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I've previously asked Are questions about the languages themselves (without referencing a specific text) on topic?, but since asking it the list has been updated by me and other users with more examples (thanks David and Susan!). The current top-voted answer didn't have many of these examples to work from initially, and attempts to get the OP to update his response have been fruitless. According to our help page / site tour, questions about the Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew languages are off topic. But this clearly requires some nuancing in practice.

tour

In the process of adding more questions to the list, I've come to realize this is likely a more nuanced issue than a mere Boolean response can address (yes or no). The impetus for this meta post is this question: What are the various ways that “elohim” has been translated?, which I've currently placed on hold pending further community guidance.

I propose that we actually have multiple categories of questions and some different guidance must be given for each of them. As such, I've broken the list of questions into these categories for discussion's sake (it would be too tedious to list all of them in each answer). Ideally, answers will focus on which categories are on or off topic, and if any special caveats are needed for any of them. Feel free to also disagree with category divisions and to propose different ones.

Categories of Original Language Questions Without Specific Texts

  • Questions about learning the language

  • Questions about the meaning or translation of a specific word or phrase

  • Questions about the frequency or other statistical usage of a specific word, phrase, or linguistic feature

  • Questions challenging or seeking support for a claim about the language

  • Questions about a term or concept in a different language (including another biblical language) and how it relates to words in an original biblical language

  • Questions about the historical shift in meaning or usage of a specific word or phrase

As a caveat, I believe that vague collections (e.g. 'the Bible', 'Scripture', 'the New Testament', etc.) do not qualify as one specific text (largely because they contribute to questions that are too broad or unclear). However, other textual divisions may qualify depending on the question—discretion must be applied to each case (e.g. J/Yahwist source, pastoral epistles, Johannine corpus, etc.).

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  • And just now, a new case-in-point: "Linking NT Greek to Hebrew through the LXX". I'm not sure that's even better on Meta, although we ought to be able to handle it somewhere ... shouldn't we? – Dɑvïd Dec 20 '14 at 15:13
  • @Davïd yes I'd like to see that one handled somewhere, the current convention would be on meta since it is technically a 'list' question. I'm not sure, though. – Dan Dec 20 '14 at 19:03
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The following are OFF TOPIC when ALL of the specified conditions are present that are listed under a specific category.

Please note that I am not proposing that these categories themselves are all entirely off topic. That is by no means the case. In fact, if any of these categories of questions does not meet any one of the specified conditions which make it off topic, it should be assumed to be on topic (assuming it is not off topic for any other existing close reasons).

Categories of Original Language Questions

  • Questions about learning the language: These questions are off topic if they

    1. are not seeking to understand any one specific text, and
    2. can be answered by consulting standard grammars or other novice or intermediate-level reference works targeting students of the language.
  • Questions about the meaning or translation of a specific word or phrase: These questions are off topic if they

    1. are not seeking to understand any one specific text;
    2. are not seeking to understand the use of the specific word or phrase by one specific author (where specific texts are given as examples of this author's usage of the word or phrase); and
    3. can be answered by consulting a standard concordance, lexicon or other lexical resource.
  • Questions challenging or seeking support for a claim about the language: These questions are off topic if they

    1. are not seeking to understand any one specific text;
    2. can be clearly answered by consulting standard grammars or other novice or intermediate-level reference works targeting students of the language; and
    3. do not concern a claim where there is reasonable controversy among experts in the language.
  • Questions about a term or concept in a different language (including another biblical language) and how it relates to words in an original biblical language: These questions are off topic if they

    1. do not start from any one specific text (i.e. they begin from an idea, belief or concept that is anachronistic to the original context; or otherwise do not naturally arise from a specific text).
  • Questions about the historical shift in meaning or usage of a specific word or phrase: These questions are off topic if they

    1. are not seeking to understand any one specific text;
    2. are not seeking to understand the usage of the specific word or phrase by one specific author (where specific texts are given as examples of this author's usage of the word or phrase); and
    3. are too broad ("There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format." cf. 'too broad' close reason).

As a caveat for all of the above definitions, vague collections (e.g. 'the Bible', 'Scripture', 'the New Testament', etc.) do not qualify as one specific text (these often contribute to questions that are too broad and also make the question unclear as to which texts are open for consideration). However, other textual divisions may qualify depending on the question—discretion must be applied to each case (e.g. J/Yahwist source, pastoral epistles, Johannine corpus, etc.).

