Beth Sheppard: Hangin’ with F. Wilbur Gingrich

Beth M. Sheppard, The Craft of History and the Study of the New Testament (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2012), 48-49:

As undergraduate students who majored in Greek, one of my classmates and I once had the privilege of spending an afternoon with [F. Wilbur] Gingrich. He was in his late eighties at the time of our visit but was a sprightly host. He was generously complimentary of his coworkers on the project but did express disappointment with the University of Chicago Press, which had retained copyright of the Lexicon on the grounds that they thought there would not be a big market for the book – at least that was his take on the situation. Gingrich wryly noted the irony that the press thought that it would need the royalties to pay the production costs and urged myself and another student guest to always remember to obtain copyright of any works we might write because one can never really judge market demand.

Words of wisdom aside, the most fascinating aspect of the meeting was a tour of Gingrich’s home office, which he was gracious to show us. The room was stacked floor to ceiling with shoeboxes filled with index cards, one for each entry in his section of the lexicon. He pulled out a few cards to show us the sort of notes that he had compiled. He chuckled and told my friend and me that even at that juncture he was still occasionally making additions to cards as he was reading classical literature.

At one point during the visit, my classmate asked Gingrich how many cards were used for the Greek word καὶ (“and”). This prompted our sagacious host to spend a few moments explaining the difference between a concordance project, where every instance of a word might be collected, and a lexicon, which requires “selection.” Furthermore, he told us that the interesting thing about lexicography was seeing how the meaning of words change over time, or how specifically Christian vocabulary could influence the vocabulary of later time periods. One thing was very clear from this visit. Gingrich was not a mere compiler of word lists but viewed himself as a historian in his own right who was delighted that his work was useful in helping students like us to access the New Testament in its original language.

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