McMaster & B-Greek

It just occurred to me as I finished my run this afternoon (It’s a beautiful sunny day in Vancouver today!) that I’ve never actually seen either students or professors from MacDiv participating in the discussions on the B-Greek list.

That doesn’t make much sense to me. I know of a number of good students there whose participation would benefit everyone.

The same could be said for a number of other prominent schools: Gordon-Conwell, Dallas Theological Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, etc.

Sometimes it feels like NT Greek scholarship is done in a vacuum. And that kind of scholarship hurts the field.

What gives?

36 thoughts on “McMaster & B-Greek

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  1. I’ve been tempted to participate in several discussions there, but have largely remained in the shadows. I am not real fond of the platform, although I cannot think of a better way except maybe a forum type of posting.

  2. I can’t speak for others, but personally I find the list—at times—stifling of free discussion, exploration, and persuasion.

    1. Con, I very much understand your feelings–particularly since I know exactly what you’re talking about.

      And it saddens me more that that a single grammatical issue creates such an impasse that no other grammatical issue can be discussed.

  3. Not a MacDiv student, but I will say this: I’ve been reading B-GREEK on and off for years–probably going back into the late ’90s. I don’t think I’ve ever participated, mostly because I have always found the volume of mail from the listservs distressing (I had a traumatic experience early on with the BMCR), and until relatively recently the ability to start and respond to threads was tied to regular email subscription. (In the ancient past, the NOMAIL option would indeed stop the mail, but if a list lacked adequate and easily accessible archives — and listservs often did, web-based platforms also being a relatively recent development — then you might miss a significant chunk of the discussion.)

    Now, please keep in mind that I hail from (the end of) this ancient past, and that the first computer connected to the internet that I ever used was a VAX terminal with a black and green screen in which multitasking did NOT mean switching from window to window; as a result, I don’t find any of the above foreign or particularly complicated. Many students younger than their mid-thirties, however, will find all of it nearly incomprehensible. Listservs are no longer a common means of communication in academia or anywhere else, and few even know how to use them apart from the new web interface. Why not just update the platform altogether, then?

      1. Mike,

        Don’t see any Ann Taylor in this thread.

        Linguistics has theological implications. Not much interest in talking about it among the SIL consultants I know, but I found some articles by

        Kenneth A. McElhanon, When Quality Is in the Eye of the Beholder: Paradigm communities and the certification of standards for judging quality, Journal of Translation, Volume 3, Number 1 (2007)

        McElhanon seems to be saying that evangelicals (he doesn’t appear to be one) working in bible translation need to rethink their views on scripture. I am still looking for someone specifically addressing the impact of ostensive-inferential language models on the doctrine of scripture. I’ve read most of the online stuff from SIL on RT but have not found what I am looking for, McElhanon doesn’t really go where I am going with this. He sounds more like a mid twentieth century mainline “liberal” (hate to use the L word), which makes sense in terms of his age.

        Only in academia do you find people willing to compartmentalize their thinking in such a strict fashion as b-greek requires. Even in academia there are many who would chafe at the guidelines, no exegesis, no theology, nothing but greek lexical semantics and syntax.

        1. Of course linguistics has an impact on theology. Nobody’s disputing that.

          I am still looking for someone specifically addressing the impact of ostensive-inferential language models on the doctrine of scripture.

          You could do it yourself. I’m not sure that anyone would be completely satisfied with another person’s thinking on a subject you view as so important. The implications are pretty apparent (I’d say) even in the “secular” linguistic writings. Personally, I think you need to get in waist deep on the field before the fruit starts to show up. One scholar whose quite interested in this area isn’t that far away–just a few hours north of you:

          Only in academia do you find people willing to compartmentalize their thinking in such a strict fashion as b-greek requires.

          Nonsense. You’re just bothered because not everyone has the same interests as you. Accusations like “compartmentalize” are cheap. The fact that there aren’t many publishing in the subject despite the fact that there should be an intense vested interest in the subject doesn’t mean that those same people who “compartmentalize” haven’t thought extremely deeply on the subject on their own. They just don’t place as high of a priority on it than you do. What’s wrong with other people having different priorities?

