Looking at Greek and the Church Evolving

Hello, and how was your weekend?

Last week, the second part of my Greek course started. The tutor gave us an overview of Biblical Greek, and how the culture and church seem to reflect the language.

A Greek Temple

Greek was an enthusiastic language, a sort of bubble of words that flowed like the thoughts in your head. It reminds me of when a 7-year-old writes a story, with lots of “and…and…and…and then…and…” This might be because some of the books in the New Testament were dictated—and that’s how people talk, but it also seems to be a feature of the language. It’s a wonderfully expressive language. In English, a verb basically can tell you what’s happening, and the time period (‘I went’ or ‘I go’) but not much more. In Greek, time is a tiny element, and verbs have aspects that convey whether the action happened once or was on-going, whether the action was passive or active, who did it. There is a lot of mood and feeling in the ancient Greek language.

Sentences in Greek are often very long. When they’re translated into English, the translators usually add punctuation, so a single sentence in Greek might be split into many sentences in English. (Originally, there was no punctuation, and people paused wherever they felt it was right.) The order of the words is not important, with ideas and expressions spurted onto the page in an order that appears to be random.

At the time that Greek was being spoken, the church was meeting in homes. The groups would have been fairly small, and homes automatically convey something intimate, expressive. When someone is sitting in your home, you notice if they are sad or worried, sharing emotions would be natural. Like the language, the church would have been enthusiastically conveying ideas and feelings, passing on the themes that Jesus spoke about—a lot of love and acceptance, looking to God rather than rules, learning how to change.

(Image: Blendspace) A home in New Testament times

As the church grew, people needed somewhere bigger to meet. A suitable building was the hall used as a law court. Instead of all sitting in a home, people now would have faced in the same direction, with a speaker at the front. The speaker would have been sitting where during the rest of the week the judge presiding over the court would have sat. The language gradually changed from Greek to Latin, which I understand is a language with strict rules.

The emphasis of the church also seemed to change, moving from expressions of love and freedom towards deciding rules. Who, exactly, was a Christian? Did they need to be circumcised? What were the rules of this new religion? What were the essentials that a person needed to believe in so they could be ‘classified’ as a Christian?

Today, we might like to think our churches are like the friendly church that met in homes, but we do seem to spend a lot of time talking about ‘non-Christians’ and the points they need to believe so that they can ‘become a Christian.’

Churches are currently seeing another huge change, as around the world they are unable to meet in person and services are all virtual. People miss being in the same space, being able to chat with their friends, touch each other, share a smile. But there are good elements too. People who are house-bound are able to be part of the fellowship again. Those who work unsociable hours can watch the service when they have time. People who want to be anonymous can watch a service unseen, they can listen to the Bible truths without having to defend their privacy, without the ‘danger’ of having to join something they are not yet sure about. I know that some churches have many more people ‘logging-on’ to their services than used to attend in person. I know of young people who would never have attended a service, but who will watch an online service, because they feel comfortable with that, it’s easy, more like the interactions they are used to.

Personally, I am enjoying Sundays in a way I never have before. As I wrote in a previous blog, it has become a special day, rather than one of duty. I can enjoy a service without being asked to do a job the minute I walk into the building. I have a loud tuneless singing voice and I’m not expected to sing or to keep standing up. When I take communion I am not wondering how many people have coughed on the bread before I eat it or if the server has washed their hands, and when I drink the ‘wine’ I don’t brace ready for an unknown acidic juice of dubious origin. Instead, I can listen to the words, and think about God, and take communion thinking only about what it means and why I am doing it. (Yes, I am bit of a grumpy unsociable person.)

I hope that when (if) the world opens up again and things start to return to normal, the church won’t rush to return to exactly the same model as before. I hope the leaders will keep some of the good things that have arisen this year.

Languages evolve, and people change. The church is simply a group of people trying to follow God together, and it’s interesting to look back and see the changes reflected there too.

Thanks for reading. Hope any changes in your life this week are good ones.

