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Neues Testament


Caragounis, Chrys C.


New Testament Language and Exegesis. A Diachronic Approach.


Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2014. XIII, 409 S. = Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament, 323. Lw. EUR 129,00. ISBN 978-3-16-152764-7.


David E. Aune

In this monograph, C. C. Caragounis (Professor of New Testament Exegesis, emeritus, University of Lund) expands on the thesis presented earlier in The Development of Greek and the New Testament (2004), arguing that a diachronic approach to Greek is the only valid linguistic approach to New Testament Greek, since Greek is one language, from the beginning to the present (2.25). This ap­proach reveals how the New Testament »skews from normative Greek grammar [i. e., classical Attic]« (VII), which »set the standards by which all subsequent developments were measured« (99). He rejects the synchronic approach because it limits the linguistic evidence to the centuries framing the appearance of the New Testament writings (308). C. frequently echoes the views of the great Greek linguist G. N. Hatzidakis (1848–1941), who argued that to understand the language of the New Testament one must study the older, contemporary, and later phases of the Greek language. Despite casting such a wide net, C. unwisely rejects the relevance of the »illiterate *Greek+ papyri« from Egypt (112; cf. 68, n. 118), which he never cites.
Saussure (1916) first distinguished diachronic (historical) lin-guis­tics from synchronic (descriptive) linguistics, emphasizing the importance of synchronic linguistics, since a language as spoken is the only reality known to a community of speakers, while diachronic linguistics focuses not on an existing language, but on its modification over time. Since languages are complex structures that can be formally analyzed and described, so it makes no sense to regard languages with long histories as a single language, rather than a series of historically connected languages. The unity of the Greek language was part of nationalistic ideology in modern Greece, with each of the two forms of Neohellenic, the archaizing katharévousa (»puristic«, literary Greek), now largely passé, and demotikí (vernacular Greek) championed by learned protagonists until the adoption in1982 of demotikí as the official language of Greece.
The book has nine chapters arranged in three parts: 1) The Scope and Importance of Diachrony, 2) Applying Diachrony to New Testament Exegesis, and 3) Literary Aspects of the New Testament, and is framed by an introduction, an epilogue and concludes with a lengthy bibliography and a complete set of indices.
The five chapters in Part One contain instructive discussions of important grammatical changes, e. g., the demise of the dative, the redundant use of personal, possessive and reflexive pronouns, the interchange of the aorist and the perfect. These analyses are often marred by the pervasive assumption that deviations from the »Attic standard« are symptoms of linguistic decline, a view also found in Hatzidakis, whose negative valorization of grammatical changes in Greek are quoted with approval (74–75; C.’s emphasis): »On account of the wider use of this ending [-as], considerable damage was done to our language […],« and »A great evil was wrought in our langu-age also by the destructive tendency of the later Greeks to use the subjunctive with hina […],« concluding: »For Hatzidakis, then, not all forms or constructions were equally effective, elegant, or conducive to communication! This standpoint is a basic presupposition in the present discussion.«
For C., Attic was an artistic literary language that educated Athenians would find difficult to use in ordinary conversation and must therefore have used a simpler form of Attic in normal oral communication (347). Here he reflects the views of the Greek linguist A. Korais (1748–1833), who thought that Isocrates, Demosthenes and Plato spoke to ordinary Athenians not as they wrote, but in the colloquial language spoken by those of lesser education, differing little from colloquial Modern Greek. C. agrees, maintaining that the New Testament »belongs to another trajectory, that of demotic Greek – already found in the speech (but not the writings) of clas-sical Greek« (112).
In the three chapters of Part Two, C. applies the diachronic method to great effect in relation to New Testament exegesis: the nominative used as a vocative (focusing on theos/thee), interrogative, confirmatory and asseverative particles and a brilliant discussion of the text-critical problem of nēpioi/ēpioi in 1Thess 2:7. These discussions are uniformly excellent and fortunately unburdened with the subjective value judgments that permeate Part One.
Part Three consists of a single chapter, »Sublimity and the New Testament,« where C. discusses five principles of elevated discourse found in »Longinus,« Peri Hypsous (»On the Sublime«): 1) grand conceptions, 2) strong and forceful emotion, etc., using them as templates for identifying New Testament passages reflecting corresponding features of sublime discourse. He concludes that the New Testament authors did in fact have literary intentions and incorporated features of fine Hellenistic literature into their writ­ing. However, while »Longinus« discusses the role of meter in Greek literature, C. insists that New Testament authors did not con-sciously use meter (291–92). True, but prose rhythm (is never mentioned), differs from poetic meter (Aristotle Rhet. 3.8). While he does identify some powerful passages in the New Testament (inter alia, John 1:1–4; Phil 2:5–11; Gal 1:6–10), this is a very subjective enter-prise that cannot remove the cultural barrier between the often atticizing Hochliteratur of the educated and the Kleinliteratur of the lower classes.
C.’s idiosyncratic and anachronistic view of the history of Greek phonology allows him to omit mention of the presence of prose rhythm in the New Testament. He stresses the importance of the »Historical Pronunciation of Greek,« by which he means that major phonological changes had occurred by the late classical period continuing unchanged into Neohellenic, i. e., the phonology of Neohellenic reflects the Greek pronunciation of the New Testament authors. The scholarly consensus is that late classical Attic phon-ology differed from that which emerged by the Byzantine period. Greek (and Latin) meter was quantitative, based on long and short syllables, not on a stress accent (as in Neohellenic). Since prose rhythm survived into late antiquity, the first and second centuries CE, it was assumed that elevated prose should be rhythmical (Dionysius Hal. De comp. verb. 17). New Testament authors writing in a higher linguistic register made some use of prose rhythm (e. g., Luke-Acts, Hebrews; James 2:18 has a sequence of 23 long vowels).
While the task of modern linguistics, whether descriptive or historical, is the objective description of a language, C. (following Hatzidakis) speaks of »the mistaken use of the personal and posses-sive pronouns« and »the misuse of the active and the middle« (298). The discussion of grammatical and semantic changes in Greek is burdened irrelevant with subjective negative judgments about how such changes deviated from the Attic standard; C. abandons historical for prescriptive linguistics. A few examples: 1) the prepositions en and eis are used with the wrong case (93); 2) the opening words of Rev 3:21 are »not Greek« (111); 3) the active is misused for the middle and vice versa (124); 4) in Matt 26:55, the author »should have used the pluperfect of (kath)edzomai« (124–25); 5) in Titus 2:7, the author, guilty of using the middle along with the reflexive pronoun, should have adhered to »strict Greek grammar« (131).
The potential value of this monograph is somewhat compro-mised by an ideologically-driven approach to the Greek language, apparently anchored in a nostalgia rooted in past struggles for Greek linguistic and nationalistic identity.