Baker Academic

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Devil Taught Him Greek - Le Donne

I have been reading Stanley Porter's How We Got the New Testament today to my great enjoyment. This book draws you in. For example, Porter begins by recounting a story about Scottish Theologian, John Brown (1722–1787).  As a boy, Brown was a shepherd from a poor family, but he was also a prodigy who taught himself Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.  Drawing from a story told by A. T. Robertson, Porter tells of how Brown got his hands on his first Greek New Testament.

Brown had heard that a bookstore in St. Andrews was selling a copy. Brown walks all day from his family's farm to purchase this book.
"What would you do wi' that book? You'll no can read it," the bookstore owner said. "I'll try to read it," John humbly replied. There happened to be some professors who had entered the shop, and they heard  this short conversation. One of the professors, probably Francis Pringle, professor of Greek at the university, asked the bookstore owner to fetch the Greek New Testament. Tossing it on the counter, he said, "Boy, if you can read that book, you shall have it for nothing." 
No doubt there was a lightness in John Brown's step as he walked all the way back from St. Andrews that day, new Greek New Testament tucked under his arm. He had eagerly taken up the book, read out a passage to the amazement of everyone there, including Pringle, and turned and walked out the door, his prize firmly in grasp.
Brown eventually gets into trouble.  It seems that superstition fueled by anti-intellectualism has a longstanding tradition in Christianity:
Some other young men became jealous of this shepherd who was becoming an accomplished scholar. These young men were studying for the ministry in the area, and one of them accused John of having gotten his knowledge from the devil.... Not only did he know Latin and Greek, but he also taught himself Hebrew. His increased knowledge lead to increased suspicion, with even his own pastor agreeing that witchcraft explained John's knowledge.
This is just the sort of reading that one desires on the last day of SBL when the book room is being broken down and a long flight is looming.