Reflections on “Writing and Literacy in the World of Ancient Israel” by Christopher A. Rollston

Needless to say, Rollston’s Writing and Literacy in the World of Ancient Israel is a valuable starting point for studies in (1) epigraphy and (2) inscriptions. Essentially, he employs epigraphy as “a window into the world of ancient Israelite scribalism, writing, and literacy” (xv). First, he offers a helpful introduction to the origins of alphabetic writing and how the script became employed in distinct languages (Phoenician script was employed for Hebrew, Aramaic, and Phoenician languages).

Next, he offers a broad overview of the types of epigraphic records, primarily illustrating how inscriptions records demonstrate the variety of ways in which writing was employed in the world of ancient Israel.

Finally, having established a thorough introduction to epigraphy and the corpus, he argues that ancient Israel had formalized, scribal education [1]. Such scribal education was akin to what we find in other West Asian records. Namely, scribes were associated with private families or were state sponsored positions. At bottom, he argues that “Old Hebrew epigraphic data and the biblical data align and reveal that trained elites were literate and there is a distinct dearth of evidence suggesting that non-elites could write and read” (134).

Regarding the sometimes lack of detail in this volume, it is expected. As he notes near the beginning of the volume, his more detailed analyses of texts are available in the various articles which he has written. Furthermore, on the issue of how Hebrew came to function as a national language, that is an issue which Seth Sanders focuses on in The Invention of Hebrew (University of Illinois Press, 2009). What’s more, since this volume’s publication in 2010, much work has been done in terms of West Asian scribal practices and schooling practices [2].

[1] He prefers the term “formalized, scribal education” over “school” because the latter category assumes a model of education anachronistic the Iron Age.

[2] Most recently, see Uri Gabbay, The Exegetical Terminology of Akkadian Commentaries (Leiden: Brill, 2016), Niek Veldhuis, History of the Cuneiform Lexical Tradition, in Guides to the Mesopotamian Textual Record (GMTR), Volume 6 (Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2014). As I move forward, I am working on collecting a more comprehensive bibliography of articles and books on scribal issues.


Reflection on “Grammatical Parallelism and its Russian Facet” by Roman Jakobson (1966)

For those who were with biblical poetry, Roman Jakobson is an incredibly important scholar. For, his understanding of parallelism shaped and formed the framework by which Adele Berlin (The Dynamics of Biblical Paralellism) treated Biblical poetry in her own book. One quote from the article stands above the rest:

Pervasive parallelism inevitably activates all the levels of language – the distinctive features, inherent and prosodic, the morphologic and syntactic categories and forms, the lexical unites and their semantic classes in both their convergences and divergences acquire an autonomous poetic value. This focus upon phonological, grammatical, and semantic structures in their multiform interplay does not remain confined to the limits of parallel lines but expands throughout their distribution within the entire context; therefore the grammar of parallelistic pieces becomes particularly significant.

It is these categories in particular which Berlin breaks down within biblical poetry. In the next few years, though, I do look forward to a dissertation being written within NELC at the University of Chicago. It may help to clarify much of what others, Jakobson, and Berlin argued, albeit with more clarity.

One things, though, stood out to me within this article: oral traditions. Essentially, a 19th century scholar recorded a many Russian folklore traditions and poems. Although many of these records had some variation, it was noted that many of these traditions were extremely similar. Scholars argued that these similarities were due to the usage of parallelism and its dominant role in oral traditions.  Such things are present throughout many modern cultures.

Additionally, they often times drew from parallelism as defined by Lowth. Down the road, it was argued that poetic and prose traditions in the Hebrew Bible reflect an oral culture preceding it. It is this point which I want to address. Without a doubt, the oral traditions of the Hebrew Bible are possible; however, comparison of 19th century oral traditions, such as a Turkish one which goes back to the 16th century, with those of the Hebrew Bible is methodologically flawed. The method is problematic because 2000 to 2300 years separate modern traditions and ancient traditions.

So, while it is possible to prove that modern folklore traditions tend to employ grammatical parallelism, it is harder to claim such a thing for the Hebrew Bible, as did Albright and many other scholars. That said, one must produce evidence and develop a method in order to bridge the gap between modern folklore traditions and ancient traditions, particularly with regard to the relationship between oral traditions and grammatical parallelism.

