Announcement: The Tyndale House Workshop in Greek Prepositions

Tyndale House Workshop in Greek Prepositions

djr_0085_17212375711_oI am pleased to announce an event that will bring together experts in a variety of disciplines in order to tackle an age-old problem with new theoretical approaches. This summer those pesky Greek prepositions are getting a lexicographical makeover at a two day “workshop” in Cambridge, England. The event is called:

The Tyndale House Workshop in Greek Lexicography: Cognitive Linguistic Approaches to Lexicography and Theology

This event will take place from 30 June-1 July 2017 at Tyndale House, Cambridge, the biblical studies research library par excellence. Although it is a fairly brief event, this workshop is structured to offer the maximum punch to advance the state of the question in the semantics of Greek prepositions. And, as is evident from the tagline, cognitive linguistics is central to our approach.

The Back Story

Last June I found myself in the small, bible-software-saturated city of Bellingham, Washington, shortly after finishing up a seminar in Septuagint studies at Trinity Western University. The idea for this preposition workshop began to take shape during this visit – naturally, over some delicious local brews. I sat down with Steve Runge, Rick Brannen, and Mike and Rachel Aubrey to discuss collaborating on a longer-term project applying newer linguistic theories to challenges within traditional approaches to Greek grammar.

This workshop will focus on prepositions and is the first in what we hope will be a series of similar events that will subsequently deal with connectives and particles. It remains to be seen whether and how that plays out, but at the moment Steve and I are teaming up to organize a top-notch preposition workshop and then
making the proceedings available in published form.

In case you are wondering: Yes, this workshop is intentionally designed to replicate the Linguistics and the Greek Verb conference held at Tyndale House in July of 2015 (see here). That model of highly-focused and interdisciplinary analysis of a single – albeit multifaceted – issue in Greek proved very effective. It was the genesis for the very well-received volume The Greek Verb Revisited (Lexham, 2016 [Amazon]), edited by Chris Fresch and Steve Runge.

Issues with Greek Prepositions: A Cognitive Answer

What’s wrong with Greek prepositions? Well, nothing.

But scholars have long been aware that they are exceptionally difficult to pin down. And for that reason they often play a pivotal (if seemingly subtle) role in biblical interpretation and theology. [1] Ignore for now the question about what actually counts as a preposition, versus the so-called “improper” prepositions like ἐπάνω that do not prefix to verbs. djr_0242_17025394410_oThe “traditional” Greek prepositions have been enough to constantly challenge biblical lexicographers and exegetes alike as they seek to properly understand them (pardon the pun).

The problem is a semantic one. First of all, what is the best approach to describing the meaning of Greek prepositions given the variety of functions they serve in the Koine period? Second, to what extent are Greek prepositions polysemous and (where necessary) how can we correctly determine the number and boundaries of the senses? Third, by what means can our semantic description of Greek prepositions accurately and accessibly present relevant information in English (i.e., in a lexicon entry)?

These and other questions are largely theoretical in nature. So a central goal of this workshop is to bring the insights of general linguistics – and specifically cognitive linguistics – to bear upon the study of Greek. Unlike other theories, cognitive linguistics approaches polysemy using a structured model known as prototype theory. This reformulates the notion of a single “core” or “basic” meaning, and instead attempts to provide a motivated account of the various senses of a word in terms of a “radial network.” An important assumption of this approach is that meaning is conceptual and embodied. Human experience of the physical world informs the conceptual structure on which linguistic meaning is built. In this account, more basic shemas like DIRECTION are mapped onto more abstract concepts like PURPOSE or RECIPIENT.


A radial network for the English preposition “over.”*

Judging by the often comically long entries for prepositions in Greek lexicons, you might think that these words are so polysemous that it’s barely worth the effort to understand them. (I’ve often felt this way about German prepositions.) But very often, huge lexicon entries are the inevitable consequence of non-isometric semantic overlap between Greek and English. This requires traditional lexicographers to use a wide array of English prepositions – whose meanings do not everywhere overlap with the Greek preposition under discussion – to gloss the various meanings where they ostensibly do overlap.

