Heresy Revealed: The Capstone Paper

This spring semester i had the hilarious and deeply satisfying experience of writing heresy—Budge-Nuzzard fanfic in biblical Hebrew—for seminary credit. It was an immensely engaging and creative endeavor, and i took no end of pleasure in offhandedly mentioning “my heresy” in my advanced Hebrew exegesis class and citing Thaddeus Glapp in the biography of my capstone paper. It’s crazy to think that i was permitted to get away with this nonsense. Classical Hebrew spec-fic? Inventing words in a dead language? Graduate-level Budge-Nuzzard scholarship? Weench midrash? Gosh. i am the luckiest nerd alive.

Those of you who’ve somehow stumbled through a wormhole and into this website may already have fallen victim to The Yaunsi Heresy. If you haven’t, you’re about to. The attachment that follows contains the complete text of that heresy—with commentary, on both my work and the Budge-Nuzzard. (It isn’t all heresy. The first half of the paper teases an entire semester’s study on Hebrew narrative style and literary devices.)

Enough piffle and blather! With very great thanks to Deirdre Brouer, Hélène Dallaire, Thaddeus Glapp, and A.S. Peterson, i present to you:

Narrative Criticism in the Hebrew Bible: Capstone report


The Yaunsi Heresy is a new work of fiction in classical Hebrew based on A.S. Peterson’s lobidious tale of the Budge-Nuzzard. It will be published in serial. Click “Yaunsi Heresy” above to read from the beginning—or to hear the story read to you. 🙂

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The poetry of the Budge-Nuzzard

The language of the Budge-Nuzzard never ceases to amaze and delight (and sometimes choke) me, but there is one passage in particular which causes me to go into raptures every single time.

So did I creep through every crevice and plumb each pocket within the Sha-Una’s cavernous pouch, and yet I found no crunchy bit nor bulky crumb to drive my hunger back from whence it sprung. Fear took me. Only one course of action could my mind now conceive: To slay my hunger ere he slay me.

Glorious. Ack. i’m just going to lie here for a bit until the room stops spinning.

Okay. i think i can sit upright again. Let’s walk through a bit of the poetry.

So did I creep through every crevice and plumb each pocket

Here are two sets of alliteration: CC, PP.

So did I creep through every crevice and plumb each pocket within the Sha-Una’s cavernous pouch

And then we continue reading and find a phrase which echoes that alliteration: CC, PP, CP.

…yet I found no crunchy bit nor bulky crumb

And here we have chiastic alliteration: CBBC. Mind. Blown.

…yet I found no crunchy bit nor bulky crumb to drive my hunger back from whence it sprung.

In the same line, there is a very nice bit of assonance. When reading aloud, the emphasis naturally falls on these two highlighted words, which heightens the effect of the assonance.

Fear took me.

Dread is so simple. Amidst the complexity of this passage, this three-word sentence rises up to grip the reader. Because of the length of the previous sentence, it’s natural to pause before this one. And each word here is weighty, yet most of the weight hangs on that first word. i find this appropriate.

Only one course of action could my mind now conceive: To slay my hunger ere he slay me.

And this near-rhyme echoes the assonance above. Again, to strengthen the rhythm as well as the near-rhyme, the major emphasis is on the last syllable of each sentence. But the rhythm here is not as simple as the assonant line above.

Only one course of action could my mind now conceive: To slay my hunger ere he slay me.

The march of the first half of this line is inexorable, mirroring the inevitability the narrator conceives. Then the rhythm pauses on that first instance of the word “slay.” The sentence hangs on that word until the fall of the very last syllable.

Now read the whole thing again, aloud, and let the language do its work.

Rapture.


Note: A.S. Peterson, the author responsible for the Budge-Nuzzard, has also written a set of historical novels, several literary short stories, a blog post that literally changed my life, and a poem cycle which has undone me again and again. He writes good sentences soaked through with sehnsucht and absurdity. i want to be just like him when i grow up. Go forth and read.

Hapax legomenon

Well kids, my brilliant heresy launches in only eight days, and i think it’s time for another brief lesson in textual criticism as relates to the Budge-Nuzzard.

You might have noticed a comment left on my previous post. It was a single word: “Urblementary!” This comment’s author is uniquely qualified to make such a judgment. And the judgment he chose to make made me laugh for two different reasons, one of which i will explain to you.

