Thursday, October 1, 2015

Did the Apostle Paul use Profanity?

In Philippians 3:8, the apostle Paul compares his religious credentials to knowing Jesus. The difference could hardly be more emphatic: “knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” is of “surpassing value,” but Paul’s past success is like σκύβαλα (skubala). σκύβαλα is commonly translated as rubbish, refuse, or garbage, but sometimes more strongly as dung, in both ancient and modern translations (Vulgate, Tyndale, KJV, NET). Some have suggested another four-letter translation, stronger than dung.
While teaching Greek, I used to say that σκύβαλα is the closest thing to a swear word you can find in the New Testament - and I was repeating something that I had heard or read quite a few times. C. Spicq's Greek lexicon even suggests that σκύβαλα should be rendered crap. But is it true? Is σκύβαλα a swear word, or maybe a rude word? Or is it unobjectionable?
To read the answer, click here

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Does "I Am" always refer to God in the Gospel of John?

It is commonly claimed that when Jesus used the phrase “I am” (ἐγώ εἰμι, ego eimi), he was making a
direct reference to the name of God in the Old Testament, YHWH. There is some truth to this, but I want to suggest three important caveats to this claim:
  1. “I am” (ἐγώ εἰμι), by itself, is not a code for the name of God;
  2. “I am” is only intended to refer to deity in some of Jesus’ sayings;
  3. Paying too much attention to the “I am” part of the sentence distracts readers from paying attention to the rest of the sentence.
To read more, click here

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Hobbit in Ancient Greek, paragraph 16

Γανδάλφε, Γανδάλφε! Βαβαί! Μή ὁ μάγος ὁ πλανητός ὁ δούς τῷ Τούκ τῷ Πρεσβύτῃ δύω περόνας μαγικάς ἔμψηφας ἐμπερονησάμενας ἑαυτὰς οὐδέποτε λύουσας ἕως ἐπιταγῶσιν;  Μή ὁ ἐν τοῖς δείπνοις εἴπων μύθευματα τοιαῦτα θαυμαστὰ περὶ δρακόντων καὶ μορμολυκεῖων καὶ γιγάντων καὶ βοήθειας βασίλισσων καὶ εὐτύχιας ἀπροσδόκετης υἱῶν χηρῶν; μή ὁ ἄνθρωπος ὁ ποιήσας τοιαῦτα ἄριστα πυροτεχνήματα; μιμνῄσκομαι ταῦτα! Πρεσβυτης Τούκ αὐτά εἶχεν  ἐν τῇ  προτεραίᾳ θέρου μεσοῦν. Λάμπρα! ἀνέβαινεν ὡς κρίνα μεγάλα καὶ δρακάνθη καὶ λάβυρνα πυρρος καὶ ἐκρεμάνετο ἐν τῷ ἀέρι ὅλην τὴν ἑσπέραν! Κατανοήσεις ἤδη ὅτι Βάγινος οὐκ ἦν σχέδον ποιητικός ὡς ἤθελεν πιστεύειν καὶ ὅτι ἐφίλει ἄνθη. προσετέθη λέγειν· ἔα! Μή ὁ Γανδάλφος ὅς ἐποίει τοσούτους παίδας καί κορασίας ἡσυχίους ὑπαγειν εἰς τὴν ἔρημον εἰς τολμήματα μάνικα. ὑπαγουσιν ἀναβαινόντες δένδρα ἤ ἐπισκεπτόντες Ἄλβιους ἤ πλεόντες ἐν πλοίοις τοῖς αἰγιαλοῖς ἄλλοις. Βαβαί, βίος ἐτερπ-  σημαινω, ἐταράσσες σφόδρα πράγματα ἐν χώραις ταύταις ἐν ἡμέραις ἐκείναις. ἄφες, οὐ ἐγινώσκον ὅτι σύ εἶ ἔτι ἐπ’ ἐργασίας.

“Gandalf, Gandalf! Good gracious me! Not the wandering wizard that gave Old Took a pair of magic diamond studs that fastened themselves and never came undone till ordered? Not the fellow who used to tell such wonderful tales at parties, about dragons and goblins and giants and the rescue of princesses and the unexpected luck of widows’ sons? Not the man that used to make such particularly excellent fireworks! I remember those! Old Took used to have them on Midsummer’s Eve. Splendid! They used to go up like great lilies and snapdragons and laburnums of fire and hang in the twilight all evening!.” You will notice already that Mr. Baggins was not quite so prosy as he liked to believe, also that he was very fond of flowers. “Dear me!” he went on. “Not the Gandalf who was responsible for so many quiet lads and lasses going off into the Blue for mad adventures. Anything from climbing trees to visiting Elves - or sailing in ships, sailing to other shores! Bless me, life used to be quite inter - I mean, you used to upset things badly in these parts once upon a time. I beg your pardon, but I had no idea you were still in business."

