Re: Writing in Koine Greek?

Edgar M. Krentz (
Sat, 17 Aug 1996 19:39:26 -0500

>I just noticed that Iowa State offers a course in Classical Greek Prose
>Composition. Here is the entry from their web page:
>Greek 306. Classical Greek Prose Composition.
>(2-0) Cr. 2. S. Prereq: 201, concurrent enrollment in 342.
>Practice in expressive writing with emphasis on styles and idiomatic usage.
>Iowa State University's Homepage
>Is this a sensible thing to do? Does anybody practice writing texts in Koine

Dear Jonathon,

I do not know of any teacher of NT or doctopral program in NT that includes
such practice, though it would be excellent to do--provided two criteria
were met. [Perhaps Edward Hobbs does. Are you listening, Edward?]

(1) There would need to be time in the [seminary] curriculum to do so. At
present we cannot demand of students the four to six semesters of Greek
that would, IMHO, be the necessary prerequisite for such a course. That is,
if taught, it belongs in upper level course or in Th.D./Ph.D. level

(2) Now for a difficult problem. One would need to agree on the definition
of Koine Greek. I do not think one simply equates the GNT with Koine Greek.
It is too small a linguistic basis on which to do Koine Greek Prose
composition--and has an immense variety of styles, literary levels, etc..

Let me explain what I mean. When I did Greek composition as a graduate
student in classics, we translated such things as Lincoln's Gettysburg
address, the Shema, and selections from British orators of the 18th and
19th centuries. I was only allowed to use vocabulary and idioms that I
could document from Greek prose writers of the fifth and fourth centuries
B.C. That meant reading Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, and the Greek Orators
from Antiphon to Demosthenes and Dinarchus. In short, to do Greek prose
composition I had to read quantities of actual Greek prose to validate
idioms, syntactic structure, etc. that I used. [Later, when we did poetic
composition in both iambic pentameter and dactylic hexameter meters, I
could use poets to justify word order, vocabulary, etc. That, by the way,
is far more difficult that prose composition.] I would not have been ready
for a course like that after only one year of NT Greek--even if we
restricted the reading to writers who wrote between 200 B.C and 200 A.D.

Composition in a foreign tongue is very difficult. You need to translate
texts that are not familiar to students, i.e. to simply give English texts
from the NT would not provide a true course in composition. So the
preparation of such a course would be a work of scholarship that might
challenge many teachers of NT.

So one might need to agree on (a) which NT authors write a standard Koine
Greek. Do Mark and the Apocalypse qualify? Hebrews, sections of Paul, 1
Peter, James and Acts would. As a control, which other writers? Plutarch?
Polybius? Lucian? Musonius Rufus, Epictetus? Marcus Aurelius? Dionysius
Thrax? Sophia Salomonis? 3 abd 4 Maccabees? Epicurus? Dionysius of
Halicarnassus? Dio Chrysostom? the second century apologists? If you
translate Justin Martyr of the later John Chrysostom, you quickly learn
that Hellenistic, Koine, or early Byzantine Greek, properly understood,
comprise many different levels of Greek style, rhetoric, and literary
complexity. The Atticism of the Second Sophistic led to very different
Greek among its practitioners than was used by Strabo in the first century
BC. You see, I trust, the complexity in defining the sigificance of hH

As you can well imagine, I paged the big LSJ a great deal, wished I had a
major Enmglish Greek lexicon at hand [none was then in print!], and learned
a great deal, both about classical Greek prose and its cultural context.
For example, since Greeks did not wear phylacteries or normally inscribe
inscriptions on door-posts, I used the Greek stele as cultural equivalent.

Having said all this, your posting suggests to me that I propose a course
in Koine Greek composition for our graduate program in academic year
1997/98, my last year of teaching. I think it would be both fun and highly
instructive for students.

I agree with much of Timothy Dickens said in his response to you, though a
diligent student who has sufficient curiosity about the language should be
able to master the dual number, the many uses of the optative mood, the
more varied conditional sentences, the different spelling of some words
[TTT where Koine often has SS, for example], and the more complex sentence
structure of much classical Greek. Moving beyond Attic to the Ionic and
Doric dialects--or the Epic dialect of Homer and Hesiod might also prove
difficult at first, but instructive to the student who wants to see the
uncontracted forms of later Greek.

Would it be worth doing? YES! Easy? NO.

Cordially, Ed Krentz

Edgar Krentz, New Testament
Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
1100 East 55th Street
TEL.: 312-256-0752 FAX: 312-256-0782