Editor’s note: this interview was originally published March 16th, 2015.
Name: Jeremy Thompson
Education: PhD in Biblical Languages from the University of Stellenbosch; MA in Old Testament and Hebrew from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; BS in Psychology from Louisiana State University; Currently working on a certification in Python programming through the O’Reilly School of Technology (previously, but no longer, overseen by the University of Illinois)
Favorite things: In addition to the more obviously important areas of my life like spending time with my wife and two daughters, my favorite hobbies include running and drinking craft beer (and being from Louisiana you could add cooking and eating). I’ve found that both of those hobbies happily, mutually reinforce one another.
How did linguistics intersect with biblical studies in your life (or vice-versa)?
My PhD dissertation in applied linguistics and Biblical Hebrew emerged out of my interests in psychology as an undergraduate and the experience of sitting in introductory Biblical Hebrew courses at the seminary I attended. When I studied psychology I had an interest in memory and learning, and when I was in introductory Hebrew I thought: there has to be a better way to do this. So that’s what I set out to do after seminary using research from applied linguistics on second language acquisition.
What informal or personal educational experience stands out the most to you in your learning career?
Undoubtedly, time spent at Calvin College at a consultation that was organized by Carl Bosma on the use of Bible software in the classroom and pastorate. That’s where I spent most of my face to face time with my PhD supervisor Christo van der Merwe. I met a lot of scholars that I’ve remained friends with and discuss work with from time to time like Jim Coakley and Ulrik Sandborg-Petersen. Christo had invited me there to present and discuss my work, so that was also a bit of a confidence boost for me that I was doing work that others might be interested in. Second to that, would have to be my every so often visits to Bellingham with my work for Logos Bible Software.
What would you say is your linguistic niche, or what are you most interested in? (limit of two topics)
At first, my niche was Biblical Hebrew and applied linguistics, specifically second language acquisition. Sadly, it’s been a while since I’ve done much work in that niche. After my PhD work, I took a position with Logos Bible Software and my niche has become lexicography, which is still technically applied linguistics. Over the last several years I’ve worked on two lexical databases for Logos: the Bible Sense Lexicon for Logos 5 and the Case-frame/semantic roles data for Logos 6.
Where is your field headed? What advances are being made others might should be aware of?
I feel a little inadequate to answer. I’m not in an academic research position or a student any longer. I read important things when they come up and especially when people suggest them to me, but perhaps not widely enough to feel like I can say with any confidence where the field as a whole is going. That has perhaps been even more the case since I’ve been spending some of my self-directed learning time with my work developing some basic programming skills.
I’m really more of a work horse. The last two projects I worked on were not really things that I researched, rather they were based on the research of the scholars who developed the WordNet database for English, especially the late George Miller, and on the work of Paul Danove on case-frames in Greek, which was based to a significant degree on the work of the late Charles Fillmore. Fillmore’s work was the impetus for the FrameNet database. So, those two projects were really of the sort: here’s a well-developed lexical resource, let’s adapt and apply their theory to Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Greek and see what kinds of interesting results we get for Bible software users.
How do you hope your work will contribute (or counter) to this end?
I don’t really think about this much. I do very practical work that I think is helpful to a broad range of users of Logos Bible Software. I hope that it’s useful to scholars too, but if scholars don’t use the tools I’ve worked on, I’m not so worried about it.
In an agile development context, you don’t get an extended period for academic peer review. For example, I think the Dictionary of Classical Hebrew was about 20 years or so in the making. The Bible Sense Lexicon data was two years in the making, though it is still being updated from time to time. So, a scholar is probably going to be able to look at that resource and find some rough edges. But, broadly speaking I think it is still a very powerful tool. Maybe scholars can deal with a few rough edges to get the practical benefits, and they use the tool. Maybe they can’t and they don’t. Even so, I think they can look at a tool like the Bible Sense Lexicon and see what is possible if you apply a modern linguistic framework to biblical languages. And, who knows? Maybe they want to spend 20 years making a more perfect WordNet of Biblical Hebrew. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing either.
What is your end goal with your training?
I want to continue the work that I’m doing with Logos/Faithlife for as long as I possibly can. Hopefully, an end won’t come to that any time soon. And, if or when that does happen, I suppose I’ll ask questions like that again.
What books / articles are you currently reading or enjoying most? (Limit 3)
My Python 3 course book. Language Turned in on Itself by Capellen and Lepore. I recently became interested in the issue of self-reference in language and elsewhere after reading Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter, which I highly recommend. Capellen and Lepore provide a good overview of theories of quotation, which can be a type of self-reference in language. I currently wait on the edge of my seat every other month for the newest edition of Scientific American Mind. There have been some really interesting articles on language over the past year. I discuss one of them here.
Who have been your biggest role models?
My high school Latin teacher Gary Wyss, who instilled in me a love for ancient languages and who is now also an accomplished author of fiction as well. Christo van der Merwe is probably the scholar who has been most formative for me. George Miller whose work was broader than strictly linguistics being integral in the “cognitive revolution” as a whole. His work factored into both my dissertation and my Bible Sense Lexicon work with Logos. Also, Charles Fillmore for his work on frames. Finally, as a bit of an outsider on the list, Haruki Murakami. He is sort of an applied linguist since he does translation work, but is primarily known as an author of fiction. I identify a bit with the life of an author he describes in his book What I Talk about when I Talk about Running. There he describes how being a long distance runner helps to bring him the focus to be able to do the kind of work that requires sitting behind a desk for hours and hours at a time. I’ve found much of the same in my life, which makes him a good model of work-life balance.
What is one piece of advice for those following in your tracks?
Be flexible. I’ve gone from studying Psychology, to Hebrew, to linguistics, to programming and from studying narrative, to doing applied linguistics in the form of second language acquisition, to doing lexicography. All of that has added up to something that Logos finds valuable, or at least it seems that way. I’ve enjoyed the ride of constantly learning new things and developing new skills. But, I think a lot of young scholars fixate on an academic position. Sadly, it’s probably not going to happen for a lot of people, but that may not be the end of the world. As one example, I was in a session at SBL this year with people like Randall Tan and Michael Halcomb who are kind of doing their own thing and forging their own way. Still things may not work out for some young scholars, and that’s regrettable. But, I do think it gives you a better chance if you’re able to stay flexible.
Do you have online resources you would like to refer people to, either your own or others?
Anyone who wants to can keep up with me at: http:// jeremythompson.ws, which also has links to anywhere else I might be on social media.