Saturday, September 16, 2023

Ancient Greek Picture Flashcards in Anki

I completed a set of 500 ancient Greek picture flashcards just in time for the beginning of Briercrest's third intensive Greek semester. The cards are designed to help create a direct link between Greek words and their meaning. On one side of each card is an image:

On the other side is the lexical form of the Greek word along with additional information about the word:

The top line notes the chapter in which the word appears in our course textbook and identifies the word's semantic domain category (τάξις), in this case πάθος, ἦθος. The bottom line provides details about the word's grammatical form, beginning with its part of speech (μέρος λόγου), in this case ῥῆμα. Verbs are classified into their ancient Greek verbal pattern (συζυγία), e.g., βαρύτονα δ'. Principal parts are also included for about 100 verbs.

The format for nouns is similar. Here, for instance, is an ἄμαξα: 

On the back of the card, the bottom line informs you that the word is a feminine noun in the first declension declined with η, and that the genitive singular form is ἁμάξης: 

There is no English on the cards because our goal is reading fluency in Greek. Bypassing English wherever possible and avoiding the habit of mentally translating as one reads speeds up the reading (and language learning) process.

The 500 words include classroom vocabulary, common semantic domains such as animals, fruits and vegetables — θρίδαξ anyone? — as well as words that appear in the Italian version of Ἀθήναζε, our main textbook. 

My colleague, Wes Olmstead, is responsible for coming up with authentic ancient Greek ways of categorizing Greek grammatical forms, for carefully tagging the grammatical information that appears on the back of the cards, and for compiling an initial list of words for our students to learn. 

My job was to find useable images that suit the words, to set up the mail merge process, and to produce the finished product:
Printing, cutting, and sorting multiple sets of 500 cards is a bit of a massive undertaking (even with the whole family involved), so I was relieved to find that — thanks to my work with Hebrew picture flashcards earlier this summer — the process of importing the Excel file and images into a digital version of the flashcards went smoothly:

Anki's spaced-repetition flashcard app has several advantages to printed cards, not least of which is the ability to make them freely available online.
Production notes:
Comments and feedback are welcome.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Using Anki to Review Biblical Hebrew and Ancient Greek Picture Flashcards

Anki is one of the most well-known and possibly the best available spaced repetition flashcard apps. It is free, it is powerful ... and it can be complicated to use. What follows is a brief set of instructions to help you get up and running with the app, and with a deck of Biblical Hebrew or Ancient Greek picture flashcards:

(1) Download, install, and load the computer version of Anki at

(2) Download the Biblical Hebrew Picture Flashcards or the Ancient Greek Picture Flashcard shared decks:

(a) Biblical Hebrew Picture Flashcards: For the Biblical Hebrew Picture Flashcards, click on "Get Shared" at the bottom of the main Anki screen:

This will take you to Ankiweb (, the free web-based version of the app, and Anki's repository of free shared decks. The first time you use Ankiweb you will need to create an account by clicking "signup" in the top right corner:
Once you have registered, click on "Get Shared Decks":

Search for "Biblical Hebrew Picture Flashcards" (or anything else you like). Scroll down to the bottom of the screen, and download the Flashcard deck(s):

(b) Ancient Greek Picture Flashcards: The Ancient Greek Picture Flashcard decks are too large for Anki's free hosting service, so you will need to download the files directly from my Google Drive account. You can do that here:   

(3) Back in the Anki computer program, click on "Import File" at the bottom right of the screen:

Navigate to your "download" folder and select the appropriate Anki deck file.

(4) Optional: Review Flashcards on the go with Ankidroid or Ankimobile

If you have not already done so in step 3, go to Ankiweb (, the free web-based version of the app, and create an account by clicking "signup" in the top right corner.

Now you can Sync your decks to Ankiweb, and then, if you like, install and review flashcards on-the-go with the free Android Ankidroid app or the not free iOS Ankimobile app. (Note: There are many knock-off apps that use the Anki name. My advice is to stick with Ankidroid or Ankimobile.)