        2. I didn’t intend to offend you. I’m sorry. I would very much welcome it if you would either expand or clarify your own words show help me see where I’ve misunderstood you. I consider stating that a person (or a class of people) compartmentalize these issues to be a rather serious charge to make. That is all. I was only attempting to defend those who are not here to defend themselves. But you are here. You can defend yourself and your view. You can correct me. And I’ve love it if you did!

          Btw, Michael Walrod’s work is very good. I’m sure you’d enjoy checking it out.

  4. I think that some of the complaints about B-Greek are valid, particularly regarding the way threads are developed and tend to be dominated by some overbearing claims. I do think that a forum with sub-topical categories might
    allow for more useful exchanges of views, and that’s a real possibility. I do think that discussion of theology on B-Greek, given the range of faith-commitments and perspectives of list-members would overwhelm discussion of Greek language and text which are (or can be) helpful to people all across that broad
    range. The focus of list discussion really is on Greek language issues. I do think that there’s been an excess of recurrent discussion of pedagogical issues in recent months, but I think that a change in the framework of the list may help more subscribers focus queries and exchanges in the particular area of their own concern.

  5. I think the reason that we don’t see a lot of good grad student participating on B-Greek is that it takes a certain kind of person to enjoy participating on an email list exchange. Here at Duke, graduate students are worked so hard that many don’t have any interactions with the internet at all, not even a nominal Facebook presence. Also, the oral interactions at Duke over lunch, say, are often so rewarding that there is little need to find stimulation on-line.

    I found B-Greek most beneficial to me when I wasn’t in school and wanted to keep up with my Greek. Perhaps it was my classics background, but, when I was more active in B-Greek, I really appreciated the focus on the Greek language and the insistence that theological discussions be taken elsewhere. Theology is like politics: it arises a lot of passions (as it should!) but the emotionalism of it all can get in the way of a more strictly scholarly approach to the text and language.

  6. Two points: First, although I didn’t study at McMaster Divinity College (while a Ph.D. student at McMaster University), I taught at MacDiv, and I’ve been a participant on B-Greek since before I was at McMaster. Second, note that although the abbreviation is MacDiv, the full name McMaster is spelled Mc rather than Mac.

  7. Thanks, Ken. I’ve updated to the title so that its correct. I had originally written McMaster, but got confused when I was linking to their site: That threw me off.

    Beyond that MacDiv was just an example. The fact is that (at least these days) there aren’t many professors participating at all. People like you and Rod Decker and Con Campbell are a the exceptions that prove the rule. The thought originally occurred to me after wondering about what it would take for B-Greek to be a useful place for the “advanced Hellenist.” Structural and organizational changes are great, but will they bring in the academics? I don’t know…

  8. Actually, Rod Decker isn’t currently a B-Greeker, although, very busy man that he is, he does keep in touch with some of us on the list and we’ve called attention to some items on his NT Resources Blog from time to time. I think we would welcome more input from academic linguists, particularly such as can make themselves understood to people who speak ordinary English. For that matter, we would welcome more input from traditional dead grammarians such as can make themselves understood to people who speak ordinary English. We are well supplied, I think, with enthusiastic younger people (but welcome more) but could well use more input from those engaged professionally with Biblical Greek.

    1. I’m interested to hear from c. sterling bartholomew (Clyde?) and others who desire to expand the B-Greek current limitations to include theological arguments and discussions. I think this is a valuable thread which is occurring outside of the B-Greek forum, and will let people freely comment on why they have left B-Greek, why academics and grad students don’t participate in profligate numbers. I’m one of the B-Greek co-chairs (as of 2010), and most likely come from a faith tradition which is very similar to CSB. He/she wrote

      Only in academia do you find people willing to compartmentalize their thinking in such a strict fashion as b-greek requires. Even in academia there are many who would chafe at the guidelines, no exegesis, no theology, nothing but greek lexical semantics and syntax.

      I understand what CSB is saying. I understand the need of some to need to bring in theological arguments into the discussion of texts. I also see how hard it is for those not in that tradition to have to watch a bunch of theological arguments change the discussion from the Greek to the meaning of the text. I do believe that there is a difference between what the Greek can say, and what, in the confines of theological premises, the Greek can/should/does say.

      But I don’t think that’s the reason we don’t see academics and other students/grad students participate. My questions are….

      If the discussion is not taking place on B-Greek, where is it happening?

      How do those who want to bring theological arguments to bear on the text not alienate those on the B-Greek list who are not of their persuasion – it is, after all, a list which serves secular to very committed conservative right-of-evangelical members?

