Oscar Wilde & Acts 27

Paul Jean Clays, via Wikimedia Commons

Sententiae Antiquae posted “Oscar Wilde reads Greek…and more” last year, and I’ve thought about it several times since. The post tells the story of Oscar Wilde being asked to read Acts 27 at his viva. Though he had never read the passage, his classics training allowed him to breeze through and translate it easily. Sententiae Antiquae provides more background to the story. It’s a delightful post that I’ve been meaning to point out since it was first tweeted @sentantiq.

Tomorrow will be the last day this year that my ninth graders and I meet for Greek 3. We will foray into Acts 27 beginning with verse 13 and see how far they can get with the help of their reader’s Bibles. I think we’ll read a portion of the Oscar Wilde post to start the class off, as well.

Greek Reading for Friday 13th

My 7th and 8th graders read this last Friday to practice working with various adjective positions:

ἐπορεύθησαν οἱ νεκροὶ πρὸς τὸν πονηρὸν οἶκον,
οὐ δὲ ἠδύναντο εἰσελθεἶν ὅτι οὐκ ἤνοιξεν ὁ παλαιὸς ἄνθρωπος τὴν θύραν τὴν παλαιάν.
τί πορεύονται οἱ νεκροί;
τίς ἐστιν ὁ παλαιὸς ἄνθρωπος;
ἤλθον ἐγὼ πρὸς τὸν πονηρὸν τον οἶκον καὶ εἶδον οὐδένα νεκρόν.
οὐδεὶς παλαιός ἦν ἐκεῖ.
ὡς προσέρχομαι τὴν θύραν, νὺξ παραγίνεται.
ἀνοίγω τὴν θύραν τὴν παλαιὰν βραδέως καὶ ποιεῖ μικρὰν φωνήν.
ἐντὸς ἐστιν σφόδρα σκοτεινός.
βλέπω ἐντὸς καὶ ὁράω μόνον μέλανα.
καὶ τότε λευκόν, πολλὰ λευκά.
κλείει μετά με ἡ θύρα καὶ ὁράω τὸν λευκὸν τῶν πολλῶν ὀφθαλμῶν.

TDOT for Accordance Bible Software

screenshot 10The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (TDOT) stands out from other Old Testament lexical works in at least three important ways:

  • TDOT provides a responsible discussion of the etymology and ancient Near Eastern background of most biblical Hebrew words — it doesn’t just list related words (cognates).
  • TDOT is much more thorough than the similar New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis (NIDOTTE).
  • TDOT explains a word’s interpretive significance from a broader theological perspective than NIDOTTE.

The Accordance version allows one to easily access this 15 volume work and seamlessly move from text, to standard lexicons, to TDOT, and back to the text again. I will explain each of these points below.

What is TDOT?

TDOT is an English translation of the 15 volume Theologisches Wörterbuch zum alten Testament. The English translations have followed the German publications relatively quickly, unlike the New Testament counterpart TDNT, which was published in German in the 1930s and didn’t begin to be translated until the 1960s . You can see the publication information concerning the first and fifteenth volumes of TDOT below:

TDOT for background

TDOT is the best place to turn in order to find an actual discussion of a particular Hebrew word’s etymology (besides journal articles, which are not accessible to most). The standard lexicons will usually list the relevant cognates, but TDOT actually discusses how etymology is relevant for understanding a word’s meaning. And it does so in a responsible way. A word’s etymology is sometimes debated and the relevance of etymology is often maligned because of the way scholars sometimes allow etymology to skew their explanations of particular words. Etymology is important, however, and should not be disregarded all together.

"Etymology" defined via Google

Definition via Google

For example, the NRSV mentions “ghosts” in Isaiah 19:3, but other English translations do something different here:

NRSV: the ghosts
ESV: the mediums
KJV: them that have familiar spirits

I’ve highlighted the word in Hebrew and each of the English versions below:

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In this case, etymology significantly affects one’s translation. HALOT lists some related words from various languages but provides no discussion:

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This is where TDOT can come to the aid of everyone from students to pastors to scholars. Below you can see the beginning of the entry for אוֹב and the etymology section in TDOT.

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I highlighted three prominent views concerning the origin of the word:

Etymological info on אוֹב in TDOT

The article goes on to more fully discuss the ancient Near Eastern background of the word and its use in the Old Testament. The entire “ghost” article is about four pages long.

TDOT is more thorough

Compare the אוֹב articles in TDOT and NIDOTTE:

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First, note the length of the sections on etymology and ancient Near Eastern background in each:

  • TDOT: about 1,000 words
  • NIDOTTE: about 150 words

Second, notice the red text in NIDOTTE pictured above. The ANE section of the אוֹב entry in NIDOTTE is essentially a summary of TDOT.

The articles on “God” provide another good example:

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First, NIDOTTE only discusses the occurrences of the word in the OT, while TDOT has several sections discussing the background of the word before turning to the OT occurrences. You can see the subsections of the TDOT article in the blue hyperlinked text pictured above.

Second, the אֱלֹהִים article in TDOT is significantly longer:

  • TDOT: 18 pages
  • NIDOTTE: less than 1 page

TDOT is more diverse

TDOT is the standard theological lexicon/dictionary for biblical studies, broadly conceived, whereas most of the contributors to NIDOTTE write from an evangelical perspective. TDOT can, however, help evangelicals fill in what is lacking in the brevity of the NIDOTTE articles and can provide insight into how mainstream scholarship views the interpretive significance of individual words.

TDOT on Accordance for iOS

I do not know of another app that allows one to seamlessly and easily move from the biblical text, through various lexicons, and back to the text of scripture.

The video below (no sound, less than a minute) shows how one can use the Accordance iOS app to move from text, to preferred lexicon, to HALOT, to TDOT, and back to the text.

Conclusion

TDOT is the best place for students, pastors, and scholars to find background information on Old Testament words, and the Accordance version is the most versatile, easily accessible format in which one can access TDOT. This post focuses on the features that make TDOT stand out from other lexical works. More could be said about the way in which TDOT handles the use of words in the OT and other literature. In short, TDOT should be the first place one turns for more information than the standard lexicons provide — whether one is looking for background information or discussion of a word’s theological significance.

I did experience a few program freezes while navigating the pre-release version, and there were a few places where I could not get certain transliterated characters to display correctly though I tried several different fonts with broad glyph coverage. Accordance will likely have these bugs worked out before the resource is released or they will work out the bugs shortly thereafter. Since Accordance released the Göttingen Septuagint volumes, I and several others noted typos in the extremely complex apparatus formatting. Accordance fixed these issues promptly, and I have no reason to think they would do differently with whatever small issues users discover with TDOT.

UPDATE 3/15/16: Accordance has fixed the transliteration issues I noted. You can see what the issue was by looking at the bottom of the picture above showing the etymology section of the אוֹב entry in TDOT. The picture below shows that, less than two days after I reported it, it is fixed.

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Note: Accordance gave me a pre-release copy of TDOT for a review focusing primarily on their digital production of the print work.

Accordance Unicode Font

Accordance has a new unicode font in the works. It includes characters for English, Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, and more — even DSS transcription like you see listed here. And it includes bold, italic, and bold-italic.

They announced this on the Accordance forums. Unfortunately you need a forums account to see the page.

Here are a couple words I typed in Mellel:

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Now if that qamets would just slide a bit to the right underneath the daleth, like this אָדָם.

I’m particularly impressed with the fact that all the different language characters are sized appropriately (no gigantic Hebrew and Syriac in comparison to English and Greek):

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Here is a PDF where you can see more of the characters included.