Wednesday, December 13, 2017

GlossaHouse Illustrated Greek-English New Testament Review

I'm teaching an intensive course on Mark this January (2018), and I will be focussing on narrative and performative aspects of the text. I came across the GlossaHouse Illustrated Greek-English New Testament online and asked for more information, and they sent me the book in exchange for a review. 

Mark: GlossaHouse Illustrated Greek-English New Testament (2014)
T. Michael W. Halcomb and Fredrick J. Long

This attractive, soft-cover, 8.5 x 11” book intends to provide “an innovative resource that will allow readers of Greek to have more embodied and engaging experience with the Greek New Testament.” While “embodied” is an odd word choice to describe a book, this illustrated color text certainly is “engaging.” At first glance, it looks like a comic book, but, in contrast to the overly dramatic renderings of most comic books or the stylized depictions of a Manga, it depicts historical settings of Jesus’ first century, Palestine world. While I appreciate its consistency and visual appeal, it certainly paints a more colorful world (especially in terms of dress) than was likely. (For an example, cf. the FreeIllustratedBible website.)
The Greek text provided is that of the Society of Biblical Literature Greek New Testament (SBGNT). Narrative sections are placed in rectangular yellowish boxes, direct quotations are in white speech bubbles, and Scripture quotations are in orangish ‘parchment’ boxes. It provides a useful visual way of seeing how the text works.

In addition to the illustrated presentation of the text, the other most important feature is the English translation placed at the bottom of each page (in extremely small point size that sometimes spills over into the illustrations). There are 8 pages explaining the translation philosophy of the GlossaHouse English Version (GEV). Here’s what they say:

This translation is fresh and fairly literal; we have attempted to preserve word order significance and accurately represent important features of the Greek text that are more emphasized and, therefore, more prominent. All of this was intended for the beginning student in mind, who may need help with Greek word meanings and understanding the significance of special constructions, like purpose, conditionals, and participles. In the translation work, we have applied current research on linguistics and Greek grammar, emphasis constructions, orality, performance, and social-cultural backgrounds. We have sought to strike a balance between trying to translate the import (as far as we can gather) of every sentence element but ye not “over-translating” and moving into commentary.

The rest of the introduction provides an excellent overview of the kind of considerations involved in translating: word order, gender inclusiveness, punctuation, treatment of particles and conjunctions, and rendering of verb tenses in both indicative and non-indicative moods. Examples from the text demonstrate why it is important to attend to such matters.

I find the translation to indeed be fresh and lively with a distinct oral character that is consistent with the Greek of Mark. While there are quibbles I have with some choices, overall I believe it accomplishes Halcomb and Long’s intent of providing an English text with some transparency to the original language for a student learning Greek. It also works well as a text that could be used in the performance of the Gospel of Mark.

Other observations: There are chapter numbers set off in the text and verse numbers within the text, but there are no chapter:verse indicators at the top or bottom of the page, making it difficult to locate a specific passage quickly. I was further confused by their use of Greek numbers for the chapters, because it does not follow the standard Greek numbering system. (The digamma is used for six as expected, but eta for eight is omitted and thus every number thereafter is off. Iota, therefore is nine, and iota-alpha is ten, etc…)

The majority scholarly opinion is that Mark ends at 16.8, and the SBLGNT text continues with verse 9 in double brackets indicating that it is probably not original. The illustration, however, makes no indication of the distinction, nor does the GEV text at the bottom of the page.

SUMMARY: The GlossaHouse Illustrated Greek-English New Testament is an interesting project that uses attractive visuals as a means for reinforcing reading of the Greek text. As significantly, the GlossaHouse English Version text printed at the bottom of the pages is a vibrant rendering of Mark’s Greek, and I especially commend the reflections on the principles of their translating work described in the preface.


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