New book to add to my list

Reframing Biblical StudiesJust received the weekly BookNews email from Eisenbrauns (the last one for 2009). I’ve got quite a reading list going right now, but this new release has really caught my eye and will be something I will want to read in the not-too-distant future: Reframing Biblical Studies: When Language and Text Meet Culture, Cognition, and Context by Ellen J. Van Wolde.

This is the publisher blurb:

Until recently, biblical studies and studies of the written and material culture of the ancient Near East have been fragmented, governed by experts who are confined within their individual disciplines’ methodological frameworks and patterns of thinking. The consequence has been that, at present, concepts and the terminology for examining the interaction of textual and historical complexes are lacking.

However, we can learn from the cognitives sciences. Until the end of the 1980s, neurophysiologists, psychologists, pediatricians, and linguists worked in complete isolation from one another on various aspects of the human brain. Then, beginning in the 1990s, one group began to focus on processes in the brain, thereby requiring that cell biologists, neurologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, linguists, and other relevant scientists collaborate with each other. Their investigation revealed that the brain integrates all kinds of information; if this were not the case, we would not be able to catch even a glimpse of the brain’s processing activity.

By analogy, van Wolde’s proposal for biblical scholarship is to extend its examination of single elements by studying the integrative structures that emerge out of the interconnectivity of the parts. This analysis is based on detailed studies of specific relationships among data of diverse origins, using language as the essential device that links and permits expression. This method can be called a cognitive relational approach.

Van Wolde bases her work on cognitive concepts developed by Ronald Langacker. With these concepts, biblical scholars will be able to study emergent cognitive structures that issue from biblical words and texts in interaction with historical complexes. Van Wolde presents a method of analysis that biblical scholars can follow to investigate interactions among words and texts in the Hebrew Bible, material and nonmaterial culture, and comparative textual and historical contexts. In a significant portion of the book, she then exemplifies this method of analysis by applying it to controversial concepts and passages in the Hebrew Bible (the crescent moon; the in-law family; the city gate; differentiation and separation; Genesis 1, 34; Leviticus 18, 20; Numbers 5, 35; Deuteronomy 21; and Ezekiel 18, 22, 33).

5 thoughts on “New book to add to my list

  1. John Murphy

    “With these concepts, biblical scholars will be able to study emergent cognitive structures that issue from biblical words and texts in interaction with historical complexes.”

    Are they serious here? Could they make what they mean any more opaque and vague? Sounds like nonsense masquerading as scholarship. Seriously.

    “Professor Van Wolde, an Old Testament scholar and member of the Royal Academy of Sciences, said the standard interpretation of the opening sentence of the bible is no longer acceptable: “The traditional image of God the Creator is untenable. God did not create.”

    Professor Van Wolde said she understood her findings, which are soon to be published in a leading scientific magazine, will be devastating to traditional believers.”

    Why am I not surprised at Professor Van Wolde’s statement?

  2. Karyn Post author


    I appreciate discussion and encourage various (civil) opinions. Perhaps you could supply the citations to your quotes so that readers can place those quotes in context.

    Cognitive linguistics is a field that does require a good deal of mental gymnastics and persistence in reading the literature. I do hope you will take the time to read some of Professor Van Wolde’s work and not just what other people say about her work.


  3. John Murphy

    Sorry, Karyn – In the beginning, I wasn’t commenting on Prof Van Wolde’s work so much as I was commenting on the publisher’s blurb. I trust she didn’t write it. My point was that it does little to clarify exactly what Prof Van Wolde wrote about and a lot to confuse and obscure it, it sounded to me like someone trying to sound intellectual (and failing).

    The quote about Prof Van Wolde came from this comment on her work, where Christopher Heard recounts what she told the Dutch media.

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