"Tools of the Trade"

Anything related to Biblical Greek that doesn't fit into the other forums.

"Tools of the Trade"

Postby cwconrad » September 4th, 2011, 6:29 pm

Larry Hurtado has a blog entry with the rubric above: https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2011 ... the-trade/ -- I hesitated to call attention to it in the "Seen on the Web" subforum because I don't really think this falls under the heading of "cool stuff." It's a rather alarming comment on incompetence in Greek as well as textual criticism and critical modern languages demonstrated by doctoral candidates in NT studies. In one paragraph Hurtado notes, "In one case, the examiner suspected that the student didn’t know koine Greek very well. So he put a Greek NT on the table and asked the student to read out and translate a passage (one directly involved in the thesis). The student couldn’t even pronounce the Greek and couldn’t translate it."

The link between reliance on Biblical software packages and incompetence in Biblical Greek is at least hinted at here; that's been a growing concern of mine for some time now. The big issue, I guess, is: what kinds of competence should be looked for in doctoral candidates in NT studies?
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
… ἐπειδὴ καὶ τὸν οἶνον ἠξίους
πίνειν, συνεκποτέ’ ἐστί σοι καὶ τὴν τρύγα Aristophanes, Plutus 1085
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Re: "Tools of the Trade"

Postby George F Somsel » September 5th, 2011, 1:51 am

The link between reliance on Biblical software packages and incompetence in Biblical Greek is at least hinted at here; that's been a growing concern of mine for some time now. The big issue, I guess, is: what kinds of competence should be looked for in doctoral candidates in NT studies?

I would say that the approach should be precisely that which the examiner took with the doctoral candidate. While I do use electronic software in my Greek and Hebrew work, I take care that I have already drawn my conclusions regarding the text before using the helps provided by the software (other than clicking on a word to bring up the lexicon at that point). It is too easy to use such things as analytical lexica, interlinears and software to stumble through a passage. In seminary examinations in all phases of the coursework were given including reading of a passage which was not previously made known as a requirement for graduation. That should be the practice in every seminary. I would also encourage all seminaries to require both Greek and Hebrew proficiency for all graduates. If you can't read the texts which form the basis of the Church, what kind of ministry can you have? You are totally at the mercy of whatever another says. Unfortunately, not only are seminaries dropping the language requirements, those who do take the coursework frequently end up learning only enough to be dangerous. One thing that stands out in Islam is that they do not approve of the use of translations. Would that we did the same in the Church.
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Re: "Tools of the Trade"

Postby cwconrad » September 5th, 2011, 7:48 am

There's a lengthy followup posted today by Larry Hurtado: evidently his post yesterday has generated quite a bit of feedback.

http://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2011/ ... de-encore/
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
… ἐπειδὴ καὶ τὸν οἶνον ἠξίους
πίνειν, συνεκποτέ’ ἐστί σοι καὶ τὴν τρύγα Aristophanes, Plutus 1085
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Re: "Tools of the Trade"

Postby cwconrad » September 5th, 2011, 9:45 am

Just to follow up on an item from Larry Hurtado's initial blog post:

(https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2011 ... the-trade/)

In my initial note on this blog, I noted the linkage between Biblical language software tools and incompetence in Biblical Greek displayed by would-be NT scholars. Here's another comment from that original post:

It is indispensable to be able to read Koine Greek well. That means a good knowledge of grammar, a decent working vocabulary, and as much experience reading different texts as one can develop. Also Hebrew. Latin is highly desirable too, but not as essential for biblical studies.


A corollary indication of this growing incompetence in Biblical Greek -- and of an expectation and adjustment to the growing incompetence in Biblical Greek -- is the authorial practice of commentators on Biblical texts to cite standard translations of Greek passages or offer their own translations (sometimes they may even omit the Greek text altogether).

Why should that matter? Because, as George Somsel notes, "You are totally at the mercy of whatever another says." If you cannot pass judgment on a claim made by a commentator or by an author of a monograph who offers a Biblical Greek text as evidence for an assertion, then you are in no position to accept or reject that assertion: you must accept it on blind faith or reject it without any criterion for rejection. The assertion may strike your fancy because it accords with assumptions you hold, or you may find it jarring and be inclined to doubt it -- but you have no resources of your own to help you critique the assertion.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
… ἐπειδὴ καὶ τὸν οἶνον ἠξίους
πίνειν, συνεκποτέ’ ἐστί σοι καὶ τὴν τρύγα Aristophanes, Plutus 1085
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Re: "Tools of the Trade"

Postby Randall Tan » September 5th, 2011, 1:53 pm

I share the concern expressed about growing incompetence in the biblical languages. However, I respectfully disagree that biblical language software tools should shoulder the blame.

