Cross In the Beginning . . . The Presence in the Midst

Biblical Studies Glossary

This Glossary is intended to be a comprehensive list of the terms one encounters when moving from devotional Bible study to academic, scholarly Biblical Studies. Some of the words are peculiar to the various disciplines of "The Guild," others are more general terms that non-academic readers sometimes experience as stumbling blocks. If there's a term you'd like included, please EMail me. For some specific examples of how scholarly and everyday terms differ, see also my Biblical Studies - Scholarly Terminology page.

-- Susan Jeffers - EMail:

This web page was last updated on 6/25/2012

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Here are some words I hope to add: kethib, qere, kerygma, lemma, gnomic (as in "gnomic sayings" from Sirach found in James), deuteronomist, eisegesis, nomistic (e.g. the gospel of Matthew's alleged "nomism" as opposed to the more "universalistic" understanding of the Pauline epistles), hapax legomenon
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Series of lines or verses whose first letters form a word, the alphabet, or some other pattern. Psalm 25 is an example. If you you look at it in a Hebrew Bible, you can see that the first word of each successive line (which mostly match the verses) begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet: aleph, bet, gimel, etc. Click here to see Psalm 25 in a Hebrew Bible. The yellow highlighting shows the Hebrew alphabet; if you look just to the left of each highlighted letter (remember, Hebrew is read right-to-left!) you'll see the line whose first word begins with that letter: aleph, bet, gimel, etc.
A.D. or AD
Latin Anno Domine, "year of our Lord." Conventional abbreviation denoting a date since the time of Christ, generally used when there might be some ambiguity as to whether the date is "Before Christ" or "After Christ." For example, "The fall of the Jerusalem Temple to the Romans occurred in the year 70 A.D." In scholarly writing, the abbreviations B.C.E. and C.E. are often used instead of B.C. and A.D. respectively./dd>
From the Hebrew verb akad meaning “to bind” used in Genesis 22:9 - “And Abraham bound Isaac his son.” The participle form of the verb, Akedah, “binding,” is used for the story of the Binding of Isaac, Genesis 22:1-18.
allegorical interpretation
Interpretation of a narrative in symbolic rather than literal terms. Allegorical interpretation is a product of the interpreter, rather than a property of the text itself; scholars often debate whether a particular text was intended by its original author to be read allegorically. For example, Galatians 4:21-31 interprets OT story of Abraham's two sons Ishmael and Isaac allegorically, representing Mount Sinai and Jerusalem respectively, slave and free.
Literary form in which plot, setting, characters etc. are meant to be interpreted symbolically or figuratively.
In literature, reference of one text to another, whether direct, indirect or implied . Allusion differs from intertextuality in that the statement "A alludes to B" implies that B preceded and was known to the author of A. Identifying an intertextual connection implies no such temporal priority.
A person who writes out what someone else dictates, or who copies what someone else has written; a transcriptionist or copyist. Most of Paul's letters contain evidence of having been produced using an amanuensis, e.g. Romans 16:22 where Tertius "who wrote this letter" salutes the readers..
Tribal federation organized to defend a religious center; found in ancient Greece, and a similar structure is hypothesized to have existed at the time of Judges, and to have been the primary "sitz im leben" out of which the preliterary forms of much of the Old Testament arose.
Someone or something that is out of place with respect to time period; in biblical studies an anachronism is usually something from a later period “mistakenly” appearing in a text purportedly from an earlier period. For example, in Acts 5:36–37, Gamaliel speaks of the uprising led by Theudas. But the Jewish historian Josephus also describes Theudas’ revolt which occurred well after Gamaliel’s speech. So this reference to Theudas is considered an anachronism.
Literary device in which a sound, word, or phrase is repeated. From the Greek "to carry back." For example, in Hebrews 11 many of the sentences begin with "by faith" (Greek pistei).
Ancient Middle East
Region of southwest Asia which today includes Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey.
ancient versions
Translations of the Bible dating from the early centuries of the Common Era (3rd century AD or earlier), such as the Greek, Syriac, Latin, and Coptic.
Male centered; when said of the Bible, the writer probably means that the Bible was written primarily by, for, and/or about men.
Attributing human characteristics to non-human entities such as animals, inanimate objects, or abstract concepts. The book of Proverbs contains several anthropomorphic portrayals of Wisdom (an abstract concept) as a woman. Another example is 1Kings 18:38, where "the fire of YHWH 'ate up' the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water in the trench."
antithetical parallelism
Literary device in which the related items stand in opposite or contrasting relationship to one another. Example: Proverbs 10:2 "Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death" (NRSV).
A short, pithy statement; an adage or maxim, such as "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3) or "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 9:10).
An apocalyptic text. The book of Revelation is an example of an apocalypse, and Mark 13 is sometimes called the "little apocalypse." The Greek name of the book of Revelation is apokalupsos, "Apocalypse."
Type of biblical and other literature in which a revelation is given through highly symbolic visions. The premier biblical examples are found in the books of Revelation and Daniel. From the Greek meaning "uncovering" or "revelation."
Writings included in the Septuagint, Orthodox, and/or Roman Catholic canon, but not the Jewish Tanak or Protestant Old Testament. Some of the apocryphal books are Tobit, Judith, and Baruch. Members of the groups that accept these books as canonical tend to call them the deuterocanonical books; "Apocryphal" is considered derogatory and is mostly used in Protestant settings. More generally, "apocryphal" refers to writings of questionable authenticity.
apodeictic, apodictic
Type of legal text which gives commands, such as the Ten Commandments. Biblical scholar Albrecht Alt (1883-1956) distinguished between apodeictic and casuistic Old Testament legal material, based on form criticism and using data from other cultures of the ancient world. "Thou shalt not kill" (Ex. 20:13) is apodictic. This is a related casuistic text: "Anyone striking a person mortally shall be put to death. If it was unintentional, but God allowed it, then I will appoint a place for the person to flee" (Ex.21:12-13).
A copy of a copy of a Bible manuscript. Compare autograph. For an example of how these two terms are used in context, see the first three paragraphs of this book review of Gordon Clark's Logical Criticisms of Textual Criticism.
Notes that accompany a text, such as the Greek language New Testament or Hebrew language Old Testament, giving information about textual variants found in particular ancient manuscripts and versions.
Semitic language related to Hebrew in which some parts of the Old Testament were originally written. Thought to be the language Jesus spoke.
The study of the material remains of ancient people. For example, the ancient city of Sepphoris has been excavated and the resulting information used to give an idea of the historical context of the biblical city of Nazareth, located nearby.
A type of code or cipher found occasionally in biblical Hebrew, in which letters are replaced according to their order in the alphabet. Letters from the beginning of the alphabet are replaced with letters the same number of places back from the end of the alphabet, and vice versa. Example: In Jeremiah 25:26 and 51:41, "Sheshach" (Hebrew shin-shin-khaf) corresponds to "Babel" (Hebrew bet-bet-lamed). Shin is the second-to-last letter in the Hebrew alphabet; bet is the second letter. Khaf is the 12th letter, lamed is the 12th from the end. Similarly, in Jeremiah 51:1, Hebrew "Leb-kamai" corresponds to "Kasdim" meaning "Chaldea."
The original manuscripts of the Bible. "The original autographs" are hypothetical documents, in the sense that (a) they are not extant and (b) their existence is part of a theory about how the Bible was written. Two other theories about biblical origins are the Documentary Hypothesis and the theory surrounding the hypothetical New Testament source document known as Q. Generally persons who believe in the inerrancy of the autographs do not believe in the Documentary Hypothesis or Q, and vice versa. Compare apograph.