(5) Begin to take advantage of Anki's spaced-repetition system: By default Anki selects 20 cards from each deck to learn or review each day. The system is designed to bring up cards that you have trouble with for review more often than cards you know well. For more information, see the manual or this handy tutorial. The system works automatically. All you need to do is click on the deck and then click on "Study Now":

(6) Learn to Cram: Unfortunately, Anki tries to force everyone into the same review system. I don't question the effectiveness of the spaced-repetition formula, but sometimes — for example, when you are studying for a quiz on words in chapter 4 or all Piel verbs in chapters 8-10 or all Greek verbs for days 5-7 — you need to cram. The next two videos demonstrate two ways of selecting specific chapters or tagged cards for review. (The videos use the Hebrew decks, but the same steps apply to Greek):

Video 1: Using Custom Study to review a single chapter or category:

Video 2: Using Custom Study and Browse to review multiple categories:

For more information on creating custom filtered decks, see the Anki Manual or this Anking YouTube video. For more on Anki deck organization, take a look at this post. I also found this Reddit post on Anki search syntax to be helpful.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Biblical Hebrew Picture Flashcards in Anki

Update: See links to the corrected Flashcard files below.

Last summer I made a set of 270 Biblical Hebrew picture flashcards for our introductory Hebrew students:

The images help create a direct link between Hebrew words and their meaning. There is no English on the cards because our goal is reading fluency in HebrewBypassing English wherever possible — and avoiding the habit of mentally translating as one reads — speeds up the reading (and language learning) process. 

The cards are designed to be accessible to beginners and still useful to more advanced students. Students who have learned the alphabet can practice reading words they have already been introduced to in class, and ignore the smaller print around the borders of the cards. Some cards appear twice, first in the participle / qotel form (the normal Biblical Hebrew way of conveying present time):

After the qatal / perfect form has been introduced in class, the same picture can be reintroduced with the standard dictionary form and more grammatical information in small print:

In the top right corner, we learn that the word is a verb (פֹּעַל) that occurs in the Qal Binyan (קַל) and belongs to a class of weak verbs with an aleph in the first root letter (פ׳א). 

The bottom right corner draws on the method Randall Buth uses in his 500 Friends Hebrew word list to indicate succinctly what the verb looks like in a variety of verb patterns. (If you have studied Hebrew, you will see what I mean.)

The bottom left corner classifies the word in one of several semantic domains—in this case, food (מַאֲכָל). 

The cards can, of course, be sorted and reviewed in categories (e.g., all words in the piel Binyan or all words in a particular semantic domain).

Noun cards are similar:

In the top right corner we learn that the word is a feminine (נְקֵבָה) noun (שֵׁם עֶצֶם). The bottom right corner provides singular and plural absolute and construct noun forms.

Now that the school year is over, I have had time to complete a digital version of the flashcards for use in Anki's spaced repetition flashcard app. Here is an example:

The back looks like this:

Among other benefits, the digital version makes it far easier to sort and review specific kinds of cards. The digital version also makes it possible for me to share the cards freely online. You can download them here:

Update: This post now links to a corrected version of the Anki Flashcard files. (Due to an error in my Excel spreadsheet, the tags on the original card decks were misaligned; the image filenames have also been simplified in this version.)

In this follow-up post I provide a brief set of instructions for those who are new to Anki:

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Josephus and Jewish Ethnonyms: Evaluating Jason Staples's Idea of Israel in Second Temple Judaism

I'm on to present a paper at the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies annual meeting at Congress in Toronto next Monday. I put the abstract together in January on a hunch, in the hopes that a deadline would force me to finish a book I wanted to read, and prime the writing pump. Since I didn't make nearly as much progress as I wanted over the semester, it also made a gauntlet of a winter-spring that much more demanding. Right now, however, I'm grateful because at least in a few moments over the last intense week of research and writing, the chance to concentrate on a single intellectual puzzle long enough to make headway has felt strangely like a mental vacation. 

The abstract is not quite what I would say now that I have a more-or-less complete rough draft in hand, but it is close enough to what the paper is still trying to do that I will post it here in case anyone is interested:

In The Idea of Israel in Second Temple Judaism (CUP, 2021), Jason Staples argues that instead of being mutually interchangeable terms for the same group, “Israel” referred to the “tribes of the biblical northern kingdom” or to “the twelve-tribe covenantal people,” while Ioudaios (and cognates) designated a “subset” of this larger group associated with the southern tribes and the biblical kingdom of Judah. This paper will test Staples’s proposal against the evidence in Josephus. I will consider Josephus’s explanation for his own shift in terminology within the narrative context of the Antiquities; reevaluate the dueling claims of Ioudaioi and Samaritans in Antiquities books 9 and 11; and examine the labels Josephus uses to designate both those who returned from exile and those who remained “beyond the Euphrates.” We will see that within Josephus Ioudaios could still serve as a label for the people as a whole, including descendants of the northern tribes.