Cf. U. Gabbay / Dead Sea Discoveries 19 (2012) 267–312 (esp. p. 279), wherein here notes that Mesopotamian scholars had a sense they were the recipients of an oral tradition that allowed them to offer the best commentary on canonical texts.  

Grounds of Being at the University of Chicago Divinity School

cash20onlyAt the moment, I work at the Grounds of Being coffee shop at the University of Chicago Divinity School, a non-profit coffee shop. Unfortunately, the future of Grounds of Being is at risk, especially after the new dean was hired. This is significant because Grounds of Being currently (1) provides jobs for divinity students, (2) is an important social and cultural center of both the Divinity School and broader university, and (3) provides the funding for DSA, a program which provides substantial financial support for Divinity School students in terms of things like travel grants, conference grants, and emergency funds.

Included in the body of this post is an update on the situation from the perspective of Grounds of Being and DSA management. Likewise, please visit this link in order to see how others are responding to the current situation.

News and Information about the DSA/GoB Preservation Committee can be found on this page. It will be updated accordingly.

The Divinity Students Association (DSA) is an organization run by and for University of Chicago Divinity School students. The organization contributes to many spheres of life in the Divinity School, including academic, professional, and social.  Above all else, the DSA strives to foster a true community of Divinity students from every degree program.

The Divinity Students Association was founded in the early 1960s and has operated as an independent nonprofit (501c3) within the Divinity School since 1968. The DSA is focused on pursuing three goals: 1) to enhance student life and research; 2) to foster collegiality and social cohesion; 3) to work with the Divinity School administration in areas pertaining to student needs. To achieve these goals, the DSA draws on two sources of funding: a percentage of your student life fees and the net profits of Grounds of Being, our student-run nonprofit coffee shop. These funds go towards providing students with a number of important resources and opportunities.

January 3, 2018

Dear Students, Staff, and Faculty of the Divinity School:

We write on behalf of the Divinity Students Association/Grounds of Being Preservation Committee, a group formed by a unanimous vote of Divinity School students to advocate on behalf of the Divinity Students Association (DSA) and Grounds of Being (GoB) in response to recent administrative threats against these organizations’ autonomy and continued existence. We believe that the work that DSA and GoB do for students and the communal life of the Divinity School should continue, and that decisions about these organizations’ shared future should be made with the participation of every person in the Divinity School. We consequently believe that students, staff, and faculty should have common access to as much information as possible, and that public fora should exist for honest, collegial conversation about the challenges that currently face DSA, GoB, and the Divinity School as a whole. It was with this intention that we held two plenary meetings of DSA last quarter. It is with this same intention that we now publicly disseminate the following information and invite all faculty and staff to a public forum hosted by the DSA/GoB Preservation Committee on Friday, January 12th at 10 AM in the Swift 3rd Floor Lecture Hall.

In June 2017, DSA and GoB leadership first received word from then-Dean Rosengarten’s office concerning the new University-wide budget system and the possibility that GoB would be asked to pay rent for space currently occupied in the basement. Dean Rosengarten met with GoB managers to discuss a potential solution to the budget problem; Dean Rosengarten suggested at that time that GoB and the Dean’s office work together to determine a percentage of the quoted rent that GoB could pay while allowing DSA and GoB to continue their current activities. In June, there was confusion about rental rates and square footage estimates, and therefore no agreement could be reached. In August, DSA and GoB received from the Dean’s office a rent estimate of $36,943. In recent years, GoB’s net profits have amounted to between twenty-five and thirty-five thousand dollars a year, the entirety of which comprise the only financial support for student resources administered by DSA such as the Swift Cares emergency relief fund, student travel grants for research and professional activities, and funding for student-run conferences in the Divinity School. As no resolution was found under Dean Rosengarten’s administration, the conversations about rent continued into the Fall Quarter.

