[B-Greek] Review of new Caragounis book

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Fri Jul 29 17:43:21 EDT 2005

Considerable interest was expressed last Fall when Wieland Willker
first announced the publication of Chrys Caragounis’ new book, _The
Development of Greek and the New Testament_. A thread with the
subject-header “[B-Greek] Caragounis book” ran here for four days,
2004.11.24-27. My own intense interest was roused by Wieland’s
glowing recommendation (11/13/04): “I found this one of the most
interesting books I have read over the last
years. Very knowledgeable. Really a must-have.”), and I began to look
forward to going through the book myself, despite the whopper of a
price tag.

Publication details:
Caragounis, Chrys C. The Development of Greek and the New Testament:
Morphology, Syntax, Phonology, and Textual Transmission.  Mohr
Siebeck, 2004. XX, 732 pages (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum
Neuen Testament / 167)
ISBN 3-16-148290-5.  cloth 129.00 Euro

In view of the hefty price-tag and somewhat onerous process of
acquisition (Amazon lists it for US $220 and hopes to ship it within
2-3 months!), one thinking of investing in a personal copy may well
wonder whether it’s worth it. I assume that there will be at least
one BMCR review of it as well as RBL reviews, but I thought list-
members might be interested to learn of Moises Silva’s lengthy review
of Caragounis’ book scheduled for publication in the Fall 2005
Westminster Theological Journal. Professor Silva has shared with me
the text of his review and Caragounis has seen and responded to it,
although it is unclear whether the response will be published.

Caragounis’ book has a dual focus upon the diachronic development of
the Greek language over the course of more than three millennia and
upon precise determination of the pronunciation of the language; both
of these matters he clearly deems to be of fundamental importance for
a proper understanding of the text of the Greek NT. With regard to
pronunciation the fundamental stance of Caragounis was set forth in
his paper published in Filología Neotestamentaria 8 (1995) 151-185,
“The Error of Erasmus and un-Greek pronunciations of Greek” — the
text is accessible at http://www.bsw.org/?l=72081&a=Art06.html

While Silva’s evaluation is fundamentally negative, he does note that
the book should be taken seriously: “I would urge students of the LXX
and the NT-indeed, anyone seriously interested in Hellenistic Greek
literature generally-to read and pay careful attention to
Caragounis's monograph. In various respects, this work can provide a
much-needed corrective to modern scholarship. Unfortunately, however,
readers must also be urged to exercise great discrimination in their
use of the material, much of which is highly problematic and

Specifically Silva finds exaggerated some of the claims made by
Caragounis for the uniqueness of the Greek language and its unbroken
continuity; indeed he speaks of Caragounis’ “romanticized conception”
of the language. Granting that much of what C. claims about the
continuity of Greek is valid, Silva objects to C.’s insistence that
traditional grammatical categories are perfectly adequate for
describing and analyzing pronunciation, forms, and usage without
bringing to bear any cross-linguistic data or analytical
methodologies from the field of Linguistics.

C. claims that evidence demonstrates that the pronunciation of Greek
has remained fundamentally intact since the era of classical Attic;
Silva notes: “he devotes great effort to prove that from as early as
the fourth or fifth century BC until the present, Greek speakers have
used what he calls the HGP (Historical Greek Pronunciation), which he
claims has not changed in any significant way. This would mean that
as far back as the time of Thucydides, (1) there was no pitch accent;
(2) there were no long/short vowel distinctions; (3) the consonants
th_ta-phi-chi were not pronounced as aspirates  but as fricatives
(cf. English th [unvoiced] and f, German ch); (4) ai and e were
pronounced alike; (5) au and eu were pronounced av/af and ev/ef; (6)
there was no distinction in the pronunciation of i-_-y-ei-oi-yi (in
Modern Greek all six of these are pronounced roughly like ee in
English [a bit higher and without the glide] or, better, like i in
Spanish).”It is generally accepted that there was a pitch-accent in
use through the period of classical Attic and that the accents that
appear in the MSS represent that tonal accent; C. insists rather that
there is no evidence that Greek was ever pronounced that way.

Silva also asserts that C. ‘s “unrestrained jeremiad against Stanley
Porter’s view that the ancient Greek verb does not express time but
only aspect” misrepresents and so does a great disservice to one of
the more important contributions of Linguistics to understanding the
ancient Greek verb. “… Porter's opinion on this specific issue is not
at all representative of the field,  and although Caragounis does
point out that Porter is the scholar “who holds the most radical
view” (p. 316), the discussion ends up painting other specialists,
such as Kenneth McKay and Buist Fanning, with the same brush.
Moreover, the author's evident frustration with Porter, bordering on
anger, prevents him from appreciating-and therefore from
communicating to the reader-what the real issues are. “

I’ll not cite other specific critical comments from Silva’s review
but jump to his conclusion: “I picked up this book with positive
expectations. In some respects it did not disappoint, and again I
affirm that much in this volume is instructive and of great value. As
I worked my way through it, however, so many troubling details
surfaced that I considered not reviewing it at all rather than
publishing a negative assessment. Yet in view of Caragounis's strong
credentials and the prestige of the series in which the volume has
been included, it is necessary to alert potential readers to its
problems. In spite of the author's indisputable gifts, his strong
convictions, and the forceful language with which he expresses his
views, there is much in this book that is simply unreliable.”

I should add that Caragounis has seen and responded to Silva’s review
with what amounts to a vitriolic assertion that the review is
essentially a matter of personal spite over disagreements on some key
issues. I hope that the reviews and responses to come will generate
at least as much light as they will heat. We shall see.

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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