Take care.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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Thank you to all my followers who bought a copy of my new book: Out by Ten. I hope you’re enjoying it (if you could write a review on Amazon, that would be wonderful!) The link is below if you haven’t read a copy yet:

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
Thank you for reading anneethompson.com Why not sign up to follow my blog?
Learning Greek

Revision is Boring

As I write this, it is one more week until my Greek exam, and to be honest, I am fed-up with revision. My sons inform me that I started too early, and that the night before the exam is the optimum time to start revision. I fear they may have inherited my work ethic.

As a teenager, I never revised for exams (which is probably why I never scored very highly). For my O’level exams (GCSEs if you’re young) the school said we could choose to either revise at home or in school during the weeks of study leave. I saw this as the perfect opportunity, and told my parents I would study in school, and told the school I would study at home. No one checked. (Sorry Mum, you might not know about this.) I spent the days having fun (I remember a day trip to Cambridge). My exam results were nothing to be proud of.

I seem to remember that I did study a little better for A levels and my degree, but in a rather half-hearted unfocussed way. I am therefore determined that this time, with what might be my last attempt at academia, I am going to do it properly. But Oh! it is very boring.

There is nothing at all interesting about looking up things that I sort-of-mostly-know, and writing lists and reading pages (that I have already read) so that I know it properly. It is also not at all what we do in real life. I sort of remember lots of recipes, but when I bake something I tend to look up the finer points (like the quantities of ingredients). I never spend a week writing lists and committing the quantities to memory so that I can dispense with the cookery books, even though it might save time in the long run. People don’t do things like that. We don’t memorise our mobile phone number, or the names of all the roads to the seaside, or how many grams of flour go into the cake. We understand how things work and look up the finer details when we need them. Which makes me feel that exams are more tests of memory than ability. But perhaps that’s because I have never been very good at them.

In order to give myself some light relief, I have started to dip into the Hebrew course. I don’t actually start Hebrew until February, but the course book appeared online, so I bought a copy. It begins with the alphabet, so in-between revising Greek, I am learning the Hebrew alphabet. Learning is so much more interesting than revision. My main trouble at the moment is that I have thoroughly learnt that a ‘v’ sounds like an ‘n’ (in Greek) and I now need to unlearn this so I pronounce one of the Hebrew letters correctly (it sounds like ‘vahv’ but I keep saying ‘nahn’!)

I have also bought an English grammar book. It was recommended by Robert Plummer, who wrote one of the Greek books that I have found useful, and it explains all the English grammar that I failed to learn at school (possibly because I had skived off for the day to Cambridge) like what an indirect object is and what ‘pluperfect’ means. It arrived today, and is smaller than expected. This often happens with books—they are recommended, and look interesting, so you pay more than usual—but then what arrives is little more than a pamphlet in a glossy cover. I am hoping the value of the content makes up for the lack of pages, but I might have been scammed. I also bought a children’s book: First Hundred Words in Hebrew. It has pictures. I shall leave it in the loo and glance at it whenever I am in there, hoping to absorb the occasional word.

Hebrew books as a reward for revising.

Another book that I started to read (you can see just how badly the revision is going—my house is very clean too!) is called: The Moral Vision of the New Testament by Richard Hays. It was a Christmas gift, and I haven’t read much, but it’s very interesting so far. It starts with the letters by Paul, because they were written before the Gospels (the books Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). I have never thought about that before—when Paul wrote his letters, the church didn’t have any of what is now the New Testament. He possibly didn’t even know some of the stories that we know today. Hays also makes the point that when Paul wrote his letters, the people were expecting that at any minute, Jesus would return and the world would end. They really were not expecting that 2,000 years later we would still be here, reading his letters and trying to figure out how to live. Paul wrote things that were imminently important rather than long-term ethics/rules to live by. I have never considered that before.

It’s always fun when a new idea is proposed and you can think about it and decide whether or not to agree. Much more interesting than revision anyway.