The situation has changed dramatically since June. During the first two months of Fall Quarter, DSA and GoB leadership held several meetings with members of the Divinity School administration, including new Dean Laurie Zoloth and Dean of Students Joshua Feigelson. These conversations culminated in a meeting on November 16th, which included DSA President Erin Simmonds, GoB General Manager Juliana Locke, GoB Assistant Manager William Underwood, Dean Zoloth, Associate Dean Sandra Peppers, Dean of Students Feigelson, and Deputy Dean Jeffrey Stackert. Over the course of this meeting, Dean Zoloth delivered a series of non-negotiable demands to DSA and GoB leadership including: (1) that GoB immediately adopt the university’s point-of-sale system in order to take Maroon Dollars and credit cards, due to concerns about accessibility and optics; (2) that GoB immediately integrate its finances into the university’s financial system; (3) that GoB pay approximately $61,000 in annual rent and estimated utilities. DSA and GoB leadership highlighted a number of obstacles to enacting these three demands, each of which would result in serious threat to the economic viability and autonomy of these student organizations. Accordingly, DSA and GoB leadership provided alternative proposals and compromises. These offerings were summarily discarded.

Throughout this meeting, Dean Zoloth repeatedly dismissed the importance of DSA and GoB to community life in the Divinity School. Among other remarks, she suggested that it is not her concern that GoB employs twenty-one Divinity School students, that perhaps the school could replace GoB with a different, profit-seeking coffee shop, or that GoB management could personally fundraise enough money to endow the cost of rent and utilities. It was made clear that GoB must come up with the full $61,000 or face closure.

After this meeting, DSA and GoB held several meetings with students and faculty, including a staff meeting with employees at GoB on November 17th, a DSA Board meeting on November 16th, and two plenary meetings to which all Divinity School students were invited on November 20th and November 27th. In these plenary meetings, students voted unanimously to refuse the demands of the Dean’s office and to continue negotiations through a newly-constituted DSA/GoB Preservation Committee. During this period, DSA and GoB leadership received communication from intermediaries that Dean Zoloth had become amenable to a compromise. Through these same intermediaries, GoB leadership negotiated a tentative compromise on two questions: (1) adoption of the university’s point-of-sale system, and (2) the possible integration of GoB accounts into the university’s financial system. It was explicit in these conversations that GoB would not negotiate rent until these two questions had been resolved and that rental negotiations would thereafter involve a wider group of participants, including a nascent faculty committee. In short, after weeks of high tension and concern that GoB would have to close, thus substantially defunding DSA, it seemed that it would be possible to pursue good-faith negotiations with a set of shared commitments to the continued existence and autonomy of both DSA and GoB.

In the last month, however, student confidence in that possibility has dissolved. Further communication with Dean Zoloth and administrative intermediaries has made it clear to DSA and GoB leadership, as well as to this open committee of students, that the Dean’s office has no intention of compromising. While we appreciate the efforts of certain administrative figures to work cooperatively and respectfully with student leadership on these issues, we no longer believe that it is advisable or responsible to negotiate privately with the Dean’s office. Despite six months of continued conversations, no resolution has been achieved and we are left with the impression that the good faith with which DSA and GoB leadership approached these negotiations has not been reciprocated with the openness and fairness we expect from our Divinity School leadership. No tangible progress has been made and we need to move forward.

In the interest of preserving vital student organizations and pillars of our community, we now call for: public deliberation and accountability regarding issues that concern the entire Divinity School; administrative transparency on financial matters pertaining to student institutions such as DSA and GoB; and student involvement in decisions that affect those institutions. Motivated by these imperatives, we, again, entreat all faculty and staff to attend a public forum hosted by the DSA/GoB Preservation Committee on Friday, January 12th at 10 AM in the Swift 3rd Floor Lecture Hall. At this meeting, DSA and GoB leadership will provide faculty and staff with both groups’ financial and operational information. We invite all attendees to ask questions about these organizations and the work they do in the Divinity School, as well as to speak openly about what solutions they believe will best serve the collective interests of the Divinity School community. We hope that this meeting will generate the kind of informed, public conversation that is necessary for making decisions that affect every person in the Divinity School.


Yours in partnership,


The DSA/GoB Preservation Committee

DSA and GoB Leadership

Reflections on §1-33 of Joüon-Muraka

*This quarter, a required reading is all of the Biblical Hebrew grammar by Joüon-Muraka. Here, I reflect that reading. 

Observation 1: 

In the previous quarter, we learned the historical grammar for vowels and nouns in Biblical Hebrew. As I start reading through Joüon-Muraka, the knowledge of such historical grammar helps immensely, namely by helping me to understand his discussion regarding morphological explanation for substantives, verbs, and particles. While his consistent reference to this historical grammar is valuable, it assumes one already grasps the elements of historical grammar. Therefore, this grammar can be particularly difficult to digest if one has not been taught the foundations of historical grammar.

