Third and Final Post on Campbell’s Advances in the Study of Greek

In this final post, I deal with chapters 6-10 of Campbell’s book (see Part One and Part Two). This final post might seem longer than the first two parts, and in fact is, because I found it necessary to say more about the chapters on discourse analysis.

campbellChapter 6 focuses upon idiolect, genre, and register. Campbell claims that “Two of these terms are poorly understood (if at all)” (p. 134). But his chapter gives the impression that all three are poorly understood. Idiolect seems to be confused with style on the one hand, and with isolated instances of language on the other. I laughed when Campbell uses the examples of the theological writings of N.T. Wright, Karl Barth, and John Calvin, and then the fiction of Jane Austen, Tom Clancy, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky as instances of idiolect. Wright, Barth, and Calvin all used different languages (English, German, and French or Latin, respectively, unless he thinks the English translations are original!), and Austen, Clancy, and Dostoyevsky (as well as the other three) all wrote during different time-periods and cultures (not to mention Dostoyevsky wrote in Russian). I permit others to draw their own conclusions regarding the other possibly implied equations. Campbell hints that one might gain insights into style by using syntactical diagrams—but a word of caution, as most diagramming is designed for English and so is not straightforwardly helpful for Greek (although many Greek exegesis courses today use sentence diagramming to my dismay). In the oddly numbered section 6.2.1 (there is no 6.2.2), Campbell attempts to study stylistic differences through use of various tense-forms (mislabeled as aspectual patterns?). There are some interesting findings here, but no indication of whether there is any statistical significance (I am doubtful for at least some of them). After acknowledging a distinction between genre and form, Campbell then oddly treats form but contrasts it with another genre. Part of the problem is an apparent attempt to insist that the Gospels are biographies. Finally, concerning register, Campbell recognizes that genre is often equated with register by some Systemic Functional Linguists (though not all). However, after offering his definition, he then brings in notions such as diglossia and prestige language, but without making clear how they are related. Campbell seems to confuse “prestige language” with a register, and this leads to some unnecessary theologizing regarding Luke’s language. This entire mix of notions regarding pragmatics, idiolect, and register seems to result in a problematic discussion of how the Gospels relate to each other. While this chapter introduces some important linguistic concepts, I found it overall unclear at numerous places and so not as helpful as it could be.

MAK_HallidayChapter 7 is the first of two on discourse analysis, this one on so-called Hallidayan (better SFL) approaches. This chapter is particularly disappointing for its imbalance and its failure to present SFL adequately. From the outset, Campbell wishes to distinguish discourse analysis from “more traditional modes of exegesis” and see it as “complementary” (p. 149). I grant that they are not the same, but his framing of the issue makes discourse analysis seem like a potential added extra, when it is (regardless of the framework) an encompassing way of speaking about language use—which I would think would be central to any meaningful exegesis. Campbell’s summary of four major schools of discourse analysis is drawn from a chapter that I wrote, which has now been expanded in a further article with Andrew Pitts to identify five major schools (Currents in Biblical Research 6.2 [2008] 214-55, esp. 240-41). My only major disagreement with his presentation (besides overlooking what has become a fifth school) is his criticism of SFL discourse analysis for failing to be “‘mapped’ into ancient Greek” (p. 151; a comment he essentially repeats on pp. 159, 160 and 161). Campbell is wrong here on two fronts. First, SFL has been “mapped” onto ancient Greek by a significant number of people (not least Reed, but also Westfall, Porter, etc.), and the second is that using various linguistic frameworks with varying languages is not based upon a process of simply mapping onto a language, but it requires reconceptualization. This too has been done by several scholars. Campbell makes it seem like Halliday himself should have worked on Greek, when in fact he has done nothing with Greek that I know of (see p. 175). When Campbell turns to exemplifying SFL discourse analysis, he claims that, “For Halliday, the central concern of discourse analysis is cohesion” (p. 152). For many discourse analysts of various schools, their primary interest is cohesion or its equivalent (see below); however, that is not entirely true of SFL, where all of the functions of language are important, even if cohesion (the textual function) has received serious attention. Campbell seems ambivalent in his criticism of SFL’s view of cohesion. Whereas he cites one set of criticisms, he also seems to endorse a statement by another scholar that recognizes that Halliday and Hasan’s view of cohesion has been widely accepted (it has). I think that the volume that Campbell cites on discourse cohesion in classical studies is worth examination, but it is far from the latest word on cohesion by either those in SFL or some others who have utilized cohesion in Greek studies. In fact, it is in some ways a rather limited attempt.

