Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2015.08.22 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2015.08.22

Bradley H. McLean, Hellenistic and Biblical Greek: A Graduated Reader.   New York:  Cambridge University Press, 2014.  Pp. xxxiv, 509.  ISBN 9781107686281.  $39.99 (pb).  

Reviewed by Mark Glen Bilby, Claremont School of Theology (


This text fills a major gap in the available scholarly literature for the pedagogy of Hellenistic Greek, especially for students of Judaism and Christianity in antiquity. While numerous Greek readers, extracts, selections, chrestomathies, and anthologies have appeared over the past few hundred years, none explores the breadth of Jewish and Christian Hellenistic Greek literature more ably, thoroughly, and expertly than does this one. Many readers simply provide excerpts with little in the way of historical and literary introduction, grammatical notes, or vocabulary lists, but McLean provides these for every text. (Indeed, these supplements are so well-written that this reader could easily double as a sourcebook for the study of ancient Judaism and Christianity!) Though many Greek readers are not structured or populated with developmental educational concerns in mind, this one is carefully constructed to start simple, work gradually up to much more difficult samples, and build cumulative vocabulary competency throughout. And while other readers typically select from a narrow range of texts, whether in terms of canonicity, authorship, or genre, McLean’s selections prove diverse in all of these respects.

For McLean, this breadth is thoughtful and indeed crucial. Readers that rely overmuch on the canonical texts do today’s students a special disservice, since many know the English translations ahead of time and are likely to use computer programs and websites to shortcut the mental work of grammatical recognition, analysis and translation. Those that confine themselves to certain literary genres or forms (e.g., historiography or epistolary) leave students ill-prepared for understanding the highly varied ways that vocabulary and grammar can function in different contexts. The argument embedded in the structure of McLean’s reader arises out of his decades of teaching Greek to students at the University of Toronto, not to mention his efforts to create an introductory textbook in New Testament Greek1 and his excellent and well-reviewed studies of Hellenistic and Roman-era Greek epigraphy.2

An elaboration of the contents illustrates this book’s pedagogical intent and effectiveness.

Chapter 1. Basic Level: Early Christian Texts (1–67). This chapter includes excerpts from the Didache, the Gospel of Luke, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mark, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, the Protoevangelium of James, the Gospel of Peter, and the Revelation of John.
Chapter 2. Basic Level: the Isometric Translational Greek of the Septuagint (69–94). This chapter includes excerpts from LXX Genesis, 1 Kings, Jeremiah, Amos, Exodus, and Isaiah.
Chapter 3. Intermediate Level: Jewish Recensional Greek (95–140). This chapter includes excerpts from LXX 1 Esdras, Esther, 1 Maccabees, Job, Daniel, 1 Enoch, and the Life of Adam and Eve.
Chapter 4. Intermediate-Level Hellenistic Greek (141–183). This chapter includes excerpts from diplomatic and military papyri, Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, 1–2 Corinthians, Philippians, and Romans.
Chapter 5. High-Intermediate-Level Hellenistic Greek (185–259). This chapter includes excerpts from Acts, a papyrus magical handbook, Barnabas, the Martyrdom of Polycarp, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Acts of Paul, and the Acts of Thomas.
Chapter 6. Advanced-Level Hellenistic Greek: Jewish Literary Greek (261–300). This chapter includes excerpts from 2 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, Philo, the Testament of Reuben, and Ezekiel the Tragedian.
Chapter 7. Inscriptions (301–384). This chapter includes excerpts from religious, associational, and civic inscriptions from sites in Greece, Delos, Kos, and Asia Minor.
Chapter 8. Advanced-Level Hellenistic Greek: Atticizing and Literary Greek (385–421). This chapter includes excerpts from Philostratus, Epicurus, Epictetus, and Poimandres.

There is also a free, online Digital supplement which provides an additional 142 pages (!) of excerpts. This supplement also serves as an excellent sample of the book’s general content and layout.

Most of this reviewer’s concerns pertain to the book’s layout, something for which the author likely had little creative control. The excerpts sometimes span several pages, with orphan and widow lines occasionally appearing. The same is true of the vocabulary lists, which would have been better placed in the footnotes section directly underneath the part of the excerpt to which the specific words pertain. A slightly larger Greek font would have facilitated greater legibility.

As is expected in a book of this detail and length, some typographical errors appear. For example, there are two headings labeled “Text” on p. 82, and in the digital supplement there is an extra line break (p. e26), a missing period (p. 53 n1), an incorrect repetition of a footnote (19 and 20 on p. e69), and a Greek word incorrectly rendered in a Latin font (p. e86, n64).

The most puzzling bit in the book appeared on p. 6. Here the author states that the Nestle-Aland critical edition is merely “conjectural in character” and uses this as justification to abandon the use of the standard critical edition of the Greek text of several of Paul’s letters in favor of a simple transliteration of excerpts from Papyrus Chester Beatty 46. Thankfully, nowhere else in the volume is the use of collated critical editions so explicitly deplored or neglected. Still, this reviewer could not locate any clear indication of the critical text used for the New Testament Gospels of Mark, Luke, and John. The Gospels texts and their punctuation do not consistently follow either the UBS4/NA27 or the SBL Critical Edition (Holmes).

Concerns about the critical edition(s) of New Testament texts aside, this text is thoughtfully conceived and brilliantly executed. In both content and structure, it makes a major contribution to the teaching of Hellenistic Greek. It is highly recommended as a primary or supplemental textbook for second-year or higher undergraduate and/or graduate Greek courses. It is especially well-suited for students specializing in the study of Christianity and Judaism in antiquity.


1.   Bradley H. McLean, New Testament Greek: an Introduction (Cambridge and New York, 2011), reviewed in BMCR 2012.12.26
2.   Bradley H. McLean, Greek and Latin Inscriptions in the Konya Archaeological Museum (London, 2002); Bradley H. McLean, An Introduction to Greek Epigraphy of the Hellenistic and Roman Periods: From Alexander the Great to the Reign of Constantine (323 BC–AD 337) (Ann Arbor, 2002), reviewed in BMCR 2009.12.38.

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