Tag Archives: Gospels

Saldarini, Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees in Palestinian Society: A Sociological Approach (1988)

Anthony J. Saldarini, Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees in Palestinian Society: A Sociological Approach (1988)

Thesis: In Roman Palestine, the Pharisees and scribes were low-level bureaucrats (members of the retainer class, not the middle class, which did not exist in antiquity), and the Sadducees were members of the governing class (though not all members of the governing class were Sadducees).

Chapter 1, “The Problem of Jewish Groups in Palestine,” situates Saldarini’s work among other scholarly reconstructions of the Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees. He argues that previous work has been misled by the assumption that people in antiquity saw religion and politics as two separate spheres of life (they did not) and that ancient societies had an upper, middle, and lower class like modern industrial societies (they had an upper class and a lower class; most people lived within the lower classes).

Chapter 2, “A Sociological Approach,” outlines Saldarini’s methodology. He uses social functionalism as his theoretical framework, though he acknowledges its faults. He then examines the nature of class and power in ancient society, adapting Weber’s triad of class, status, and power to Roman society, where classes were “legally defined categor[ies] which possessed clearly defined privileges and disabilities and which stood in hierarchical relationship to other orders” (27), though they declined in importance over time.

Chapter 3, “Social Classes in Palestinian Jewish Society and the Roman Empire,” summarizes Gerhard Lenski’s model of the social classes of agrarian empires (like the Roman Empire). Lenski sees nine classes in agrarian imperial societies, which Saldarini uses as a guide to Palestinian society under the Romans:

  1. The ruler, who “had far reaching power and was sometimes considered to be the owner of all the land” (40).
  2. The governing class: 1-2% of the population; “made up of both hereditary aristocrats and appointed bureaucrats” (40). The Sadducees were members of this group.
  3. The retainer class: “perhaps 5% of the population” (41) who served the elites but were not elites themselves. The Pharisees and scribes belonged to this class, as did low-level officials like tax collectors.
  4. The merchant class, which was somewhat liminal; merchants were not landowners (and, thus, were not elites), but were not under the direct authority of the elites, like peasants were.
  5. The priestly class, which was landless, but which controlled significant wealth and had power independently of the governing class.
  6. The peasants: “the bulk of the population” (43), who were very strictly controlled by the governing class. Their main role was to produce food for the high-ranked members of society, who taxed their food production “typically at the rate of 30-70% of the crop” (43).
  7. The artisan class, about 3-7% of the population, were not a middle class (as in industrial societies), but rather earned low wages and enjoyed very little power. Jesus, Paul, Peter, Andrew, James, and John were from this class.
  8. The unclean class: essentially artisans who performed “noxious but necessary tasks” (44) like tanning or mining.
  9. The expandable class (5-10% of the population): people who had been forced off their land and who lived as outlaws on the fringes of society. Most messianic claimants and their followers were from this class.

Chapter 4, “Social Relations and Groups in Palestine,” examines the nature and origins of social groups in Hellenistic/Roman Palestine. Saldarini gleans from social network theory to show how honor-shame and patron-client relationships were at work both within and between social groups. He also argues that the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes probably formed in the same way as Hellenistic voluntary associations—though, after they formed, they also had sectarian features. Saldarini explains Palestinian groups via Bryan Wilson’s typology of sects:

  1. The conversionist seeks emotional transformation now, with salvation presumed to follow in the future after evil has been endured. Because of alienation from society a new community is formed. Early Christians fit this type.
  2. The revolutionist awaits the destruction of the social order by divine forces. Apocalyptic groups fit this type.
  3. The introversionist withdraws from the world into a purified community. The Essenes fit this type.
  4. The manipulationist seeks happiness by a transformed subjective orientation which will control evil. The gnostics fit this type.
  5. The thaumaturgical response seeks relief from specific ills by special, not general dispensation. Magicians and healers with their followers fit this type.
  6. The reformist seeks gradual, divinely revealed alterations in society. The Pharisees and Jesus with his disciples probably fit this type.
  7. The utopian seeks to reconstruct the world according to divine principles without revolution (72; emphasis original; list formatted for readability).