Hope you have an interesting week.

Take care.

Love, Anne x

Wondering if Husband is getting fed up with only being able to talk to me during lockdown. He certainly chooses some weird places for me to pose for photos…
Anne E. Thompson
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Greek Bible showing apparatus.

Understanding the Apparatus of the Greek New Testament

An interesting fact: When there were printing presses in the past, the printers used to keep capital letters separately to cursive letters, in cases. The capital letters were usually stored in a case above the cursive letters, and hence they became known as ‘upper case letters.’ Did you know that? I didn’t! It is one of the interesting (but irrelevant) snippets I discovered whilst trying to unravel the apparatus part of my Greek New Testament. (An apparatus is like the key on a map, it gives extra information.)

As part of my course, I was given a copy of the Greek New Testament. It has—as you would expect—the words of the New Testament books written in Greek. It also has, on each page, some tiny writing and symbols in the apparatus. To be honest, I have pretty much tried to ignore this (don’t tell anyone) but as my exam is looming, I realised that I needed to tackle it. What do all those symbols mean, and why do I need to look at them? As a way to help me learn them, I will explain what I have learnt so far.

As I think I told you previously, there is no existing copy of the original New Testament books. What we have are various manuscripts that have been found and translated, and put together to form what we think of as the New Testament. These manuscripts and documents make up the evidence for what was originally written, but they are not identical because they were written at a time when copying was all done by hand. Sometimes the scribes copying the manuscripts corrected the grammar, or added notes in the margin that were later copied as part of the main body of writing. Sometimes they made mistakes, or changed things to suit their own theology. Translators must make decisions, based on these pieces of evidence, as to what should be included.

The copy I have been given allows me to make some choices myself. It has not included every piece of evidence that was ever found, because that would make the book run to many volumes and I would never manage to wade through it all. It has therefore referenced the most important documents, and noted which are the more reliable ones. I can therefore look at the differences (which tend to be very minor, such as whether it should read: ‘he did this sign’ or ‘Jesus did this sign’ or ‘this sign was done.’) My NT has helpful symbols, and tells me what most scholars conclude. An ‘A’ in brackets means they are virtually certain that this is close to the original text, and a ‘D’ means they couldn’t agree. It is of course relative to the documents that have been found at this point (because they might find something older/more reliable) and I have no idea whether ‘A’ means most scholars agree, or whether the most qualified ones agree. (No reason to trust something simply because someone—who you don’t know—tells you it’s correct.) It reminds me of when a pupil at school did something bad, and we were trying to discover who the culprit was– did we trust the majority of the boys, who all said it was X, or did we trust the most reliable boy because he tended to be truthful, or did we listen to the small group who claimed to be eye-witnesses?

In about the 4th century, a version of the NT was produced that took the majority of the documents that were the same. This is known as the ‘Majority Text’ or the ‘Byzantine Text.’ It contains the majority of Greek texts that were available (hence the name majority text). It was the basis for the King James Version of the Bible.

However, since then, more and more manuscripts have been found, many of them much older than the Byzantine texts. Large codices were found, like Codex Sinaiticus. (‘Codex’ is just a fancy name for a collection of manuscripts that hasn’t been bound.) They sometimes differed from the majority texts, and so new translations began to appear. The potentially less reliable texts were moved down into the footnotes, so people could read and compare them. The manuscripts were given names, and these names were then represented by symbols (to take up less space in the apparatus).

Papyrus fragments are denoted by a curly P and a number. Papyri 45, 46, 66, 72 and 75 are the most important.

For example, P45 is from the 3rd century (probably written in about 250 AD, in Egypt so I think is one of our oldest manuscripts) and contains more than one New Testament text (which is unusual for 3rd century manuscripts). It is very concise, as the scribe took out lots of the adjectives, adverbs, pronouns and participles, but he didn’t add anything. It is a manuscript with no ‘fluff’ (which makes me wonder if the scribe was a bit grumpy and austere). However, writing equipment was expensive, and a scribe was paid per line of writing, so maybe he was trying to include as much as possible within a certain price. (I enjoy guessing these things, but I think I am supposed to stick to the facts in an exam.)