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Babylonian Captivity
Biblical time period when the Israelites were deported to and exiled in Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. Also known as the Exile.
B.C. or BC
Conventional abbreviation denoting a date before the time of Christ. Since the "BC-AD" way of numbering dates became standard, scholars have postulated that Jesus was probably not actually born in the year 1 AD, but a few years before or after. In scholarly writing, the abbreviations B.C.E. and C.E. are often used instead of B.C. and A.D. respectively.
B.C.E. or BCE
Abbreviation: Before the Common Era, equivalent to B.C. ("Before Christ"). The abbreviations B.C.E. and C.E. are often used instead of B.C. and A.D. respectively.
biblical criticism
Study of biblical texts using specified methods in an effort to make sound scholarly judgments about these texts and their meanings; from the Greek krino, to judge. Terms like "text criticism," "literary criticism," and "canonical criticism" each refer to a particular focus and method of biblical criticism.
Taking too high a view of scripture; treating the Bible as if it were a god.
"Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia," most widely regarded edition of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. The actual Hebrew words of the Bible are the Masoretic Text, but an extensive critical apparatus gives possible alternative readings in the margin and across the bottom of each page.

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A fixed list of books or other works deemed authoritative in a particular community. In Biblical Studies, "the canon" usually means the Bible, but the Jewish canon is different from the Christian canon (e.g.,the Christian canon includes the New Testament and the Jewish canon does not), and within the Christian community the Protestant canon is different from the Catholic canon (Catholic Bibles include some books not found in Protestant Bibles).
Belonging to some established official group, especially a book that is part of the accepted canon of the Bible. The "canonical" Gospels are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The "Gospel of Thomas" is a non-canonical gnostic text that was not included in the Bible.
canonical criticism
Study of the Bible as a complete work, rather than a set of separate passages or books. Canonical criticism is not concerned with "canon formation" (the process of selection and finalization) but on how the canon "functions" and is "received" or "appropriated" by various groups.
Type of legal text which gives case law. Biblical scholar Albrecht Alt (1883-1956) distinguished between casuistic and apodeictic Old Testament legal material, based on form criticism and using data from other cultures of the ancient world. "Thou shalt not kill" (Ex. 20:13) is apodictic. This is a related casuistic text: "Anyone striking a person mortally shall be put to death. If it was unintentional, but God allowed it, then I will appoint a place for the person to flee" (Ex.21:12-13).
C.E. or CE
Abbreviation: Common Era. Often used in scholarly writing in place of the conventional abbreviation A.D.
In literary criticism, one of the persons (human or otherwise) in a story. In the book of Jonah, some of the characters are Jonah, God, the sailors, and the king of Nineveh.
In literary criticism, the way a particular character is described or represented. In the first chapter of the book of Jonah, the character Jonah is characterized as stubborn and disobedient to God. For an example of a literary critical discussion of characterization, check out section 1.8 of "Psalmody in Prophecy: Habakkuk 3 in Context" by James W. Watts.
Literary structure that can be seen as x-shaped (the shape of the Greek letter chi, hence the name), for example a-b-c-b'-a' where a and a', b and b' are in some way parallel or related. For example, in the English of the NRSV Jeremiah 4:5a reads a-b-a'-b': "Declare in Judah, and proclaim in Jerusalem" but in the original Hebrew the word order is "declare in Judah, and in Jerusalem proclaim" which is chiastic (a-b-b'-a'). Chiastic structures are sometimes also called palistrophic. For more on chiasm (or "chiasmus") see Tim Bulkeley's online Amos commentary.
chiastic parallelism
Exhibiting the literary structure of chiasm. For an example of a whole biblical book viewed this way, see "The Chiastic Structure of the Gospel of Mark Around Geographical Clues".
codex (plural "codices")
A bound book made up of folded leaves or pages. Codices gradually replaced scrolls as the medium for written transmission of the Bible and other ancient texts.
Of one substance; word often used in theological discussions, e.g. of the nature of the relationship among the persons of the Trinity.
Characterized by careful judgment and specified methods used to weigh evidence and arrive at sound, defensible conclusions; from the Greek krino, to judge. Scholarly study of the Bible is called "critical" whereas devotional or "in the pews" Bible study is called "uncritical" or "pre-critical." Biblical criticism is the critical study of biblical texts; "text criticism," "literary criticism," and "canonical criticism" each refer to a particular focus and method of biblical criticism.
System of religious ritual and practice; outward human sub-culture enacting a religion. In academic biblical studies, "cult" and "cultic" are not pejorative terms!
Early writing system, first used in Mesopotamia, in which wedge-shaped symbols were impressed onto clay tablets.

