Originally published December 17, 2014: μακαριοῦσίν με πᾶσαι αἱ γενεαί
I had the privilege this Sunday of hearing a spectacular sermon by Rev. Stephanie Ford on the Magnificat. When the text was read before the sermon I noticed something that raised for me a question about translation and cultural assumptions.
The translation being read rendered Luke 1:48 as
God has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.
It is the second of these lines that concerns me. The Greek text of that second line reads:
ἰδοὺ γὰρ ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν μακαριοῦσίν με πᾶσαι αἱ γενεαί
Does the verb μακαρίζω really mean “call blessed” here? In the ancient world one did not “call” someone blessed, but simply blessed that person. It was a speech act. The act of affirming a person or making a positive statement about a person’s future was to bless that person (μακαρίζω).
The interpretive difference this raises has to do with who is doing the blessing, who is performing the speech act. To translate μακαρίζω as “call [someone] blessed” suggests that it is someone other than the speaker who does the blessing. The speaker is simply reporting the fact of “blessedness.” In both Classical and Hellenistic Greek, though, the subject of μακαρίζω is the person doing the blessing, not someone else reporting about it.
This issue did not come up in the sermon, which addressed more pressing matters and related the Magnificat fabulously to issues of justice that still should concern us in the 21st century. I apologize to Rev. Ford for being distracted by the Greek text! Her sermon was excellent and blessed.
Seeing the flow of traffic that comes in to this blog every year on Christmas Eve is a beautiful experience for me. I appreciate your visit, whether you come to learn about Greek or Greek Linguistics, or even if this is the only time you have ever come to the Greek Language and Linguistics Blog and you just wanted to learn how to say Merry Christmas in Greek (You can get that here).
It’s less than two weeks till the national meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Atlanta, Georgia. I will be presenting jointly with Jonathan Robie in the session, Applied Linguistics for Biblical Languages; Global Education and Research Technology (S22-206). Here’s the abstract for our presentation:
Systematically Generating Examples from a Syntactic Treebank for Internalizing Language
This presentation is about systematically generating the materials needed to teach the Greek verb. The verb is particularly difficult for many Greek students to master, and difficult to teach. In keeping with best practices in research based language instruction, we argue that using authentic texts with appropriate scaffolding is essential to achieving reading competency. But finding optimal examples in large enough quantity to use in such instruction can be overwhelming. We believe that intelligent use of a syntactic treebank can greatly simplify this process, creating teaching materials that can greatly improve mastery. We generate a complete set of examples for each verb in the New Testament using XQuery and syntactic treebanks to illustrate the constituent patterns and morphology, starting with the most common uses of each verb, then less common uses. Teachers can select the examples they want to use, either for classroom instruction or computerized presentation. We also show how to convert these examples for use in existing software commonly used for language instruction and learning.
If you plan to be there, feel free to contact me using the contact form on this blog. I would be delighted to meet you.
During the meeting I will be tweeting about my experience from @grklinguist.
In case you want to say “Happy Thanksgiving” in Ancient Greek to any of your friends, here’s the way to do it.
Εὐτυχής ἡμέρα τῶν εὐχαριστιῶν
Εὐτυχής does not mean “happy,” but the expression εὐτυχής ἡμέρα τῶν εὐχαριστίων would be the equivalent phrase to “Happy Thanksgiving.” The adjective, εὐτυχής has an implication of success or good fortune.
This weekend I met with Mike Aubrey, Jonathan Robie, Randall Tan, James Tauber, Andy Wu, and several others to think about the future of Greek Computational Linguistics. Four of these I had previously known only through the Internet. It was nice to finally meet them in person. The other, Jonathan Robie, was my co-presenter at SBL.
Yesterday I received a very nice gift from my church where I regularly teach classes in Biblical Studies. At the end of an afternoon meeting, the Minister of Christian Formation handed me a copy of the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft double diglot edition of Novum Testamentum Graece. The two parallel English texts, on facing pages from the Greek, are the NRSV and the REB. Amazingly, the entire volume is just under seven and a half inches tall, just over five and a half inches wide, and only an inch and a half thick—a comfortable size and weight.