Anyone who shares my interests in Qumran, early Judaism, and the New Testament should make sure to pick up Géza Vermès’ autobiography, Providential Accidents. Not only is it just a great human story about faith, scholarship, and the twists and turns of life, but it is also gives an insider’s perspective on the field of Biblical Studies and the sometimes weird and wonderful personalities that have graced that area of study.
I want to mention two things that stood out to me as being of interest to teachers of “dead” languages. First, Vermès recounts his days in seminary, where “philosophy and apologetics were taught in Latin” and he and his fellow students were required to “converse only in Latin during the morning break” (28). Later in Louvain, all the courses would be taught in Latin (57). Vermès himself would eventually be required to lecture in Latin as part of his doctoral examinations (82).
Flusser, the Polyglot
Second, and even more interesting to me, were Vermès’ comments about David Flusser, whom he met in Jerusalem and who was the first to hold a chair in Christian Origins at Hebrew University. Vermès writes: Flusser’s “favourite language of conversation was mediaeval Latin (which he practiced with the Jesuits), but I can add that New Testament Greek came close second” (87). What an interesting tidbit about a scholar who (so far as I can tell) took it upon himself to use Koine Greek conversationally! This is not to say that Flusser reached any level of meaningful conversational fluency in Greek, but simply to point out that he understood Koine Greek was a real language and should be approached as such, with the goal of getting “inside” it, or internalizing it. Can any of my readers perhaps add to this picture of Flusser?