Apologia pro sua docendi ratione

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Thu May 30 09:16:13 EDT 2002

Warning: I fear this may seem long and rambling, and although some of it
involves my reaction and response to Ward's rather full accounting of his
"synchronic" method of presentation of Greek verb morphology, it is more an
endeavor to explain somewhat more fully my own approach to a "diachronic"
presentation of Greek verb morphology. I fear it is too long and to many it
will certainly be boring. Unless you're really interested in this stuff,
quick deletion before reading any further might be your best bet.

At 10:50 AM +1000 5/29/02, B. Ward Powers wrote:
>                                       ...                I recognize, of
>course, that koine Greek is indeed in a state of flux, and as we study it
>we are constantly reminded of this. So that the Greek New Testament is a
>photograph, as it were, of a point in time of an ongoing flow of
>(linguistic) events. Carl is interested in that entire flow. Fair enough. I
>am interested in that photograph itself, to be able to understand it and
>explain it to others.

The metaphor here is indicative of part of the problem, I think. It's like
the older notion that the aorist indicative offers a "snapshot" view of the
action. While that's not so much wrong, it can be misleading and misses
much of the "perfective" element of the aorist. So with the notion of the
GNT as a "photograph," a notion that I think much too misleading to be left
unchallenged. For not only is the GNT a collection of documents, the
composition of which extends over the better part of or beyond a whole
century, but even parts of it which we may suppose to have been composed
within a decade or two of each other represent very different levels of
style, influence of Hebrew and Aramaic idiom as well as LXX phraseology,
and deliberate employment of rhetorical devices. The speech and writing
represented in the NT is anything BUT homogenous enough to be described in
the metaphor of a photograph. It's more like a documentary film offering a
collage of discussions of common topics from a broad variety of rural and
urban, uneducated and educated, lowly and relatively aristocratic persons.
Or, to put it another way, describing the Greek language of the New
Testament is perhaps like mapping the Mississippi River over the course of
a century or more: we know whence it issues forth, we know that it rushes
through Minneapolis and St. Paul, past Des Moines and St. Louis and Memphis
and Natchez and New Orleans, we know where it enters the Gulf of
Mexico--but the line of its banks shifts, islands sink and others are
formed: it rolls on and on and while remaining the same, is changing all
the time. So is the Greek language used by the speakers and writers
represented in the New Testament.

[omitted material]

>I reckon Greek must be one of the most regular and intelligible languages
>on the face of the earth - and I want to show that to people. It will help
>them learn it if they can see it. I am concerned with explaining what is
>there now (i.e., in the Greek NT). I wouldn't call that "exaggeration".

And I say that "what is there now" in terms of the Greek of the NT is as
varied and complex in its idiom and usage as raw milk is different from
homogenized milk. While I assume that most speakers and writers of the NT
documents readily understood what each other said and wrote, I think they
could readily grasp that the Greek of Mark's gospel is something very
different from the Greek of Luke's gospel and that there's a world of
difference between John's Gospel and the Letter to the Hebrews in terms of

[omitted material]

>>These irregularities can be explained only from a DIACHRONIC perspective.
>>In the period during which the GNT was being written the verb AFIHMI was
>>in the process of assimilation from the -MI conjugation to the -W conjugation
>So, we explain the First Conjugation (using LUW) and the Third Conjugation
>(using hISTHMI), getting students to learn these patterns, and then show
>them how various verbs are in the process of changing from one pattern to
>the other. No great shakes to do this. Easily understood by everybody. And
>(in my judgement), to a large extent best done at the point where you
>encounter these change-overs taking place while working with the text. If
>students are familiar with the two patterns, understanding this is no great
>hassle for them. Make that THREE patterns - there is also the Second
>Conjugation (EBALON), numbers of verbs of which can also be detected making
>changes in the direction of the First Conjugation.

I personally question the utility of categorizing a "First," "Second," and
"Third" Conjugation for Greek; I think it is quite enough to be aware of
the very important differences between "Omega verbs" and "MI-verbs"--and
for my part I think this is easier to keep straight if one has a clear
accounting of the function of the thematic vowel (O/E) as a link between a
verb stem and any infixes and personal endings.

[omitted material]

>>Or there's the curious fact that the verb PARADIDWMI appears 7x in the 3d
>>pl. aorist active indicative in the GNT: 6x in the textbook form to be
>>expected from a presentation of Ward's "third-conjugation" verbs:
>>PAREDWKAN, but 1x only in the form standard in older Attic, PAREDOSAN.
>>It's hardly surprising that this is in the Lucan prologue (Lk 1:2) where the
>>author is deliberately imitating the style of classical Greek
>All part of the above-mentioned changing-over.

