[B-Greek] Re: Greek & Hebrew brush-up" tools

Donny Cameron bfp at teleport.com
Wed Feb 25 04:34:32 EST 2004


Quoted section from Steve Westfall:
"I may provoke a few negative comments by saying this, but I also think it's
important not to get bogged down and spend most of your time looking up
vocabulary in the lexicon.  If you have to, it would be better at first to
"cheat" by glancing from time to time at a translation.  The point of the
exercise initially is actually to read some sentences in Greek or Hebrew,
not do a word study.  Over time this crutch will become less necessary, and
you can rely on the lexicon without it consuming all your time."


I've been a silent reader of B-Greek for years.  But as a survivor of 
a "Baby Greek" class, and a seminary Greek/Hebrew cycle, I just have 
to offer up some thought-bombs on this.

1.
Even better than "cheating via translation" is using the tried-n-true 
"Reader's Lexicons" (such as Kubo's for Greek, and for Hebrew: 
Owens, or Armstrong/Busby/Carr, etc.).  If its cheating, at least its 
cheating w/ a tool deliberately styled to help just such needs. 
Yeah, don't get bogged down just looking things up, ... but keep up 
your own abilities in the languages.  And sight-reading is very good 
practice.


2.
I'm also somewhat surprised at the other replies to Steve's post, 
that urged an even more subtle form of "cheating"--a too-casual 
resort to grammar software.

Yes, OK, they are very useful, valuable tools to have--and as soon as 
I get a bigger allowance I'm gonna get some myself.

BUT the easy resort to such pre-canned means (as a replacement for 
keeping up some personal skill) is way too seductive a crutch to get 
used to.  I fear it could become a habit-forming road to lazy 
scholarship.

	A.  If you've already gone-the-distance to learn the 
languages well enough to use such tools ("walking the high road" as 
the late Dr. Ed Goodrick would call it), then you have learned 
something supremely valuable and worth preserving--the ability to 
read/research the two greatest books of all.  Why not validate all 
that time and effort it took, to keep your own competency active and 
fresh w/ a little dedicated MANUAL fingerwork and brainwork as well?

	B.  In a more mundane point, scholarship that settles into 
becoming that dependent on software will be dead in the water 
whenever your computer goes down, AND whenever you can't access that 
software OR your computer.

	C.  Even with the best programmer intentions, and including 
the most lavish info, no software can bring out every detail, and may 
in fact contain innocent errors.  Too-trusting a use of it may take 
in those errors along w/ the gold.  If you don't study to keep up 
some ability, you may not have the discernment to catch this; or to 
scope-out any deliberate distortions.

	D.  And there are other matters (such as author's style, 
idiom, etc.) that you'll still need simple "head knowledge" to sort 
out and delineate.  As Erasmus said in defending his edition of 
Valla, "I had rather see with my own eyes, than with those of others."

	E.  This point may not pertain to all on this list or to all 
Greek/Hebrew scholars--but I suggest it does apply to any scholar 
with teaching responsibilities in church/synagogue, etc.  Those 
depending on your teaching need to have the confidence that you 
know/can defend what you are talking about, without having to rely 
too much on software.  They might conclude "Hey, if software's all it 
takes, anybody could do THAT!"  (They'd be wrong, but they might 
think it anyway.)

	F.  And on another Erasmian note, how would it look to the 
enemies of those two books--many of whom know the languages as well 
or better than we do--if you can't show even an average manual 
compentency as a teacher/pastor/rabbi, etc. (who should be expected 
to know).  And what effect would such a less-than-competent display 
have on a watching congregation if you should ever be called on to 
answer some smirking linguistic Goliath?  Having to power-up software 
doesn't have the same "zing" in a pinch, as being able to lay your 
hands on a few well-chosen "grammatical stones" (AND throw them with 
effect).

	G.  (Maybe this is overly dramatic, but...)  All through the 
20th century schools cut back on classical subjects and departments 
in the drive for content "utility" and "relevance".  Dead language 
studies were easy to cut out since they weren't seen as valuable 
attainment in themselves.  "Hey, we have all those big classical 
tools on the shelves if we need to look something up, right?"  As 
that idea caught on, even Bible schools and seminaries were pressured 
to scale back the credit hours occupied by these courses in favor of 
more "practical" efforts. But if even we friends of classics don't 
keep up an active body of "those who know", then were the 
Utilitarians right?  And how long before any genuine, direct 
knowledge of our sacred books disappears completely from among us? 
And even the Bible software programmers will have to be  competent 
scholars--or be able to find them--just to troubleshoot/update their 
content, let alone expand it.

If you are reading these lists, you are already dedicated to the idea 
of digging deep to find that "untranslatable truth".  Why is it not 
worth a bit of extra mental exercise to keep up your hard won 
grammatical/syntactical/exegetical attainments?  You could then use 
software w/o growing dependent on it.  The extra reward of personal 
satisfaction in simply "knowing for yourself" should be some 
incentive.  Or is that too much like ol' steel-drivin' John Henry 
killing himself for nothing trying to out-do the new technology?

Yes, use the electronic tools as you need, but don't fool yourself 
into thinking its ease-of-use isn't seductive; maybe eventually 
destructive to your hard-won personal competence in the languages. 
(Yes, that could be true of a lazy dependence on Kubo, also).   I 
think serious scholars should NOT be so dependent on tools that they 
lose their own basic attainments in the languages.  I could be wrong, 
but isn't our credibility as scholars even a little at stake in this?


--Donny Cameron, Portland, OR


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