Observation 2: 

In light of the phonetic shifts between vowels (i.e. Philippe’s Law), should this be brought into consideration when considering grammatical parallelism, particularly in Biblical poetry? I don’t know. This is a possibility worth pondering, though.

Observation 3: 

Section 15e comments on the role of accents in the MT, noting that “their main purpose is to regulate the musical modulation or recitation of the Bible” (58). Though it may have been done (or not), I wonder how those accent impact the interpretation of texts. Think of, for example, how one artist may cover a song by another artist. Often times, though the same language and grammar is utilized, the music genre brings an entirely new sense to how one understands the song. A study on this would be interesting, especially if there is some sort of psychology music study focusing on the the psychology of different music genres.

Observation 4: 

If I am recalling correctly, section 29e-g, wherein Joüon-Muraka discusses the first and second degrees of attenuation, is subsequently explained by Lambdin. For Lambdin, this attenuation is classified as “category 3” (or 2?). I need to check up on this, though.

Observation 5: 

This grammar was first written in 1923. So, it isn’t surprising that Joüon reference the waw + PC as an “inverted future” (section 31b). It is interesting, though, how current grammatical discussions have (tried) to move beyond a tensed verbal system into an aspect verbal system. To what extent was this sort of discussion going around in the 1920s?

“The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism” by Adele Berlin

This post is a review/summary/reflection on my reading of The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism for my coursework. 

In the Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism, Adele Berlin attempts to show how parallelism function dynamically, namely how aspects of it are part of a broader system of linguistic usage. Drawing from the linguistic framework of Roman Jakobson and expanding beyond Lowth, Berlin first addresses parallelism in terms of both biblical studies and linguistic studies. In doing so, she makes a strong argument for the idea that parallelism is a constitutive device in poetry. So, while parallelism is present in nearly all literature, it is a dominant and constructive device in biblical poetry. Simply put, she argues that the degree to which parallelism is present in a given text is how one distinguishes between “prose” and “poetry.”

Although this was only the first chapter, two questions arose in my mind. First, while poetry is nonlinear and prose is linear, how might one understand seemingly linear poetry, such as Psalm 82? Though it is more of a comment than question, my second question regards an example. Regarding the parallelism in Judges, she notes: “These two actions presumably involved the use of two difference hands, since the alternative would be to have Yael juggling both the peg and the hammer in one hand – a patently ridiculous, if not impossible, feat” (15). My question: would somebody please make a cartoon of Yael juggling a peg and hammer in one hand, while she stands above Sisera?

In order to clarify her use of the linguistic prism for parallelism, she reviews how scholars have looked towards the linguistics for a methodological prism of viewing poetry. As she illustrates, though, there is no unified standard for determining what is parallel because scholars focus on different structural levels to mark the “threshold at which point two lines are deemed parallel” (19). Regarding the work by Terence Collins, her primary criticism is that both semantic structuring and grammatical structuring are equally involved in parallelism. As for Stephen Geller (Parallelism in Early Biblical Poetry), he was aware of both semantic and grammatical parallelism. According to Berlin, Edward Greenstein’s “How Does Parallelism Mean” is the most thorough and dependent on grammatical parallelism. For, Greenstein considers all parallelism to be grammatical parallelism, regardless of sematic content. Berlin contends, though, that “just because similarity in structure promotes semantic relationship does not mean that difference in structure prevents it.” (23). In other words, she broadens Greenstein’s limitation of grammatical parallelism by allowing semantic parallelism to play a role as well. Even with this criticism, Berlin notes that Greenstein “took grammar about as far as it could go in terms of parallelism” (25) [1].

Next, Berlin discusses the presentation of parallelism by M. O’Conner in Hebrew Verse Structure. He claims that scholars have difficultly defining parallelism because they failed “to perceive.. the multiaspect and multilevel nature of parallelism; that is parallelism may involve semantics , grammar, and/or other linguistic features, and it may occur on the level of the word, line, couplet, or over a greater textual span” (25). In other words, scholars have typically made too narrow of a definition for parallelism as it relates to linguistics. Citing Roman Jakobson, whose linguistic framework is foundational for Berlin’s present work, “Pervasive parallelism inevitably activates all the levels of language – the distinctive features, inherent and prosodic, the morphological and syntactic categories and forms, the lexical units and their semantic classes in both their convergences and divergences acquire an autonomous poetic value” (26).

