A Greek Temple

The Greek Exam

Greek update

So, a few weeks ago I took my Greek exam. This was very scary, and the source of many sleepless nights. I knew that there would be two passages to translate: one would be from the book of John, and one would be from a random non-Bible-but-same-time-period extract.

During one of our lessons in the autumn, our tutor had casually mentioned he was planning the exam, and there was a certain word, which means pathway, that he was thinking of including. It’s an interesting word because Greek words have a gender (like French words: masculine, feminine, or neuter) however this word is feminine but has a masculine ending (a sort of non-binary word). I took note of this information.

Now, the book of John does not have many places where the word ‘pathway/way’ is used. The most obvious one is the famous passage in John 14, when Jesus declares, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” I decided that this must be the passage that would appear in the exam, and I focussed my revision accordingly. I learnt that passage, and all the Greek words used in it thoroughly. I could parse (take apart and explain each bit) every word, I knew the different forms of the verbs, I could recite it in my sleep.

The morning of the exam arrived. I had not slept the night before, which was partly nerves, and partly due to some particularly noisy roadworks that had started on the road near us and involved noisily scrapping off the road surface all night, for many nights (they are in fact still doing it). I got up feeling sleepy but full of adrenaline and I reminded myself of all the things I used to tell my daughter when she walked into exams exhausted from not sleeping. I had done the work, put in the hours, a cup of coffee and a wallop of adrenaline would compensate for any lack of sleep. At least, I hoped so.

I did my usual coffee and Bible routine—and here we have bit of a miracle. I decided, bizarrely, that instead of reading my Bible at the place I was up to, I would open it randomly and read that passage instead. No idea why I did that. It was a strange passage, about Jesus arguing with the Pharisees about the law and needing two witnesses.

When it was time, I went to my computer for the exam. It was an ‘open book’ exam due to the Covid restrictions (in other words, they realised we couldn’t all assemble in an exam hall, so the exam was written assuming we would use our Greek Bible with lexicon attached). The exam paper appeared at the set time, and I began to read.

The exam lasted for 2 hours, so I had prepared a glass of water and a cold coffee (to top-up the caffeine when necessary). I didn’t touch them. I don’t think I actually took a breath the whole two hours. Or blinked.

At the bottom of each page was a button saying ‘next page.’ On the last page was a button which said ‘ready to end the exam?’ (or something similar). Did that mean when I clicked it, the exam would be whisked away, or that the final few questions were on the next/last page? I was too scared to click it, in case it was the ‘whisked away’ option, so I will never know.

The unseen translation was fairly impossible, and I guessed some of it, trying to use words that I knew were similar to the ones written. At one point I wrote something about, “Why has your face collapsed?” which I knew wasn’t right, but something definitely collapsed and the word looked very similar to ‘face’. I decided I would return to it at the end.

When I clicked onto the translation from John, it was not from Chapter 14 at all. It was however, the passage that I had randomly read that morning. Wow! I felt it was a miracle, and that God was saying “Don’t worry Anne, we’re in this together – you did the preliminary work, I’ll help with the exam.” It was quite a moment.

 I worked my way through the translation, using the Greek I knew, and although I could have done okay anyway, having read it so recently certainly helped. I then returned to the random passage, and was tackling something which I could see I had translated wrongly, when without warning, the paper was whisked away and the two hours had ended.

I took a big breath (two hours is a long time to not breathe for) and drank some cold coffee. Felt like I’d been through a mangle, and did very little for the rest of the day.

One of my fellow students managed to find the unseen passage online, and there was a section about ‘his countenance fell’ which I guess is the part I translated as his face collapsing. Not sure if my tutor laughed or despaired when he read my answers.

You might think I would sleep better after the exam, but I didn’t. The roadworks continued, and I kept thinking of all the mistakes that I realised I had made, all the transliterations where I wrote a ‘v’ instead of an ‘n’ and all the words which I had learnt but simply couldn’t remember. I also, in one terrible moment, realised that at no point had I actually written my name or student number. Could that information have been on the last page which I never dared to look at? Would my efforts be invalidated due to being unidentifiable?

But no, all was fine. A very nice administrator sent through my mark, and I had done better than I had hoped, and am all set for Greek 2. I will hopefully have recovered from the exam in time to take the next one.

Thanks for reading. Hope things go well for you this week too.

Love, Anne

Anne E. Thompson
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