Decker’s Grammar: A Follow Up Part II

downloadThis post will focus on one of the features of Decker’s Grammar which I have thoroughly appreciated. If you have flipped through the text, you will notice that there are a number of “side-bar” discussions. I have found these discussions, illustrations, and otherwise unnecessary material to be quite helpful.

Some of this material clarifies terminology, provides alternate ways of learning material, or gives the reader a peak at matters they will investigate later in their Greek studies. For example, on pages 36–37 Decker provides the case endings for the first and second declensions. He encourages students to learn the endings with the connecting vowels, as if gives them the ability to pronounce the ending and thus learn it more effectively. Nevertheless, the side-bar chart on page 37 provides the student with the Technical Case Endings.

Another example occurs on page 41 where Decker discusses what the difference is between a lexicon and a dictionary. The answer: they both mean the same thing; lexicon comes from the Greek word λεξικόν while dictionary comes from the Latin word dictionarium.

Speaking of lexicons, or dictionaries, if you prefer, Decker provides students with images of what a standard Greek lexicon might look like. Here’s a shot from page 52:

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When teaching Greek, I’ve often photocopied a page out of each of the major lexicons and distributed them to the class so students would know what they were looking at when the time comes for them to use a lexicon regularly. Decker facilitates this by providing one for the student to become familiar with early in their studies (note that he returns to images of the lexicon throughout the grammar in order to teach new points about the various elements within each entry).

As students progress in the Grammar, they will encounter more and more exercises and extended translation sections from the Septuagint. Accordingly, some of the side-bar discussions interact with LXX grammatical peculiarities. For instance, Decker provides a brief side bar discussion on relative pronouns in the LXX (p. 175).

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Figures I would like such things, you might think. After all, I did post on the LXX’s use of pleonastic pronouns just last Tuesday.

For the diagramming enthusiast, Decker provides a new grammatical diagram for every new concept he introduces within the grammar. For students that learn visually, he provides plenty of charts and illustrations. One such illustration is A Visual Representation of Prepositions found on page 158. I could continue to include example after example, but that would become tiresome for me to write and cumbersome for you to read. So I will leave you with one last thought . . .

While these features certainly contribute to the overwhelming size of the grammar, I have found them to be helpful in places that students will inevitably have questions.

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German Phrase of the Day

Es regnet Bratwürste!

-April Wilson, German Quickly

Das ist alles.

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3 Year Blogiversary

Yesterday this blog turned three years old. Accordingly, I thought I would give you a look at the three most viewed posts on the blog:

3. Elijah Christopher Cerone

2. What Happens When Dad Studies the OT?

and . . .

1. Greek Grammar Students Won’t Believe What’s Now Available . . .

If number one isn’t proof positive that click bait gets hits, then I don’t know what is.

Here’s to three years and many more!

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Recap of September–Novemeber

What I’ve been up to since the beginning of September:

  1. Completed a Greek reader of Ignatius’ letter to the Smyraeans.
  2. Completed a Greek reader of 1 Clement.
  3. Wrote over 90 pages for my thesis. On that note, I should mention that as of this morning, I am sitting at 167 pages with only a third left of my final chapter (excluding the conclusion, of course). I’m aiming for a thesis no longer than 200 pages (excluding the front and back matter). That’s only 75 pages over the standard 125 page ThM thesis! For a while there I thought it was going to be 300–400 pages, but I managed to limit the scope of the project.
  4. Translated through Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, 1 Corinthians, and 1 John. I just finished my reading of Acts this morning. Boy did things get difficult around Acts 27. All that nautical terminology made it a very difficult couple of days.
  5. Join a German study group.
  6. Created a Greek reading study group.
  7. Contacted a couple of professors about potential PhD programs.
  8. Lamented my future absence from ETS and SBL. Since we didn’t know where we would be living at the conclusion of the summer, we decided it best to not make plans to attend. Sadly, it just so happens that a number of my friends from college will not only be in attendance, but will be presenting papers.

I look forward to seeing what the rest of this year will bring (hopefully the finishing touches on my thesis), the conclusion of a number of outstanding projects, substantial progress in German, and a better idea of what school to attend along with the ability to get into said school.

