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Lee, John A. L.


A History of New Testament Lexicography.


New York-Washington/Baltimore-Bern-Frankfurt a. M.-Berlin-Brussels-Vienna-Oxford: Lang 2003. XIV, 414 S. m. Abb. gr.8 = Studies in Biblical Greek, 8. Kart. Euro 42,80. ISBN 0-8204-3480-9.


Chrys C. Caragounis

John Lee has written an interesting and important book. In this study L. shows his deep acquaintance with English speaking lexicographical work during the past five centuries, which brims over to encompass even German works.

The book falls into two main parts, 1. a historical survey (3-190), which through its eleven chapters delineates the development of lexicography from the Complutensian beginnings to BDAG (2000) and presents future prospects, and 2. nine case studies (193-320), in which L. seeks to illustrate the weaknesses of past lexicography and its failure to deliver dependable information on Greek words. To these two parts he appends lists of Greek, esp. New Testament Lexica, bibliography, etc. (321- 384), four appendices (385-395), and indices (397-414).

Over eighty lexica are mentioned, a number of them compared with their predecessors by means of one or more Greek words chosen to illustrate what is borrowed and what is new material. The conclusion here generally is that no one of the lexicographers has done his own independent research, but has taken his material wholesale from his predecessors. The question is to what extent the relatively few words used to base the comparisons on suffice to carry such a conclusion.

But this book is not merely a dry history of New Testament lexica composed from Renaissance times to the present; it has a thesis which L. pursues consistently to the year 2000 and the prospects beyond. In brief, his thesis is that the lexicography of the past five centuries has been defective, now because it rendered words in Latin rather than the vernacular languages, then because each new lexicon was dependent on or reproduced its predecessors without a fresh check of the data, and then again because all lexica aimed at rendering the Greek words by means of glosses, often depending on translations, while definition was almost entirely absent (e. g. 15-29). Moreover, there was semantic confusion with the result that all lexica heretofore published fail the passing marks of what a lexicon should be. This includes even the two lexica mostly praised by L., i. e. Louw-Nida and BDAG. In this way, L. prepares the ground for presenting the A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament with Documentary Parallels, the Macquarie University project on which L. himself and Greg Horsley are at present working (133).

There is a wealth of interesting material in the pages of this book, at which every teacher of New Testament Greek ought to take a look, if for no other reason, at least to make him or her aware of the controlling issues and the factors at work behind the lexica in use today. The reader has a lot to learn from this lucid account, which is deeply aware of the value of method.

L. criticizes what he calls the "reign of the gloss", in which lexicographers often took their meanings from the renderings of New Testament versions, in particular the Vulgate (e. g. 31-44). Although he mentions Hesychios and a few other old lexica, the impression gained is that lexicography begins with the Complutensian lexicon (51-55). He points out that English lexicographers generally adopted the work of German lexicographers (98), which in one way or another, often via Pasor, goes back to Stephanus' Thesaurus (67).

L.'s gravest criticism is that all lexica prior to "the breakthrough" of Louw-Nida (1988) lack method, meaning that they do not distinguish semantics from contextual meaning and that they fail to give definitions. This is undoubtedly an important point, but again the question is how fair L. is to past lexicographers. Many times the criticism against a lexicon is that it retains material from older lexica, as for example BDAG from BAGD (166). The impression one may get is that a lexicon is not good if it does not break with the past! - although he does state that some elements of the past may be retained (e. g. 185). Thus, BDAG is inadequate because: 1. it rests on Bauer, and 2. the definitions are often unsatisfactory (166-70). L. also mentions the new Spanish New Testament dictionary, of which J. Peláez gave an introduction in the 2004 SNTS seminar led by the present reviewer. This is a new and promising work which is very aware of the value of exact definition.

The last chapter of part One is devoted to the future prospects which the age of computers has opened up for Greek lexicographers, though L., wisely, underlines that these do not eliminate the qualitative work of the researcher.

The second part tries to show by means of nine detailed studies the failures of earlier lexica (see e. g. his biting criticism of MM and even BDAG in p. 249 on gynaikarion, albeit he often points out the weaknesses of others without offering solutions) and to point the way to a methodical treatment of Greek words, a treatment that concentrates on semantic meaning and seeks to give definitions rather than glosses. Many good points are made along the way.

