[B-Greek] Mark's "grotesque" style? (was Re: re my wooden interlinear translations)

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at ioa.com
Sat Nov 5 06:32:58 EST 2005

On Nov 4, 2005, at 9:49 PM, Dan Gleason wrote:

> Dan Gleason wrote:
> I just want you all to know that is the way I read the
>> Greek text.  I read it in painfully literal way - and I do it on  
>> purpose -
>> for a purpose. ... I do it to emulate Marks style, which appears  
>> on the
>> surface, at times, to be grotesque.
> JW:
>> But the point is, you are not emulating Mark's style.  Mark didn't  
>> write
>> grotesque Greek, nor did what he write appear nonsensical to the  
>> Greek
>> reading, thinking, speaking people whom he addressed.  And you aren't
>> emulating Mark's style because Mark didn't write in English.  Mark's
>> Greek is perfectly fine.  Sure, it isn't Homer- but he didn't want  
>> to be
>> Homer.
> DG: Lets agree that we disagree.
> I know of a well know NT greek scholar that wrote Mark's style was  
> "at times
> - grotesque."
> And he did'nt mean it in a perjorative way.
> Those are not my words.
> And I won't argue with those words because he knows more about  
> Greek grammar
> than I ever will.

It is in fact myself who used the word "grotesque" in describing  
Marcan style:

"Its Greek style appears on the surface at times grotesque. Opinions  
may differ on this matter; there was a time when I was fond of saying  
that the author of this gospel wouldn't have passed a first-year  
Greek composition course. Some careful reflection following upon some  
comments by Edward Hobbs a few years ago brought me to the view I now  
hold on this matter: (i) I think it very likely that Mark's gospel is  
the earliest of the genre and that it depends heavily upon oral  
tradition; but (ii) I suspect that the "solecisms" in GMk derive  
fundamentally from those pericopes or oral traditions not created by  
the author but altered only enough to fit into his redactional  
framework, and I suspect also that most of the questionable Greek  
derives from inadequate conversion of Aramaic phrasing into Greek;  
(iii) In passages that seem most likely the author's own redactional  
compositions, the Greek is really quite good. Obviously it is a  
matter of judgment where the seams lie between traditional and  
redactional elements and/or compositions. At any rate, it seems to me  
that the author/redactor of GMk did nothing akin to the wholsesale  
stylistic recasting of phrasing of traditional elements seen in Luke  
and in Matthew with a view to making the narrative smoother and more  
readable (but that again is based upon an assumption of Marcan  
priority, which many find questionable)."

Perhaps "grotesque" was not the most appropriate adjective. What I  
had in mind in particular was phrasing such as Mk 2:21 OUDEIS  
GINETAI -- in particular the word-order of AIREI TO PLHRWMA AP' AUTOU  
TO KAINON TOU PALAIOU. I do think that's a bit
extraordinary. So, it seems to me, a bit earlier in the same chapter,  
MHDE TA PROS THN QURAN ... -- where the hWSTE sequence seems awkward.  
I convey that as "so that there was no longer any room, not even near  
the doorway." Here I'd call the usage of CWREIN impersonal and I'd  
understand TA PROS THN QURAN as an adverbial accusative qualifying  
MHKETI CWREIN (although some might want to understand this phrase as  
a nominative subject of CWREIN). In fact, however, I think that there  
are relatively few "solecisms" in the text of Mark's gospel  
(Revelation is replete with them).

I'll add that the gospel of Mark was the first Greek I ever read --  
as a college Freshman 52 years ago! I think that if one is going to  
read NT Koine, it's far better to start with John's gospel; after one  
gets past the prologue, at any rate, that text reads pretty smoothly  
straight through.

But as "grotesque" as I still think a few passages in Mark's gospel  
are in terms of phrasing and construction, I could never deem it  
appropriate to represent the text of Mark in an English that is a  
word-for-word recasting of the structure and word-order of the  
original and with every Greek word used represented consistently with  
the same English word or words, regardless of what the Greek word  
means in context. What that yields, in my judgment, is an analytic  
articulation of individual words in the sequence of the original  
language without any consideration of the morphological or syntactic  
linkage of that sequence in the original.

I am with Dan -- to a certain extent, at any rate -- in thinking that  
there is a good deal of cryptic, even "riddling" discourse in Mark's  
gospel, as ought to be expected in a writer who inserts something  
like hO ANAGINWSKWN NOEITW on more than one occasion and who talks  
about the parables as AINIGMATA intended to reach only those who've  
been granted understanding of the mysteries of God's realm. I think  
there's a fascinating ongoing theme of "bread" terminology in the  
middle chapters of the gospel. But this is a forum for discussion of  
the Greek text as a Greek text; it is NOT the forum for discussion of  
literary critical approaches to interpretation of the gospel. I just  
wanted to acknowledge that I agree with Dan that there are meanings  
in Marcan discourse that lie well beneath the surface narrative, but  
I disagree with the notion that those meanings can be captured by any  
English representation that discretely converts every Greek word into  
one and only one articulation wherever it appears.

At any rate, I suspect that we've set forth about all that needs to  
be said about Dan's style of Englishing Mark's gospel; he has said he  
will use conventional versions hereafter when questioning meanings of  
particular Greek words or phrases hereafter -- and in the last  
analysis, perhaps we would all do well to bear in mind that what we  
want most to do here is to understand the Greek text as a Greek text  
rather than discuss how best to put the Greek text into English  
(there are other forums better-suited to that sort of discussion). I  
would hope that most of us here would NOT suppose that the be-all and  
end-all of learning Koine Biblical Greek is getting a Greek text  
converted into English or some other target language, but rather it  
is UNDERSTANDING the Koine Biblical Greek text -- AS A GREEK TEXT.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
1989 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad2 at mac.com
WWW: http://www.ioa.com/~cwconrad/

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