      What are the things that “Turn people off from B-Greek” in its current format/rules?

      Do Academics (teachers and grad students) think B-Greek is a valuable resource? If not, why?

      What would academics like to see?

      What would it take to bring more academics into B-Greek?

      I hope this post won’t be seen as changing the subject of this chain. But I think all of those in the B-Greek world could profit by hearing from all. There really is a need for an internet site where the Greek of the NT can be discussed and that those who are proficient in Koine Greek can talk with each other, argue with each other, hash out their differences, and at the end of the day, agree to disagree, but walk away with the knowledge that they have increased their knowledge of the New Testament and the language in which it was written.

      1. I have been a part of B-Greek (and B-Hebrew) for over 10 years. I believe one of its strengths is that it does not permit theological discussion. Considering how much offense can be caused by telling people their linguistic ideas are rubbish – no matter how gently or nicely you may do so – how would the group work if it allowed theological discussions? B-Hebrew has been ruined (IMO, which is not infallible) by their allowing people who strongly support certain conclusions based on religious beliefs to dominate the discussion to such an extent that it is now often reduced to nothing more than fringe ideas, and few people with any standing in the scholarly world post at all. How much worse would it be if theological ideas were allowed to be used as the basis for not only discussions, but for arguing against others’ ideas?

        Beyond that, as a PhD student, I do not find it at all strange that post-graduates and professors/lecturers do not find time to particpate regularly. As I read this blog and type this note, I am very aware that the time could (and probably should) have been spent revising my literature review yet again.

        1. As I read this blog and type this note, I am very aware that the time could (and probably should) have been spent revising my literature review yet again.

          I think the same thing every time I write a post on this blog…

      2. I may be in a position to answer some of Louis’ questions, since I am also moderator of an old fashioned listserv that is made up almost entirely of academics. “Megillot” is a replacement for the “Orion” listserv on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Orion was used by fringe elements apparently to the extent that real academics were reluctant to post there. So Orion was discontinued, and Megillot was born. You now need to apply to join Megillot, and one of the requirements is that you know Hebrew, and that you have a graduate degree in field related to the Dead Sea Scrolls. So members should feel now safe posting on Megillot. Yet traffic has been slow there for years.
        My conclusion: academics are generally reluctant to post on email lists, whether the list moderators guard against abuse or not.

      3. Louis, you ask some interesting questions here. I agree with what Kevin and Ken have already said. Life as an academic simply doesn’t afford much time, and so it’s difficult to persuade people to participate actively in a discussion group unless it integrates closely with other things they’re already doing. And my experience is that many academics aren’t the type to carry on “casual” academic discussions in highly public places. For a number of reasons, I suspect. Some of which have been already mentioned. Some of which needn’t be mentioned.

        What would academics like to see? I can speak only for myself. I would like to see a broad, inclusive, collaborative community that is working together to enhance our knowledge of Hellenistic Greek. Casual discussions in public spaces are not really a comfortable place for most academics to air their ideas. And as Ken has pointed out, restricting the community to a smaller circle of academics doesn’t necessarily help to get discussions flowing. I suspect that it will take a collaborative project with clear goals, a good technology base, a sense of ownership rather than just membership, and the potential to spawn publications or at least gain credibility as a venue for ongoing research. Who knows, maybe grant money?

        A pipe dream? Probably, but you asked so I answered.

  9. I am unable to answer the question as posed; but if permitted, I would like to make some comments in general on some of the preceding emails.

    In reference to Sephen Carlonson’s remarks: I would suspect that the dinner conversations at Duke are very rewarding and intellectually engaging, but it has the appearance of what went on (or goes on) in a cloistered monastery. The gap between the understanding and knowledge of those in the monastery and the outside world increases with distrust and acrimony potentially present on both sides.

    Also, what can be said in person can be regarded as offensive when written by strangers. I am as guilty of this as anyone else. Con Campbell took some rough handling on B-Greek, but that was from another academic. But again, if those similar words and thoughts were said in person, would they be taken in the same fashion. Quite often, when we know someone or are acquainted with their manner, etc., we are quite often not as offended-well sometimes anyway.

    1. I don’t know anything about “distrust and acrimony present,” but my point is that those can discuss these matters orally and personally will not find an impersonal email discussion as an equally rewarding use of their limited free time.

