Re: Using English ponies

From: Kenneth Litwak (
Date: Wed Jan 24 1996 - 21:31:14 EST

Degard Krentz wrote in part:

> How do you know the *pons asinorum,* the pony, is correct? The answer to
> the two questions at the end of your first paragraph are (1) You always go
> with what the words and grammar say, checking out all the possibilities
> that semantics and syntax offer. You may, of course, suspect the text has
> been corrupted in the process of transmission through the ages. Then
> classical scholars resort to conjectural emendation. In the NT that is
> almost never necessary, given the number of MSS we have.
> And as for the Plato comment, "how do I know I'm right, unless I use an
> English pony to check my work?" If that is how you use tran,slations, then
> you do not need to go to the trouble of studying Greek or translating. One
> uses Greek to discover what the translations ought to mean, whether in
> Plato or the NT. You use them to see how others have tried to solve
> difficulties, then go back to the philological tools (lexicon, grammar,
> concordance, parallel passages) to evaluate their solutions and in the
> process deepen your own understanding of the text.
> Translations can be an aid, especially if you use many of them. But the
> moment you use one to decide if your own work is correct, you have reversed
> the procedure you should follow. Luther's father confessor told him _pecca
> fortiter_ when he confessed minor sins. That is how a graduate student or a
> scholar goes at translation and intepretation. Let the text lead you, _ora
> et labora_ (pray and work), and then sin boldly.

    Just two points that I want to make on this and then I'll move on to toher
topics in another post, but first, let me be clear that I consult English
translations when I suspect that what I've come up with after loooking in
lexicons and grammars is not correct or I feel at a loss to understand the
text because I find the construction in inscrutable and the grammars, if I have
one on that work, don't mention it. This is not unique to Greek but
unfortunately when I was studying German last year, I didn't have English
translations to check to see what I missed in my attempt at making sense of
some long sentence with six clauses and no explicit subject except es.

    Second, by way of analogy, this Spring I'm taking a course in Qumran Lit.,
and we are going to read the DSS in their original, unpointed Hebrew.
Since my Hebrew knowledge is still developing (then again, who can claim to know
biblical or Qumran Hebrew perfectly?), there will likely be times when I'm
unsure how to point something. I'd be a fool to decide, after consulting BDB,
that when I'm unsure I still must be right even if Lohse's pointing is
different. One can read the philological material as much as one wants. It is
nevertheless the case that someone accustmoed to a regular diet of Qumran
Hebrew is going to be be more likely to correctly point the text than
a comparative amateur, and no amount of biblical Hebrew I've done prepares me
fully for reading the DSS, where the rules of the game change considerably,
JUST EXACTLY like moving from NT Greek to any other flavor of Greek.

Ken Litwak
Bezerkley, CA

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:37:36 EDT