Grammatical categories and Luke 6:12b

Kenneth Litwak javajedi2 at yahoo.com
Thu Jul 26 02:10:39 EDT 2001


Alan Thomas wrote in part:
t seems that some are looking for short-cuts. 
Those
who look for laundry lists are approaching Greek 
the
wrong way, IMO. We all fall into that mode I 
suspect.
We would rather read a grammar or ask a scholar 
than
see it for ourselves. In the end, there really is 
no
royal road to learning Greek.

The only way to learn which Gen. best fits a 
context
is to have read hundreds/thousands of other Greek
contexts. 

   I want to make two comments on this.  First, I
asked about a specific instance of a noun, in the
dative (it's not a verbal noun -- it's a noun, period)
followed by a genitive with only the article, no
preposition, and nothing in the context which
necessitates a particular understanding of the
semantic intent of the phrase.  I was basically told
that grammatical categories are modern myths, which
would mean, Alan, that there are no such things as
"which Gen."  That is, a genitive is a genitive is a
genitive.   You can't have your cake and eat it too. 
Either categories are meaningful, true representations
of what is happening in the language (true according
the philosophical view of truth as correspondence to
reality), or they are simply the laundry lists of
grammars.  So, eveyrone who seems to not like laundry
lists, which is it?  

  Second, the reason I posted the question was really
because I have read Greek, a fair amount of Greek (not
as much as, say, Carl, but a fair amount
nevertheless), and the implication that merely reading
Greek will help you understand what you are reading
better syntactically or semantically is, I would
maintain, inaccurate at best.  Let me start with an
analogy and then return to Greek.  I teach Java
programming for a living.  If I handed the Solaris
operating system instructors at my training center who
do not know anything about programming 1000 pages of
code, and forced them to read through every last line,
they might be able to tell me that they see features
which occur over and over, like class, interface,
float, String, EntityBean, etc., but I'm willing to
bet a year's salary that none of them, simply by
reading code, could explain to me how to compile a
Java class, what compilation means, or even, past a
few very obvious things, like the meaning of a + b,
what any of what they have labored through means. This
is true, even though, there are absolutely no
ambiguities in the language.  I can tell you exactly
what any line in that code means syntactically (++ is
the increment operator) and semantically (the
increment operator adds one to the variable it is
connected to, and when that happens depends upon
whether it is pre-fix or post-fix). Yet, we are
talking about a computer language, whose structure is
defined precisely in a lengthy language specification,
and I can find a definition for the meaning of
everything in every line of those 1000 pages.  

   Now, if I arm those individuals with documentation
which explains all the phenomena they see in that
code,  some may well be able to tell me what that code
is doing in very specific terms, but only because they
have precise, detailed guidance from documentation
that specifies what each construct must mean.  

   If the mere reading of computer code (and I've read
a lot in seventeen years in IS) is not sufficient to
understand the constructs of the language, why would
nayone think that merely reading Greek without
guidance as to what the constructs mean syntactically
and semantically would ever yield an understanding of
the relation of a noun and a genitive modifier?  If
you wish, I'll abandon the laundry lists.  That leaves
me to follow Iser.  The meaning of the phrase in Luke
6:12b is completely determined by the reader filling
in the "gaps" in the sentence with whatever I wish. 
After all, the categories were just made up for modern
translators, according to Carl, and just laundry lists
for those who are lazy according to others. So it's
just a noun and a genitive and, like Humpty Dumpty,
genitives mean what I want them to mean. 

   Now, if you don't like that position, then provide
a meaningful, mediating view that enables someone who
has read a fair amount of different kinds of Greek to
determine not the category, which is illusory I'm
told, but the function of the genitive modifier. 
That's all I'm asking for.  Since the syntax isn't
determinative (and I never, ever urged otherwise), how
can one determine the semantic significance besides
trusting one's gut?  I am not being facetious.  I've
seen lots of posts about the evilness/uselessness of
grammatical categories.  So I "call" as I gather they
say in poker (never played it so I don't know).   

Ken Litwak  

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