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Reading in 3s

This was mentioned to me by a student recently in a small group class that I am kind-of mentoring, and I think it’s worth adapting and sharing. The original idea, or at least where the student got it from, is Daniel Wallace, here. It’s the idea that you should translate each chapter of the New Testament three times, and rotate chapters in and out of rotation.

Now, I don’t really think you should be translating, I think you should be reading passages at a level you can comprehend with just a little bit of help. But I do think this idea has a lot of merit. Here’s how I’m implementing it in my own readings: the rule of 3s (see also Where Are Your Keys technique: Three Times)

So, say I’m reading a text, like Ørberg’s Roma Aeterna (which I happen to be. Everyone raves about the first book, Familia Romana, and for good reason, but the second book might be even more well-thought out than the first, for different reasons). I decide that reading 3 pages of text is enough for each reading session (i.e. each day or so), and so I read like this:

Day 1: Pages 1, 2, 3.

Day 2: Pages 2, 3, 4

Day 3: Pages 3, 4, 5 etc..

This is a really helpful reading strategy for comprehension and for repetition. After you “get-going” in a text, 2/3 of your reading will be re-reading. So you get a chance to tackle that material two extra times before leaving it behind. It should be easier those times, right? So you’re getting repetition, and slightly spaced repetition, but you shouldn’t be getting bored or overwhelmed, because you’re moving forward.

Also, your new material for the day is contextualised. You don’t have to pick it up and wonder where you were and what was going on. You create your own lead-in to the new section of material.

You can do this on a page level, or multiple pages, or sections, or however your text is divided and however you want to carve it up. Just remember that you’re probably better underestimating your ability to get through text, than being gung-ho ambitious at the start. You can always scale your reading up, but if you start with overly high expectations you may end up giving up rather than scaling down.

This is one approach I’m trying for extensive reading with a few texts I’ve got “on the slow burner” at the moment. Try it out and let me know how it goes for you.

From a recent talk on the creeds

Creeds originated as a confession of faith for believers to express their core convictions, especially in the context of instruction for, and the practice of, baptism. They took the essential elements of the Christian faith, as taught and held by the church consistently across the world, and framed that around a trinitarian structure that expressed belief in the God of the Scriptures, and a narrative frame that retold the Gospel story in its salvific significance.

And yet, Creeds were not static eternal mysteries which proclaimed a timeless, unalterable truth. They arose in specific historical contexts, shaped by local forces. No single person or council ever sat down and made the Apostles’ Creed what it is, but a process of some 650 years. The Nicene creed was shaped by a council, and that was something new and unique. And yet it too was specific – a test of orthodoxy to exclude and destroy Arius and his theology. They never imagined themselves to be promulgating a creed for the ages. Nor is the Nicene creed as they wrote it what it became. Similarly, and even more so, the Creed of Constantinople was not the Nicene creed revised, was once more a product of its occasion, and never intended to even displace the Nicene creed. Indeed, for more than 70 years it remained dormant, until produced to great effect at Chalcedon. Nonetheless, it gained wide acceptance and became the creed that simultaneously united, and divided, the great church East and West. For it too was not immune to alteration, with the filioque clause driving a small, but significant, wedge between the two great traditions.

The significance of the creeds thus lies not in what their framers thought they were doing – as if the bishops in each situation sat down to write a creed of eternal and lasting significance and authority – but in what their inheritors thought them to have done. For it is how creeds are received, that turns them from the occasional to the timeless. Christians throughout the ages treasured these creeds as expressing inalterable truths of the Christian faith.

And here lies the great value of creeds, if we are willing to hear it. That their value lies not in some carved in stone form, but in their carefully guarded content. For creeds mark out what has been, and remains, worth guarding well – the deposit of faith. Creeds from the 4th century onwards were born in controversy and set forth the convictions of their authors – this is true, and that is not. To depart from the historic creeds of the church is not justifiable as “well, they are only temporary documents made for specific occasions”, but is to abandon the very core of Christianity as we have received it. To paraphrase one memorable lecturer of mine, you can decide that the Nicene creed isn’t Biblical, but you won’t end up with Christianity! The Christian faith is a credal faith.

Thoughts on copyright and ancient texts in modern editions

What exactly is the copyright status of ancient texts in modern editions?

Nobody knows and most of us are too afraid to find out. I’m not a lawyer, and this is not a legal opinion, but it is an opinion about legal matters. Also, copyright legislation differs from country to country, and I am speaking more generally.

Personally I’m of the view that copyright is a bad way to solve the problem of protecting authorial rights, creatives’ incomes, and intellectual property. I am all for authors having rights, creatives generating income for their labour, and intellectual work being rewarded, I am unconvinced that intellectual property law is the best way to do it. Particularly, the analogue of intellectual property to real property is problematic, in that theft involves the deprivation of a good from someone, and copying by definition does not involve theft, but replication.

