Angels & Fiery Guides

Matthew’s star — the one that led the magi and “stood over the place where the child was” — has a long history of being interpreted as an angel. The language in Matthew of a star stopping in some way over the location of the holy family raises questions. How could a star so high in the sky indicate the exact location of a few people? This morning I was reminded of a parallel story while reading Exodus 14.

Exodus 13:21 says that during the day God led Israel through the wilderness by a massive cloud and at night by a fiery pillar. 14:19, however, refers to the guiding presence as the angel of God. Early interpreters of Matthew’s star weren’t just making things up. Exodus refers to a divine guide in one place as a blazing fire (similar to a star) and in another place an angel. There is precedent in scripture for understanding fiery guides as angels.

Dale Allison explains the history of interpretation in “The Magi’s Angel,” which you can check out via this Google Books search. Start with page 17 and you should be able to see the whole article.

Accordance Greek Starter Package

Accordance has a great deal this weekend on their Greek starter package. There is a long list of included resources, but these four justify the price of $64.90:

  • Tagged GNT — the text of NA28, the most recent edition of the Greek text behind most modern translations. Does not include any front matter, appendices, or the critical apparatus, none of which are really important for everyday reading.
  • Barclay Newman’s Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament (2010 edition)
  • Eerdman’s Dictionary of the Bible, the best one volume Bible dictionary
  • New Bible Commentary, a one-volume Bible commentary from an evangelical perspective

This package would be worth $65 even if it just included the tagged NA28. The Accordance iOS app works really well for looking up words in a concise lexicon as you read your GNT. The popup window isn’t big enough for displaying long entries found in more thorough lexicons, but with a couple clicks you can jump from a word to your lexicon of choice — you could always purchase BDAG later. If you just use the included concise lexicon you won’t have to worry about the size of the popup window. None of the entries in Newman’s dictionary are very long. While reading on your iPhone, you will be able to long hold on a word and see a pop-up of the entry in Newman.

If you have ever thought about purchasing software to make reading the Greek New Testament more accessible on the go, this is a great place to start.

Reading with a Diglot

One simple point here: a translation can serve as a tutor. Some think of a diglot as a “cheater’s text,” but it doesn’t have to be that way. Especially when you are trying to work through a text that is beyond your current reading level, you can use a diglot and genuinely learn from the translation on the facing page. If you use that translation well, it can be similar to the experience of working through a text in a classroom setting. In a seminar, or if you are reading at a coffee shop with a friend, when someone gets stuck, another person chimes in with help, pointing out how to understand the syntax or idiom. The translation can do the same thing if used as a tutor.

The key to using a translation well is to look back at the Greek once the translation has been consulted and figure out how the translator got from point A to point B. The process might go like this: The translator says “at his expense.” Where did that come from? Is it ἰδίᾳ? OK, so that is a meaning I’ve never considered. You could at this point consult a lexicon or just use the context of the passage to see if the translation makes sense. You think about the base gloss you learned for ἴδιος, “one’s own,” and you realize that in this context “at his own expense” makes perfect sense. In just a few seconds you’ve learned from a translation the kind of thing that you might learn from an instructor or reading partner.

Using a diglot — perhaps in conjunction with a digital lexicon — is a way of reading you should consider. It can help you become comfortable reading Greek texts that are beyond your current reading level. The whole idea of “cheating” at reading ancient languages is something that should be left behind. Sure, some ways of reading are better than others for memory, but limiting yourself to only reading when you can do it “the best, most thorough way” shortchanges yourself. You cannot read as many texts that way, and I think reading as much Greek as possible is better than digging through every detail of a handful of texts. So dust off those Loebs and enjoy them guilt free, my friends.

On Daily Recitation

This is my fifth year teaching Greek to middle and high schoolers. Each year I figure out how to do this a little better. We are five months into the school year, and this year’s big take away is clear. Daily recitation is essential in the grammar stage.

Worth the time

For us, the grammar stage takes two years. Seventh grade is the first seventeen lessons of Croy’s grammar; eighth grade is the last fifteen. That means we have around thirty-five weeks each year to cover about sixteen lessons. If you start reciting everything you know on day one and keep doing this every day you meet, the forms soak in deep. Even at this point in the year, where in Greek 1 we are reciting all the forms for lessons 2–12, reciting all the forms takes less than ten minutes. Giving ten minutes out of our seventy minute class periods to form review is totally doable and worth it.

