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Moore, Empire and Apocalypse: Postcolonialism and the New Testament (2006)

Stephen D. Moore, Empire and Apocalypse: Postcolonialism and the New Testament (2006)

This book is a brief guide to, and example of, postcolonial biblical interpretation. In five chapters, Moore offers an overview of postcolonial theory as it intersects with biblical studies, as well as examining three NT books—Mark, John, and Revelation—to see if they support the weight that postcolonial interpreters have laid upon them. In the end, he concludes that Mark, John, and Revelation are ultimately ambivalent to the question of imperialism/colonialism, critiquing imperialism in some places while adopting it as a conceptual model in others.

In the first chapter of his book, Moore traces the intellectual genealogy of postcolonial biblical studies. He begins with three seminal works in postcolonial studies—Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978), Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?” (1985), and Homi Bhabha’s The Location of Culture (1994)—showing how they have structuralism/poststructuralism as their conceptual cores. Next, he traces the influence that postcolonial theory has had on biblical interpretation. Moore organizes works of postcolonial biblical criticism into three subgroups:

  1. Those that are influenced by liberation theology. These works typically engage only lightly extra-biblical postcolonial studies.
  2. Those that “focus on the theme of empire as an exegetical lens through which to reframe and reread selected New Testament texts” (18). These works usually do not engage with extra-biblical postcolonial studies at all.
  3. Those that are deeply engaged with extra-biblical postcolonial studies.

Finally, Moore forecasts the future of postcolonial biblical studies, the fortunes of which he sees lying with his third, theory-savvy subgroup.

In chapter 2, Moore examines the Gospel of Mark through a postcolonial lens. He begins with a short, verse-by-verse exegesis of Mark 5:1-9 (the healing of the Gerasene demoniac), interpreting it as a critique of Roman imperial power. However, he rejects that such a view is programmatic for Mark, noting that “Mark altogether lacks the snarling, fang-bearing hostility toward the Roman state” (32) that characterizes Revelation. Instead, Mark is both attracted to and repulsed by Roman imperialism—for instance, he rejects Roman leadership as oppressive, but still adopts the concept of empire, redeploying it in favor of Jesus, whom he sees as the authority figure in the divine empire. Likewise, Mark has Jesus praising two poor women who nonetheless give extravagant gifts without expectation of reciprocity (a critique of imperialist economics), while simultaneously upholding the notion of empire through his announcement of the parousia. Therefore, Moore concludes that Mark is not a thoroughgoing anti-imperialist text, but simultaneously critiques and upholds the notion of empire.

Chapter 3 treats the Gospel of John’s views of empire. Moore finds John to be “at once the most—and the least—political of the canonical gospels” (50). That is, John lauds Jesus as a political figure—he has the people try forcefully to make Jesus king, for instance—while also depoliticizing Jesus in the face of the Roman Empire. The Romans are the unquestioned political authority in John. Pilate—the face of the Roman Empire in John’s Gospel—exercises Roman political might when he has Jesus scourged in the middle of the passion narrative, an event that John portrays negatively. However, John has Caiaphas prophecy Jesus’ death, which serves not only to propitiate God, but also to propitiate Caesar. In addition, John implicitly predicts the eventual identification of Christianity with Rome. Therefore, though John critiques Roman authority, he by no means rejects it in toto.

Chapter 4 is an interlude from the exegetical chapters of the book. In this chapter, Moore situates postcolonialism within postmodernity, which Moore identifies as neocolonialism, as it continues the oppressive economic practices of the capitalist age. He notes the irony that the most successful postcolonial thinkers are rewarded with prestigious positions in Western universities, thus participating in the very system they critique so harshly. Moore latches onto Homi Bhabha, whose work he has seen empower students who come from colonialist situations. Therefore, he offers an extended overview of Bhabha’s views of colonialist evangelism in the 19th century, from which Bhabha devised several theories. Moore highlights several of Bhabha’s ideas:

  • ambivalence—the idea that the colonized vacillates between outright mimicry of the colonizer, on the one hand, and hybridizing of the colonizing and colonized cultures, on the other
  • deconstruction—the cultural tools of the colonizer, rather than changing the culture of the colonized to match that of the colonizer, instead mold themselves to, and are shaped by, the culture of the colonized.
  • agency—the colonized are actively engaged in subverting the colonizer’s cultural discourse.

Bhabha’s ideas are important to Moore’s exegeses, so it is curious that Moore placed this chapter here, in the middle of his exegeses, rather than placing it alongside the first chapter. At any rate, it provides a nice glimpse into the theory that lies at the heart of Moore’s book.

