A Greek Reader: A companion to A Primer of Biblical Greek, by Mark Jeong. Eerdmans 2022
This review comes in two parts. Firstly, I’m going to give some general impressions and thoughts on the book as a whole. Following that, I have some specific notes on the Greek text throughout, combining things I found interesting, odd, or in a few cases that ought to be corrected.
Part 1: A Review
The spheres of language education in classics (here I specifically mean Greek and Latin), and biblical studies (primarily Koine Greek and Biblical Hebrew) have lamentably not overlapped for a good while. While communicative approaches received a resurgence in Latin, Greek has sadly lagged behind. On the other hand, within biblical languages, it was probably Hebrew that received earlier attention. In both cases, Greek has been playing a catch-up game. The teaching of “New Testament” Greek in particular, in seminary settings, has been particularly recalcitrant, which is why I consider this book something of a landmark. Yes, there are excellent things going on in communicative Koine (I should know!), but very few have made their way to book form.
The first thing that strikes me, after opening this book, is that Jeong has definitely engaged with not just modern language education, but the current currents around communicative methods in ancient languages. This is marked by the references to CI, comprehensibility and compelling, and citations of Krashen, and Robert Patrick, in the Introduction. At the same time, this volume ties itself to Croy’s A Primer of Biblical Greek, a fairly traditional grammar-based curriculum. It allows those bound with a more traditional textbook the opportunity to supplement, expand, or otherwise tweak the confines of their pedagogy, with a stand-alone resource that anyone could adapt to their own program (or private study).
There are 32 Lessons, mapped to Croy, with stories of increasing length. The Greek text of the stories is laid out on the left-hand page, with vocabulary and idiom notes on the right-hand pages, though these are not overwhelming. It’s always hard to know exactly how much help to provide, and I think Jeong strikes a good balance of assuming prior knowledge, presuming a student is also working with Croy or at least something similar. The text is laid out with generous margins and good spacing, so a student has plenty of space for annotating. The last section of the book contains English translations of all the stories, so a student can always check their understanding, particularly useful for someone studying without an instructor.
The stories generally follow a storyline imaginatively constructed around Paul, Onesimus, and Philemon. Interweaved with this main storyline are some shorter pieces drawing on Old Testament material, or stand-alone vignettes. The text evidences good repetition, creative reuse of vocabulary and structures (especially early on), a good grasp of biblical usage, and is a pleasure to read.
If you’re a professor of NT Greek, I’d commend this book for consideration as a useful auxiliary tool to whatever else you are already doing. If you’re a student of NT Greek, I’d also highly recommend this reader as a great source of graded, interesting, comprehensible Greek in a NT idiom. Even if you were a student of Attic or Classical Greek, this would make a good reading resource, unless you’re a person put off by reading anything Christian at all, in which case you should leave this book on the shelf.
As I state in my commentary below, writing original Greek is a challenging task, and Mark Jeong has done a sensational job here. May we see many more resources of this kind appear in the future!
My thanks to Eerdmans for a free copy of this book. This did not affect my thoughts in any way so far as I know.
Part 2: Commentary and Errata
In the below notes I give the lesson (sometimes with a letter indicating which story), then page number, then line number (it’s a shame that line numbers don’t continue over page breaks!)
1.p2 The very first reading contains αὐτός and αὐτή used as default third person pronouns in the nominative, a feature of some Koine, but not universally. In my view, it’s better to treat this as a less-common feature of NT Koine, where I think our instinct should still be to read nominative forms αὐτός as at least mildly emphatic (setting aside their other uses).
Also, and this is by no means a criticism of Jeong alone, but could we acknowledge that there is a real historical oddity about saying that Ἰάκωβος means “James”?
2.p6.34 Δαυὶδ θέλει λυέιν τὸ βιβλίον. While it’s common knowledge that λύω is taught early in NT Greek grammars, and glossed with “loosen, destroy”, I do wonder whether the most natural understanding of λύειν with a book as an object is “destroy”.
By lesson 3 we are getting more of a story going. Yet, and anyone who’s written original composition in Greek will know this, it’s *really* hard to write “natural sounding” Greek, especially when it’s grammatically or vocabulary sheltered. And this is struggling early on. That said, it’s understandable, and it’s grammatical, and that’s really all we should be judging it on. The reader improves as the book goes on.
