[b-hebrew] Relevance Theory & Hebrew Semantics

C. Stirling Bartholomew jacksonpollock at earthlink.net
Mon Aug 16 15:23:24 EDT 2004

Thank you, Trevor and Peter:

On 8/16/04 10:16 AM, "Peter Kirk" <peterkirk at qaya.org> wrote:

> RT is not just about spoken language. Maybe this was the original
> application, but its principles have been extended and applied to
> written texts. 

Do you have any reading suggestions? I would like to see this applied to

>Principles like Grice's certainly apply in principle,
> because the texts were written for certain audiences and there was an
> assumption that these audiences would understand them; but maybe it is
> utopian to expect to be able to reconstruct those shared assumptions in
> the case of a BH text ...

Precisely my point (see also Trevor's final comment).

> I just looked at the relevant b-greek archives. I'm not sure you
> described the disagreement fairly.

I wasn't trying to be fair. A.Nyland is a self proclaimed "traditional
grammar" aficionado. Like the guy who did his dissertation on Granville
Sharp -- but that is another language ...

>The Greek professor was appealing not
> so much to 19th century rules as to actual usage in Koine texts. This
> usage is part of the context, and so any RT insights about the meaning
> must be dependent on this usage. Unfortunately with Hebrew we don't have
> the same wealth of contemporary texts to enlighten us about actual usage.

True, very true. 

> To come back to b-hebrew, part of the problem with the Golden Calf story
> is a lack of agreement about the correct context of this story. David
> Rohl would find its context among people who have just left 13th dynasty
> Egypt. Others would put it later in Egyptian history, up to the 19th
> dynasty. George Somsel suggests a context in the divided kingdom era. No
> doubt there are others who would make the context post-exilic or even
> Hellenistic. Maybe more than one of these is true e.g. an original story
> from the Middle Bronze Age has been retold by Iron Age redactors. How do
> we proceed? We cannot safely argue, as we can when looking at the New
> Testament, from the context to the interpretation. Rather we are forced
> to find an interpretation and then see what context we can fit it into.
> Or we can hypothesise a context and see if we can come up with a
> plausible interpretation in that context. The problem is that our
> knowledge of the language and of the contexts in different eras is
> rarely sufficient for us to be able to rule anything out. So I guess the
> best we can say might be something like "If the Golden Calf story is set
> in such-and-such a period, the calf was probably made in such-and-such a
> way".

Yes, you have nailed the problem. I suspect that is why so many discussions
on b-hebrew get bogged down over issues of historicity.

Thanks Peter and Trevor, sounds like we agree. The applicability of
Relevance Theory to Biblical Hebrew texts is subject to significant
restrictions. I wonder how these restrictions impact a project like Reinier
de Blois' dictionary?

Clay Bartholomew 

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