Urblementary is a word which occurs in the original Budge-Nuzzard exactly once. In textual criticism, this is what is called a hapax legomenon, which means “a word used only once.” This might mean once in a particular text, or even in an entire language. Handily, the Budge-Nuzzard is the only (to my knowledge) surviving text written in the glorious tongue of Weem-Ti (Weench), so urblementary qualifies, however critics (me) would like to dice that definition.

Hapaxes are a way for an ancient author to troll his/her modern reader. It’s notoriously tricky to figure out exactly what a hapax is meant to convey, because there’s no context outside the passage at hand to help tease out shades of meaning. The lexicons we now have for Hebrew, for example, are all the results of different scholarly word-studies. They’re dictionaries of ancient words, not ancient dictionaries. For common words, there’s no trouble here; read a variety of texts, which use a given word in a variety of contexts, and the meaning becomes pretty clear. But when you’ve only got one instance, how do you know you’re getting it right? A great example of this can be found in Amos 7:7-9. For years translators had to take a wild stab in the dark on one word in this section. They went with “plumb-line,” because they had no idea what the word meant but that translation made sense of the imagery in the passage—Amos was standing next to a wall, and G-d was about to judge Israel for not lining up with His standards.

Sometimes, related languages or dialects can help. Hebrew is one of a whole family of Semitic languages. If you come across a Hebrew hapax, you might look to Ugaritic or Akkadian to see whether a similar word appears in that language, and if it does, this can help enormously. In the above example from Amos, the word previously translated “plumb-line” turned out to be an Akkadian loanword which means “tin.” (Amos was being extremely snarky here, not only using a trollsome hapax but using imagery that mocked the “sturdy” walls of Samaria, which would surely withstand any enemy’s attack, even if G-d sent them. Get this: Tin makes terrible walls.)

Unfortunately, i don’t know of any cognate language for Weench.

When you’ve got neither multiple uses of a word nor a cognate in a related dialect, the best tool you’ve got is context. We’ve got to do our best, like past generations of Amos scholars did. So, let’s look at the context for our Weench hapax.

As my plodden journey onward goes, I have, in the night I fear, gained a companion, though boon or ill I cannot say. In darkness, the moon, so gibbous and bloated, my way did brightly light. And then I felt upon my nape a gazing. Hideous it was, and urblementary. I hurled my eyes about to see what eyes I felt aseeing me, but no eye spying did I see. I bid my feet plod on, and bid such repellent gazing be flushed in whole from my upper head. My feet heeded well. My upper head, however, cast itself in rebellious form and tormented me with suspicion and worry. Oh, how then I loathed my treacherous head!

The wording here—“though boon or ill i cannot say”—suggests to me an allusion from earlier in the Budge-Nuzzard, whether intentional or subconscious. i present to you this clue:

I was awakened this morning by a strange gnawing sensation in my lower left foot. My first thought was that the end had come sooner than I had foreseen and I was being slowly consumed by my wicked progeny. I was fairly wrong. The source of the gnawing, I discovered, was a small rotund Englishman in a shiny black bowler (and little else!). This odd little man had the greater portion of my lower left foot firmly seated in his mouth and was patiently gnawing away at it as if it were no more than a cup of afternoon tea.

“Good Heavens!” I said, and the gnawing Englishman kindly slipped my lower left foot out of his mouth and dried it with his handkerchief in a most gentlemanly fashion.

“Yes, quite,” he replied, then promptly disappeared leaving no sign at all of his former presence, other than the merest smell of wet hanky.

I knew at once that this was no coincidence. This was an omen. Whether ill or otherwise I couldn’t guess. I shall have to contact the Samurai. He will know what to do.

“Though boon or ill I cannot say.” “Whether ill or otherwise I couldn’t guess.” Hrrmm.

Can we then suppose that the word urblementary reflects the uncertainty and apprehension of a portent which cannot yet be interpreted, and thereby torments one’s upper head? Note also that the earlier passage is the first canonical appearance of—no. i shall not name him. Spoilers!

Given that i’ve been stalking Pete Peterson for over a year and a half now, this word choice seems fair. He has publicly said that he looks forward to my heresy “with a great and terrible anticipation.” What horrors or insights will he see in my words? And am i a boon or ill companion? Well. i guess we’ll find out on November 25.

