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Goshen professor breathes new life into dead languages

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A Goshen College Professor has a unique skill that he's passing down to his students.

He can read ancient texts and understand languages that are long dead.

Many of these are biblical languages. And some have modern forms, like Greek. But the way they were written and spoken thousands of years ago is different than today.

Paul Keim is a professor of bible and religion at Goshen College.

His specialty is ancient near-eastern languages and civilizations.

He can read ancient Hebrew, Greek, Latin, other Semitic languages, and even Acadian, which is the writing system of ancient Mesopotamia.

Keim says his knowledge and the knowledge of other scholars like him provide a background for culture, religion and the history of the Bible.

"It is one way of crossing culture -- crossing time and space and entering someone else's world to try to figure out what were they thinking. Why did they express it is way? There is a lot in ancient text that seems weird, bizarre. Why would they do this? Often it seems violent. So, how do we try to understand them in their own terms? To do that we need to know, not just language, but the cultural situation. Their geographical situation. It is all part of the package," says Keim.

"It is a little like time travel. The first time I went to Petra -- which is an ancient city in Jordan that was a Nabataean city -- there are inscriptions all over the walls. you can walk through and read these inscriptions. Nabataean is an Aramaic language. It is like time travel. Someone wrote that like 2,000 years ago. If you train yourself, you can read that, touch those people a little bit."

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Keim has been teaching at Goshen College for 20 years.

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