A Side-by-Side Comparison of Brill’s GE and LSJM: Which is Better?

Words by Mike Aubrey, Photographs by Tavis Bohlinger

Both Brill’s new Dictionary of Ancient Greek (GE) and Liddell and Scott Greek–English Lexicon with Revised Supplement (LSJM) are more or less the same size and length. As a publishing decision, this introduces an important set of constraints upon GE’s editors, who must make various judgments, comprises, and decisions in what they choose to prioritize.

For example, the addition of any new words requires the removal of some material elsewhere, like citations—the number of Greek examples. Examining the sorts of decisions the editors and translators of GE judged as prudent in their work, then, becomes a valuable exercise for discovering the value of this new Greek dictionary.

I have been studying the Greek word ἰσχύω off and on for the past year. This verb has made a rather interesting case study for comparing the decisions the editors of our Greek dictionaries must make. Let us take a moment to see how Brill’s GE compares to the Logos edition of LSJM, stacked right next to each other.

We’ll examine a few variations of the same entry a few times, highlighting different elements with each one, including:

  • Structural/Organizational Differences
    • The presentation of verb forms and principal parts
    • Formatting of citations, Greek text, and translations
  • Differences in Lexicographical Content
    • Glosses/definitions
    • Syntactic information
    • Addition and subtraction of citations/lexical evidence

Here’s a sample page from each resource below. LSJM is from the Logos edition, placed next to an entry from GE that I retrieved from the print edition:

sample page of LSJ and GE

On the whole, Brill’s GE has a substantially cleaner layout compared to LSJM. Both the structure and organization of Brill’s dictionary entry are cleaner. Principal parts are separated out neatly with double vertical lines. GE also effectively differentiates where the principal parts end and the first sense begins.

Note also that the author/work abbreviations are larger and more readily interpretable without needing to look them up: S.Tr.234 in LSJM becomes SOPH. Tr. 234 in GE. All ancient authors are in SMALL CAPS and titles are italicized. Definitional glosses are distinguished by bold text in GE, while translations of citation examples are not.

This is a tremendous improvement from LSJM, where:

  1. There are few translated citations.
  2. The citations are all formatted identically regardless of function as gloss or definition.

Similarly, note the use of the single vertical line. These are for distinguishing subusages within a given lexical sense. The black arrow/triangle functions call out particular grammatical constructions relevant to a given sense. Thus, in this first sense A. for ἰσχύω it has a secondary transitive sense that takes a dative object (hence the dative form of τίς: τινι).

Again, LSJM notes some instances of grammatical constructions in its entries, but the information is not readily visible with a quick glance at the entry. The user is obligated to read through the whole entry until they find the relevant details.

physical copy of GE The Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek propped up against a wall at Oxford
Apart from its impressive depth and size, BrillDAG (GE) is known for the fragility of its binding (zoom in). The electronic Logos version solves this latter problem, while introducing instantaneous searchability and hyperlinks. Photo: Tavis Bohlinger

On a larger scale, there are some fascinating comparisons in terms of the content. Remember, Brill GE falls within the tradition of revision of LSJM itself, albeit with a few steps in between. In the next comparison, I highlight shared glosses in the same colors and diverging ones in green with white text glosses for LSJM and navy blue with white text for GE.

We find with ἰσχύω that there are a substantial number of glosses that carry over from LSJM, even with the translations and revisions in between. Of course, some of these glosses are fairly predictable and would be used regardless of the history of revision: to be strong is not something that would change even in a dictionary or lexicon that was produced wholly from scratch. In that context, it is perhaps the differences that are more interesting.

For example, the definitional glosses for sense 2 are completely different. Brill’s GE adds two new glosses, to be potent and be valid. It also raises up to have power from a translational gloss in LSJM (in red) to the level of a full definitional gloss. Conversely, LSJM’s gloss to be powerful loses its status as a definitional gloss but is retained as a translation for Demosthenes 2.9 (highlighted in light green below).

I won’t highlight all the differences here, but I would encourage readers to do so. It makes for a valuable exercise to compare how Brill’s GE has adapted and reorganized similar material as they have gone about their work of translation and revision. Be sure to note also the black arrows with additional grammatical constructions with prepositions and infinitives, too. This typographic feature also contributes to GE’s improved legibility and usability over LSJM.

comparison of references only in LSJ vs references only in GE

Most references in Brill GE are carried over directly from LSJM. But there are also 24 references in LSJM that the editors of GE have removed and an additional ten references they have added. Given that the majority of GE’s citations also include English translations, this seems like a quite practical trade-off. Students, in particular, will find using Brill GE far easier to use and understand than LSJ simply because of the ready availability of consistently translated citations.

The new citations, those highlighted in orange below, are predominantly post-classical, with a few exceptions such as the reference to Pindar at the top. On the other hand, the editors chose to remove LSJM’s three references to the papyri. This is surprising, given that papyri coverage is something the editors emphasize as having expanded. Additionally the reference to Emperor Justinian I from the 6th c. AD from LSJM’s 1996 Supplement is also nowhere to be found in Brill’s GE. The addition from the supplement, integrated into the Logos edition, is underlined below (the entirety of subsense 2c).

comparison of references only in LSJ vs references only in GE

All large-scale, broad-corpus Greek-English dictionaries are the product of a set of compromises. The editors of Brill’s Dictionary of Ancient Greek made a few important choices all the while working to maintain a total length roughly comparable to LSJM in terms of page count (2446 pages for LSJM vs. 2431 pages for GE). Some of these choices include:

  • More words and more historical coverage
  • More English translations
  • More human-readable abbreviations
  • Fewer citations to make room for these changes and expansions

If you’re a pastor or advanced student, you need a general Greek dictionary. BDAG is mostly excellent for the corpus it covers; but, oftentimes, uncommon words receive less explanation and discussion. Also, the moment you go beyond the corpus of early Christian literature, there is no guarantee that, even if there is an entry for a given Greek Koine word, a particular usage or context will be covered in BDAG.  When that happens, only a general dictionary such as LSJM or Brill’s GE is going to clarify whatever usage you’re dealing with.

Brill’s Dictionary of Ancient Greek makes major improvements over LSJM. If you’re a Greek student and find yourself wondering how a word is used beyond the New Testament—and beyond what BDAG provides, Brill GE is the best choice. It has excellent coverage, is easy to use, provides accessible citations and translation, and is generally far more usable.

Mike Aubrey is a professional linguist and the editor of Koine-Greek.com. He studied linguistics at the Canada Institute of Linguistics at Trinity Western University. Over the past eleven years, he has contributed to a wide variety of Greek and Hebrew language data projects and resources for Logos Bible Software, where he works as a Language Editor.


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