Is Erasmian Pronunciation Ugly?

I recently wrote an essay in partial defense of Erasmian pronunciation that will be published in a book (no title yet) which offers essays in defense of different phonological systems for Koine Greek. All the papers were originally read at the annual Society of Biblical Literature conference held in San Francisco in November 2011. In my paper I laid out four basic arguments: historical, pragmatic, philological, and aesthetic. Yes, aesthetic. But rather than offer an argument at SBL, I played a tune which I am making available here. More on that in a moment.

I noted in my presentation that whenever I travel to Greece (which I do every year to photograph New Testament manuscripts with CSNTM) I leave Erasmus behind. I drop him like a bad habit once I board the plane and don’t renew my acquaintance with the Dutch humanist until I return to the States.

Regarding the aesthetic argument, Erasmian pronunciation is often considered cumbersome, unnatural, stilted, and ugly. The implication sometimes is that it must not have been the way Greek ever sounded; it is too harsh on the ears for that. Perhaps images of Jim Caviezel torturing our auditory senses with unnatural Aramaic in The Passion of the Christ come to mind. Or any scholar’s attempt to read Coptic gracefully! This argument fails to recognize that even though, to some degree, beauty may be in the ear of the listener, some languages actually do sound harsh. In order to maintain political correctness, I will not mention any, and simply let your own unbridled imagination run where it wishes. I do not think, however, that Erasmian Greek is among them. To be sure, our execution of the language may falter, but that does not mean that the sound of the language is ugly.

Along these lines, Friedrich Blass long ago offered this insightful comment:

“I am perfectly convinced, that, if an ancient Athenian were to rise from his grave and hear one of us speak Greek, on the basis of the best scientific enquiry and with the most delicate and practiced organs, he would think the pronunciation horribly barbarous.”

Blass went on to say, “But if he heard a modern Greek, he would not indeed be so loud in his censure, simply because he [would have] failed to observe that this is supposed to be his own language.”

Blass’s modesty aside, not everyone who enunciates Erasmian Greek butchers the language. For a demonstration of this, consider the Chalcedonian Creed sung with Erasmian pronunciation. The music and lyrics were produced by one of my first-year Greek students, Kit Bogan, who sang all four parts a capella. One of the students in the class, Trace Bailey, who had spent years as a disc jockey, exclaimed, “This may be the most beautiful piece of music I’ve ever heard!”

It takes a few minutes to hear the whole thing. So, grab a cup of joe, plug in your 200-watt speakers to the computer, and enjoy the sound of pure worship.

Symbolon ten Chalkedonas, lyrics, music, and song by Kit Bogan.

Update: This is now on Youtube!

40 thoughts on “Is Erasmian Pronunciation Ugly?

  1. Ugly? Yes, it sounds ‘ugly’ & artificial IF you have been introduced to alternative pronunciation.

    I started with Erasmian pronunciation, but switched to “Modern Greek’ pronunciation after I bought Spiros Zhodiates’ Koine Greek New Testament on audio cassette. Many years later, when I listen to Marilyn Phemister’s narration of Greek NT that I downloaded or watch some NT Greek lessons taught by some American teachers on YouTube I do find the pronunciation ‘ugly.’ I’ve never been to Greece, but I heard that native Greek speakers would laugh at you if you use Erasmian pronunciation. Is that the reason why you leave Erasmus behind?

    According to A.T. Robertson,

    Erasmus is indirectly responsible for the current pronunciation of ancient Greek, for the Byzantine scholars pronounced ancient and modern alike. Jannaris quotes the story of Voss, a Dutch scholar (1577-1649), as to how Erasmus heard some learned Greeks pronounced Greek in a very different way from the Byzantine custom. Erasmus published a discussion between a lion and a bear entitled De Recta Latini Graecique semonis pronuntiatione, which made such an impression that those who accepted the ideas advanced in this book were called Erasmians and the rest Reuchlinians. As a matter of fact, however Engel has shown that Erasmus merely wrote a literary squib to “take off” the new non-Byzantine pronunciation, though he was taken seriously by many.

