Category Archives: Greek

Language and Society in the Greek and Roman Worlds

James Clackson, the classisist/historical linguist, recently published on book on sociolinguistics in Ancient Greek & Rome: Language and Society in the Greek and Roman Worlds. I’m a little surprised that I hadn’t seen is before. I try to stay up on these things.

Publishers blurb:

Texts written in Latin, Greek and other languages provide ancient historians with their primary evidence, but the role of language as a source for understanding the ancient world is often overlooked. Language played a key role in state-formation and the spread of Christianity, the construction of ethnicity, and negotiating positions of social status and group membership. Language could reinforce social norms and shed light on taboos. This book presents an accessible account of ways in which linguistic evidence can illuminate topics such as imperialism, ethnicity, social mobility, religion, gender and sexuality in the ancient world, without assuming the reader has any knowledge of Greek or Latin, or of linguistic jargon. It describes the rise of Greek and Latin at the expense of other languages spoken around the Mediterranean and details the social meanings of different styles, and the attitudes of ancient speakers towards linguistic differences.
Even better, Staffan Wahlgren just published a review of the volume (link) in Bryn Mawr Classical Review.

To sum up, this is a really good book. It is up to date, well written and an easy read, and it is well produced with only a very few misprints. The factual errors are neither many nor, on the whole, serious. Perhaps it is not unfair to suspect a certain Anglo-Saxon bias: the bibliography mainly lists works in the English language, and there is an very slight tendency to present multilingualism as abnormal. More important, however, is that this is a work with a clear aim and a lot of coherence; it will serve its purpose as an excellent introduction to a vast subject. Comparing it with the many handbooks that are flooding the market, it seems fortunate that it was written by one person only.

I’ll be giving it a look when I get a chance. Introductory texts on topics like this are greatly needed, for classicists, historians, biblical scholars, and linguists alike.

Διακρίνεσθαι and a non-existant “semantic shift”

I read an excellent article in Novum Testamentum yesterday that argues that the novel sense of διακρίνομαι ‘to hesitate,’ or as BDAG puts it: “to be uncertain, be at odds w. oneself, doubt, waver”, doesn’t actually exist. The author, Peter Spitaler, puts forward the argument that such a meaning is wholly unknown to Greek patristic interpreters of the text and that there is no solid evidence of this meaning outside of the New Testament. Rather, Spitaler argues, the meaning to “to hesitate/doubt/waver” came via Latin translation from Greek, which then influence. The article is particularly noteworthy in its analaysis of the distinction between the semantics of the active διακρίνω and the middle διακρίνομαι.

It’s an excellent article–very much in the spirit of John Lee’s A History of New Testament Lexicography and worth the time to read–and you can because JSTOR let’s you read articles online for free.

Spitaler, Peter. “Διακρίνεσθαι in Mt. 21:21, Mk. 11:23, Acts 10:20, Rom. 4:20, 14:23, Jas. 1:6, and Jude 22-the “semantic Shift” That Went Unnoticed by Patristic Authors”. Novum Testamentum 49.1 (2007): 1–39.


This article investigates how patristic and medieval writers interpret New Testament passages with the middle/passive διακρίνω. Contemporary NT scholars posit a difference between NT and classical/Hellenistic Greek meanings and usually justify their choice by means of a semantic shift. In the texts analyzed for this article, there is little evidence that Greek patristic and medieval authors acknowledge a meaning of διακρίνομαι that deviates from the Koine meaning. If, indeed, a semantic shift took place, they show no awareness of that movement. The transformation of meaning first occurs in translations from Greek to Latin.

New Testament Lexicography

contentSo apparently this book will eventually come into being and in English, at that!

Update: The original Spanish articles are here: Diccionario Griego-Español del Nuevo Testamento (DGENT). Thank you, Masora digital!

New Testament Lexicography: Method and Methodoloy of the Greek-Spanish New Testament Dictionary

The release isn’t for another year and that could certainly be pushed back. Amazon has a listing for it, but you can’t even add it to a wishlist for later yet. I’ll need to find some other way to not forget about it over the course of the next 12-24 months.

