I actually started more than a week ago, stretching a week’s worth of research into the first few weeks of May to ease into the research process and bring myself a little ahead of schedule.
I have essentially completed the first section of my research, in which I look into the individual words of the bible passage “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” (KJV Exd 22:18) and related passages and take notes on their usage, context, variations of meaning, etc. Right now it’s just a lot of gathering of information and it is hard to know what is relevant, but I’m keeping track of where I’ve found everything so if there is anything I want to go more into depth on later, I can come back for it.
The three major sources I am working with for this section are blueletterbible.com, The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, and the online database of the Oxford English Dictionary. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (abbreviated as TWOT – no seriously! That is how the Blue Letter Bible website referred to it.) proved to be less useful than I thought it would be. I pretty much only used it for the brief entry on the Hebrew word kashaph used for ‘witch’ and it hardly told me more than I had learned from the Blue Letter Bible anyway. But it did confirm some of the ideas I had about masculine and feminine forms of Hebrew words and perhaps later I will come back to it to look up the other words used for ‘witch’ and ‘sorcerer’ in the Bible.
One major problem that I’ve come across is trying to determine how to cite some of my sources. Not all pages on the Blue Letter Bible have a citation guide, and at times it may be really annoying to cite each page or entry individually and I’ll wish I could just cite the website as a whole. This I may be able to work around, especially because I will often be able to just cite the Bible itself and leave the website out of it, though I would like to acknowledge the role it played in helping me find the information. The worst citation case, however, comes from and audio commentary about the Bible passage, that I found on the Blue Letter Bible website. The commentary is a prime example of the immediate link some people make between this passage, Satanism, and occult behavior of alternative groups and I was hoping to be able to use it in my final essay. However, no formal citation is given for the commentary, only the name of the pastor who gave it. I was able to find his website, but not the same commentary that was on the other site. The lack of proper information about its sources has made me lose a little confidence in the legitimacy of the Blue Letter Bible as a scholarly website, but it was introduced to me by my professor, and it has proved very useful as the starting point for my research. If I do end up including the audio commentary in the end, I will do a little more poking around and hopefully find out the original source or at least how to cite it with only the information I have.
Once the linguistic basis has been fully researched, I will move on to the historical and social context by reading articles from the Swem Databases as well as some primary historical sources that relate to the passage. Long before I even started my research, back when I was still in the application stage, my advisor helped me out by pulling up a lot of promising articles that have been sitting in my email inbox for months. I will start with those and see what direction the research takes me.
Next post I will try to go into a little more of the results that my research is turning up, as well as the process.
~ Carly O’Connell