[b-greek] Re: Some Porter comments

From: Carl W. Conrad (cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu)
Date: Wed Oct 11 2000 - 08:36:08 EDT

If I were not a pedantic schoolteacher, I would not have such a compulsion
to annotate instances of what appear to me to be overgeneralizations. But I
am and therefore I do.

At 7:06 AM -0400 10/11/00, Rodney J. Decker wrote:
>Josephus is probably not a good example here since he (apparently) did not
>speak or write Greek as a "heart language." His Greek is awkward and
>difficult in many places. Being well educated in 1st C. Palestine did not
>mean being able to write good, fluid Greek.

And yet there is Lucian of Samosata, perhaps a century later, or Philodemus
of Gadara, perhaps a century earlier, who were educated in Hellenistic
Palestine and who were able to write good. fluid Greek.

It is possible that some
>Galilean fishermen would be more fluent in Greek than well educated people
>from elsewhere. John's Greek, e.g., is not profound or complex, but I
>suspect that many would judge it to be overall "better" than that of Josephus.

They might, but I would hesitate to confirm their judgment. This all so
relative, I fear. The author of the fourth gospel certainly had a nice
sense of the perfect tense's implications. And I don't think anything in
the fourth gospel is unintelligible, while there are sections in the
Pauline corpus that approach unintelligibility: I would not want to blame
or credit Paul with everything in the Pauline corpus, but I do have the
impression that Paul had a fairly decent Greek education.

>>How many believers of the first century even had the capacity to hack
>>their way through Hebrews 6?
>This introduces a different category altogether: literacy. Most estimates
>place the literacy rate of the first century Greco-Roman world at about
>10%--so if your question means, how many could *read* Heb. 6, the answer
>would be "few indeed." Jewish literacy would probably be higher due to the
>synagogue schools and the Jewish emphasis on education. (Harris's *Ancient
>Literacy* does not address this adequately.) Palestine, in particular, was
>a largely bilingual society with Aramaic and Greek being widely spoken--and
>Latin being not unknown. On the other hand, very few would have any trouble
>understanding what the author of Heb. 6 was saying upon hearing the text
>read aloud (even the original audience of largely Jewish Christians in Rome).

I think this really IS an interesting question. I do think that the Greek
of Hebrews is beyond doubt the most difficult in the GNT, and although I
have no way of knowing for sure, I would certainly suspect that there were
believers who could make little sense of much of Hebrews. And is there
really any consensus or strong argument that Hebrews (6 or any other
chapter) was intended originally for an audience of largely Jewish
Christians in Rome? I was under the impression that authorship and
Sitz-im-Leben for Hebrews remained to this day pretty much a NON LIQUET or
a matter of opinions numbering roughly the same as the number of opiners.


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

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