Not quite that simple: if one has been taught that the aorist stem of this
verb is PARADWKA, how do we get to PARADO-? I would say rather that the
aorist stem is PARADW/O (the vowel of the root DW/O alternating between
omega and omicron in different parts of the aorist morphoparadigm of this

[omitted material]
[CWC previous message]
>>Another point at which I have found myself at odds with Ward's explanation
>>of the verbal system has to do with his analysis of "stems" and "aspect
>>morphs" as related to personal (pronominal) endings.
>>At 8:04 PM +1000 5/26/02, B. Ward Powers wrote:
>> >3. The term "stem" refers to the whole of a word except the bit that
>> >changes in a particular paradigm, which is the "ending". The "stem"
>> can >be described by what it means. Thus in EKLUQHSONTAI (Mark
>> 8:3), >EKLUQHSO- is the future passive stem, and -NTAI is the ending
>> (third >person plural).

>Carl, you have rarely misunderstood me, but this time you have got me
>wrong. Pull down your copy of "Learn To Read the Greek New Testament" from
>your shelves, and take another look at the explanatory chart on page 191.

I have done so. I did in fact buy a copy of Ward's textbook from him
several years ago and looked carefully through it then with some dismay. As
I have readily admitted publicly in this forum, I don't doubt that this
textbook and this system can work with a class of beginning Greek students.
But I know that I couldn't use it unless I had learned Greek in that
fashion in the first place. It purports to be based upon modern principles
of descriptive linguistics--nor do I doubt that--, but although I have
certainly learned some useful things from some who espouse it (my hat
is--figuratively, since I don't wear one--off to several colleagues of
b-greek), my experience is that "descriptive linguistics" means somewhat
different things to different persons. At any rate, while the method and
arrangement of "Learn to Read the Greek New Testament" are clear and
consistent, the system and terminology adopted seem to me very
idiosyncratic. I guess what disturbs me most about it is that there are too
many points where it uses a descriptive terminology and accounting that are
at odds with the terminology and accounting more or less standard in other
textbooks for beginning Koine Greek.

At any rate, I did pull "Learn to Read New Testament Greek" off my shelf
and found the table to which Ward refers on page 191. I am sure that it is
meant to be illuminating: an array of pictures in what looks like the
instrument panel of an airplane or fancy sports car cockpit: dials with
3-position switches, dials with 20-position switches, on-off buttons, a
digital indicator for GNT verb roots, etc. It is very clever, and it may be
a fine way of illustrating for some beginning students the full range of
elements entering into the construction of any or every Greek verb in any
or every morphoparadigm. This may make it appearling to some or many
B-Greekers, but it is not to my taste and seems, frankly, "gimmicky," and
certainly idiosyncratic.

For my part, I have taught beginning Biblical Greek only once in a formal
classroom, just a few times in tutorials with individual students, and
never once with a textbook that I really was comfortable with (I've used
Machen, Mounce, and A.K.M. Adam). My own notion of a really outstanding
textbook for Biblical Greek is one that I still consult not infrequently:
Robert Funk's _A Beginning-Intermediate Grammar of Hellenistic Greek_ (3
paperback vols., Second corr. edition, pubished by Scholars Press, c 1973)
but it went out of print before I could ever use it. I could wish (as might
some others also wish) that Funk had devoted and would devote at least some
of the time and effort given over to the Jesus Seminar to revision and
reprinting of this textbook--but at least he and Westar Institute are chief
supporters of the project headed up by Darryl Schmidt to prepare a
Hellenistic Grammar Reference work to replace BDF, Funk's much earlier
translation-edition of the older standard German Blass-Debrunner.

My own teaching of Beginning Greek in the classroom has been essentially
devoted to Classical Greek. I've taught using several different textbooks,
including Chase & Phillips, two different editions of Ruck, a textbook
written by my one-time colleague David Belmont, and lastly, for most of the
last several years of my teaching, the JACT books, "Reading Greek." I've
added enough classroom supplementary handouts for "Reading Greek" that I
hope I may be able to get them in shape for publication as a supplementary
reference for use with any Beginning Greek class.

