Monday, September 15, 2008

the semester begins

Today was the first day of classes at the seminary, although I didn't have any classes there today, just my German class at the university. (See my last post regarding what classes I'm taking.)

I'm enjoying languages this semester--at least so far! It's fun to actually take a conversational language, y'know, one that I can actually talk to people in. The languages I've taken so far are only for reading, and we don't really learn the words important for having conversations. So that's been good. I feel like I've learned a lot already in 3 class days. The professor (about my age) conducts the class entirely in German, which means we learn more than we would just studying grammar, but it's also confusing. I'm never sure if what I think he's saying is actually correct when he's teaching us something new, and it's hard to ask because I have to figure out how to form the sentence in German in order to ask it. It's fun, though, and I'm glad our class (of 9 students or so) has a few flights of stairs to walk down after class because then we all get to hear how everyone else feels like they're the stupidest person in the class, so it's not just me who doesn't understand everything.

The other language I'm enjoying this semester is (gasp) Hebrew. I know my blog intro thing talks about me learning Hebrew, but that's been a few years now, and Hebrew really wasn't my favorite subject (with apologies to my wonderful professor). But I think part of my dislike of Hebrew is feeling like it isn't useful. This is partially because the Hebrew Scriptures aren't my favorite literature in the world, and partially because I don't understand the language well enough to help me understand the text better after reading it in the (semi-)original language. In other words, I'm more confused after trying to translate a passage than if I had just read it in English. I took a class 2 years ago that focused on poetry in the Hebrew Scriptures, and although I knew the poetry was one of the more difficult parts, I also knew that to really get poetry one has to read it in the language in which it's written. So I thought maybe that would help. It did, a bit, but I still felt rather lost trying to translate in Hebrew.

But I have a research assistant position this year working for a renowned professor on the Dead Sea Scrolls. He and other scholars are working on putting together a comprehensive series that documents everything in the DSS collection, so he has research assistants to do the nitty-gritty work. My first day was last Friday, and after familiarizing myself with the software created specifically for this project, I started in on actually working on editing and typing in stuff that will be included in the volumes. Today I worked on typing in footnotes into the English translation of the Hebrew text of portions of Deuteronomy. This was mostly typing in what I saw on the paper, but it also required figuring out where to put the footnote in the English text. See, the footnotes were already in the Hebrew text, so we just had to put them also into the English text. So I had to figure out what the Hebrew was saying so I could put the footnote in the proper place in the English line. And I could actually figure it out most of the time, and didn't use a dictionary at all.

So today I feel vindicated, because my year of studying Hebrew and semester of taking an exegesis course in Hebrew have finally paid off. I now have a job (that earns me money, no less) that uses that skill. It's very exciting. And it's a fun challenge.

It's also amazing to know that I get to be one small piece in the process of making the Dead Sea Scrolls texts more available to the general population! What an honor, and I'm so glad to be able to do this work.

On the other hand, I don't get to work at the fun coffee shop this year (besides picking up some shifts here and there), so that's sad. I was thinking this afternoon after I left the DSS office that working at the coffee shop exercises the cool and outgoing side of my personality (and really, that side needs the exercise), while the DSS work encourages my nerdy, introverted side...which is exactly what most of the rest of my day is like.'s to mousy bookworms everywhere! I am quickly joining your number.

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