    Regarding Reuchlin, Robertson wrote:

    Roger Bacon, as Reuchlin two centuries later, adopted the Byzantine pronunciation. Reuchlin, who introduced Greek to the further West, studied in Italy and passed on the Byzantine pronunciation.

    One of the main causes of error in the transmission of the text of the New Testament is itacism. So in my opinion, ‘Modern Greek’ pronunciation is the pronunciation used by the ancient scribes, & the one should be taught today. Would itacism be abound in NT manuscripts if the scribes used Erasmian pronunciation?


  2. Wesley A Kring

    “Blass’s modesty aside, not everyone who enunciates Erasmian Greek butchers the language. For a demonstration of this, consider the Chalcedonian Creed sung with Erasmian pronunciation. The music and lyrics were produced by one of my first-year Greek students, Kit Bogan, who sang all four parts a capella.”

    Beautiful, indeed. The aesthetic argument, supported. Butchering is not a necessary consequence of Erasmus.

    However, perhaps the Chalcedonian Creed sung with pronunciation A, or pronunciation B, or X, Y, or Z would sound as beautiful? Or even more beautiful.

    And so, is the [beautiful] tune produced by Mr Bogan really a component of a [partial] defense of Erasmian pronunciation? (Granted, your fuller argument is the actual defense, this tune being a mere footnote the intent of which was not to vindicate the aesthetic argument.)

    Come to think of it, would he be willing and able to produce this tune based on other pronunciation systems? For the enjoyment of his listeners, as well as for comparison’s sake?


    1. Wesley, good to hear from you! I have no doubt that had Kit sung Chalcedon with a different pronunciation he could make it sound beautiful. But whether it would sound more beautiful is a different matter. Gleason Archer, professor of OT at TEDS for many years, and as multi-lingual as just about anyone on the planet, was once asked whether Erasmian or modern pronunciation sounded better. Instead of giving a discourse on the matter, he simply recited a passage out of Homer, using both pronunciations. Then he asked, “Which sounds better to you?” The answer was Erasmian.


      1. Spyridon Ninos

        this is an old comment, but still I’d like to point out that your last argument left me wondering. If the same professor made the same test in front of a Greek audience, the answer would be the modern pronunciation. It is only natural, isn’t it? It depends on the sounds that the audience is used to listen to.


  3. Daniel, there are a lot more issues than you’ve touched on as to how to pronounce ancient Greek. The paper I delivered at SBL addresses these issues. Don’t rush to judgment before you’ve examined the data, rather than just quoting one or two secondary sources.


  4. Marvis Camat

    Dan (if you would permit me to call you Dan), I am quite struggling on this topic since I am studying Greek language with a high loyalty on the Erasmian pronunciation. But on the back of my mind I am thinking that children “usually” adopt the pronunciation, especially of dipthongs, from their parents. One generation of Greek would not drop altogether the Erasmian (if in case that was the old Greek), I don’t know at what epoch of history did one Greek generation switched to what is called modern Greek way of pronunciation.

    I do find the Erasmian more ‘edible’ in basic study of Greek so I can imagine in my mind how to spell a word, while at the same time reprogramming my memory with a new set of writing Greek letters (which, add to even more stuggles, I have to familiarize myself with the Alexandrian text without spaces in between words). I have read some comments made by Greeks themselves that it is not good to pronounce Greek dipthongs differently, like we don’t say the word “brought” in English as “bro-ut”.

    My heart still goes to Erasmian though. I wish to hear your thoughts on what I thought about the switch of pronunciations between one generation to the next. Thanks.