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Dead Sea Scrolls
Ancient manuscripts written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, found in 1947-56 at Qumran. The Dead Sea Scrolls date from around the time of Christ, and are an invaluable resource for biblical scholarship.
Literary theory originally formulated by Jacques Derrida, based in its view of "textuality," which considers language not only in its written form but in speech, history, culture, and the world itself. As the word implies, deconstructionists seem always to be "taking things apart" - the "things" being texts. Deconstructionist methodology involves exposing the philosophical and linguistic assumptions implicit in a text.
Belief system arising in the 17th and 18th century among "freethinkers." Included belief in God as creator and originator of the universal laws being discovered by science, but denied the possibility of miracles or divine intervention in the world. Deism was in part a response to the Enlightenment and an attempt to reconcile some belief in God with Enlightenment rationalism. Search the web for "deism" and you'll find plenty of fans.
"Second canon." The parts of some Christian versions of the Old Testament canon that are found neither in the Protestant Old Testament nor in the Jewish Tanak. Commonly called the apocrypha. The deuterocanon is contrasted to the protocanon, with the events and writing of the protocanon ("first canon") having preceded the "second canon." Here's an explanation of the Old Testament Canon from a Roman Catholic perspective.
According to the Documentary Hypothesis, one of four authors or authorial schools thought to be responsible for the text of Torah. See also J, E, D, P.
Deuteronomistic History
The biblical books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, also known as the Former Prophets. These books are called "Deuteronomistic History" and their (hypothetical) author the Deuteronomistic Historian because they carry forth the theological outlook of the book of Deuteronomy. For more detail on the Deuteronomistic History, click here.
Literally "through time;" dealing with phenomena as they happen over time. The historical-critical method is a diachronic approach. See also "synchronic."
Text or discourse that is intended to provide instruction, information, or teaching.
dietary laws
Rules about what persons are permitted to eat, and under what circumstances. Examples include the modern-day Muslim and Jewish prohibition of pork, and regulations spelled out in Torah, such as the admonition not to "boil a kid in his mother's milk (Exodus 23:19, Exodus 34:26, Deuteronomy 14:21).
Type of scribal error in which a letter or group of letters or words are repeated when they should appear only once. Dittography is very common, as anyone whose word processor flags repeated words can attest.
Documentary Hypothesis
Theory that the Pentateuch was originally formed from four separate documents, known as J, E, D, and P.

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To correct a text, usually my modifying only one Hebrew character with a similar-looking one that could have been mis-copied.
18th century period of European intellectual history based in rationalism and empiricism, often seen as trying to supplant religion with science and secular philosophy. Also known as the Age of Reason. For more information, click here.
Enuma Elish
Ancient Babylonian/Sumerian creation story, parallels with which many scholars see in the opening chapters of Genesis. Here's an English translation, and another.
The study of inscriptions, especially ancient inscriptions.
eponym, eponymous
An eponym is a name of a person which is said to be the source of the name of a city, country, etc. So Abraham and Sarah's fourth son was named "Midian" and Midian became the "eponymous ancestor" of the people known as the Midianites.
A story whose purpose is to explain the origin of a custom, place, name, etc. For example, Genesis 3:14-19 explains why serpents creep on their bellies rather than having legs like other animals, why women have so much pain in childbirth, and why agriculture is so much work. A Bible passage that says something is a certain way "to this day" (e.g. 2 Samuel 6:8) is often signalling etiological intent.
The history and origin of a word and its shifts in meaning over time. The word "etymology" comes from the Greek eteos, true, plus logos, word or idea. This is its etymology.
Critical interpretation of a text, especially a biblical text; from the Greek ex- + egeisthai meaning "to lead out. Sometimes it seems the terms "exegesis" and "hermeneutics" are used interchangeably; "exegesis" properly refers to the act or process of actually interpreting texts, whereas "hermeneutics" refers to the theory of how one interprets."
Biblical time period when the Israelites were deported to and exiled in Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. Also known as the Babylonian Captivity.

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feminist criticism
Biblical criticism that looks at gender relations, women's issues, and androcentrism in the Bible. Often engages in critique of biblical support for patriarchy. Two famous feminist biblical scholars are Mary Daly, who wrote Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation (1973) and Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (1978), and Phyllis Trible, whose books include God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality (1978), Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narrative (1984), and Rhetorical Criticism: Context, Method, and the Book of Jonah (1994).
Capable of, relating to, or indicative of imaginative creation; fictional.
First Temple
The temple built by Solomon. Sometimes the term "First Temple Judaism" is used to denote the religious and cultural practices of the biblical Israelites prior to the Babylonian Captivity. See also Second Temple.
form criticism
Type of biblical interpretation which identifies literary units within biblical texts and hypothesizes specific real-life settings out of which each unit ("gattung" or genre) arose. Begun by German scholar Hermann Gunkel (1862-1932). Sometimes form criticism uses data from investigations of other ancient cultures and literatures in making its hypotheses; other times it is more purely literary. The basic idea is that it is possible to reconstruct the "preliterary" history of the biblical text.
In literary analysis, a short phrase or sentence that is repeated with or without slight variations. For example, prophetic oracles often begin with the Hebrew formula koh amar YHWH ("Thus saith the LORD") or vayehiy davar YHWH ("The word of the LORD came [to Prophet X]")

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Pertaining to origins or antecedents; the “genesis” of something refers to its origin or beginning.
A category of oral or written literature, defined by style, content, and/or form. The biblical books can be categorized by genre, e.g. Judges is narrative, Psalms is poetry, Mark is a gospel, Romans is a letter, and Revelation is an apocalypse. Within these broad categories, scholars have identified many more specific genres include proverbs, parables, "hero" tales, and many others. In form criticism, a particular genre is identified with a particular "sitz im leben" ("situation in life" or "life setting"), but acceptance of such hypothetical setting is not necessary to appreciate distinctive literary genres.
The Gilgamesh Epic is a long narrative from the Ancient Near East, concerning a king named Gilgamesh who is said to have ruled the Mesopotamian city of Uruk around 2600 B.C. There are a number of interesting parallels between narratives in the book of Genesis and the Gilgamesh Epic. There are many websites giving additional information about Gilgamesh, including Wikipedia's "Epic of Gilgamesh" article, and this full text translation.
Religious and philosophical movement from about the 1st century BCE through the 3rd century CE. Its name derives from the Greek word gnosis, "knowledge" because it claimed secret knowledge that ensured salvation. The documents found at Nag Hammadi are of great importance for the study of gnosticism.
The system of words, inflections, syntax, usage, etc. of a particular language or language in general. Grammar as a scholarly pursuit is made up of phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics.
Griesbach hypothesis
Theory that Mark was the last of the Synoptic Gospels to be written, with Matthew and Luke as sources.

