Hardening of the Categories
clayton stirling bartholomew
c.s.bartholomew at worldnet.att.net
Sat Jun 6 11:08:59 EDT 1998
James Kugel* argues that Robert Lowth bound and gagged the analysis of Hebrew
Poetry by establishing categories of parallelism that would remain dogma for
over 200 years. My interest here is not Hebrew Parallelism, but the role of
categories in the analysis of K. Greek syntax.
When I read a serious NT Greek grammar published after 1990 which is still
using the taxonomy for the cases and the verb tenses which was in vogue over a
hundred years ago, I see a close parallel to what Kugel is complaining about.
What we are suffering from is hardening of the categories.
I am not suggesting that we create a new system of categories. Far from it. I
am suggesting that we throw out the system of categories altogether.
The categories which have been used for so long have become a major impediment
to analysis. There is always the temptation to look at a genitive substantive
as something that needs to be stuffed into one of the time honored pigeon
holes. This danger here is more acute for students than for competent
grammarians. The competent grammarians in the last century have really
operated as if the system of categories were just a convenient working
hypothesis, and for that reason they were not terribly hindered in their
research by this system of categories.
But for the typical seminary student the categories become Torah. The seminary
student will readily fall into the trap of accepting the taxonomy as something
real, some actual feature of the K. Greek language system. For this reason
the categories are dangerous. They promote habits of thought and analysis
that, being established early, will resist change and will be passed on to the
next generation of students.
The alternative to this system of categories is a rigorous linguistic
description the meaning of each case, verb tense, etc. within the K. Greek
language system. Take the genitive** case as an example. There needs to be a
separation between the meaning of the genitive case and the multitude of
functions a genitive substantive may have in context. Confusion between these
distinct issues is like confusing symbol, sense and referent in lexical
semantics. We can start by proposing a single-invariant grammatical meaning
of the genitive case form (contra my previous arguments) while recognizing
that this meaning is not equivalent to the genitive substantive's function in
a particular context. This kind of analysis needs to be applied to all the
other morphologically identifiable syntactical classes within the K. Greek
If my thinking on this subject seems to be drifting it is because I am still
learning, and revamping my language model.
Clayton Stirling Bartholomew
Three Tree Point
P.O. Box 255 Seahurst WA 98062
*Kugel, James L. The idea of biblical poetry: parallelism and its history. New
Haven: Yale University Press. 1981, pages 12-15.
**Silva, Moises, Explorations in Exegetical Method: Galatians as a Test Case,
Baker, 1996, pages 64ff.
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