Sunday, October 10, 2010

battle of the G[r]eeks

When I first took Elementary Greek back in the fall of 1998, we used the Revised Edition of David Alan Black's first-year grammar, Learn to Read New Testament Greek (Nashville: B&H Academic, 1994). I have loved Black's book, and when I started teaching Elementary Greek in the fall of 2008 I went with what I knew. But I don't want to be blindly loyal to Black, so I've taken occasion to look at a number of comparable books:

  • William Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993), is simply too much material, in too much detail, to be helpful for my purposes. I also strongly dislike the order in which Mounce covers the material; even with the two-track option, I can't understand why anyone would present the entire nominal system before introducing verbs. Mounce is a great supplement for my more advanced students, and it comes with great support materials (a CD, along with its own website), but it isn't right for my class.
  • Jeremy Duff, The Elements of New Testament Greek (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), which I really like. But I could never get past the decision to omit accent marks from the text. I was worried that my students would be intimidated by the sudden intrusion of accents on nearly every Greek word when they looked at the Greek New Testament. Given how strange the unaccented text in Duff looked to me, I didn't want my students to react similarly (perhaps even more strongly) to their GNTs.
  • James Hewett, New Testament Greek (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), which I haven't looked at in as great detail. One of my teaching assistants and former Greek students looked through the first couple chapters and liked a lot of Hewett's explanations. But his rather informed opinion matched my more superficial one: Black was still the better choice for my students.
  • And last month I received an examination copy of the long-anticipated Fundamentals of New Testament Greek (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), by Stanley Porter and friends. If Mounce is too much information in too much detail, Porter & Co. is that much again. I love this book. I would use it if I ever taught first-year Greek to a class of students who've had at least a year of Greek and are retaking the course in preparation for seminary, graduate school, or any other academic pursuit. But even I can't impose this book on unsuspecting nineteen-year-olds.

But now I think I've found the book that will pull me away from Black. My Greek lab assistant recommended I look at N. Clayton Croy's introductory grammar, A Primer of Biblical Greek (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999). There's nothing sexy about Croy's book (the same could be said about Black's, at least before the release of the third edition last year). But I like Croy's order of presentation as well as his selection of material to present; I like his explanations of Greek grammar, syntax, and morphology, and I even prefer some of his pedagogical methods over Black. At this point I think I'm 75-25 in favor of Croy for the Fall 2011 semester. In the next week or two I'll explain why I'm contemplating the switch.

My hopes, however, are that some of you with experience with Croy, Black, or any other first-year Greek grammar would chime in, critique my thinking, come to the defense of your favorite text, or whatever. What have you found most helpful in learning/teaching Greek? Or even, Is the choice of textbook not a/the most significant factor affecting student comprehension and enjoyment of the language? I would greatly appreciate your input and/or feedback with this.


Brandon Waite said...

I struggled a great deal in Elementary Greek at JBC, and we used Mounce's book. On the other hand, I am currently retaking/rocking Elementary Greek at ESR, and we use J. Lyle Story's "Greek to Me." It looks like a coloring book at first glance, but I have found its organization and visual memorization system to be of great help.

If nothing else, it keeps me from turning each vocabulary word into an obscure sexual innuendo in order to aid memorization, as I did with Mounce.

Rafael said...

Thanks, Brandon. I'd never heard of Story's book before. After looking at it, I don't think it's right for my class. But I do see how it would be useful for people who don't find more traditional first-year grammars helpful. I'm glad you're having success with it and that's it's reducing your need for catchy, memorable innuendo. ["In your endo." —the Todd]

For those of you with any interest, the book Brandon's talking about is J. Lyle Story and Cullen I. K. Story, Greek to Me: Learning New Testament Greek Through Memory Visualization (Fairfax, VA: Xulon Press, 2002).

Kerri said...

I appreciated the way Black ordered the content of his book. There were times that I was overwhelmed but they were the exception rather than the norm.
I also think the value of a grammar has a lot to do with your individual learning style. While I found Black's book to be helpful, it was the repetition done in labs and on my own that helped me to learn (even though I would have never said that at the time).

Jack Weinbender said...

For all of it's wealth of morphological detail, Mounce's book doesn't work well if the course is not rigorous. That said, I still think the deductive approach to grammar is helpful to some people—I much prefer Pratico–Van Pelt for Hebrew over Futato—but than again, as you've pointed out, I used it with the advantage of a full year of Hebrew under my belt.

In my experience, the biggest hurdle to teaching this sort of language study is most students unfamiliarity with English grammar. I have people in my 2nd year Hebrew class (who have also had 2 and 3 years of Greek) who struggle distinguishing between Direct and indirect objects (smart guys, too)!


Wes Tripp said...

"One of my teaching assistants and former Greek students looked through the first couple chapters and liked a lot of Hewett's explanations."

Since I am that teaching assistant, I feel fulfilled knowing my work in reviewing that text was not in vain and is being put to good use. Plus, I hope you make a good choice, Rafael. Since I'll be your lab assistant next year!

My Visual Bookshelf