I’m yet to have even seen any of the fascicles of the dictionary in any case. Still, in a very real sense I’m more interested in reading about their methodology than anything else. The third paragraph from the publisher’s blurb is a fairly big claim to make:

This text brings together in one volume two previous books that laid the groundwork for the construction of the entries in Diccionario Griego-Español del Nuevo Testamento (Greek-Spanish Dictionary of the New Testament), namely Método de Análisis semántico aplicado al griego del Nuevo Testamento (Method of Semantic Analysis applied to the Greek of the New Testament) and Metodología del Diccionario Griego Español del Nuevo Testamento (Methodology of the Greek Spanish Dictionary of the New Testament), by Juan Mateos and Jesús Peláez.

In the introduction and first part of the text, the concepts of dictionary and meaning are defined and a critical analysis of the dictionaries of F. Zorell, W. Bauer (Bauer-Aland) and Louw-Nida is conducted. Their methodologies are examined with the purpose of then presenting a method of semantic analysis and the steps for establishing the semantic formula of the various classes of lexemes, which functions as the basis for determining lexical and contextual meaning.
In the second part the necessary steps for composing the dictionary’s entries are proposed. The text concludes with an analysis of related lexemes in order to demonstrate the accuracy of the suggested method.

For the first time, a carefully developed method of semantic analysis and the corresponding methodology are presented before the construction of the dictionary’s entries.


Studies in New Testament Lexicography

I recently encountered this monograph on Amazon. I’m a little surprised that I had never seen it before, especially considering it was published in 2011. I’m curious as to whether anyone here has taken a look at it. I’ll be hunting for a copy to borrow and examine. I like the idea expressed by the subtitle, however. It looks good.

Studies in New Testament Lexicography: Advancing toward a Full Diachronic Approach with the Greek Language

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, scholars begin to publish works recognizing and demonstrating the early beginnings of Modern Greek, finding features in Greek writings of the first century and earlier that continue to exist in the modern language. Despite such research, New Testament lexicographers fail to systematically consult this later stage of the language when analyzing word meanings. After establishing an important unity of the New Testament with Modern Greek and a deficiency in New Testament lexicons in exploiting this unity, David S. Hasselbrook makes use of insights gained from the modern phase of the language to advance the understanding of general word senses, the construction of definitions, and the presentation of lexical entries.

A 2nd edition to Porter & Aspect series?

There have been a number of occasions when people have asked if I could do this–write or revise the four part series (HERE) on Stanley Porter’s published dissertation, Verbal Aspect and the Greek of the New Testament that I posted back in 2008. Some of my views since 2008 have changed. Eight years on, I somehow have both a more critical and also more sympathetic view of what Dr. Porter was seeking to accomplish with that book. Some of that is a result of dialogue with people like the late Rod Decker or friends that I have at McMaster Divinity School. Additionally, my reasoning behind my disagreement with some of his conclusions have evolved and developed with my ever growing interaction with the language data itself–I have a better grasp of the nature of the verbal system to day than I imagine I did in 2009, not to mention the historical and theoretical issues.

Were I to update (or replace?) the series, the tone would need to strive for respectfulness, of course. This is scholarship, not cage match*.

Anyway, it’s something I’m thoughtfully considering. We’ll see. It might also be too big of a task to accomplish efficiently. I’m not sure. At the verb least, I’ll be taking a look at the old.

*Incidentally, I think the appeal of creating “smack downs” and “cage matches” for particular debated issues at academic conference theme sessions is one of the most unhealthy aspects of biblical studies language scholarship.

Iterative usage of aspect in the imperative mood

When we look at aspectual choice in the indicative mood, we find that there are a number of usage-based factors that influence the speaker/writers decision to prefer the imperfective aspect or the perfective aspect. In narrative, the major driver of aspect choice is, of course, grounding (cf. Hopper 1981), but in non-narrative, that becomes less a factor (Runge 2015, forthcoming). Other facet of the aspects the come to the forefront for linguistic choice, such as contextual realizations of internal temporal structure for the imperfective aspect: progressivity, habituality, iterativity, etc. Each of these can come into play. In the previous post on this topic (Aspect, imperatives, and event conceptualization), we saw instances where the choice of a perspectival progressive ‘in the midst of it’ viewpoint was the motivator for aspect choice. I framed that discussion in terms of event conceptualization. And the same is true for other “usages” of the imperfective aspect. This week, ἀσπάζομαι provides an example of iterativity affecting aspect choice. This is a verb that, in the imperative, the perfective aspect dominates. In the NT alone, there are 26 instances of the perfective imperative. Outside the New Testament, Josephus, Philo, and the OT Pseudepigrapha provide an additional four instances. These contrast with a single instance of the imperfective imperative in the New Testament and contemporary texts:

Εἰρήνη σοι. ἀσπάζονταί σε οἱ φίλοι. ἀσπάζου τοὺς φίλους κατʼ ὄνομα (3 John 15).

