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The Gospel of Matthew, Greek audiobook in Lucian

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I’m creating a Creative Commons audiobook of the Gospel of Matthew, narrated in the original Ancient Greek language, using Lucian Koine Greek pronunciation.

Audio and video materials

I am making YouTube video versions of the audiobook chapters, with text synced to the narration.

Here is the full YouTube playlist.

In addition, the audio files for each chapter will be posted publicly on Patreon.

Links to the audio for each chapter:

(I will also make the audio files downloadable somewhere, as a zip folder of mp3s, but at present I’m not sure where best to host this.)

About this project

This is a long-running project, started over a year ago in January 2021.

Back then my Greek pronunciation skills were not as developed as they are today, and I was aware that my oral proficiency was not where I wanted it to be. Nevertheless I started making rough recordings as a ‘first draft’ with the intention that I would return and make a more polished version later, when my skills had improved. This time has now come.

Between 2021 and now, it’s been a big year for language learning for me, in which I adopted more communicative ways of learning and teaching ancient languages. I feel that my oral skills have improved a lot (although I know that I will continue to improve as a lifetime learner of the language).

I changed my dominant Ancient Greek pronunciation scheme not once but twice during the drafting of this project and finally settled on Lucian pronunciation. More about why I chose Lucian pronunciation below.

I’m using the Nestle-Aland 1904 text, which is the most recent critical edition that is also in the public domain. Many thanks to the Nestle 1904 Greek New Testament website for making this text available.

Goals

A major goal of mine is to make Latin and especially Ancient Greek more accessible to more people. One of the barriers to learning ancient languages is the relatively scarcity of media, especially audio and video, that could help us internalise the languages. The Greek New Testament, and especially the Gospels, are relatively easy to read compared to the majority of Ancient Greek literature, and are therefore well suited as extensive reading material for late-beginners to intermediate learners of the language. Creating high quality audiobooks of the Greek New Testament would open up more options for Greek learners of all faith backgrounds to internalise the workings of Ancient Greek and improve their fluency in the language.

Another goal is specifically to improve Ancient Greek fluency among people who learned Koine Greek in seminary school and who wish to retain their Greek. The biblical languages, Greek and Hebrew, are often taught as required subjects for biblical exegesis, but for the majority of students, very little of the languages is remembered after seminary school. This is a shame, since (like any ancient text) the bible in its original languages has a kind of beauty and expressive power that you would never be able to truly feel and appreciate in the various English translations. But for Christians it’s not just an ancient text – we read the bible for it to speak into our lives and for God to make himself known to us. Translations are good to an extent, as they can be accurate at conveying the same meaning as the original, but they will never be able to capture the same feel, tone of voice, impressions, word play, sound play, and subjective experience as hearing or reading scripture in the original languages. Part of the goals of the Matthew audiobook project is to provide more opportunities for seminarians and ex-seminarians to experience and appreciate the beauty of scripture in Ancient Greek, to retain more of the Ancient Greek language, and continue growing in it as as life-long learners.

A third goal is to be able to produce works that encourage the proliferation of other learner materials. Ancient Greek is in a kind of self-perpetuating resource famine. A lot of talent and new pedagogy of ancient languages is being poured into Latin, but its sister Ancient Greek lies neglected and poor in learner resources. Since relatively fewer people gain fluency in Ancient Greek due to the lack of resources, fewer people are around to make resources and the vicious cycle continues. I am releasing this audiobook in the Creative Commons to make it maximally accessible but also to allow for it to be modified and re-used in other projects that may benefit from audio materials, such as video projects, learner software, or anything else in the future. I want to make it easier for other people to produce quality learner materials in Ancient Greek.

Creative Commons Licence

The Gospel of Matthew (Lucian pronunciation) audiobook project is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

How is this different from other recordings of Matthew/the NT?

The entire Greek New Testament has been recorded in Modern Greek pronunciation in the public domain, and the Gospel of Matthew has been recorded in Buth’s Historical Koine reconstructed pronunciation, though not in the public domain.

This project is distinct from the other two as it is in Lucian pronunciation.

The only other recorded New Testament audiobook in Lucian pronunciation is Luke Ranieri’s Gospel of John trilingual audiobook, which is sold on his shopify.

Why Lucian pronunciation?

There are several competing pronunciation schemes for Ancient Greek.

Erasmian (perhaps the least deserving of all pronunciation schemes) is dominant in tertiary institutions in the West. Erasmian arbitrarily chooses combinations of phonemes from different time periods to create a version of Greek that sounds distinctly Western European and was never spoken by a historical native Greek speaking population.

On the other hand, historically valid pronunciation schemes include reconstructed Attic, Lucian, Buth’s Koine, and Modern Greek.

