Archive for August 2010

Rollston post on the invention of the alphabet

August 29, 2010

There has been some talk recently of the invention of the alphabet spurred by this article from the Atlantic and this exchange between Anson Rainey and Orly Goldwasser. In response to the latter, Chris Rollston has contributed a nice post to the ASOR blog. In sum, Goldwasser argued that the inventors of the alphabet were illiterate Canaanite miners. Rollston makes a strong case, however,  that the inventors of the alphabet were Northwest Semitic speakers who had a relatively high social status within Egyptian officialdom and who had probably learned to write Egyptian from Egyptian scribes.


What’s the p’shat?

August 16, 2010

Jim Davila shared a book review this morning titled “Why we need Akkadian: How One Semitic Language Sheds Light on Another.” Jim’s point in sharing was to reinforce the necessity of the humanities, particularly an obscure discipline like Assyriology, in the midst of the current cost-cutting climate.

The review reminded me of a separate, but related, point that I tried to make once:

Reading the Tanach, the Hebrew Bible, is tough. For one thing, it’s very, very old, and not refracting the text through our 21st-century prism is difficult. For another, it’s written in two odd languages, Hebrew and Aramaic, in such a way that even those familiar — even fluent — in these tongues find that the simplest passages beg analysis [emphasis mine].

“What’s the p’shat?” — the basic meaning of the text — is the toughest question of all.

Retrograde Hebrew and Aramaic Dictionary?

August 3, 2010

I received an e-mail this morning from Amazon, suggesting that I might be interested in the Retrograde Hebrew and Aramaic Dictionary by Ruth Sander and Kerstin Mayerhofer (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2010). Here is a look from Google Books.

So, for $115 you get a list of all words attested in Classical Hebrew (Hebrew Bible, Inscriptions, and DSS) listed in reverse alphabetical order (i.e., starting with the last letter instead of the first). Presumably this is a help for texts with lacunae where the first few letters of a word are missing, which would basically be the DSS or very recently found Hebrew inscriptions. However, there are no glosses, no citations, not even part-of-speech information.

Anticipating the objection that this would be better packaged as an electronic database, the authors suggest that 1) the “technical complexities” of a database take too long for people to learn, and 2) since ancient texts are often digitized nowadays, having another window open would crowd the screen. Are you kidding me? All you need is one text-entry box for input and a small window to display the words. Seems to me that they wanted to make a book because a big heavy book feels more worthy of $115 and looks better on a CV.