In order to clarify her languages, Berlin, subsequently, deems aspect as things related to phonology, morphology, etc., whereas level relates to the textual structure. It is, essentially, this perspective from which she operates: a presentation of “an overarching, integrated, and linguistically based description of biblical parallelism” (29).

Chapter III offers a thorough analysis of the various types of parallelism with regard to the grammatical aspect of parallel lines. This she subdivides into two types of parallelism: syntactic parallelism (“syntactic equivalence of one line with another line”) and morphological parallelism (“morphologic equivalence or contrast of individual constitutents of the lines”) (31). For clarity, the Berlin’s presentation will be summarized as a list with various sub-sections. After the summary list, relevant points will be discussed.

  • Morphological Parallelism
    • Morphological Pairs from Different Word Classes
      • Noun // Pronoun, Noun/Pronoun // Relative Clause, Prepositional Phrase // Adverb, Substantive // Verb
    • Morphologic Pairs from the Same Word Class
      • Contrast in Tense, Contrast in Conjugation (with a variety of nuances), Contrast in Person, Contrast in Gender, Contrast in Number, Contrast in Definiteness, Misc. Contrast
  • Syntactic Parallelism
    • Nominal // Verbal
    • Positive // Negative
    • Subject // Object
    • Contrast in Grammatical Mood

In describing the many ways a line may be grammatically parallel, she offers clear sight of how pervasive grammatical parallelism is dominant in the construction of biblical poetry. Naturally, such grammatical structures ultimately impact the meaning of the text.

For the most part, I appreciated the divisions presented by Berlin. For, they make extremely clear the particular types of grammatical parallelism. Likewise, thorough examples for each points also illustrate how, in many cases, different aspects of grammatical parallelism, whether syntactic or morphological, function together in order to construct the text on the basis of grammatical parallelism.

Concerning her analyses, I have one comments. Regarding her discussion of Contrast in Tense, there is missing consideration: how does the w-retentive play into the contrast of tense? One of her examples is Psalm 29:10, wherein line 1 contains a SC (suffix conjugation) and line 2 contains a waw-retentive + PC. These are morphologically distinct. Yet, she simply categorizes these as the paralleling of qtl and yqtl verbs. Perhaps, though, it is more specifically a paralleling of qtl and wyqtl verbs, namely a waw-retentive verb. This is important because the qtl and wyqtl arguably function in the same way. Yet, in the same category, she places Psalm 26:4, in which line 1 contains a negative particle + PC and line 2 contains a negative particle + SC. So, here the verbs contrast morphologically and functionally. Whether or not this distinction is significant (i.e. morphologically, but not functionally, contrasting verbs vs. morphologically and functionally contrasting verbs), I do not know. It is, though, worth considering.

Chapter IV focuses on the lexical and semantic aspects of parallelism. So, whereas Kugel replaced the tripartite division of parallelism types with an single, diverse, overarching semantic concept (‘A, and what’s more, B’), Berlin focuses on providing a complete description of how such parallelisms play out within a linguistic framework. To do so, she divides between the lexical aspect (word-level phenomenon) and semantic aspect (line-level phenomenon).  Rather than explaining the lexical aspect simply as word pairs which can be generated by anybody, she refines the notion of ‘word pairs’ by drawing from some observations in two psycholinguistic studies about word association.

  • First, in the studies, players with more time provided statistically unusual associations; players with little to no time typically provided more statistically common associations. Players between “more time” and “no time” typically provided the most statistically common word pairs.
  • Second, the word itself may be an association.
  • Third, words elicit different associations depending on factors like general population responses, connotations, etc.
  • Finally, reciprocity is a variable. So, land may be associated with sea, and sea with land; yet, while frigid may be associated with coldcold is not typically associated with frigid.

Regarding these rules, Berlin re-arranges them in terms of categories suggested by one of the psycholinguists.