Modeling Memorization

But what is this like for the students? When I first started teaching, I thought it would be miserable and monotonous. I didn’t learn the forms via in-class recitation. I don’t think hardly any one teaches Greek this way in seminary. Maybe daily classroom recitation is thought to be beneath adults. This is odd because even though I didn’t learn the forms through classroom recitation, I did learn my paradigms by reciting them to myself. I remember my teacher encouraging us to do this.

If you do not know your third declension forms, it is because you are not chanting them enough. Even in the shower you need to be saying, “Mmm, os, ee, ah, es, ōn, sin, ahs!”

I remember reciting those forms in class, and at the end of that semester the third declension paradigms stuck better than any other. I suppose the reason we do not give more time to recitation in seminary is because of the pace at which Greek is taught. The exact grammar through which I take middle schoolers over the course of two years is the same grammar we went through in seminary in fifteen weeks. Whatever the reason we do not do recitation in seminary, I think we should consider it. Daily recitation models how most of us learned our paradigms. Learning to read Greek and Latin is not about being smart. It’s about perseverance.

Student Experience

Now that I have I have given daily recitation a try, I see that it is any thing but boring for the students. They love it. You can make recitation boring if you do it in a monotone, sluggish way, but you can also make it fun. I say the label, they repeat the label, and then we say the forms together. I don’t make songs for the paradigms, but we always recite rhythmically. Every declension has it’s own unique rhythm. Even if the difference is subtle between the way we recite first declension endings and the way we recite second declension, having that rhythmic difference in place breaks the noun paradigms into chunks.

For pronouns, we recite down the columns, instead of across. Each demonstrative starts with a long hold on the nominative, and then like a rollercoaster coming down the big hill we zip to the bottom of each column. We always emphasize the genitive plural, τούτων, because it is the same across all three genders. For the definite article, we start slow with the masculine singular, speed up with the feminine singular, and then by the time we get to the neuters we are saying them as fast as we can. For infinitives we say each letter of the ending. In Greek 2 classes, we alternate one day of doing all the Greek 1 forms, the next day all the forms we have learned in Greek 2 up to that point.

After typing that paragraph, I realize that this is something better heard than explained. Please pardon our Erasmian pronunciation and my absurdly southern accent (de-CLIN-sion). Here is my seventh grade Greek 1 class from today:

Greek Recitation Lessons 2-12

Conclusion

This is my one of favorite parts of the day, and the students enjoy it, as well. If you haven’t given daily recitation a try, go for it. I think it would be worth a shot in graduate programs, too.

Reading with a Print Text & Digital Lexicon

Over the summer I did a series of posts about different ways of reading Greek and Hebrew. I said that my the summer time tools of the trade are a print text and a print lexicon. During the school year, however, I am rarely able to read in my home office. To continue reading with a print text and lexicon would mean that everyday I have to carry multiple heavy books around campus. My favorite way to read hasn’t changed, but during the school year I’m really happy to settle for a print text and digital lexicon.

Print text

NA28, Rahlfs’ Septuagint, a Loeb Crito, and Steadman’s Lysias 1 & Crito are in my bag on most days, but because Rahlf’s Septuagint is so thick, sometimes it gets left behind. I prefer a print text because I think holding a book and flipping pages is more enjoyable, unless the book is old and gross. I realize that sometimes an old book is great, but I am not a fan of mold and other people’s finger grime — for example, crusty library copies of Migne or seminary library copies of a GNT.

Digital lexicon

For New Testament, Septuagint, and classical Greek there are a couple really great, affordable iOS options: Logeion & Protagoras. Logeion is free and includes LSJ, Middle Liddell, big Lewis and Short, little Lewis, and several other Greek and Latin lexicons. Protagoras is only a couple dollars, and for Greek it includes LSJ, Middle Liddell, Slater, and Autenrieth. For Latin it has both the full Lewis and Short and the smaller version by Lewis.

Logeion is amazing because of the way it interacts with Attikos, and because the user interface allows for quick entry and easy movement back and forth between the last few words you’ve looked up. Logeion hasn’t yet been updated for the iPhone X, however.

Protagoras, on the other hand, looks great on the iPhone X, and the developer has formatted the text in a way that makes a big difference for longer entries. Every portion of each entry that was originally in italic type appears in Protagoras as bold-italic. This means that as you scan a long entry your eyes can easily jump from gloss to gloss. For quick reading, this is such a timesaver. The bold glosses and iPhone X support means that I’ve been using Protagoras as my digital lexicon more often than not. One additional feature of Protagoras: it has a bookmark feature. As you are looking up words, you can bookmark them, and after your reading session, or maybe at the end of the week, you can go back to review.

