Five Classical Greek linguistics books for NT studies

Recently, in a discussion with a friend, I noted that there is often a knowledge gap between the work done on Classical Greek as compared to the work done in Biblical Greek. It occurred to me that it would be worthwhile to highlight a few books written by Classical Greek linguistics and grammarians that people studying Biblical Greek (whether the Old Greek translations of the OT/LXX or the New Testament) would benefit from.

There are of course any number of relatively well known publications that have been highlighted here any number of times over the years. Rutgar Allan’s (2003) Middle voice in Ancient Greek is one. Or Rijksbaron’s (2003) The syntax and semantics of the verb in Classical Greek, which continues to be my preferred introductory text for anyone studying Ancient Greek when it comes to verbs. Then there are the linguistics/classics adjacent books, like Silvia Luraghi’s (2003) superb—but unaffordable—On the meaning of prepositions and cases: The expression of semantic roles in Ancient Greek. Or the recent and satisfyingly affordable Emde Boas, Rijksbaron, Huitink & bakker (2019) The Cambridge Grammar of Classical Greek.

This is a list that could go on and on. But five books is a decent place to start. The headings are all affiliated links to Amazon US (it’s how we pay for our web hosting costs).

Word order in Greek tragic dialogue by Helma Dik

I would expect that Dik’s first book on word order is perhaps a little more well known. But this one represents a broader set of contexts for the examination of word order and the principles to be applied and it is half the price. At this point, Dik’s work on word order should be treated a the go-to work. And it integrates well with the work of people like Stephen Levinsohn on discourse.

Conditions and conditionals: An investigation of Ancient Greek by Gerry Wakker

While New Testament Greek scholarship has continued to focus on the classes of conditionals, nearly 30 years ago now, Gerry Wakker showed us all a better way forward. She isn’t interested in the imaginary classes of conditionals and lays out an analysis that engages with semantics, pragmatics, and discourse issues in the structure and grammar of conditional expressions in Classical Greek. There is one LXX monograph that builds on here analysis (Tjen 2010). We need more work like this in biblical studies.

Toward a cognitive classical linguistics: The embodied basis of constructions in Greek and Latin edited by Mocciaro and Short

This book is on the free end of the spectrum. While you can buy it on Amazon, in pdf form it was published as open access: Toward a cognitive classical linguistics. It also constitutes some important explorations of cognitive linguistics concepts in terms of the grammatical structure of Greek & Latin. Some paper highlights include:

  • “A construction-grammar analysis of ancient Greek particles” by Annemieke Drummen
  • “Autόs and the center-periphery image schema” by Anna Bonifazi
  • “The role of spatial prepositions in the Greek lexicon of garments” by Maria Papadopoulou
  • “The embodied basis of discourse and pragmatic markers in Greek and Latin” by Chiara Fedriani

The Greek verb: Morphology, syntax, and semantics edited by Bartolotta

This is another collection of essays, and again they are fairly important. There are several papers on perfects. Emilio Crespos discusses, “A rule for the choice of aorist and imperfect.” And, notably, José Luis García Ramón has a superb chapter on the the semantics and diachrony of -η- and -θη-. Oddly enough, Mathewson (2021), in Voice and Mood errs in attributing García Ramón’s conclusions in this chapter to Rachel Aubrey in her (2016) contribution to The Greek Verb Revisited. This is wrong on two counts: (1) Rachel Aubrey’s point is synchronic postclassical semantics and (2) well, good scholarship means citing the actual sources not the discussions of those sources. Her review of Mathewson (2021) is available here: JETS Review of Mathewson.

A historical Greek reader: Mycenaean to the Koine by Stephen Colvin

Here’s a more practical one. Everyone loves a good reader, so how about a guided tour of the history of Greek by an expert with notes on linguistic differences of various eras. Grow in your experience of the language and get some context and helps you follow Greek texts beyond the New Testament.

Ad infinitum

These books are the tip of the iceberg. This list could go on and on. There are an innumerable number of historical linguists and classicists who have made substantive and important contributions to our understanding of Ancient Greek over the past several decades. And before the 1920’s, all the NT grammarians were also classicist. We just stopped hanging out together. Who else is there? Other scholars include: Francisco R. Adrados, W. Sidney Allen, Paul K. Andersen, Stephen R. Anderson, Raimo Anttila, David Armstrong, Egbert Bakker, Corien Bary, Louis Basset, Lucien van Beek, Nicholas Bertrand, David Blank, Jerker Blomqvist, Claude Brixhe, Vit Bubenik, Michel Buijs, John Chadwick, Pierre Chantraine, James Clackson, Paul Kiparski, Luz Conti, Emelio Crespo, Sonia Cristofaro, A. M. Devine, Laurence Stephens, Eleanor Dickey, Kenneith Dover, Laurent Dubois, Yvees Duhoux, José Luis García Ramón, Georgios K. Giannakis, Dag Haug, Hans H. Hock, Brian D. Joseph, David Holton, Geoffrey Horrocks, Fred Householder, María D. Jiménez Lopez, Irene J. F. de Jong, Casper C. de Jonge, Klaas Bentein, Ekkehard König, Leonid Kulikov, Frédéric Lambert, Christian Lehmann, Winfred P. Lehmann, David Lightfoot, Silvia Luraghi, Lo Manolessou, Rafael Martínez Vázquez, Antoine Meillet, Kiki Nikiforidou, Livia Polanyi, Anna Pompei, Philmon Probert, Roger Bagnall, C. J. Ruijgh, Martín S. Ruipérez, Emilia Ruiz Yamuza, Bridget Samuels, Dirk M. Schenkeveld, Pierre Swiggers, Alfons Wouters, Ann Taylor, Sven-Tage Teodorsson, Leslie Threatte, Olga Tribulato, Carlotta Viti, Calvert Watkins, Andreas Willi, Jo Willmott, and Roger Woodard…among others.

But the point is not to make you feel like you need to know all these or that you need to read all these scholars. I will be the first to admit that I have not.

Then what is the point?

We need to have a better grasp of the reality of Ancient Greek grammar. Ancient Greek grammar is a much larger space than the small world that New Testament scholarship inhabits. It isn’t just Wallace, Porter, Fanning, and Campbell. And this is not merely Classical versus Koine/New Testament. There is an entire ecosystem of postclassical (Hellenistic & Koine) Greek scholarship that most are unaware of. We can reach for a larger collection of voices when we think about any number of topics in Greek grammar. And we can all benefit from it.