Another Perplexing Aspect Article, Part I

So I’ve been working through a relatively recent (2008) article on Aspect in Revelation 5, criticizing and critiquing it. And I had planned to post my comments online this weekend. The Article is David Mathewson’s “Verbal Aspect in the Apocalypse of John: An Analysis of Revelation 5″ (NovT 50 [2008]: 58-77), which I only found via Café Apocalypsis’ recent post praising the article: Mathewson on Verbal Aspect and Revelation 5. I have far less praise. In fact, I would say that Mathewson has thoroughly failed in his article. He’s too dependent on Porter & Porter’s absolutely incredibly misreading of the literature (see my posts HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, & HERE <— in chronological order).

The article is currently available via Ingenta (though the PDF for the article is listed under the title for the following one): HERE.

But as I was reading through it once more this afternoon, I realized that Mathewson’s thesis is, in of itself, circular.

But before I show you this particular sentence, you need to remember a few points:

  1. Mathewson accepts Porter’s claim that Greek verbs don’t have tense – i.e. verbs only express aspect (page 61).
  2. Mathewson continues to use the word “tense” to refer to the wordforms – i.e. aorist tense (Ibid). But since in his view verbs only express aspect, we basically have this bizarre situation where “tense” = aspect.

Okay, now with those two points in mind, read this sentence:

It is the contention of this analysis that verbal aspect can sufficiently explain John’s usage of the tenses in chapter 5, and that appeals to temporal values (Mussies) or underlying Semitic substrates (Lancellotti, Thompson) are unnecessary, raising the need for further application of verbal aspect to other sections of the Apocalypse (page 62).

Now aside from the fact that Mathewson appears to have strangely misrepresented Mussies (his quote of Mussies view several pages [page 59] earlier is rather odd and somewhat slanted, but we’ll deal with that in another post), let’s look at this particular quote.

Remember Mathewson takes an Verbal Aspect only approach to the Greek verb & uses “Tense” to refer to the wordforms. In light of this, let’s re-read the sentence with that explicitly shown:

It is the contention of this analysis that verbal aspect can sufficiently explain John’s usage of the [Aspectual word-forms] in chapter 5, and that appeals to temporal values (Mussies) or underlying Semitic substrates (Lancellotti, Thompson) are unnecessary, raising the need for further application of verbal aspect to other sections of the Apocalypse (page 62).

That’s right, Verbal Aspect can explain John’s use of Verbal Aspect in Revelation 5!

It’s Perfect!! Why didn’t anyone think of this before???

In my next post, which because of this one will be delayed, we’ll deal more in depth with the theoretical underpinning’s Mathewson’s article, which I will show to be thoroughly flawed because of his dependence upon Porter & his minons.

As for the body of the article itself, well, it’s actually just fine even with the theoretical problems. And more importantly, it fits well with Mussies’ analysis which really has very little to do with tense and much more do to with genre (I haven’t read Thompson or Lancellotti, so I can’t speak for them).

9 thoughts on “Another Perplexing Aspect Article, Part I

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  1. I probably should just keep my mouth shut on this since I don’t have time to pursue it, but I’ve read some variation of this several times, Mike, and I don’t think it’s a fair or accurate analysis:

    > Porter’s absolutely incredibly misreading of the literature

    I’ve read the same literature that you’ve cited in the past and I don’t think it’s necessarily Porter who’s misreading. No, he isn’t perfect in that regard, but I must say that, IMHO, your analysis may not be fair here. I’ve passed by your previous comments in this regard, but since you keep repeating it, I finally decided that I ought at least to register a dissenting vote.

    1. I’ll admit that I probably have gone over the top, but in my defense, the enthusiasm that many people have for what Porter’s done is even more overblown than anything I’ve written, particularly since I’ve limited myself to criticism of his use of Greek grammars, not linguistic literature. That’s a whole other ball game. His use of statistics, his criteria for prominence, I find it all problematic.

      The fact is that the more I read what I see in his footnotes & bibliography, both in the Greek literature & the linguistic literature, the more I’m inclined to agree with Buth & Caragounis — even though I still think Caragounis’ arguments against Porter were flawed.

      1. Mike,
        I think that Rod has a point. If you have specific issues, provide a specific discussion. I agree that there has been uncritical acceptance of the prominence model. I think that it will take specifically addressing issues that actually matter to the model. Porter’s representation of the dead grammarians does not affect his proposal, just its novelty. Take one thing and write it up. Ideally, present it in more of an academic forum or submit it for publication. Until that happens, the uncritical acceptance and application will continue.

        1. I’m considering submitting a paper proposal for the regional SBL this spring — which is rather conveniently at UBC, but haven’t completely decided what that would look like.

    2. By the way, if you ever do have a few extra spare moments, I’d be interested in an e-mail with even a few of your thoughts on this. I don’t care for going rouge. I’d rather develop a balanced perspective with the input of others.

  2. The whole matter of traditional or alternative names/terms to be used for morphoparadigms (my own coined term for inflected forms of verbs, nouns, adjectives, pronouns, adverbs) is problemtic and annoying. Even if we hold that only the indicative verb-forms express time, I think we agree that “tense” is an inadequate term for what we’re talking about, but I haven’t read or heard any suggestion for a worthy alternative term. I’ve confronted the same problem regarding the term “Voice” (the Greek term διάθεσις would be preferable, but how do you get people to use any term consistently?). I think it’s awkward to speak of the “passive” morphoparadigms (the -θη- forms) when we know that they “encode” both middle and passive sense, just as do the -μαι/-σαι/-ται forms. “Mood” or “Mode” is not a whit more satisfactory a term. This is one of the major reasons why I refer to academic Linguistics as a “tower of Babel” — the fact that our conversation with each other over grammatical categories and functions and usages is pretty much a matter of γλωσσολαλία which may be intelligible to God but communicates very poorly to poor weary mortals.

  3. FYI to everyone who has commented, with Steve & Rod’s comments, I may not post the second part of this. If I do, I’ll probably have someone review it for comments before I insert my foot in my mouth.

  4. Mike,
    I’ve never read Mathewson, so I’m working with the single sentence you quote, but it seems to make perfect sense to me. He’s arguing that it is possible to explain the USE of certain FORMS by means of an aspectual theory about their MEANINGS. Regardless of how you want to theorize form and meaning, I doubt you’d want to deny that there’s a fundamental difference between the two. He may be wrong (as I said, I haven’t even read the article), but I don’t think he’s incoherent.

    1. I never said he was incoherent, just circular. His analysis itself is actually rather good. It’s the intro stuff that I don’t know what to do with.

      As for your interpretation, I’m not sure if it’s a possible. The meaning of the forms isn’t a question of debate for the article. And it would be even stranger for him to make it the issue since the aspectual meaning of the forms is a point of major agreement between him and Mussies (who, contrary to appearences, doesn’t actually believe that the “present” FORM grammaticalizes present TENSE).

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