Book Reviews

Greek Prepositions from Antiquity to the Present

Pietro Bortone Oxford 2010-06-18

This monograph is a detailed diachronic study (with synchronic focuses) on Greek prepositions.

The first part of the book gives foundational information. Chapter 1 explores the function of prepositions. For example in languages such as Greek, which have both case systems and adpositions that exhibit similar functions and meanings, the adpositions have more specific distinctions (p. 17). Although similar, the two phenomena are not identical. They may work together to form or clarify relational meaning (p. 24). In chapter 2 Bortone discusses the meaning of prepositions and cases, and introduces the “localistic hypothesis,” which suggests that prepositions originated as function words to indicate concrete spatial or local relationships. Bortone also addresses the confusing issue of prepositions with multiple, sometimes apparently contradictory, meanings. He follows a “family relations” model in which new elements, as they are created, may show little resemblance to those in the early stages of development (pp. 71–75). Instead of seeing the meanings of a preposition as all within one inclusive semantic domain (which can be difficult to do with diverse meanings), they are related, Bortone suggests, like links are related in a chain (pp. 73–74, 77–78). Chapter 3 discusses the development of adpositions. This section of the book will be of interest to both students of New Testament grammar and those interested in linguistics. Bortone draws his examples from many languages (including Hebrew).

Part 2 is the larger section of the book and is a diachronic description of prepositions throughout the written history of Greek. The chapter on Hellenistic Greek is the shortest (pp. 171–94) but will be most immediately useful for readers of this review. However, much in the chapter on classical Greek (pp. 107–70) will also be of interest. Many of the prepositions familiar to New Testament students are discussed here. Although a preposition’s meaning is not always identical in the classical and Hellenistic periods, there are enough similarities to enrich one’s understanding of the prepositions in the New Testament.

The chapter on Hellenistic (Koiné) Greek builds on the previous chapter. Bortone notes problems with “Hellenistic” Greek (pp. 171–73). The shadow of classical Greek is large and Hellenistic Greek covers a huge range of usages, both geographically and ethnically. Bortone notes that the Septuagint is the longest extant text of this period. Although Semitic influence exists, Bortone correctly notes that the Septuagint is a true example of “common” Greek. It was the type spoken during this period (pp. 173–74). Also Bortone suggests that the Septuagint has been underrated and that it was “more familiar to uneducated Greeks than classical literature” (pp. 175–76). In terms of Greek language development, the Septuagint was very influential. It was “a point of departure, the beginning of new Greek usage” (p. 176).

Bartone focuses on where the prepositions in Hellenistic Greek differ from classical usage. The meaning of prepositions is not discussed in depth. Rather, conclusions of comparative research within the develop-ment of the language are noted. Concerning this period, Bortone makes ten observations (pp. 179–94): (1) Preposition usage increases (against case). (2) The use of “improper” prepositions increases. (3) Dative case usage decreases. (4) Fewer cases are governed by prepositions. (5) The meaning of the cases that are governed by prepositions decreases. (6) Some prepositions are fading out, especially with pairs (e.g., suvn was being replaced by metav). (7) Few new prepositions are created. (8) Any new prepositions tend to have “local” senses (e.g, a[pwqen, uJpokavtw, ojpivsw). (9) Improper prepositions sometimes are immediately followed by simple prepositions (mainly among literary authors [e.g., Acts 17:24; Polybius 11.20.1]). (10) Some Hellenistic features were not continued in later Greek.

While this chapter is a descriptive discussion of Hellenistic prepositions in the context of the history of Greek, one could wish for a little more precision when dealing with biblical Greek. Although Semitic influence is acknowledged, no significant discussion of the Septuagint as a translation is undertaken. Thus both the Septuagint and the New Testament are essentially treated the same (see e.g., p. 193). Although both are genuine examples of common Greek, more discussion of the direct influence of the translation process (rather than only Semitic influence) would have been welcomed.

The final two chapters discuss prepositions and cases in medieval (Byzantine) and modern Greek. Although the longest period in the language history (approximately one thousand years), medieval Greek is the least studied (p. 195).

The book concludes with an epilogue (pp. 302–3), a lengthy biblio-graphy (pp. 304–35), and an index of subjects and Greek terms (pp. 337–45).

The first three chapters of this fasincating book will be of most value for New Testament students who have a solid background in Greek, but even they may find the volume difficult. The study will, however, make the reader more confident in handling prepositions. It will also be of interest to linguists. The countless examples from other languages will enhance its value for Bible translation because it could provide some insight on target languages. In addition Bortone contributes to general linguistics by validating the localistic hypothesis in a single language. This can be confirmed by further studies in other languages.

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Joseph D. Fantin
Dr. Fantin believes an accurate understanding of God's Word will enable the believer to grow in his or her relationship with Christ, to love God and others, to bring Christ's love to a lost world, to build up the church, and most importantly, to glorify God. He is committed to teaching exegetical method in order to help students understand, apply, and teach the Bible in order to achieve these goals. His research interests include the prison epistles, the first-century world, Greek, linguistics, and relevance theory. He and his wife, Robin, have two children: Jillian and David.
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