Thankfully, combining cognitive linguistics and prototype theory can provide a principled and organized account of prepositional semantics without falling into this polysemy fallacy. Doing so, in turn, can help us understand and translate the New Testament (and Septuagint) texts, and fashion better lexicon entries for these words for non-specialists.[2]

Two Relevant Monographs

We will not be the first to attempt to apply cognitive linguistics to the study of Greek prepositions. At least two others have done so in the last fifteen years:

  1. Bortone, Pietro. Greek Prepositions from Antiquity to the Present. Oxford University Press, 2010 (Amazon)
  2. Luraghi, Silvia. On the Meaning of Prepositions and Cases: Semantic Roles in Ancient Greek. Studies in language companion series 67; John Benjamins, 2003 (Amazon)

These books have been deftly reviewed and compared by Mike Aubrey in several posts (start here). If you’re new to this conversation, I highly recommend reading these.

The Details of the Workshop


Steve Runge and I are motivated to make the complicated accessible, and to bring the best of linguistic theory into the service of biblical studies. So we have tried to invite the best on all sides of this cross-disciplinary topic. We are looking forward to participation by two cognitive linguists, two Classical Greek lexicographers, and several biblical scholars. Because of our tight topic and event time frame, we are not issuing a call for papers. But we want to facilitate participation, which is why we have done our best to make this event very affordable, with only a £50 registration fee.

So if you want to know more, or are convinced enough already, head over to our website:

At the moment the event registration is not open. But you can sign up at the right to be notified by email as soon as it is.

And finally: spread the word! You can download a flyer to share here.


[1] For a recent exploration of just one relevant topic, see Con Campbell’s Paul and Union with Christ (Zondervan, 2012 [Amazon]), which explores the theological implications of the phrase ἐν Χριστῷ (interview here). Also see Campbell’s essay in ‘In Christ’ in Paul: Explorations in Paul’s Theology of Union and Participation (eds. M. Thate, C. Campbell, and K. Vanhoozer; Mohr Siebeck 2014 [Amazon]).

[2] But wouldn’t this mean the same problems and solutions would apply to Biblical Hebrew, you ask? Yes indeed. All good things in time.

* Claudia Brugman and George Lakoff, “Radial network,” in D. Geeraerts, D., ed., Cognitive Linguistics: Basic Readings. Berlin: DeGruyter, 2006, p. 129.

Photo credit Doug Robar

LXX Scholar Interview: José Manuel Cañas Reíllo

It’s an exciting day here at Septuaginta &c. (notice that I have finally given this blog a name), as I continue with my ongoing series of interviews with Septuagint scholars of note. Most of those I have interviewed thus far are known for their influential publications in the discipline. Today, we meet someone likely less familiar, even to those well-entrenched in LXX studies: José Manuel Cañas Reíllo.

I became acquainted with José Manuel through my work in LXX-Judges when I found out that he is the man working away at the Göttingen critical text for Judges. After exchanging several emails, I had the pleasure of meeting him personally last July at the 2016 LXX.D Tagung in Wuppertal, Germany (here and here).

The Septuaginta-Unternehmen

José Manuel is based at the Centro de Ciencias (CSIC; also here) but also works at the Göttingen Septuaginta-Unternehmen. The latter of which was founded in the early 20th century by Alfred Rahlfs and Rudolf Smend and has been a major center of Septuagint scholarship ever since. The main production of the Septuaginta-Unternehmen has been a critical edition of the Septuagint, known as the Göttingen Septuagint (or, more accurately, the Septuaginta Vetus Testamentum Graecum). This edition takes into account every known textual witness to date. Despite the fact that over a hundred years after the project began there are still Septuagint books for which there is no critical edition, the Göttingen volumes are the gold standard of the discipline, as they reflect a text that hypothetically precedes all recensions.

I asked José Manuel about his training and work as a Septuagint textual critic. Enjoy hearing from one of the best!*

1) Can you describe how you first became interested in LXX studies?