Attic, frozen in time from 500BC Athens, would sound quite different to the various Koine pronunciations circulating in Palestine in the time of the New Testament. Choosing a later pronunciation for a text isn’t as jarring as choosing earlier pronunciation, since the audience of an ancient text includes those who received it and appreciated it in later generations. But choosing a pronunciation (i.e. Attic) that came and went hundreds of years before this text was written would feel odd. It would be as weird as reading Harry Potter in Shakespearean OP. Our remaining options for historically appropriate schemes would be Lucian, Buth’s Koine, and Modern Greek.

While Modern Greek and Buth’s Koine are valid historical choices for reading the Greek New Testament, my problem with learning and teaching with these later pronunciation schemes is that they contain features which restrict their usefulness and applicability to earlier forms of Ancient Greek literature, specifically quantitative poetry.

Modern Greek and Buth’s Koine lack phonemic vowel length, ignore doubled consonants, and depend on a stress-accent system which is not compatible with quantitative poetry of the Classical and Hellenistic periods. One could still read the poetry in those pronunciation schemes, but the quantity-based rhythm system would be lost.

One might object, ‘There is no quantitative poetry in the Greek New Testament, so what’s the problem?’ The problem is that limiting teaching to ‘only what occurs in New Testament Greek’ or ‘Christian Greek’ or ‘Koine’ contributes to the fracturing of our learning community. On one side there are the Atticists with Classical training (and, more often than I would admit, elitist attitudes) who turn their noses up on seminary students who are learning ‘baby Greek’, and on the other side are some NT scholars working in silos, who may never have read a sentence of Greek outside the tiny corpus of the NT and yet might act as authorities on the semantic range of words in Ancient Greek.

The divide between Classical Greek scholarship and Christian Greek scholarship is deeply unhelpful for both sides, and has served to make the learner resource famine even worse for everyone. Fundamentally, Koine is a form of Attic Greek and these historical dialects form a continuous, mutually intelligible language. Classical students would benefit hugely from reading the long, easy-to-digest, narrative passages in the New Testament. In turn, seminary students would benefit from knowing first-hand what NT Koine sounds like in comparison to other writing styles, other dialects, other time periods, and I would love if they could feel more comfortable with venturing outside reading only Koine texts even if these may not be the focus of their studies.

I choose Lucian pronunciation as my dominant pronunciation scheme because it offers the highest degree of compatibility with both Classical and Koine texts, and thus offers the greatest opportunity for both secular and Christian students to learn from a wider variety of texts and learn from each other.

Lucian also has a growing set of materials made for learning through comprehensible input. These include Luke Ranieri’s Ancient Greek in Action series, his recordings of both the English and Italian versions of Athenaze, his recordings of the novella Ὁ Κατάσκοπος (The Spy), and other learner-friendly materials such as my dubs of Alpha with Angela‘s Comprehensible spoken Ancient Greek course.

A more subjective reason I chose Lucian is because of its aesthetic qualities. It comes with a full set of fricatives, including β, δ, γ, and χ which to my ear impart a lovely velvety sound. The way it does οι is so delightfully subtle; it’s still separate from the other phonemes but it’s coming perilously close to υ. It is also quite nice to be able to clearly distinguish κ from χ, something which I seemed to mix up a lot in both Erasmian pronunciation and in my pronunciation of earlier historical dialects that rely on the aspirated/unaspirated contrast. And I like the rhythmic and musical quality that arises when both syllable quantity and pitch accent are respected. It sounds different from Latin, and I like that; I think it sounds more authentic with all of these cool little details and transitional sounds.

Lucian may not currently be the biggest player in the pronunciation wars, but I think it has a lot going for it and has the potential to bring people from different disciplines and faith backgrounds together. It helps bridge the divide between the Classical, Hellenistic, and later Koine literature by being flexibly useful for both the biblical setting as well as for Attic texts as received by later generations, and Classical and Hellenistic poetry.

You can learn more about Lucian pronunciation from this video here.

Ancillary materials

I have modified the Nestle-Aland 1904 Greek New Testament text in the following ways:

  1. Added macrons
  2. Added quote marks « » around direct speech
  3. Removed smooth breathings

These are mainly punctuation mark-up changes that have no impact on the meaning of the text, but which make it more readable to human eyeballs.

  • Macrons are there for my uses in pronouncing quantities – they probably are a bit overkill for a biblical text, but I’m nerdy about it and I want to have them written in.
  • The quote marks make passages with direct speech more readable.
  • The removal of smooth breathings makes rough breathings more readable.

I haven’t finished editing the whole text of Matthew, but when I have, I’ll make my edited version available here, in case anyone wants to read from it.

In the process of removing smooth breathings, my husband and I created a digital tool that removes all word-initial smooth breathings automatically, performing 117 character substitutions instantly. (It also has the capability of putting them all back in, should the need arise.) We are in the process of developing a website version of this tool, but we want to make sure it’s reliable before releasing it to the public.

Would you consider making other NT audiobooks?

Yes. Once Matthew is done, I’d be tempted to do Luke and Acts. It may take some time but it would be worth it. I’m open to suggestions too.