    1. You’ll have to read my essay when it is published. But when you consider that we’re dealing with 2000 years of history between Koine and modern Greek, it’s not difficult to envision changes slowly taking place, from generation to generation. In fact, in Greece today things happen much more rapidly. Since 1981, the rough breathing and polytonic accenting went away. If that can happen virtually overnight–and it’s a couple of major changes–surely the several changes in phonetics over the centuries is not unimaginable.


      1. Marvis Camat

        Thank you, that is comfort. I forgot that even similar languages, like English or Spanish, have different accents and might have had effect on their adaptation of the Greek language, and thus when it reached Desiderius Erasmus the Greek language had undergone many changes, only that in schools the original Koine was still thought, I guess. I shall wait on your essay, I don’t usually stick to my wild guesses, but only something to ponder about.

        “What is the geniune way of pronouncing the word ‘geniune’, is it ‘jen-win’ or ‘jin-wyn’? – as I speedily thought about it, I used to pronounce it the former way but then switched to the latter, I’m not sure what is archaic or how Brits and Americans pronounce it. I’ll look it up later. :)

        I do find studying Greek using the Erasmian method much easier, and if that’s how it was in the earliest centuries, then it brings me closer to the atmosphere of the ancient manuscripts. Regarding someone rising from the dead, I think the ancient Greek had already adapted the modern Greek, being updated with the recent Greek elects who had gone to heaven (just a humor). Thanks and many thanks!


      2. Spyridon Ninos

        Hi Daniel,
        of course changes take place in a language – but mentioning the 1981 language reformation is not an argument I would accept so easily. The ministry of education decided that – this does not mean that it is either correct or that it is adopted by all the greeks. Changing the polytonic to monotonic was done for politics, it is now easier for foreigners to learn the language – but there are a lot of Greeks that still use the polytonic (including me) whenever they can. Also, there is an amazing amount of greeks that in the afternoons go in private schools and are taught how to write and read using polytonic and breathing. So, clearly, polytonic has not gone away.

        Anyway, I would not put in the same level the slow changes that take place in a language due to e.g. occupation from the Turks for ~400 years, and the decision taken from a ministry for reasons that are subject to interpretation. Pronunciation cannot be changed so easily as we may want to believe.

        On the other hand, I do find rational the fact that many people use the Erasmian pronunciation to learn the ancient greek. It is more close to the pronunciation of their own language – keep in mind that since the greeks don’t use the latin alphabet, nor they pronounce the language anyway near the Erasmian pronunciation, they consider normal that the natural pronunciation is the modern one.


  5. Paul Collander

    Dr. Wallace,

    I’m attempting a self-study of Biblical Greek and I can see how the Erasmian pronunciation aids learning. However, I am concerned that once I get that pronunciation stuck in my head, I won’t be able to switch to a modern Greek pronunciation if I want to later on. I’d be willing to sweat out the more difficult approach of learning Modern Greek pronunciation now if it will save me more headaches later on.

    In general, do your students find it easier to start Modern and go Erasmian or vice versa?


    1. My students only learn Erasmian because that is what is spoken in the academy. But when I learned modern, I found it took very little time to convert. However, I have now had two students who learned modern Greek first and they had a very hard time learning Erasmian.


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  8. ds

    Two direct admissions by classical Greeks that they did not speak erasmian:

    1)Λοιμός (disease) + Λιμός (hunger). There was an old saying that Athens is going to suffer from Limos. However the citizens of Athens did not know if the prophecy spoke about Λοιμός/disease or Λιμός/hunger because “οι” and “ι” sounded exactly the same. Λιμός + Λοιμός are modern Greek words too. They sound exactly the same. (Thoukididis Β, 54).

    2)Καινά (news) + κενά (empty or lack) . There was an old saying (like the previous one, was not written) speaking about kena of war. But the people did not know if the prophecy spoke about Καινά (new developments concerning the war) or κενά (lack of preparations). Why is that? Because “ε” + “αι” sounded alike.