Introduction to Heresy-Writing: An announcement

On November 25, A.S. Peterson’s wicked progeny, the Budge-Nuzzard, turns ten, and a new story will be born.

For the greater portion of the last year i have been working on a Budge-Nuzzard story in biblical Hebrew. “When you bite the Nuzzard, the Nuzzard bites into you,” says Bornholdt the Wider, and indeed i have found this to be true.

It’s a funny thing, the way this ludicrous, lobidious, remarvelant, robiderant blogfiction has taken hold of me. True, Bornholdt forewarned me, but i could not have anticipated that more than a year and a half after discovering the Budge-Nuzzard i would not only still be reading it, but studying it, translating bits of it, hand-binding it, and even writing my own story in homage to it. What began as a gleefully brain-melting thunderbolt and progressed to an alarming obsession turned finally into something else entirely. As odd as this weird little unfinished story is, it is mine—an unexpected gift of divine grace. It has done for me what all stories are meant to do—it’s made me stronger, made me feel i’m not alone—and it’s done so in a way so peculiarly suited to my own brain that i can hardly believe it’s real. i know it’s weird, but i am weird. We, Thaddeus Glapp and i, are weird. And i’m immensely grateful to have discovered this beautiful weirdness.

Dear Thaddeus, you are one of the poets i have known.

i cannot wait to introduce you all to my protagonist, Yaunsi (Jouncey from the original tale), and to relate his adventures here, for your digestion. (Along with audio recordings, of course, and translations as well.) Until then, my editor, Shiphrah, and i will be hard at work to make sure that the grammar (if not the story) makes as much sense as possible.

See you on November 25.

Textual criticism

Note: This is a prologue of sorts to an upcoming series of posts regarding my synthesis of Hebrew language studies and the Budge-Nuzzard. Next Friday i will post an announcement regarding this series.


A brief (well, sort of) lecture on the importance of textual criticism, with an example from the Budge-Nuzzard:

i’m currently translating 2 Samuel 11, and in verse 24 there are two variants known as ketiv-qere. This means that what is written (ketiv) and what is to be read aloud (qere) are slightly different. There can be a variety of reasons for this. The most common, which occurs so frequently that scribes do not even bother noting it in the margin, is the Name of G-d (the vowels have been swapped out so that no-one will accidentally pronounce the Name and risk using it in vain). There are other kinds of ketiv-qere differences, including spelling. And there are other types of variants besides ketiv-qere. One non-ketiv-qere difference occurs in verse 4, where the Hebrew text says Bathsheba came to David, and the Septuagint (Greek translation of the OT) says she was brought to him. This difference opens up the question of her culpability. Textual scholars and translators work to understand these variants and give them the appropriate weight. i will have to do some of this work in the chapter i’m translating.

In my Budge-Nuzzard editing i have adopted the ketiv-qere terminology to describe differences between the written (blog) and oral (podcast) traditions of the text. Unlike the OT, where there are hundreds of scrolls which can be compared, i have only one example of each tradition, so weighting the variants requires more subjective judgment calls. But here is a very interesting example of a ketiv-qere in the Budge-Nuzzard.

In the entry titled “Jouncey,” dated April 26, 2006, there are three ketiv-qeres. Two of them are insignificant, but one stands out as an important interpretive difference.

In the ketiv (written/blog): “Then did i learn of terrible things. The Budge-Nuzzard has laid foul plans upon the Pan Dimension (and all the innocent Pans within), and the Hegemony of Pan….”

In the qere (oral/podcast): “Then did i learn of terrible things. The Budge-Nuzzard has laid foul plans upon the Pan Dimension, and the Hegemony of Pan….”

The written tradition stresses the lives of the Pans, and names them innocent. Part of the scandal of the Budge-Nuzzard’s foul plans is thus its threat against vulnerable and innocent noncombatants. But the oral tradition omits this parenthetical entirely. (By the way, parentheticals in Hebrew, called waw-disjunctives, provide contrast, or background or interpretive asides, for the reader. One example is in 2 Samuel 11:4, where the reader is led to understand that Bathsheba was fertile at the time of her encounter with David, and thus is led to anticipate that something is about to go wrong—which does in fact happen in the next verse. This is true in the Budge-Nuzzard as well—this parenthetical increases the tension in the story and creates interpretive suggestions in the mind of the reader.)