Chapter 5, “The Pharisees and Sadducees as Political Interest Groups in Josephus”: Saldarini begins with Josephus’ biography, before surveying Josephus’ treatment of the Pharisees and Sadducees in the War, Antiquities, and Life. He concludes that the Pharisees and Sadducees were both small political interest groups, and that the Pharisees belonged to the retainer class, while the Saducees were from the governing class. Not all retainers were Pharisees, however, nor were all governors Sadducees.

Chapter 6, “Josephus’ Descriptions of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” builds off of the previous chapter’s argument, giving further information about the Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ roles as political action groups. This chapter also argues, contra Neusner, that Josephus did not have a pro-Pharisaic bias in the Antiquities.

Chapter 7, “Paul the Pharisee”: This brief (10-page) chapter complements the picture of the Pharisees drawn from Josephus. Paul’s identity as a Pharisee shows that Pharisaism was present in the Diaspora, whereas Josephus only places the Pharisees in Jerusalem. Paul also mentions Pharisaism in conjunction with disputes about purity laws, showing that the Pharisees probably made purity regulations one of their defining boundary markers. Paul’s letters show him to be a decently well-educated member of the artisan class with some connections to the upper classes; Acts moves him up to the retainer class.

Chapter 8, “The Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees in Mark and Matthew”: In Mark, the Pharisees are located almost exclusively in Galilee (as opposed to Josephus’ portrait of them living exclusively in Jerusalem) and have connections with other groups, like the Herodians. They are a politically active group, and are concerned with purity regulations. The scribes appear both in Jerusalem and in Galilee, but are more often located in Jerusalem; they were teachers who were known and esteemed among the people in both places, and their disputes with Jesus mostly concerned Jesus’ authority to teach. The Sadducees appear once, as members of a controversy over the doctrine of resurrection. In Matthew, the Pharisees are present both in Judea and the Galilee. The scribes, as in Mark, are teachers who are concerned with Jesus’ authority to teach; however, as “spokesmen for Judaism” (160) rather than for specific Jewish groups, the scribes are less politically active than in Mark.

Chapter 9, “The Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees in Luke-Acts and John”: In Luke, the Pharisees are a Galilean group that is disconnected from other Jewish political groups; the scribes have no clearly defined role; and he introduces a new Jewish group, the lawyers. In Acts, Pharisees appear as members of the Sanhedrin, where they argue with Sadducees over the concept of resurrection. The scribes again have no clearly defined role other than opposing the apostles. The Sadducees are leaders in Jerusalem. In John, “the Pharisees function both as government officials and as the learned doctors of the law who are interested in Jesus’ teaching and dispute its truth” (188). They are located in both Jerusalem and Galilee. The scribes and Sadducees do not appear in John.

Chapter 10, “The Pharisees and Sadducees in Rabbinic Literature,” critiques using rabbinic sources to describe the historical Pharisees and Sadducees, because the rabbinic authors use those groups for their own polemical purposes. Nevertheless, some information can be gleaned from these texts, for instance that Pharisaic leaders, like Hillel and Gamaliel, very probably existed, though they did not have the wide-reaching power that has been ascribed to them. Next, Saldarini discusses the origins and meanings of the names Pharisee and Sadducee, arguing that the typical etymologies do not sufficiently explain how the groups got their names. He also briefly discusses the Boethusians, who were probably a priestly group.

Chapter 11, “The Social Roles of Scribes in Jewish Society,” gives a history of scribes in Egypt and Israel, as well as how scribal activity shaped the Hebrew Bible. Scribes appear throughout Jewish literature filling various roles and occupying different social positions. Saldarini argues that, in Roman Palestine, a “scribe” was not a member of a unified political group, but was simply a literate individual in the service of a community leader. In the gospels, most scribes belong to the retainer class.