    Erasmian pronunciation is a huge fallacy. I have read Erasmus, Allen and all the erasmian shit. No evidence at all. They constantly speak about Latin, indo European language etc etc, ignoring passages like the two above that do not fit with their theory.

    There are countless other arguments against erasmian pronunciation. Like the spelling mistakes of the classical Greeks. The less educated for instance, confused ι , ει, η and οι, as they all sounded alike (the name Aristides have been found written Αριστείδης, Αριστίδης, Αριστήδης on banishing shells).


    1. Thucydides never said that there was confusion due to the pronunciation but rather they were just not sure what word the oracle said. Did you not ever play the game where you say a sentence in the ear of one person and then see how it changes by the time it gets to the tenth person?

      Also ει η ι did not sound the same during the Classical age and before. How do we know? See for yourself:

      Or do you have an explanation as to why in the early Classical period you see spelling of words such as ΗΙΠΠΟΚΡΑΤΟΣ instead of ΙΠΠΟΚΡΑΤΟΣ? Eta was originally a consonant instead of a vowel and was replaced by the rough breathing accent. Also, even today the historic pronunciation of eta is seen in Pontic Greek where they have replaced eta entirely by epsilon so ΜΗΤΗΡ is ΜΕΤΕΡ indicating that eta was not pronounced as “i”

      What you think is authentic pronunciation of Greek is actually heavily influenced by the Romans after the Hellenistic Age. For example, they confused υ with the Latin v which where ev and av developed from au and eu.

      I suggest you buy a book on the history of the Greek language, you do this great language a disservice by not realizing it’s diversity in pronunciation over time. For example have you ever heard of Old Attic Greek spoken in the late Ottoman era and early days of the Kingdom of Greece? In this dialect, OI was pronounced as ou!


  9. Greek Student

    I really enjoy listening to recordings of the Greek NT made with the modern pronunciation.

    As soon as I abandoned the Erasmian pronunciation and switch to modern Greek pronunciation, I started to internalize the language and develop an innate sense of the language. In other words, I was learning the language as I would any other spoken language. Years later, I am now to the point where I just “feel” what the meaning of the text is, without even having to parse the forms.

    I attribute this improvement to abandoning the Erasmian language, which I consider stilted and artificial. I still do not understand why students of Greek would learn a pronunciation which we know for a fact was never used.


      1. Greek Student

        The Erasmian pronunciation, as we learn it today, cannot have been used by ancient Greeks by virtue of the fact that how we pronounce it is so heavily dependent on our own native tongues (in my case, American English). Ancient Greeks did not have a Western Germanic language as their native tongue like we do and as Erasmus had.

        The problem is that, within a fixed pronunciation system like Erasmian, there are multiple versions of the ‘truth’. My first Greek text book was the excellent “Elements of new Testament Greek” by H.P.V. Nunn (later improved by J. Wenham and J. Duff). In the pronunciation key in the first pages, we learn that omicron is to be pronounced as “o” as in “not.” The question is, whose version of “not”? We know that Nunn pronounced “not” differently in England in 1914 than we do today in America. My American seminary friends all pronounce “o logos” like “hah lahgahs.” Can that really be right? British English students will probably pronounce it with a short “o” sound, which sounds marginally better. Modern Greeks pronounce omicron and omega the same.

        Ancient Greek pronunciation differed from city to city just as it still does today. In my mind, there’s no question that the way Greek was read in Antioch was pronounced differently than the same letter recited by a native Corinthian. As a brief aside– where I live, in rural Swabia in Germany, the way people pronounce the mostly unwritten Swabian language varies distinctly from village to village. Where my wife comes from, they say “I hau” for high German “Ich habe” (I have). Literally just five kilometers away, people say “I han” for the same thing. Many of my Swabian friends can identify the village where others come from by the way they pronounce certain words.

