On Comparisons

What’s wrong with comparing Koine Greek to Classical?




After Dr. Conrad linked to yesterday’s post, I’m hoping that there are still a few B-Greekers around to discuss this question.

9 thoughts on “On Comparisons

  1. I think I’ve discussed this question ad nauseam on B-Greek and have found that the positions taken on it are more or less predictable, enough so that it doesn’t seem profitable to go through them again. My stance, briefly, is that Koine Greek is a language in flux and needs to be understood in terms of its development from earlier to later phases of the language: Caragounis is fundamentally right about this (even if some details are open to question). Comparisons of Koine with Classical may sometimes be simplistic, based upon assumptions of synchronic homogeneity of the usage of either or both eras. I guess that means that the question, “What’s wrong with comparing Koine Greek to Classical (Attic)?” is perhaps the wrong question; I’d ask, rather: “How can Koine Greek be usefully compared with Classical?”

  2. From a non-b-greeker: Surely it’s good to compare them as long as we realise we are comparing two different things. The problems arise when we assume that they are identical. Very likely they are very similar in terms of tense, aspect etc – but not necessarily, after all during the same period (and largely under Greek influence) the Hebrew verbal system changed massively. It is quite reasonable to suggest that during the same period Greek, at least as spoken and written in the Levant, changed in these respects under Hebrew and Aramaic influence.

  3. From the experience of learning several languages at the same time out of curiosity for all of them born in childhood for more than forty years, and recently from the consequent deepening of the knowledge of my own language as a whole, without concern for time (epoch), but looking into it as a continuum, and having started doing the same with Greek,mainly from the advice of Prof Conrad and self-study on books like the one from Prof Mastronarde, I notice that my view of the language phenomenon as a whole has considerably improved my ability to translate. Both synchronically and diachronically my view of language has improved and I think that today, more than ever before, I can figure out the interplay of those two aspects of language, and plus that of context. So, I conclude that, unless for minor interests as, for example, publishing a book titled, for example, “How Poor, Uneducated People Pronounced The Preposition XXX (use anyone you like) When They Were Drunk in Pericles’ s Athens in Summer” for my Doctorate thesis, there is no point in delimitating such frontiers and defending them to death! Remember, in those times there were no sound recordings as we have today! Even before, I do not believe anyone can claim having done such an exhaustive study of a small topic of language. One thing I learned in my thirty years in the military about ceremonialism and being too fond on my points of view: That the solemn and the ridicule are just one little step far apart from each other.

  4. Classical and Koine Greek are one language and part of a diachronic continuum.

    [[off topic: I’m not so sure about the Hebrew system change mentioned above, since Hebrew was a diglossia with a written language that had not changed ‘massively’ (though that’s a subjective term) and had a spoken language with a distinctively different verb system. Greek influence? Yes, Hebrew became more sensitive to aspectual distinctions, and kept tense and aspect more distinct.]]

  5. Randall, I bow to your greater knowledge of Hebrew. I was of course referring to the commonly held understanding that biblical Hebrew was basically aspectual but Mishnaic Hebrew already tense-based, with much of the change already evident in the DSS at least according to some studies. This would surely be a massive change in a verbal system. But I accept that this picture is over-simplified, and that there may have been distinctions between the spoken and written languages to complicate matters.

    But, I wonder, what is your evidence for the verbal system of spoken Hebrew in the Second Temple period? I haven’t been following b-hebrew developments either recently. Is there something new which I have missed?

  6. Maybe I’m a little eager for attention this week, but I still appreciate the response.

    While reading yesterday, it hit me that I’ve seen a number of scholars talk about how much we need to study Koine in light of Koine rather than compare it to Classical Greek as was done in the past. But in reading Moulton’s grammar or Robertson’s grammar, they appear to be completely aware of not only Classical Greek, but also medieval and modern Greek as well.

    I’m encouraged that my thoughts on the subject coincide with the rest of you.

  7. I would expect that you would gain the same advantages in that type of comparison that you would gain by comparing modern English to Shakespearean.

  8. I’d say that when it comes to a second language, broader knowledge becomes even more important.

    By the way, I hope your Greek studies are coming along – even if slowly.

  9. Dear Mike,

    It is apparent that Classical and Koine Greek represent two different periods in the history of the Greek language. There are, of course, very many similarities, e.g. alphabet, prepositions, etc., but there was also some differences, e.g. some letters dropped out of use (digamma), increased use of the participial form, the increased use of the prepositions versus the simple case preposition, etc. And as Dr. Conrad as said, “The Koine is a language in flux.” But I would also add that by the time of Koine period, the influence of 3 centuries of Hellenization in Palestine could be seen. The meaning of certain words found in classical and in the papyri can help elucidate. The LXX was of tremendous influence in the Diaspora and the NT authors. Furthermore, as I and others have pointed out, the NT though it may be written in Greek, but had the thought patterns of the Hebrew, the Jew. It is the worldview of the Jew that is ever present.

    So, although learning Classical Greek can be of immense help in the fluency of the language, it can also be a detriment due to the factors listed above. Not one part of the NT was written in a vacuum. The historical, theological, ethical, cultural, language, etc. all had a part play.

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