Papyrus 45 is badly damaged, and has lots of gaps (called ‘lacunae’).

Papyrus 45, kept mostly in Dublin with a small part in Vienna

The Codex Sinaiticus was shown by an aleph (The Hebrew letter ‘a’) which looks like a curly N.  Important manuscripts include: Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, and until Sinaiticus was found, Vaticanus was thought to be most important. They were written in upright block letters on parchment (these documents are called majuscules). They appear in the apparatus as capital letters, or numbers beginning with 0.

There are also manuscripts written in miniscule. This simply means lower-case, or cursive, letters. The miniscule manuscripts were written later than the majuscule (capital letters) documents and were gathered together into families of similar texts. They are shown in the apparatus byƒ and a number.

Next are listed the lectionaries, shown by an ‘l.’ These are the lessons read in churches, and hence the name as they would be rested on the reading desk, or ‘lectern.’ Old manuscripts written in Latin are identified by ‘it’ which stands for Itala (they spoke Latin in Italy, so that’s easy to remember!)

The church fathers also left documents that are used to verify the texts. People like Augustine, Cyril, Theodoret (those names create wonderful images of stooped men in robes writing with a quill).

If documents have been corrected, the uncorrected document is marked with a * and the corrected copy appears with a tiny number next to the letter. If you look at the photo, you can see this with C* and D*. There will be a corresponding letter with a tiny number (the corrected version) and it took me longer than you might think to realise that these might be on the next page!

Greek Bible showing apparatus.
Greek New Testament with apparatus.

In fact, lots about understanding the apparatus has taken me longer than you might think. I feel that I am beginning to understand the bare minimum, but it feels like a physics lesson in my teenage years, when I sort of understood some of it but I hoped and prayed the teacher would never ask me to explain how I had reached my conclusions! Hoping to learn a little more by the end of the month (otherwise I shall have to wing it, which never worked out too well in the past).

Thanks for reading (and if you know more than me, do send help quickly).

Take care.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
Thank you for reading anneethompson.com Why not sign up to follow my blog?


Drinking Wine and Learning Greek Verbs…

As you know, I am studying Greek at Spurgeon’s College–which also trains Baptist ministers. I’m not sure if I’m a very good fit with the college, though I am absolutely loving the course.  On Tuesdays, there is a chapel service (all on zoom) which usually has an interesting speaker and music that’s not too terrible (I am not a great lover of most churchy music). Last week we were told there would be a communion service, and we should arrive at our computers suitably prepared.

The day arrived and started in a rush, as all my days tend to. I had my coffee and Bible time, went for a run, fed the ducks and cleaned out the chickens, then realised that I had forgotten to prepare for the communion service. We usually have half-finished wine hanging round the kitchen (because I don’t drink much, and unless it’s drunk with guests it’s left in the fridge for ages—Husband drinks beer). We had half a bottle of red wine lurking next to the microwave, I sloshed some into a big wine glass, grabbed some pitta bread left over from a curry, and hurried to my computer.

The chapel service was nice, and there was some liturgy for everyone to join in with. I left my mic off (it tends to boom nastily) but other people turned theirs on, and as I had set my zoom to ‘speaker view’ I had a lovely parade of faces, all different ages and colours, as people read the words. Then there was a prayer about the communion, and we ate and drank what we had brought. I had my eyes shut, and was mid-prayer when I had a horrible thought—as Spurgeon’s College is primarily a Baptist Minister’s training college, do they frown on alcohol? My eyes were shut, so I have no idea what other people were drinking, but as I lifted my large glass of red wine, I wondered—too late—if perhaps I should have disguised it in an egg cup or mug. I told myself that God wouldn’t care what I was drinking, it was my thoughts that mattered. But I didn’t take a second sip.

