Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Book Review: Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek: Part 2

In the first review on Campbell's new book on aspect, I covered the introduction and chapters 1 and 2. In this review, I want to finish the first half of the book by giving a overview of chapters 3, 4, and 5.

Chapter 3 of Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek deals with perfective aspect, which Campbell calls the external viewpoint. The main tense form that Campbell defines as perfective is the aorist tense. After giving a few examples to illustrate his point, Campbell tackles the issue of whether or not the aorist tense-form is a past tense. He concludes that since the aorist is not always past tense, citing Mark 1:11 to prove this point, the context must be used to determine if an aorist verb is indeed past tense. Further, Campbell argues that "remoteness" is a better way of understanding the aorist than always past tense. This is the way, according to Campbell, the aorist is the back bone of narrative. The aorist gives the nuts and bolts of the story while other forms are used to give details of the story.

In chapter 4 Campbell discusses imperfective aspect. This aspect is to be understood as an internal viewpoint, as though the action is happening right before your eyes. The present tense is the tense-form that fits into this category of aspect. Further, the present tense gives a sense of "proximity." In narrative, the present is often found in discourse, this could be due to the fact that discourse is done when near another. The last feature of the present tense that Campbell addresses is the phenomenon of the historical present. In the New Testament, the present tense is often used to denote a past action. In other words, the New Testament often uses the present tense-form to speak of an action in the past. This is done to highlight the imperfective aspect of the verbal action.

Chapter 5, one of the more difficult chapters, deals with the problem of the perfect. The problem is that the perfect is difficult, if not impossible, to define. One solution offered by Stanley Porter to the problem of the perfect is to view the perfect as stative with regard to aspect, which is defined as a general state of affairs. However, Campbell does not like this solution because it is difficult to get a precis definition and it does not find a parallel in any other language. Instead, Campbell opts for the solution that states that the perfect is to be understood as imperfective in aspect, viewed from within. Further, he argues that the perfect is distinguished from other verb forms with imperfective aspect by stating that the perfect has a heightened sense of proximity.

Although I do not agree fully with all of Campbell's conclusions, most notably, his solution to the perfect problem, his book is outstanding. He is a great writer who is able to take a very complicated subject and make it very easy to understand and for that he and this book are to be commended.

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