My own practice in teaching Greek is to focus upon those elements that
remain constant in ancient Greek from Homer through the NT and Hellenistic
era on ways in which original proto-Greek constituents are altered
phonologically and idiomatically in the course of time and transmission
over the course of Greek cultural history. That is to say, I've taught
Classical 5th- and 4th-century Attic with a view to preparing students to
go on to read more Attic poetry or prose: Sophocles or Plato or Euripides,
or to go on to reading Homer or the archaic lyric poets who wrote in Ionic
or Aeolic dialect, or to go on to reading Hellenistic Greek including the
LXX or GNT. At Washington U. we discouraged students from doing any NT
Greek until they had completed at least one year of Attic, and I continue
to think that's a good thing to do even if a student is likely to make
Biblical Greek the chief focus of what he will read hereafter.

>In EKLUQHSONTAI, the -O- is the aspect morph (in Slot 7, the "aspect morph
>slot") - it means "no change in the aspect of this word", and so I call it
>the "neutral morph". The -S- here is the future morph (Slot 6), not an
>aspect morph (the future tense stands outside the aspect system and has no
>integral aspect).
>In the form EKLUQHSESQE the -E- (between sigmas) is the "neutral morph"
>(definitely not part of the ending), and the -S- before it is the future
>morph, and in this form nothing has elided.

I confess that I did misunderstand Ward's way of accounting for
EKLUQHSONTAI, although I think that part of the reason for this is that he
considers the thematic vowel to be an "aspect morph" in the present,
imperfect, and second aorist and subject to what he calls "elision" there,
but doesn't consider the working of -O/E- in the future tense to be
comparable to the working of -O/E- in other tenses. I rather think that the
thematic vowel -O/E- functions in alternation depending on whether the
personal ending following it begins with a nasal consonant--M or N--in
which case the thematic vowel is -O-, or not, in which case the thematic
vowel is -E-.

Although I would account for almost all the same elements as does Ward, I
would analyze the form a bit differently and, instead of speaking of
"slots" in particular sequence to be filled or not filled, I would offer
the following accounting (or expect it from my students as part of a
thorough parsing of the verb: EK-LU-QH-S-O-NTAI, wherein EK is the
adverbial prefix, LU is the verb root, QH is the voice-marker (which may
take the form QE and which carries the semantic value of middle or passive
or even intransitive although it's traditionally called "passive"), S is a
future-tense marker, O is the form of the thematic linking vowel O/E which
is omicron before the nasal personal ending, and finally NTAI is the
primary middle(-passive) personal ending.

Let's take (arbitrarily) another verb-form from the GNT for analysis:
DEDEKATWTAI (Heb 7:9). I don't think there's really any great value in
putting the formative elements of this verb-form into "slots."  The verb
DEKATOW appears only 2x in the GNT, and in fact, ONLY in Heb 7:6 and 7:9. A
reader will almost certainly never have met this verb before reading
Hebrews 7, but I think that he or she ought to recognize at the core of
DEDEKATWTAI the element DEKAT- and this should recall immediately the
cardinal numeral DEKA and its ordinal adjective DEKATOS. How to analyze it?
One recognizes that -TAI is a 3d-person sg. middle-passive primary ending.
It is appended to the unit DEDEKATW-, and I think one should/would
immediately recognize here a reduplicated Delta verb root/stem built upon a
central verbal form DEKATW. One could of course go straight to a lexicon
and find the verb DEKATOW and see the form DEDEKATWTAI fully parsed and
referenced to Heb 7:9, but one's analysis ought first to consider the
probability that the W of DEDEKATW is probably a typical lengthened O stem
of an Omega-contract verb, since contract verbs regularly lengthen the
short stem vowel of the present tense (-EW, -AW, -OW) to corresponding
long-vowel forms (-E- to -H-, -A- to long-A to -H-, -O- to -W-). Putting
these factors together, once they've been discerned, one may conclude that
DEDEKATWTAI is a 3d-person sg. perfect middle-passive indicative of a
denominative O-stem contract verb DEKATOW based upon the ordinal adjective
DEKATOS; one might even find it unnecessary to consult a lexicon to surmis
that the verb DEKATOW means "give a tenth part" or "tithe." That's not all
one needs to do to understand the passage in Hebrews, but it's one part of
unraveling the mysteries of the rather subtle argument being presented by
the author of Hebrews in the passage in question.

But enough. My intention here was not to engage in continued debate with
Ward over preference for synchronic or diachronic perspective in teaching
Biblical Greek so much as to illustrate what I mean by a diachronic
perspective on teaching Biblical Greek. So far as EKLUQHSONTAI and
DEDEKATWTAI are concerned, both these forms could as readily appear in
classical Attic as in Koine, and EKLUQHSONTAI might conceivably be found
even in Homer, although the -QH- middle-passive forms are considerably
rarer there than they later become.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
Most months:: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu OR cwconrad at ioa.com
WWW: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad/

More information about the B-Greek mailing list