Scholars in Press: An interview with Josh Westbury

Editor’s note: this interview was originally published April 21th, 2015.

The following interview is part of an ongoing series titled Scholars in Press, which aims to showcase a particular variety of scholars who contribute to biblical studies through their linguistic skills.

16797366_255989818192940_4621206177570361374_oBA in Theology and Biblical Languages from Houston Baptist University

MDiv from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

MA in Biblical Languages from the University of Stellenbosch

PhD in Biblical Languages from the University of Stellenbosch

Favorite winter pastime: Drink good coffee.

Favorite summer pastime: Here in the Pacific Northwest, it’s rainy and chilly for much of the year. So when summer comes, I like to be outside as much as possible.

How did linguistics intersect with biblical studies in your life (or vice-versa)?

From my undergraduate years up through my doctoral work, I was fortunate to have biblical language teachers and mentors who helped me to think about these ancient languages from a linguistic perspective. This led to an interest in how languages work more generally, and how these insights can help us better understand the biblical languages. I moved to Stellenbosch, South Africa in 2009 to study linguistics and biblical Hebrew at the University of Stellenbosch. It was there that I first received formal training in linguistics and I’ve been enthralled ever since.

What informal or personal educational experience stands out the most to you in your learning career?

The three years I spent in South Africa were extremely formative for me. Besides the formal academic training, I learned so much about linguistics and biblical languages from countless informal discussions with other graduate students and professors. Those were great times.

What would you say is your linguistic niche, or what are you most interested in? (limit of two topics)

Broadly speaking, I’m most interested in the interface between grammar and pragmatics. More specifically, I’m interested in how speakers/writers structure information through the use of word (constituent) order and prosody. This interest ultimately led to an MA thesis and PhD dissertation on constituent order variation (information structure) in Biblical Hebrew. Recently, I’ve also become interested in computational approaches to ancient language research. I’m not a programmer (yet!), but through working at Logos Bible Software, I’ve been able to meet and collaborate with some really smart people on some interesting projects, like this one.

Where is your field headed? What advances are being made others might should be aware of?

It’s hard to say, but there seems to be a growing interest in applying insights from contemporary linguistics, both in terms of theoretical approaches and cross-linguistic (typological) information, to biblical language study. The advances being made by this kind of research are exciting and will hopefully continue. There’s still much to be done!

I also think this work has the potential to excite and motivate more people to engage in this kind of study. This is especially important as the number of undergraduate institutions and seminaries that offer training in the biblical languages seem to be dwindling.

How do you hope your work will contribute (or counter) to this end?

Generally speaking, I hope to continue to contribute research that advances our understanding of these ancient languages, particularly at the intersection of pragmatics and grammar. But I also want to join others in the effort to make this research more accessible to those who might benefit from it, but lack training in linguistics.

What is your end goal with your training? (e.g., teach, research, preach, translate, etc.)

I began learning the biblical languages and thinking about linguistics out of a desire to read and understand the Bible better, so I suppose my main goal is to help other people to do the same. I’ve never been sure about what form this would take. I enjoy research and teaching. I’ve taught Greek and Hebrew in Seminary, University, and local church settings. I enjoy teaching. But I also enjoy research and writing. Currently, I have the privilege of helping develop biblical language resources at Logos Bible Software. I get to research, write and collaborate on interesting projects, all geared towards helping people read the Bible better.

What books / articles are you currently reading or enjoying most? (Limit 3)

Language complexity: An insight from complex-system theory

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An eternal golden braid

The challenge of better understanding discourse particles: The case of לָכֵן

Who have been your biggest role models?

Jamie Johns

Rodney Woo

Christo van der Merwe

What is one piece of advice for those following in your tracks?

I’d encourage people to heed the advice of the other contributors to this series. It’s all really good!

Do you have online resources you would like to refer people to, either your own or others?

The Lexham Discourse Hebrew Bible and High Definition Old Testament

A (Non-formalist) Linguistics Reading List