The second of the two chapters on discourse analysis focuses on Stephen Levinsohn and Steven Runge. The fact that this chapter is twice as long as the previous one and concentrates specifically on two individuals who have done similar work in New Testament studies is odd and probably reflects an unfortunate bias on Campbell’s part—especially as very few strong discourse analyses have been produced using either Levinsohn or Runge. There are reasons for this, as Campbell’s presentation shows. Campbell positions Levinsohn as following the Prague school of linguistics (with an unhelpful footnote that offers little access into this school [p. 163], and errors in many other footnotes). Campbell’s presentation of Levinsohn is basically a series of short paragraphs on topics, and not really a good guide to his overall framework. This is perhaps because Levinsohn does not really have a framework (he claims to be eclectic), but the gist is the distinction between semantics and pragmatics, found in many linguists. Overall, Levinsohn’s approach, as characterized by Campbell, offers ad hoc comments on a haphazard variety of linguistic features, many of them at the lower ranks (clause or below). I agree with several of Campbell’s criticisms of Levinsohn, although I would not equate “sentence grammar” with “traditional grammar,” and I would not necessarily equate cross-linguistic typology with nineteenth-century comparative philology.

41rWbb+o6qL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Campbell clearly favors Runge’s approach, although I find it difficult to see the reason, especially as I have failed to see much serious discourse analysis done using this model either. Runge’s work on discourse grammar is highly selective and concentrates upon what SFL would call cohesion, that is, the features that make a text hang together. There are far more elements of language to be considered than simply the ways in which bits of language are connected, highlighted, and ordered—as important as these may be. The definitions of connectives are rather ad hoc, and the accompanying chart (which looks like it is based upon componential analysis) does little to help, as it does not clearly relate to the definitions and requires extra features to be added. The result is a potpourri of various individual features that might play a role in discourse, but no theory of how they function together. This is seen in the example of Romans 6:1-6, which Campbell takes from Runge’s discourse analysis of the Greek New Testament. This is an attempt to present how a text holds together (i.e. cohesion), and not much more regarding other significant meanings of that passage. Campbell offers a key to the diagram (unfortunately the key is not complete: what does the X or CD or boldface mean?), but more is needed to make sense of what is being presented (the key is not helped by inclusion of references to works not cited in the bibliography). I think readers will use this labeling scheme (as that is all that it seems to be) at their own interpretive peril. First, the elements identified are a mixed bag functioning at different levels of language and according to different principles (e.g. a principle is a concept, whereas a sentence is a grammatical unit; sub-point implies a hierarchy). Second, the definitions themselves are often unclear. Third, the criteria for the definitions and distinctions are not clearly stated. Fourth, and perhaps most problematic, there appear to be either errors in the analysis (e.g. 6:1a as a principle, 6:4 with οὕτως labeled as CP; 6:5 treating καί with τῆς ἀναστάσεως) or major features of the text that are not commented upon (e.g. the use of ἀλλά in 6:5). Fifth, despite its complexity, the labeling of discourse features is not complex enough to handle all that it should, and in fact sometimes simply labels the obvious and overlooks other more important elements. The fact that the discourse analysis is only available through purchase of a software package further limits its status. I think that, for the most part, Campbell misses the strongest points of criticism of Runge’s approach. Runge’s discourse features is an incomplete guide to some “discourse features” (regarding cohesion) and that’s about all. Campbell unfortunately concludes with what he represents as some commentaries that show concern for discourse analysis. Again, caveat emptor.