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The four NT letters of undisputed Pauline authorship: Romans, I & II Corinthians, and Galatians; German, "Principal Letters".
Textual error in which letters are lost from the text, presumably by a scribe skipping over the parts that are missing; for example, if two lines in the original text end with the same several words, the scribe might accidently skip the part in between.
Hebrew Bible
The collection of texts traditionally called Tanak by Jews and the Old Testament by Christians, written mostly in Hebrew. The term "Hebrew Bible" was constructed in order to avoid the Christian bias present in the term "Old Testament" (to Jews Tanak is the Bible; the concept of Old and New Testament is from a different religion). However the term is misleading, in that the Tanak and Old Testament order the books differently and there are multiple Christian Old Testaments, with and without various parts of the Apocrypha. From a Christian perspective, the term "Hebrew Bible" means "the parts of the Bible originally written in Hebrew." From a Jewish perspective, the term "Hebrew Bible" is redundant: the Bible is written in Hebrew.
Hellenistic age
The period when Greece dominated the ancient Near East, from the death of Alexander the Great to the beginning of the Roman Empire (323-30 B.C.). Sometimes in biblical studies the Hellenistic age is considered to be the period when Greece dominated Palestine, from the surrender of Jerusalem to Alexander in 333 B.C. until the conquest of Jerusalem by the Romans under Pompey in 63 B.C.
Expression of an idea using two words separated by "and" rather than by two words one of which modifies the other, e.g., "nice and warm" rather than "pleasantly warm." From the Greek meaning "one through two."
Study of the methods of interpretation of texts, especially biblical texts.
historical-critical method
Biblical studies methodology that tries to reconstruct the historical circumstances surrounding the events described in the text, and the historical process by which the text was formed. Out of style nowadays, although it continues to inform currently popular text-immanent alternatives.
Perception or study in terms of the whole rather than individual parts. A holistic reading of scripture would take, for example, an entire biblical book as it stands and look for how it works together as a whole, rather than dividing it into smaller parts for individual study, or trying to distinguish which parts came from where.
Exaggeration; extravagant overstatement. For example, Jesus' statement in Matthew 7:3-5 is a hyperbolic warning about attending to one's own faults before taking up those of others.

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Philosophical outlook that values mind, spirit, or ideas over material reality (the world we can see, hear and touch). There have been many philosophers who put forth idealist concepts (e.g., Plato, Berkeley, and Kant) but Hegel went to an extreme, arguing that ultimate reality is "in the mind" - absolute Spirit. Hegelian idealism is sometimes called "disembodied" because it thinks so little of physical, material reality.
The integrated body of beliefs and thinking of a society, group, or individual; belief system. Ideology can serve to explain and/or change how things are. Some political ideologies are communism, conservatism, anarchism, and liberalism.
ideology criticism
Method of study which focuses on the ideological motives which underlie texts. People who practice ideology criticism tend to be concerned with the "isms" - racism, sexism, elitism, capitalism, etc.
implied author
In a literary work, the "author" that the text itself implies, or that the reader may infer from the text itself; as opposed to the actual person or people who in fact wrote the text. For example, scholars often refer to "Paul" as the implied author of the book of Romans or "John" as the implied author of the book of Revelation.
Literary structure in which a phrase or sentence appears at both the beginning and the end of a passage, forming a sort of "sandwich." Often an inclusio is present in the Hebrew but not apparent in the English translation. For example, Jeremiah 4:22 in the NRSV reads: "For my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good." In the Hebrew this same verse repeats the same two Hebrew words lo yadaoo ("not they know") at the beginning and end, forming an inclusio:

for foolish my-people; me lo yadaoo
children stupid they
and-not discern they
skilled they doing-harm,
but doing-good lo yadaoo

In linguistics, morphological changes that make distinctions such as case, gender, person, tense, etc.
interpretive (or interpretative) community
The group of people with whom one reads and interprets a text, e.g. the Bible. Religious denominations and congregations can be seen as interpretive communities; so can a college class, or the scholarly "Academy." One's view of what scripture means is largely a function of one's interpretive community and what it thinks.
The time period between the Old and New Testaments; literature from this time period.
Relationship between two or more texts that quote from one another, refer to one another, or otherwise connect. New Testament passages that quote from the Old Testament are one example of intertextuality. Another example is Old Testament books such as Deuteronomy or the prophets that refer to the stories found in Exodus. Whereas a redaction critic would use such intertextuality to argue for a particular order and process of the authorship of the books in question, literary criticism takes a synchronic view that deals with the texts in their final form, as an interconnected body of literature. Some postmodern theorists like to talk about the relationship between "intertextuality" and "hypertextuality" - hypertextuality being the sort of jumping around one does on the world wide web.
Iron Age
Archaeologists classify human technological and cultural development in a sequence of "ages" namely Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age. The Iron Age in the Middle East began around 1200 B.C.E. As the name implies, iron metallurgy developed and the production and use of iron implements and weapons became widespread during this time.