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    It looks to me like these provide some transparent criteria for eliminating questions about language in biblical text that do not bear on the interpretation of a given text (or delimited corpus of texts). Very helpful! – Dɑvïd Dec 20 '14 at 11:55
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    I think you have some really good guidelines here, but all the negatives make them really confusing. – curiousdannii Mod Dec 21 '14 at 1:02
  • @curiousdannii I originally had AND & OR logic, but that was WAAAY too confusing (for non-programmers). So this was my happy medium. It would be way too long (and subjective) if I instead listed all of the positive requirements. This is actually a simpler test. – Dan Dec 21 '14 at 1:12
  • @Dan Maybe it would help if the categories were based more about the objectives of the question than the subject matter. For example, under the frequency category you're really dealing with two types of textual criticism: author identification, and interpolation identification. So instead you could say something like "Statistical questions are allowed if they are intended to identify the author of a text(s) or to determine whether a text is likely to be an interpolation, but other than that they're off-topic." – curiousdannii Mod Dec 21 '14 at 1:19
  • @curiousdannii that would be easy to read, but at this point I'm gonna let it be. This stuff is really time-consuming. Plus that may make it more subjective for some of these. – Dan Dec 21 '14 at 4:36
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I also propose that these types of questions are OFF TOPIC when ALL of the specified conditions are present that are listed under a specific category.

  • Questions about the frequency or other statistical usage of a specific word, phrase, or linguistic feature: These questions are off topic if they
    1. are not seeking to understand any one specific text;
    2. are not focused on attributing authorship for one specific text (where specific texts are given as examples of this/these author's purported usage of the word, phrase, or linguistic feature); and
    3. are not focused on determining if a specific reading is original to a text or an interpolation (often related to #2, but not necessarily if an eclectic view of specific texts is taken).

However, it must be noted that a close vote to this effect was overridden by the community on this question, so this is not in effect.

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  • By posting this that question just earned my close vote :) – curiousdannii Mod Jun 14 '15 at 12:00
  • I admit I'm confused by this whole post (question and answers), but my DV here is because the question you link to should be on-topic in my view. – Jack Douglas Jun 15 '15 at 11:11
  • @JackDouglas if you believe the post linked to is on topic, then DVing this post is the correct course of action. I'm contemplating separating all of these so they can be separately voted on. However, some of these are already off topic for simply not having a specific text. Thoughts? – Dan Jun 16 '15 at 19:15
  • Not having a specific text is only a criterion for exegetical questions as far as I understand the idea. This is a question about the biblical use of biblical Hebrew which should have it's own topicality criteria. It's kind of a niche within a niche on this site, but it passes the key "is it interesting to our group of experts?" test I think, particularly in light of the well-researched and well-received answer. – Jack Douglas Jun 16 '15 at 21:20
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    @JackDouglas Questions should be more than pure statistics to be "interesting"... – curiousdannii Mod Jun 17 '15 at 10:16
  • @JackDouglas I'm trying to avoid the "how many times does this occur?" questions when not trying to understand a specific text. If it were framed in a corpus linguistics sort of way with an approach of understanding a specific author's use of a term or whatnot, no problem. But otherwise, why? It merely becomes anecdotal statistics and in my opinion is just 'searching for a text'. But as voting currently shows, I may be alone in this - hence I separated it. – Dan Jun 17 '15 at 12:38
  • @curiousdannii I'm judging by my own interest, that of the top 4 user who answered it and the significant number of upvotes it got. If David says he answered it despite not finding it interesting I'll change my mind. – Jack Douglas Jun 17 '15 at 16:33
  • Dan I think trying to codify guidelines at this granularity is pointless (it matters not at all given the number of like questions) and counter-productive (we'll end up closing interesting questions out of rule-keeping rather than using our discretion). Trust the community! Sort out the big picture of topicality and let everyone use their votes to handle the rest. – Jack Douglas Jun 17 '15 at 16:36
  • @JackDouglas I'm fine with that, but we really need to remove 'the Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew languages' from our "Don't ask about" list if so, or at least nuance it. This is an attempt to nuance it. – Dan Jun 17 '15 at 20:02
  • @Dan I think we should change it to "learning about Greek ..." – curiousdannii Mod Jun 18 '15 at 0:29
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    @curiousdannii yes, just adding the word 'learning' at the start would work too. – Jack Douglas Jun 18 '15 at 6:51
  • Dan can mods change that text? – Jack Douglas Jun 18 '15 at 6:52
  • @JackDouglas I'm pretty sure they can. – curiousdannii Mod Jun 18 '15 at 7:30
  • @JackDouglas good question! (I have no clue) – Dan Jun 18 '15 at 19:39
  • @Dan We can change the "on-topic" and "not to ask" as well as the tour. This is only written in the tour as far as I see. If you go there, there's a little "edit" button... – Susan Jul 3 '15 at 4:50

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