Re: ambiguity of doves
To: "Gregory Jordan (ENG)" <firstname.lastname@example.org>, email@example.com
Subject: Re: ambiguity of doves
From: Carl Conrad <C25001CC@wuvmd.wustl.edu>
Date: Wed, 27 Jul 94 19:32:28 CST
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In-Reply-To: Your message of Wed, 27 Jul 1994 18:32:01 -0400 (EDT)
On Wed, 27 Jul 1994 18:32:01 -0400 (EDT) you said:
>Back to the real meat: the dove (which I prefer to crosses any day!).
>In Matthew hOsei peristeran follows katabainon. As I understand it, hOs
>and hOsei in classical Greek almost never meant an identity, which "as"
>in English sometimes does. "As" can mean, "in the person of" and so many
>naive readers of the NT think the phenomenon was an actual dove alighting
>on Jesus. One exception is with a participle, in which it can imply "by
>reason of," but this makes no sense here. Does anyone know if Koine,
>especially NT, uses hOs or hOsei to imply identity?
If the truth be told, I don't recall seeing hOsei elsewhere in classical or
koine Greek, although hOs, of course, is common.I have no lexicographical tools
at hand except the handconcordance which shuns trivial words like these.I
certainly don't think any identity is intended or implied in Mt or Mk; Lk is
> If not, we're only left to wonder what it's modifying. By being
>proximate to katabainon, in Matthew and in John, one would suppose the
>descent was dovelike. Doves, in my experience, are noisy and clumsy in
>takeoffs and landings!
I am inclined to think we ought to treat each gospel separately, however
probable it is that Mt & Lk redacted Mk's version. John's text is certainly
very distinct from the Synoptic versions.
In Mark, though, and in Luke, it is proximate to
>pneuma, which would imply the spirit was dovelike. Does this mean a
I'm not altogether sure, but my impression (sorry to be so subjective-seeming!)
is that the language does not mean to describe the DESCENT as dovelike but
the guise of the Spirit as dovelike. Since both Mt and Mk use the aorist verb
*eiden*, the implication is that Jesus SAW the spirit descending--but WHAT
did he SEE? a dove? or something like a dove? I think that hOs and hOsei are
hedging adverbs: Jesus saw the Spirit, not a dove, but "as it were" in the
guise of a dove. Now it comes to me where I have seen hOsei--Acts 2:3. That is
the language of a vision, using the passive OphthEnai regularly used of an
apparition: "there appeared to them ... tongues *hOsei puros*, followed by the
curious SINGULAR verb: kai ekathisen eph, hena hekaston autOn. Probably there
have been studies of the language and traditional depictions of epiphanies
and mantic apparitions that would assist us here. The narratives (of the
baptism and of the Pentecost descent of the Spirit) appear to be affirming that
the descent of the Spirit was EXPERIENCED unmistakably, and that the minds of
those experiencing it attributed to it a visual manifestation. Why a dove?
I've seen the dove in Greek literature, particularly in the cult of Aphrodite,
but in Hebraic? What of the dove in Genesis: the dove sent out that brings
back the leaf? Any resonance? It seems to me, at any rate, that the language
of the evangelists intends to associate the phenomenon of the spirit's coming
with a dove--yet without identifying the Spirit with the dove.
I'm sure Luke wondered how anyone could SEE a spirit, and
>so added somatikOs, but it is the spirit, not the dove, which is seen
>(which receives all the modification). Does anyone know if the syntax is
I don't think the syntax is crucial in Luke, but I do think Luke is troubled
by the vagueness of Mark's *to pneuma hOs peristeran katabainon eis auton.*
Interesting here that the neuter form of the participle in *katabainon* makes
it clear that it is the descent of the Spirit, not of a dove, that is wit-
nessed. Luke's account differs sharply from Mt & Mk, not only in that the
descent of the spirit comes AFTER the baptism while Jesus is praying, but that
Luke also abandons the language of vision, using instead the typical LXX
formula, *egeneto de ... aneOkhthEnai ton ouranon kai katabEnai to pneuma to
hagion sOmatikOi eidei hOs peristeran ep'auton ...* Ithink that Luke wants
to remove this happening from the status of a visionary manifestation and
understand it as an objective historical phenomenon, and that this is why he
adds "sOmatikOi eidei"--but then, why "hOs peristeran"? Maybe he too wants to
say that it was really the Spirit descending on Jesus--manifestly--but it
looked like--even if it wasn't really--a dove.
> And it is interesting that in John, it is John the Baptist who sees
>the spirit descend, not Jesus, and tells it to John and Andrew (who seem
>to have missed Jesus's baptism). I don't know of any place in the Old
>Testament in which the Holy Spirit is figured as a dove - in fact, doves
>are often ridiculed there as stupid and worthless.
> And what does John mean when he said the spirit "stayed" on Jesus
>(emeinen). What we're lacking here is a simple ability to mimetically
>realize this passage - what did its author have in mind, visually, or
>spiritually? I for one like to explore ambiguities, but I also like the
>attempt to disambiguate them, while I realize there is often more than
As I noted above, I think John's account is really different because there is
a whole different theological perspective on John the Baptist and on the motifs
of descent and ascent. John the Baptist is not so much the prophetic herald of
Jesus in John as he is the WITNESS in the great KRISIS, the mutual impeachment
of Jesus and the World by each other: he attests the identity of Jesus, and
therefore he is the one who observes and attests the descent of the Spirit on
Jesus. But not only are anabainO and katabainO special words in John, so
especially is menO in all its variations of "abide," "abode" etc., as any
Greek concordance of John will show. John, I think, is different. The Synoptics
are problem enough.
All this is tentative. I await other opinions with interest.
CARL W. CONRAD, C25001CC@WUVMD.BITNET OR C25001CC@WUVMD.WUSTL.EDU
Classics, Washington University, One Brookings Dr., St. Louis, MO 63130
Phone: (314) 935-4018