Chapter 12, “The Place of the Pharisees in Jewish Society,” argues that the Pharisees filled many social roles in Roman Palestine, including:

  • A political action group.
  • A reform movement.
  • A network of people mostly from the retainer class, struggling for power and influence.
  • A religious sect focused on ritual purity, using written texts and oral traditions as the basis of their beliefs.
  • A Greek-style philosophical school.

As a whole, they held beliefs that were distinct from other Jewish groups of the time, like the Sadducees and Essenes. However, they were also divided into factions—for example, the houses of Hillel and Shammai. It is also likely, contra Josephus, that some Pharisees lived in Galilee.

Chapter 13, “The Sadducees and Jewish Leadership,” argues that “the Sadducees were an established and well recognized group of first century Jews” (302) who were members of the governing class. However, not all governors were Sadducees. The Sadducees held to tradition more tightly than the Pharisees, using only the Torah as their sacred text and rejecting doctrinal innovations from the Persian and Hellenistic periods, like the doctrine of resurrection. The Sadducees’ history is “obscure” (305), and the sources available do not permit definite conclusions about the group’s origins.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (1997)

Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (1997)

This book is an introductory textbook on the New Testament, most suitable for a seminary-level introductory course. Since it is an introductory text, the book does not have any real thesis; its goal is to present the material that has already been produced, rather than to argue anything new. It is organized into four parts with two appendices. Part I deals with “Preliminaries for Understanding the New Testament”; Part II is an overview of the Gospels and NT books related to the Gospels (Acts and the Johannine Epistles); Part III covers the Pauline epistles (including the deutero-Paulines); Part IV deals with “the other New Testament writings” (Hebrews, the Petrine Epistles, Jude, and Revelation). Appendix 1 is an overview of historical Jesus research from 1780 to the present; Appendix 2 is a survey of “Jewish and Christian Writings Pertinent to the NT.”

Part I consists of five chapters. Chapter 1 contains a brief description of what the term “New Testament” implies (it implies that the NT literature is the sequel to, and fulfillment of, the literature in the Hebrew Bible), followed by an overview of early Christian book production and dissemination, and the history of the development of the canon.

Chapter 2 deals with “How to Read the New Testament.” The first part of the chapter is a sprint through eleven different ways that scholars have approached the text of the NT, from textual criticism (also the subject of the very brief chapter 3) to historical criticism, to narrative criticism, to advocacy criticism (e.g. Liberationist or Feminist hermeneutics); Brown concludes by emphasizing how the true meaning of the text cannot be derived through just one hermeneutic, but must come from the results of several kinds of hermeneutics operating together. The chapter also discusses issues of biblical inspiration, divine revelation, and deriving meaning from the NT (whether looking for authorial intent, the meaning to the original audience, and/or the meaning within the canon).

Chapters 4 and 5 are useful chapters on the political, social, and ideological environments in which the NT was composed. In terms of politics, Brown covers the period from Alexander the Great on through the Bar Kokhba revolt. For the social environment, he focuses on what life was like for Jews and Christians in pagan cities, Greco-Roman class structure and social hierarchy, and education in the Greco-Roman world. Regarding Jewish religious thought, Brown first discusses the importance of the Maccabean revolt; next, he introduces the Essenes, Sadducees, and—more in depth—the Pharisees, discussing how Jesus related to each of these groups; then, finally, giving brief mention to the Jewish literature composed after the 1st century (namely the Mishnah, Tosefta, Targumim, and Talmudim—sources that, he argues, are problematic when used in the study of the NT, because they were composed later—sometimes much later—than anything in the NT). Next, Brown surveys non-Jewish religious thought (namely, classical myth, emperor worship, mystery cults, and cults deriving from the religions of countries east of Rome), then non-Jewish philosophies (e.g., Cynicism, Epicureanism) and the interesting cases of Philo and of Gnostic thought, which combined Jewish and Hellenistic religio-philosophical categories.

