1. That summer I learned Biblical Hebrew with Christian women heaving themselves toward ministry one brick building at a time. We got along well, they and I and our teacher, a religious studies graduate student who spent eight hours a day transmitting the grammar and syntactical rules of ancient languages, afternoons training one student in Ethiopic, mornings with the six of us.

Biblical Hebrew conveys meaning through roots, he taught us. Each root consists of three consonants. OK. Some roots appear the same but differ in meaning or pronunciation. Oh no, we groaned. Things were getting complicated. The meanings we’d have to look up in our Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicons; the pronunciations we’d learn to recognize thanks to a vowel system long ago standardized from the Masoretic text. When will you teach us how to look things up? one of us asked. The rest of us cooed. The teacher must have said later or soon. It was a fast-moving intensive.

I’d neglected to bring my lexicon to class, it was too heavy, and to tell the truth, I had not once opened it since it arrived addressed to a former lover from whom that summer I was subletting. I had addressed it that way so as to avoid confusion, that of the mail personnel. I had not considered that it might not function like a regular English dictionary. English words you look up by first letter, but these you could find only after you’d learned to read them for roots.

2. At an unknown point in the deliberations by committee that led to the King James translation of the Bible in the early seventeenth century, someone had the brilliant idea to distinguish between English words with exact equivalents in the “Originall tongues” and those without direct corollary. This is why, even in contemporary printings, the translation is full of italics, marking words with which the translators were forced to supplement the original text in order to make their translation make sense to a humanity so fallen as to be English-speaking, an English-speaking humanity. It wasn’t that