My glass of red wine sat on my desk for the rest of the morning. I had poured a generous glassful, and the service was in the morning, so probably not the best time to drink wine and have a productive day. However, after lunch, I thought perhaps I would finish it. I set up the ironing board, and went to collect my wine. Returned to find visiting son about to start a work zoom meeting. He told me that mothers ironing in the background did not look suitably professional, and mothers ironing while drinking wine was even worse. I moved to the kitchen.

The main problem with learning Greek is that my memory is less reliable than hoped. I am faced with lists of words, and I am supposed to remember the endings, but this seems impossible. I know how to remember things—you might recall I wrote a blog about how the brain stores data: https://wp.me/p5hYzv-1RL

However, this does not seem to apply to Greek words. I read them through at night, hoping desperately that my brain will absorb them, only to wake having completely forgotten them. It seems my brain only remembers all the things I wish it would forget, like the embarrassing time I said completely the wrong thing…or drank red wine with a group of teetotal trainee ministers…

To be honest, at times I feel real panic over my lack of memory. I have to remind myself that I am learning Greek so I can read the New Testament in a new way and the result of the exam doesn’t matter, not really, not compared with real life stuff. I have to stop the panic, because it spoils the fun, and learning Greek is fun, it’s exactly what I had hoped.

Yesterday, I was reading some of one of the books, and I came to a verb I recognised. Now, verb-endings are one of the things I have managed to learn, and I know that if the verb is linked to ‘we’ (we talk, we look, we eat) then the ending is ‘omen’ (but in Greek letters, obviously). I came to the part of the story which introduces Simon, and it said: “Simon, who we call Peter.” I must have read those words a thousand times in English, but reading the phrase in Greek, seeing the end of that verb, made the whole phrase seem very real, very personal, as if the writer was telling me about someone who he knew well—which of course he was! This is why I am learning Greek.

Thank you for reading. Have a good week, and take care.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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Learning Languages

Three weeks into Greek, and it remains fascinating (whilst also being a challenge to learn lists of grammatical endings). So many of our English words are derived from Greek; often when I am trying to work out how to say a new word, I have one of those wonderful moments when I suddenly see the link to English. For example, I was reading something which I knew meant ‘throat’ and as I stumbled over the letters, sounding out the strange symbols, I gradually said: “la-larin-larinch. . .Oh! It’s larynx!”

Another wonderful example is the verb ‘to throw’ which is basically ‘ball,’ so when we play with a ball, we are playing with a ‘throw thing.’ This verb is used in the book of Mark, when he tells the story of Jesus explaining why he has chosen grubby fishermen and cheating taxmen instead of the established religious leaders. He says something about not putting new wine into old wineskins, and the verb in the Greek which is translated in my Bible as ‘put’ is actually that verb ‘ball:to throw.’ Which gives the whole story such a casual, over-the-top feel, doesn’t it: “Well, you wouldn’t chuck new wine into old wineskins,” has a different feel to it entirely.

There are lots of these snippets of truly fascinating facts, but there is also lots of boring learning. I am hopeless at learning charts of verb endings, which is why I could never learn languages at school. I think it becomes too mathematical. For me, starting with all the grammar rules is a problem, partly because it relies on memory and my memory is rubbish. Learning Greek is very different to how I learnt, when I decided to learn Mandarin.

Those of you who are new to my blog, may not know the story. Basically, from 2009, I had the most awful headaches/migraines due to a brain tumour which they wouldn’t remove because it was in the middle of my brain and removing it would cause too much damage. Being ill is incredibly boring, and when feeling completely useless after yet another day in a dark room struggling with pain, I realised that actually, whilst I couldn’t do anything, I could listen, which meant I could learn a language. So I started to listen to CDs and videos in Mandarin. I am not a linguist, and I never managed to learn French at school, but I decided that I would teach myself to learn Mandarin in the way that a Chinese child would learn, gradually acquiring more vocabulary and not worrying about the grammar. I bought some children’s books, and music, and learned things like “Mr. Mouse lived in a shoe,” and “I need an assassin who can kill without being seen.” Perhaps not really terribly useful for real life conversation but wonderfully easy to remember. I used all those long boring waits in hospital waiting-rooms to translate stories, and it occupied my mind and stopped me worrying about what the neurosurgeon might say. Gradually I absorbed the language. I tried to understand the meaning of the words and phrases without translating them into English, and as the written characters are very visual, and represent things not words, this was possible. I could listen to phrases and understand them, without consciously turning them into English. (Not much use if I want to ever sit an exam, but perfect for communicating–especially if I ever need an assassin!)

