How many languages does it take to get to the center?

Duane of Abnormal Interests offers This Isn’t Kindergarten in response to James’ “Essential Languages for New Testament Study” which was, in turn, a follow up to Larry’s discussion of what languages are essential to NT studies. Duane ups the ante quite a bit. Any serious student of the first two centuries CE

needs to know not only Hellenistic Greek, but more than a smattering of Aramaic, Hebrew (including Rabbinic Hebrew), Syriac, Coptic and Latin.

And if you are interested in Hebrew Bible, well let’s just say you better put your linguistic cap on.

A serious student will know Hebrew, Aramaic, Hellenistic Greek, Akkadian including peripheral Akkadian, Ugaritic, Phoenician, Egyptian, and Classical Greek. I think they also need know Hittite.

All of this glossolalia got me thinking about the fact that none of the authors of the NT or the HB knew all or likely even more than three of these languages. Most likely only knew a couple, which is still more than most people today, I will grant you that. But does Duane or any of us really think that the author of Ruth, for example, Akkadian or Ugaritic or Phoenician? Do we really think they knew historical grammar and the development of Northwest Semitic languages? Of course not.

I understand that for us as literary scholars, historians, theologians, archaeologists and the like we need to know a far greater breadth and depth than the author’s whose works we study. Often they are influenced in ways they were unaware of and that is often grist for our scholarly mill. Each scholar takes a different tack based upon our interests and training, some linguistic and others theological, and to investigate those niches we need specialized tools.

But it might just be worthwhile sometimes to remember the original context and the limitations and expectations of the author and his/her audience.

 

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