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What exactly is non-biblical Koine?

Are you learning Koine Greek, the Greek of the New Testament and most other post-classical Greek texts? Whatever your level, use this forum to discuss all things Koine, Biblical or otherwise, including grammar, textbook talk, difficult passages, and more.

What exactly is non-biblical Koine?

Postby Altair » Wed Jul 26, 2017 2:37 am

I recently realized that I am a little confused about the title of this subforum and what was actually written in Koine Greek outside of the Bible. In Wikipedia, I read that Plutarch and Polybius wrote in Koine. Is that true? Are works like the Art of Grammar by Dionysius Thrax considered to be written in Koine?

I understand that some form of Koine became the spoken language in most places and was used in writing for everyday purposes, but was it also used for “serious literary” purposes as well, outside of government proclamations like those on the Rosetta stone? How much of “literary” Koine is represented merely by the Bible itself?

I think I have gone through a few Koine-specific grammars that mention things like reduced use of the optative. Are such things basically what is used to define Koine as Koine? I am also aware that some “late” authors tried to imitate what they felt to be good classical Attic style. Were the works of such authors still considered to be Koine?

The Latin Golden and Silver Ages seem to be defined partly on style and grammar and partly simply on the year the works were written in. Should I assume more or less the same for “Koine”?
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Re: What exactly is non-biblical Koine?

Postby Hylander » Wed Jul 26, 2017 3:20 am

Koine is simply a designation for Attic Greek as it evolved after Alexander and spread throughout the Greek world. Written koine is basically an evolution of Attic Greek, with some simplifications such as reduced use of the optative and some changes in the vocabulary such as the substitution of nouns with standard declensions for older words with irregularities, e.g. πλοιον for ναυς. By the time koine emerged, a form of Attic Greek had become widespread throughout the Greek world, at least in literate environments, but the language did not cease to evolve, just as English today is different from the English written and spoken in the early 19th century.

But koine is a catch-all term, and there were many registers -- formal, popular, sub-literary, etc., and regional variations. Since the books of the New Testament were written in Greek after the death of Alexander, they are said to be written in koine, although there are substantial differences in language among the various books. So the books of the New Testament represent different types of koine. Sometimes the term "koine" is used to mean "New Testament Greek," but that is doubly misleading because koine really encompasses much more than the New Testament, and the New Testament itself doesn't consist of a single type or dialect of koine Greek.

Polybius, in the 2d c. BCE, I think, was the first major author whose work has survived to write in koine--that is, he decided not to make an effort to model his language on the Greek of 5th-4th century Attic prose. Later, in the Roman period, writers such as Plutarch and Galen also chose to write in contemporary Greek, and not in a self-consciously Atticizing language. But anyone who knows Attic Greek can read these authors with no more difficulty than Plato or Lysias or Demosthenes.

However, there were always writers who chose to model their language on Attic Greek. In particular, there was a major revival of Attic Greek in the 2d century CE (sometimes referred to today as the "Second Sophistic"), by writers such as Aelius Aristides and Lucian, that is, they tried, with considerable success, to use the grammar and syntax of Attic Greek, and to avoid vocabulary not found in the major Attic authors.

"Atticism" continued well into the Byzantine period, even as the spoken language moved further and further away from the Attic of classical Athens. Procopius (6th c. CE) is a case in point. As a historian, he tried to write in Thucydidean Greek, to the point where he felt compelled to describe churches and explain what they are in pure Attic Greek as if he were writing for a 4th c. BCE readership about strange and alien institutions.
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Re: What exactly is non-biblical Koine?

Postby opoudjis » Tue Oct 03, 2017 3:06 am

As a historian, he tried to write in Thucydidean Greek, to the point where he felt compelled to describe churches and explain what they are in pure Attic Greek as if he were writing for a 4th c. BCE readership about strange and alien institutions.


A tradition continued in Greek Prose Composition, I note; I was just leafing through Sidgwick's lectures, and he grimaces about there being no Ancient Greek word for Catholic...