I wanted to practise, and learn some ‘real’ vocabulary, so I started to go into the local restaurants to teach English to the staff, which is where I learnt to ask for coffee with one sugar and all the language that real people actually use. As I could do very little at that time apart from Mandarin, I learnt quite fast.

I also joined a small class of parents at Jay’s school, and even now the teacher sometimes tells me that the language I have picked up from my friends in the restaurants is inappropriate in polite conversation. I think I speak very bad Mandarin with a strong yokel accent. But I speak enough for friends who speak no English to have coffee with me, and we chat about our children and in-laws and husbands in Mandarin. In fact, some of my very best friends speak very little English.

When the doctors did finally operate (and damage my brain because it was that or die) one of the things I worried about was that I would lose all my Mandarin. I didn’t—I lost other things, and I did forget lots of what I learnt, but the basic understanding remained.

So now that I am learning Greek, I want to use some of the ability I acquired through my casual learning, but it’s a very different situation. I need to learn the grammar this time, because I want to take an exam, but I know that staring at charts and lists is hopeless, so I have to put the words into sentences, and tell myself stories to make the words relevant. I want to be able to read the New Testament in Greek, but I will be tested on my knowledge of grammar–whether I know from the ending of the noun if it is masculine, past or future, the subject or the complement. It’s not easy, especially as my knowledge of formal English grammar is very weak (like my learning of Mandarin, when I was at school we learnt how to use the English language, not the structure of a sentence). Sometimes I struggle, but I am determined to continue.

I hope you learn someting interesting too this week. Thanks for reading. Take care.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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More Greek Mishaps and Some Runaway Sheep

Quick Update

Hello, how has your week been? Mine has been extremely busy, and I’m not much enjoying the weather.

I am writing this after the first week of Greek lessons—so brace yourself for some more interesting facts.

Did you know, that originally Greek was written entirely in capital letters, with no gaps between the words? I have taught children who do this, and it doesn’t make for easy reading. Greek later evolved to be written entirely in lower case letters (I’m guessing because they were faster to write). At some point, someone had to go along and put gaps between all the words, which must have involved some decisions, as it wouldn’t have always been obvious. Therefore, even when I am reading the New Testament in ancient Greek, some of it may be different to how the original was written, which I guess means I shouldn’t be too ‘purist’ about the whole thing. Each individual word was obviously not meant to be held in absolute holy awe, it was not dictated by God, it was written by people and has changed over time.

A Greek Temple

I talk of reading the ancient Greek, but of course this is being optimistic, I am currently struggling with remembering the letter sounds and the rather dodgy punctuation. In a bid to help myself practise, I decided it would be a good idea to write the shopping list on the fridge door in Greek letters—not the actual Greek words (because I don’t know them) but the English words written in Greek letters. Good idea, I thought. Except it wasn’t. Husband (bless him!) decided to join in, but he didn’t fully understand the exercise and put all the things he wanted me to buy through a Google Translate app. My shopping list is now full of words that neither of us understand. His writing is bad enough when he’s writing English, so some of the words contain symbols that are not even Greek, so we have no way of knowing what they say!

