Greek Verb Conference at Tyndale House – Buist Fanning

I polled various readers here and on twitter and facebook and I get some requests for which presentations to write about. This is the beginning of following up on that. I’ll also be doing: Rugter Allan’s, Peter Gentry’s, and Rachel Aubrey’s (my wife).

All of the presentations I’m blogging about will be available in full in their larger form in:

The Greek Verb Revisited: A Fresh Approach for Biblical Exegesis, edited by Steve Runge & Chris Fresch

Buist, if you’re reading this and I missed something or said something wrong, let me know.

The purpose of Fanning’s paper was to provide some context in terms of the discussion of research on aspect and the verb in New Testament studies in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Fanning’s perspective, logically focus more on his own work, research influences, and ideas simply because that was what he knew firsthand. The trajectory of his original dissertation research had began in the realm of New Testament studies and biblical theology. Still, there were a number of leads that contributed to Fanning’s interest in Greek aspect. These motivated him to do his dissertation on aspect in Greek.

  • These included:
  • James Barr’s work on lexicography and semantics
  • Stagg’s article “The Abused Aorist”
  • Kenneth McKay’s work on the Greek verb in Classical and Post-Classical Greek
  • His own experiences in the classroom teaching Greek
  • Reading Bernard Comrie’s 1976 monograph on aspect
  • Reading John Lyon’s two volume work Semantics

These are all parallel to the same influences that impacted Porter and his own research. Fanning expressed the expectation of the parallel in his presentation and I know from friends at McMaster Divinity School that essentially the same set of existing research motivated Porter as he also worked toward the completion of his own book on aspect.

One of the key differences between them, however, was in how they approach the question. Contrasts between Porter & Fanning:

  • Fanning assumed that the understanding of aspect has grown over the centuries. That the philological insights of past scholars were not mistakes, but simplistic and in need of refinement. Not an intellectual revolution, but a process of extending and correcting the work of others.
  • Porter viewed past work as flawed and saw a need for a scientific revolution. Everything before 1989 needed to be cleared away. There was a need for a rigorous & structualist framework.

At this point, Fanning himself emphasized that this expression of the difference between the two of them constitutes a gross over-simplification of the history of their research.

Finally, Fanning described the areas of agreement between their two respective works as follows:

  • Verbal aspect is central to the understanding of the Greek verb
  • Aspect is a matter of viewpoint.
  • The Greek aorist is perfective
  • The present/imperfective is imperfective
  • Greek aspect is important and relevant for discourse structure.

Fanning eagerly encourages other to come and participate in the work of improvement of our understanding.

It’s probably worth linking to the two books at the center of discussion:

Buist Fanning’s Verbal Aspect in New Testament Greek (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1990).

Stanley E. Porter’s Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament (New York: Peter Lang, 1989).

Two whirlwind days of papers in Cambridge

The Linguistics and Greek Verb Conference finished 9:30PM last night, with my wife giving the last paper on the semantics of θη middles in Koine Greek and their motivation from other clause types.

The entire two days were extremely satisfying. I have a nice collection of notes to write up for the four sessions that I was requested to blog about. Thank you, everyone, who helped Rachel and I get to Cambridge. We had an incredibly productive time–Rachel connected with Rutger Allan and they had a really positive conversation about voice that’s going to continue via e-mail.

For my part, meeting Robert Crellin and have some conversation about the perfect. His dissertation and my thesis come from very different places in terms of descriptive terminology and theoretical background, but it was immensely satisfying to find that we have effectively arrived at the same conclusions (worded slightly differently). That is to say, given his work with Klein 1994 (link), I would have come to the very same conclusions about the event structure of perfect semantics. Now, whether the same could be said about my own efforts in the other direction, I don’t know, but I do look forward to enjoying fruitful dialogue in the future.

Now, however, we have to pack to begin our journey home. We have a day for wandering around Cambridge and then a flight back to Chicago tomorrow.

More to come…

Onward to Cambridge!

I want to again thank everyone who contributed to the GoFundMe Campaign: Cambridge Greek Verb Conference. The response was both astounding and generous. Thank you all so much.

Here’s what has been happening so far:

  • Rachel and I have been diligently preparing our papers for the conference. We’re almost ready!
  • All of you raised enough that I’ll be blogging about sessions.
  • I have two books to review (those will be coming in July and August, hopefully)

What we need to do now:

Help choosing which sessions to blog about. I’ll be doing three.You can see the full list here: Linguistics & the Greek Verb. It covers everything from aspect, to voice, participles, to discourse, tense, modality, linguistics, classical perspectives, and much more. It’s going to be an awesome time.

We’re still pretty stretched with covering the costs that left, you can still contribute if you’d like. We’re $50 short of a third book review and $100 short of blogging a four conference session, if either of those are of interest to you.

I need to get writing a couple book reviews. I’m currently working on:

Linguistic Analysis of the Greek New Testament: Studies in Tools, Methods, and Practice by Stanley Porter

So again: thanks everyone for helping us get here. We’re really excited!

“Wait what?” moments in Greek grammar #2

That moment when you read in BDAG (and BAGD, too) that σκοτίζω’s middle form has the function of:

The passive of moral darkening.