Chapter 5 examines the book of Revelation. Moore first gives a topical introduction to Roman imperial ideology, interspersed with modern theoretical readings of the same concepts. Next, Moore reads Revelation through a Bhabhan lens, showing how Revelation is ambivalent, in a Bhabhan sense, to Rome; Revelation both espouses (mimics) Roman imperial ideology in its theology, while also harshly rejecting those Christians who collaborated with (hybridized with) Rome. Therefore, Revelation is far from being an outright rejection of empire; instead, like Mark and John, it both critiques and accepts imperialism.

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More on Mark 7:24-30

The neuter gender of κυνάριον in Mark 7:27-28 does not stop it from applying to the Syro-Phoenician woman as an insult. Per Smyth (197 b):

Exceptions to the Rule of Natural Gender. — Diminutives in -ιον are neuter (199 d), as τὸ ἀνθρώπιον manikin (ὁ ἄνθρωπος man), τὸ παιδίον little child (ὁ or ἡ παῖς child), τὸ γύναιον little woman (ἡ γυνή woman). Also the words τέκνον, τέκος child (strictly ‘”thing born”), ἀνδράποδον captive.

So, even though κυνάριον is neuter and the woman is feminine, that shouldn’t throw us off. The word is still a very pointed insult, directed straight at the woman.

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Adversative καί, Emphatic ἀλλά, and Other Miscellanies (Mark 7:24-30)

Mark 7:24-30 (the story of Jesus’ interaction with the Syro-Phoenician woman) has some really interesting grammatical stuff going on, which we’ll look at after the jump. First, the text:

24 Ἐκεῖθεν δὲ ἀναστὰς ἀπῆλθεν εἰς τὰ ὅρια Τύρου. Καὶ εἰσελθὼν εἰς οἰκίαν οὐδένα ἤθελεν γνῶναι, καὶ οὐκ ἠδυνήθη λαθεῖν· 25 ἀλλ᾿ εὐθὺς ἀκούσασα γυνὴ περὶ αὐτοῦ, ἧς εἶχεν τὸ θυγάτριον αὐτῆς πνεῦμα ἀκάθαρτον, ἐλθοῦσα προσέπεσεν πρὸς τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ· 26 ἡ δὲ γυνὴ ἦν Ἑλληνίς, Συροφοινίκισσα τῷ γένει· καὶ ἠρώτα αὐτὸν ἵνα τὸ δαιμόνιον ἐκβάλῃ ἐκ τῆς θυγατρὸς αὐτῆς. 27 καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτῇ· ἄφες πρῶτον χορτασθῆναι τὰ τέκνα, οὐ γάρ ἐστιν καλὸν λαβεῖν τὸν ἄρτον τῶν τέκνων καὶ τοῖς κυναρίοις βαλεῖν. 28 ἡ δὲ ἀπεκρίθη καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ· κύριε· καὶ τὰ κυνάρια ὑποκάτω τῆς τραπέζης ἐσθίουσιν ἀπὸ τῶν ψιχίων τῶν παιδίων. 29 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῇ· διὰ τοῦτον τὸν λόγον ὕπαγε, ἐξελήλυθεν ἐκ τῆς θυγατρός σου τὸ δαιμόνιον. 30 καὶ ἀπελθοῦσα εἰς τὸν οἶκον αὐτῆς εὗρεν τὸ παιδίον βεβλημένον ἐπὶ τὴν κλίνην καὶ τὸ δαιμόνιον ἐξεληλυθός.

24 He got up from there and went to the coasts of Tyre. And as he entered the house he did not want anyone to know he was there, but he could not be hidden. 25 In fact, right away, a woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him, came into the house, and fell at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by birth, and she asked him to cast the demon out from her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, because it’s not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28 She answered him, “Sir — the dogs under the table also eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 He said to her, “On those grounds, go; the demon has gone out from your daughter.” 30 And when she went away to her house, she found her child lying on the couch and the demon gone.