... :shock:

(katholikos may not have meant the same to Thucydides, or indeed even to Photius, as Greeks called Western Christians "Latins" as long as possible—and differentiated the Italian loanword katólikos from katholikós right through to the 18th century. But still!)

Laudably, the larger-scale efforts to write in Ancient Greek the last century or so have noticed that a version of Greek is still spoken, and has some vocabulary to offer...
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Re: What exactly is non-biblical Koine?

Postby ariphron » Wed Oct 04, 2017 12:15 pm

Koine refers to a language based originally on Attic Greek that developed written and spoken forms which eventually became dominant throughout the Levant for communicating between speakers of different languages/dialects. It is often considered that Xenophon marks the beginning of written Koine, for although he spoke no doubt with a very pure Athenian accent, he had extensive travels and contacts with people (especially soldiers) from all over Greece, and he incorporated a great deal of non-Attic idiom and vocabulary into his writings.

In pronunciation, the main event that would have separated Koine from Attic was the Hellenistic teaching of Greek as a foreign language. Sounds that were subtle or hard to explain in the Attic pronunciation were abandoned and gradually replaced by a spelling pronunciation which eventually led to the standardized Byzantine pronunciation.

Here's an analogy from German. The bulk of the idiom of Modern Standard German is carried over from Middle High German, which was based on Bavarian and Swabian dialects. The spelling, however, reflects the pronunciation of the Saxon dialect that Martin Luther spoke. However, the most prestigious pronunciation of Standard German is not the Saxon, but the Hannoverian spelling pronunciation. Respected contemporary writers in German can be compared to Plutarch and similar Koine writers. There are also immigrant communities in Germany that speak their own forms of colloquial German, known as Kiezdeutsch. New Testament Greek might be compared to written Kiezdeutsch; or at least Mark can — Paul wrote a form of Koine that shows he learned grammatical rules for putting together complex formal prose, even if he didn't quite master their style.
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Re: What exactly is non-biblical Koine?

Postby Altair » Wed Oct 25, 2017 9:41 pm

Thanks for all the replies, especially the information on Polybius and Atticism. I think I was sure what I was actually asking for, but I think the center of by doubt what was whether it was professionally permissible to write in Koine for serious matters. I think I understand the situation much more clearly

I was just leafing through Sidgwick's lectures, and he grimaces about there being no Ancient Greek word for Catholic...

... :shock:

(katholikos may not have meant the same to Thucydides, or indeed even to Photius, as Greeks called Western Christians "Latins" as long as possible—and differentiated the Italian loanword katólikos from katholikós right through to the 18th century. But still!)

Laudably, the larger-scale efforts to write in Ancient Greek the last century or so have noticed that a version of Greek is still spoken, and has some vocabulary to offer...


I love this for capturing some of the feeling behind the choice of language varieties.

I like studying classical languages and have given significant study to Old English, Old Irish, Arabic, and Chinese, among others. In the case of English and Chinese, I know of a clear break from "classical use" to a more modern variety. Arabic has not had such a clear break. In both Irish and Greek, there seems to be a fade out and a fade in without very clear boundaries. I know a very little of Demotic Greek and almost no Katharevousa, and so know next to nothing about the linguistic development of written formal Greek between 1453 and 1900, but at least now I can make some guesses about what happened between Alexander's conquests and 1453 :wink:

There are also immigrant communities in Germany that speak their own forms of colloquial German, known as Kiezdeutsch. New Testament Greek might be compared to written Kiezdeutsch
I know some German and am somewhat familiar with the rule Luther's biblical translation had in creating standard German.

After reading your post, I read through the article on Immigrantendeutsch on the German Wikipedia' and understood about 80 percent. Is this form of German really considered an acceptable form of German outside of highly informal situations? Do you happen to have a sample you could write or link to? I am quite familiar with some forms of creolized English, but these are from communities with quite distinct histories or geographic separation.
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