John Hobbins has some valuable reflections on the forthcoming Ancient Near East Monograph volume that I was a part of (the book was available for download for a couple days, however, SBL uploaded an earlier draft version with a few formatting errors so they pulled it down and we are still waiting for it to be fixed and then made available once more).
John reflects upon a prevalent reality in which scholars merely debate and recapitulate secondary literature; a lament that we both share:
Scholars are known to succumb to a grave and debilitating disease: that of spending all their days reading each other rather than the texts and other artifacts that are supposed to be the objects of their research. In the blessed assurance that someone else knows more about a particular text than she does, a specialist will often say little or nothing about a text that has not been said before. “I and my secondary literature, tenured and blest, watching and waiting, looking above” (with apologies to Fanny Crosby).
It’s a shame.
I whole heartedly agree. Learning original languages–notice the plural; in my opinion one is not a competent biblical scholar unless he or she has at least a working knowledge of the handful of cognate languages, furthermore other more distantly related but culturally significant ones are also desirable–is hard, time consuming work. It is far easier just to learn Hebrew, dabble in some Greek and then move on to write a dissertation and such. Yet, spending the extra time and effort at the front yields huge dividends throughout one’s reflective life. John discusses the importance of Akkadian and Sumerian–I will not use parenthesis for Sumerian since I translated Sumerian texts for my dissertation–for biblical studies:
It is not too much to say that one cannot be a serious student of the ancient Near East, the Hebrew Bible, or of pre-classical Mediterranean antiquity without a working knowledge of (Sumerian and) Akkadian and of the field of Assyriology. Grounded, detailed knowledge of ancient cultures and ancient history can only be acquired by reading lots of texts, not in translation, but in the original languages. Again, culturally informed, close readings of ancient texts are only possible on the basis of intimate familiarity with the texts in the languages in which they were written.
The entire piece is well worth a read. Also, I’ll post an update when the Akkadian reader is available.