  • Paradigmatic Rules
    • Minimal Contrast Rule
      • Common words tend to be associated with their “opposite.” (i.e. father-mother; brother-sister; black-white).
    • Marking Rule
      • Words tend to return to their base form, rather than to an expanded form (i.e. dogs is associated with dogs; however, dog is not associated with dogs)
        • On this point, Berlin notes that she has no idea of this actually bears out in Biblical Hebrew. Likewise, Clark, the psycholinguist, notes that this is not always consistent.
    • Feature Deletion and Addition Rule
      • The addition rule specifies the group of something (i.e. apple-fruit; father-man), whereas the deletion rule specifies something within the group (i.e. fruit-apple; man-father).
        • Berlin suggest this is present in Hebrew verbs, such as word association between a qal and hiphil verbal form.
  • Syntagmatic Rules
    • Selection Feature Realization Rule
      • A word can limit its associations (i.e. young may be associated with boy; however, it may not be associated with book).
    • Idiom Completion Rule
      • A rule similar to the selection feature realization rule (i.e. apple-pie, needle-thread, etc.); in other words, these word associations are simply idioms, not simply our association of an apple with a pie.

Following after these, Berlin specifies types of syntagmatic pairing in Hebrew. Notably, she agrees with the basic categories provided by O’Conner in Hebrew Verbal System; however, she disagrees with some of the examples which he provides.

  • Syntagmatic Pairing in Hebrew
    • Conventionalized Coordinates
      • Related to the idiom completion rule, this association relates two terms belonging “to an idiom or conventional expression” (76) (i.e. orphan – widow; loyalty – truth; etc.). Though not synonyms, they functions as a type of syntagmatic pair in order to express a broader idiomatic idea. So, orphan – widow expresses the idiomatic idea of one who is defenseless within society.
    • Binomination
      • Two things refers to one thing via a two-part name (i.e. Balak – King of Moab).
    • Normal Syntagmatic Combinations
      • “… a manifestation of The Selectional Feature Realization Rule” (77). So, while throne and sit are not necessarily idioms for something, it is normal discourse to sit on a throne (i.e. write – book).
        • Regarding the example of throne and sit from Is. 16:5, one may also view this as a type of conventionalized coordination. For, while the terms are not necessarily related, one may argue that they express the broader idiomatic idea of kingship or rulership. This, though, supports Berlin’s original claim, namely that a wide-variety of constructive elements are at play in constructing parallelism. Therefore, it is not problematic that throne – sit may be described as both as normal syntagmatic combination and conventionalized coordinates.

Having established the lexical-aspect via word pair association theory in psycholinguistics, she proceeds to develop the relationship between the lexical-aspect and semantic-aspect. To do show, she illustrates how different levels of parallelism operate from a variety of examples. So, in her example of Psalm 15:1, ‘hl and yshkn are a lexical pair (a normal syntagmatic combination); yet, they are not semantically the same. yshkn and ygwr, though, are semantically and grammatical equivalents. In other words, there are multiple layers of parallelism. One must be attentive in order to distinguish between such layers. Subsequently, she illustrates how the lexical, grammatical, and semantic patterns are distinguishable within various texts via three primary patters: aabbabababba.

To wrap up the chapter, she focuses on the Semantic Aspect. Defining it as “the relationship between the meaning of one line and its parallel line,” she breaks it into two parts: disambiguation and ambiguity; and parallelism as metaphor. As she notes though, distinguishing between the various levels is often times ambiguous within BH poetry.

Chapter V focuses on the aspect of phonological parallelism. In particular, she focuses on sound pairs. Prior to providing examples, she offers some preliminary limitations and definitions of ‘sound pairs’ in biblical Hebrew. First, she defines it “as the repetition in parallel words or lines of the same or similar consonants in any order within close proximity” (104). The definition is subsequently tempered: because biblical Hebrew originally only had consonants, and Hebrew is a consonantal language, sound pairs are only based on the consonants. Similarly, in order to “reduce the effect of rand repetition and… the subjectivity involved with the perception of sound correspondence,” three more limitations are added (105): two sets of consonants must be involved, they must be in close proximity, and they must have similar phonemes, allophones, or articulation.

After offering a few examples, she explains what they mean in terms a parallelism. Although I wish more linguistic studies were available to detail and clarify this point, she offers a good, simply thought. Sounds pairs add to the perception of parallelism. In other words, they serve to reinforce the parallelism of two lines, even if said lines already contain Grammatical, Lexical, and Semantic parallels.

