Colloquium of the EAJS
‘Hebrew Linguistic Thought and its transmission in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Times’
7-9 July 2008, Oxford, Wolfson College
Convenor: Judith Olszowy-Schlanger
The 2008 Summer Colloquium of the EAJS was held at Wolfson College, Oxford, from 7 to 9 July 2008, with the generous support from the Rothschild Foundation Europe. The theme of this year’s colloquium was the recent developments in the study of the history of Hebrew linguistic ideas prior to the modern Hebrew ‘renaissance’, with the emphasis on the transmission of linguistic ideas through time and space among different Jewish communities, but also between Jews and their Arab and Christian neighbours. Hebrew grammar and lexicography were studied as a meeting point between different cultures and religious currents. A particular place was given to the question of the production of ‘linguistic tools’ (that is books conceived to facilitate language learning) and on pedagogical methods used in teaching, both private and institutionalized, throughout the centuries.
History of Hebrew grammatical tradition has held an important place in Jewish Studies from its 19th century inception, but it is in the last two or three decades that we have witnessed a remarkable resurgence of scholarly interest in the field. The history of medieval Hebrew linguistics received a fresh impetus following the renewal of interest in original manuscripts, and notably from important discoveries made in the Firkovitch and Cairo Genizah collections. Christian Hebraism for its part is often studied with regards to its role in the shaping of European modern. However, despite these recent developments, scholars work in isolation, there are no international venues devoted specifically to the history of Hebrew linguistics in its various aspects and periods. As well, the discipline still lacks basic research tools, such as an exhaustive bibliography of the field, or a complete inventory of linguistic manuscripts and early printed books. This year’s colloquium offered the scholars working on the history of Hebrew grammar and linguistics in different periods and cultural contexts an opportunity to echange ideas and elaborate common methodological approches to the analysis of the sources.
The conference started with a key-note speech by Geoffrey Khan, University of Cambridge, who gave an overview of the ‘Karaite medieval tradition of Hebrew grammar’ with a focus on the discovery of previously unknown texts in the collections of Oriental manuscripts, namely in Firkovitch collections in St. Petersburg and in various collections emanating from the Cairo Genizah. Karaite grammar was also the subject of the paper ‘A Karaite paedagogical grammar of biblical Hebrew’ of Nadia Vidro, University of Cambridge, who focused on the ‘alamat (symbols) system of verb description and its role in the teaching of grammar. Maria Angeles Gallego, CSIC, Madrid, dealth with some aspects of the Karaite approach to the origins and nature of language, in her paper ‘Linguistic conventions in the thought of Abû al-Faraj Hârûn ibn al-Faraj’. The so-called classical Spanish school of Hebrew grammar also benefitted in recent years from a number of new discoveries. Mauro Perani, University of Bologne, presented the ‘Fagments of linguistic works in the so-called ‘Italian Genizah’, and notably some manuscripts fragments of previously unknown Hebrew translations of the Arabic works of Jonah ibn Janah. Jose Matinez Delgado, University of Granada, analysed ‘Morphology versus meaning: biblical mixed roots and the Andalusian Hebrew lexicographical theories’, in the light of newly discovered manuscripts. The work on manuscripts inspired Judith Kogel, IRHT, Paris, to review the Hebrew grammatical terminology, and to use it to reconstruct the history of the grammatical thought. She presented her project in her paper: ‘Towards a “mapping” of the Hebrew grammatical terminology of the Middle Ages: a history of transmission’. Since the Middle Ages, Hebrew grammar was not an exclusive domain of Jewish scholars. Early on, Christian scholars in Western Europe realised the importance of the knowledge of the Hebrew language for their quest of the original text of the Bible. Judith Olszowy-Schlanger, EPHE, IRHT,Paris, presented a newly discovered ‘Christian grammar of Hebrew in a thirteenth-century manuscript’. In a similar vein, Marco Bertagna, Ca’ Foscari, Venice/EPHE, Paris, studied fifteeth-century Christian annotations on a manuscript of the dictionary by Salomon ibn Parhon, in his paper ‘The Latin and Hebrew notes to the Mahberet he-‘Arukh in the MS Or. 221 of the Biblioteca Marciana (Venice)’. From the sixteenth century onwards, the engagement of Christian scholars in the study of Hebrew grammar is essential. Sophie Mesguisch-Kessler, University Paris III, gave a key-note speech on the major issues of the Christian hebraism of the Renaissance. Saverio Campanini, University of Bologne/Freie Universität, Berlin, analysed the importance of the Hebrew studies for ‘The quest for the holiest alphabet in the Renaissance’. The interaction between Christian and Hebrew linguistic ideas were discussed in the paper of Silvia di Donato, Ca’ Foscari, Venice, entitled ‘Philosophical elements in Miqneh Avram of Abraham de Balmes’ and of Jesus de Prado Plumed, University Complutense, Madrid/EPHE, Paris: ‘Quorum primus est demodo legendi & pronunciandi: teaching Hebrew phonetics in Early Modern Spain’. Irene Zwiep, University of Amsterdam, introduced us into a hitherto unknown fascinating world of Hebrew learning among Yiddish speaking Jews in the Netherlands, in her paper ‘Mafteah leshon ha-qodesh: a Hebrew grammar in Yiddish and Jewish-Christian hebraism in eighteenth-century Europe’. The last session included three papers dealing with a practical application of linguistic ideas in the field of exegesis, translation and word creation. Karolien Vermeulen, University of Antwerp, spoke about the use of exegetical figures in rabbinic literature, in her paper ‘When the Goyim’s game grow into grammar: on the transmission of ‘paronomasia”. Ronny Vollandt, University of Cambridge, shared with us some of his recent discoveries concerning the translation of the Pentateuch into Arabic, in ‘Some observations on early Judaeo-Arabic translation fragments of the Pentateuch from the Genizah: Rabbanite versus Karaite tradition’. Ilana Wartenberg, Paideia, Stockholm, spoke about the transmission of Arabic scientfic literature into Hebrew and the need to coin new terminology, in ‘The naissance of the medieval Hebrew mathematical language’.
The main aim of the colloquium: the fruitful discussion between scholars dealing with history of Hebrew linguistic ideas in different periods was clearly achieved. All the participants agreed that the coherence of the approaches and the importance of the research questions dealt with during the colloquium deserve a wider circulation. Publication of the proceedings of the colloquium has been scheduled for 2009.