Twenty Questions with Martin Ehrensvard

This is the first of three installments of Twenty Questions with the authors of Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts. The next two will come when they come. First, Martin Ehrensvärd of the University of Aarhus indulges our questions. Enjoy!

1. Where are you from? Where did you grow up?
I’ve lived in Aarhus, Denmark, for most of my life.

2. How did you get into biblical studies? Does confession/faith relate to your work at all?
When I was 20, I wanted to be a minister in the Danish State Church (Lutheran) and so started studying theology. But Hebrew got the better of me. Confession/faith does not relate to my work.

3. Where are you currently teaching/researching? What are you currently teaching/researching? How did you get to be there?
I’ve been teaching at the University of Aarhus, Denmark, since 1990, except for a few years at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. A sudden flow of theology students demanded that they hire a Hebrew teacher quickly. They found none but me, even though I was only an undergraduate.

4. Where and under whom have you studied?
and
5. How have your teachers influenced you?

In Aarhus with Finn Ove Hvidberg-Hansen and in Jerusalem with Avi Hurvitz.

Hvidberg-Hansen’s main influence was getting me to change my major to Semitic Studies and then teaching me a very old-fashioned view on Semitic languages. It took a while to shake this influence and discover all that had happened since 1950.

Avi Hurvitz’ main influence was getting me into Late Biblical Hebrew studies. I was deeply impressed with his work when I first read it. After studying with him in Jerusalem a few years it dawned on me that important aspects of his work didn’t hold up. This very surprising finding prompted my work from 1998 to date.

6. What did you write your master’s thesis on (if you did one) and what did you write your dissertation on?

My MA thesis was on the use of the definite article in Biblical Hebrew. My dissertation was on the syntax and the dating of Biblical Hebrew.

7. Do you have a particular writing style or research method?
I’m guided to a large extent by impulses and spontaneous feelings of being drawn in a certain direction.

8. What were your initial experiences with biblical languages like? Did you do both Hebrew and Greek?
I did Latin, Greek and Hebrew when starting theology studies. I loved studying them immensely. My first ever class at the University was Latin, and after that class I decided to skip the plan of the ministry in order to just stay on at the University.

9. Second-language vocabulary learning is a topic of interest on this blog. How did you approach the issue as a new learner? How do you teach your students (assuming you have some) to do vocabulary? Do you still review vocabulary?

I’ve worked a great deal with this. I often try to inspire my students to apply mnemotechnic methods, like: “This word ‘OR (‘light’) sounds like ‘ore’ as in gold ore. Imagine for instance a great lump of gold shining with incredible intensity. This way of combining words with strange images in the mind will help you remember them.”

Personally, I have never relied on such methods because words simply always liked to inhabit my mind. So I just keep ever expanding lists of words that I review whenever I have a few minutes to memorise them, and archive them when they are absorbed.

10. What language goals do you set for your students? Is there a certain level of competency you expect? For example, do you expect them to read unpointed Hebrew and/or related Semitic languages?

Unpointed Hebrew and several other Semitic languages (at least Aramaic and Arabic) for sure, provided that they have the interest. I have mostly students of Religion and theology students.

11. Does technology play a role in your work? Do you regularly use Bible software? Which one? Do you use technology in teaching? Do you see technology in biblical studies, particularly with students, as a help or a hindrance?

A great help. I love BibleWorks. I teach interested students how to use BibleWorks. Incidentally, Robert Rezetko taught me how to use BibleWorks.

12. Did you research other uses of linguistic dating in preparation for the book? If so, what?
Yes, we did a great deal of cross linguistic studies, looking for how the method was applied in other fields. We found that wherever it was applied, the situation was vastly different from Biblical Hebrew. The evidence would be abundant, particularly with regard to the number of firmly dated texts.

13. Other than a general diachronic approach, there doesn’t seem to be much linguistic theory in linguistic dating. Is this so? Are we mistaken in some way? Do you prescribe to any linguistic view out there (like generative or cognitive linguistics)? Why no incorporation in the book?
Right, what we normally understand as linguistic theory is not relevant to linguistic dating, linguistic dating tending largely to be a common sense approach (“this feature seems to enter the language at this point, therefore we assume that texts exhibiting it are no earlier than, say, a 100 years prior to this point”). I personally like Chomsky a lot, and generally prefer formalist linguistics to functional linguistics.

14. How might a recognition of the variety of biblical Hebrew affect the way biblical Hebrew is taught?
It would simply provide greater clarity.

15. With reference to ch 13 of Vol. 1- To what extent, if at all, does the Bible’s “textual instability” make your linguistic dating invalid?
Textual instability to a large extent renders linguistic dating of Biblical texts invalid which is why we argue against the usefulness of linguistic dating in the first place.

16. Might one conclude that in Biblical Hebrew, there were “two chronological eras with a transition between them” (p141), but because of these text-critical issues, we are left with two “authorial/editorial/scribal approaches” that we can see (p141). Could textual variants have erased the major differences between Early Biblical Hebrew and Late Biblical Hebrew?
In light of the evidence we present, this is highly unlikely that there were “two chronological eras with a transition between them”. Much more likely is the hypothesis that EBH-like Hebrew and LBH-like Hebrew were available to authors for most or all of the Biblical period. Textual variants could very well have erased the major differences between EBH and LBH.

17. What was edited out of the book that you wish had stayed?
Nothing that I can think of.

18. How did working with two others differ from working alone or with one partner? What advice can you offer to those embarking on group projects?
It was fantastic. Very inspiring and lots of fun. You just have to find the right people and the right project, and that is not an altogether easy match.

19. Any SBL plans? Will you be reading or presiding over a session? Any word on a review session for the book?
Yes, the National Association of Professors of Hebrew have put together two review sessions of the book in 2009 and are planning for another two for 2010.

20. Anything new on the way? Can we expect to see any new books, articles, or papers in the near future?
Not in this field in the near future. My current long-term research project is a study of linguistic variety in Qumran texts.

Much thanks to Martin for taking the time to answer our questions.

UPDATE – Martin adds Hans Jørgen Lundager Jensen to questions #4-5. The full answer for questions #4-5 reads-

In Aarhus with Finn Ove Hvidberg-Hansen and Hans Jørgen Lundager Jensen, and in Jerusalem with Avi Hurvitz.

Hvidberg-Hansen’s main influence was getting me to change my major to Semitic Studies and then teaching me a very old-fashioned view on Semitic languages. It took a while to shake this influence and discover all that had happened since 1950.

Hans Jørgen Lundager Jensen’s main influence, apart from Hittite and Akkadian, has been to always look for what is daring, innovative and exciting. Looking in the non-obvious places and combining non-obvious fields and perspectives.

Avi Hurvitz’ main influence was getting me into Late Biblical Hebrew studies. I was deeply impressed with his work when I first read it. After studying with him in Jerusalem a few years it dawned on me that important aspects of his work didn’t hold up. This very surprising finding prompted my work from 1998 to date.

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