Friday, May 11, 2007

Mastering New Testament Greek by Thomas Robinson

My thanks to the kind folk at Hendrickson for a review copy of Thomas A. Robinson's Mastering New Testament Greek: Essential Tools for Students (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 2007).

Those of us concerned to improve our NT Greek are extremely grateful for any help we may get on the way, so I am delighted to point my readers to Robinson's new and well-priced book, Mastering New Testament Greek. This third edition provides the student with numerous new tools to aid one on the path to NT Greek proficiency.

The basic concept of the book is as follows. Some other Greek vocabulary books/lists will give the Greek words according to frequency, such that the most common words are to be learnt first. This is a good pedagogical principle and helps students gain a basic grasp of NT Greek faster. Robinson does the same only according to the frequency of cognate roots. The idea is simple: 'by learning the most frequent roots, one can gain a solid working vocabulary even more quickly than by memorizing only the most frequent individual words' (1). Additional to this, Robinson provides many mnemonic aids for helping the student in the memorisation process. I would note that during my undergraduate studies, mnemonic devices helped me tremendously. I applied them with a good deal of success to Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic, gaining perfect grades in my Greek test, and highest of the year grades in my Hebrew class (which also landed me with a money prize!) - and I can say this as one to whom languages do not come altogether naturally or easily.

Robinson also breaks down the vocabulary lists according to their roots, prefixes and suffixes. The third section of the book, 'Explanation of Greek Prefixes and Suffixes', is a very helpful introductory summary of the various ways Greek prefixes and suffixes are commonly used to contribute to the meaning of a given word. I think an obvious advantage of this approach is that it helps the student to more quickly gain a grasp of the ways in which Greek words inflect. This section, as with all the lists, is supplemented with mnemonic helps.

Also provided is an index of Greek word endings given in reverse alphabetical order, i.e. so that the last letter of the word is the first level of sorting. This will be helpful for many beginners who are at a loss as to how to decipher many endings.

But there are a myriad of other tools to hand, including a few helpful diagrams and pictures to demonstrate the meaning of the prepositions and cases. This is aimed to develop the spatial sense of prepositions, providing a ground upon which to build the necessary nuances one must later learn. There is also a short Greek-English cognate dictionary, again filled with helpful mnemonic notes.

If all of this wasn't enough, there is an accompanying CD (both Mac and PC compatible) with numerous software tools including a pronunciation guide (Erasmus style), a programme for parsing difficult grammatical forms, a review of verbs, and vocabulary quizzes suitable for teachers to give their students.

It needs to be pointed out that the often used mnemonic devices tend to focus upon logical connections rather than the purely creative. This was perhaps a little overdone, and creative associations could perhaps have been encouraged, as for example suggested in numerous 'learn foreign language quickly' books, as well as employed in the older Roman Loci mnemonic systems.

While some of the pages may appear rather daunting on first glance, filled as many are with codes and lists, Robinson provides a brief three page chapter supplying instructions for using the manual. These pages are a must if the student is to get the most from this helpful NT Greek learning aid.

Finally, while the book is not sufficient in and of itself to make possible a mastery of NT Greek, that is not its task. It seeks to enable the student to grasp NT Greek vocabulary with more speed and to facilitate a better intuitive grasp of the meaning of prepositions and declensions, as well as the meaning of word inflections. In this is admirably succeeds. This is a helpful tool for all who are starting NT Greek, and the index of Greek word endings will be useful also for more advanced students. I suspect that the book will also be of use for more experienced readers, for all of us can profit from the occasional recital of the basics. Indeed, given the basic idea behind the book, even more advanced readers may find themselves noticing links and patterns that had previously escaped their attention.

Click here to view the table of contents, here to view the small chapter listing identical Greek/English words, and here to read the introduction.



At 5/11/2007 2:51 AM, Anonymous Josh McManaway said...

You've done it again, Tilling. I suppose I have to go out and buy another book because of your website.

At 5/11/2007 11:53 AM, Anonymous Jon said...

Ha! We were made for each other! I got perfect scores in my Greek Tests and I won the Hebrew Prize at St Andrews!

Never did Aramaic though...

At 5/12/2007 4:17 AM, Anonymous Michael Westmoreland-White said...

After graduating seminary, I read several British scholars giving their opinion that one should learn classical Greek first. I now agree, but never learned classical Greek. Any hints on good sources for those of us who have to do things backwards and learn classical Greek AFTER Koine Greek?

At 5/12/2007 5:32 PM, Anonymous Patrick George McCullough said...

We're using this book for my Greek Reading class at Fuller. I think it's great. By far the best part of the book is the huge section dividing things up by root frequency. The chapter on prefixes and suffixes could certainly be a lot better, since it doesn't divide up the prefixes from the suffixes, and some of the definitions are questionable.

Also, I've always found the graphical representations of cases and prepositions to be confusing and, at worst, misleading.

But the derived English words section and the identical Greek word section are interesting.

I feel like it could be better somehow, and I hope that the author continues to improve it. But the frequency by roots section is worth the price of the book, I think... if you really want to work on your vocab. I think I will keep going back to it over time for that reason.

At 5/14/2007 11:06 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Glad to hear it, Josh!

Curios P, I would suggest Stan Bruce's Intro to NT Greek. It is based on John'S Gospel, so you get to work straight in the NT texts which may help motivation and make it immediately relevant. Of course, a little knowledge of NT Greek can somtimes be misleading, but I'm sure you know that!

Michael, sorry but I don't have any great ideas, no. Maybe ask th echaps at th eEvangelical Textual Criticism blog.

Patrick, great review!


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