Translation notes:

  • πυροτεχνήματα = fireworks. I coined this word as I thought it would have been in ancient Greek if they had fireworks. Then I discovered that this actually is the word for fireworks in modern Greek! 
  • δρακάνθη = dragon-flower (coined), since I can't find a word for "snapdragon" in ancient Greek. 
  • Ἄλβιος = Elf. I cannot find a good ancient Greek equivalent for Elf, so I have transliterated it from the Old English word for Elf. Modern Greek uses Ξωτικος. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

I am the Very Model of a Doctor of New Testament

With apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan's "I am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General," a patter-song in The Pirates of Penzance. If you're not familiar with the tune, you can listen to the original here.
Also inspired by Josh Tyra's Old Testament-oriented "I am the Very Model of a Biblical Philologist"

I am the very model of a Doctor of New Testament,
I exegete pericopae in weather fine or inclement,
I know the difference between a codex and a Chester B,
and even if a manuscript is Byzantine or Westerly.

I number and eviscerate fallacies exegetical,
and teach my students to avoid those follies homiletical,
With views on the millennium I’m certain I’ll amuse yah
(Bothered for a rhyme... Amuse yah, amuse yah... Got it!)
In matters ‘pocalyptical I teach on the Parousia!

I argue ‘bout the authorship of letters Pauline and Petrine,
My research has determined that Luke finished Acts on May sixteen,
In short, I ably exegete, in weather fine or inclement,
I am the very model of a Doctor of New Testament!

On Paul I can expostulate perspectives old and de novo,
I comprehend a genitive subjective or objectivo,
Of tradition and redaction I’m an expert and a critic,
I’ve determined the eye color of that healéd paralytic.

My reading’s all initialized, with titles like T-D-N-T,
I wrote a hundred entries for the lexicon B-D-A-G.
I’ve diagnosed that thorn of Paul’s that made him feel so dreary,
(Bothered for a rhyme... Dreary, dreary... Got it!)
On North and South Galatian views I’m certain of my theory!

I give opinions on accents acute and circumflexian,
And lucidly enunciate both modern and Erasmian,
In short, I ably exegete, in weather fine or inclement,
I am the very model of a Doctor of New Testament!

I know what Jesus wrote upon the dust in words non-verbally,
(Yes, I know that scene’s excluded by criteria externally),
Don’t get me started talking on those Jesus Quests heretical,
I’ll quote you Schweitzer’s famous lines and slap your face polemical!

I like my eschaton inaugurated, but not realized,
I’m not Bultmannian enough to like it demythologized,
I dissect ev’ry echo or allusion, even just a hint,
           (Bothered for a rhyme... Just a hint, just a hint... Got it!)
Unlike my OT colleagues I’m a fan of the Septuagint.

I explicate the value of inscriptions and numismata
and can distinguish clearly ‘tween σαρκίνα and πνευματικά
And so I ably exegete, in weather fine or inclement,
I am the very model of a Doctor of New Testament!

Encore: (or more correctly, I wrote one too many stanzas)
I can construct a diagram semantic and syntactical,
and pontificate on matters both linguistic and rhetorical,
I opine that the magi wrote a weekly Persian horoscope,
I know well that pericope rhymes not at all with periscope!

And so I ably exegete, in weather fine or inclement,
I am the very model of a Doctor of New Testament!

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Hobbit in Ancient Greek, paragraphs 14-15

εἶπεν δὲ τὸ τέλος· Καλόν πρωΐ! οὐ θέλομεν τινα τολμήματα ὧδε, εὐχαριστῶ σοι. ἐπιχειροῖς ἄν ὑπὲρ Τὸ Ὄρος ἤ πέραν Τοῦ Ὕδατος. τοῦτο δὲ ἔλεγεν σημαίνων ὅτι ἐτελειώθη ὁ διάλογος.

[“Good morning! he said at last. We don’t want any adventures here, thank you! You might try over The Hill or across The Water.” By this he meant that the conversation was at an end.]

