Scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar II: Jewish and Early Christian Literature

The discussion on the documentary scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar has slowed a little, so I want to pull out one comment by Rick Brannan for further discussion. After citing O’Donnell’s proposed corpus, Rick proposes a few further works that I also think deserve serious attention.

He suggests two works from the Apostolic Fathers, and both fit the literary level and style of much of what is in the New Testament. He also suggests including Philo [of Alexandria], in addition to Josephus. Both of these authors were Jewish and each was bilingual (though not to the same degree), and because of this share certain features with several of the New Testament writers. Here’s what Rick Brannan had to say:

In Matthew Brook O’Donnell’s “Corpus Linguistics and the Greek of the New Testament”, he outlines a corpus of Hellenistic works to use for corpus linguistic purposes; there may be some insight. See pp. 164-165 of his book. It comes down to the NT, a few LXX books (Judges, 1 Macc, 2 Esdras) Hermas, Ignatius’ letters, Josephus’ Life, Philo’s On Moses. Then it gets interesting: Strabo’s Geography, Epictetus’ Dissertations, Polybius’ History, Plutarch’s Cato Minor, Arrian’s Anabasis, Diodorus Siculus’ Library of History, Cassius Dio’s Roman History, Apollodorus’ Library, and a generic “Selection of Documentary Papyri” and a generic “Selection of Inscriptions” (no further info on those last two). I think there should be more LXX, Apostolic Fathers (namely 1 Clement and Hermas, at least), Josephus and Philo, and that perhaps some of the early Greek OT Pseudepigrapha and NT Apocrypha too.

Are there other works from the Early Christian and Jewish communities that you think should be included in the documentary base for a serious grammar of Hellenistic Greek?

See also, “Scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar III: Papyrii.”

0 Replies to “Scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar II: Jewish and Early Christian Literature”

  1. Definitely 4 Maccabees.

    Rod Decker previously suggested *not* the papyri, but I’d suggest that at least some of the literary papyri might be worth looking at. Granted, the vast, vast majority of the papyri is incredibly inconsistent, but it is also exactly the papyri that changed Greek studies just over a century ago. Finding, examining, & using some of the more consistent stuff might be worth it — assuming it can be found…

    1. 4 Maccabees. That’s very close to both the time and the geographic center of early Christianity.

      I would also suggest a few more of the Apostolic Fathers. When I was doing my seminary studies I had to read Polycarp, for example. Here’s Polycarp to the the Philippians 3:1. Most people who have a reasonable proficiency in reading the New Testament should be able to read it with little difficulty:

      Ταῦτα, ἀδελφοί, οὐκ ἐμαυτῷ ἐπιτρέψας γράφω ὑμῖν περὶ τῆς δικαιοσύνης, ἀλλ ̓ ἐπεὶ ὑμεῖς προεπεκαλέσασθέ με.

      “I write these things concerning righteousness to you, brothers and sisters, not because I myself was inclined to, but because you invited me.”

      1. 4 Maccabees. That’s very close to both the time and the geographic center of early Christianity.

        Indeed. And it’s content has significant parallels with those of Hebrews as well both in grammar and rhetoric.

        I would also suggest a few more of the Apostolic Fathers.

        Agreed. We could probably use most of them — at least all of the Greek ones. They’re all relatively early and within a reasonable time period to the NT.

  2. Hi Micheal W. Palmer,

    Incidentally your name is not mentioned on this site, and I would like to suggest that you put it somewhere, so that people know who is the man behind this site.

    Then to the issue at hand. Your title is Hellenistic Greek Grammar. That is very important. You are not talking about Grammar of Christian texts, Grammar of Religious texts or Grammar of NT, but Grammar of Hellenistic Greek.

    When one has such a title, then one has to include in a corpus, all texts that are Hellenistic. Thus papyri is a must. If you do not include those, your title is misleading. You say that papyri “don’t help in understanding Luke’s discourse preferences”. That kind of argument is valid only, if your title is Grammar of Luke. It is not valid, if your title is Hellenistic Greek.

    I have a Ph.D. in linguistics, so I assume I know how linguistics should be done. For a grammar of Hellenistic Greek I would go to TLG (Thesaurus Linguae Graecae: and make a search based on the time frame of Hellenism. After that I would throw out all the texts which, even though were written during that time period, were not written in Koine or Hellenistic Greek.

    My 2 cents worth.

    1. Thanks, Kari.

      My original post under “Scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar” lays out pretty much the same argument you do here. A Hellenistic Greek grammar, if it is to be truly representative of what its name implies, must include a broad range of texts representing different communities, different literary levels, and different genre.

      Welcome to the discussion. I appreciate you pointing out the issue regarding my name. I thought my About page was enough to make clear who I am, but I guess I was wrong. I’ll look for a tasteful way to make my identity clearer.

      Like you, I was a student of Linguistics for many years. My Ph.D. dissertation was an application of generative linguistics to Hellenistic Greek, based mainly on Luke’s Gospel and the letters of Paul. That was back in the 1990s. Since then I’ve worked with a much larger body of texts.

      Currently the grammars that exist specifically for the Hellenistic period are all limited to the early Christian literature. I am interested in expanding the range of our grammars beyond that limited corpus. I look forward to hearing from you about what you think should be included.

      You could search for “Scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar” and choose the earliest post, then enter your thoughts in a comment on that entry if you would like.

      1. Hi Micheal,

        Thanks for your kind reply.

        You said:
        I am interested in expanding the range of our grammars beyond that limited corpus. I look forward to hearing from you about what you think should be included.

        I am sorry, but at the moment I cannot offer more help than the advice that you subscribe to TLG ($100 for a year, $400 for 5 years). Make a search for the time period and you get a list of all the works. After that go through that list, look at the texts, and throw away works that are not Koine Greek, even though they were written during the Koine period. The remaining list will be the corpus of Hellenistic Greek that is the basis of your grammar.

        After that it would be nice to have this corpus parsed, in order to be able to get statistical proof to back up any hypothesis and assertions one makes.

        I have a dream that I would write a grammar of Koine Greek in Finnish, perhaps when I am retired. I am now 51, so it is in the future. My dissertation was on Grammatical Relations in Cebuano. It is a Philippine language. Thus subject and object in Greek would be of interest to me, as well as Greek voice: active, passive and middle, plus Greek tense (and aspect).

        The most I do for that project at the moment, is that I buy books about Greek and linguistics that discuss the topics I am interested in.

        At the moment I am trying to become a programmer, so that I will be able to write programs for linguists and Bible translators (I am a member of SIL). It is also my dream to write, with help from others, a parser for Hellenistic Greek, which would help the other dream of writing a grammar of Hellenistic Greek in Finnish.

        Yours in Him,

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