Of course, there are a few more instances of this imperative beyond. Plato, in his epistles, provides this one for example:

καὶ τοὺς συσφαιριστὰς ἀσπάζου ὑπὲρ ἐμοῦ (Plat. Letters 13.363d)

But the perfective imperative is, by a substantial margin, the preferred grammatical form. So what motivates the imperfective ἀσπάζου as an option? The 3 John example is probably the clearest in this regard. Clauses like this are sort of like the imperfective imperative equivalent of the iterativity in the indicative. John wants his audience to Greek the friends by name, i.e. individually. He’s commanding a repetition/iteration of greetings. Now, could John have used the perfective imperative here? Yes. He could have made that choice since the perfective imperative communicates no specific internal temporal structure at all, whether iterative or not. The choice of the imperfective, then, is a more explicit option that likely felt natural to the context, even if it wasn’t grammatically necessary. This is a case where the difference in form does not inherently communicate a difference in meaning, but rather just more meaning than otherwise would have been communicated.

When we look at the Plato example, the object of the imperative (i.e. the recipient of the greeting) there is also grammatically plural. I’m inclined to say that we can presume a similar interpretation, albeit less explicitly expressed—there’s no κατʼ ὄνομα here.

The Pericope of the Adulteress in Contemporary Research

A good friend of mine, Jacob Cerone, recently edited with David Alan Black and wrote the introduction to a new Library of New Testament Studies monograph:

The Pericope of the Adulteress in Contemporary Research.

Arguably, the book is a bit beyond the purview of this website’s purpose, but I still thought it was worth a mention.

From the publisher:

The contributors to this volume (J.D. Punch, Jennifer Knust, Tommy Wasserman, Chris Keith, Maurice Robinson, and Larry Hurtado) re-examine the Pericope Adulterae (John 7.53-8.11) asking afresh the question of the paragraph’s authenticity. Each contributor not only presents the reader with arguments for or against the pericope’s authenticity but also with viable theories on how and why the earliest extant manuscripts omit the passage.

Readers are encouraged to evaluate manuscript witnesses, scribal tendencies, patristic witnesses, and internal evidence to assess the plausibility of each contributor’s proposal. Readers are presented with cutting-edge research on the pericope from both scholarly camps: those who argue for its originality, and those who regard it as a later scribal interpolation. In so doing, the volume brings readers face-to-face with the most recent evidence and arguments (several of which are made here for the first time, with new evidence is brought to the table), allowing readers to engage in the controversy and weigh the evidence for themselves.


Update to my Tense & Aspect page

I often find myself saying the same things over and over–thankfully, its usually not to the same person, but because there are new people who have encountered similar confusions in the secondary literature on tense and aspect in Ancient Greek. Well, that and the fact that I have been writing about tense and aspect on this blog for nearly a decade now.  Time flies when you’re having fun!

So today, I encountered a discussion and I knew that I had written something about it at some point. To my surprise, the post wasn’t listed on the page, so I ended up having to search for it. And much to my chagrin, I found a couple dozen blog posts about tense and aspect in Greek that would be worth making more accessible. So to that end, I’m taking it upon myself to get things more organized around here. Not only have I started putting more links on the Tense & Aspect resource page, but I’m also working to revise the titles of those posts so that the purpose and content of the posts are more transparent to anyone who is looking for something in particular.

Long term, I hope to have a better set of groupings, too. For example, I could easily have a substantial section of posts entirely dedicated to how old grammars talk about aspect and Aktionsart. And very soon, I’ll have plenty of content for a section on aspect and imperatives. Anyway, give it a look. Maybe you’ll find something you hadn’t read before or something that you have read, but particularly liked. So, okay, the second one will probably just be me.

You can either hover your mouse over the heading “Studies in Greek Linguistics” and select it from the drop down menu at the top right or simply click below:

Tense & Aspect Resources

I’m not done updating the page. There’s much more work to do. I’ve written a lot about this topic and even this is just the tip of the iceberg.