Re: Questions about AORIST PASSIVE (long)

Carl W. Conrad (
Sat, 16 Nov 1996 07:29:19 -0600

At 2:36 AM -0600 11/16/96, Lee R. Martin wrote:
>Dear Carl,
>Thank you for your thoughtful responses (as usual). One thing I failed
>to mention, however, was reason that I began looking into the passives
>that are used like the middle (intransitive). That reason is the Hebrew
>Niphal stem. I do not like to impose too many Semiticism upon the NT
>text, but this one MAY be a possibility. The niphal functions as a
>double-status stem. It may be passive, if an agent is stated or
>implied. Or, it may be middle (or even reflexive). As an expert in the
>Classics, you could tell me whether the Greek passive often functions
>like the middle. What do you think?

This is a VERY GOOD question and worth some further exploration--along with
some questions about Latin influences on NT Koine which I'd like to look at
closer (and for ersources for which I must thank those who have called
things to my attention on the list). And it gets into the larger question
of the history and development of the -QH- passive in Greek. I don't know
near as much about this as I'd like to, but I have some tentative
speculations which may or may not correspond to what researchers have
already traced. Let me rehearse a couple points I've discussed before (and
we don't even need to change the subject-header!).

(1) It is evident that the earliest passives are the so-called "Second
Passives" (isn't it ironic that "Griechische Sprachwissenschaft" decided
at some point early on to call the later-developing regular forms of the
aorist active & middle, perfect active, and aorist passive "first" and the
older forms "second?" Is this a special kind of grammarians' rhetoric
called the "grammatical hysteron-proteron?"): forms such as EBLABHN and
EGRAFHN. Were these always passive in meaning? Or should we suppose that,
for example, the 3 sg. forms EBLABH, EGRAFH had a sort of reflexive sense
such as is expressed by the middle voice normally: "harm was done,"
"writing appeared" (es schrieb sich?). I like to begin my account of the
aorist passive with the intransitive athematic aorist ("3rd aorist") of
FAINW: 3 sg. EFANH "it became evident" (or something like that, neutral
with respect to voice); certainly we could have an aorist of the Johannine
TO FWS EN THi SKOTIAi FAINEI in the form EFANH TO FWS, "the light shone."
But if we have a subject such as "evidence," we might write: EFANH TAUTA TA
MARTURIA: "These proofs came to light." And finally add a hUPO + genitive
proofs were brought to light by the master's personal enemies." And of
course that so-called "agent" construction must have originated as an
instance of the adverbial hUPO clarifying an ablatival function of the
genitive: "under initiative from" or "with support from." My speculative
guess would be that the passive function of constructions of this
originally-intransitive aorist form may have developed in this matter. This
may very well be an established fact; I don't know, but it seems reasonable
to me that this may have happened.

(2) My impression (I hate to put it so subjectively, but I'm not going to
claim any certain knowledge that I don't have) is that the -QH- marker
probably served originally as a building-block for producing intransitive
aorist stems. Just conceivably (this is nothing but guesswork) guttural
verb-roots may have played a role, as, or example DIALLAG
(DIALLATTOMAI/DIALLASSOMAI) which might have had a "3rd aorist" DIHLLAGHN,
DIHLLAGHS, DIHLLAGH KTL could have used the -QH- extension to become
DIHLLAXQHN, DIHLLAXQHS, DIHLLAXQH KTL. But this is no passive verb at all;
it is a true middle or reflexive: "I come to a settlement of differences,"
"I reach a reconciliation." Well, doesn't the common Lucan verb for
proclamation, EUAGGELIZOMAI, behave the same way, forming its aorist as
EUHGGELISQHN? And we know that this is not passive but rather is
intransitive (the very thing Lee wants to claim, perhaps rightly, about
HGERQHN = ANESTHN). The inventors of our traditional grammatical
terminology have, with disputable wisdom, termed such verbs "passive
deponents" because they have what appear to be aorist passive forms with
intransitive meanings; if I am right, however, it is not really correct to
call such forms as DIHLLAXQHN and EUHGGELISQHN "passive in form"--they
never were passive at all. RATHER: the type of verb-formation constituted
by verb-root + -QH- emerged historically as a standard form used with
instrumental dative and or with hUPO + genitive agent constructions to
express the PASSIVE sense in the aorist tense. The grammarians have
oversimplified the description of the language by "baptizing" the -QH-
aorist as the "aorist passive." They got away with it because, like
Newtonian physics (probably not a good analogy), it works well enough to
explain the majority of -QH- aorists that one ever meets; but when one
meets a -QH- aorist that is NOT passive, as one does more frequently than
one cares to admit, it became imperative for the grammarians to invent the
new (I would say "spurious") category of the "passive deponent": the aorist
passive form that is not passive in meaning. I've already declared my
objection to use of the term "deponent" even for those verbs like
because calling them "deponent" makes it appear that there's something
wrong with Greek because it doesn't use the voices the way that the
grammarian's language does.

If I am right about this development of these -QH- aorists, then the
intransitive aorists in -QHN, -QHS, -QH etc. are perfectly regular aorists
of a common type, not passive and not even thought of as passive.

Now, does the Hebrew Niphal play a role in the development of these
intransitive aorists in Biblical Koine? Have some of them come into use
among Greek-speaking Jews whose scripure is the LXX? I don't really know
enough Hebrew to offer any helpful advice on that question beyond that it
might be a worthwhile thesis investigation for some grad student in
Biblical languages to draw up a list of the intransitive -QH- aorists (the
so-called "passive deponents") that appear with some frequency in the NT;
then to check for the appearance of these same verbs in in LXX (and perhaps
also in writers like Philo and Aristobulus--Jews whose scripture was LXX
and who wrote Greek); see how many of these verbs are also frequent in
classical Attic and in Koine generally (it shouldn't be difficult to check
out these verbs with the TLG "D" CD-ROM); check out what the Hebrew verbs
are that these verbs convey in LXX and analyze the "binyanim" of those
Hebrew verbs. Perhaps several of them are Niphal; I wouldn't be surprized
to find that several are Hiphil, which seems closer to the middle voice in

Who wants to take up this project? But perhaps we ought to see whether it
hasn't already been done.

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