The most important criticism against past lexicography is the failure to check the evidence afresh and to get to the heart of the problem, i. e. to define the Greek words. L. quotes Deissmann's criticism of Preuschen, because the latter failed to take account of what L. (among others) thinks of as Deissmann's discovery, sc. the papyri (123.179) (the first to point out the significance of the papyri was actually G. Hatzidakis, Einleitung, 1892, cf. Deissmann, LAE, 22). On p. 120 he says "Everything from the eighth century BC up to 1453 and even beyond might be relevant". Similarly, in the introduction to his Lexicon (reprinted in BAGD) with primary reference to Hatzidakis' work, Bauer states "the contribution of medieval and modern Greek is not to be neglected" (XV).

It might then be of interest to see how much this lip-service to the value of Neohellenic is actually practised. On p. 99 L. says: "In Orthodox countries there is nothing known except Eustratiadis (1910) in Greek". This is a lexicon by the Metropolitan of Leontopolis Sophronios Eustratiadis (Lexikon tes Kaines Diathekes) published in Alexandria in 1910. This apparently innocent comment, which is likely to pass unnoticed, hides an ugly fact, sc. the unawareness of non-Greek scholars of the unity of the Greek language from its first beginnings to the present and their consequent unawareness and neglect of work by native users of Greek, all to the detriment of the science of Greek lexicography. L. exhibits complete unawareness of the intense lexicographical activity in Greece especially during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (in the lexicographical supplement to his recent Lexicon of Neohellenic [1998, pp. 2033-64], the Athens professor of Linguistics, Babiniotis, without aiming at completeness, discusses over 35 lexica by Greek authors on ancient, medieval and Neohellenic published between 1659 and 1998): as, for example, the nine folio-volume Lexicon of D. Dimitrakou (1933-50) covering the time from Homeros to Neohellenic (partly based on an earlier ed. of LS for the classical refs.) and the so far fourteen-volume lexicon by E. Kriaras (A-, 1969-) on Medieval Greek. Semantic synonymy was treated by P. Vlastos already in 1931. A Lexicon Hermeneutikon, in two volumes, with contextual interpretations of difficult passages was written by G. Bernardakis in 1908, to mention just a few.

All this leads to an even more serious problem. How are the definitions of Greek words to be carried out in the Australian project? On the basis of English conceptualization, or on the basis of Greek conceptualization? The first is certainly useful in the rendition with glosses. But the definition of words can only be an internal work, i. e. how Greeks felt and perceived them. In order to do this the entire Greek linguistic tradition is required. But here precisely is the problem: international scholars are generally unaware of how Neohellenic relates to ancient Greek. The use of the Erasmian pronunciation has resulted in severing the ancient from the modern phases of the language, and the connections have been lost. Hatzidakis and Jannaris' works are today unknown. Thus, it is not merely the papyri, as Deissmann insisted, which after all were usually written by non-Greeks and represent a sub-standard form of Greek, but the entire Greek linguistic tradition that must be taken into account. Now, private conversations with Danker and Horsley made it clear that neither BDAG has taken account of this, nor does the Macquarie project intend to do so.

In the light of the knowledge that we have today of the unity of the entire Greek language and its impingement on the New Testament (see the present reviewer's The Development of Greek and the New Testament: Morphology, Syntax, Phonology and Textual Transmission, WUNT 167, Tübingen: Mohr 2004), can we really be satisfied with the inscriptional and papyrological evidence alone?

Perhaps the Australian colleagues might like to rethink their policy while there is time. It is recognized that the demands on the modern lexicographer of Greek are such that no single individual or even two can perform the task satisfactorily. Therefore, they would be strongly advised to try to secure the co-operation of some experienced Greek lexicographer to bring in the relevant Medieval and Neohellenic evidence. Without this evidence their Lexicon, in spite of improvements, will be out-of-date often failing to give genuine definitions of Greek words and what they mean.

In conclusion, we are grateful to L. for a serious effort to tackle the subject of Greek lexicography, laying bare the problems of past attempts and suggesting some real improvements. With his examples, he forces us to rethink our understanding and interpretation of the New Testament text.