Part II covers the Gospels and related literature, namely Acts and the Johannine Epistles. This part begins (chapter 6) with an overview of what “Gospels” are, including a discussion of the semantic range of euangelion (“good news,” “gospel”) and its usage among 1st– and 2nd-century Christian authors. Next, Brown chronicles the development of “Gospel” as a literary genre, showing that it has parallels to biographies in the Hebrew Bible and to Greco-Roman biographies, combined with a healthy amount of creativity on the parts of the Gospel authors. Here Brown distinguishes between the actual Jesus (the man Jesus, a religious figure who lived in Palestine in the 1st century CE, of whom we have no contemporary accounts), the historical Jesus (a scholarly construct based on critical analysis of the Gospels) and the Gospel Jesus (the literary figure[s] of Jesus, as portrayed by the authors of the Gospels). Brown cautions that, even though the presentation of a Gospel Jesus is shaped by the Gospel author’s rhetorical goals, the Gospels contain at least some eyewitness testimony of the actual Jesus, and so are more useful for talking about the actual Jesus than are reconstructions of the historical Jesus. Next, this chapter sets forth “three stages of Gospel formation” (107): 1) The ministry of the actual Jesus during the first third of the 1st century; 2) The apostles’ preaching about Jesus (the kerygma) during the second third of the 1st century; 3) The written Gospels, which were composed during the last third of the 1st century. Finally, a decent amount of the chapter is devoted to the Synoptic Problem and the existence of Q.

The discussion of the books of the NT begins with chapter 7, which covers the Gospel of Mark. The chapters that discuss the NT books directly (as opposed to informational chapters, like the above) more or less follow the same outline: an introductory paragraph, followed by a “General Analysis of the Message” (ranging from a few pages in the shorter Epistles to a miniature commentary for the Gospels); then discussions of authorship, composition, the community in which the book was composed/to which it was addressed, and the date of writing; then “Issues and Problems for Reflection” (dealing mostly with interpretive problems and ways to apply the text to the modern world—a section that would be useful as part of a seminary-level introductory course on the NT); and finally a brief bibliography for the book.

Chapters 7, 8, 9, and 11 cover the four canonical Gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, respectively). The majority of each chapter is devoted to the “General Analysis of the Message”—which, Brown notes, “almost constitute a minicommentary” (126) on each book. Brown’s conclusions are thoroughly centrist; he places Mark between 68-73 CE, possibly at Rome; Matthew he places around 80-90 CE, probably around Antioch; Luke-Acts at around 85 CE, either in Greece or in Syria; and John to churches in Asia Minor between 80-110 CE. The chapter on John is somewhat expanded compared to the chapters on the other Gospels, owing to Brown’s extensive work on that Gospel; not surprisingly, it is in this chapter that his conclusions differ most from the scholarly norm, though they are still strongly centrist (he argues that the bulk of John was composed somewhere around 80-90 CE by the same person/group that wrote 1 John, with an epilogue added around 100-110 CE by the person/group that wrote 2-3 John).

Chapters 10 and 12-14 deal with Acts and the Johannine Epistles, respectively, showing how they fit with their related books (Luke and John). For Acts, Brown explores whether the book qualifies as “history,” whether by ancient or modern definitions, concluding that it fits suitably within the ancient genre of history. For the Johannine Epistles, Brown reconstructs the community and theological situations in which they were written; 1 John was written after the Gospel of John, when “a division among Johannine Christians had occurred, sparked by different views of Jesus” (383), with one group saying that only belief in Jesus mattered, while another group (the group behind 1 John) said that good deeds were required, in addition to right belief. Second and Third John were also written in the context of schism, though a decade or so after 1 John.

Part III deals with the Pauline corpus, including the deutero-Pauline Epistles. The part begins with three prefatory chapters, covering ancient letter-writing practices (chapter 15; including the typical formal elements of Greco-Roman letters), a brief overview of Paul’s biography and theology (chapter 16), and “An Appreciation of Paul” (chapter 17; designed to help students retain an appreciation of Paul’s life and work even while they study the minutiae of each letter). Next, Brown examines the authentic Pauline Epistles in the order they were written (1 Thess, Gal, Phil, Philmn, 1 Cor, 2 Cor, Rom; chapters 18-24), examining the contexts in which they were written, the situations they address, how they were composed, and where they stand in the development of Paul’s theology. Along the way, he addresses various important topics when they are relevant to the letter at hand (e.g., a discussion of early Christian hymnody in relation to Phil 2:5-11).