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Pleonastic Pronouns: An Example from Genesis 1:11

For those of you familiar with Koine Greek, you may have come across the word pleonasm or pleonastic.

The word is derived from the Greek term πλεονασμός, which means “superfluous, unnecessary, redundant.”

The term is most often applied to participles in New Testament Greek, a pleonastic participle. An example of such a participle would be something akin to “answering, he said” (nb: other discourse explanations have been offered for so-called pleonastic participles of verbs of speaking. See chapter 7 of Runge’s Discourse Grammar.) or “going out, he went out.”

Yet, New Testament Greek is not the only place you will find the use of the words pleonasm or pleonastic. If you study the Septuagint, you have most likely encountered several articles on the pleonastic use of the pronoun. Since it took me a bit of time to make the word “stick” in my vocabulary and make application of the concept to examples within the LXX, I thought I might share an example I came across this morning in my studies.

pleonastic pronoun often arises in the LXX, simply put, when the relative pronoun אשר (which) occurs within the Hebrew text. Since אשר (which, whose) is undefined for case, number, and gender, Hebrew authors will often use a pronoun to identify the previous referent for which אשר stands. Let me give you an example from:

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֗ים תַּֽדְשֵׁ֤א הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ דֶּ֔שֶׁא עֵ֚שֶׂב מַזְרִ֣יעַ זֶ֔רַע עֵ֣ץ פְּרִ֞י עֹ֤שֶׂה פְּרִי֙ לְמִינ֔וֹ אֲשֶׁ֥ר זַרְעוֹ־ב֖וֹ

 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth vegetation, plants sowing seed, fruit tree making fruit according to its kind, which [has] its seed in it . . . 

Notice how the relative particle אשר is not marked for case, number, or gender. Thus, the subsequent noun זרע (seed) contains the 3rd person masculine pronoun ו (its) as a reference back to עץ פרי (fruit tree).

How does the Greek translator handle this construction?

καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεός Βλαστησάτω ἡ γῆ βοτάνην χόρτου, σπεῖρον σπέρμα κατὰ γένος καὶ καθ᾿ ὁμοιότητα, καὶ ξύλον κάρπιμον ποιοῦν καρπόν, οὗ τὸ σπέρμα αὐτοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ κατὰ γένος

And God said, “Let the earth put forth pasture land vegetation, seed propagating according to kind and according to likeness, and fruit–bearing tree producing fruit of which its seed is in it according to kind, on the earth” (NETS)

Notice the Greek relative pronoun οὗ (of which)? This pronoun is a neuter singular genitive. As such, the gender and number correspond to the gender and number of ξύλον κάρπιμον (fruit-bearing tree), letting the reader know that a further comment will be made about ξύλον κάρπιμον (fruit-bearing tree). The genitive case tells the reader how the pronoun functions in the sentence.

This one Greek word essentially accomplishes the tasks of two of the Hebrew words in this verse: אשר (which) and the personal pronoun ו (its). Accordingly, there is no need to translate the Hebrew pronoun ו (its). Yet, instead of leaving the pronoun untranslated, the translator renders the unnecessary (pleonastic) pronoun when providing τὸ σπέρμα αὐτοῦ (its seed) as a transaltion for זַרְעוֹ (its seed).

This phenomenon in the LXX, if I’m not mistake, results from a translator’s desire to provide a morphological equivalent for each word in his Vorlage (the original text from which he translates). Notice that the NETS translators, seeking to provide their readers with the feel of the LXX text reflects the pleonastic construction by translating with “of which its” instead of “and fruit-bearing tree producing fruit whose seed is in it . . . .”

I hope this little example helps you understand what it means for an element in NT or OT Greek to be pleonastic and how to recognize it when you encounter one.

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Decker’s Grammar: A Follow Up

downloadIn my previous post, I mentioned that Decker’s introductory grammar to Koine Greek is large, outweighing even Wallace’s Beyond the Basics. Now that I’ve read the introduction and the first two chapters, I thought I should provide a follow up post explaining, in Decker’s own terms, why this volume is as large as it is.

1) Decker includes a number of other features within the Grammar absent in others. For instance, he provides the student and teacher with two different systems of pronunciation instead of just giving the Erasmian schema (13).

2) He also alerts the reader to the presence of linguistically informed discussions throughout the book (xxiii).

