This weekend I had the privilege of reading Constantine Campbell’s brand new book, Advances in the Study of Greek: New Insights for Reading the New Testament. I had fun reading this book. It’s possible that this says more about me than it does about the book(!), but I must honestly acknowledge that for me it was a truly enjoyable experience to read this new volume. Advances in the Study of Greek is a good way for people who already have some training in Greek to get up-to-speed on inside discussions happening between Greek Geeks…that is, umm, Greek linguists and grammarians. Here is a short run-down on its contents.

Chapter 1 surveys Greek studies from the 19th century to the present. Arranged chronologically and written in a simple and direct style, Campbell surveys advances in the study of Ancient Greek (whether Classical or Koine) as well as in linguistics more broadly. Campbell summarizes the discussion primarily by focusing upon persons whose theories have made an impact. This chapter is well-written and informative.

Chapter 2 focuses on linguistic theory, including short descriptions of various linguistic theories and “schools” of linguists.

Chapter 3 is a survey of lexical semantics (what words mean) and lexicography (the producing of Greek dictionaries). This chapter especially highlights the move toward synchrony in the modern period, that is, the understanding that words mean what they mean because of how they are used, rather than in how they connect to earlier stages in a language’s development.

Chapter 4 is joy-reading for anyone with linguistically geeky tendencies. It tells the story of how some recent scholars (and most of this discussion is quite recent) have called into question whether there even exists such a thing as a “middle deponent.” All of you who studied even a bit of Greek will remember being introduced to “deponent verbs,” that is, verbs that only have lexical forms in the middle voice. You were instructed to view them as stand-ins for non-existent active forms, and view them as active in practice. Does this all sound familiar? “Hogwash,” says these scholars to the idea of deponency (though I doubt if anyone actually uses the word “hogwash”…some of them probably use the word “baloney” instead). The middle voice, it is suggested by some of these scholars, is employed because there is some self-involvement of the speaker. Since this discussion is still oh-so-new, there exist competing suggestions by scholars to explain what makes a “middle” a middle, including many who will undoubtedly continue to defend deponency as a legitimate category.

Chapter 5 is about verbal aspect and Aktionsart. For those who know little about the topic, this may be the densest chapter to get through. This may be partially because of the complexity of the discussion, but may also be because this is the author’s own bailiwick, and it is usually harder to explain something in simple words when you’re really close to it. But considering that up until a few years ago, there were only a handful of people who even understood what is being discussed, it must be considered a good day when a recognized expert in the discussion makes an attempt to boil the discussion down even further than he has already “boiled it down” in his short book Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek. This particular chapter is probably the place to start if you know nothing about the topic. Simply put, aspect theory asserts that time isn’t the central characteristic of Greek tenses, nor is Aktionsart (type of action), the central issue is viewpoint, whether a Greek speaker or author views the event from outside an action or from inside.

Chapter 6 begins with a discussion of “idiolect” (which Campbell straightway explains is not the opposite of “intellect”—don’t you appreciate bits of humor in books like this?). Idiolect refers to the personal characteristics of someone’s individual language use; it is to an individual something like what a dialect is to a group. Genre is also briefly discussed in this chapter. “Register” (defined as “a configuration of meanings that is associated with a particular situation,” 142) is differentiated (thankfully) from “genre,” described, and illustrated. Campbell (unsurprisingly) mostly illustrates the benefits of thinking about register by using verbal aspectual examples, though there are other areas that can be illuminated by studying register. Vocabulary choices come immediately to mind, as Campbell himself briefly notes.

Chapters 7 and 8 both introduce discourse analysis, which is an approach to mapping the connections between (usually, though not always) sentences in Greek. The approach of M. A. K. Halliday and those associated with his “school” are the focus of chapter 7; the work of Stephen Levinson and his student Steven Runge are highlighted in chapter 8. Runge’s recent The Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament (electronically embedded in the Logos Bible Software system) might be a good starting point for anyone attempting to describe connections between sentences in particular. Whereas many issues surveyed in Campbell’s book are highly theoretical, Runge places the fruit low enough on the tree for us mere-mortals to pick and nibble on (my weak metaphor for “employ in the exegesis of particular passages”—this is something you can actually use).

Chapter 9 is about pronunciation. You all are mispronouncing Koine Greek. Erasmus may have got classical Greek pronunciation mostly right, but not Koine. We’ve got to stop following Erasmus’s pronunciation model. Koine is actually pronounced a lot like Modern Greek, so you ought to begin learning Modern Greek pronunciation. So opines Campbell. Campbell actually comes across a bit heavy-handed in this chapter, giving only a nod to Dan Wallace’s concerns about how much harder learning Greek might be for students who are taught this approach. (Think, for example, of the learning challenges for the student who makes no pronunciation differentiation between rough breathing marks and smooth breathing marks.) Still, it is worth reading this chapter in order to be informed about the discussion, and to consider whether we ought to start teaching (at least) our more advanced Greek students modern pronunciation alongside the Erasmian pronunciation they (probably) learned in elementary Greek.

Chapter 10 is about the teaching of Greek rather than about studying Greek. Campbell recommends that seminaries consider a move toward incorporating immersion approaches to learning to speak, listen, read, and write Greek—instead of the more traditional grammar-vocabulary-translation (reading only) approach. Campbell does still offer some good suggestions for those who plan to continue to use traditional approaches, which is itself a short summary of his recommendations in another of his books, Keep Your Greek: Strategies for Busy People.

I love it when specialists summarize developments for serious students who are not specialists. This kind of writing is immensely helpful for those who want to stay somewhat apprised of the scholarly discussion but who have limited time and/or ability to keep up on everything. Campbell has done a worthy job of summarizing developments in the study of Ancient Greek, and New Testament Greek in particular. I heartily recommend it. Besides, if you’re the right type of person, reading this book is going to be the most fun you’ve had for a while. I know it was for me. But then again, you have to be the right kind of person.