How We Got to Where We're Going: A Story

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Posted by Chris with a "C" Some may have seen my cryptic tweet the other day:

I hope I did not keep too many in suspense for too long.

... and I hope you do not mind being kept in suspense a little bit longer.

I would like to tell you a story ...

In November of 2012, at ETS in Milwaukee, I had dinner with Steve Runge, Randall Buth, Josh Westbury, and Brian Schultz.  During our conversation, Randall mentioned the book The Prominence of Tense, Aspect and Mood by D.N.S. Bhat, a cross-linguistic, typological study of the interaction of tense, aspect, and mood in verbal systems. Randall told us that we had to read it and that it would inform our understanding of Greek.  We did.  It did.  For me, this was the beginning of really thinking about the Greek verbal system linguistically.

A year passed.  During the fall of 2013, I met Nick Ellis at Tyndale House, Cambridge.  During his few months there, we spent countless hours discussing Greek linguistics, particularly the Greek verbal system.  He was doing some fascinating work for BibleMesh pertaining to the verbal system.  I lent him my copy of Bhat's book, which he devoured and incorporated into his thinking.  We continued to chat for the rest of his time there, dialoguing about various issues surrounding the Greek verb and learning from each other.

Shortly after these events, in November 2013, biblical scholars descended upon Baltimore, Maryland, for the annual SBL conference.  Throughout the days of the conference, Steve Runge, Randall Buth, Nick Ellis, and I spent hours at Pratt Street Ale House (aka Mecca).  Over the past year, we had all been reading, thinking, and engaging others about the Greek verbal system and issues surrounding it.  At Pratt Street, we shared what we each had been learning and started putting it all together.  We began throwing things against the wall, just to see what would stick.  It was an incredibly exciting few days.  Fresh ideas and conversations and open dialogue.  At the same time, SBL 2013 was the year of "The Perfect Storm," a session wherein Buist Fanning, Stan Porter, and Con Campbell discussed and debated the Greek Perfect.  Though a lively discussion by three excellent scholars, we felt that it did not push the field forward but only confirmed and further solidified already entrenched positions.

Fast-forward to July 2014.  I receive an email from Stephen Levinsohn.  In it, he writes that he and a couple others were chatting and the idea for a Greek linguistics/discourse conference at Tyndale House, Cambridge (during the 2015 Tyndale Fellowship conference), came up.  (I believe this chat occurred at ISBL with Rob Crellin, Steve Runge, and Ronnie Sim and was a continuation of a previous interaction between Stephen and Rob.)  He wanted to know what I thought.  My response was "That's an excellent idea!"  Little did I know that this sentence would lead to me organizing a cross-disciplinary conference on the Greek verbal system.

At some point in the following months, it was decided that we wanted to continue our collective conversation on the Greek verb.  Steve Runge encouraged me to ask around Tyndale, the University of Cambridge, and other universities in order to find out what sort of conference would be more valuable: a specialist-focused conference on the Greek verbal system or a conference for NT scholars to hear reports on the Greek verbal system from specialists, with some advanced papers at the end.  The answers I received were excitedly and passionately in favor of the latter.  The many scholars with whom I spoke were thrilled at the idea!  So, I began asking various people, particularly NT scholars, "If we were to do a conference on the Greek verb, what would you want to know about it?"  The responses I received were numerous, but they all revolved around a few key issues:

  • The current discussion is too entrenched.  I want to hear from new, different, and non-partisan voices.
  • Can you give a clear description of tense and aspect and how they relate to the Greek verb?
  • What do Classicists say about the verb in Classical Greek and what do they think of the discussions we've had in Biblical Studies?
  • How should I teach the Greek verb?
  • What do I need to know about the Greek verb as a NT scholar?

The interest, questions, and answers I was receiving were fantastic.  In addition, they were sounding a lot like the conversations Randall, Steve, Nick, and I had been having for the past couple years, along with Mike Aubrey and Mark Dubis as well (who had also been having their own conversations with Nick).  Everything was coming around full circle.  Things a few of us were talking about in 2012 and 2013 were now looking like they could form a substantive part of a conference.  More importantly, there was the push from most everyone to whom I talked to get Classicists and other linguists to be a part of the conference.  The conference, it seemed, was becoming something bigger than all of us — something that would encourage new ideas and facilitate fresh conversations with scholars from different disciplines.

So, that is my story.  I realize that there is still a bit of suspense, as I have not actually announced anything yet.  So, keep watching this space; there will be an announcement soon!

Let me just say, you will want to be in Cambridge on 10-11 July 2015.  Just sayin.