Category Archives: Greek

An Introduction to the Composition and Analysis of Greek Prose

It seems that Eleanor Dickey (the author of the superb volume, Ancient Greek scholarship: A Guide to finding, reading, and understanding scholia, commentaries, lexica, and grammatical treatises, from their beginnings to the Byzantine Period) has written a book on Ancient Greek prose composition. She’s a classicist whose knowledge and experience would be most certainly make me interested in her perspective on the topic, not merely for writing prose, but for her understanding of Ancient Greek sentence structure.

Ancient Greek Prose Composition by Eleanor Dickey

  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (April 18, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521184258
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521184250

Publisher’s blurb:

Why learn to write in a dead language? Because a really good understanding of a language can only be attained by using it actively. Unlike earlier textbooks aimed at schoolboys, this work addresses modern adults who want to understand concepts fully as they learn. Drawing on recent scholarship where appropriate and assuming no prior background except some reading knowledge of Greek, the course combines a structured review of paradigms and vocabulary with clear and comprehensive explanations of the rules of Greek syntax. Large numbers of exercises are provided, both with and without key: a complete set of cumulative exercises and another set of non-cumulative exercises for those who prefer to dip into specific sections. The exercises include, as well as English sentences and paragraphs for translation, Greek sentences and passages for translation, analysis, and manipulation. A full English-Greek vocabulary and list of principal parts are included.

Of course, until the volume is published, I won’t be able to speak decisively about its value, but I have greatly benefited from the author’s previous work and look forward to perusing this new one.

Muraoka’s Morphosyntax and Syntax of the Septuagint

There’s a new grammar coming to town and it looks like it’s going to be a big one!

A Morphosyntax and Syntax of Septuaguint Greek by Takamitsu Muraoka (Amazon)

Here’s the blurb from the publisher (Peeters-Leuven):

This is the first ever comprehensive analysis of the morphosyntax and syntax of Septuagint Greek. The work is based on the most up-to-date editions of the Septuagint. The so-called Antiochene version of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles as well as Judges has been studied. Though this is a synchronic grammar, and though not systematic, comparison with Classical Greek, the Greek of contemporary literature of the Hellenistic-Roman period, papyri and epigraphical data, and New Testament Greek has often been undertaken. Even when analysing translated documents of the Septuagint, the perspective is basically that of its readers. However, attempts were made to determine in what ways and to what extent the structure of the Semitic source languages may have influenced the selection of this or that particular construction by translators. At many places it is demonstrated and illustrated how an analysis of the morphosyntax and syntax can illuminate our general interpretation of the Septuagint text.

There were proofs at SBL this year. Sadly, I didn’t attend, otherwise I would have done some perusing and given some comment on it. I haven’t reviewed anything for a while, but this, well, this I would certainly consider.

Deixis, Reference, & Left Dislocation in 4 Baruch 8.3

I have been silent for a while.

That’s bad because I have a debt of several posts and reviews from the Cambridge Verb Conference, but getting my paper post-conference finished has taken up much of my time (and moving across the country has taken up the rest of my time).

Still, I thought I should contribute something from my current editing efforts on my paper on prohibitions. I encountered this bit of interesting Greek in 4 Baruch 8.2-3:

καὶ ἐρεῖς τῷ λαῷ· Ὁ θέλων τὸν κύριον καταλειψάτω τὰ ἔργα τῆς Βαβυλῶνος. 3 καὶ τοὺς ἄρρενας τοὺς λαβόντας ἐξ αὐτῶν γυναῖκας, καὶ τὰς γυναῖκας τὰς λαβούσας ἐξ αὐτῶν ἄνδρας, διαπεράσωσιν οἱ ἀκούοντές σου, καὶ ἆρον αὐτοὺς εἰς Ἰερουσαλήμ· τοὺς δὲ μὴ ἀκούοντάς σου, μὴ εἰσαγάγῃς αὐτοὺς ἐκεῖ.
and you will say to the people, ‘Let him who desires the LORD leave the works of Babylon behind.’ 3 And (of) the men who took wives from them, and the women who took husbands from them, let those who hear you cross over, and take them up to Jerusalem; but (as for) those who do not hear you, you must not lead them there (translation from Charlesworth).

Note what we have here. It’s striking, first of all, that the translator here chose a translation more suitable to a third person imperative than a third person subjunctive for διαπεράσωσιν οἱ ἀκούοντές σου. Such a translation implies  more volitionality on the part of the audience (the returning exiles), but the Greek actually gives agency to the spouses–οἱ ἀκούοντές σου.

Also then notice the person and semantic role shift on the part of the speaker. The left dislocation introduces a change in topic from those who heard (I would prefer the translation ‘obey’ personally) to those who did not hear. The accusative case of the left dislocation cross-references it with an argument in the clause itself: αὐτοὺς. But the actor and subject of the second subjunctive is now explicitly the returning Jews. The spouses are relegated to undergoer status in the clause.

In terms of negation scope, this clause is rather interesting. Usually, there’s a fairly strong correlation between (1) negation scope and (2) focal information. But in this case, the scope of the negation is over the pronoun αὐτοὺς, which cannot be treated as focal because of its status as a resumptive pronoun for the left-dislocation. Thus this clause functions as linguistic evidence that negation scope and information structure and distinct grammatical phenomenon and cannot be conflated or assumed to be identical.

Finding clauses like this is the means by which we are able to provide an empirical basis for our grammatical claims for ancient languages without (consistent) access to native speakers.

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.