Although she present solid evidence for the value of sound pairs in biblical poetry, along with some limitations, a more developed organization of sounds pairs and more developed limitations for what constitutes sounds pairs would have been valuable. At the end of the chapter, she highlights the chance of subjectivity in locating sounds pairs. More restrictions as to what defines “sound pairs” may have helped by offering clear boundaries.

In the final chapter (VI), Berlin highlights the purpose of her works. By distinguishing four aspects of language (grammatical, lexical, semantic, and phonological, one can see the various elements at play in biblical parallelism; however, such as usually occur simultaneously. In other words, she summarizes how she has shown “the enormous linguistic complexity of parallelism” (129), which avoids reduction into small, restrictive categories.

Next, she lays out an four important tentative principles relating to the perceptibility interestingness of parallelism. For, one of the biggest criticisms of Jakobson was that perception is subjective. Therefore, to claim parallelism in literature is, somewhat, subjective. Having laid out a thorough and well-argued layout of the various aspects of biblical poetry and parallelism, she offers these fours principles, for which she is careful to note are tentative and may increase perception of parallelism:

  1. Proximity of parallel lines (i.e. lines with the pattern abab are harder to perceive, in terms of parallelism, than lines with the patter aabb.)
  2. Similarity of surface structure (i.e. lines with a similar surface structure are easier to perceive as parallel lines.
  3. Number of linguistic equivalences (i.e. the more presence of grammatical, lexical, semantic, and phonological equivalences, the easier it is to perceive parallelism.
  4. Expectation of Parallelism (i.e. if the surround context is constructed on parallelism, and one line seems not to be parallel, the surround context suggests it should be understood as a parallel line to some degree).

Finally, she briefly discusses the effect of parallelism; however, because Berlin has demonstrated the parallelism is a complex linguistic phenomenon, the effect of parallelism is context dependent. It does so by patterning the language in a constructive manner. In her own words, “by means of these linguistic equivalences and contrasts, parallelism calls attention to itself and to the message which it bear. Parallelism embodies the poetic function, and the poetic function heightens the focus on the message” (141).

[1] At this point in time, F.W. Dobbs-Allsopp (On Biblical Poetry, 2015) is the most recent treatment. Unfortunately, I’ve not had the time to work through his book.

A Response to Reviews of Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Although I typically write about Hebrew Bible and ancient Near Eastern stuff on this blog, I want to take a moment to reflect on Star Wars: The Last Jedi. To be completely honest, I loved the film. While I have many reasons rolling through my mind, I don’t have the time to write and explain each one. Instead, this blog post will focus on one broad pattern which I enjoyed about Star Wars: The Last Jedi (henceforth TLJ).

Before talking about the film itself, though, I need to layout my methodology for understanding the film. In simpler terms, I want to discuss how I approached the film. In approaching the movie, I sought a balance between two extremes. On the one hand, rather than approach it with any expectations in terms of thematic elements, characters, etc., I attempted to approach Star Wars as neutral as possible. In other words, I was fully prepared for things not to be done the way I expected. Having seen the movie twice, this was easier to do the 2nd time around. On the other hand, I knew that the film would draw from themes, lines, cinematography, and other elements from the previous films, particularly Episodes IV, V, and VI.

The best way to summarize my approach, then, is that I interpreted/watched/understood TLJ in terms of what is called ‘intertexuality.’ Simply put, me approaching TLJ intertextually meant that I understood TLJ as being shaped and defined by the previous Star Wars films. In Biblical Studies, this is often called “Innerbiblical exegesis.” So, here, I will call it “Inner-StarWars Exegesis.” With this method, for example, I paid close attention to things such as Luke’s time on the island with Rey. For, it obviously draws from the imagery and themes of Yoda’s time on Dagobah with Luke. Importantly, though TLJ did not simply copy themes and idea from other movies; rather, it re-interpreted the themes. So, although Luke’s time as the island was framed in context of Yoda’s time on Dagobah, the characters and stories played out in very different ways, albeit similar at moments.