For any lexicon not found in Protagoras or Logeion, I turn to Accordance. It is much more expensive, but it is worth every penny. With Accordance you are looking at a price tag much closer to what you would expect to pay for a print text, and this is completely understandable for works that are still in copyright and/or works that they have labored in house to tag in various ways. BDAG and HALOT, for example, are lexicons that I would do whatever necessary to have digitally and in print.

One final note about the digital options: I appreciate the ability in Protagoras and Accordance to type the Greek word you are looking up in beta code. This just saves the step of having to change your keyboard.

Experience

When reading this way, I usually access a digital lexicon on an iPhone, sometimes on an iPad. The bigger screens on the iPhone X or one of the plus models turns thousands of pages with tiny print into a much more readable, handheld reading companion.

This …

becomes this:

I know that the thought of your phone lying directly on top of the book you are trying to read sounds repulsive to some. Random notifications are a real threat, but they’re something that can be muzzled. Waiting for the ideal reading conditions just means you will not read as much text, and the number one thing most people need coming out of their first year of Greek is time in the text reading quickly. For more in that line of thought, see this post on reader’s texts.

Conclusion

Whether you are fresh out of your elementary courses or you’ve been doing this for decades, reading with a print text and digital lexicon is comfortable on the go. Sometimes even at home you just want to sit on the couch and relax with a text and lexicon that makes a small footprint but still gives you all the info you need. This way of reading fits those situations well, too. The print text allows an immersive reading experience and provides all the memory benefits of the sensory experiences that go along with holding a physical book, and the digital lexicon gives you portable, quick access to the vocab you need to keep moving.

This is the primary way I’m reading these days. Read however you like.

Just read.

Best Blogging Platform, Revisited

For the past couple years Squarespace has been my blogging platform of choice for one reason: even without much knowledge of CSS, Squarespace allowed me to customize the site to my heart’s content. It was partly about the template I used, too. I had a Squarespace template that was close enough to my style preferences that I could use the built in customization features to get things exactly as I wanted them.

The last time I wrote about this I said that customizing your theme/template is necessary because no simple, elegant blogging theme exists on any platform. Well, things have changed. I found a WordPress.com theme that I really like (the one you are looking at), and the move to WordPress brings along several benefits.

Money

The monthly cost of Squarespace is the primary thing that sent me looking for another platform. Squarespace cost me $16/month. WordPress is $4/month. The $4 WordPress personal plan allows me to map my Hover domain to my WordPress.com site. Squarespace is setup to be much more than a blog, and I finally realized I do not need to pay for such a robust platform.

Mobile

One of my biggest frustrations with Squarespace was their mobile apps. Getting a post up was not difficult. I cold write a post in Ulysses, and then copy and paste the markdown directly into Squarespace’s iOS app. But if I wanted to access my site’s dashboard, forget about it. Navigating the Squarespace website is a horrible experience on mobile devices. At one time, when I went to the site to customize the template, I was told I could not proceed on my mobile device; only way to proceed was on a laptop or desktop. Mind boggling.

WordPress on the other hand allows me to post directly from Ulysses, and I can run just about every aspect of the site from my iPhone or iPad using either their website or their mobile apps.

Style

Finding the “Independent Publisher 2” WordPress theme was the turning point. It isn’t perfect, but it is minimal, single column, and prioritizes the reading experience. I like the large sans serif headings and the way the theme allows me to set the main font to Noto Serif, which has a nice, full featured set of Latin and Greek characters.

Final Thoughts

The only drawback to the switch from Squarespace to WordPress was that I had to edit the slug for every post on this site. Initially, every link to my posts was broken. This problem only took a couple hours to fix, and for the reasons above, it was totally worth it.

If you are looking to start a blog, I recommend registering a domain with Hover — great support and not tied to a particular blogging platform — and getting a WordPress.com personal plan.

Teaching Online iPad Only

For the first time, this week I taught a formal online class using only my iPad. By “formal online class” I mean not a one-on-one teaching environment. This class was for an accredited institution with multiple students all over the country. They see a live stream of me teaching, and each student has a microphone they can use when I call on them.

I normally run the digital classroom on my laptop and use my iPad as a white board. The reason I did the class on my iPad yesterday is because my car transmission is shot. It’s not drivable. This means I get rides to work, and on this day I couldn’t get a ride home until after my online class. I happened to forget that all this meant I “needed” to bring my laptop.