        I am thus very suspicious when people maintain that certain pronunciations are correct, and should be used. Was Koine eta (η) pronounced like “ee” or “ay”? Probably both, depending on where and when one lived! Was “oi” pronounced “oy”, or “ü” or “ee”? Probably all three ways.

        My desire is to use a use a “plausible” pronunciation. I feel that the Erasmian pronunciation constitutes little more than an educated guess by someone far removed from Greece, and cannot be considered a plausible candidate for the way ancient Greeks spoke. I happily exchanged it for something that at least has the backing and usage of millions of modern Greek speakers, and I hope others do too.


      2. Benjo Gallardo

        In my opinion (I cannot back this up with evidence), modern Greek is close to ancient Greek, in the way Tyndale retranslated the English of Wycliffe for his era, though much in spelling but not in pronunciation.  If the Greeks, or non-Greeks who learned the Greek scriptures, made the attempt to transfer the Greek scriptures to non-Greek speaking communities, then in order for them (the nons) to comprehend what was being said in Greek, they had to pronounce it in ‘Erasmian’ way (Erasmus would yet be born later).  And I think that after learning the Greek alphabet as well as the grammar and become proficient to both, the students were had been then encouraged to shift to the real Greek pronunciation, which is a tedious transition but that’s how they were going to say things when going to a greek market to buy something.  Erasmus taught Greek somewhere in Europe and produced the ‘received text’, but I think he never said to his students that the ‘erasmian’ pronunciation was the pronunciation of his predecessors.  I wish to add too, that what information was being passed on to us is that the byzantine greek style of writing is not the original but those of the Alexandrian text type, but in pronunciation, modern or old may just be the same, for all the greek speaking people scattered throughout the world in one epoch of history could not had come to agreement that ‘from now on let us pronounce oi not as oy but as ii.’  I’m not sure if my imaginations are correct or close to reality, but that is not absolutely the case, just a probability.  Personally, I still adhere to erasmian pronunciation, I just don’t know why, but I seem to like it than modern greek pronunciation, but at the back of my mind I think it’s plausible that modern greek is the same as old, but then maybe, perhaps a little bit, ‘…the old is better’.


      3. Benjo Gallardo

        Hi, Dan!  I wish to comment on a video of you on youtube which is The Basics of New Testament Criticism regarding the supposed omission of ‘Jesus’ in Barabbas’ name.  My take on Origen’s comment is that the older copies of his time did not contain the name Jesus in Barabbas.  It seems like he augmented it with the idea that it was not even proper for the one who did insert the name Jesus with Barabbas who seemed to suppose that Pilate wanted to distinguish between the two Jesuses which to be released.  My personal opinions are that : 1.  Pilate could not call Jesus as Christ but as ‘the one called Christ’ because calling him Christ was conclusive, 2.  Jesus was under trial on the grounds of blasphemy and proclaiming to be Messiah, 3.  That PIlate was a little bit convinced that Jesus was on the side of truth and that he I think appealed to the people to reconsider Jesus who might just be the Messiah and not push his crucifixion, and this I think is supported with Pilate placing a label on the cross with Jesus being the king of the Jews.  I wish that in terms of ‘internal evidence’ in textual criticism these ideas might be considered.  Would you please enlighten me on this?  Thank you and more blessings!


  10. I think calling Erasmian pronunciation little more than an educated guess is damning it with faint praise. I too thought the way you do until I looked at the various criteria one can use to determine how the ancient language was pronounced. Erasmus did an enormous amount of work on this, standing on the shoulders of previous giants.


  11. Ioanna

    As a native Greek I can’t help but feel a bit offended that Modern Greek pronunciation is deemed ‘less than’ by the majority of the academic community. Doubtless, it is removed from the way Ancient Greek would sound like in 500 BC, yet it is the natural descendant of the ancient language, I dare say it is the same language, that has just evolved naturally with the times. I don’t understand why we need a constructed (or re-constructed) pronunciation in the first place. No matter how much effort goes into this and how much one wishes for it to be as correct as possible it will never be. We will never know how the Ancient Greeks spoke the language unless we manage to achieve time travel. And even then i dare say a Modern Greek would have a fair chance being understood or at least understand an hypothetical Ancient Greek fisherman selling his produce in the market.

