Last weekend my wife and I saw Once at the art-house theater nearby. At first I was skeptical–it is an Irish musical and while I love Ireland, I don’t care for musicals at all. However, this is not a traditional musical. It is a story of two musicians that help one another with their music as well as life. The movie weaves the music into the story so people are not constantly talking to one another in song.
The movie was filmed on a buget of $150,000 but it is far better than any of the movies with budgets a hundred times this that have have come out of Hollywood so far this year. I’d have to say that this is my favorite movie of the year so far. So, if you need a break from all your reading and writing go see Once.
The Creation Museum that has been in the news a lot lately opened up across the river from me. Since I am geographically close to the museum, several people have emailed me and asked for my thoughts about it. Some have asked me to post about it as well. I believe that this story has been over-covered by both national media and bloggers, so I will address one aspect that has gone unnoticed.
I have read several quotes or essays by Young Earth Creationists that fall into a particular interpretive fallacy (I have heard many Old Earthers commit the same mistake, I just haven’t seen it in print lately, but bad logic cuts across all ideological persuasions). Particularly, a friend of mine gave me an article in which this fallacy had bloomed in full display.
The author tried to prove that the first two chapters of Genesis were historically literal because they were non-poetry, that is, (in his view that meant) they were prose. So, he pointed to the narrative preterite forms and other features that he believes indicate that these chapters are not poetry which he stated meant that they were prose. Furthermore, he stated that since all other prose sections of the Old Testament were historically literal then the first two chapters of Genesis are also historically literal.
There are several fallacies within this argument, but let me treat what I see as the most troublesome. This author and many, many others have confused forms and genres. There is no fact/fiction distinction between prose and poetry (It should be noted that these are not binary options–another lost distinction. There are gradations of fact/fiction as well as of prose/poetry. You can have exalted prose and prosaic poetry and everything in between. You can also have historical fiction or Discovery Channel documentaries which are another category in themselves). That is, there is no connection between historical literalness and the fact that a writer composed a narrative in prose nor is there any connection with fiction and poetry. One can write an absolutely precise historical retrospective in exalted poetry. Why? Because poetry and prose are just different forms of writing not genres. You can have the genre of a battle account written in the form of either a prose narrative or a victory poem. Either form could be historically literal or a fictional creation.
Therefore, if you feel the need to argue one side or the other of this debate please get your logic in order. Don’t dismiss the historical literalness of the first two chapters of Genesis because they contain poetic features. Also, don’t try to prove its historical literalness by pointing out prose-like features. Both of these arguments are non sequiturs.
How could a fairly complex state society exist without a writing system, an extensive bureaucracy or major urban centers, none of which Kush evidently had?
A good question indeed. Although I am by no means a Kushite scholar, I find it hard to believe that the Kushites didn’t write. They probably wrote on perishable materials that have for the most part disappeared. A similar phenomenon happened in Mesopotamia as Luwian was often written on wood while scribes wrote Hittite on more durable materials. Needless to say, we don’t have a whole lot of Luwian writing left.
Here are some aspects of Kushite society that make it hard to believe that they could administer their society without writing:
Kushites controlled or influenced a 750-mile stretch of the Nile Valley.
Kush had an extensive gold trade that made it quite wealthy.
City of Kerma controlled gold mines 250-miles away.
Production of complex ceramics.
How does someone control a gold mine 250-miles away with no writing? I suppose it is possible, but anything is possible. If find the theory that Kush had no writing very improbable. What do you think?
Michael Patrick O’Connor died on Saturday of liver cancer.Â He taught at Catholic University of America and his works include Hebrew Verse Structure and Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax.Â On a personal note, I had an extensive email correspondence with Dr. O’Connor as I was deciding where to pursue PhD studies.Â He was very generous with his time and he gave me valuable advice and guidance.
As we continue our series on the Kaufman School I thought I might summarize Stephen A. Kaufman’s article, Paragogic nun in Biblical Hebrew: Hypercorrection as a Clue to a Lost Scribal Practice.1 In this article Dr. Kaufman breaks from the traditional explainations of the “paragogic nun” found in Waltke and O’Connor’s grammar as well as Hoftijer’s explanation which WO more or less adopted.
Kaufman states that the paragogic nun arises out of a living scribal tradition that attempted to reflect earlier traditions or alternative dialects of Hebrew: “[A]t the stage of Hebrew reflected in the scribal tradition, the imperfect indicative forms with final long vowel did end in final nun, but the nun was not always pronounced…Nun assimilates to a following consonant in Hebrew; thus, in spoken Hebrew, an imperfect with long vowel would have been followed by a doubled consonant (the ancient consonantal Hebrew orthography would not indicate that doubling, of course); but in pause the now-final nun remains, in both pronunciation and orthography” (97).
Furthermore, Kaufman states, “The scribal curriculum of Ancient Israel must have included a lesson detailing when and when not to add a paragogic nun, in conformity with ancient practice” (97). The discussion goes on from here, examining individual cases of the phenomenon.
What do you think about Kaufman’s theory concerning the paragogic nun? How about his introduction of the scribal curriculum? We have seen the idea of scribal curriculum surface again recently in Christopher Rollston’s article in BASOR in which he tried to demonstrate a standardized scribal curriculum in ancient Israel based on spelling and orthographic conventions. Do you think a more or less standardized scribal curriculum existed in Ancient Israel?
found in Solving Riddles and Untying Knots: Biblical, Epigraphic, and Semitic Studies in Honor of Jonas C. Greenfield ed. by Ziony Zevit et al (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1995): 95-99 [back]
I was listening to a conversation with Salman Rushdie on Fora.tv and he said something very intriguing. He described the ending of a book that he wrote during the darkest period of his life. He stated that ironically, it was the happiest book that he ever wrote. While we can probably psychologize this phenomenon and explain how happiness intersects despair, I wonder if we would have the same reconstruction if we only had Rushdie’s book. If we did not know that the book was written in his darkest period I bet that many critics would hypothesize that it was writen after the birth of his first child or after he won the Booker Prize.
Along these lines, I often wonder about the accuracy of scholarly reconstructions of the setting in which biblical books were written. For example, the Exodus account was written after the Exile because the theme of return from exile would “play” in this period to an audience fresh from captivity. Really? I think the Exodus account is a great story and great stories play with any audience. Another example. The accounts of the moral failings of David and Solomon could not possibly have been written during the reign of a davidic king because no davidic king would have stood for unflattering accounts of previous rulers. Really? Could there have been one humble king that permitted these things to be written? Maybe our reconstructions of the settings for the composition and reception of biblical books are not as solid as we think they are.
Here is another selection from Contanance Hale’s Sin and Syntax. In this quote she takes aim at a common problem in academic writing–cumbersome prepositional phrases. Enjoy and keep honing your writing skills this summer:
The most frequent prepositional sin is to replace one good, terse word with a stack of prepositional phrases. The worst prepositional train wrecks crop up in legal writing, with its herinbelows, with respect theretos, and therins. But lawyers are hardly the only offenders. Have you ever counted the number of ways windy writers and speakers avoid the direct adverb now:
as of now
at this point in time
at this time
for the time being
in this day and age
in the not-too-distant future
Of course, none of these beats Alexander Haig’s all-time worst way not to say now: “at this juncture of maturization.”
Anytime you can replace a cluster of words with one elegant one, do it.1
Constance Hale, Sin and Syntax (New York: Broadway Books, 1999): 104. [back]