Assistant professor of religion, Dr. Phillip Sherman, recently published a new book, titled, “Babel’s Tower Translated: Genesis 11 and Ancient Jewish Interpretation.”
According to Sherman, the book is the published version of his Ph.D. dissertation, which was a focused study in the field of biblical studies and reception history, which is Sherman’s specialization.
“’Babel’s Tower Translated’ looks at the short narrative of the Tower of Babel and explores how a number of ancient Jewish authors used the narrative to think about challenges and crises facing their particular communities,” Sherman said.
Sherman, who is familiar with studying ancient Semitic languages and teaches a course at MC on biblical Hebrew, said that he had hoped to publish the work as a contribution to the greater field of reception history.
While the book only covers the verses of Genesis 11:1-9 that contain the Tower of Babel story. Sherman said that he wrote on the specific topic because of his own personal interests in the story, as well as the important nature of the story to the field of reception history.
“I have always been fascinated with the image of the Tower of Babel, in part, because I find it such a slippery text,” Sherman said. “Every time you think you have it figured out, every time you are certain you know what is going on, it changes. How can such a short text produce such an enormous amount of interpretations?”
Biblical reception history deals with understanding how subsequent communities of faith groups, such as Jews and Christians, make meaning out of biblical texts for their particular cultural situations.
Thus, this topic was extremely pertinent to Sherman’s chosen field of specialization, as there have been many different interpretations of the text throughout history.
As Sherman wrote “Babel’s Tower” originally as a dissertation, he had help with his research process from a committee of three professors, who Sherman said were incredibly helpful along the way.
He defended his dissertation proposal in December 2004 and the completed dissertation in early 2008.
In June 2005, during the beginning stages of writing the dissertation, Sherman said that he became a stay-at-home dad.
“I would jot down notes and furiously type drafts during nap times. It isn’t an experience I am anxious to have again, but it worked,” Sherman said.
As an MC professor, Sherman said that he felt that the experience deepened his sympathy in working with thesis advisees.
“Anyone who has written a dissertation understands the meandering path of researching and writing a long, integrative piece, like a thesis,” Sherman said.
There is an ongoing discussion in the academic community as to what reception history actually is and how it relates to the field of biblical studies. Sherman said that he hopes to contribute to this greater debate and help provide one model, among many possible models, for what reception history actually looks like in practice.
For future writing, Sherman said that he is currently researching for a book on the changing attitudes towards animals in ancient Israel.
“I have been fortunate to teach a senior seminar which looks at the emerging field of critical animal studies,” Sherman said. “I hope to bring that larger academic enterprise to bear on biblical texts.”