The interesting stuff:

  • Verse 24 has an adversative καί (καὶ οὐκ ἠδυνήθη λαθεῖν, “but he could not be hidden”). The adversative καί is sort of like a tiger; you’ve read about them in books, you’ve seen pictures of them in their natural habitat, maybe even seen a few in a zoo, but when you come across one in your neighborhood, you’re very surprised (to say the least!).
  • Verse 25 has an emphatic ἀλλά (ἀλλ᾿ εὐθὺς ἀκούσασα γυνὴ περὶ αὐτοῦ, “In fact, right away, a woman heard about him”). It’s like the ἀλλά and the  καί here have switched roles — ἀλλά, normally an adversative conjunction, takes on the role of an emphatic connective, while καί, which is normally a connective, functions as an adversative in v. 24.
  • In verse 27, Jesus makes a pun on the woman’s request. The woman asks Jesus to “cast out” (ἐκβάλλω) the demon from her daughter, while Jesus remarks about how unseemly it is to take the children’s food and “throw” (βάλλω) it to the dogs.
  • Verses 27 and 28: κυνάριον. Louw and Nida have this entry for κυνάριον: “(diminutive of κύωνa ‘dog,’ 4.34, but in the NT the diminutive force may have become lost, though a component of emotive attachment or affection is no doubt retained and thus the reference is presumably to a house dog) — ‘house dog, little dog.’” I think they’re incorrect — the word does retain its diminutive force, but it doesn’t carry a sense of affection. Instead, the diminutive here is a diminutive of insult. Κύων can carry the sense of “a word of reproach, freq. in Hom. of women, to denote shamelessness or audacity” (LSJ s.v., II), and the woman in this passage is both shameless and audacious, (a dirty Gentile asking the Jewish messiah for help? Puh-leeze!), so this reading of κυνάριον makes a lot of sense.

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Isaiah 40:1-2 — LXX, Masoretic Text, Links to the Synoptics

I read part of Isaiah 40 in a wedding today, and while I was at the rehearsal, I got bored and started comparing the versions of the text contained in the Septuagint (LXX) and the Masoretic Text (MT). And, unlike my last text criticism/commentary on Ezekiel, I did a little research before I wrote this. My main sources are:

Hans Debel, “Greek ‘Variant Literary Editions’ to the Hebrew Bible?”, Journal for the Study of Judaism 41 (2010): 161-190.

Wilfred G. E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry: A Guide to Its Techniques, 177-185.

I only really had time to look at Isaiah 40:1-2, but verse 2 provides plenty of fodder for consideration. Here are the two texts, followed by my own English translations.

1 Παρακαλεῖτε παρακαλεῖτε τὸν λαόν μου, λέγει ὁ θεός.
2 ἱερεῖς, λαλήσατε εἰς τὴν καρδίαν Ιερουσαλημ, παρακαλέσατε αὐτήν·
ὅτι ἐπλήσθη ἡ ταπείνωσις αὐτῆς, λέλυται αὐτῆς ἡ ἁμαρτία·
ὅτι ἐδέξατο ἐκ χειρὸς κυρίου διπλᾶ τὰ ἁμαρτήματα αὐτῆς.

1 “Comfort, comfort my people,” says God.
2 “Priests, speak to the heart of Jerusalem, comfort her,
Because her humiliation has been completed, her sin has been removed,
Because she has received from the Lord’s hand double her sins.”

נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ עַמִּי יֹאמַר אֱלֹהֵיכֶם1
2 דַּבְּרוּ עַל-לֵב יְרוּשָׁלִַם וְקִרְאוּ אֵלֶיהָ
כִּי מָלְאָה צְבָאָהּ
כִּי נִרְצָה עֲוֹנָהּ
כִּי לָקְחָה מִיַּד יְהוָה כִּפְלַיִם בְּכָל-חַטֹּאתֶיהָ

1 “Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God.
2 “Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her
That her servitude has been completed,
That her guilt has been satisfied,
That she has received from YHWH’s hand double for all her sins.”

Verse-by-Verse Comparison

Verse 1 only merits brief mention, because the difference between the two texts is so slight — the LXX simply has “God,” while the MT has “your God.” These different readings do not change the meaning of the text in the slightest.

Verse 2, however, is where the fun begins. Here’s my analysis.

Analysis of Vocabulary

The imperatives of vv. 1-2 are plural in both texts — they are second plural in the LXX and masculine plural in the MT; that is, they are functionally equivalent. The original reading seems to have been simple imperatives with no explicit subject, with the LXX’s addition of “priests” serving to make the subject explicit. References to priests in Isaiah are infrequent enough; ἱερεύς appears only in LXX 24:2; 28:7; 37:2; 40:2; 61:6; 66:22, and כהן only appears in MT 8:2; 24:2; 28:7; 37:2; 61:6; 66:22, which means that “priest” is likely only original in 24:2; 28:7; 37:2; 61:6; 66:22 — three times in 1 Isaiah and twice in 3 Isaiah, but none in 2 Isaiah, where ch. 40 is located. Thus, it’s likely that the original version of this text contains only the plural imperatives, with “priests” being an interpretive addition.