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J, E, D, and P (or JEDP)
Four hypothetical documents or possibly authors or authorial schools that many scholars believe represent distinct sources of the Pentateuch. J is the "Yahwist" (J from the German "Jahwist"), so called because of the use of the name YHWH or Yahweh; E is the Elohist, using the name Elohiym for God; D is the Deuteronomist, from which the laws in Deuteronomy 12-26 are thought to have come; and P is the Priestly source, thought to be responsible for the genealogies, laws and temple rituals pertaining to priestly functions. J, E, D, and P are thought to have dated from around 850 B.C., 750 B.C., 621 B.C. (cf. 2 Kings 22-23), and 450 B.C. respectively, and combined by a series of redactors ending in about 400 B.C. This theory is called the Documentary Hypothesis.

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In text criticism, a gap or discontinuity in the original language text. The name is from the Latin word meaning pool or pit. A famous example occurs at Genesis 4:8, where the Hebrew includes a gap which other ancient versions fill in: "Cain said to his brother Abel ... and when they were in the field, Cain set upon his brother Abel and killed him." Many modern English translations add, "Let us go out to the field" to fill the lacuna.
Sleight of hand; display of skill.
German: "leading word." Martin Buber (1878-1965) coined this term, which refers to word whose repetition within a passage indicates a theme. When the same term occurs in different passages, an exegetical clue may be present. For example, according to Buber, the use of the Hebrew word bekira, firstborn, in Genesis 29:26 should point us back to the bekora ("birthright") and beraka ("blessing" that Jacob stole from Esau in Genesis 27:36.
The geographical region comprising the eastern Mediterranean: present-day Israel/Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. The name is from the French lever, to rise, as the sun rises in the east.
The study of language. Some of the specialties within the field of linguistics are philology, semantics, grammar, phonology, morphology, comparative linguistics, and applied linguistics.
literalist interpretation
Seeks the "plain sense" of the text.
literary criticism
Study of biblical texts in terms of literary features such as plot, characterization, setting, parallelism, meter, etc. Literary criticism as it is practiced today is synchronic and text-immanent.
Use of understatement affirming something by means of the negative of its opposite; e.g., Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. (NRSV). Pronounced "LI-te-teez."
pertaining to or located near a sea shore
The Septuagint, so-called because of the tradition that it was translated by seventy scholars working independently, who all came up with exactly the same Greek wording for the original Hebrew text. "LXX" is the Roman numeral for seventy.

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Markan priority
Widely accepted theory that the Mark was the first of the Synoptic Gospels to be written, and that Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source. The most popular version of the theory holds that Matthew and Luke also used another source, known as Q.
A pithy maxim or parable. Proverbs 26:7 says “Like a lame man’s legs, which hang useless, is a mashal in the mouth of fools.” For a more detailed explanation, read the third paragraph of this interesting essay, "Midrash and Mashal".
Masoretic Text (MT)
Text of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament produced by the Masoretes, Jewish scholars in the 5th to 10th century. The MT establishes both the consonantal text and the vowel "pointings" provided by the Masoretes to indicate pronunciation. The present-day edition of the MT most widely viewed as authoritative is the BHS.
messianic secret
Recurrent feature of the Gospels, particularly Mark, in which Jesus attempts to keep secret his miraculous deeds and his identity as Messiah. The term is from William Wrede's 1901 work of the same name. Scholars believe that the messianic secret was a product of early Christians' attempt to explain why Jesus' messiahship was not more broadly known.
Figure of speech in which one word or phrase substitutes for another in order to make an analogy between them; e.g., "The Lord is my shepherd."
A systematic, recurring rhythm; meter is a common literary feature in English language poetry, but much less so in biblical Hebrew or Greek.
Figure of speech in which an attribute or associated entity is used as the name for something; for example, using "Zion" to refer to the people Israel, "the Crown" to refer to the king or queen, "Washington" to refer to the United States government, "the White House" to refer to the President or Jesus' "blood" to refer to his death (Rev. 5:9). The Columbia Granger's World of Poetry website offers this example to distinguish metonymy from metaphor: "In metonymy, the two names are usually connected as part-to-whole or cause-to-effect; while in metaphor, the two names are not connected. Thus, Trailways is a metonymic name for a bus company, since buses do traverse trails and ways; Greyhound, on the other hand, is a metaphoric name for a bus company, since the buses are not greyhounds, they only resemble greyhounds in moving fast." Another biblical example of metonymy: Matt 18:16 and 2 Cor 13:1, where the Greek says something along the lines of "on the mouth of witnesses shall every word word be established" meaning "by the evidence of witnesses…"
midrashic interpretation
Method of Jewish biblical interpretation; sometimes used quite broadly of imaginative storytelling only loosely based on the original text. From a Hebrew word meaning “investigation,” “treatise,” or “story” (2 Chron 13:22, 24:27). For a more detailed explanation, read the third paragraph of this interesting essay, "Midrash and Mashal".
In linguistics, the smallest unit of meaning; morphemes are put together to form words, or sometimes a word may consist of a single morpheme. Morphemes are themselves made up of phonemes. For example, the word "logs" is made up of two morphemes, "log" and "s" -- "s" is a morpheme that is often used in English to indicate the plural.
Branch of linguistics concerned with the study of how words are formed in a particular language or group of languages. English morphology would describe such phenomena as plurals being formed by adding "s" or "es" to nouns, the conjugation of verbs such as "I am going, you are going, he/she/it is going," and so on.

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Nag Hammadi
Egyptian site where, in 1945, ancient Coptic codices dating from the 4th century were discovered. The Nag Hammadi materials are primarily gnostic documents. The "Gospel of Truth" and "Gospel of Thomas" are two of the more famous documents found at Nag Hammadi.
New Historicism
Methodology in literary and biblical studies. See New Historicism Explained or Introduction to New Historicism.

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A word whose sound suggests its meaning. English words with this property include "hiss," "whisper," and "plop." The Hebrew and Greek biblical text often includes onomatopoeia, although it is only apparent if the text is read in Hebrew or Greek. An example is the word often translated "woe" as in "Woe unto the wicked" (Isaiah 3:11). The Hebrew word is pronounced something like oh-eee, and the Greek of the Septuagint (or of analogous exclamations such as "Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees" (Matthew 23:13)) is pronounced oh-aaaiy.
Branch of philosophy concerned with the study of the nature of being. An ontology can be thought of as a description of the nature of some aspect of being or being in general.
Quality of texts that are transmitted by the spoken word, that is, orally. The orality of biblical documents is an important attribute that influences scholarly opinions about their meaning.
Plural: ostraca. A broken piece of pottery; potsherd or potshard. Ostraca with written notes, receipts, letters, etc. have been found, for example the Lachish letters found in the ruins at Tell ed-Duweir.

