When I was in my adolescent years, and first got into the study of ancient languages, I was – of course – in many ways a different person. One aspect of this was the fact that I cared relatively little about what was actually in the texts I was reading – content-wise, I mean. To me, the verbal forms, the inflections, the endings were all that mattered. I found – and still do find – immense, almost visceral pleasure in the analysis of complex morphological formations. They can truly be works of art. To see, step by step, how the Hebrew form wayyamlîḵûhû must mean “(and) they made him king” (hifˤîl 3rd person masculine plural imperfect consecutive of the root m-l-k) is quite the good feeling. And there are so many even more exquisite (and less regular) examples.
What changed when I started studying at the University level – and arrived in the department of Theology, studying Old Testament Exegesis, in a sort of pretzel way – was the disconnect between form and content. During those years, I learned to love the intersection between linguistics/philology, history of religion and textual analysis that makes the exegetical field what it is. I now tend to view them as a beautiful triangle, with each apex reinforcing the others – the philology and linguistics being the pathway into the reconstructed worlds of thought that the texts carry within them, like layers of an onion, with every step of redaction and reinterpretation as a single piece of the history of human imagining.
Funnily enough, I now publish more on purely linguistic subjects than I did when I was younger, but the aim towards that semi-magical combination is always there. Using typological parallels from Tocharian, Old Irish and Classical Japanese to analyze the creation of a verbalform in Biblical Hebrew, for example, also has implications for the rise of that verbal form as a medium of telling epic narratives, something that forms an integral part of the larger scholarly project I am currently involved in (focusing on Northwest Semitic poetic-narrative language). So even when I am doing very linguistically focused stuff, the other two apices of the triangle are constantly there in my mind. Exegesis is philology, and history of religion, and historical textual analysis. The magic happens at the center of that triangle.
… and why am I writing this in English, by the way, on this normally Suecophone blog? Well, as can be seen, the blog has fallen into abeyance in later times: the thing has been going for more than twelve years now, and I have found it hard to come up with stuff to write here lately. So, for a mental change of pace, I intend to add some Anglphone stuff. We shall see how it turns out.
speaking of which! On Monday October 5, I shall be giving a short (20-25 mins)
lecture entitled “L’s and S’s in the Land of Israel: Lateral Soundplay in the
Hebrew Bible and its World”, as part of the annual “Exegetical Day” of the
Swedish Exegetical Society. The most excellent Dan Nässelqvist (Lund) and Jacqueline
Vayntrub (Yale) will also be giving talks, on “Aural Clues as Guides to the
Interpretation of New Testament Texts” and “Performance and Textuality in
Biblical Poetry” respectively. The lectures are in English, will be given
online (as so often these days) and are open to the public. The Zoom link is:
The schedule is:
14.00 Swedish time – me
14:45 Swedish time – Dan
15:30 Swedish time – Jacqueline
Come join us and listen to three examples of the lovely interactions between textual study, philology and linguistics!