The “proclaim” of the MT (קִרְאוּ) is more original, with the LXX making the shift from καλέσατε (“call,” “proclaim”) to παρακαλέσατε (“exhort,” “comfort”) based on the presence of παρακαλέω twice in verse 1 and the similarity of παρακαλέω to καλέω. Likewise, the MT’s “servitude” is more original than the LXX’s “humiliation.” It is easy to see how the specific “servitude” shifted to the more abstract “humiliation,” while the move from abstract to specific is not as likely. Finally, the LXX’s “double her sins” is more original than the MT’s “double for all her sins.” The LXX’s reading is far more difficult to interpret than that of the MT, which makes it more likely to be original than the MT’s reading.

Analysis of Structure

Let’s look at the structure of the comforting message in the two different texts.

LXX:
“Priests, speak to the heart of Jerusalem, comfort her,
Because her humiliation has been completed, her sin has been removed,
Because she has received from the Lord’s hand double her sins.”

MT:
“Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her
That her servitude has been completed,
That her guilt has been satisfied,
That she has received from YHWH’s hand double for all her sins.”

The LXX structures the priests’ consolation as a set of nested parallelisms in a bicolon — that is, the two ὅτι clauses are parallel, and the contents of the first ὅτι clause are also parallel — while the MT arranges the proclamation in a tricolon. I cannot tell at this point which version is more original; even though parallelism is a classic feature of biblical Hebrew poetry, tricola are by no means unknown (cf. Watson, 177-185).

I can say for sure, though, that the LXX has revised the Hebrew text it reflects. Since the MT’s וְקִרְאוּ (“and proclaim”) is more original, we can say with certainty that the LXX has dropped the conjunction in favor of juxtaposing the two clauses in the parallelism; that is, it reads “speak to the heart of Jerusalem, comfort her” instead of “speak to the heart of Jerusalemand comfort her.” We may thus assume by analogy that “Because her humiliation has been completed, her sin has been removed” reflects an older “Because her humiliation has been completed and her sin has been removed.” (This reading, of course, is different than that of the MT, which has כִּי (“that”) where the LXX’s source has וְ (“and”).) With the vocabulary of the MT as a guide, we may reconstruct the LXX’s source as follows:

דַּבְּרוּ עַל-לֵב יְרוּשָׁלִַם וְקִרְאוּ אֵלֶיהָ
כִּי מָלְאָה צְבָאָהּ וְנִרְצָה עֲוֹנָהּ
כִּי לָקְחָה מִיַּד יְהוָה כִּפְלַיִם הַחַטֹּאתֶיהָ

“Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her
That her servitude has been completed and her guilt has been satisfied,
That she has received from YHWH’s hand double her sins.”

As I said, though, I’m not certain whether the LXX’s bicolon or the MT’s tricolon is more original, though the two structures definitely reflect two different text-types.

Analysis of Meaning

As they stand, the texts of the LXX and MT here provide two pretty different meanings. The MT has unnamed heralds — the most obvious group is the prophets — making a threefold proclamation directly to Jerusalem, that she no longer will suffer servitude, that her guilt is absolved, and that God has repayed her sin in full. In other words, these heralds must proclaim to Jerusalem that God, of his own accord, has forgiven her sins. The LXX, on the other hand, has the priests comforting Jerusalem because her guilt had been absolved; that is, it implies that Jerusalem’s absolution has come by means of the Temple sacrifices.

If we assume that the text recorded in the MT is more original — an assumption that most of the linguistic features support — the MT thus reflects a prophecy made during the time of the Babylonian exile (i.e. the time 2 Isaiah was written), that God had forgiven Jerusalem because he had exhausted his wrath against her, and he would soon return the Jerusalemites home. The LXX, it seems, reflects a later, post-exilic tradition, which took root at a time when the Temple sacrifices occurred regularly. In this tradition, God has still forgiven Jerusalem for her sins, but because she has offered acceptable sacrifices at the Temple.

Interaction with the New Testament

The tradition of the LXX’s text is not very friendly to the traditional understanding of the prophets (e.g. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” Hosea 6:6) or of the NT (e.g. the Temple sacrifices being insufficient for salvation, which is something only Jesus’ death can bring about).