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Study of plants of the ancient world. This paleobotany lab exercise gives a glimpse of how paleobotanists deduce ancient climatic conditions from plant remains.
Study of insects of the ancient world, usually in the context of archaeological remains. Insect exoskeletons (their hard outer shell) often survive when other animal and plant material has decomposed.
Concentric or symmetrical literary structure. Also known as chiasm.
Type of ancient writing material made from an aquatic plant. Plural: "papyri." The University of Michigan has an extensive collection of papyri, including a number of important early biblical manuscripts.
A story meant to teach a religious lesson, illustrate a point, or elucidate a principle.
Pertaining to a parable or parables; expressed in a parable.
A model or pattern that an individual or group uses in trying to understand something. Present-day biblical scholars usually name and describe the paradigm they are using when presenting their results or opinions. Sometimes "paradigm" is used synonymously with "methodology," but often it has a broader connotation, more like "world-view." A hundred years ago, biblical scholarship concerned itself mostly with trying to discover the original audience, authorial intention, and historical setting of the biblical text, because people believed that only the original context could tell us what the Bible really meant. Nowadays scholars are operating under a different paradigm, which believes in a multiplicity of contexts and meanings.
paradigm shift
Phrase coined by Thomas Kuhn in his famous book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962). Kuhn's idea is that scientific progress occurs, not by slow incremental accumulation alone, but also by occasional "revolutions," in which "an older paradigm is replaced in whole or in part by an incompatible new one" (Kuhn, p. 92) - a paradigm shift. It refers to a group of people, or even a whole society, undergoing a change of world view, as for example from believing the earth was flat to believing the earth is round, or believing the sun and stars revolve around earth vs. the earth revolving around the sun. Biblical scholarship is often assumed to have undergone a paradigm shift from a diachronic to a synchronic worldview.
Advice, exhortation, or instruction. Deuteronomy 8:1-20 is a paraenetic passage.
Literary device in which grammatical or semantic elements repeat. Parallelism is commonly classified as synonymous, antithetical, or synthetic, following the system of Robert Lowth in the 18th century. These categories are not always adequate, but they do offer a starting point. For example, Psalm 18:8 is an example of synonymous parallelism: "Smoke went up from his nostrils / and devouring fire from his mouth / glowing coals flamed forth from him" (NRSV). Note that the repeated meanings are not identical, but rather seem to build on one another. Some other types of parallelism include chiastic and staircase. Parallelism is one of the most important features of Hebrew poetry.
patriarchy, patriarchal
Terms used by feminist scholars to describe what they see as the male-dominated, anti-woman structure of society. Not to be confused with the biblical "patriarchs," Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; "the patriarchal narratives" would usually refer to the stories in Genesis about these biblical characters, unless context indicated that the author was judging the narratives in question to be "patriarchal" in terms of promoting androcentrism or male privilege.
The first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Means "five books" or "five tools." Also known as Torah.
A defined selection or passage from a larger literary work. In form criticism, a pericope is considered to have been passed down as a unit within the oral tradition prior to the "redaction" (compilation and editing) of the complete written biblical book. Pronounced pe-RIH-ko-pe.
Use of several words rather than just one, for example using helping words rather than inflected forms. English uses a lot of periphrastic constructions. For example, we say "I would have been going to work, but..." whereas Greek would use a single inflected verb in place of the whole phrase "I would have been going." Koine Greek has more periphrastic constructions than Classical Greek - more use of prepositions rather than nuanced inflected forms.
Hebrew word meaning explanation or interpretation; occurs in the Bible only at Ecclesiastes 8:1. Used of a particular type of commentary found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, such as the Pesher on Habakkuk (designated 1QpHab) and the Pesher on the Psalms (4QpPs).
Ancient version of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Classical Syriac (Eastern Aramaic).
Historical and comparative linguistics; philology is concerned with the changes in languages over time, and relies heavily on comparisons between different languages. It is primarily a diachronic discipline, which means it is somewhat out of favor nowadays.
A single distinguishable sound within a particular language; the smallest "unit" of sound. For example, in English the words "lost" and "loft" are distinguished by the separate phonemes represented by "s" and "f." There is some correspondence between spelling and phonemes, but they are not identical: one letter can be pronounced in different ways, and the same sound can be represented by different letters or combinations of letters (e.g. the letter "g" is pronounced in at least 2 different ways (depending on the speaker's dialect) in "get," "anger" and "gentle;" "dear" and "deer" contain identical phonemes but different spelling). Linguists estimate that English has about 45 phonemes.
Branch of linguistics concerned with the sounds of speech, the way the sounds of particular languages change over time and the way the sounds of one language relate to those of another.
From the Greek pleon, "more." Style of writing that uses more words than necessary; reduntant or wordy. Ephesians has been called an example of pleonastic writing.
The story line of a narrative text.
A way of reading the Bible without the "tools of modern scholarship," either because the reading was done in historical time before modern biblical criticism developed, or because the particular reader or community of readers doesn't know about or doesn't care to use such tools. Scholars sometimes seem to imply that "precritical" readers are naive, or uninformed. Other times they seem to see value in scholarly methods that capture aspects of precritical readings, as when Barton writes in his introduction to The Cambridge Companion to Biblical Interpretation (p. 2): "Thus there is a perception among many biblical scholars that the newest approaches are also a restoration of something very old: for poststructuralist read precritical."
From the Greek "to say before;" an introduction or preliminary discussion; plural "prolegomena."
The second part of the Tanak, in Hebrew nevi'im. Comprises the following books: Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings; Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Twelve (Hosea, Amos, Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi).

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Q ("Sayings Gospel")
Hypothetical source document for the Synoptic Gospels, sometimes called the "Sayings Gospel" because it is thought to consist mainly of Jesus' speeches, with little or no narrative. Q is one component of the usual version of the theory of Markan priority, which holds that Mark was the first gospel, and that Matthew and Luke were written with Mark as one source and Q as another. Mark Goodacre has written an interesting article questioning some of the assumptions on which the Q hypothesis seems to rest.
Site of the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, just northwest of the Dead Sea in the West Bank.

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reader-response criticism
Form of literary and biblical criticism that focuses on the values of the reader's interpretive community and argues that one makes meaning of the text, in fact in a sense "creates" the text in terms of those values.
redaction criticism
Type of biblical criticism which attempts to determine the process whereby various source documents were edited, or "redacted" to bring the biblical text to its final form.
An editor; according to the Documentary Hypothesis, various source materials were combined, rearranged, and woven together to get the "final form" of the biblical text; this process is called redaction.
Short for “Protestant Reformation,” the 16th century European Christian movement which sought initially to reform the church but which eventually led to a split between the Roman Catholic church and the “Protestants.”

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Samaria ostraca
An "ostracon" is a pottery fragment or potsherd. The plural is "ostraca." In epigraphy, ostraca are specifically the writings found on ancient pottery. The Samaria Ostraca were discovered in 1910, and are the oldest Hebrew writing sample we have today; they most likely date from the reign of King Jeroboam (786-746 BCE) and record wine and oil delivery transactions.
Samaritan Pentateuch
Ancient version of the Pentateuch preserved by the Samaritans, and considered by them to be the whole canon. It is written in Hebrew, but is considered a "version" and treated as one of the "ancient witnesses" of value in text criticism.
Second Temple
The temple re-built after the Babylonian Captivity, in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. Sometimes the term "First Temple Judaism" is used to denote the religious and cultural practices of the biblical Israelites from the time of the Babylonian Captivity until the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 A.D. See also First Temple.
Branch of linguistics concerned with the study of the meaning of words, sentences and larger linguistic units in a particular language or languages generally.
The place, time, and general background circumstances of a narrative text (story).
Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible completed approximately 2nd century B.C.E. Thought to be the primary version of scripture known to Jesus and the authors of the New Testament. Also known as the LXX.
sine qua non
Latin for "without which not"; something that is absolutely essential.
Belief that one can know nothing but oneself and that the self is the only thing that is real.
A hypothetical document or oral tradition believed to have been used in the production of a "final form" document such as a biblical book.
source criticism
Biblical study methodology that focuses on the supposed "sources" or precursor documents thought to be "redacted" into the "final form" that came to be regarded as Scripture. Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918) is well-known as one of the founders of source criticism. Discussions of JEDP are source-critical discussions. Similarly, New Testament scholars hypothesize a source document called "Q" for the gospels of Matthew and Luke.
staircase parallelism
Type of parallelism structured such that some elements are repeated from one line to the next, adding others to extend or complete the meaning. For example: Judges 5:12 "Awake, awake, Deborah! Awake, awake, utter a song!" (NRSV). Another example, from Judges 5:26b: "She struck Sisera a blow / she crushed his head /she shattered and pierced his temple." (NRSV)
A commemorative stone pillar or slab, usually carved. Also spelled "stele," plural "stelae," from a Greek word meaning shaft or pillar. The Merneptah stela, dating from around 1200 B.C.E., figures prominently in debates around Israelite history.
In archaeology, study of the layers (strata) of ancient remains that provide clues as to the material culture represented by each layer and the order of successive cultures inhabiting the site (the top layers are more recent, the bottom layers more ancient).
Literary critical approach that analyzes the structure of texts and patterns among their parts.
sui generis
Unique; in a class by itself. From the Latin, "of its own kind."
Dealing with phenomena as they exist in a limited period of time, without regard to their history. See also "diachronic."
Combination of beliefs, practices or traits from more than one religion.
Figure of speech in which a part represents the whole, or the whole represents the part. Often confused (or at least used interchangeably!) with "metonymy." For a discussion of the distinction between the two, see the WorldWideWords website. Pronounced "sih-NEK-de-kee."
synonymous parallelism
Literary device in which repeated elements have the same or similar meaning. For example, in Psalm 2:10 "Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth" (NRSV), the two clauses mean nearly the same thing.This verse can be diagrammed as:
Now therefore
O Kingsbe wise; A - B
be warnedO rulers of the earth B - A

Other types of parallelism include antithetical, and synthetic.
Synoptic Gospels
Matthew, Mark and Luke; so called because they "see together" or take a common view, that is, they basically tell the same story in much the same way, unlike John, with which they have much less in common.
Synoptic Problem
The scholarly question as to the exact relationship among Matthew, Mark and Luke, the Synoptic Gospels. Some proposed solutions to the Synoptic Problem include the theory of Markan priority, the hypothetical document Q, and the Griesbach hypothesis.
From the Greek syn-taxis, to "put together." The system or rules according to which a particular language arranges words to make meaningful sentences. According to the rules of English syntax, "the cheese flew green paper within atoms" is syntactically correct English, even though it makes no sense. Words are arranged according to the rules of syntax into sentences, just as sounds (phonemes) are arranged according to the rules of morphology to form words.
synthetic parallelism
Third and most ambiguous of the three types of parallelism, in which the repeated elements are neither synonymous nor antithetical but have some other relationship to one another. Many regard this little more than a catch-all category for "formal" parallelism that doesn't fit the other two. Others claim that it doesn't even need to include parallel structures. This writer prefers to ignore it, as it confuses my students and doesn't lead to deeper reading of Scripture.
Ancient language in which the Peshitta was written; related to Aramaic.

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The Jewish Bible, also called the Hebrew Bible. The word Tanak is an acronym: TaNaK, for the three major types of writing in the Hebrew Bible, arranged in order: Torah, Nevi'im (the Prophets) and Ketuvim (the Writings).
An ancient version of the Old Testament, in the Aramaic language.
In archaeology, a mound containing layers of remains from successive ancient settlements; for example, most scholars believe that Tell al-Muqayyar in present-day Iraq is the site of ancient Ur, from which Abram and his family migrated in Genesis 11:28.
The Hebrew letters yod-heh-vav-heh, transliterated YHWH and sometimes written "Yahweh" or "Jehovah" in Christian Bibles. In Jewish Hebrew Bible readings, the words "Adonai" (Lord) or "ha-shem" (the name) are usually substituted out of reverence for the divine name. Both Christian and Jewish English language Bibles often use "LORD" in all capital letters for this word.
A piece of writing or speech that is being studied or discussed; often used of a passage from the Bible. Can also be used far more broadly, as when writers refer something other than writing or speech -- even all of life -- as a "text."
text criticism
Study of ancient biblical manuscripts in an effort to establish the best "original" Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek. The fruit of text criticism is a "critical text" which then becomes the basis for translation into English or other languages.
Approaches to literary interpretation which focus on the text itself rather than the intentions of its author(s), its historical context, what interpreters have thought about it, or other factors "behind" or "in front of" the text.
text type
A group of ancient manuscripts with many characteristics in common, presumably because of their having been copied in close proximity to one another. Grouping the thousands of ancient manuscripts into "text types" allows scholars to discuss variations in more general terms than would be possible if each manuscript were treated as a unique entity.
textual variant
A place where ancient manuscripts of a particular biblical word, phrase, or passage disagree. Much of the work of text criticism concerns deciding among textual variants.
textual witness
A particular manuscript containing a particular textual variant. For example, an article in the Anchor Bible Dictionary states: "The oldest textual witness to the opening of the book of Revelation (Codex Sinaiticus) gives "Revelation of John" (apokalypsis iouannou) as its title." This means that there is an ancient manuscript called the Codex Sinaiticus, and in it the book of Revelation begins with the title "apokalypsis iouannou," in contrast to some other textual witnesses which say something else.
Quality of "being text." Under the deconstructionist model, text is far more comprehensive than just a piece of writing, including speech and indeed the world itself. Textuality is sometimes contrasted with or viewed as an outgrowth of "orality." Linear textuality is sometimes contrasted with "hypertextuality" like that characteristic of the world wide web.
An attempt to answer the question "How could an all-good and all-powerful God allow evil?" An attempt to defend God's goodness and power in the face of evil. From the Greek, "justification of God."
Set of beliefs about or study of the nature of God and God’s relationship to humanity and the world. For example, source criticism attempts to discern different theologies for each of the hypothesized “sources” of the Pentateuch.
A personal name that incorporates the name of God or a god. "Theophoric" is from the Greek, meaning "God-bearing." For example, in the book of Daniel, the name "Daniel" is theophoric, bearing the name "el" for God. Nebuchadnezzar's palace master renames Daniel again theophorically, as Belteshazzar, which incorporating the name of the Babylonian god Bel.
Tiqqune sopherim
Ancient scribal corrections to the Hebrew Bible. "sopherim" means "scribes" and "tiqqune" means "corrections" or "emendations."
traditional rendering
The way it's "always been done." For example, English language Bibles have traditionally rendered (translated) the Hebrew word Shaddai or el-Shaddai

as "the Almighty," as in Joel 1:15 (NRSV) "Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes." The Hebrew says "... and as destruction from el Shaddai it comes."
"Literally "across the Jordan." The country now known as Jordan was once called "Transjordan." Sometimes the term is used to denote the geographical area on the east side of the Jordan River, opposite the modern nation of Israel/Palestine, or in contrast to the so-called West Bank.
Render a source language sentence, phrase, or word in a target language. For example, the King James Version (KJV) and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible both translate from the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek source languages into the English target language.
Represent or "sound out" the letters of one language in the letters of another. Compare translate: If you have the Hebrew word

you would TRANSLATE it "peace" and TRANSLITERATE it shalom. If you have the Hebrew word

you would TRANSLATE it "Joseph" and TRANSLITERATE it yo-SAYF.
Hebrew word meaning "teaching." Usually refers to the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, or Tanak, but can also be used for other types of religious teaching.
A figure of speech; use of a word or phrase in a figurative sense.
typology; typological interpretation
Method of biblical interpretation in which Old Testament persons and events are seen as patterns for or types of New Testament persons and events. For example, Romans 5:14 speaks of "Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come." Typological interpretation sees Old Testament sacrifice as a "type" of the sacrifice of Christ, which sacrifice is termed the "antitype." For more on typology, see The Victorian Web.

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Ancient cuneiform writing found in tablets at the archaeological site of Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit) in present-day Syria. Ancient texts written in Ugaritic are very important for understanding the socio-historical context of Canaan around the time the Israelites arrived there, as well as the literary context of much of the Hebrew Bible.

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Translations of the Bible from one language into another. In Old Testament text criticism, the "primary versions" which translated the Hebrew into Greek, Syriac, Latin, and Coptic are particularly important.
Victorian period
The period from about the 1830’s through 1900 (Victoria was Queen of England 1837-1901). A pivotal time for the field of Biblical Studies.Check out George Landow’s Victorian Web, especially the "Religion" section.
The (sometimes hypothetical) original from which a copy or translation is made. Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, in Old Testament text criticism the "versions" (Septuagint, Peshitta, Vulgate, etc.) were extremely important in reconstructing the Vorlage or "original" Hebrew text, because the oldest manuscripts of the versions pre-dated the oldest Hebrew manuscripts, the Masoretic Text.
vowel point
Small mark above or below a Hebrew writing to indicates the vowel sound. Pointing was originally added to the unpointed text of the Hebrew Bible by the Masoretes.
Ancient translation of the Bible into Latin, traditionally ascribed to Jerome (c.347-420). The word is from the Latin vulgata editio meaning "common edition."

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The third part of the Tanak, in Hebrew ketuvim. Comprises the following books: Psalms, Proverbs, Job, the Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles.

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One of the names of God found in the Hebrew Bible; like "Jehovah" it is formed from the Tetragrammaton YHWH, with vowels added. In many English language Bibles it is written LORD (all capital letters). In OT source criticism, Yahweh is distinguished from another common name for God, "Elohihm," and considered as a marker of which hypothetical source each part of the Pentateuch comes from.

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