Monday, August 18, 2008

Reconstructed Koine Greek Pronunciation

As I mentioned earlier, I am planning to use Randall Buth's "Reconstructed Koine" Greek pronunciation in my Introductory Greek class this year. I have prepared a handout and a few recordings for my students which I am happy to make available here:
  • The handout attempts to present Buth's system clearly using English examples. (Buth tends to cite Arabic, German and Spanish examples, which are beyond the linguistic competence I can expect from my students.) The handout is intended to replace charts on pp. 8-10 of Mounce's Basics of Biblical Greek (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003). See below for a summary of the differences between Erasmian and Reconstructed Koine.
  • Randall includes a few audio samples on his website, but no recording of the alphabet, so I made my own. The alphabet and the first diphthong recording follow the order on the handout. The second diphthong recording spells the dipthongs before pronouncing them.
  • Update: Don't miss the Reconstructed Koine Greek Alphabet Song (courtesy of Luke Johnson).
  • Suggestions for improvement (and feedback in general) are welcome!
My rationale for changing pronunciation systems is simple: Languages are best learned in a living environment that involves hearing, speaking, and writing as well as reading. If one is going to the effort to speak ancient Greek, one might as well learn a reasonably accurate pronunciation. It is well known that the standard Erasmian system doesn't cut it. Side benefits include insight into textual variations caused by errors of hearing, and an easier transition into Modern Greek.

Buth defends his pronunciation choices here. His system is apparently close to the conclusions reached by Geoffrey Horrocks and Francis Gignac; it is also close to Modern Greek pronunciation.

Summary of the Differences between Erasmian and Reconstructed Koine

There are only three major differences in the pronunciation of letters:
  • β is pronounced as ‘v’ instead of ‘b’
  • δ is pronounced as ‘dh’ instead of ‘d’
  • ο is pronounced as a long ‘o’ like ω
Most of the diphthongs have changed:
  • αι is prounounced like ε (met) instead of as ‘eye’
  • ει is pronounced like ι (‘ee’) instead of ‘eh?’
  • οι is pronounced like υ instead of ‘oy’
  • αυ, ευ, ηυ are pronounced ‘av’, ‘ev’ and ‘ehv’ or ‘af’, ‘ef’ and ‘ehf’ instead of ‘ow!’ and ‘ew!’
Other minor changes:
  • ι is always a long ‘ee’ sound
  • γ is pronounced ‘gh’ instead of ‘g’
  • π, τ, κ are unaspirated which makes them sound close to b, d, and g.
  • ζ is pronounced ‘z’ instead of ‘dz’

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Friday, August 15, 2008

The difference nine months make

Shoshana on her nine month birthday (moments after knocking over a glass of water):
For comparison, here she is at 6 days (more pictures here):
One obvious change is that I am quite a bit farther along in Andrew Lincoln's excellent commentary on the Gospel of John. In fact, I expect to have it finished by the end of this month!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Madness in the Method?

Todd Penner concludes his survey of recent scholarship on Acts with some comments about the "chaotic and unstructured nature of current method in the field," which he feels is due in large measure to the competing "theological and ideological commitments of scholars":
It is, in the end, questionable whether engaged scholarly dialogue across a variety of models, approaches and historical commitments can in fact take place. Can, for instance, a humanist scholar, someone who is deeply committed to examining a text like Acts solely for what it reveals about human processes and products, good and evil, really have dialogue with...a scholar driven by theological agendas, who seeks to raise issues beyond the merely human, in order to catch a glimpse of the revealed nature of the divine in the text? . . . We may in the end do better, go further, and learn more by engaging the meta-narratives and meta-frameworks that are operative for individual scholars. - "Madness in the Method? The Acts of the Apostles in Current Study," Currents in Biblical Research 2, no. 2 (2004): 223-293.
So we can't talk about the text anymore, but at least we have each other. Fun, fun.

