeit rare, suggests that there could well be biblical texts composed in a simliar fashion” (39).
- Gross Conflation– Straightforward combination of all of the biblical texts treating the same subject. TS author often adds words or phrases of his own and sequence of biblical laws is not always retained. “As a result of such tampering, even in those relatively few cases where repetitions, inconsistencies, redundancies, and other textual tensions allow the critic to correctly recognize both the existence of a conflate text and the general shape of the component sources, the precise content of each component remains irrecoverable” (40).
- Modified Torah Quotation– A quotation of a single Pentateuchal text, free of conflation with other biblical sources, but heavily modified by the author. “Reconstruction of the original is all but impossible” (41).
- Extended Torah Quotation– The quotation of Pentateuchal texts without substantial modification, normally when a section is quoted in great length. “Names for God can be and probably are indicative of different sources, but need not be unique to a single source. Moreover, theological and semantic necessity can be responsible for the use of a name in a source that does not regularly use it” (42).
Here is a summary of Kaufman’s empirical test of the source critics’ methologies:
It is a legitimate and worthwhile enterprise to point out inconsistencies, duplications and other irregularities in a biblical text and to compare texts in terms of their language, forms, literary structures and contents. But, except where there are many substantial, coincident reasons to suspect that all is not whole, the reconstruction of redaction history on the basis of such inconsitencies and comparisons promises to be nothing more than so much wasted effort (43).
What do you think?
My wife and I are going on a weekend trip to see the Biltmore Estate. I was hoping to get the first installment of the series on the Kaufman school, but that will have to wait. I’ll try to get it up as soon as I can once I get back–hopefully it will be up on Tuesday. Have a great weekend!
Here is my list of the top ten most influential Old Testament scholars since 1800. For the sake of my academic career, I will exclude my teachers from consideration.
- Julius Wellhausen-no one has been more influential in the last century-plus than him
- William F. Albright-the person who created “Biblical Archaeology”
- Martin Noth-ever heard of the Deuteronomistic History?
- Hermann Gunkel-form critical scholar
- Gerhard von Rad-brought Old Testament theology back to the forefront
- Frank Moore Cross-dean of epigraphy
- Norman Gottwald-integration of the social sciences into biblical studies
- Brevard Childs-canonical criticism
- John Van Seters and Thomas L. Thompson-”minimalism” is born
- William Dever-archaeologist extraordinaire
Agreements? Disagreements? Jilted because you’re not on the list?
Here is my list of the top ten most influential ancient Near East scholars since 1800. For the safety of my academic career, I will exclude my teachers from consideration.
- Henry Rawlinson, Edward Hincks, Julius Oppert, William Henry Fox Talbot–the four who deciphered cuneiform
- Benno Landsberger-Albright called him “the most eminent living Assyriologist”
- Arno Poebel-author of one of the first Sumerian grammars
- Carl Brockelmann-the dean of comparative semitics
- William F. Albright-the last polymath
- Samuel Noah Kramer-how many texts can one copy and publish in one lifetime?
- James Henry Breasted-Egyptologist Extraordinaire
- Thorkild Jacobsen-a creative and beautiful mind
- Wolfram von Soden-he memorized the German train schedule for fun
- BedÅ™ich HroznÃ½-deciphered Hittite and established the field
Agreements? Disagreements? Jilted because you’re not on the list?
I’ve posted or commented about the “Kaufman School” before, but I have only given a few hints at what this entails.Â I decided to put some flesh on these bones and therefore, I’ll be starting a series devoted to explaining the Kaufman School.Â In order to do this I will summarize some of Stephen A. Kaufman’s most formative writings–one writing per post.Â First up is a truly revolutionary article: The Temple Scroll and Higher Criticism.Â If you are a biblical scholar that strictly delimits various layers of Old Testament texts down to the sentence level, this article is the nail that just sealed your coffin.Â Stay tuned…
Jim, you’re making this too easy!
â€œAnything Published by InterVarsity Press. Nothing really need be said here. When you open an InterVarsity publication youâ€™ve opened the door to the dank and dark halls of fundamentalism. And fundamentalism just makes for very poor exegesis and theology.â€ â€“Jim West, May 17, 2007 a.m.
â€œIn my own defense (or defence for our British readers), I didnâ€™t really condemn IVP.â€ â€“Jim West, May 17, 2007 p.m.
Mark Geller via agade listserve:
Dame Mary Douglas (1921-2007) passed away yesterday evening (16 May), after receiving her knighthood at Buckingham Palace last week. Her contributions to anthropology and biblical studies will be of lasting importance.Â On the day she passed away, she received proofs of her introduction to a new volume, Imagining Creation,
which will appear within the next few months.