ἀπεκρίθη δὲ Γανδάλφος· Πόσα σημαίνεις λέγων τὸ καλόν πρωΐ! σημαίνεις νῦν ὅτι θέλεις ἀπολῦσαι με καὶ οὐκ ἔσται καλόν ἕως ὑπάγω.Καὶ εἶπεν Βίλβος· Οὐδαμῶς, οὐδαμῶς, φίλε ἄγαθε! ἰδὲ· οὐ δοκεῖ μοι ὅτι οἶδα τὸ ὄνομα σου.

[“What a lot of things you do use Good morning for!” said Gandalf. “Now you mean that you want to get rid of me, and that it won’t be good till I move off." "Not at all, not at all, my dear sir! Let me see, I don’t think I know your name?”]

Ἀπεκρίθη Γανδάλφος· Ναί, ναί, φίλε ἄγαθε - ἐγώ δὲ οἶδα τὸ ὄνομα σου, Βίλβε Βάγινε. καὶ συ οἶδας τὸ ὄνομα μου, εἰ καὶ οὐ μιμνῄσκῃ ὅτι ἐγώ ὑπάρχω τούτῳ τῷ ὀνόματι. ἐγώ εἰμι Γανδάλφος καὶ Γανδάλφος ἐμέ σημαίνει! ποταπὴ ἀτιμία ὑπό τοῦ υἱοῦ Βελλαδόνης Τουκίτης λημφθῆναι ὡς ἐπὶ τὴν θύραν καπηλεύων πορπάς!

[“Yes, yes, my dear sir - and I do know your name, Mr. Bilbo Baggins. And you do know my name, though you don’t remember that I belong to it. I am Gandalf, and Gandalf means me! To think that I should have lived to be good-morninged by Belladonna Took’s son, as if I was selling buttons at the door!”]

Translation notes:
  • "My dear sir": φίλε ἄγαθε, since κυριος in ancient Greek doesn't work as well as a polite address to a stranger.
  • "To think that I should live to..." is idiomatic in English, so a literal translation doesn't work at all. I have rendered it as ποταπὴ ἀτιμία, what a disgrace!
  • "to be good-morninged" is clever, but not directly translatable. I used instead λημφθῆναι, to be welcomed.
  • "selling buttons": I had to use buckles, since I don't think they had buttons.

The picture is the cover of the first edition of the Hobbit, published in 1937.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Hobbit in Ancient Greek, paragraphs 12-13

Γανδάλφος δὲ εἶπεν· Ἀστεῖος σφόδρα! ἀλλά οὐ δύναμαι χρονίζειν ἐκφύσων κύκλους καπνοῦ τούτο τὸ πρωΐ. ζητῶ τινα κοινωνεῖν ἐν τολμήματι ὅ παρασκευάζω καὶ χαλεπόν λίαν ἐστιν εὑρίσκειν τινα.

[Very pretty! said Gandalf. But I have no time to blow smoke-rings this morning. I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.]

Ἀπεκρίθη Βάγινος ἄνθρωπος ἡμῶν· Ναὶ, δοκεῖ μοι οὕτως ἐν ταυταῖς ταῖς χωραῖς! ἔθνος εὐήθες καὶ ἥσυχος ἐσμεν καὶ οὐ τιμῶμεν τολμήματα. ταλαίπωρα γὰρ ἐστιν καὶ ταρακτικά καὶ δυσχερά! ποιεῖ ἐσχατίζειν εἰς δεῖπνον! οὐ δύναμαι εἰδέναι τί φιλεῖν τινα αὐτά. ὑποτιθέμενος δὲ ἀντίχειρα μίαν ὑπὸ τὴν ζώνην αὐτοῦ ἐξεφύσησεν ἄλλον κύκλον μεγατέρον καπνοῦ. ἐκβαλών οὖν τὰς ἐπίστολας αὐτοῦ τὰς καθ᾽ ἡμέραν καὶ ἀρξάμενος ἀναγινώσκειν ὑπεκρίθη μηκέτι ὁρᾶν τὸν πρεσβύτην. ἐκεκρίκει γὰρ ὅτι οὗτος ἀλλοῖος τις ἐστιν, ἠθέλησεν δὲ ὑπαγαγεῖν αὐτόν. ἀλλά οὐκ ἐκινήθη ὁ πρεσβύτης. εἱστήκει ἐπιστηρίζων τῇ ῥάβδῳ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀτενίζων τῷ ὅββιτῳ μὴ λέγων μηδέν, μέχρι Βίλβος δυσχερός σφόδρα ἐγένετο καὶ ὀλίγον ἠγανάκτησεν.

