Twenty Questions with Robert Rezetko

Our second installment of Twenty Questions with the authors of Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts is here for your enjoyment. Without further delay, here’s Robert Rezetko.

1. Where are you from? Where did you grow up?
I was born in Connecticut and grew up mostly in Arizona. My wife (a Mexican national) and I and our four children have lived in Mexico for the last seven years. See #4 for more details.

2. How did you get into biblical studies? Does confession/faith relate to your work at all?
After an undergraduate degree in Classical Greek I decided to attend seminary to understand the Bible better. These days I like William Dever’s analogy in which he characterizes the Hebrew Bible as a “curated artifact” (e.g. Recent Archaeological Discoveries… [1990]: 9-11), and that is how I approach it in my studies. Confession/faith does not play a significant or special role.

3. Where are you currently teaching/researching? What are you currently teaching/researching? How did you get to be there?
I am an independent scholar without formal academic or religious affiliations. My research relates mainly to text-critical, linguistic and literary issues of the Hebrew Bible. See further #20.

4. Where and under whom have you studied?
After Salpointe Catholic High School and a year at Moody Bible Institute, I did the BA in Classical Greek (and Latin, with a minor in Spanish) at the University of Arizona. I then completed the ThM at Dallas Theological Seminary, focusing during my first couple of years on New Testament (Daryl Bock, Buist Fanning, Daniel Wallace) but then completing the academic degree in Old Testament (Richard Averbeck, Robert Chisholm, Richard Taylor). From there I returned to Arizona, where I did several years of study in the departments of Judaic Studies and Near Eastern Studies (William Dever, Beth Alpert Nakhai). Then, after a year in the department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University (Marc Brettler, David Wright), I completed the PhD in Hebrew and Old Testament at the University of Edinburgh (Graeme Auld, Timothy Lim).

5. How have your teachers influenced you?

This is a difficult question to answer. I feel I have learned much from many different people. Perhaps I should just say that altogether my teachers have instilled in me the aim to work both broadly and narrowly with any given topic, paying attention to a wide-range of perspectives but also seeking to describe the details with precision.

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

I did not write a master’s thesis. My PhD thesis looked at text-critical, linguistic and literary aspects of (synoptic) Samuel and Chronicles, focusing on the story of David’s transfer of the ark to Jerusalem.

7. Do you have a particular writing style or research method?

Not really. I make a lot of research “detours” into many areas of biblical studies and also into other things mostly unrelated to the field (like political sociology and Indian and Italian cooking). My writing is very sporadic. I get a lot done in a short period of time and then nothing else for quite a while.

8. What were your initial experiences with biblical languages like? Did you do both Hebrew and Greek?
See #4.

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 have never liked to review lists of words. I much prefer to learn vocabulary in context by reading as much as possible.

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?

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 have used a lot of the different software programs related to biblical studies, including Accordance, Gramcord and Bibloi. Nowadays I prefer Bible Works and Libronix but I also make regular use of a number of other CD and online databases.

12. Did you research other uses of linguistic dating in preparation for the book? If so, what?

Yes, we looked at a number of other cross-linguistic examples, some of which we briefly summarized in LDBT. To add to what Martin said, one of our findings was that much of what biblical scholars do with regard to dating biblical texts is very much unlike what historical linguists of other languages do.

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?

I really have nothing to add to Martin’s answer to this question. I have had relatively little training in formal linguistics per se.

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

Leaving aside specialized courses, mostly at the graduate school level, it seems to me that most biblical Hebrew language courses in universities and divinity schools focus mainly on Classical or EBH-style texts while usually saying very little about linguistic diversity within the BH corpus. Hopefully LDBT will help to remedy this shortfall to some extent.

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?
Well, to begin, we really do not have a “linguistic dating” theory. Quite the contrary, we argue that the evidence of BH itself belies attempts to assign absolute or relative dates to particular biblical books and sources on the basis of their linguistic characteristics. Thus, in addition to our arguments about the linguistic data, that they do not support the traditional distinction between a pre-exilic EBH and a post-exilic LBH, we argue further in Vol. 1, Ch. 13 (and also in Vol. 2, Ch. 1) that another complicating factor is the composition-transmission histories of biblical books, i.e. literary complexity and textual instability.

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?
Of course we look at these issues in greater detail in Vol. 1, Ch. 13, especially pp. 343-48. I am not of the opinion that the books of the Bible were ever subjected to large-scale and over-arching linguistic modification. However, they did undergo many small-scale adjustments during their lengthy histories. So, since recent attempts to date biblical books and sources linguistically have usually relied on a relatively limited number of small lexical and grammatical details, thus even minor changes here and there and now and then prove to be very significant.

17. What was edited out of the book that you wish had stayed?
Nothing. That’s why LDBT eventually turned into two books!

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?

Writing LDBT with Ian and Martin was a great experience. The pace varied greatly, sometimes moving slowly as we carefully examined each other’s contributions, but often we took great strides in short periods of time, due undoubtedly to three minds working on the same issue or passage simultaneously. Also, our academic and research experiences have been very different, and we have somewhat different areas of expertise in languages and biblical studies, and I think this diversity greatly strengthened the overall product.

19. Any SBL plans? Will you be reading or presiding over a session? Any word on a review session for the book?

As Martin said, Ziony Zevit has arranged sessions related to diachrony and LDBT at both the 2009 and 2010 NAPH/SBL meetings. I think all three of us will be speaking in one of the two sessions in 2010.

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

I am working on several articles related to particular linguistic issues we address in LDBT. Also, Ian and I have agreed to co-author a book essay tentatively called “Linguistic Considerations for Reading Leviticus in Context” (due 2011). I have several large-scale research projects in the works. One is a book on the language (and versions) of the book of Samuel from synchronic and diachronic perspectives. Another is a book on textual and linguistic difficulties with various confessional views on the nature of the Hebrew Bible (particularly with contemporary American Evangelical views regarding the inerrancy of the Old Testament).

Gracias Robert!

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