    Why do we need a re-constructed Ancient Greek pronunciation, when Shakespeare sounds perfectly fine to us, in Modern English, and even American English. I doubt Shakespeare sounded anything like a Texan cowboy but there you have it.

    Have a look at other attempts to re-construct the correct pronunciation of a language such as Finnish and you’ll see it is extremelly difficult to get this right even when we’re talking about modern languages.

    I appreciate a number of scholars have put a lot of effort into ‘perfecting’ the Ancient Greek pronunciation as they see fit, drawing from ancient sources and inscriptions and it is usually a commendable work. But it is also as far removed from reality as anything.

    I could go on but this will turn into an essay. I hope you realise this is not just another ‘hurt’ Greek speaking here, but somebody who’s deeply interested in the Ancient Greek language and culture.



    1. Ioanna, no one is deeming modern Greek as less than…..that academic world is simply trying to preserve the voice of our ancient ancestors. If we give up trying to piece together how they pronounced Greek and just use modern Greek then we loose a big part of their spirit. I use to be a staunch opponent of ancient Greek pronunciation until I looked at the evidence for myself such as seeing pottery with ΗΙΠΠΟΚΡΑΤΟΣ instead of ΙΠΠΟΚΡΑΤΟΣ or how Pontic Greek replaces H with E (eg METER instead of MHTHP) or how Tsakonian Greek uses ξούλο instead of ξύλο preserving the ou sound of upsilon and many more examples in modern dialects today! There is also a dialect spoken during the Ottoman Empire called old Attic that pronounced OI as OU!

      So rather than being offended, we as native Greeks should embrace the great diversity of the Greek language because that is exactly what our ancestor would have.


      1. marvis camat

        I noticed in the Codex Sinaiticus that a ‘spellchecker’ corrected some words that ended in epsilon with AI, which I think sounded the same as in modern greek, and that the writer was writing upon dictation and writing with little comprehension, because a word may end in epsilon if its a verb and in AI as nouns in plural form. If this is called ‘internal evidence’ then this leads me to think that modern greek sounded like the early century greek at the time of codex sinaiticus writing.


      2. @marvis camat the Σιναϊτικός Κώδικας or Codex Sinaiticus was written aroun 330 – 360 ACE which is not early first century. Koine Greek came into existence around 300 BCE and lasted up to around 300 ACE so what you’re talking about during an era when ancient dialects are no longer used and the beginnings of Byzantine Greek which is basically modern Greek in terms of pronunciation. Keep in mind that the Byzantine scholars never forgot ancient pronunciation which is how it was introduced into Western Europe after the fall of Constantinople.


      3. marvis camat

        Let me show an illustration of the incompetency of the scribe of codex sinaiticus: 1. The verse is Matthew 23:29 – The scribe wrote ‘dikEwn’ instead of ‘dikAIwn’ – here is where E and AI sounded the same, much like in modern greek and not as erasmian where AI is pronounced ‘ay’. 2. The next verse, v30, where this time he wrote ‘legetai’ instead of ‘legete’, which both sound the same in modern greek. ‘legetai’ is incorrect, and is not even in perfect middle indicative either singular nor plural. My point is that this alexandrian scribe confused his spellings with epsilon and AI. Both sounded the same to him. If he had known the erasmian way of reading, he would not had confused writing ‘e’ or ‘ai’ because the ‘e’ sounded like ‘egg’ and the other ‘ai’ as ‘ay’ as in eye.