It is because of scholars like Penner and Arnal (see the previous post) that Markus Bockmuehl's proposal in Seeing the Word to invite secular and confessional scholars into conversation about the theologies of ancient texts seems hopelessly idealistic.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

On Confessional and Secular Biblical Scholarship

According to Bill Arnal, an atheist professor of Christian Origins down the highway at the University of Regina, confessional scholars are necessarily committed to the unforgivable exegetical sin:
[T]o put it as bluntly as possible, Christian theology at once insists on the necessity of a historical examination of its own founding narrative, and simultaneously insists on the necessity that such an examination produce affirmative results. (264)
Arnal's solution is to propose a "parting of the ways" between secular religious studies approaches to Christian origins and the theologically-driven interpretation of confessional scholars:
I am proposing, in other words, a trial separation, preparatory to an amicable divorce. Those of us who study the earliest Christians are clearly studying them in two radically different ways, for radically different reasons. Perhaps it is time to divide our furniture and move it into separate dwellings, with confessional institutions . . . exclusively responsible for edifying interpretation (including historically based interpretation) of the New Testament, and with non-confessional institutions (particularly state-funded universities) exclusively responsible for using all of the available data (including textual data) to provide comprehensible, non-obfuscatory, explanations for the development, permutations, and attractions of the Christian movment. (275)
For an example of what this looks like, check out the Christian Origins yahoo group, of which Arnal is a moderator. The group adopts an explicitly atheistic approach to the historical data--miracles don't happen; any willingness to take them seriously is irrational. Historical explanations are therefore necessarily constructed from a modern etic perspective; there is little interest in an emic reconstruction of how the ancients would have interpreted their own experience. Discussion of early Christian theology, let alone modern theology, is forbidden. Forays into hermeneutics, especially philosophical attempts to defend the practice of history from a theistic perspective, are also ruled out of bounds. The list owners regard these questions as boring and tiresome. In addition to being academics, members must subscribe to the "secular shahada" of Jacques Berlinerblau: "to love critique more than God." (In case you are wondering, I am not a group member, though I do check in from time to time to see what's going on. For some reason the list itself is normally remarkably quiet.)

A few comments:
I must confess I am puzzled by Arnal's association of exegesis--the interpretation of texts--with confessional scholarship. Although he acknowledges that the interpretation of texts is important to the study of relgion in general, Arnal thinks it is "because, in short, of its orientation toward exposition rather than explanation, [that] the academic field of biblical criticism as it is encountered even today is often radically different from, and adopts procedures alien to, many other types of Religious Studies" (257). I have always regarded the study of ancient texts (and other data) on their own terms and in their own contexts as a prerequisite to historical investigation. And, like students of literature in other disciplines, I find this fascinating not boring.

In addition to ruling God out of the equation, Arnal's take on the study of religion is resolutely historical, which reminds me of Jacob Neusner's comment about his former teacher, Morton Smith:
"...It was the assumption that the only valid scholarship answered the narrowest historical questions: did it really happen? did he really say it? and if so, what kind of history can we make of it all, meaning, what can we say about what was really said and done?"
Now I don't share Neusner's extremely negative evaluation of Morton Smith: He may have been a hoaxer, but he was also brilliant, and his work continues to shape the study of early Judaism in important ways. But both Smith and Arnal seem to be exclusively concerned with historical explanations, and something is missing here. There is, for example, no positive evaluation of the ideas expressed in religion--a sort of "great books" approach that is fruitfully applied to the study of classics, and that one might expect to play an important role in a secular religious studies department.

Finally, it seems to me that Robert Morgan's comments in the previous essay in the same volume apply to Arnal rather well:
"Religious and moral traditions are essential to human well-being and are in constant need of both development and criticism. A sympathetic phenomenological study of religion can help sustain them, but in practice 'outsider' accounts have often proved destructive....[T]he real theological despisers of religion are those observers who cannot credit faith in a revelation making an absolute claim on participants" (252).
Arnal, William. "A Parting of the Ways? Scholarly Identities and a Peculiar Species of Ancient Mediterranean Religion." Pages 253-275 in Identity and Interaction in the Ancient Mediterranean: Jews, Christians and Others. Essays in Honour of Stephen G. Wilson. Edited by Zeba A. Crook and Philip A. Harland. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2007.

