Re: Mari Broman (was Aorist resources)

Don Wilkins (
Mon, 9 Dec 1996 19:05:44 -0500 (EST)

That is a good summary, Jonathan (I won't repeat it here due to length), so
I'll throw some fuel on the fire. First, a matter of clarity: we must
always be careful to address the *indicative* mood, because only it can
inherently have the sense of timing. Thus when Mari argues that the aorist
and present are not true tenses, I assume she is referring to the
indicative (Mari, if you are reading this, please correct me if I misstate
your position). In an earlier conversation with her, she indicated to me
that she believes the augment has no meaning, which is a point of
contention I had years ago with Stan Porter. It is essential to view the
augment historically. It is not found in old Ionic Greek (Homer etc.) but
appears later with Classical and continues all the way through the
Byzantine period and beyond. This raises the question of when the augment
ceased to have meaning, and it seems to me that Mari and others are
presuming a very premature death for this past-time (excluding the perfect
augment) indicator. It is just as important to establish when the augment
lost its force as it is to determine that it actually happened.
The only way the theory of a meaningless augment can be objectively
evaluated is by a careful reading of all the relevant texts, and while I
hate to sound like a broken record, this requires a thorough search of the
TLG database inter alia. I don't know how much Greek Mari has read (I asked
her but she was very busy at the time), but I doubt that she has done the
kind of search to which I am referring (even after doctoral work in
Classics, I'm still alarmed at how much Greek *I* have not yet read when I
peruse the list of TLG authors). She may feel that she has good reason to
disagree about the need to do such a search, and if so, that is where I
probably have to part company with her. I'll illustrate the problem with an
Recently John 13:31 was offered as a good example of a future-referring
aorist, and I disagreed on grammatical and contextual grounds. Later, I
read D.A. Carson's remarks about the passage in his commentary, and he says
that it "can easily be shown" that aorist indicatives can refer to past,
present or future, as well as be omnitemporal and atemporal (p. 487). In
the same place, however, he also notes that "traditional" approaches can
also get around the tense problem here by arguing that the aorist is
proleptic. I personally think the context supports a reference to the
immediate past (a kind of glorification in the revelation of Judas'
betrayal). The real problem here is the context, and the extent to which we
allow our understanding of it to define the nature of the aorist indicative
itself. We have no absolute way to objectively determine which of two or
more interpretations for the passage is correct, and I think Carson is
committing a fallacy in failing to distinguish context from grammar per se.
Furthermore, whenever we encounter a difficult passage like the one above,
stripping the aorist indicative of temporal meaning is tantamount to
cutting the gordian knot, because it will always be easier at first glance
to make the tense fit our view of the context than the reverse, and
eventually this will lead us to self-contradiction. I am not sure we can
really nail down the meaning of the aorist indicative (rather like nailing
jello to the wall), but if we can, then the place to start is a
comprehensive search for relevant passages. One might begin, e.g., with a
search for all texts (not just biblical) where NUN occurs with the aorist
ind., and determine which, if any, can not possibly refer to an event in
the immediate past.
I haven't said anything about the present indicative, which is probably
more flexible than the aorist, but I've already said more than enough for
one post (my apologies for its length).

Don Wilkins
UC Riverside