— Ph.D., BA in Plan2, Classics and Linguistics, UT Austin. Ph.D in Biblical Hebrew at UT Austin.
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I began my studies as a Spanish and Portuguese undergraduate major at UT-Austin in fall of 2001. Shortly thereafter, I realized that I did not like studying literature and criticizing it very much. The connection with the people and the language was what I relished above all. Since that could be gained by meeting people from Brazil and other countries, where they spoke the languages in which I was interested, I decided that I did not need the major. As I was shopping around for a new course of study, it occurred to me that Ancient Greek and Latin were languages that I wanted to learn, but that I could no longer do so just by talking to native speakers. So, I began my life as a Classics major. Although it might sound extreme, one class in the fall of 2002 changed my life forever: "The Linguistic Evolution of Greek and Latin." The professor of the class, the late Mark Southern, opened up the mysteries, if you will, of the historical linguistic development of Indo-European languages: Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Old English, etc. Not only the languages, but also the cultures, played a key role. The question: How could we reconstruct something of an unknown culture, going back thousands of years before these later languages even existed? The answer: By looking at the common linguistic history and determining what remains of culture we could find in the vocabulary. I will give you an example. Various Indo-European languages have a term for "law" that seems to go back to the mother tongue, what we "reconstruct" as a Proto-Indo-European vocabulary item. This means that in the Indo-European culture, one that we debatably cannot identify by archeological remains, we are at least able to identify this one concept (as well as many others that I do not have space to discuss here). The next class I took from Dr. Southern was entitled "Pre-Islamic Civilizations of the Middle East," in which he began to open up how various Near Eastern and Mediterranean cultures interacted in the ancient world. Vocabulary items, material culture (now found in the form of archeological remains), religious rituals, and literary motifs, are just some of the items that can be transmitted, borrowed, and traded in any time period, but which are particularly fascinating at such an early date.
My current track of study, "Biblical Hebrew and Indo-European Linguistics," blends the study of the Ancient Near East with that of early Indo-European societies, especially that of ancient Greece (although the Hittites, Persians, and Romans also play a key role). For the last seven years, I have been working on a project concerning the possible loan from Babylonian language and culture of a key purification term in early Greek: katharsis. Although this loan was originally proposed by the eminent Greek religion scholar Walter Burkert, it has remained a matter of dispute. He wrote about a page on the word in his masterwork, The Orientalizing Revolution. As an undergraduate, I wrote 150 pages, using Burkert’s argument as a springboard. My undergraduate advisor, Dr. Tom Palaima, an expert in Greek Bronze Age scripts, and I have continued this project during my last year and a half of graduate study. Thankfully, the end is now in sight. He and I will present our findings to members of the UT Department of Classics later this spring.
My hope is to be part of a growing number of scholars who can bridge the gap between the fields of classics, historical linguistics, and Near Eastern studies. There are many known “points of contact” and many wonderful specialists in each area, but few who are laboring to specifically to find connections and synthesize them. We have in my opinion reached the point, especially in Aegean Bronze Age studies, where we must go outside the field of “classics per se” in order to make appreciable progress. But the question is: "Can the classicist and the Near Eastern specialist be friends?"
In my other, not-so-academic life, I am an ordained minister, starting a church plant to help members of our community both locally and worldwide, who struggle with drug addiction and fatherlessness. I am also a member of the Austin House of Prayer community, where I act as "theologian in residence." As a community, we are working on a project to move towards unity in the very divided Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant churches.