Twenty Questions with Ian Young

Here for your enjoyment is our third and final installment of Twenty Questions with the authors of Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts. From the University of Sydney, here’s Ian Young.

1. Where are you from? Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Sydney, Australia, although a year in England when I was 10 really got me interested in (ancient) history.

2. How did you get into biblical studies? Does confession/faith relate to your work at all?
I am a Christian so got into it because I wanted to understand the Bible.  My faith relates to my scholarship in that I want to help other Christians read the Bible responsibly and profitably.  However, because I am convinced of the importance of biblical authority for Christians, I am strongly opposed to putting the cart before the horse, by deciding that, say, as a (particular variety of) Christian I must read the Bible in a particular way.  The Bible must be allowed to be what it is for it to have any authority.  If I let my presuppositions get into the way of that then I am imposing my own opinions on the text and thus silencing it.  Therefore in that sense, my faith doesn’t drive my research.

3. Where are you currently teaching/researching? What are you currently teaching/researching? How did you get to be there?
I am in the Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies, in the School of Languages and Cultures, Faculty of Arts, the University of Sydney.  I teach in the Classical Hebrew and Biblical Studies programmes.  How I got there was that someone who had been working there since about when I was born suddenly left and I walked into Alan Crown’s office at the right time, and the rest is history.

4. Where and under whom have you studied?

I came through Sydney, which is why I was assured that I would never get a job there since the department should not be inbred.  See the previous answer!  My teachers were Alan Crown, Rif Ebied, Brian Parker, Eddie Pilcer and Bill Jobling, as well as Noel Weeks in Ancient History.  I took up Hebrew as an adjunct to my studies in ancient Near Eastern history, since you needed to have done some Semitic language before doing Akkadian.  But I found I was actually good at Hebrew as opposed to all the other subjects I was doing.  I still read Akkadian with Noel Weeks and various postgraduates, and still love Assyrian history in particular.

5. How have your teachers influenced you?
That’s a big question, but two things I especially remember is how incredibly creative Alan Crown could be bringing together a mass of data searching for a new solution to a settled answer to a question that he wasn’t satisfied with; and how Noel Weeks could turn any argument on its head.

6. What did you write your master’s thesis on (if you did one) and what did you write your dissertation on?
No Masters.  My PhD was an earlier version of Diversity in Pre-Exilic Hebrew, published by Mohr-Siebeck in 1993.  So I’ve been working on linguistic diversity in Biblical Hebrew rather a long time!

7. Do you have a particular writing style or research method?
The cricket literate will get this one, the rest of you poor lost souls please move on to the next question.  When they asked Jeff Thomson, the Australian fast bowler about his bowling technique, he said: “I run up to the crease and just go ‘whang!’”  That’s my answer for this question.

8. What were your initial experiences with biblical languages like? Did you do both Hebrew and Greek?
Although I have been working with it for about 25 years, I am completely self-taught with Greek.

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 get my students to learn vocab as it turns up in context, which is what I did.  I still remember sometimes where I first saw a word.

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?
The Hebrew programme at Sydney includes courses on Hebrew inscriptions, Qumran Hebrew and Mishnaic Hebrew.  Only the inscriptions are unpointed.  In addition, to finish honours, students will have studied Aramaic, Northwest Semitic inscriptions and Samaritan Hebrew, typically unpointed texts.

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?
I use Accordance as my first stop for electronic searching of the Bible.  I had realized the potential of this sort of research shortly before I met Robert who showed me this potential in action.  The work we have done in the book is only possible with these resources.  In the olden days you typically looked at samples and generalized.  These days, if someone says ‘this is characteristic of LBH’ we can check these claims within the whole biblical corpus.  Check out some of the case studies in volume 2, for example.

12. Did you research other uses of linguistic dating in preparation for the book? If so, what?
See Martin and Robert’s answers.

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?
See Martin on this.  I don’t subscribe to any particular theory. A personal comment is that I find sociolinguistics much more interesting than other branches of linguistics.

14. How might a recognition of the variety of biblical Hebrew affect the way biblical Hebrew is taught?

I always try to give my students right from the beginning an insight into how many linguistic choices there are in any BH text.  I teach sections of Daniel and Ezra to my students so they can get a feel for the richness of the “Late” Biblical Hebrew style.  I constantly try to show students what is unique and unusual in inscriptions, or MH vs BH etc etc.

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?
In addition to what the others have said: our argument against linguistic dating has two parts.  First, the language is changed to an unknown degree in textual transmission, making any link between the language of the current texts and an original author very dubious.  Second, even if you get past step 1, the data of the texts doesn’t back up linguistic dating theories.  I get the impression that scholars who specialize in the textual transmission of Biblical or Ancient Near Eastern texts just shake their heads in puzzlement at language scholars trying to use the current texts for linguistic dating.

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 addition to what the others have said, I would point to the LBH features in pre-exilic inscriptions.  This shows they are around the whole time.  As we point out, there are more LBH features in the Arad inscriptions from the pre-exilic period than in, say, Pesher Habakkuk from Qumran in the first century BCE.  The issue is style not chronology.

17. What was edited out of the book that you wish had stayed?
Nothing I can think of.  As Robert says, that’s why it’s two volumes!

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?

In addition to what the others said, we describe the fun of it in the Preface to the book.  It was a great time.  All three of us are different personalities, but great friends, so it all just came together. Everyone had different strengths, and although we disagreed on a lot of issues on the way, we ended up with a common vision.  And there were a lot of laughs on the way.  Advice?  Write a book (or two!) with Robert and Martin.

19. Any SBL plans? Will you be reading or presiding over a session? Any word on a review session for the book?
See Martin and Robert’s answer.

20. Anything new on the way? Can we expect to see any new books, articles, or papers in the near future?

In addition to what Robert mentioned, there are a few other book-related publications.  Robert and I are having our papers from Vienna SBL 2007 published in a volume edited by Ehud Ben Zvi, Diana Edelman and Frank Polak.  I just had an article on LBH and Pesher Habakkuk appear in the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, and I have another one on the Prose Tale of Job coming in Vetus Testamentum.  I have one on the Greek loanwords in Daniel in a forthcoming Festschrift.  And I am currently working on a textual and linguistic commentary on Daniel for the Text of the Hebrew Bible series with Sheffield Phoenix.  And that’s enough!

A very big thanks to Matin, Robert, and Ian for their fine work and indulging our questions.

1 Response to “Twenty Questions with Ian Young”

  1. 1 malynn March 27, 2009 at 4:03 am

    Great interviews. I enjoyed all three very much. Thanks for doing this.

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