  10. I’ve just stumbled across this post during one of my desperate attempts to become distracted from the task of studying for my comprehensive exams. As a MacDiv student, I should probably share my two cents worth, but I’m afraid it will have to wait until after tomorrow’s exam. I’ll send a quick note to some other students, though, just in case others want to share their thoughts on your question.

    1. Hi Chris, just to clarify, MacDiv was just an example. I’m afraid I’ve unintentionally suggested that the there are disproportionately fewer MacDiv students than other grad students. That’s not my intention. However, I would still be interest in your’s and other other people’s thoughts. on the matter. I’m somewhat surprised by the attention this post has gotten.

      1. Hi again, Mike. Looking over the comments quickly, I’d have to say that I agree with many points already made. The technology of B-Greek is a bit clunky. Time is in short supply, and much as I’d like to be able to make helpful comments when people have questions, for the most part I simply can’t afford to divert my energies from more important things. When I want to ask a question myself, we’ve got a large pool of interested people here at MacDiv, and it’s always much nicer to have a conversation in person. In any case, from my experience lurking on B-Greek for several years, I’ve never gotten the impression that it’s a forum for facilitating research. It seems to serve a helpful purpose for people who are learning Greek and who want help with something, or who want to discuss an interesting observation they’ve made, or who want to beat some personal pet peeve or some personal preference to death, in public, over and over again. While I’m very appreciative of certain list members who take the time to make genuinely insightful posts, and while I’d like to think that I might find time to help new learners someday down the road, for now I’ll remain nothing more than a silent observer.

  11. Stephen,

    I understood your point and quite agree with you. I enjoy personal conversation with those who are interested in the same subjects that I am. But I find that here in China that works will with Things Chinese, but not with Things Greek. This is not just a phenomena associated with those such as I, but is also with many in America. Consequently, they are “forced” into using an impersonal email discussion board to communicate with others. “distruct and acrimony” may have been hyperbole on my part, but that is what it appears to me after I joined B-Greek. But, to put the matter in perspective, it appears to me that “distruct and acrimony” is part of an academic community that is outside the University system, so it may be a reflection of what is going on in academia, I do not know. Cloistering does have social effects, some good, some bad. When I was a young student I did the same thing, but then we did not have the internet.

  12. I’m not a Greek guy (Hebrew is my game), but I’ve never even heard of B-Greek, and the notion of participating in a listserv (if I understand the format correctly) just seems antiquated to me, as Esteban noted. My guess is those two things are at least part of what gives.

    1. Hi Colin,

      I can understand some dabbling in Hebrew–though Greek will always be my first love. That totally makes sense. Historically, I’ve lurked on the listserve more than participated, but occasionally have commented on things related to my own research.

      I’m curious though, if you’re willing to take time time, would there be another online format that could be more useful for dialogue (for Greek or Hebrew) that you might consider more useful for online academic dialogue?

      1. Oh, I don’t know Mike. I’m no expert on such things. This may seem quaint as well, but I really think that blogs do the trick admirably. Now, one of the troubles is that you can only have a finite number of authors on a blog, as opposed to a listserv…not sure what to say about that. I suppose I’d just say, folks should all start up their own blogs, then let the conversation cross-pollinate. I haven’t been around the biblical studies blogs much lately because I’ve been busy, but in my experience it was never too hard to provoke a good discussion among the bibliobloggers.

  13. I’m the list owner for B-Greek, and I’ve been reading this with interest. And several of the leaders of the list have been participating here, I agree with what they have been saying.

    We’re considering moving to a more modern format. I agree that listservs are an old technology, and that there are better choices today, including forum software. I’m fairly active on some phpBB forums and vBulletin forums, and I like that approach. We’re likely to change the software.

    But do you think simply changing the software would change participation?

    We have to decide who our target audience is. I think the people who want to focus on Greek are not the same people who want to focus on theological debate. And there are other places for theological debate.

    A forum like B-Greek has one real advantage over The Refectory at Duke Divinity: people who aren’t at Duke can participate, and we can draw together experts from all over the world. We also have a disadvantage: we don’t serve Chicken Sausage Gumbo. I don’t think we can replace face to face contact for those who have it, but there are many people who don’t. And many people who want to talk with people beyond the circle that is geographically close.


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