Interestingly, it is quite probable that at least three of the NT authors knew of this second tradition. Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:2-3, and Luke 3:4-6 all quote this passage (specifically, Isa 40:3, the verse immediately after the one we are currently considering) with wording identical to that of our LXX. Thus, it is highly likely that their version of Isa 40:2 refers to priests, not prophets, as does our LXX. While we cannot say for certain how exactly these authors would have treated the pro-sacrifice tradition in Isa 40:2 in the LXX, it is certainly a question worth considering.

Conclusion

In sum, we may reconstruct two different text-types of Isaiah 40:2 — one reflected by the LXX (LXX-source) and one reflected by the MT (MT-source):

LXX-source:
דַּבְּרוּ עַל-לֵב יְרוּשָׁלִַם וְקִרְאוּ אֵלֶיהָ
כִּי מָלְאָה צְבָאָהּ וְנִרְצָה עֲוֹנָהּ
כִּי לָקְחָה מִיַּד יְהוָה כִּפְלַיִם הַחַטֹּאתֶיהָ

“Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her
That her servitude has been completed and her guilt has been satisfied,
That she has received from YHWH’s hand double her sins.”

MT-source:
דַּבְּרוּ עַל-לֵב יְרוּשָׁלִַם וְקִרְאוּ אֵלֶיהָ
כִּי מָלְאָה צְבָאָהּ
כִּי נִרְצָה עֲוֹנָהּ
כִּי לָקְחָה מִיַּד יְהוָה כִּפְלַיִם הַחַטֹּאתֶיהָ

“Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her
That her servitude has been completed,
That her guilt has been satisfied,
That she has received from YHWH’s hand double her sins.”

The MT reflects a more original tradition, one in which the Judean population, held captive in Babylon and longing to escape their servitude and return to their homeland, receives a prophecy that God has forgiven them — not from anything they themselves had done, but simply because had exhausted his wrath against them.

The LXX is a later tradition, one that roots itself in the efficacy of the Temple sacrifices; in this tradition, God still has forgiven Jerusalem her sins, but because the priests have offered acceptable sacrifices to atone for their sin. Matthew, Mark, and Luke likely knew this tradition, since their quotations of the next verse (Isa 40:3) are identical to the text of our LXX, and it is worth considering what effect, if any, this tradition had on their thought.

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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)

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

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An Apology for Mark’s Gospel?

I was reading the series “Was the Apostle Peter a Source for Mark’s Gospel?” over at Earliest Christianity (parts 1, 2, 3) this morning. In part 1, Tim quotes the oft-repeated refrain from Eusebius (quoting Papias, who quotes John the Apostle) about Mark’s authorship of the gospel attributed to him:

“And the elder [i.e. John?] used to say this: ‘Mark, having become Peter’s interpreter, wrote down accurately everything he remembered, though not in order, of the things either said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, followed Peter, who adapted his teachings as needed but had no intention of giving and ordered account of the Lord’s sayings. Consequently Mark did nothing wrong in writing down some things as he remembered them, for he made it his one concern not to omit anything that he heard or to make any false statement in them.’” (Eusebius, Church History 3.39; translation of Michael W. Holmes)

It seems to me that John was making an apology for Mark’s gospel. Notice several implicit charges that this passage answers:

  • The events of Jesus’ life in Mark’s gospel are out of order: “Mark . . . wrote down accurately everything he remembered, though not in order, of the things either said or done by Christ.”
  • Mark was not an apostle, so his gospel is not authoritative: “he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, followed Peter”
  • Mark’s gospel doesn’t include enough on Jesus’ teachings: “Mark . . . followed Peter, who adapted his teachings as needed but had no intention of giving and ordered account of the Lord’s sayings.”

“Consequently,” John concludes, “Mark did nothing wrong in writing down some things as he remembered them, for he made it his one concern not to omit anything that he heard or to make any false statement in them.” In other words, don’t cast blame on Mark for the shape of his gospel; he was just following Peter! In fact, John asserts, far from being an untrustworthy source of teaching about Jesus, Mark’s gospel is actually an accurate and authoritative collection of Peter’s apostolic teaching.

The implications of all this, of course, are very interesting. First, it would mean that in the late apostolic era, Mark’s gospel was at least a little controversial for its scope and subject matter (mostly the Passion, rather than Jesus’ teachings). It also explains why later authors (like those of Matthew, Luke, and John) saw fit to expand on Mark, because they were unsatisfied with the scope of that gospel.

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