[I should think so - in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them, said our Mr. Baggins, and stuck one thumb behind his braces, and blew out another even bigger smoke-ring. Then he took out his morning letters, and begin to read, pretending to take no more notice of the old man. He had decided that he was not quite his sort, and wanted him to go away. But the old man did not move. He stood leaning on his stick and gazing at the hobbit without saying anything, till Bilbo got quite uncomfortable and even a little cross.]

Translation notes:
  • our Mister Baggins could be κύριος Βάγινος ἡμῶν, but "our Lord Baggins" just won't do. I am trying Βάγινος ἄνθρωπος ἡμῶν, since ἄνθρωπος seems to sometimes have a similar function as Mister.
  • Thumb (ἀντιχείρ) is very rare in Greek. The LXX uses τὸ ἄκρον τῆς χειρὸς, but that phrase is rare also.
  • There is not a good ancient Greek equivalent for braces (= suspenders), so I went with belt (ζώνη).
  • Morning letters I decided to render with τὰς ἐπίστολας τὰς καθ᾽ ἡμέραν, daily letters.
  • Not his sort is idiomatic English, so a little hard to translate. I came across a similar Greek idiom in LSJ, ἀλλοῖον τι, "of another sort" which implies "of the wrong sort."

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Hobbit in Ancient Greek, paragraphs 10-11

Καὶ εἶπεν Βίλβος· Καλόν πρωΐ! καὶ ἐλάλησεν ἐν εἰλικρινείᾳ. ἔλαμπεν ὁ ἥλιος καὶ χλωρός ὁ χόρτος. Γανδάλφος δὲ ἠτενίσεν εἰς αὐτὸν κάτωθεν ὀφρύων δάσεῖων ὧν ἐξετείναν πέραν χεῖλου τῆς θολίας αὐτοῦ τῆς σκιεράς. ὁ δὲ εἶπεν· τὶ σημαίνεις; θέλεις με ἔχειν καλόν πρωΐ , ἤ σημαίνεις ὅτι καλὸν ἔστιν τὸ πρωΐ εἴτε θέλω εἴτε οὐ θέλω, ἤ ὅτι ἔχεις καλῶς τοῦτο τὸ πρωΐ, ἤ ὅτι ἔστιν πρωΐ  ἐν ᾧ εἶναι καλός;
["Good morning!" said Bilbo, and he meant it. The sun was shining, and the grass was very green. But Gandalf looked at him from under long bushy eyebrows that stuck out further than the brim of his shady hat. "What do you mean?" he said. "Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is morning to be good on?"]
Βίλβος δὲ εἶπεν· Πάντα τούτων ἅμα. σφόδρα δὲ καὶ καλόν πρωΐ ἐν ᾧ καπνίζειν ἔξω αὐλόν αὐλοφύλλων. ἐάν ἔχῃς αὐλόν ἐν τοῖς κτήμασίν σου κάθισας γεμίσαι ἐκ τῶν ἐμῶν! οὐ δεῖ σπούδαζειν ὅτι ἔχομεν πᾶσαν τὴν ἡμέραν διατρίβειν. Βίλβος οὖν ἕκηλος κάθισας ἐπὶ καθέδρας τῆς πρὸς τῇ θύρᾳ ἐξεφύσησεν κύκλον ὡραῖον φαίον καπνοῦ πλήσαντα ἄνω μετεώρως μὴ ἐκλείποντα ἀποφερόμενα δὲ ὑπὲρ Τὸ Ὄρος.

["All of them at once," said Bilbo. "And a very fine morning for a pipe of tobacco out of doors, into the bargain. If you have a pipe about you, sit down and have a fill of mine! There's no hurry, we have all the day before us!" Then Bilbo sat down on a seat by his door, crossed his legs, and blew out a beautiful grey ring of smoke that sailed up into the air without breaking and floated away over The Hill.]

Translation notes:
  • αὐλοφύλλος = pipeweed, tobacco (αὐλός = pipe; φύλλος = herb, leaf)
  • Καλόν πρωΐ = Good morning. I have never seen a phrase that means "good morning" in ancient Greek (it is καλημέρα in modern Greek). 
  • I have kept using καλός throughout the passage even when ἀγαθός might be slightly better, in order to preserve the wordplay.