Nonetheless, we are all living with copyright regimes at the moment, the question is whether they apply to ancient texts. The initial answer would seem to be “no”, because all those texts are well out of the time allowed for copyrights, and have fallen into the Public Domain. Aristotle’s right to protect his work does not persist down to this age.

And yet, ancient texts appear in modern editions – edited volumes put together by textual critics who attempt to present something like (a) a critical edition best conjecturing the original text (with necessary caveats about discussions in the field about what ‘original text’ means, and whether this is even possible/desirable), or (b) an edition edition best conjecturing a single manuscript or a manuscript family, where the author isn’t trying to necessarily construct (a).

Almost every modern edition I’ve seen claims a copyright. On what basis?

Most jurisdictions allow that a derivative work can gain copyrightable status on the basis of creative work, but not on the basis of mere labour, however intensive. The question then becomes, is textual criticism sufficiently ‘creative’ to constitute a new work?

I would argue no, it cannot be on the basis of the purpose of textual criticism itself – to present a text that isn’t new, that doesn’t deviate, that attempts to best faithfully represent what it believes the prior text to be. While textual criticism can, indeed does, involve creativity in decision making, it ought not involve authoring new content ab initio.

This seems to be the finding that occasioned Roger Pearse’s blog post of 2014 on the topic, though I have no follow up on that French case.

To be clear, this view would only apply to the actual text of the ancient work, not to apparatus and critical material, which are indeed copyrighted. Nor am I implying that editorial work is not difficult, laborious, involving intelligence and education, and worthy of decent payment. Copyright is not the answer to that, and it does disservice to those desiring to work with ancient texts.

There are more egregious problems with copyright on ancient texts. I want to close with mention of two glaring ones that irk me particularly. The first is BHS, at least some editions, which claim to basically follow a single text, the Leningrad codex, of the Masoretic Text of the Old Testament. To the extent that an edition preserves and presents a single manuscript, it cannot be copyrighted or copyrightable – reproduction of a text does not create a copyright. Claiming that it does is intellectually dishonest and probably fraudulent.

The second is digitisation. Digitisation is an expensive, laborious, and surprisingly time-intensive task to do. But it does not create copyrights. One notable database of ancient texts, actually more than one, claims not merely to control usage through licensing and Terms of Service (which are other, legally legitimate, but sometimese morally dubious ways to control what users do with texts), but copyright-holder status over its texts, including texts which are clearly in the public domain such as the Migne Patrologia volumes. Digitisation definitely does not count as creative labour, and does not create a copyright for the digitiser. This is fraudulent.

And yet, this is unlikely to be resolved any time soon. Copyright law is big business, is mired in modern concerns that are equally problematic for other reasons, and gets expensive very fast for those found guilty of infringement. To put some of these claims to the test requires financial backing to take them to court, and a willingness to risk academic censure. Simply put, few people who care about these issues are in a position to put this to the test.

The solution, though it is hardly that, is to work around these problems, editions, and institutions. To produce truly open-access texts that are not locked up under copyright, but are freely usable by the scholarly community at large. To do that, too, requires funding, but at least funding that will go into creating usable resources for subsequent generations and not fueling legal fights that may achieve nothing short or long term.

Some rambling thoughts on an ideal ancient languages classroom

A response to Fran’s comments here.

I don’t think anything I have to say here is particularly new, from my perspective, in that I haven’t changed my views that much in the past couple of years. An old but still valid post on this topic is here.

I’m convinced pedagogically, and experientially, that an ancient languages class ought to major on comprehensible input and communicative methods even if the main orientation of study at a macro level is the reading and interpretation of texts. The not-as-traditional-as-presented Grammar/Translation methodology does not produce good readers of texts, except almost accidentally among those who do enough G/T to get a relatively large among of ‘exposure’ to comprehensible input.

It does produce students, among those who survive, capable of commenting on texts using grammatical jargon. This is not totally useless, but teach grammar and you produce grammarians.

Meta-language discussions (linguistics/grammar) I would want to (a) teach in the medium of the language itself, (b) teach in (English/other) separately to the language classroom.

I do think there’s a difference between seminary settings and college/university/other settings. That primarily has to do with time available to students for languages, and scope of their target texts. Seminary students primarily want to read a very limited corpus (e.g. the New Testament), which is understandable but problematic (from a language perspective), and they have more restricted time (a Greek course sitting precariously amidst myriad other commitments). Students in, say, a classics program (or parallel situation, but I’ll stick to rambling about Classics for now) ought to do a lot more language, a lot earlier, and shift their upper level courses into using the target language as medium of discussion.

What else would I want to say? I don’t think it’s true that most teachers of Greek at theological colleges have only one year of actual Greek study. Based on my analysis of staffing practices, Greek is almost always taught by New Testament lecturers with PhDs in New Testament. The problem there is not lack of Greek, but that how much Greek you need for a PhD in New Testament is surprisingly limited.

