Notes from the Ph.D. (2)

If you missed the first installment of “Notes from the Ph.D.” (and if you care about these very technical and academic posts), you might want to go back and read the introduction so you know the guidelines I’m using as I share some of what I’m learning.  Most importantly, I want to make sure that you (1) credit the professors listed, because everything I share in these posts (except for my bracketed comments and the occasional “Reflections” sections) is from class lectures, and (2) remember that what I’m sharing are not my professors’ most pointed and developed thoughts on any given subject.

Without further ado, here are some tidbits from my understatedly challenging Greek seminar this semester (and for you Greek geeks, I apologize that the WordPress symbols don’t include Greek accent marks):

Intertestamental Language and Literature: Jewish Histories with Dr. Peter Gentry 

  • There are two levels of scholarship when it comes to the languages.  Primarily I want you to have sovereign command over the language so that you can do knock-out exegesis.  But the secondary level is to be proficient enough to be able to check others for accuracy.  People often comment about how many languages I know, but with a number of them my knowledge is fairly basic.  For instance, I don’t really know Akkadian, but I sure know enough to look up a word and check what a scholar’s saying.
  • Always remember: Language is a tool in the mouth of the speaker.  This is fundamental.  Language must be interpreted according to how it’s being used by the speaker.  I can lie.  I can use language out of the norm to shock, deceive, or manipulate you.  There are a vast number of effects that can be produced using language, and the speaker dictates how he’s using his words.  Always remember this when you’re dealing with language.
  • One of Talmy Givón’s four categories of parts of speech is relations, which is where you have to be the most flexible in translation.  For instance, prepositions work with their verbs, which is an area of relationships, so your translations of prepositions + verbs must be flexible.  You can’t simply go off of the two or three definitions on the back your first-year flashcards.
  • The augment is often missing in Homer, but there are reasons for it — most often for meter.  For instance, Homer employs a lot of epithets for the characters in his work, but sometimes the normal case isn’t the most suitable, so he’ll use a different case (perhaps from a different dialect) that fits with the meter.
  • Gentry on the books he’s checked out from the library: “Most of the books I have in my office I am sure that no one else is looking for.”
  • “A lot of people don’t sit and meditate on what the morphology is telling you.”  [This isn’t meant to be humorous; he’s emphasizing the importance of morphology for accurate translation and interpretation.]
  • “From 1990-1996 I spent a lot of time with a Christian professor making the first Greek and Hebrew fonts for Windows.”  [In this class we got a pretty neat impromptu introduction on the science of font creation and some helpful tools for using Greek and Hebrew fonts.]
  • In English we want to get the verb out there quickly and then follow it with objects and modifiers.  But in Greek, once yοu have all the modifiers out there, the verb is obvious.
  • On the word περιπατον in 2 Macc. 2:30:  How do you get the meaning “digression”?  περι + πατον means “walking around,” but it’s not literal here — in the context, the author’s referring to words.  So he’s talking about a detailed study off the main topic — a “walking around” — so a “digression.”
  • Verbal adjectives are constructed from the aorist passive tense stem.  Then you add either -τος or -τεος.  You’re familiar with -τος (e.g., δυνατος), but probably not -τεος.  The -τεος ending carries the sense of necessity, and the person is always indicated in the dative (see Herbert Smyth, Greek Grammar, §1488 for why the agent is in the dative).
  • 2 Macc. 3:1:  οτι can be used to strengthen the superlative (Herbert Smyth, Greek Grammar, §1086).  So here, οτι καλλιστα means “as beautiful/good as possible.
  • You’ll need to know that the Greek Grammar by Smyth has everything foundational for reading Blass and Debrunner’s Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature.  Blass and Debrunner assume that you know everything in Smyth.
  • 2 Macc. 3:17:  The verb περιεκεχυτο is a perfect medial-passive, appearing the same as the pluperfect [notice there’s no reduplication].  You will never lack the thematic vowel in the perfect medial-passive, but the reduplication is sometimes missing in earlier Greek.
  • 2 Macc. 3:17:  Romans 15:30 is the only place in the NT where prayer is mentioned as a struggle.  But here you have the same thing with the desperate anxiety of the high priest.
  • 2 Macc. 3:28:  The participle καθεστωτα (from καθιστημι) is a 2nd perfect.  The Greek verbal system has two systems for the perfect — 1st perfect and 2nd perfect.  With the verb ιστημι, there’s a special use, so that the first forms are used transitively and the second forms are used intransitively.  The same is done with the aorist.  Both forms have a specific use, and the distinction is not just arbitrary.  Consider the logic:  The verb “to stand” can be transitive or intransitive.  You can stand against something, or you can withstand someone, or you can stand upon something.  These are all transitive uses.  But you can also just stand, which is an intransitive use (the action does not transfer its effect to an object).  So because there are two legitimate but distinct uses of the verb, the Greek system has two distinct forms for the perfect tense verb.  Morphology is not just arbitrary!
  • 2 Macc. 3:29 — When you see a middle/passive verb, use the “medial-passive” terminology when you talk about the form of the verb, because there’s often no way to tell the difference.  But when you talk about the usage of the verb, you should distinguish between middle and passive, because there’s a difference in usage.
  • -μι verbs have four characteristics: (1) athematic (no theme vowel); vowel gradation in the present tense (long vowel for singular; short vowel for plural); (3) reduplication with ι in the present tense; (4) use of κ-aorists (you’ll remember that κ is normally the sign of the perfect, but -μι verbs will use it for the aorist).
  • “Vowel gradation” refers to the vowel changes that take place as the verb switches forms, sometimes to the point where the vowel drops out altogether.  An English example of vowel gradation is drink-drank-drunk.
  • Greek loves hypotactic constructions (subordinated constructions — “to place under”), but English loves peritactic constructions (parallel constructions — “to place around”).  For instance, Greek might give you two participles and a main verb, so the translation may appear to require something like: “Running and screaming, he jumped into the water.”  But English might more naturally say, “He ran and screamed and jumped into the water.”


If there’s time in the future, I may provide a brief synopsis and evaluation of the more salient articles I’m reading.  For now, I’ll simply list a few articles in case it piques the interest of the two of you who care about these Ph.D. posts.

One thought on “Notes from the Ph.D. (2)

  1. Thanks again, Gentry’s article on Aspect was really good. I especially appreciated his arguments contra Porter’s theory that Greek does not grammaticalise time. I’ve tried to hit on some of these reasons as well when I’ve taught Greek but he has them here very clearly and concisely.


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