3) The grammar is a hybrid between inductive and deductive approaches to teaching a language. That is to say, while the grammar is organized according to a deductive framework, he uses an “inductive reading-based approach” throughout the volume (xxiii). This greatly increases the size of the volume as it, in essence, weds an introductory grammar to a Greek reader.

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4) Decker also includes material that would traditionally be relegated to a Greek Exegesis course (xxiv). He writes,

The reason for this is simple: I have found that students repeatedly and habitually turn to their first-year grammar in later years when they need help with a perplexity in a text. Though the answer might in many cases be found in the more advanced grammars, having some introduction in the first book for which they reach has its advantages, especially if the question concerns not just a syntactical issue but is related to the forms of the language (often not included in intermediate or advanced texts). (xxiv).

The result of points 3 and 4 is like having all three of these together

Learn to Read NT Greek

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5) Decker strives to provide a grammar that is accessible to students without the aid of an instructor. Many grammars have the bare essentials needed for learning the language, but without the aid of a professor, students will have difficulties learning the language. Accordingly, Decker includes detailed discussions and several examples to help bridge the gap between what one knows about English and what is expected in order to learn Greek.

Much like I said in my previous post . . . wow!

As I have started reading through the chapters, I’ve found the discussions quite helpful and up-to-date. The prose is easy to read and is insightful. Decker’s decision to use an inductive approach within a deductive framework is needed. I’ve always wanted to see a grammar that incorporates more natural Greek earlier on and one that provides extended sections for translation at the end of chapters. Short sentences do not simulate the reading experience. Also, Decker’s inclusion of more details within the grammar on account of the fact that students always return to their initial grammar is well-reasoned. Dr. Black’s Grammar has long been my first stop shop for paradigms or grammatical and syntactical discussions for me. Student’s of Decker’s grammar will be well served by the addition of this detail.

Despite all these strengths—and there are many more that I will probably highlight in future posts—the magnitude of the volume is overwhelming, even for experienced students of Koine Greek. The prose is dense. Chapter 1, for example, on the alphabet (letters, pronunciation, vowels, diphthongs, diaeresis, breathing marks, punctuation, and accents) is 17 pages long, twice as long as another Greek Grammar. Though the material is arranged in a manner that makes it easy to skip unnecessary and more detailed sections, knowing this does not help to ease the mind. Chapter 2, on the nominative and accusative cases, has individual discussions on how case, gender, and number work in English and Greek. While helpful, it seems redundant as both discussions could have been treated together with greater economy.

I acknowledge that Decker handily deals with this criticism in the introduction of the volume. He notes that much of what he will include would typically be a part of the teacher’s art within the classroom experience. He has included it, nevertheless, as a means of assisting students without teachers and for those that will regularly return to the volume for answers. Still, I believe it may have been more beneficial to have two versions of the text: a teacher’s edition (which I believe this volume is) and a student’s edition.

That is to say, when I teach a Greek Grammar class, I typically include all the information Decker includes in his discussions within the classroom and I often look for examples in order to illustrate the material and make comparisons with English. Towards that end, I will, in the future, routinely come to Decker’s grammar for his explanations and examples. Students may get frustrated or distracted, however, by the extensive reading before arriving at the heart of the material. Croy’s grammar mitigates this, for example, by providing students and teachers with a supplemental .pdf file that contains lengthier explanations, worksheets, and handouts.

This criticism should not be a determining factor in using this book inside of outside the classroom. In my experience, many students benefit from a variety of ways of explaining certain features. By including his detailed approach, students will benefit (1) from a different manner of teaching than their own professor, and (2) possess a comprehensive set of notes to which they can always return.

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Decker’s Grammar: First Impression

Dr. Decker’s Reading Koine Greek came in this evening. My first impression is “Wow.” I’ve placed it beside Wallace’s Beyond the Basics and Black’s Learn to Read New Testament Greek for comparison.

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Though Wallace may have more pages, Decker “outweighs” him by a few ounces. I wish I had Mounce at the apartment for comparison.

I look forward to exploring the grammar as I have time.

Oh, and before I forget, Decker includes a helpful “Key Things to Know” section at the end of each chapter like Black’s grammar. I always found this section at the end of Black’s grammar to be helpful for both students and teachers.

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