        The vaticanus scribe got the spellings correct in mat 23:29-30. codex ephraimi also got it the same with ‘dikaiwn’ and ‘legete’. codex washingtonianus got ‘legetai’ instead of ‘legete’. So even the scribe of washingtonianus was confused with the sound of ‘e’ and ‘ai’. Now consider the age gap between sinaiticus and washingtonianus, seems like both scribes wrote under dictation and were not having much comprehension of the spellings of what they wrote, they must simply had known how to write greek with not that much knowledge on grammar. In english, if someone is writing ‘brought’ or ‘broth’ you can only tell he heard it wrong through the grammar of his writing. And I believe that ‘erasmian’ is simply the way to teach how to distinguish one word from another by differentiating the sounds of those letters and diphthongs that sound the same.


    2. themaelstromscup

      Shakespeare, indeed, does sound “fine” to us in modern English (American or British), but it’s far from accurate. Many of his words both gain and lose syllables, altering the meter, and many of the rhymes no longer work. Think “love(d)” rhymed with “prove(d)” in multiple sonnets. We also miss out on a number of puns, such as in As You Like It when Jacques talks about going from “hour to hour”. At the time “hour” was pronounced the same as “whore.”

      I wasn’t offended when I was taught how to pronounce Chaucer’s English. I don’t understand why modern Greek speakers are emotionally invested in this issue.


  12. 1. We all know the codex has lots of errors, just look at the Lord’s Prayer (basilia vs basileia) AND we know it’s because of the change of pronunciation.

    2. Erasmian is not simply a way to distinguish between spellings when in fact Byzantine scholars were said to have used it to teach Attic Greek and brought the knowledge with them to Western Europe after the Fall of Constantinople. As far as I am aware of, the errors in the Codex are not seen very often in ancient manuscripts indicating that during the Classical Age and before, Greek was pronounced differently. We do know that Mycenaean Greek which used iconographs instead of an alphabet pronounced Greek differently with sounds that don’t exist anymore such as the digamma.


    1. marvis camat

      I think I once asked Daniel Wallace as to which epoch in history did the Greeks changed their pronunciations from ‘erasmian’ into modern? Thank you for mentioning the Mycenaean Greek which I think was represented by the epoch of Alexander the Great which were centuries before Christ. But based on the evidence I presented, it seems to me that the apostolic church were already using the modern greek pronunciation. AI and E sounded the same but not in ‘erasmian’. I’ll try to research again the book that contains the 3rd census, the one that followed the 2nd census recorded in Luke, the 3rd happened 14 years later after the 2nd, to see any occurence where verb forms ended in AI instead of E in the Present Active Indicative. The chief argument of all these, was whether the apostolic church pronounced their scriptures using the ‘erasmian’ or modern greek way of pronunciation. thank you.


      1. marvis camat

        i am now content to know that apostolic church must have pronounced their ellinika the modern way. without much comprehension or spelling accuracy, the scribes of sinaiticus and washingtonianus mispelled some of those that end with AI with E and vice versa. Some scholars believe that reading the manuscripts the ‘erasmian’ way give them the ambience of reading the way people read from the early church. It is almost the same case with the tetragrammaton, which some believe is pronounced as yahweh while others believe it is to be pronounced as jehovah as is written in the masoretic text such as the aleppo codex. The scribes translated into written form how they pronounced it, though I’m not confirming that they pronounced the name right, but it’s the relation of transference from vocal to writing that is to be looked at here. Some records say that jehovah was an invention sometime in 1400s but the discovery of the aleppo codex tells otherwise.


  13. I’m planning to start a “Greek club” or “1st year Greek class” at my church this fall, and all of these comments have been helpful to me. Thanks to Dr. Wallace and everyone who has commented, because now I feel comfortable in saying to the students that NO ONE knows how the early Christians pronounced their language, and that we are going to pronounce it MY way! : )

    I studied under the late Glen Riddle, whose koine Greek had a pronounced (!) Texan accent. Nevertheless, the beauty of the language and the text came through loud and clear in every class he taught. It would pay us to remember that Greek was, for many early Christians, a second language, as it was for Glen. It was almost certainly pronounced in a variety of ways, as some have commented above. What’s important for us is (1) the message, and (2) encouraging modern students to learn the language by giving them consistently pronounced words in teaching.