That’s about as beautiful as some of Wallace’s (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics) categories for case (especially the genitive ones). This particular instance seems to be an effort on the part of the editors to account for the fact that this instance of the verb takes a θη form in the perfective aspect and the verb itself is not ‘deponent’. If you can’t account for θη not actually being passive with the normal punt to deponency (which is a fancy word for ‘I don’t understand this’), I suppose making up an entirely new category for a single verb is the next best thing.

Update: So my good friend Stephen Carlson pointed out that the abbreviation ‘pass.’ in BDAG can also mean ‘passage’ rather than ‘passive’ and suggested that is the better reading here. Contextually, it makes more sense, but in terms of English grammar, that’s an incredibly odd use of the preposition ‘of’: “the passage of moral darkening.”

So maybe just bad English instead of bad linguistics–either way still a “wait what?” though.

Update to the Update: After more examination, I’m back to being convinced ‘pass.’ does indeed refer to ‘passive’. Consider the entry for βόσκω as evidence:

② to feed on herbage, graze, feed, pass. of livestock (Is 5:17; 11:7; Jos., Bell. 6, 153; SibOr 3, 789) ἀγέλη βοσκομένη Mt 8:30; Mk 5:11; Lk 8:32. πρόβατα βοσκόμενα (PTebt 298, 53) Hs 6, 2, 4, cp. 7; sim.

I looked up every single reference here. All involve middle forms of the verb. Every single one of them. So here’s a ‘passive of livestock.’

Update to the Update’s Update:

So ‘pass.’ does mean passive here, but there’s more going on than meets the eye. I’ve got a follow up on the way now.

Suzanne Ethelwyn McCarthy, 1955-2015

This morning, I heard from Carl Conrad on B-Greek (link) that Suzanne Ethelwyn McCarthy passed away last Friday following a battle with breast cancer.

My long time readers likely know or remember Suzanne. She participated in a number of discussions about Greek lexicography, grammatical gender, and translation theory both here on this blog and several others, including and BLT*. She had a quick wit and a sharp mind and contributed some of the best lexicographical work on αὐθεντέω that I have seen–unpublished sadly.

She will be missed greatly as a friend and as a scholar.

Here obituary is here.

Fun Data Points in Greek

A presentational/thetic clause with an indefinite null subject:

καὶ ἐξῆλθον ἀπὸ τῶν ἱερέων ἐκ τῶν ἁγίων καὶ ἀπὸ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων τοῦ λαοῦ ἀσπάσασθαι αὐτὸν εἰρηνικῶς καὶ δεῖξαι αὐτῷ τὴν ὁλοκαύτωσιν τὴν προσφερομένην ὑπὲρ τοῦ βασιλέως (1 Macc 7:33).

This could either be translated:

“There came out [some people] from the priests from the holy place and from the elders of the people to greet him peacefully and to show him the a burnt offering being offered on behalf of the king.”


“[Some people] from the priests from the holy place and from the elders of the people to greet him peacefully and to show him the a burnt offering being offered on behalf of the king came out.”

Both translations would be acceptable sentence focus constructions in English, but the former would be the more explicitly (i.e. marked) presentational construction (cf. Lakoff 1987–the appendix on presentationals in English is absolutely superb and worth reading by, well, anyone and everyone interested in linguistics).

“Wait what?” moments in Greek Grammar

That moment when you read in BDAG that κοιμάω is:

in our lit. only in pass. and w. act. sense.

…and then the definitions are: “to be asleep” and “to be dead.”  I’m well aware, of course, that Allan’s The Middle Voice in Ancient Greek: A Study of Polysemy (or any number of works that I regularly cite when I write about voice on this blog) appeared well after Danker finished editing his 3rd edition–likely many years, in fact.


Nevertheless, I’m still saddened by the fact that verbs that are clearly intransitive with patient/undergoer subjects should be said to have an “active sense.” It be betrays a terminological failure in Greek grammar to actually provide a definition for the labels used.

Looking forward to a transformation in the terminology we use to describe verbs. It really needs happen, because the status quo is unhelpful and confusing.

Linguistic Book Deal

Some of you know that I’m a bit of a bibliophile. Some of you also know that I am pretty good at tracking the prices of excessively expensive monographs, patiently waiting, and then swiping up a good deal.

For example, I snatched up this pair of volumes for less than $40 for both of them:

Morphology:  An International Handbook on Inflection and Word-Formation / Morphologie: Ein Internationales Handbuch Zur Flexion Und Wortbildung Volume 1

Morphology: An International Handbook on Inflection and Word-Formation / Morphologie: Ein Internationales Handbuch Zur Flexion Und Wortbildung Volume 2

That was a triumph. Granted that particular set is not quite as appealing to Greek students than linguists, but still.

Anyway, recently, I noted that this volume (which is usually $300+ even used) had some significantly cheaper copies available (~$50). I own the book already, but I thought others might be interested.

Tense and Aspect in the Languages of Europe (Empirical Approaches to Language Typology) edited by Östen Dahl

If you’re working on tense and aspect and are looking for a state of the art discussion of cross-linguistic and typological research on the topic, this is a good place to go. Just don’t be deceived by the “in the languages of Europe” part. The relevance of the research is much larger than that.

Anyway, just thought I’d pass that along.


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