I may have more to say once the draft is revised and the paper is presented.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Briercrest's Fall 2023 Ancient Greek Semester

I am pleased to report that we will be running our third immersive Greek semester this coming fall on the Briercrest College & Seminary campus. As I wrote last time,

Our intensive series of five three credit-hour courses is designed to take students from the Greek alphabet to a reading knowledge of ancient Greek, including the Koiné Greek of the New Testament. In our immersive classroom context on the Briercrest College & Seminary campus, students have the opportunity to learn ancient Greek in ancient Greek, as they would any modern language. Because it is geared to the way people naturally learn languages, an active communicative approach to learning Greek leads to deeper and longer-lasting learning than the conventional grammar-translation approach used in most North American academic settings; it also appeals to a wider range of learning styles (and is more fun!) 

As far as I know, our immersive, semester-long approach to teaching Ancient Greek in Ancient Greek is unique in North America. (For more detail, see this post and follow the links.)

Our Immersive Greek Semesters run every second year. Almost four years after the first iteration, we have begun to see the payoff:

  • There's the graduating student who took Greek Semester 1.0 in the fall of 2019, who tells me she still regularly reads her Greek New Testament.

  • Six students from Greek Semester 2.0 (fall 2021) elected to read through the Greek text of Acts last semester as part of their course requirements in my English-Bible Acts class. I sat down with each student twice during the semester to have a conversation in Ancient Greek about selected passages from Acts. None of us would claim fluency, but I was uniformly impressed at how much they understood from the text of Acts and how well they could make themselves understood in Greek.

  • I am currently sitting in on my colleague Wes Olmstead's Greek VII course, partly to see how he runs advanced classes, and partly because I wanted to read the extrabiblical texts he assigned. So far this semester, the seven students in the class have read Galatians, they are about halfway through Matthew's Gospel, we recently finished Plato's Apology--a text I had never read before in Greek--and we have started on Melito of Sardis's 2nd century Easter homily, Peri Pascha, a text I'm afraid I was totally unfamiliar with. Need I mention that the class is taught in Greek? 

In short, it's working. Care to join us? 

Friday, January 20, 2023

A 2022 "Reading" (and Listening) Retrospective

A modest discovery—prompted initially by the need to squeeze in as much Hebrew listening as I could—paid "reading" dividends last year: I realized that even a five minute commute is enough to make real headway in an audiobook or podcast, especially when the commute is multiplied by four and the playback speed is turned up to 1.5. When you add in the time it takes to put on and take off boots, toque, and jacket to prevent frostbite during our Saskatchewan winters, the amount of "reading" doubles. 

Thanks to multiple daily mini-commutes, a couple longer road trips, household chores, and a decent set of Bluetooth earbuds, almost one third of the books I "read" in 2022 were audiobooks. For the glass-half-empty folks out there, the fact that nine out of thirty books "read" in 2022 were audiobooks means that I only completed a paltry twenty-one conventional books. Ten of the thirty were completed in December, which says something about the reading I was not doing the rest of the year. Twelve of the thirty were published in the last three years—surely a record. Aside from textbooks, I only made it through one monograph that can be said to be directly related to (one of) my primary research interests. On the other hand, the other reading was rich, rewarding, and often refreshing. Listening too: In addition to audiobooks and Greek and Hebrew audio, I (finally) subscribed to the excellent Onscript and Biblingo podcasts. 