Does the oral tradition devalue the lives of innocent Pans, showing concern only for the larger container? Does the notable omission of the natural and expected assertion of the civilians’ innocence instead suggest to the hearer that the Pans may not be innocent? Does the written tradition rightly or exploitatively prejudice the reader against the Budge-Nuzzard by using inflammatory images of suffering innocents to arouse sympathy?

Textual criticism is important.

i am a murderer

“Fin was lost. She pulled the trigger.”

i’m rereading A.S. Peterson’s The Fiddler’s Gun, and it’s hurting me. The first time, i read it aloud with my husband. This time, i am sinking into it alone. But the things that hurt most about this book are not the things i expected.

i know already the losses and lostness in this story. i know who dies, who wishes they did, who should have but didn’t. i know Fin’s loneliness and i know where it comes from. i know her sin. i know the sins against her. i know who’s to blame.

What hurts me about this story is the idea that someone i respect and trust created a person, utterly dependent upon himself, and then he hurt her. He spent ten years hurting her.

This hurts me because i also have created a girl, one who is utterly dependent upon me, and i am hurting her. i’m not done hurting her.

When Fin pulls the trigger, my chest opens up, and one thought pounds in my heart: i am a murderer.

i am a murderer.

i too am a murderer.

i hurt for Fin as she loses herself, but i do not identify with her. i identify with her maker. We are responsible for these lives we’ve made, and we have dealt falsely with them. We are unjust.

Whatever sin is in them, we put there. They act on it—neither of them are innocent. They make their own choices—a mystery i can never hope to explain, one that wonders me as often as it grieves me. They act on their impulses in their own volitional ways. But we are responsible.

It is glory for us to create, to make beings in our image as our Creator has made us. But our image is marred by sin that we cannot wash away. We, like they, need a redeemer.

i know that Fin’s maker means to redeem her. i know my own heart toward my girl; i long to redeem her. Redemption requires death. i know this. We never hurt these people because we don’t love them. We hurt them because there’s no way to make them beautiful, glorious, righteous, without bringing them to the end of themselves. i know Fin’s maker wept over her. i have wept over Rixi as well. Am i justified by my tears? When we are finished, will she understand?

For Rixi’s sake as well as my own, i need for Fin to be redeemed. i know where the story will take her and how her hurts and losses and sins will be addressed. But it is excruciating to get her there.

Rixi, no power in Nirth or in all of creation—nothing but your own will—will prevent me from turning all your pain to beautiful. Please let me redeem you.

Thank G-d i am but a subcreator.

End-of-semester gratitude

My first semester’s finals were yesterday. Oh, i am tired—and so, so grateful.

All last week i had reminders written all over my hands. Not reminders of things i’d need for the tests, but reminders that i would survive the process. Around my thumb and forefinger i wrote, “i have turned my back on my turning back.” Last night after my Hebrew final i collapsed into a chair and curled my fingers and saw how the words made a circle, turning back, then turning back again. And i had been telling myself over and over that i must not turn back, that as weary as i was i would reap a harvest if i did not give up. At that moment the words became true. i had turned my back on my turning back. It was accomplished. i knew that i had come far and could begin to gloan upon it. As we drove home afterwards, i could feel the semester receding behind me as if time was a place.

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i am grateful for:

  • Jonathan. Oh, Jonathan. He was on call all last week, and had finals and papers of his own (he has one final yet), but he took care of all our dinners (and the dishes) all week long so that i could study. He planned our Geek family night, too. Every time i cried that i could not, could not, could not, he told me i could. He prayed for me and pastored me and served me, my priest. Every day, he preaches to me the way of Christ to the church.
  • My beautiful Hebrew family, my classroom table-mates. Asher and i had an uproarious time studying together yesterday afternoon (we were both sleep-deprived and deliriously hilarious). Atarah brought us chocolate and little hand-written cards of appreciation last night. Gadi lets me mother him. i could not have asked for a better group of people. i never expected them. They are a gift of grace.
  • Dr. Dallaire, my Hebrew professor, has been an endless source of encouragement all semester long. Last night she gave me a hug i could live in and told me i’d better write to her in Hebrew while she’s on sabbatical. 🙂 She graded our finals before leaving last night and i had an email waiting for me when i got home. For the midterm and the final both she brought us food. And one of the questions was, “True or False? Dr. Dallaire loves chocolate!” 🙂 Again, i could never have expected her. i’m so grateful for her. Just knowing her (not to mention learning from her!) this semester was the best way to begin seminary i could imagine. She taught me that seminary is not scary, but an exhilarating, encouraging, enlarging adventure. i am keeping her forever.
  • Dr. Hess, my Pentateuch and Wisdom Lit professor. i learned so much in his class, and much of it was about myself. His style of teaching and grading stretched me, and is stretching me, and i am better for it, and i will be better yet. He was an instrument of sanctification in G-d’s hands. Again, it was grace that placed me in his class this first semester.
  • My darling amanuensis Rachel. i texted her crying so many times this last week. She prayed for me and brought me ice cream and ginger soda and hugs the night before finals. She wrote me haikus to keep me going. She shares my heart.
  • Andrew Peterson‘s song “Day By Day,” and Josh Garrels‘ “White Owl,” both of which tethered my heart and my mind as i studied. i played them for hours. Hours.
  • Pete Peterson and the Budge-Nuzzard. Pete’s witness that faith does not always end in despair gave me the courage to begin seminary. The Budge-Nuzzard, in ways known only to Divine Grace, became my own story as i struggled to finish my first semester well. The fact that the story is yet unfinished may itself have been a grace, as i was able to see myself in it without the distraction of pressure or fear regarding where the story was going. The first time i read Hind’s Feet on High Places, i was too afraid of resolution to finish. In the Budge-Nuzzard, uncertainty came alongside my uncertainty and helped me along. i know that a story this weird (but i am so weird!) is an unlikely candidate for spiritual direction and courage. But—
  • My merciful Abba loves me so well. He’s close to me when i struggle. He hides me in His heart. He rejoices over me with singing. He stoops down to make me great. i so often seek life everywhere but in Him. He is gracious, and He grows me in grace. He’s teaching me to rest in Him. And He knows that i am made to respond to stories; He made me that way. So when i cry out for stories to help me along, He never shames me for needing them but instead He provides grace upon grace, and gives me stories to enlarge my heart.

This sounds like an Oscars speech. But seriously—i am so deeply grateful.

My list of things to do today includes “read a poem,” “take a walk,” and “blat at someone.” i am eager to dive back into fiction-reading (and writing). i might take a nap. i need to buy groceries. Facebook will wait until tomorrow. Short-story-writing will wait until Friday or even next week (yeah, i never did any writing in November, and i am not really sorry). For today, the theme is gratitude and peace.

The term is over. The holidays have begun. (Yes, that’s a Lewis reference, although this semester break is only a foretaste.)

Baruch atah, Adonai.

Throwing myself down stairs

i have been stalking Pete Peterson lately.

This started with reading his brother Andrew’s Wingfeather Saga to my husband while we drove back and forth between Colorado and Indiana this winter. That led to listening to Andrew’s music, then to listening to more music by friends of theirs, then reading articles on their website, The Rabbit Room. i bought Pete’s historical fiction series and Jonathan and i are reading them together. i discovered, quite by accident, a piece of brilliantly nonsensical blogfiction that Pete wrote back in 2005-2006 (if i have already spoken to you about this and you have not gone on to read it, shame; it is most indibnible). So one thing led to another, and now i am quite unapologetically stalking Pete Peterson, fangirl-style, on the internet.

Lately that stalking has taken the form of calling up the Rabbit Room archives, looking for anything Pete’s written, and discovering an old narrative that has long since come to a conclusion, but was clearly a struggle for him over the course of several years. As i read, i am being drawn into an epic battle between a man’s heart and his seemingly empty prospects for marriage and publication and hope (oh, treacherous hope!) and answers. Although i am reading these things long after they have been resolved, the emotions he expresses in his very honest posts about this struggle are much too familiar. In the reading, i am transported—to his past, to my past, to my present, and to my own fear of and need for hope. i am just now realizing that this path is leading me somewhere. Somewhere i want to go, but shrink from all the same.

There seems to be a strange sort of convergence happening. i fear a lobidious syzygy. And the result of this is that i, like Pete did over five years ago, must throw myself headlong down the stairs and pray that G-d will catch me, even as i fear that He will not and i will break my neck in the fall. Out of his past, Pete urges me toward my future. i may break my neck and lie on the stairs gasping paralyzed in shuddering pain. But throw myself down i must, and trust that G-d will remake me, pleased by my self-abandonment as well as my acceptance of who He made, and is making, me to be.

i am returning to school.