The next section (chapters 25-31) deal with the pseudonymous Pauline Epistles. Chapter 25 is a very brief overview of pseudonymity in the ancient world, showing that pseudonymous authorship was fairly common in the ancient world, but acknowledging that it presents problems for interpretation in the NT. In fact, Brown analyzes each of the pseudonymous letters in the NT, including the deutero-Paulines, as if the author named actually wrote the work, since “even if that person did not write the respective work, the claim to his authorization suggests that the emphasis in the writing is related to his image” (706). Chapters 26-28 cover 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, and Ephesians, examining evidence for and against Pauline authorship—and being honest when the evidence is more or less inconclusive, as with Colossians—and providing interpretations both as if Paul wrote the letter and as if it was pseudonymous. Chapters 29-31 cover the Pastorals in the order they were written (Titus, 1 Tim, 2 Tim), discussing the church structure present in the letters, the authorship of the Pastorals, and the implications of pseudonymity on interpreting the letters.

Part IV deals with “The Other New Testament Writings” that have not been covered thus far in the book. He examines the remaining epistles in the order that they were written (Heb, 1 Pet, Jas, Jude, 2 Pet; chapters 32-36), and saves Revelation for last (chapter 37). For Hebrews, Brown discusses the genre and “Thought Milieu” (691) of the book, finding that clear answers are not available for either question. In discussing 1 Peter, Brown gives an overview of the life of the historical Peter—since it is relevant to the author’s perception of the letter—and places the letter in the context of unsystematic but imperially sanctioned persecution of Christians. In treating James, as with 1 Peter, Brown discusses the life of the historical James, then discusses the oft-debated relationship between James and the Pauline Epistles (specifically, because of the relationship between “faith” and “works” in each writer’s thought); Brown also covers the relationship between the books of James and Matthew, and places James between genres, as a combination of Hebrew wisdom literature, Stoic diatribe, and epistle. With Jude, Brown gives the life of the historical Jude and discusses the implications of Jude’s use of non-canonical Scriptures. Interestingly, and slightly problematically, the chapter on Jude is the only chapter on an NT book that does not conclude with discussion topics—Brown remarks, “Jude, however, is a very short work; and today most would not appreciate or find germane its argumentation from Israelite tradition about angels who sinned with women, [etc.] We owe Jude reverence as a book of Sacred Scripture, but its applicability to ordinary life remains a formidable difficulty” (760). Be that as it may, there is much fodder in Jude for reflection on everyday life (such as being modest, not arrogant, in disputes; Jude 9-10). Next, Brown analyzes 2 Peter in terms of the “early Catholic” features that Käsemann saw in the book (769), finding that Käsemann’s analysis is too simplistic. Finally, in discussing Revelation, Brown gives an overview of the genre of apocalyptic, examines the structure and theology of the book, and situates it within Domitian’s persecution of 96 CE.

The book concludes with two appendices. Appendix 1 is a history of the quests for the historical Jesus—a task towards which Brown is highly critical. Appendix 2 is a short catalogue of Jewish and Christian books that are useful for studying the NT; it is functionally a very short version of Craig A. Evans, Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies.


Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII (Anchor Bible 29; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995).

Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI (Anchor Bible 29a; New York: Doubleday, 1970).

Craig A. Evans, Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005).

Howard Clark Kee, review of Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, JBL 118 (1999): 144-147.