My academic background is that of a philologist, primarily in Classical Philology and then in Biblical Philology. I started my research career in the field of the Vetus Latina (the Old Latin version), with my doctoral thesis on marginal glosses of the Vetus Latina in the Spanish Vulgate bibles for 1-2 Maccabees. In that work it was necessary to take account of the Greek text of the LXX, and since then I have been interested in it, especially in subjects related to textual criticism and textual history.

This interest has only grown since 1997, when I started to work in the Indice griego-hebreo del texto antioqueno de la Biblia griega with Natalio Fernández Marcos and Maria Victoria Spottorno Diaz-Caro. Thereafter the three of us formed a research team on Septuagint at the CSIC.

The Indice was published in 2005, and thereafter I was part of the team for the project of the Spanish translation of the Septuagint [La Biblia Griega], coordinated by N. Fernández Marcos and M. V. Spottorno. The translation began in 2006 and finished in 2015 with the publication of four volumes [here, here, here, and here].

In this project I undertook the translation of twelve books of the Bible (Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, 1 and 2 Chronicles, 1 & 2 Maccabees, Job, Proverbs, Jeremiah, Lamentations and Daniel) and this gave me a very broad picture of the diversity and complexity of the different books of the Septuagint.

2) Can you tell us your area of specialty within the field, and how you were trained for it?

My specialty within the field is textual criticism. I received my training as a graduate student in Classical Philology and Trilingual Biblical Philology. Since the ’90s I have been fortunate to be a part of the project Edición de textos bíblicos y parabíblicos at the CSIC, led by Dr. Natalio Fernández Marcos, in which textual criticism is the central focus.

Also my studies of the Vetus Latina brought me to this conviction: It is necessary and crucial to take into account the textual criticism of Septuagint together with the Vetus Latina, because, as research has shown, progress in the field of Septuagint has impact on the Vetus Latina and vice versa. A perfect illustration of this is the importance of the Vetus Latina for the textual criticism of the Book of Judges, or for tracing the influence of the Antiochene text in the Historical Books.

3) Can you tell us about the Septuaginta-Unternehmen and how you became involved?

In 2012, I was recommended as editor of Judges by Dr. Natalio Fernández Marcos. In 2013 the Septuaginta-Unternehmen formally invited me to undertake the critical edition of Judges, and since November of that year I have been working on that project. As my expertise is textual criticism, I think assembling a critical edition is, at base, comprehensively philological, because the existence of critical editions enables progress in other areas such as language studies, especially lexicography, and literary criticism. An edition such as the Greek book of Judges is possibly the best type of work for a philologist dedicated to textual criticism.

4) Can you describe the overall process of compiling a critical edition of a book of the Septuagint?

The starting point of the task is the “Kollationshefte” of Greek manuscripts for Judges that have been made in the Septuagint Unternehmen over the years. [Editors note: These are hand-written volumes of all the variants within all the Greek witnesses for each biblical book.] In total, nearly one hundred Greek witnesses are available for Judges: eight uncials, ninety-two minuscules and two papyri, plus of the old editions Aldina, Complutense and Sixtina, to which I have added a few fragments that had not bee collated: Rahlfs 442 (= Madrid, Universidad Complutense E.1, No. 10), which was considered lost, and the palimpsest fragment K in St. Petersburg (Rus. Nat. Bibl. Gr. 26).

The first step of the work, which I have already completed, involved the revision of the collations. In this work, some questionable readings must be revised directly with manuscripts, when necessary.

The second step, now almost completed, has been the incorporation of the indirect Greek witnesses (e.g., Josephus and Patristic authors) into the collation of the manuscripts, in order to obtain a global view of the Greek transmission. Simultaneously, I have been preparing the Hexaplaric apparatus, much of which has also been collated at the Septuagint-Unternehmen.

