For many of you, the title of this post will likely make you turn tail and run to another site in order to kill time before vacation starts. I wouldn’t blame you. After all, what is deponency and why should I care?
For those of you that are still with me, “deponency” is a word from the Latin “de” + “pono” meaning “to lay aside.” The word is used to describe Latin words that “lay aside” the middle voice and are to be translated as active verbs. The term is later used to explain a tricky phenomenon in Greek. Certain words in Greek only have middle endings and do not have active endings: ερχομαι, δεχομαι, and πορευομαι, to name a few. Grammarians have used the category of deponency to say that words such as these have laid aside their middle meaning and should be translated as active verbs. My Greek Grammar I professor described deponent verbs as “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”
Well, after eleven years of discussion within the SBL Biblical Greek Language and Linguistics Section, Cynthia Westfall, Jonathan Pennington, Bernard Taylor, and Rutger Allan have observed the corpse of deponency, said some parting words, and pronounced the category dead on Monday November 19th at 1:00PM; they killt it. As hostile as the terminology may seem, they made it clear from the outset that they mean no hostility towards those of the old guard. They are simply looking for a way forward in “how to teach the middle voice.”
The session was interesting. I thought it was a little rash to pronounce deponency dead. I just showed up to this party; but it turns out the party has dragged on like a bad SNL sketch. For this reason, I’m not capable of providing a lucid account of the proceedings here. Instead, I will give a few highlights.
- Pennington argued that the MP forms communicate subject effectedness.
- Deponency was never a category Greeks used to explain “deponent” verbs. It only came around after extensive contact with the Latin language.
- Pennington was also generous to the old grammarians. He specifically cites Dr. Black’s Learn to Read New Testament Greek and others and says that he was encouraged that they have treated the category with nuance lacking in previous grammars.
I will conclude with this. I eagerly await Dr. Black’s Advanced Greek Grammar class. We will be discussing current issues in Greek Grammar. On second thought, Dr. Black, I’m not sure if you intended to address the matter of deponency next semester…you might want to reconsider… it isn’t all that current anymore…its…well…dead 😉