[b-greek] Re: two reflections on this mailing list

From: Carl W. Conrad (cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu)
Date: Wed May 16 2001 - 11:15:14 EDT

At 10:50 PM +1000 5/16/01, James Forsyth wrote:
>Hi all,
>When I consider Stephen Hawkin(s?) speaking ex cathedra on astrophysics and
>the like, I wonder whether such a way of speaking is only appropriate for
>fields such as his own. Hawkins seems to ramble on and on about black
>holes and all things out there in the cosmos ad infinitum. The New
>Testament has long been a closed canon (in some ways the Greek has been a
>closed canon for longer, in other ways shorter), on which one could only
>expound in a way that has either occurred before, or in giving a new theory
>to an old text.

Speaking for myself, I would be inclined to say that "ex cathedra"
pronouncements are not of much use on B-Greek (nor are statements on
"astrophysics and the like" of much use here either). To be sure, the Greek
Bible is a "closed canon" (but we are open to discussion of relevant
Hellenistic Greek texts as well, e.g. Hellenistic Jewish, patristic and
non-canonical texts, even literary Hellenistic Greek texts that may
illuminate Hellenistic Greek usage), but there is neither likelihood nor
peril, I think, that the Biblical Greek text will not keep eliciting new
formulations of old questions as well as new questions from new generations
of those learning to read the Bible in Greek. There is hardly any way to
respond to an "ex cathedra" statement; assertions in messages sent to
B-Greek, however, are generally assumed to be open to question and able to
be demonstrated valid or shown improbable or false in terms of what we know
and understand of Greek grammar, syntax, lexicology, etc. It's hard enough
keeping the focus on questions about the Greek text and the Greek language
without drifting somehow or other into matters of hermeneutics or theology
(those areas where views of list-members range over an extremely broad
spectrum and we can't expect any real consensus).

>Much of the conversation on this mailing list appears to be in the form of
>question and answer. Great for an ignoramus like myself! But very
>different to the aforementioned ramblings of the seated genius who has very
>few peers his equal that could keep him in check, and his finger
>continually on the agenda, just as it is on his joystick.

"Ignoramus" is actually Latin first-plural present indicative for "we don't
know." I think that's the status all B-Greekers ought to accept as
applicable in some degree to themselves. Our list-owner, Jonathan Robie,
used the term "Little Greek" in just that sense of "ignoramus": one who
knows something about Greek (Biblical Greek, in particular) but want to
learn more and is willing to participate in a discussion intended for
mutual didactic benefit. What is most useful here is the sort of comment or
question that can stimulate fresh thought or send us scurrying to reference
works to re-think the logic of the point of grammar in question.

It is quite clear that many of the questions posed to the list by new
members are questions that have been discussed before. Someday we may get
around, as some have urged, to compiling a FAQ of some sort, or an
encyclopedic reference list of passages and questions that have been
discussed frequently and how to find them in the archives. This is a much
more difficult and time-consuming task than one might think; it's something
I may get around to myself now as I move into real retired status (if I
escape the surgeon's knife safely). But for the foreseeable time being, I
rather think that old questions will be raised anew and occasionally some
new answers will be offered. Surprisingly too, really new questions do get
raised here.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649
WWW: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad/

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