Morgan, Robert. "S.G. Wilson on Religion and Its Theological Despisers." Pages 238-252 in Identity and Interaction in the Ancient Mediterranean: Jews, Christians and Others. Essays in Honour of Stephen G. Wilson. Edited by Zeba A. Crook and Philip A. Harland. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2007.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Unforgivable Exegetical Sin

"Any contribution to this discussion should begin with the recognition that it stands in danger of the unforgivable exegetical sin, the sin of attempting to make a passage mean something other than the meaning intended by the author and conveyed by the words....The exegete may say: 'I disagree with these words; I dissociate myself from them, I wish they had not been written,' but he may not twist or conceal their meaning." - C.K. Barrett, "John and Judaism," in Anti-Judaism and the Fourth Gospel (R. Bieringer, D. Pollefeyt, F. Vandecasteele-Vanneuville, eds.; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001), 231.

This reminds me of a more positive saying attributed to my former teacher, Murray Harris, to the effect that it is better to say what Scripture says and disagree with it, than to make it say what you want it to say.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Live in the Now

Monday's Chronicle Careers column had some good advice:

"One thing you need to know," he wrote, "no matter how well you teach, you could always do it better or devote more time and energy to it. It will suck you dry. … You have to establish over time how much time you can give it, do a decent job with it, but save time for yourself.

"It will get easier, and one lesson you need to learn as early as you can is this — make it fun. Make it fun for you as well as for them.

"Finally (for now), the most important thing I can tell you is that your life has begun — it's not in the future. You have been taught over and over that if you work hard now, life will be good later on when you can relax. Not so. Life right now is it, and if you aren't enjoying parts of it, change those things that are bothering you and make them enjoyable." - From John Hatcher, "Note to Father: This is Hard"

As my friend Neil McCall used to say, "Live in the now."

Monday, August 4, 2008

George Eliot on Hypocrisy

I'll consider using this George Eliot quote in my Gospels class this fall (along with this description of the Pharisees):
"There may be coarse hypocrites, who consciously affect beliefs and emotions for the sake of gulling the world, but Bulstrode was not one of them. He was simply a man whose desires had been stronger than his theoretic beliefs, and who had gradually explained the gratification of his desires into satisfactory agreement with those beliefs. If this be hypocrisy, it is a process which shows itself occasionally in us all, to whatever confession we belong..."
The assumption that all Pharisees were hypocrites is obviously problematic from a historical perspective (what about Paul?). Also pernicious is the assumption that all hypocrites are of the "coarse" variety. As long as we maintain an image of the hypocrite as a turbaned stick figure, the "other" from ancient Palestine, we can avoid reflecting that Jesus' warnings might possibly have some relevance to ourselves.

Back to Eliot, who continues her description of Mr Bulstrude with, perhaps, my favorite Middlemarch quotation:
"There is no general doctrine which is not capable of eating out our morality if unchecked by the deep-seated habit of direct fellow-feeling with individual fellow-men."
Both quotes are from George Eliot, Middlemarch (Penguin Classics, 619).

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Patrologia Cursus Completus, Series Graeca

Note: If the words Schaff or Migne don't mean anything to you, I recommend skipping down to the picture at the bottom of this post.

Logos Bible Software recently announced plans to publish a searchable electronic edition of 18 out of the 161 massive volumes of Jacques Paul Migne's Patrologia Graeca. The volumes they have selected correspond roughly to Philip Schaff's English translation of the ante-Nicene church fathers, but include other patristic texts not translated in Schaff. Unfortunately, this Logos edition will not be tagged for morphology or word lemmas at this stage, but the text itself will be searchable, and wealthy Logos users will appreciate its integration with other reference works in their Logos libraries. Everything but the $400 pre-publication price tag is nice.

Thankfully, there are cheaper alternatives:
  • The Religion and Technology center (link not working) offers all 160 volumes as pdf images for $300.
  • If you plan to do a lot of searching in extra-biblical Greek, and your library does not subscribe to it already, why not order a five-year individual subscription to the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae? For the same price as the Logos package you get almost everything written in Greek between Homer and the fall of Constantinople.
Even better, Migne can be had for FREE:
The bottom line: Why pay for what you can get for free?

(From our July 31 trip to the Nicolle Flats Nature Reserve at Buffalo Pound. The occasion: t's birthday.)