[B-Greek] You Are Smarter Than a Lexicon (?)

Carl Conrad cwconrad2 at mac.com
Thu Jun 3 09:54:43 EDT 2010


There's a new blog entry at the Logos software blog this morning that has me a little bit baffled:

http://blog.logos.com/archives/2010/06/you_are_smarter_than_a_lexicon.html

The question-mark appended to the title of the blog entry in the subject-header above is mine.
If I'm correctly understanding what the blog-entry is saying, it seems intent on saying that all
you need to carry out a serious study of a Greek or Hebrew passage is a good Bible software
package -- presumably Logos (!) -- and in particular the celebrated Logos "reverse interlinear."

The blog post is really aimed at people who evidently have some Greek or Hebrew competence
but not enough to use their own judgment (that's my interpretation). What ticked me off was
what it says about consulting a lexicon while studying an original-language text:

"Why do we think that the enterprise of looking up a Greek or Hebrew word to get an English 
equivalent is a useful thing to do? Professors would answer: 'So you can do translation.'
We now have hundreds of English translations, so why would we need to do our own? 
The truth is that knowing thousands of English word equivalents for Hebrew and Greek 
never made anyone a more careful interpreter."

I've never thought that we should consult a Greek lexicon in order to get an English word for 
translation -- i.e., for a suitable gloss. I consult a lexicon to learn as much as I can about the
"personality" of a verb or noun: what authors have used it in what senses in which eras of
ancient Greek, and I expect to spend some time looking at the exemplary citations for the 
suggested categorizations of sense.

Ultimately the advice offered is:

"So how can you do better in word study if you’re not a specialist in Hebrew or Greek? 
There are three truly indispensable things you need for developing skill in handling the 
Word of God.

"First, you need a means to get at all the data of the text. ... Through reverse interlinears, 
you can begin with English and mine the Bible for all occurrences of a Greek or Hebrew 
word. Logos 4 then takes that data and renders it in a variety of visual displays and reports 
so you can begin to look at the material and think about it from different angles—such as
 the Bible Word Study report, where you see how your word relates grammatically to 
other words in the sentence. Second, you need someone who is experienced in interpretation
 to guide you in how to process the data in front of you. You need training in what questions
 to ask and why you’d ask them. There is simply no substitute in word study for thinking 
about the occurrences of a word on your own. Lexicons will give you lists of English 
choices, but cherry-picking a list isn’t the same thing as asking critical, reflective, 
interpretive questions about the word in its context. Third, you need practice, practice, 
and more practice."

I agree with: "There is simply no substitute in word study for thinking about the 
occurrences of a word on your own. Lexicons will give you lists of English choices, 
but cherry-picking a list isn’t the same thing as asking critical, reflective, interpretive 
questions about the word in its context." And I agree with: "you need practice, 
practice, and more practice."

What bothers me is that the industry and practice here are expended upon what is
essentially predigested analysis done by others. For my part, I question the value
of learning a little Greek or a little Hebrew if one isn't going to go deep enough
to digest the original texts on one's own.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)






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