Without further ado, here is a lightly annotated list in reading sequence, with links to blog posts:

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein. New York: Dover, 1818. 
Bolt, Robert. A Man for All Seasons: A Play in Two Acts. London: Samuel French, 1960. [Followed a viewing of the Academy Award-winning movie, when trucking convoys were in the news.]
Bauckham, Richard. Jesus: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. [A textbook, re-read for at least the 3rd and 4th times]
Barr, Beth Allison. The Making of Biblical Womanhood. Brazos, 2021. [The first audio book of the year, followed in succession by Kirsten Kobes du Mez (see below)]
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967. [Last read during high school]
Keefer, Kyle. The New Testament as Literature: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. [A textbook, re-read for at least the 3rd and 4th times]
Zimmermann, Jens. Hermeneutics: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. [I expect to use this as a textbook the next time I teach undergraduate hermeneutics.]
Longenecker, Bruce W. The Lost Letters of Pergamum: A Story from the New Testament World. 2d ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016. [A textbook; read multiple times previously]
Brown, Peter. The World of Late Antiquity: AD 150-750. New York: Norton, 1989. [Read aloud to the family; a classic I should have read years ago.]
Frank, Anne. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. Garden City, NT: Doubleday, 1952. [Maybe it was the play rather than the diary that I read 30+ years ago.]
Nayeri, Daniel. Everything Sad Is Untrue. Montclair, New Jersey: Levine Querido, 2020. [See this post for my recommendation.]
Du Mez, Kristin Kobes. Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation. Liveright, 2020. [Audiobook]
Dinesen, Isak. Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass. New York: Vintage, 1989. [Audiobook; see this post for my recommendation.]
Stanley, Christopher D. A Rooster for Asklepios: A Slave’s Story, Book 1. 3rd edition. NFB Publishing, 2020. [A fun historical novel written by a NT scholar; especially enjoyable if you have spent time in the historical sites in Turkey where the story is set.]
Stroup, Christopher. The Christians Who Became Jews: Acts of the Apostles and Ethnicity in the Roman City. Yale University Press, 2020. [A reminder not to trust dust jacket blurbs.]
Buechner, Frederick. The Alphabet of Grace. New York: Seabury Press, 1970. [I gradually realized I had read it before; still good the second time]
Jennings, Willie James. After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging. Eerdmans, 2020. [influenced this post; recommended]
Buechner, Frederick. Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale. New York: HarperCollins, 1977. [First read almost 30 years ago as a homiletics textbook; re-read aloud to the family.]
Holland, Tom. Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World. Basic Books, 2021. [Audiobook]
Kuhn, Thomas S., and Ian Hacking. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: 50th Anniversary Edition. 4th edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012. [Audiobook; a classic I've been thinking about (without reading it) for 25 years]
Jipp, Joshua W. Reading Acts. Cascade Companions. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2018. [Textbook; re-read multiple times]
Skinner, Matthew L. Intrusive God, Disruptive Gospel: Encountering the Divine in the Book of Acts. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2015. [Textbook; read for the first time but will probably do so again]
Birkett, Kirsten. Living Without Fear: Using The Psalms To End Your Worry And Anxiety. Self-published, 2022. [Recommended by my former colleague, Eric Ortlund; read aloud]
Rowling, J. K. The Christmas Pig. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2021.
Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Mind in Another Place: My Life as a Scholar. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2022. [Audiobook; thought-provoking enough to generate several blog posts (herehere, and here)]
Plass, Adrian. The Horizontal Epistles of Andromeda Veal. London: Marshall Pickering, 1988. [Re-read]
Strawn, Brent A. Lies My Preacher Told Me: An Honest Look at the Old Testament. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2021. [Audiobook; "read" while crossing the Rockies on Dec 26]
O’Donovan, Oliver. Resurrection and Moral Order: An Outline for Evangelical Ethics. 2d ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994. [The book I'm most proud of finishing this year (see here and here for why)] 
Marsh, Charles. Evangelical Anxiety: A Memoir. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2022. [Audiobook. The tagline could be, 'Of course, I needed Jesus; I also needed therapy.' James K. A. Smith calls it "a bold, beautiful memoir, at once transgressive and faithful," which seems about right, though one should underscore transgressive. This is Marsh unfiltered. Not rated for a general audience.]
Hill, Wesley. Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010. [Audiobook; "read" while crossing the Rockies on my way back to Saskatchewan on Dec 31]

The first and only book I've completed so far in 2023 is a re-read of Adrian Plass's hilarious The Theatrical Tapes of Leonard Thynn, surely an auspicious start to the year. I'm also slowly digesting Jason Staples's Idea of Israel in Second Temple Judaism, about which I hope to say more in due course.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Luke Timothy Johnson Shoots the Moon

In the final two chapters of his memoir, Luke Timothy Johnson describes what it takes to be an excellent (and productive) scholar, someone with the requisite raw-material—intelligence, rapid reading fluency, memory—who is increasingly characterized by the intellectual virtues of curiosity, respect for evidence, mastery, wide and critical reading, imagination, clarity and cogency, and by the moral virtues of courage, ambition, discipline, persistence, detachment, contentment, and (surprisingly) multitasking. 