3D.p14.26 a strict γραμματεύς might complain that ἀκούειν should take an accusative object when it’s the sound heard rather than the person.
4A.p18.3-4 τὸ τέκνον ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ δούλου ἐστίν. I personally feel this is a place where I would have dropped the article from the predicate complement. I actually took a dive into predicate complements in the New Testament where both Subject and Predicate are definite nouns, and I would argue that a bit more nuance is required about when and where the article is used on the predicate in these situations. See also Smyth 1150-52
5AS.p22. In chapter 5 we begin to get discourse about δοῦλος καλός and δοῦλος πονηρός. One thing I have critically reflected upon having worked with Lingua Latina PSI for so long, is the way in which almost all of these intro textbooks, by privileging enslaver/enslaved nouns and good/bad early on, is that good enslaved people work hard and obey their enslavers, bad enslaved people are ‘lazy’ and ‘don’t want to work’. So, while this represents historically accurate (for some periods and places) depiction of how enslavers think enslaved people should be morally evaluated, do we as authors of pedagogical materials want to simply reiterate that presentation in classroom materials.
7A.p32.24 Can Paul really be called a βάρβαρος, except as a rhetorical move?
7A.p32.29: ὀχλοί does often appear as plural in the NT, though I wonder at introducing it as a plural.
7B.p34.5 ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὁ ἐν τῷ πλοίῳ – I find this a surprising use of an attributive phrase, because its content seems like it should be adverbial.
7B.p34.16 οὐκ ἔστι αὐτός … This is a good example of how even in the NT, the nominative αὐτός probably shouldn’t be treated as a default 3rd person pronoun, as we see in the source text John 6:42, οὗτος
8A.p36 introduces demonstratives, especially as adjectives. The difficulty I encounter here is that it feels like “input flooding” – every 2 out of 3 noun phrases has a demonstrative tacked on, and this feels unnatural.
8B.p38 Philemon is baptised in the sea in Colossae. But Colossae is located inland in Phrygia, and there is no sea nor lake near it.
9A.p40 I suppose this whole ‘sea’ problem is created by following Croy’s vocabulary, because here again the Ethiopian eunuch is being baptised in a ‘sea’.
9B.p24.14 I think the second δέ is odd, following on from the question.
One of the nice features of Jeong’s reader is the way it moves back and forth between adapting Scripture passages, including from the Old Testament, and then reusing those words, phrases, and structures in continuing the main storyline of Philemon (and Onesimos)
10Β.p48.17 μένει μετ’ αὐτόν reads a little oddly to me. I suspect ὄπισθεν would have done better here.
10B.p48.31 ποτε reads a little oddly here, since the sense of ‘on one previous occasion’ is not in view. πρότερον seems more natural to me.
Also I wonder what social situation Jeong imagines where the mere presence of a stranger elicits mob intervention.
12A.p52.20 τοῦτο τὸ τέκνον ἐστίν reads as an odd word ordering to me.
Also, this narrative itself is a little odd!
14Α.p60.32 εἰ in a protasis should rarely be followed by οὐ. I believe this occurs twice in the NT, in Mt 26·42, Jn 10:37. Explanations for εἰ + οὐ can be found, e.g. Symth 2696, 2698, but the construction is rare enough that it probably shouldn’t be modelled.
Generally I find that composed writing for Greek conditionals runs the danger of choosing a simpler conditional option (especially general/open conditionals) rather than what seems a more correct/appropriate conditional, simply because a learner has yet to meet more complex forms. This seems to be the case in Lesson 14 throughout.
14A.p62.15 has a nice play on Ἰησοῦς as Joshua/Jesus.
Though, having now just encountered it, it’s a shame that line numbers do not run over pages, but reset for each page.
14B.p62.26 I think ἀπό φυλακῆς would be better as ἐκ φυλακῆς
14B.p64.21 is a good example of the kind of situation that Koine might be inclined to retain the accusative of thing heard, e.g. φωνὰς ἀνθρώπων rather than φωνῶν ἀνθρώπων
14.p66 here we see Koine ἦς for Attic ἦσθα
15A.p68 Here and later on in the work we often get ἕτερος where my preference is for ἄλλος. Now, partly this is because I’ve shifted to a more Atticising idiom in my own Greek, and my sense of ἕτερος tends to either (a) the other of two, (b) another that is different in kind, whereas both these distinctions have somewhat (not always) collapsed in Koine.