The third step, which I am now working on, is the collation of ancient translations made from the Septuagint, in order of importance: Vetus Latina, Syrohexapla, Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopic, Georgian and Arabic. For the first three, I use the editions currently available. For the last four, the situation has been more complex. I use existing editions as points of reference (e.g., the Zohrab Bible for the Armenian; Dillman for Ethiopic; Bakari for the Georgian Bible), but I continuously have to collate the readings from the manuscript tradition. This is especially important in the Ethiopic versions, because, thanks to EMML, many manuscripts preserved in Ethiopic monasteries have been made available to researchers, and they may substantially affect the text of Dillman’s edition. Another special case is the Arabic version. We have the polyglot texts of Walton and Paris, but both are of poor quality, so I also checked the only Arabic witness translated directly from the Greek (ms. Rome, BAV, Vat., Ar. 449). Of course, this has forced me to learn Armenian and Georgian in record time, but that allows me to collate their manuscript evidence. Regarding the other languages (Coptic, Ethiopic and Arabic) I already had prior knowledge of these, and their collations are now finished.

All this has allowed me to establish groups of manuscripts and detect Lucianic and Hexaplaric texts more accurately, to isolate the text traditionally called “B” (which is not always transmitted by Codex B) and above all, to establish other marginal groups that allow us to reach a much more accurate genealogy of the texts, and to trace the history of the text in great detail.

5) Can you describe what your typical work day looks like?

Due to the organizational structure of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) of Spain – the institution where I conduct my work – I am devoted full time to research without teaching duties, except for occasional doctoral or specialized courses and participation in conferences.

So most of my working time is devoted to research, though not exclusively. Besides the LXX-Judges critical edition, I am the Principal Researcher of a project funded by the Spanish government entitled “Reception, Transmission and Tradition of the Bible in Greek and Latin: Edition and Study of Texts” (2015-2017), carried out by a team of fourteen people at several universities in Spain, the United States, and Mexico.

I also have other positions, such as Head of the Department of Greek and Latin Studies at the Institute of Languages and Cultures of the Mediterranean and the Middle East at the CSIC, secretary of the collection “Manuales y Anejos de Emerita,” and committee member of Emerita and of the collection “Textos y estudios Cardenal Cisneros.”

6) Are you involved in any other teaching or research?

Currently, besides the edition of LXX-Judges, I am developing other works that are part of that project, such as a Greek-Latin lexicon of books of the Vetus Latina texts in Maccabees, a critical edition of 1-2 Maccabees (Vetus Latina) in the Palimpsest of Leon, studies on the Latin version of the Aramaic Targum Onkelos at the Poliglotta Complutensis, and the interlinear Latin version of the text of the Septuagint in this edition.

I am also supervising two doctoral theses, one of which will defend in early 2017 at the UNED and the other possibly in 2019 at the Istituto Biblico Pontificio (Rome).

7) And finally, when do you expect your critical text to be complete?

I think that very likely the Göttingen edition of LXX-Judges will be completed in 2020. I already have a very clear idea of the criteria to be followed and, above all, I am convinced that from the point of view of current research and the available texts, it will be possible to edit a single text of Judges. [Editor’s note: this last point is quite significant because it has been debated for some time whether Rahlfs’s so-called A- and B-Texts of LXX-Judges go back to an original OG, or represent two genetically distinct translations. The latter position has been defended as recently as LaMontagne’s piece in the recent IOSCS Congress Volume]

Wrapping Up

Well, if you didn’t know much about what it looks like to actually produce a critical text (I didn’t!), hopefully you do now. Thanks to José Manuel for his willingness to answer these questions and shed some light on what is likely a black box to most of us in Biblical Studies. Our discipline would not be the same without textual critics.


* José Manuel was kind enough to write his responses in English, which I improved slightly in matters of style only.

The 6th International Conference on the Septuagint in Wuppertal

Old Testament scholarship is pretty obscure stuff for most people on the street. But mention the word “Septuagint” and you’ll usually get even more muddled looks and occasionally a “God bless you” in puzzled response. Well, things don’t get any better from there as you get into sub-fields of this sub-discipline. 

