Re: Re: DIALEKTOS vs GLWSSA--and Diaspora Jews

Carl W. Conrad (
Sat, 2 Nov 1996 07:52:08 -0600

At 6:56 AM -0600 11/2/96, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>Carl Conrad wrote:
>> I think
>> then that this is probably the way we should understand these words in the
>> Greek: the GLWTTA/GLWSSA tends to be the term for the language as written
>> and understood by Greek-speakers everywhere--certainly in the Hellenistic
>> era by all educated Greek-speakers, while DIALEKTOS signals the distinctive
>> speech of different ethnic Greeks in different areas. My impression too is
>> that Koine is the name of a DIALEKTOS: hH KOINH DIALEKTOS, and I suspect
>> that the reason Koine is a feminine adjective is precisely because the noun
>> GLWTTA/GLWSSA is the noun understood implicitly with hH KOINE DIALEKTOS: it
>> means "the VERNACULAR language."
>I don't think this agrees with the usage in Acts 2. Each person heard in
>their own DIALEKTOS (th idia dialektw), and there is a list of the regions.
>The group included both Jews and proselytes, so I would expect that this
>means both dialects (*not* equivalent to DIALEKTOS) of Hebrew and of Greek.
>Cretans and Arabs would probably imply other languages as well.
>There also seems to be parallelism between verse 8 (akouomen ekastos th idia
>dialektw) and verse 11 (akouomen lalountwn autwn tais hmeterais glwssais).
>This parallelism suggests broad equivalence to me, though another
>interpretation would be that that verse 8 stresses that they are speaking in
>all the local regional dialects (which would be quite a feat, even here in
>North Carolina), and verse 11 stresses that this was true even across
>completely different languages.
>Here is the quote. I'm enclosing verse 12, which is not strictly relevant,
>simply because it describes a state in which I spend much of my life, and
>which seems particularly relevant to b-greek.
>Acts 2:7 (GNT) existanto de kai eqaumazon legontes: ouc idou apantes outoi
>eisin oi lalountes Galilaioi;
>Acts 2:7 (NASU) They were amazed and astonished, saying, "Why, are not all
>these who are speaking Galileans?
>8 (GNT) kai pws hmeis akouomen ekastos th idia dialektw hmwn en h
>8 (NASU) "And how is it that we each hear [them] in our own language to
>which we were born?
>9 (GNT) Parqoi kai Mhdoi kai Elamitai kai oi katoikountes thn Mesopotamian,
>Ioudaian te kai Kappadokian, Ponton kai thn Asian,
>9 (NASU) "Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia,
>Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,
>10 (GNT) Frugian te kai Pamfulian, Aigupton kai ta merh ths Libuhs ths kata
>Kurhnhn, kai oi epidhmountes Rwmaioi,
>10 (NASU) Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around
>Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,
>11 (GNT) Ioudaioi te kai proshlutoi, Krhtes kai Arabes, akouomen lalountwn
>autwn tais hmeterais glwssais ta megaleia tou qeou.
>11 (NASU) Cretans and Arabs--we hear them in our [own] tongues speaking of
>the mighty deeds of God."
>12 (GNT) existanto de pantes kai dihporoun, allos pros allon legontes: ti
>qelei touto einai;
>12 (NASU) And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying
>to one another, "What does this mean?"

Wow! I'm not really sure, but it's possible that we've stumbled onto
something bigger than we thought (but then again, it's also quite possible
simply that I have stumbled--and when you put that into Greek, it's

I had always supposed that this story is intended by Luke to mark the
reversal of the dispersal of nations from the time of the Tower of Babel
and the gospel implication that humanity is now re-united in the Spirit
that makes it possible for all to hear the gospel proclamation in their own
language. And that may--perhaps most likely is--the sense of the episode.
But what strikes me for the first time about this passage, now reading it
in the light of this discussion of DIALEKTOS and GLWSSA, is that this is
not just an assemblage of ANQRWPOI of every nation under heaven (which
always struck me as an awesome assertion for any careful historian to make)
assembledin Jerusalem, but rather it is IOUDAIOI, ANDRES EULABEIS--and

Now that opening phrase from vs. 5 indicates that we are talking NOT about
people of every ethnic tribe under the sky but about Diaspora Jews; then
vs. 11, if "both Jews and Proselytes" is not just a unit within the larger
list of nationalities but rather a unifying rubric for them all, then the
entire group is not a universal human group but rather a group of Jews and
converts to Judaism from a broad spectrum of geographical and ethnic areas.

I see two possibilities here; perhaps there are more. (1) One is that
Jonathan is quite right: Luke is using GLWSSA in vs. 11 to mean the same
thing as DIALEKTOS in vs. 8. In fact, that may be the case anyway, unless
perhaps we understand GLWSSA as the generic word for language and DIALEKTOS
as a word for "vernacular" that can overlap in meaning with GLWSSA and
therefore sometimes be used synonymously. (2) The other is that all these
IOUDAIOI TE KAI PROSHLUTOI from the Jewish Diaspora who are together here
in Jerusalem, according to Luke, are in fact not speaking and hearing
different LANGUAGES, but different DIALECTS of Koine Greek? I should
perhaps add a third possibility, although I am somewhat hesitant about it
and it's not really all that much help: that Luke is confused. He appears
to be confused sometimes about Palestinian geography and sometimes about
chronology (he has Gamaliel referring to one Messianic pretender who
probably had not yet appeared at the time he's speaking). What then SHOULD
we make of this use of GLWSSA and DIALEKTOS here? Maybe there's just no
difference between the two words in meaning after all. I am intrigued,
however, by the realization that this assembled populace is not really
universal humanity, but JEWS of nigh unto every area of the Diaspora.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR