Thursday and all’s well

To follow are what would normally be inline asides on a blog which uses them. I don’t yet, because I’m not convinced I want to pay for the privilege of editing the CSS, particularly with WordPress’ upgrade to 3GB of free space in the last couple of days. So, bear with me.

I’m waiting right now. Some of you know what I’m waiting for. It is unclear how long I will be waiting. One person who went through this exact same process told me he knew within a couple of weeks; another told me it probably won’t be until the middle of March. I will be happier when I am no longer waiting, regardless of the outcome.

I’m starting to lose a battle against a sore throat. I was in Michigan last weekend with many of our parish’s youth, and between the quite cold weather and being around lots of kidlets, I think I’m set up to come down with something. I always know I’m getting sick because coffee (without which Richard ain’t a happy man, folks) tastes terrible to me when I’m sick; this morning, the coffee wasn’t tasting very good. Sigh.

Now having dipped my toe into three different dead languages over the last couple of years, let me say that one of the gifts of studying a lingua mortua like Latin or Greek is that, without doubt, tons and tons of time and resources have been spent putting together usable materials. This would be as opposed to Syriac, where tons and tons of time and resources, well, haven’t.

For example, one can reasonably expect the following about your standard Greek New Testament:

  • It will have a decent glossary.
  • It will be typeset in a very readable fashion.
  • It will have an apparatus so you know where the text came from.

Whatever one’s disagreements might be regarding the use of the Nestle-Aland critical text, $25.05 for all of the above is a danged good value.

Now, the Syriac New Testament, the ABS edition which is really the only one available, by contrast to the above:

  • doesn’t.
  • isn’t.
  • doesn’t, so you don’t.

Where dictionaries are concerned, you have a bit of a choice: the three-volume Payne-Smith lexicon which is big, expensive, and in Latin; the one-volume Payne-Smith lexicon which is big and moderately expensive; and finally, the much smaller but not much cheaper New Testament lexicon.

So, when reading the New Testament, one way or the other you’re constantly having to look things up in a separate book, and you’re not always sure what you’re looking up because Syriac adds both suffixes AND prefixes to words depending on how they’re used, plus they can go through all kinds of fun changes depending on how they’re prefixed, and, well, the typesetting sucks.

Oh, and the typesetting of the dictionary also sucks. The plates are just old, old, old. You can see what I mean by looking inside the one-volume Payne-Smith on Amazon here. Eventually somebody needs to go through and redo it digitally; I refer anybody to the glossary in the recent `Enbe men Karmo Suryoyo (Bunches of Grapes from the Syriac Vineyard): A Syriac Chrestomathy compiled by Martin Zammit to see what this stuff can and should look like in the age of digital typesetting.

Of course, it’ll still be hella expensive, since there are like forty people in the English-speaking world who care about these things, this being why it won’t happen in my lifetime. If I were a more ambitious and serious Semiticist, maybe I’d entertain the notion of figuring out how to attach myself to such a project and help do it the way it would need to be done, but I’ve no real intention of being that kind of scholar. I am but a beachcomber along the shores of the Semitic ocean, not a deep-sea diver…

…aaaaaaaannnd that was the sound of you (both of you) rolling your eyes simultaneously. Sorry.

At the very least it would be nice to have a standard textbook which isn’t inherently problematic in many respects (both the Coakley and Thackston grammars are, shall we say, no Hansen and Quinn), and/or an English version of the Brockelmann grammar with the chrestomathy (that’s a fancy word which means “reader”), and/or an edition of the Syriac New Testament that is a comparable package to your average Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament. I hear rumors of a thing such as the latter being done at Notre Dame, but it also sounds like there’s going to be a thick, expensive volume for each book of the NT the way they’re going about it. Oh well.

Well. That wound up being a bit more than an aside.

I don’t normally talk about politics here, but this whole business about tax rebates–didn’t we do this back in 2001 or thereabouts? And didn’t it, er, not work, exactly? I mean, I’m not going to beat away with a baseball bat a couple of checks for $300 or $600 or however much they are for our household, but this whole thing sort of comes across to me as, “Now, don’t worry, just go buy a Blu-Ray player and a couple of movies, you’ll feel better.” Am I wrong?

Still waiting.

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