Even within the small, fascinating world of Septuagint scholarship, the biannual Tagung held Wuppertal, Germany, is not terribly well known. Certainly not among casual “septuagintal hobbyists.” That is not to say that it isn’t very influential. To the contrary, in fact, this conference is one of the most important “think-tank” events in the discipline. Every two years it takes place at the Kirchliche Hochschule and attracts specialists in Septuagint scholarship from around the globe. The connection to that institution is the highly regarded Dr. Seigfreid Kreuzer, emeritus professor at the Hochschule and also (among other things) current editor-in-chief of the discipline’s own Journal of Septuagint and Cognate Studies.

The 6th LXX.D Conference

Although the page is sadly out of date, you can read (in German) about some of the previous Tagungen that have been part of the outrageously productive Septuaginta Deutsch research project over the years. I have written previously about their Septuaginta­übersetzung (LXX.D, 2 volumes), which is also accompanied by their commentary volume (LXX.E). I’ve also mentioned the ongoing Handbuch project (LXX.H), which is slated to be a massive eight volumes – Volume 1, edited by Dr. Kreuzer, is already available.

In addition to this (quite literally) voluminous output from scholars associated with this research initiative, there has also been a steady flow of edited volumes containing the essays presented at each LXX.D biannual conference in Wuppertal. Thus far, these have been published by Mohr Siebeck, and can be obtained for somewhere between €140-215 if you have extra pocket change.

Die Septuaginta – Texte, Kontexte, Lebenswelten (2006)
Die Septuaginta – Texte, Theologien, Einflüsse (2008)
Die Septuaginta – Entstehung, Sprache, Geschichte (2010)
Die Septuaginta – Text, Wirkung, Rezeption (2012)
Die Septuaginta – Orte und Intentionen (2014)

This year is the 6th international conference to be held in Wuppertal, from 21-24 July. This year’s theme and, presumably, the subsequent volume’s title is:

Die Septuaginta. Geschichte – Wirkung – Relevanz
(The Septuagint: History – Impact/Effect – Relevance)

My Contribution

I was pleased to get the opportunity to participate in this year’s conference.
When something like this comes along in the life of a young scholar, you scrape every penny of funding together that you can to make it happen. And make sure your wife is okay with it. Oh, and double check that you also have something worthwhile to say.

Thankfully, I have managed to coordinate all three (I love you, Kelli). I think the “have something worthwhile to say” criteria will be put to the test at the actual conference, but at least in theory my paper should fit in quite nicely with this year’s theme.

My abstract is as follows:

Title: “The Septuagint as Catalyst for Language Change in the Koine: A Usage-Based Approach”

Ever since Deissmann, scholars of Greek have increasingly recognized that the Septuagint embodies a corpus of language rightly categorized as the non-literary Koine of its time. Even now, current research efforts that take account of the documentary evidence continue to improve our understanding of Koine Greek per se, and precisely how the Septuagint fits within it. However, it is important also to evaluate how the Septuagint does not only embody the new linguistic features of Koine Greek, but also prompted and proliferated them. This paper adopts a linguistic perspective that recognizes how language as a system changes in response to the new uses to which it is put. The first section of this paper overviews the usage-based linguistic approach, focusing on the theory of language change put forward by William Croft (2000). In a second section, this theory is applied to a conventional Greek grammatical construction that was significantly propagated in the Septuagint, and which therefore became more entrenched in the language in general. The concluding section gives general comments on the social mechanisms of the translation of the Septuagint that made it a catalyst for language change

This paper comes partly out of previous research I had done for my dissertation. The grammatical construction I refer to in the abstract is what I call the “meeting construction” in the paper, which can be represented:

[Verb] + εἰς + [‘Meeting’ Noun] + [Modifier]

I had noticed some interesting trends in the use of this phrase in LXX-Judges, so this paper explores the construction in broader Greek sources, both biblical and nonbiblical. Much of the reading I have been doing in the past eight months or so is more methodology-oriented. My topic is primarily lexical semantics, so I have been digging more deeply into theoretical approaches to this area that could benefit my work (and Septuagint scholarship more generally, I hope).

If you’re interested in the paper in its draft form, let me know.