I don’t do enough communicative work in my own limited teaching, partly my own failings, partly due to the fact that I predominantly tutor students enrolled in other people’s programs who need to conform to those expectations not my own. I do think with a free hand, a radical overhaul is worth it.


Mastronarde’s Introduction to Attic Greek

Well let’s have another brief review, shall we?

Mastronarde’s Introduction to Attic Greek dates back to 1993, at least, and has long been in use at UC Berkeley, and elsewhere. A second edition was released in 2013, though I am only familiar with the first edition. Both editions are well supported with some internet resources at (2nd edition; a site for the 1st edition thankfully remains online. (A list of changes between editions can be found here)

Mastronarde outlines his pedagogical beliefs in his preface, saying, “My presentation is based on the belief that college students who are trying to learn Greek deserve full exposure to the morphology and grammar that they will encounter in real texts and full explanations of what they are asked to learn.” And the textbook does just that. Mastronarde does not hold back on quite full explanations, and expects (or at least presents) the panoply of Greek morphology through.

Personally, I came to Mastronarde twice – first as an independent learner trying to transition myself from a Koine background to Classical Greek, secondly as a student picking up a class to ‘fix’ my Greek (it was a class covering the second half of Mastronarde, and it was probably worth it though perhaps unnecessary).

Each chapter presents a thorough treatment of new grammatical material with in depth explanations of the reasons for morphological changes and examples of usage patterns. This is followed by vocab to be learnt and then exercises. Exercises include reading/translation passages (Greek > English) and translation exercises (English > Greek).

Mastronarde also states in the preface his aversion to a reading/inductive methodology where students are exposed to a reading text and meant to figure it out by themselves. However, he certainly doesn’t disavow reading itself. The textbook constantly brings the student into encounters with real Greek texts, and the expectation of the author is that the textbook may be used alongside, especially in the second half, the reading of a first Greek text (Xenophon being an obvious candidate).

Personally, I still turn to Mastronarde if I want an explanation for something. It’s in-depth, and yet user-friendly enough that it’s often more useful to read Mastronarde’s treatment of a grammatical topic, than to turn to a reference grammar like Smyth. For those who like a rigourist approach of grammar/morphology/reading/translation, I do recommend Mastronarde to them, as it’s a lot more friendly than, say, H&Q, though no less a stern taskmaster. I’m not sure I’d teach from it, but as usual that’s more due to my pedagogical preferences. Mastronarde is probably one of the better offerings on the market for traditional Classical Greek introductory textbooks.

PhD passed: some initial reflections

Late last Wednesday I received the email from our Higher Degree Research Office informing me that my doctoral dissertation had been passed, “subject to some corrections”.

It was a while later before I was able to begin to read through the examiners’ reports. In our Australian system there is no viva, and dissertations are sent out to three external examiners for comment. I suspect this is a result of the tyrannies of distance, and also a relic of an age when theses had to be sent back to Oxbridge because God-forbid an Australian give a degree to an Australian.

The examiners were very positive, with two out of three being exceedingly so, and one employing such outrageously laudatory language that it became a little embarrassing. This was very pleasant to hear, naturally. Moreso, because a lot of my dissertation had been done in relative isolation – I didn’t have a good peer-group in my field on-campus, and my supervisor had been so overwhelming positive and un-critical that I was beginning to think my work must be genius or nonsense but who could tell?

A number of typos slipped through to the end, which is a shame, but almost inevitable despite careful proofing. I was heartened, though, that when someone corrected the accent on a Greek infinitive, they were as wrong as I was, and the correct form was something else!

On a substance level, the examiners were also very positive (indeed, emphatic) on the move to publication, and gave strong feedback on areas to address and improve in moving from thesis to book.

So at present I’m making those final edits – mostly the correction of typos – which will see the PhD ‘completed’ properly. The next graduation is not until September, sadly. I’m feeling very buoyed by the positive reception of the thesis though, and will move on to turning it into a book as quickly as is reasonable.



State of the Projects, March 2017

I don’t know if anyone enjoys these or not, but they are helpful for me to write.


Still waiting on examiners’ reports. It will be 3 months on Monday, so I really do expect to hear shortly.


Continues to be unsuccessful. 9 rejections and 1 job cancelled to date. Still have a few ‘out there’. I have picked up an array of casual positions (some adjunct work, some language tutoring, some marking, and some other things), so at least there will be some money coming in.


I sent off one article for a journal about a week ago. I have the core of a second article done but it needs another revision and strengthening. No shortage of other things to write on, but time is very short these days.


I’m almost finished a first pass through Gregory of Nyssa’s De Deitate. It’s not difficult, it’s quite enjoyable, but again time is short. The second pass will be much quicker, and I should be able to get a patristic reader text, a publishable (?) translation, and maybe some thoughts for an article or two.

Blogging plans

We got started on our textbook review series. I missed this week though. Still, good to be blogging a bit more, and hopefully more to come.