The normal workflow was out the window, and it didn’t take long to figure out that I wasn’t going to be able to use the white board in the Adobe Connect iOS app as a normal classroom white board. More on that in a minute. I improvised. Instead of writing everything on the whiteboard, I took screen shots of the key paradigms and exercises in the Logos version of Croy’s grammar and cropped them. In the Adobe app, instead of sharing a whiteboard, I shared the pics. The only problem was that each time I wanted to share a different pic, I had to stop the share and then initiate it again picking a different pic. Each time I selected a pic it had to upload, but the upload was fast. Sharing the photos worked really well otherwise. I could hit a ‘draw’ button and lightly annotate them with no problem. The students seemed to like seeing the paradigms in the way they actually appear in the book, and I might actually shift to doing something like this regularly instead of just writing on the whiteboard.

Even after this overall good experience, if I am able to be home I will use my laptop to run the digital classroom because writing on the white board within Adobe Connect is really, really bad. You write for a couple seconds fluidly, and then it’s like it has to process that writing to actually get it on the board. Whatever you are writing during that processing period isn’t recorded.

The definite take away is that this is yet another scenario I have discovered where I can leave the laptop at home. Now, whether I am doing online private tutoring — for which I use Zoom and it’s amazing — or a formal online class, I can leave my laptop at home. There is no situation when my laptop needs to leave my desk except when (1) I am working on a paper or (2) writing multiple quizzes.

Obstacles to Going iPad Only

Apple’s 2017 hardware and software releases helped me make significant progress towards going iPad-only, but I’m not quite there yet. I now only carry my laptop one or two days a week. What has to change for me to go i-Pad only?

There’s two prongs on this fork, but both have to do with one piece of software: Microsoft Word. There’s (1) what it would take for me to be able to leave my laptop at home every day and (2) what it would take for me to no longer need to own a laptop.

To leave the laptop at home

As a teacher I write quizzes and tests every week, and I need the ability to open multiple Word documents so that I can copy and paste from one document to another. Currently, the only way to do this is to break out the MacBook Pro. I usually write all my assessments for the week on Monday, so this is the only day I have to take the laptop off my home desk and carry it to the office.

Printer Pro is a key app that allows me to be iPad-only for the rest of the week. Printer Pro allows me to print any document to any printer.

To sell the laptop

Word for iOS would have to be a full-blown word processor for me to be able to sell my laptop. I need to be able to typeset a paper for publication. I have to be able to create and edit styles, and I have to have full control over the formatting of footnotes. It would really help if there were a way Zotero and Word for iOS could communicate.

The Accordance iOS app would also need a lot more development. Using the MT-LXX merge search is not currently possible on iOS. It also takes too many clicks to move from text to lexicon, and the information window pop-up is too small to be a solution. I still love and use the iOS app far more than I do the Mac app.

Montanari Interview about BrillDAG

Brill has posted a video interview with Franco Montanari discussing four topics:

  1. Why we need a new dictionary (same reasons I noted in this post)
  2. What makes this dictionary stand out?
  3. Ghost words
  4. Words in progress

Each part is a separate video, but all are collected in this playlist. They also have the full interview in one video here.

If you find any typos in BrillDAG, please let me know. I’m trying to keep up with what I find here.

A High School Student’s First GNT

A parent, who wants to purchase a GNT as a Christmas gift for his son, emailed me and asked what I would recommend. I recommend one of two options.

Reader’s Greek New Testament

There are several of these on the market, but in my opinion this one is the best. It is absolutely beautiful and provides both vocabulary and some parsing helps. There is no English translation, however.

The UBS Greek New Testament: Reader’s Edition with Textual notes, Flexisoft Leather Black

Greek-English New Testament

Again lots of these on the market, but this is the best. On one side of the page you have the Greek New Testament beautifully typeset to line up well with the NIV on the facing page. No parsing or vocab helps, but it’s a great Greek-English edition. I would not recommend an interlinear. If you want something Greek-English, this is the ticket.

The Greek-English New Testament: UBS 5th Revised Edition and NIV

I own both of these and love them. The first time I read through the GNT it was with a reader’s Bible, the first edition of the one listed above. When asked for a recommendation, this is always the first thing out of my mouth. If, however, the plan is not necessarily to chip away at reading through the whole GNT and mastering the most frequent vocab but to simply have the Greek and English accessible in church, option 2 would be the way to go.