RE: Accent Marks

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sun Mar 12 2000 - 10:11:53 EST

At 6:59 AM -0600 3/12/00, Bill Ross wrote:
><D. Charles>
>The primary reason for learning them is to distinguish between a number of
>words and their various grammatical forms. For example, it is the
>difference between KRINW (present indicative without the circumflex: "I am
>judging" or "I judge") and KRINW (future indicative with the circumflex over
>the omega: "I will judge").
>For my purposes, this is also one of the best reasons for ignoring them! I
>mean it permits you to see for yourself which is the intended meaning,
>rather than having to take someone else's interpetation - which is why we're
>reading it in the Greek! In fact, there are examples in Romans where the
>accepted punctuation speaks of a future judgement where I think it should be
>read as present, since the stumbling of the jews over the Gospel is a
>present reality, not a future one.

Bill has a point, a small one at that, but turns it into a proclamation and
appends to it a judgment which, whether or not anyone agrees with it, is
inappropriate to list discussion. We do NOT make on-list assertions
regarding ethnic groups: the rule for B-Greek is "Judge (condemn) not, lest
you be judged (removed from the list)."

The valid point Bill makes is that the printed editions of the Greek NT
that we avail ourselves of bear punctuation and is accented primarily as
editorial committees have decided in concert with each other the text OUGHT
to be punctuated and accented, whereas most of the oldest manuscripts of
the Greek NT are without punctuation and without accents on the words.

I might choose to illustrate Bill's valid point by noting that in Romans
16:17 the editorial committee has continued to support the accentuation of
IOUNIAN with a circumflex over the alpha on the understanding that the
proper name involved here is a shortened form of a masculine name Junianus.
In recent years it has been shown that there is no evidence of the name
Junianus ever having existed, whereas the feminine name Junia is very
common, so that the text SHOULD show this proper name as IOUNI/AN with an
acute accent on the iota and a clear indication that it is a woman's name.

It is true that whether KRINW is present or future tense depends upon where
there's an acute accent on the iota or a circumflex on the omega--and it's
true that one may decide one knows better than the committee; in fact, that
is precisely why we have a critical apparatus and why the editors have gone
to such trouble to make clear to us the alternatives we might consider at
critical points in the Greek text where there are variants. We are NOT
locked into the editors' interpretation by the printed text. We are ALWAYS
advised to be on our mental toes when reading a text.

On the other hand, if editorial committees over the centuries have made
mistakes--and they certainly HAVE--they have, I dare say, surely made the
right choices FAR more often than not when choosing between alternatives. I
cannot see a single thing desirable in setting before our eyes a Greek text
without any punctuation or accentuation. Nineteen centuries of scholars at
work on our Greek texts have made mistakes here and there, but I really
would hate to think of having to confront a Greek text that hasn't had the
benefit of ages of loving scholarly attention. And for my part, I'd want to
know Greek a lot better than I now do before making a habit of looking at
texts without punctuation and accents.


Carl W. Conrad Department of Classics/Washington University One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018 Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 WWW:

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