for the Father and the Son (I'll leave the Holy Ghost aside) -- I hadn't heard of it until Todd linked to it, but I've just read it and loved it. Much worth a read.

Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
Yea, thanks be on Todd. That made my morning. :))
8.9.2006 4:17pm
Evelyn Blaine (mail):
The title made me think of something related to a number of Professor Volokh's recent posts on usage, labels, and euphemism. How do people on the blog and commentators feel about the use of the phrase "Old Testament" rather than "Hebrew Bible" or "Tanakh"? I grew up in a largely Christian milieu and tended to use it regularly, out of habit, until a few years ago, when I decided that I should use more neutral and historically responsible terminology.

Obviously, it makes sense for orthodox Christians to speak of the Hebrew corpus as the "Old Testament" when they're operating within their own theological system, but I don't think that they should get into the habit of importing those assumptions into discourse outside that context. I don't have the same problem with "New Testament", because the historical/causal relation presupposed in the term is clearly justifiable without any commitment to the theology, which isn't the case the other way around. (I. e., the best secular scholarly analysis of the development of the Tanakh in its historical milieu will have no place for a causal role played by some Greek texts written centuries later, but the best secular scholarly analysis of the Gospels and Epistles in their historical milieu will have quite a lot to say about the causal role played by a preexisting corpus of Hebrew texts.)

However, there are many circumstances in which "Hebrew Bible" or "Tanakh" would seem extremely unusual and awkward--as in the article referenced in this post, for example, where the relevant point is clearly not the Tanakh in se, but the stylistic particularities of a specific translation of the Tanakh (the one in the 1611 Authorized Version) that existed and was transmitted only under the name "Old Testament" along with companion translations of the Greek Christian scriptures. In these or similar circumstances, I would use "Old Testament" without a second thought, as did the author of the parody and Professor Volokh--in fact, in a number of circumstances I would tend to think it somewhat misleading to do otherwise.

Thus, I have a usage pattern more or less on the lines of the following examples. (I've marked with a ? those usages that I would be unsure about.) Let me reiterate that this is just a description of my own discourse habits, not a dogmatic prescription for others:

The story of David and Goliath is in the Hebrew Bible.
*The story of David and Goliath is in the Old Testament.

(reference to the corpus in itself)

He's writing a book about the Hebrew Bible.
*He's writing a book about the Old Testament.

(in reference to a secular academic)

He's writing a book about Christ-types in the Old Testament.
*He's writing a book about Christ-types in the Hebrew Bible.

(in reference to a Catholic theologian, whose object of study is preconceived in specifically Christian terms)

There is a quotation from the Hebrew Bible in this part of the Epistle to the Romans.
*There is a quotation from the Old Testament in this part of the Epistle to the Romans.

(direct speech, avoiding theological presuppositions)

Christians draw soteriological inferences from the Old Testament quotation in this part of the Epistle to the Romans.
?Christians draw soteriological inferences from the quotation from the Hebrew Bible in this part of the Epistle to the Romans.

(indirect speech, taking on the context of the reported person's viewpoint hypothetically in the subordinate clause)

The priest read a passage from the Old Testament.
*The priest read a passage from the Hebrew Bible.

(reference to a version of the corpus considered and transmitted only in a specifically Christian context)

Shakespeare's language here draws on an Elizabethan version of the Old Testament.
*Shakespeare's language here draws on an Elizabethan version of the Hebrew Bible.


At the time, Luther was working on his translation of the Old Testament.
?At that time, Luther was working on his translation of the Hebrew Bible.

(could be referring either to the contents in themselves or [more plausibly] to the text as transmitted within the Christian tradition)

Anyway, I bring all this up because I think it's a very interesting and under-discussed usage point, and I'm curious to know what people of varying religious backgrounds and beliefs think about the subject. As I said, I'm in no way arguing that others who follow different patterns are doing something wrong: this set of rough rules is merely my personal attempt to fulfill the goals of (1) using theologically neutral terminology, (2) being historically accurate, (3) picking out the specific object to which I'm referring and the specific aspect under which I'm considering it unambiguously, and (4) avoiding giving needless offense to anyone, regardless of his or her religious faith or lack thereof. I recognize that in some cases those goals might come into conflict: the usage rules are the best compromise I can think of to fulfill the goals as fully as possible under various circumstances, without giving undue weight to any one of them.

I've never been offended by anyone's use of a different set of rules, and I can't imagine that I would be except in a case of gross, deliberate insensitivity. (E.g., repeatedly referring to the work that the rabbi was citing in synagogue as the "Old Testament", when discussing it in a specifically Jewish context, even after being corrected.) But, at the same time, I'm neither Christian nor Jewish, and I feel that I should be very modest in establishing linguistic norms about how people of faith describe their sacred texts (even if I don't attach a negative evaluation to the decision of others to deviate from those norms). If a number of people (of any religion) were to tell me that they were offended by my usage, I would try to find an alternative standard that continued to meet the other three criteria.

Thoughts, fellow language nerds?
8.9.2006 9:52pm
geaawe (mail):

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8.10.2006 3:55am
tefta2 (mail):
Hilarious. The author must have been peeking when my poor granddaughter was denied her dessert because her numbers (of peas, that is) weren't high enough.
8.10.2006 11:31am