First, primary responsibility lies with the users--fallen human beings who misuse & abuse helpful tools to their own detriment. Second, languages are really tools for communication & for learning from others & regardless of culture or time period only a relatively small percentage of adults would be sufficiently interested & motivated to go out of their way to spend years to master these tools when the majority are usually more interested in the ideas &/or their practical application--most will always gravitate towards shortcuts to get at the ideas & their application more quickly, e.g., through translation & other tools (including biblical language software tools).

Third, larger environmental forces & pressures have long been at work to marginalize the importance of the biblical languages in seminary training (also in religious departments in universities--I am only commenting on an American context here in what follows): (1) the decline of American public education, such that many Americans graduate high school with deficient reading skills & knowledge of English grammar (also most Americans basically come out of high school monolingual even if some kind of foreign language classes were required as these courses were often taught in a deficient way); (2) humanities & languages generally get the short end of the stick in the face of budgetary cuts & prioritization at all levels of education in modern American society; (3) religious institutions in particular have long been reducing or eliminating biblical language requirements in various programs for various reasons, including an increasing bent towards practical ministry & economic pressures.

There is little that can be done about these larger environmental forces & pressures, except those of us with children can ensure that our own children will be better equipped (through home schooling or private schooling that includes high quality training in classical languages & various modern languages). For PhDs in biblical studies, I think concerted & well-thought comprehensive plans need to be put in place to uphold competence in biblical languages, including increased & perhaps separate courses & training (as compared to what is required for others not pursuing this track) as prerequisites for entrance into a Ph.D. program & additional training after admittance.

Biblical language software tools can also be part of the solution, rather than a problem, even in the training of PhDs in biblical studies. Instructors & professors need to adjust & adapt their methods to take advantage of increased possibilities for training afforded by these tools. The key is to go beyond traditional isolated drills on parsing, grammar, or word for word translation & to use these tools to push students to read larger chunks of texts & to drill them on integrating parsing, grammar, interpretation, & intelligent translation. In addition, for lay people & even people in ministry who never master the biblical languages, biblical language software tools can open up the biblical text to them in a way previously impossible--the solution for giving them better & less one-sided information is to improve & expand on existing software tools, to include not just "what" but "how" & "why" information--not just one person or one group's conclusions, but step by step replicable methods & reasons/arguments, including the presentation of alternative views. So, in my opinion, thus far not enough time & resources have been invested into producing high quality & multi-faceted biblical language software tools that can bridge the gap between interpretation & theologizing/application.
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Re: "Tools of the Trade"

Postby dougchaplin » September 5th, 2011, 6:06 pm

I would largely agree with the points made by Randall Tan, here.

Certainly, software can make it easy to "cheat". I rather deplore the way the main packages key so many original language helps to Strong's numbers, for example. On the other hand, to give a counter example, they also make it possible to quickly call up all uses of any word, especially in similar verbal combinations, thus making it easier to make one's own deductions on nuance and connotation as well as denotative meaning, by examining a wide range of usage quickly.

Yet, to be blunt, unless the software was capable of making the unskilled reader feel they were accessing the original languages in some way, it would probably not be economically viable to produce it, or else it would only be affordable by institutions. It is the larger market that makes it possible. In the same way, I think this explains what Carl Conrad deplores: the lack of original language work in more and more commentaries. Personally, I would rather have fewer commentaries than are on the market, but again, the production of commentaries is more market driven, by segmentation and branding, than by quality of scholarship or originality of view.

Both these points ought to be largely irrelevant to the complaint Larry Hurtado was making about the quality of PhD submissions at the point of submission. The ability to use software rightly as a tool is a good thing to develop; likewise the ability to quote properly from the original language text, and make significant use of commentaries which are based on it are essential qualifications. The fact that it is possible to use the software badly to avoid the hard work, or to be satisfied with the use of texts and commentaries which are purely in the student's native language, would seem to me to point at least as much to a problem with low standards of supervision in the university's own approach.

That might be down to the same market-driven approach that produces the kind of software and commentary markets that we have, but it does, I think point more to the fact that universities have a significant role in maintaining the standards, value and purpose of a university education as something more than a particular type of entry to the job-market, and a postgraduate education as more than facilitating an academic career.

