Friday, March 18, 2011

Book Review - Keep Your Greek

Seminary and religious studies students are notorious for focusing intensely on the biblical languages for a few years and then gradually losing that mastery over time. In an attempt to remedy this problem, Constantine Campbell has written Keep Your Greek: Strategies for Busy People, a helpful little book intended to help readers ... well, to help them keep their Greek. Campbell teaches Greek and New Testament at Moore Theological College in Australia and is author of several books, including Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek , which is a useful introduction to contemporary developments in understanding Greek verbs. All this to say, he's more than qualified to write a book on Greek. Additionally, he is a musician, and it is this area that ends up providing a significant contribution to the book.

As Campbell remarks early in the book, he's not offering a foolproof 10 Easy Steps kind of plan, but rather an exhortation to fundamentals and discipline. The underlying theme is that consistently reading Greek is the best strategy for keeping proficiency. He draws a parallel to playing a musical instrument, where the gains achieved by disciplined daily practice far exceed intermittent concentrated effort. In music, as with many other skills, the repetition and reinforcement that come from regular practice work in intangible ways. Thus, the foundation of Campbell's approach is developing a habit of reading Greek regularly, preferably daily. The key is to actually read the Greek text, without the aid of an interlinear Bible or software. Though appropriate at time, these tools can also serve as unhelpful shortcuts that prevents true mastery. As Campbell notes, regularly reading Greek will go a long way to helping keep your skills; however, true proficiency will also require periodic reinforcement of things like vocabulary and verb parsings. These can be studied separately or better yet integrated into daily reading. Campbell gives tips for each of these.

The book is a quick read, due both to its short length and Campbell's engaging and humorous style (see Chapter 2, entitled "Burn Your Interlinear," which declares "The interlinear is a tool of the devil, designed to make preachers stupid"). Some may find it repetitive, since it is largely a series of variations on the underlying theme of "read daily!" But it really isn't long enough to get tiresome. Campbell includes several decent lists of various kinds of Greek resources, from vocabulary builders to parsing guides to Greek readers. I almost wished he would have included more details on a Greek-keeping regimen (he gives some examples of his own practices), but as he rightly observes, different people have different learning styles, and one size does not fit all. My only real complaint about the book is on the format: the book is an expansion of material that Campbell originally published on his blog, and the end of each chapter includes reader comments from the original blog posts. While there are a few useful tidbits here and there, in general I didn't think the format enhanced the book. But this is a minor criticism.

Overall, this was a good read, and I would recommend it to anyone who is trying to regain or maintain their Greek language skills.

(Disclaimer: Zondervan provided me with a copy of the book, but I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.)