Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Full Timetable = Bliss

I have returned to the fray with renewed enthusiasm for study - the Summer's ennui and uncertainty forgotten as I happily bury myself in a drift of PDFs and books to be read. As usual I am approaching the topic in my usual centripetal fashion; reading the background and the tangential before homing in on the core material. This year the background stuff is pretty intimidating; Philosophy of Language followed by a general study of linguistics. It's certainly far more demanding than anything I have tackled before, but the nature of doctoral study demands that. I am cheered on by the way that previously totally alien concepts (eg referrents, propositional attitude constructions, Sinn und Bedeutung) are gradually gelling to such an extent in my mind that I am returning to Steven Pinker's excellent 'The Stuff of Thought' and realising that I understand his writing at a much deeper level.

Other projects include the acquisition of some ability to read German (at my supervisor's behest) and some Syriac-Aramaic. The former is quite easy to fulfil and to that end I am plunging into an introductory grammar - I can recall quite a bit from my pre-'O'-level years. The latter is proving somewhat more of a challenge: Syriac grammars are harder to come by. Trawling the internet, I chanced upon a slim (very slim) volume that proved to be the product of self-publication: interesting but doesn't quite fill the brief. The textbook suggested by one of my new contacts looks promising (Robinson's Paradigms and Exercises in Syriac Grammar by J F Coakley 5th Ed. 2005 since you ask), but is rather expensive and I don't think I'll find anyone to buy it for my upcoming Big Birthday. I believe it is in the uni library, but since I'm not down there until early December, I'll have to make do with mix-and-match sources. Having done some Biblical Hebrew I am not anticipating too many problems once I actually get started......

Also being read at the moment is E Randolph Richard's 'Paul and First Century Letter Writing': most enjoyable but pads out the kernel of what we know with more than a modicum of invention. And this is a problem that I am encountering again and again in the field of Biblical scholarship: hard-core facts are few and far-between and the temptation to 'join the dots' with well-intentioned but ultimately unprovable supposition (obviously by its very nature supposition is a form of fantasy). This is where the confessional scholar has the advantage over the the other sort. Many of them (and I must emphasise by NO MEANS ALL of them) feel quite at liberty -nay, almost compelled - to fill the interstices between known facts with what they think must have been the case or explain mysterious discrepancies by invoking mystery. In the same way Channel 5 documentaries blithely move from 'could have' to 'would have' to 'did' within the space of their allotted hour, covering measly facts with a veil of interesting fallacy. Whereas I would feel quite at home grabbing the programme makers by the scruff of the neck and demanding evidence, I note that there is a tendency to fight shy of forcing the well-intentioned evangelical (or member of any other denomination) into a corner to explain him/herself! This comedy of manners is quite amusing, but ultimately leads to two discrete fields of scholarship that to the uninitiated (like me) are not always discernable at first sight.

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