Mastery for mature scholars of "New Testament and Christian origins" begins with "comprehensive knowledge of the content and rhetorical character of each OT and NT writing" as well as "a firsthand grasp of all the critical questions concerning those compositions." Mastery also entails "appropriate interaction with all of Greco- Roman literature, Jewish literature, and early Christian literature at least to the time of Constantine":

"The mature scholar ought to be as comfortable with the Sentences of Sextus as with the Sentences of Pseudo-Phocylides, with the Pirqe Avot and the Avot of Rabbi Nathan as with the Sifre on Deuteronomy, with the varieties of Jewish mysticism as with the hermetic literature, with Epictetus as with Plutarch, with the Didache as with Dionysius the Areopagite."

Nor is it sufficient to know the text themselves. The evidence that a scholar must respect includes "the entire history of interpretation."

Among the moral virtues, ambition—"not in the competitive sense of seeking to outdo others but in the sense of desiring excellence"—is "the 'motor' that pushes the scholar to significant accomplishment."

Also essential is contentment, the "freedom from a scholarly possessiveness manifested by obsessiveness, compulsiveness, and perfectionism":

"[I]f my identity and worth are not to be identified with my scholarship, then what I research and write can freely and generously be shared with others. As in other areas of life, so in scholarship: liberality and even prodigality reveal a freedom that is the opposite of a cramped perfectionism driven by anxiety, that only with great reluctance shares with others what I have discovered or crafted."

Few contemporary New Testament scholars can match Johnson's scholarly productivity. His autobiography makes it clear that his was no charmed ivory-tower existence: he wrote 35 books and 75 scholarly articles while being actively involved in university life and supporting family through significant personal adversity. Although Johnson peppers his account of the scholarly virtues with examples from his own life, he is at pains to insist that the final two chapters are not a self-portrait but an ideal to which he aspired in his "long career as a scholar." Besides, his abilities and the opportunities that came his way are in fact gifts from God.

For those with ears to hear, the memoir as a whole can serve as motivation for those just starting out, or a kick in the pants for academics mid-career.

Still, I came away with a few questions:

  • First, what if the pursuit of scholarly excellence conflicts with the ultimate goal—the goal Johnson identifies as his own—of becoming a saint? For ordinary mortals who don't possess Johnson's natural ability and rigorous training, and who perhaps lack his ambition, enormous industry and audacity, life may be more of a zero sum game where energy expended in scholarly production comes at the expense of other important things—one's family, for instance. At the very least, there is a temptation to cheat, to sacrifice those other important things instead of making room for both.
  • Second, there are other competing models of life before God and of scholarship that emphasize the virtue of moderation. (See, for example, the slow work movement, and its application to the academy in Berg and Seeber's The Slow Professor.) Is the only option for real scholars such enormous effort? Perhaps.
  • Third, middle-aged me questions Johnson's definition of scholarship as "an intellectual life that is both focused and productive" because productivity tends to be defined in terms of scholarly publications. Is productivity in this sense really the mark of a scholar? To be fair, Johnson does not simply equate the two:

"By productive, I mean that such learning gained by the mind is communicated to others, or is applied to the solution of other problems, with an eye to eventual communication, through teaching, writing, or other medium."

Insofar as productivity is reduced to publication (by Johnson's readers if not by Johnson himself) I suspect infection by the diseased bureaucratic drive to quantify everything.

To be sure, "[w]hen personal goals are insignificant, accomplishments will fall even shorter." Point taken. But most of those who aim high—even those who publish extensively—do not in fact succeed at producing anything that more than a few people read, as Johnson admits. What is the point of it all anyway? The vast majority of people have their most lasting impact not through what they write but through personal contact over time.

Questions aside, the story is interesting and well-told, and there is much to learn from, and to be challenged by, Johnson's example. Highly recommended! (If you listen to the audiobook, as I did, you get the added bonus of hearing Johnson narrate the book himself.)