Bruce M. Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration (4th ed.;  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Three Jesuses

I know I’m nearly two weeks behind, but I’d like to point out Andrew Perriman’s post, in response to a post by Scot McKnight, about the differences between three understandings of Jesus: the historical-critical Jesus, the historical-canonical Jesus, and the creedal-theological Jesus. Here’s a bit from Andrew’s post:

On the whole, it seems to me that there is an account of the “real” Jesus emerging from historical Jesus studies that is not so far from the historical-canonical Jesus, if we read the canonical texts without the later creedal and theological overlay. I think that the Jewish apocalyptic Jesus who proclaims the coming of the kingdom of God in the near future is the historical-canonical Jesus. Critical scholars and historical-canonical interpreters may not see eye to eye over the question of whether the miracles and the resurrection actually happened, but there is no reason in principle why we should not agree about their significance within the narrative. …

The problem for the church, however, is that the convergence between the historical-critical Jesus and the historical-canonical Jesus has caused a corresponding divergence between the historical-canonical Jesus and the creedal or theological, exacerbated by conservative, Reformed reactions against history. This is where I see the more fundamental incompatibility. It will take some time for the church to wean itself off its dependency on abstracted theology and learn to trust the story again.

“Scot McKnight on the historical Jesus and the Jesus of the church” | p.ost

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Greek Wednesday: Non-Past-Referring Aorist Indicatives

Note: This post is adapted from F. Beetham, “The Aorist Indicative,” Greece & Rome 42 (2002): 227-236, Frank Stagg, “The Abused Aorist,” JBL 91 (1972): 222-231, Herbert Weir Smyth, Greek Grammar (rev. Gordon M. Messing; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1956), 429-434, and Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 

A good many aorist indicative verbs should not be read as a past tense; in fact, D. A. Carson has estimated that perhaps 15% of the finite aorists in the New Testament do not refer to the past.[1] On the face of it, this number might not seem significant, but it means that, to take Carson literally, somewhere around 900 aorist indicatives in the NT do not refer to the past. So, obviously, understanding this phenomenon is very important for understanding the text of the NT. I’ll use examples from Classical Greek to illustrate the phenomenon, which can then be applied back to the NT.

1) Substituting for the future tense, in order to intensify the action of the verb.

Classical examples:

εἴ περ γάρ τε καὶ αὐτίκ’ Ὀλύμπιος οὐκ ἐτέλεσσεν,
ἔκ τε καὶ ὀψὲ τελεῖ, σύν τε μεγάλῳ ἀπέτισαν
σὺν σφῇσιν κεφαλῇσι γυναιξί τε καὶ τεκέεσσιν.

If he that rules Olympus fulfill it not here and now,
he will yet fulfill it hereafter, and they shall pay dearly
with their lives and with their wives and children.

(Homer, Iliad 4.160-162)

εἰ μέν κ’ αὖθι μένων Τρώων πόλιν ἀμφιμάχωμαι,
ὤλετο μέν μοι νόστος, ἀτὰρ κλέος ἄφθιτον ἔσται·
εἰ δέ κεν οἴκαδ’ ἵκωμι φίλην ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν,
ὤλετό μοι κλέος ἐσθλόν, ἐπὶ δηρὸν δέ μοι αἰὼν
ἔσσεται, οὐδέ κέ μ’ ὦκα τέλος θανάτοιο κιχείη.

If I stay here and fight, I shall lose my safe homecoming but I will have a glory that is unwilting: whereas if I go home my glory will die, but it will be a long time before the outcome of death shall take me.

(Homer, Iliad 9.412-416)

ἀπωλόμην ἄρ’, εἴ με δὴ λείψεις, γύναι.

I am lost, then, if you are going to leave me.

(Euripides, Alcestis 386)

NT examples:

πάντα ὅσα προσεύχεσθε καὶ αἰτεῖσθε, πιστεύετε ὅτι ἐλάβετε, καὶ ἔσται ὑμῖν.

Whatever you pray and ask for, believe that you have received [it], and it will be yours.

(Mk 11:24)

λέγει Ἰησοῦς· νῦν ἐδοξάσθη ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου καὶ ὁ θεὸς ἐδοξάσθη ἐν αὐτῷ.

Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him.”

(Jn 13:31)

2) Using the aorist to express a general truth (like a proverb or a maxim) or to make a general description.

Classical examples:

παθὼν δέ τε νήπιος ἔγνω.

A fool learns by experience.

(Hesiod, Works and Days 218)

οἱ τύραννοι καὶ οἱ τὰς ὀλιγαρχίας ἔχοντες μάλιστα δύνανται τιμᾶν· πλούσιον γὰρ ὃν ἂν βούλωνται παραχρῆμ’ ἐποίησαν.

