A Response from T. Muraoka

T. Muraoka

Two weeks ago I posted some Initial Impressions of the brand new grammar of Koine Greek by T. Muraoka, A Syntax of Septuagint Greek. There must be a lot of people out there waiting to get their hands on their copy, or who are just interested in the Greek of the Septuagint in general, because this was one of my most widely read posts of all time.

It was so widely read, apparently, that even Muraoka himself found it somehow. Not only did he then read it, but he took the time to email me directly with a response. Because Dr. Muraoka addressed some of the items I pointed out as “Possible Drawbacks,” I thought it would be fair to post his response (with his permission). You can read that below, followed by my own brief follow-up notes.

Muraoka’s Response

Dear Mr Ross,

Very many thanks for your first impressions on my Syntax, fair, forthright, and much to the point.

Let me reply to only a couple out of many points dealt with by you.

You regret my use of transliteration of Hebrew and Aramaic. Some years ago I mentioned my approach to Sebastian Brock, who was very supportive.

The principal reason is that I wanted to make my work as accessible as possible to scholars and students interested in the Greek of the Septuagint, but not quite at home in Semitic languages. As you could see from Introduction, my Syntax is meant to be used not only by LXX specialists and biblical scholars, but also by Hellenists in general, most of whom wouldn’t know what to do with the Semitic alphabet. If you are to be strictly scientific, you would then have to present Heb. and Aram. unvocalized, which would be a disaster for many users of my Syntax. I’m writing this mail in China, where I have been teaching Hebrew as a volunteer to 9 Chinese beginners for six weeks since mid April. It has been a real pain to witness them struggling even with fully vocalised, simple Hebrew words and sentences. They simply can’t read Hebrew fluently, which is very odd, when their script consists of thousands of characters.

You think my indices could have been more extensive. A fairly extensive Table of Contents would go some way to make up for a relatively short Index rerum. I would like to share with you that compiling the index locorum was a real nightmare. The publisher couldn’t make it. The text file they had constructed to go to the printer needed to be made to match my own so that every page begins and ends with the same word in the two versions before I could begin to start indexing. This process alone took me quite a few hours. When I started indexing mechanically there emerged two snags. Though the list of biblical books was arranged in the conventional order of the Bible, my software would insist on rearranging it in the alphabetical order, so that 1E, 1K etc. would come before Ge! So I had to select all the references book by book, copy, and paste in the order as it should be. The second major nasty snag was that the software didn’t know what to do when more than one references follow one after another, the name of the book concerned mentioned only with the first reference. On every page there are lots of such instances. All these references giving just chapter and verse, or just verse number given had to be added manually. This alone cost me tens of hours, possibly more than hundred. Still prior to my retirement, I had the opportunity of spending one whole year in Goettingen as a visiting professor. Each German professor has at least one “wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter oder wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin,” a person like yourself, who could be readily entrusted with this sort of sheer, mechanical, manual donkey’s work. But in The Netherlands, even prior to retirement, if I had attempted such with my Ph.D. students, they would start looking for another supervisor. Faced with this gigantic drudgery I contemplated compiling a selective index, but then I realized that in order to select which references include I would have to read the text carefully. Besides, when I mention multiple references on a certain matter, I often had to select anyway. As you noted, I often attach my own glosses, so by not making an exhaustive ended locorum, I would not be doing justice to myself. The result is an index locorum in three columns in a smaller font, running into tens of pages.

I would be pleased to hear from you on substantive matters of the syntax as well.

Wishing you steady progress of your own research,

takamitsu muraoka

Brief Concluding Notes

The first item I would like to note is that my comments on transliteration of Hebrew were not meant to be entirely negative. As Muraoka points out, this feature of his volume makes it more accessible to both scholars of Greek (but not Hebrew) and linguists in general, which is no doubt a benefit to scholarship. Of course, for those who can read Hebrew, working with transliteration can be somewhat of an inconvenience until you do it long enough to adjust. But I admit that the cost/benefit ratio almost certainly goes in the direction of transliteration.

Secondly, I have absolutely no doubt that preparing the indices for this volume was “a real nightmare” featuring nothing but “sheer, mechanical, manual donkey’s work,” as Muraoka delightfully puts it. No one in their right mind would second guess that, nor can I blame even PhD students for fleeing from such a prospect. In fact, I cringe to think of Dr. Muraoka spending his time on such a menial task when he no doubt has numerous other projects that are much more important and fulfilling. What is dumbfounding to me is the decision by Peeters not to prepare an index themselves, since that would certainly increase the marketability of the book. I can only hope that in future editions (?) these indices will be substantially expanded.

I am very grateful to Dr. Muraoka for his feedback, and for allowing me to post his response here. Hopefully it will help those considering whether or not to get a copy of the Syntax for themselves (answer: yes!).


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