In chapter 9, Campbell discusses pronunciation. This subject has recently produced great heat, if not always light. Campbell tries to take a middle road, although I am not sure that he is successful. Wherever Erasmian pronunciation came from (Campbell provides several different accounts, but it probably reflects a form of pronunciation that grew up in the revival of learning in the Renaissance as a way of matching letters with sounds), virtually everyone agrees that this was not the way ancient Greek—whether classical (which dialect?) or Hellenistic—was spoken. Campbell presents alternatives proposed by a number of others. He also includes evidence regarding Hellenistic vowel interchange and itacism. Campbell cites P.Oxy. 119, the letter of Theon to his father, in support. However, this papyrus does nothing to support modern pronunciation (and even here there is difference of opinion). The papyrus shows a high level of vowel interchange that moves in a variety of directions (e.g. α>ε, η>ε, ε>η, αι>ει, εα>α, ει>η, αι>ε, οι>υ, ι>ει, ι>ει) to the point of confusion (there are also several consonant interchanges: γκ>κκ, γκ>χ, ν>μ, γκ>κ, ρ>ρρ). The result is that even proposals for “modern” pronunciation must admittedly include various compromises. So, in the end, there is a lot of dispute over relatively little, as all of the attempts are various approximations as we attempt to find a way of pronouncing an ancient language (some of Campbell’s reasons for using modern pronunciation are humorous).

Lowercase-Greek-AlphabetChapter 10, the final chapter, is on teaching and learning Greek. Campbell notes that there has been a change in recent grammars to include reading from the Greek New Testament early (he misses that Porter, Reed, and O’Donnell, Fundamentals of New Testament Greek, begins such reading in chapter 1). Despite some unwarranted promotion of other publications, Campbell has some good advice regarding limitations of technology in learning Greek. He also discusses various immersion methods. But I was confused over his distinction over whether the goal of immersion is to produce “communicative competence” or “language proficiency,” since he distinguishes between the two (his footnote at this point is an odd one). Despite the claims for immersion, the outcome is always going to be artificial—taking a disproportionately large amount of time for achieving the goal of working with the Greek New Testament. I believe that our current methods of language teaching still produce the best results, especially within the constraints of teaching a “dead” language (see some observations by Hilary Putnam, “The ‘Innateness Hypothesis’ and Explanatory Models in Linguistics,” repr. in Mind, Language and Reality, vol. 2 [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975] esp. 114).

Incidentally, there are numerous typographical errors in the book, including in the bibliography (including, for some reason, deletion of my name from a number of books that I edited).

In conclusion, I must ask how many “new insights” are found in this book that help us in reading the New Testament. There are not many, as the book is not really concerned with offering new insights into interpreting the New Testament. I appreciate Campbell’s attempt to chronicle what he sees as advances, but the several problematic areas make the book difficult for those using it. If one already knows the area well, then the problems may prove more of an unfortunate annoyance. However, if one does not know the area well—probably the majority of readers for whom the book was written—then this book’s shortcomings may prove to be a major liability.

— Stanley E. Porter

8 thoughts on “Third and Final Post on Campbell’s Advances in the Study of Greek

  1. Pingback: A Review of Constantine Campbell’s Advances in the Study of Greek: Part One | DOMAIN THIRTY-THREE

  2. Pingback: A Review of Campbell’s Advances in the Study of Greek: Part Two | DOMAIN THIRTY-THREE

  3. A question completely unrelated to the article:
    What letter is missing from the lowercase-greek-alphabet.gif image displayed in the paragraph on Chapter 10 (and which is listed twice)?


  4. In its three parts this is a comprehensive and detailed review of Con Campbell’s book and I agree with the conclusion — the book is not a completely reliable guide to integrating modern linguistics into Biblical studies. However I wonder if the review itself suffers from the some of the same issues? There seem to be a number of unhelpful or “not quite right” statements and claims. For instance, “unless he thinks the English translations are original!” Do not the English translations of Wright, Barth and Calvin give reasonably good examples of ‘idiolect’? Especially in a beginning guide?

    Or, “the second is that using various linguistic frameworks with varying languages is not based upon a process of simply mapping onto a language, but it requires reconceptualization” — I’m not sure what this means …? What requires reconceptualization? Using various linguistic frameworks? … Does RRG _require_ reconceptualization in using it to talk about different languages?

    Or, ‘Runge’s discourse features is an incomplete guide to some “discourse features”’ — was it intended to be a ‘complete guide’?

    And so on.


  5. Pingback: On Porter’s Recent Review of Campbell | Travis Wright

  6. Pingback: Campbell: Advances in the Study of Greek • Re: Campbell: Advances in the Study of Greek | | The ProBible Project

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