During a lesson, someone asked whether Jesus spoke Greek. My reaction was that no, we know that he spoke Aramaic. However, I was wrong. Apparently, Jesus probably spoke mainly Aramaic (the language of the Jews of the day) plus he would have read Hebrew (because all Jewish boys learnt Hebrew). But at the time, Israel was under Roman occupation, and they would probably have spoken Greek—so when Jesus spoke to officials, it is likely he would have used the Greek I am learning. (I thought that Romans spoke Latin, but although that was the official language of Rome, most citizens spoke Greek, and even in Rome, Latin was considered the language of the ‘educated’ rather than the common language.) Isn’t that interesting?

I do still have some life apart from Greek, though trying to learn it is very time-consuming and I’m very glad I’m not studying a full theology degree when it would have to fit around a whole lot of other subjects. My learning only has to fit around writing and selling books, and sorting the animals. The animals have been annoying this week, because I planted some bulbs ready for spring, and the chickens saw the freshly dug soil and rushed over to dig them all up again. Most of the bulbs are now kicked into random places and quite a lot of the lovely compost I lugged onto the flowerbed is now scattered across the path.

I am still making sourdough bread, though my enthusiasm is waning as it tends to be very heavy and slightly odd-tasting. I have branched out this week into making naan bread, and attempted peswari naan. It involved liquidizing sultanas and almonds and coconut, and I forgot to shut the lid properly so my kitchen floor is rather gritty. Dogs, it transpires, do not like sultanas.

We have a new flock of sheep in the field adjoining the house. The owner didn’t raise them, and the field is quite big, and he is having trouble catching them (which he needs to do soon because there’s a ram with them, so they’ll be in lamb). He did have a sheep dog, but clearly neither the dog nor the sheep had read the manual on how they are supposed to behave, as the dog responded wonderfully to commands and whistles but the sheep still managed to charge all over the field. We went to help him, and tried to funnel them into a small area of pens. Sheep are mostly pretty stupid animals, and as soon as they got near to the pens they charged away again. I didn’t take Kia because although she’s great with herding poultry, I don’t trust her with sheep and they are big creatures when running straight at you—a charging ram could easily break your leg. We never managed to enclose the flock, so the poor owner will have to find someone more experienced to help. I’ve only ever helped round up flocks that have been raised by the owner, so they follow rather than run away.

I hope your week goes well. Thanks for reading.

Take care.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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Trying to Learn the Greek Alphabet and other interesting stuff

Interesting Greek Facts

A Greek Temple

As I write this, I have managed to survive the introductory ‘Orientation Week’ at Spurgeon’s College and am about to embark on a term of Greek lectures. So far, it has been fine, as the main thing that would terrify me is the logistics—the whole ‘what if the traffic is bad,’ ‘where will I park?’ ‘how do I know where to go/sit/eat,’ ‘what if my brain runs out of energy before the end of a session?’ You can imagine the type of thing. Therefore a term (at least) of all lectures being online, is perfect for me.

Learning Greek

Greek Text Book

I haven’t had any proper lectures yet, but I have enthusiastically started reading the book they sent, and searched the resources they sent for interesting YouTube clips. I have to say, it has proven to be a very interesting week. I hadn’t realised how much of the English I speak has its roots in ancient Greek. Here are some fascinating facts:

The New Testament part of the Bible is written in Koine Greek. ‘Koine’ simply means ‘common’ because it was the common language for about 600 years. Obviously languages evolve—so if I wanted to read Chaucer, I would need to understand the language spoken in that period, whereas Henry VIII spoke a slightly different English. “Ah,” you might say, “but if it’s an ancient language, how do you know how to pronounce it?” Well, I thought the same thing, and the answer is brilliant. Historians study as many sources of the writing as possible—on tombs, and carved onto monuments, and written on manuscripts. They then compare them, and the spelling mistakes give clues about how the words were spoken. Isn’t that great? If you take an English example: “I read the book yesterday,” and find that in 200 instances, the word “read” had been misspelt as “red” then you could conclude that “ea” can be pronounced as the “e” in “red.”