    Again, thanks.


  14. palaeophiliac amateur

    The reason Erasmian can seem ugly is that it is usually spoken very imperfectly with a heavy foreign accent by people who don’t really care about the pronunciation at all. Personally, I think Classical Attic as well ‘ideal’ Erasmian (basically Attic, but with Koine-like spirantisation) is a thousand times more aesthetically appealing and melodious than Modern Greek – the plenitude of diphthongs and long vowels, the rounded front ypsilon, the musical pitch accent all make it sound mellifluent, poetic, soft and fragrant, somewhat like Tolkien’s Elvish. In comparison, I find the staccato sound of modern Greek more harsh, pragmatic, simple and earthy, a bit like Spanish and like my own native tongue. The only thing I find more beautiful in modern Greek than in Classical is the spirantisation of the voiceless aspirated ph, th, ch.

    The reason Erasmian has been dominant is that traditionally, the priority was Classical Attic and not 1st century Koine; Aristotle and Pericles, not Jesus and Paul. For humanist scholars, Greek was above all the language of 5th and 4th century Athens and its contemporaries, just like the classical form of Greek culture was that of Athenian democracy, with its philosophy. It was the same for the Greeks themselves – apart from the venerable but highly deviant Iliad, the culture of the Athenian golden age and its immediate aftermath was the golden standard and all those coming afterwards were epigones; so it was natural that the ancient Greeks themselves chose to preserve incredibly faithfully the written form that corresponded to that time in terms of pronunciation as well as, mostly, of other features, even though their actual pronunciation was rapidly changing. In every respect Greek spelling retained the classical distinctions that were being lost – distinct vowel phonemes, length, pitch accent, aspiration. The ancient Greeks themselves didn’t choose to treat late Koine as a language and standard of its own, so it is hardly imperative that one should bother to pronounce it differently from the Greek of Aristophanes and Plato. On the other hand, students who, due to their interest in religion, are interested above all in ‘the language of Jesus/Paul’, not to mention the language of the Greek Orthodox tradition, have completely different priorities. Ultimately, the question is – do we treat the language of the New Testament as some kind of a standard of its own or just as a late form of the language of Homer and Socrates, the way its own users mostly did? I am not surprised that many New Testament scholars and devout Christians choose the former.

    From a practical point of view, of course, a reason to stick to 5th century Attic is that, as with Hebrew, a huge amount of sound alternations make phonetic sense only with the Classical pronunciation and are completely arbitrary with modern Greek one, or late Koine one, where they are preserved in a ‘frozen’, opaque form. It is natural that when we add the augment e- to akoúō and /e/ and /a/ merge, the result should be ḗkousa with a lengthened /e:/; it is just weird that it should be /i/ (/ikusa/). The fact that the combination of pi and spiritus asper in ep(i)- and -hēmérā produces ephēméros makes sense only if we pronounce spiritus asper as a /h/ and the resulting phi as an aspirated plosive /ph/; it’s just a random oddity if we don’t pronounce the spiritus asper at all and pronounce phi as a /f/, giving efimeros. The fact that different spellings correspond to different pronunciations, as they originally did, has already been mentioned frequently. And so on, and so on.


    1. I disagree with you in that Nea Ellinika (Modern Greek) sounds more softer than Erasmian and flows better. For example, “v” is much more pleasant than “b” for beta, so is “f” instead of “p -h” and “th” instead of “t-h” or “z” instead of “dz” etc. Take for example the epitaph of Seikilos (I know it was in Koine), the modern “Oson zis faenou..” sounds much more musical and pleasant than compared to the cacophony of Erasmaian “Hoson dzeis p-hainou….”.


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