Doug
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Re: "Tools of the Trade"

Postby cwconrad » September 5th, 2011, 8:39 pm

I very much appreciate the points Doug Chaplin makes with reference to the way the market drives the production of commentaries and the responsibilities of educational institutions to enforce meaningful standards of competence upon those subject to their tutelage. I rather suspect that high expectations of competence in Biblical Greek are a lost cause by and large in the seminaries and that it is the graduate schools that must sustain and even improve on rigorous standards. That's where Larry Hurtado's blog notes are pointing -- and he notes some deplorable instances of very lax standards applied to some doctoral candidates at certain "unnamed" institutions. For my part, I continue to lament the growing dependence of more and more persons who want to understand what the Biblical Greek text says and means upon the competence and scholarship of fewer professionals to whom they must look for advice but whose qualifications they cannot themselves evaluate.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
… ἐπειδὴ καὶ τὸν οἶνον ἠξίους
πίνειν, συνεκποτέ’ ἐστί σοι καὶ τὴν τρύγα Aristophanes, Plutus 1085
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Re: "Tools of the Trade"

Postby RandallButh » September 6th, 2011, 2:38 am

George egrapse:
One thing that stands out in Islam is that they do not approve of the use of translations. Would that we did the same in the Church.



George, I can partially agree with you. But the better picture may be the synagogue, where source and translation have traditionally been held in tension. The source is always maintained and given prestige as the source, yet translation and targum have always been appreciated as providing 'spin' and commentary.

Along these lines you may appreciate reading (or even rereading) the parable in Greek on the BLC blog:

http://www.biblicallanguagecenter.com/a ... k-parable/

Both the synagogue and mosque feature in the parable.

ἔρρωσο
Ἰωάνης
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Re: "Tools of the Trade"

Postby JBarach-Sr » September 6th, 2011, 10:53 am

When I was in seminary, several students complained about having to learn Greek and lobbied to have it removed from the curriculum.
But what is ironic, is that some of these same students went to a mission field where they spent a couple years learning a foreign language.
They gained fluency in one of the difficult Asian languages or in an inflected language.
Like Greek and Hebrew, some of the languages had non-Latin orthography.
Greek is no harder than some of these languages, is it?
Besides the statement, "It's all Greek to me," what is the stigma that brands Greek as being too difficult?
How was the PhD candidate able to bypass the study of Greek?
καὶ ἀνέγνωσαν ἐν βιβλίῳ νόμου τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ ἐδίδασκεν Εσδρας καὶ διέστελλεν ἐν ἐπιστήμῃ κυρίου καὶ συνῆκεν ὁ λαὸς ἐν τῇ ἀναγνώσει. (Neh. 8:8)
http://www.motorera.com/greek/lxx/neh/neh08.html
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Re: "Tools of the Trade"

Postby cwconrad » September 6th, 2011, 11:36 am

JBarach-Sr wrote:When I was in seminary, several students complained about having to learn Greek and lobbied to have it removed from the curriculum.
But what is ironic, is that some of these same students went to a mission field where they spent a couple years learning a foreign language.
They gained fluency in one of the difficult Asian languages or in an inflected language.
Like Greek and Hebrew, some of the languages had non-Latin orthography.
Greek is no harder than some of these languages, is it?
Besides the statement, "It's all Greek to me," what is the stigma that brands Greek as being too difficult?
How was the PhD candidate able to bypass the study of Greek?


I dispute none of what you have said. I frankly think it's the seminaries that have dropped the ball. If students have complained that it's hard to learn, a major reason for that is that it's been poorly taught and taught by reliance on a misguided grammar-translation type of pedagogy, perhaps even -- to some extent -- by teachers who are themselves not fully committed to Greek. Of course those students could have been taught ancient Greek in a fashion not much unlike that in which they learned those Asian languages, but those who teach Greek that way in the world today can probably be counted on the fingers of two hands (if not of just one). I think it's the seminaries that have, however reluctantly, concluded that one can do exegesis without understanding more of Greek than can be illuminated by Biblical Greek software programs, and that the hours spent on learning Greek to an adequate degree would be better spent on more "practical" aspects of preparation for ministry. I think this shift has already taken place and is not likely to be reversible.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
… ἐπειδὴ καὶ τὸν οἶνον ἠξίους
πίνειν, συνεκποτέ’ ἐστί σοι καὶ τὴν τρύγα Aristophanes, Plutus 1085
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