When you learn the Greek alphabet, there are some letters which are very weird, and listed as sounds that we don’t say in English, like Psi. However, the Greek words have evolved into the words that we use today, we simply ignore the bits that we don’t pronounce. So the letter Psi gave us the words for psychology and psychopath and pseudo. (Now you know why they have odd spelling.)

There is a symbol in Greek called a breathing which looks like a tiny ‘c’ and floats above some vowels: αͨ εͨ ιͨ οͨ. When it’s backwards, it’s not pronounced (I don’t yet know what purpose it serves, that will have to be a later blog). But when it’s the correct way round (c) and it’s over a vowel at the start of a word, it adds an ‘h’ sound to the start of the word. In Greek, the letter P is called ‘rho’ and it is apparently a vowel (but only sometimes—again, I can’t yet explain this). This is interesting though, because when it has the breathing over it, an ‘h’ is added to the pronunciation. In English, we don’t say the ‘h’ but it is hidden in words like rheumatism and rhesus and rhetoric.

νόμος (sounds like nom-us) is the Greek word for law. If you add alpha (which looks like a fishy ‘a’ letter) to the front, it means the opposite. So νόμος = law and ανόμος = lawless. We still do this today with some words: symmetrical vs asymmetrical.

The word οͨ means ‘the’ when the word is masculine (I guess like ‘le’ in French, when ‘la’ is feminine) it’s pronounced ‘ho’ because the little ‘c’ adds an ‘h’. The word for God is θεος (‘Theos’) and in the places I’ve found it, it is preceded by the masculine ‘the’—so although I think God is genderless, certainly the Greek word was always masculine. The word θεος appears 1300 times in the New Testament, so I haven’t yet checked them all.

Learning the Greek alphabet in order is, I have decided, impossible. I have managed to learn the letter names (which gives a clue to how they sound) and the symbols for the lower-case letters. Everything I have read so far says not to bother learning capital letters at this stage as they are rarely used, so I have taken this to heart and ignored them completely. What is impossible though is learning the alphabet in order.

α alpha (sounds like ‘a’)

β beta (sounds like ‘b’)

γ gamma (g)

δ delta (d)

ε epsilon (e)

ζ zeta (z)

η eta (a long ‘e’ sound like in ‘air’) this one always confuses me!

θ theta (th)

ι iota (i)

κ kappa (k)

λ lamda (l)

μ mu (m)

ν nu (n) this is a tricky one too

ξ xi (x) easy to remember if you notice it looks like a pair of boobs so is ‘sexy’!

ο omicron (o) I always forget this one. Always.

π pi (p) brings back horrible memories of school mathematics

ρ rho (r) another tricky one because it pretends to be a ‘p’ and really it’s an ‘r’

ς σ sigma (s) this has two symbols, depending on whether it comes in the middle or at the end of a word. It is very hard to remember that σ is ‘s’!

τ tau (t)

υ upsilon (u,y)

φ phi (ph)

χ chi (ch)

ψ psi (ps)

ω omega (o, but a long one like in ‘bone’)

To be honest, I struggle over the order of letters in the English alphabet, and it’s only ever useful when I’m filing (which is never) or looking in a dictionary (which is rare) so why bother? I have tried making useful rhymes to help with the tricky bits: ‘epileptic zebras eat thick ice kittens’ and ‘lovely male nurses x-ray other people’ but I find I start to muddle up the rhymes too. I am shelving it for now and hoping that by the time I do an exam, the lecturer will have moved onto more complicated things and won’t bother to test us for the alphabet.

I sent one of my children a few words written in Greek, wanting to show-off a little. He was able to name all the letters, which was very disappointing (I long for the day I will know something my children don’t know—something beyond what temperature to use on the washing machine or how to hatch an egg). Apparently the Greek alphabet is used a lot in Physics, so he learnt all the letter names and symbols at uni. I think learning to read the language is much more interesting than Physics though, so I have decided that doesn’t count.

I hope you have something interesting too this week.

Thanks for reading. Take care.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson

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