By watching TLJ through inner-Star-Wars exegesis, I noticed how many things depended on the framing of IV, V, and VI. Even so, they did something very different with the same frame, motifs, and themes.  One placed of inner-Star-Wars exegesis was the plot line of Finn and Rose. In the following, I list a few common criticisms of their plot line:

  • They didn’t actually contribute to the story
    • I will respond to this in what follows.
  • Their chemistry was strange.
  • Their plot line was simply boring.
    • This point is quite subjective.
  • “The “evil people who hurt animals and make money off war” plot line is as cliche as it gets.”
    • I see why this may be understood as “cliche.” The reality, though, is that it is not cliche within the Star Wars films. It is only this film in which this sort of thing really begins to be fleshed out. It sort of presents a “third-side” to everything. So often in Star Wars films, we are presented the bad guys and and the good guys, the dark side and the light side, the X-Wing and the TIE Fighter, etc. What this film is trying to do as a whole is shift that traditional, Star Wars understanding. This will be more fleshed out in the example below.

Now, I agree with most that their chemistry was strange. The love ‘thing,’ or what ever it was, between Finn and Rose was not entirely necessary. In light of inner-Star-Wars exegesis, though, I argue that the role of their plot line within the broader narrative was not to simply save the day; rather, the role of their plot line was to make a poignant comment on the idea of what it means to be a hero. In order to demonstrate this, I will focus on one particular narrative sequence, namely when the slicer gets Finn and Rose onto the First Order ship.

For anybody who knows the Star Wars films, they know that Luke and his party ‘sneak’ onto the Death Star with codes. Similarly, Finn, Rose, and the slicer ‘sneak’ onto the First Order ship. And whereas Luke and his party are successful to a certain extent, in regard to taking down the shields, Finn and Rose are successful by no means.

It is this lack of success which I want to focus on. Throughout TLJ, clear reference is made to previous Star Wars films in terms of how the material is framed. So, Yoda + Dagobah // Luke + Island; Hoth + Walkers // Crait + Walkers; Rey + Snoke // Luke + Sidious; etc. Among the many things framed to be parallel, though, TLJ worked with it in such a way that they were often (1) successful in a different manner or (2) not successful at all. And this 2nd point, not being successful at all, seems to be a consistent texture throughout the film. It is a texture best exemplified by Rose and Finn, who go on a dangerous journey and never really “win” or help the Resistance. In re-interpreting previous frames and themes in Star Wars, though, TLJ provides an entirely distinct texture from the previous films. Whereas the previous films had clear distinctions between bad/good, jedi/sith, Empire/Rebellion, etc., TLJ plays with this structuralist divisions. In the case of Finn and Rose, it draws from a traditional framework of Hero/Win and Evil/Lose. Within TLJ, though, such a sharp contrast between black and white no longer works. It reveals that there is also grey, and many other shades. One can be a ‘hero,’ and go on adventure; yet, there is never a promise of success. In fact, you probably won’t succeed.

This is the texture which I see in TLJ. It takes the expectations an illustrates how people aren’t perfect. People don’t always succeed in their missions. Some people make really stupid decisions, such as Poe. In other words, through recognizing the use of inner-Star-Wars exegesis, TLJ seems to comment on the previous films, wherein a clear distinction between good and evil, black and white, was much more apparent. TLJ seems to say, “No. That is not always the case.” In doing so, it avoid common expectations held up for the Star Wars film tradition and other film traditions. This is what gives TLJ such a unique texture. This is also what sets TLJ apart from other Star Wars films, letting it stand on its own feet, with a unique film texture.

Finally, though this is more conjectural, I suspect that the problematizing of the structuralist story telling of I-VI is actually trying to do something within the broader Star Wars galaxy. I think it is trying to get away from the centralization of good/evil, Sith/Jedi, etc., in order to focus more on the grey area between the two. In other words, it will allow the franchise to move beyond black and white and into the infinite grey that is real life.

New Book by Dever

In Novermber, a new book by William Dever will be published. Here is the description with a link: “William G. Dever offers a welcome perspective on ancient Israel and Judah that prioritizes the archaeological remains to render history as it was—not as the biblical writers argue it should have been. Drawing from the most recent archaeological data as interpreted from a nontheological point of view and supplementing that data with biblical material only when it converges with the archaeological record, Dever analyzes all the evidence at hand to provide a new history of ancient Israel and Judah that is accessible to all interested readers.” (LINK)