Scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar

We could speak about the scope of a grammar of an ancient language in several ways. We could talk about what issues belong in a beginning grammar, what in an intermediate, and what in an advanced or reference grammar. Perhaps I will write about that at a later time. The issue of scope that I have in mind now is the documentary scope. What documents should serve as the basis for the grammar. What documents should the grammar enable its users to read?

This is an important question for Hellenistic Greek in particular because the answer has seemed obvious for so long, but there is reason to question the traditional answer. The majority of grammars of Hellenistic Greek deal either exclusively with the New Testament or are limited to the early Christian Literature. While the traditional reference grammars give passing attention to the wider Hellenistic literature, beginning and intermediate grammars in the past fifty years have seldom ever referred to anything outside the New Testament.

The early Christian literature is, of course, extremely important, and is what the majority of students of Hellenistic Greek most want to read. But do we not risk misunderstanding by failing to examine a wider range of literature? Here are a few ways in which a wider range of literature could make understanding of the biblical texts more accurate:

  • Grammatical structures that appear infrequently in the New Testament can be understood more clearly by comparing them to a wider range of examples.
  • Questions about the meaning of particular words and phrases that appear infrequently in the New Testament could by more clearly defined by considering a broader range of usage.
  • Comparison with texts outside the Christian tradition can clarify what common discourse structures looked like in Hellenistic literature at a broad range of levels. This would enable us to see what is truly unique in the early Christian literature and would also allow us to see how people outside the early Christian movement would have understood the earliest Christian texts.
  • I am attempting to move in the direction of including a broader range of Hellenistic literature in my own beginning grammar. While it is still heavily dominated by the early Christian literature, I am reading as much as possible outside that tradition to make sure that what I have to say in the grammar is actually true to a wider range of texts.

    Here are some of the texts I have been reading:

      Epictetus, Discourses (ΑΡΡΙΑΝΟΥ ΤΩΝ ΕΠΙΚΤΗΤΟΥ ΔΙΑΤΡΙΒΩΝ)
      Arrian, History of Alexander and Indica (ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΥ ΑΝΑΒΑΣΕΩΣ, ΙΝΔΙΚΗ) [Deleted on 1/26/2011]
      Diodorus Siculus, Library of History (ΒΙΒΛΙΟΘΗΚΗΣ ΙΣΤΟΡΙΚΗΣ)
      Chariton of Aphrodisias, The Story of Callirhoe (ΤΑ ΠΕΡΙ ΚΑΛΛΙΡΟΗΝ ΔΙΗΓΗΜΑΤΑ)

    These texts represent a fairly wide range of styles and literary levels, though not as wide as it might appear at first glance. The Discourses of Epictetus, for example, were actually written by Arrian. Epictetus did not write down his own teachings. The relationship between him and the document that bears his name is similar in some respects (not identical) to the relationship between Jesus and his words as presented in the Gospels. Jesus did not write them. In fact, he may have spoken in Aramaic, and the Gospel writers had to translate what was remembered of his words. Arrian wrote from notes, violating the intention of his teacher who thought true philosophy should be oral, not written.

    I would love to hear from you about what you see as the ideal documentary scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar.

    See also, “Scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar II: Jewish and Early Christian Literature.”