The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Jan 13, 2011

The most difficult part of teaching 1st year Greek (for me, at least)

This past semester I got my first taste of teaching at the grad-level. I have the privilege of grading for textual/NT scholar Dr. Maurice Robinson, who unfortunately suffered from an illness half-way through the semester (he is now recovering well). Right at mid-term, Southeastern asked me to take over his 1st year Fall Greek class, so basically I administered the mid-term and taught for the rest of the semester.

To begin with, I have to thank my class (32 students, in all!) for their great encouragement and generally good spirit. They prayed for me, encouraged me, and did a great job paying attention and interacting in class. It wasn't easy on them, either, switching teachers in the middle of the semester, but I salute their hard work and wish them the best for the Spring semester.

There's nothing like actually teaching a subject for the first time to make you realize how woefully unprepared you are! Leaving aside my tendency to speak first and think later when answering questions from the class, there were a couple issues in 1st semester Greek, in the language itself, that absolutely drove me nuts. First and foremost of these is the issue of vowel contractions and lengthenings, and this was one area that I went in relatively unprepared (out of the many years I took Greek, vowel change was probably the one area I cared least about and so took less time to study).

Here's an example of Greek vowel transformation that took me by surprise: according to the "Top Two" of 1st year grammars (in my opinion Mounce, 1993; Black, 2009), ε+ο will contract to form ου; thus ποιεω in the 1st plural = ποιε + ο + μεν = ποιεομεν, but the vowels ε+ο contract, so we get ποιουμεν, as in 1 John 1:6 (see Mounce, 135-137, esp. 135; Black, 133-134, esp. 133). This rule, of course, is meant strictly for contract verbs and the connecting vowel of the verb ending. When the same vowel combination is recast in terms of an aorist or imperfect prefix, however, the result is quite different. Note, for example, the very same ε+ο at the beginning of ομολογεω. Here, the imperfect prefix ε combines with the original ο to form ω (which is what we'd expect if the omnicron were merely lenthening), as in the 3rd plural imperfect form ωμολογουν in John 12:42, rather than something like ουμολογουν. In contrast, an imperfect or aorist ε+α at the beginning of a word behaves exactly like it does in the middle of a contract verb (and exactly like one would expect if the α were merely lengthening). Of course, Dr. Black has cast the rule for such prefixes in more appropriate terms: for short vowels such as ε, α, or ο, the prefix ε does not actually contract with the short vowel per se; rather, it "lengthens the short vowel ot the corresponding long vowel" (Black, 51) Still the fact remains that we essentially have an ε + ο in two different places resulting in two different vowel transformations, and this drove me nuts!

Ultimately, I believe I had more trouble dealing with vowel transformations in Greek than I did any other topic for this class. Part of the problem, in retrospect, is that I treated vowel transformations as universal principles applying equally to all parts of a verb; what I should have done is focused narrowly on contract verbs, and later treated the aorist and imperfect prefixes as a completely separate topic.

Other difficult areas, of course, included those nasty imperfects that take present endings, trying to explain the function of middle verbs (interesting note: check out how the verb τικτω, in Matthew 1:21, 23, and 25, goes from future middle to future middle to aorist active! Apparently, there are no future active forms of that particular verb in the NT, Josephus, or Philo), and explaining the difference between an aorist and a present tense when they seem almost interchangeable in some Gospel narratives (and no, 1st year Greek is not the place to get into a discussion on verbal aspect theory, whether pro or con!!)

Despite all the trials and tribulations of actually teaching the topic for the first time, I am greatful for the opportunity and look forward to the day when I can do this full-time!

1 comment:

  1. Glad you enjoyed your experience, hope your students did. And vowel contractions? Why, they're as simple as quantum mechanics. No, wait....