I also want to observe here that Jeong’s reader pervasively uses infinitives of purpose. Which is a very common construction in the New Testament, but partly it seems to be in use because the subjunctive is delayed in Duff. This is another besetting problem in graded readers shaped by a grammatical curriculum – you distort your usage based on what grammar you’ve introduced, not on what might be appropriate and/or common. Not that purpose infinitives are rare, but their use precludes other structures.
15B.p70.25 – θεέ is found in LXX, NT and Christian texts as a vocative, but students might like to know that elsewhere there is no distinct vocative.
16.p74 the opening paragraph appears to be a reprint of the last paragraph on p73, not for an intentional repetition, just the same text.
18.p80 – I always suspected that I’d have some qualms about how a Philemon/Onesimus story might deal with slavery. Part of my question at this point is whether an enslaver (Philemon) would conceive of his actions against his enslaved persons as ‘sin’? E.g. Does Philemon think, at this point, that he has wronged his enslaved persons by enslaving them? Or simply that he has mistreated them?
18.p82.1 I really think θεός should have been ὁ θεός here.
19 (p84) involves a retelling of the disagreement/breakdown between Syntyche and Euodia, and I think this is marvellously done – imaginative, constructive, drawing on good materials, weaving it together in a comprehensible and compelling way.
it’s here that we first meet a periphrastic verbal construction. Again my Atticising tendencies reveal themselves – I am not a fan of it except in perfect middle/passive constructions. However, Jeong uses it sparingly and in ways that map to NT Usage.
20A.p86.14 a bit of asyndeton here.
20A.p86.16 and following. Here’s another place where I wonder about the imagined historical context of our story. Onesimos talks about his former life as a small boat owner, and how the ‘ruler of another land’ came and attacked their kingdom. Does Onesimos come from some small kingdom on the further shores of the Black Sea or something?
20A.p86.16 I’d delete the comma after ὦ
21.p92.3 contains a good example of trusting your text over your intuition. I had some qualms about πολλάκις with συνήχθη, particularly because the verb is aorist. But the construction is modelled of Jn 18.2 which has precisely this combination.
22A.p94.6 and 18 The text has ὁ μὲν τέκνον and then later ὁ δὲ τέκνον. I would characterise these as mistakes, and correct the article in both cases to τό.
22B.p96.17 Another example of εἰ οὐ for a conditional. See above comment on 14A.
23.p100 I think the narrative portrays Lydia a little harshly here!
24.p102.10 I would suggest that because the infinitive here is indirect speech, or a content clause after a verb of knowing, that the negation would better be οὐ εἶναι rather than μὴ εἶναι.
24.p102.17 here’s another periphrastic verbal construction, τὸ παιδίον διδάσκων ἦν, but since the subject is neuter, one should probably correct to διδάσκον. I suppose one could argue for a construction ad sensum.
27B.p114.30 Along the lines of slavery issues, I have reservations about Philemon referring to τὸν δοῦλόν μου τὸν ἀγαπητόν
27B.p116.7 The name of Philemon’s daughter is a nice touch!
28.p118.2 Shouldn’t this vocative be μῆτερ, unless we’re deliberately trying to show nominative for vocative? Also l31.
29.p123. The note on double negatives is overly simplistic, since some double negations do negate (when the second negative is a simple negative, and also both negatives belong to the same predicate).
30.p126.37 I think that ἑαυτούς wants a ἡμᾶς in front of it.
31.p132 Here again the problem of tying yourself to a grammar-based curriculum appears, with a flood of counterfactual conditionals. This kind of material is fine input-flood, but when that occurs late in a text, there is not going to be the opportunity for sustained and repeated encounters. (This same flaw afflicts counterfactuals in Ørberg’s Lingua Latina)
32.p134 I have noticed too, what seems to me an overly common use of of ἕως + genitive for movement to a place. A lot of other structures could be used for spatial-movement.
32.p134.26 : ἕως τοῦ Ῥώμης should be corrected to ἕως τῆς Ῥώμης