Following the successful publication of her new book, A Relevant Way to Read: A New Approach to Exegesis and Communication, we were able to catch up with Dr Margaret G. Sim to ask some questions about herself and her work!
What inspired you to write this book?
A desire to show how useful Relevance Theory is to the interpretation of texts, even ancient ones!
What does your writing process consist of?
I try to put down the thoughts which have been going round in my mind for months, sometimes years, together with an application to biblical text.
We have seen that you have an extensive academic background in Classical Studies, Linguistics and Divinity, tell us about this journey.
Well, it began with a degree in Classics then continued with an MA in Linguistics so that I had a qualification for working in African languages. While teaching at a college in Nairobi I knew I needed a higher qualification and then did an M.Th. in Biblical Languages followed by a PhD. a few years later.
In layman’s terms, what are the main ideas that the book explores?
Literalness is not privileged; humans re-present the speech and thoughts of others all the time; inference is part of being human but humans are usually unaware of what they are doing!
Which writers or academics do you think have had the greatest impact on you and why?
The late Professor Howard Marshall was a good friend and mentor who exemplified humility, integrity and a desire to help students from a non-Western background.
I find the writings of N.T. Wright and John Barclay very stimulating. The former has been involved in translation and the latter uses principles of Relevance Theory although he might not be comfortable with this identification!
Who do you think the book will appeal most to?
I suspect that it will appeal to students in theology, biblical studies or translation who work cross culturally.
What are the more obscure notions that the book explores and how has it developed?
I suppose that the notion of ‘procedural information’ as a description of how particles work both in Greek and in English seems ‘heavy’ but it is a much more useful methodological tool than trying to find a whole range of potential ‘translations’ for items such as ‘but’, ‘well’, ‘after all’ etc. in English. I deal with Greek particles in the book!
Who are your favourite authors?
P.D. James, more recently Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) for light reading! For serious stuff, N.T. Wright, John Barclay, Richard Bauckham and a host of others.
We understand that you are a member of SIL and Wycliffe Biblical Translators; do you believe these roles to have influenced your writing?
Yes, because my chief desire was to do something useful for translators, particularly African translators.
We notice you have undertaken previous teaching roles such as lecturer and Head of Department in Biblical Studies and Translation at Africa International University. Tell us about these! Likewise, do you believe these have influenced your decision to write?
It was a very steep learning curve to teach at an African Theological College (originally Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology). I had to re-examine how I represented material in a way that was culturally relevant and to examine my own presuppositions. I loved the interaction with students from all over Africa and many of these are still good friends and colleagues. My students urged me to write.
From your author questionnaire, you detail being very involved with language projects whilst living in Ethiopia; such as forming part of the Kambaata translation team and Gamo language project.
Kambaata project was from 1980-1987; Gamo project from 2001-2015.
Can you describe these experiences and if you believe that they have they impacted your work?
We lived in the countryside of Ethiopia beside the teams and gave advice on the original languages (Greek, mainly) and on translation principles: how to deal with unknown ideas, figures of speech etc. It was a very good experience, although not without problems as it was during the period of Communist rule in Ethiopia. It removed any feeling that we might have had of Western superiority and taught us so much about the resilience, faithfulness and love of people who had very little in the way of material possessions. The Gamo project was only a part time involvement, undertaken in holidays from working at AIU, but again the quality of work, from one older man in particular, was so good. He really knew both his own language and the Amharic Bible from which he was translating.
If you have any further comments, hobbies or interests, we would be delighted to hear about these here!
Well, I am the mother of five children two of whom were born in Ethiopia, and my husband and the father of these children also works with me in Ethiopia, Nigeria as well as in Zambia for another project. I enjoy gardening, walking and probably am too interested in politics both here and in the countries we visit!
In A Relevant Way to Read, Margaret G. Sim draws on her in-depth knowledge of New Testament Greek to forge a new exegesis of the Gospels and Paul’s letters. Locating her studies in the linguistic concept of relevance theory, which contends that all our utterances are laden with crucial yet invisible context, Sim embarks on a journey through some of the New Testament’s most troubling verses. Here she recovers some of that lost information with a meticulous analysis that should enlighten both the experienced biblical scholar and the novice.
Whether discussing Paul’s masterful use of irony to shame the Corinthians, or introducing the ground-breaking ideas behind relevance theory into a whole new field of study, Margaret G. Sim demonstrates her vast learning and experience while putting her complex subject into plain words for the developing student.
Margaret’s book, A Relevant Way to Read is available now. For further information, reviews, and to obtain your copy, click here!