Tyrants and oligarchs have an immense advantage in that they can make anyone they choose instantaneously rich.

(Demosthenes, Speeches 20.15)

φᾶρος δὲ αὐτημερὸν ἐξυφήναντες οἱ ἱρέες κατ’ ὦν ἔδησαν ἑνὸς ἑωυτῶν μίτρῃ τοὺς ὀφθαλμούς

On the day of the festival, the priests weave a cloth and bind it as a headband on the eyes of one of their number.

(Herodotus, Histories 2.122)

This aorist is also often equivalent to a conditional statement.

ἀλλὰ γὰρ ἀθυμοῦντες ἄνδρες οὔπω τρόπαιον ἔστησαν, ὦ Κριτία

But men of faint heart never yet set up a trophy, Critias.
(= If there is a disheartened man, he has never yet set up a trophy.)

(Plato, Critias 108c)

And it also occurs in similes pretty frequently in Homer.

ὡς δ’ ὅτε τίς τε δράκοντα ἰδὼν παλίνορσος ἀπέστη
οὔρεος ἐν βήσσῃς, ὑπό τε τρόμος ἔλλαβε γυῖα,
ἂψ δ’ ἀνεχώρησεν, ὦχρός τέ μιν εἷλε παρειάς,
ὣς αὖτις καθ’ ὅμιλον ἔδυ Τρώων ἀγερώχων
δείσας Ἀτρέος υἱὸν Ἀλέξανδρος θεοειδής.

As one who starts back affrighted, trembling and pale, when he comes suddenly upon a serpent in some mountain glade, even so did Alexander plunge into the throng of Trojan warriors, terror-stricken at the sight of the son Atreus.

(Homer, Iliad 3.33-37)

NT examples:

ἑπὶ τῆς Μωϋσέως καθέδρας ἐκάθισαν οἱ γραμματεῖς καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι.

The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat.

(Matt 23:3)

ἐξηράνθη ὁ χόρτος, καὶ τὸ ἄνθος ἐξέπεσεν.

The grass withers and the flower falls off.

(1 Pet 1:24)

3) The aorist with τί οὖν οὐ and τί οὐ takes the place of the present tense to express surprise that something hasn’t been done.

Classical examples:

εἴ τινα ἔχεις τῶν ῥητόρων τοιοῦτον εἰπεῖν, τί οὐχὶ καὶ ἐμοὶ αὐτὸν ἔφρασας τίς ἐστιν;

If you have any orator of this kind that you can mention, without more ado tell me who he is!

(Plato, Gorgias 503b)

Τί οὖν, ἔφη ὁ Ἱέρων, οὐχὶ καὶ σύ, ἐπεὶ νῦν γε ἔτι ἰδιώτης εἶ, ὑπέμνησάς με τὰ ἐν τῷ ἰδιωτικῷ βίῳ;

Why, then,” said the Priest, “don’t you, since you are still your own person, remind me about what happens in private life?”

(Xenophon, Hiero 1.3)

NT examples:

καὶ διελογίζοντο πρὸς ἑαυτοὺς λέγοντες· ἐὰν εἴπωμεν· ἐξ οὐρανοῦ, ἐρεῖ· διὰ τί [οὖν] οὐκ ἐπιστεύσατε αὐτῷ;

And they discussed it among themselves: “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why don’t you believe him?'”

(Mk 11:31; par. Matt 21:25; Lk 20:5)

Τότε προσελθόντες οἱ μαθηταὶ τῷ Ἰησοῦ κατ᾿ ἰδίαν εἶπον· διὰ τί ἡμεῖς οὐκ ἠδυνήθημεν ἐκβαλεῖν αὐτό;

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why can’t we cast it out?”

(Matt 17:19)


1. D. A. Carson, “An Introduction to the Porter/Fanning Debate,” in Biblical Greek Language and Linguistics. JSNTSS 80 (1993), 25.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized