Biblical Words and Their Meaning AN INTRODUCTION TO LEXICAL SEMANTICS
REVISED AND EXPANDED EDITION
In 1935 it seemed that the work of British and American Semitists—most of whom were primarily interested in Old Testament interpretation-was founded “upon the shifting sands of superficial resemblance and sporadic analogies,” not “upon the firm rock of scientific method.”1 In his lively presidential address to the American Oriental Society, Roland G. Kent claimed that research in comparative Semitic grammar had ignored the scientific methods worked out by the Indo-Europeanists of the nineteenth century. He took sharp issue, for example, with C. F. Burney’s assumption that n and l should be considered equivalent in dealing with Semitic roots; Kent remarked that we could just as easily “assume from some scattered Indo-European words that the nude is ipso facto, etymologically, the lewd.” And again, after reviewing a certain linguistic argument by C. J. Ball, Kent tells us that it is all “nonsense.”2
The next few decades saw much progress in the specific area of Semitic linguistics.3 However, they also saw the growth of a new movement, “Biblical Theology,” which created the need for another linguistic rebuke. Concerned with the original revelation of the Bible, theologians insisted that we must lay off our Western thought and lay bare the genuine Israelite and Christian faith. But many of them, convinced that this original situation manifested itself in the very structure of language, began to read off theology from Hebrew and Greek morphology, syntax, and etymology. Finally in 1961 James Barr spoke his piece.
Unafraid of great names, voluminous works, rigorous research-though they be called Pedersen, Boman, Gerleman, though they be inscribed TWNT. Like David, who training with lions and bears later faced the Philistine, so Barr begins with specific authors before facing TWNT.4
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