The Peculiar Compound Non-postpositive Hapax μενοῦν in Luke 11:28

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Barry Hofstetter
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Re: The Peculiar Compound Non-postpositive Hapax μενοῦν in Luke 11:28

Post by Barry Hofstetter »

Jonathan Robie wrote: July 29th, 2019, 2:32 pm
Barry Hofstetter wrote: July 28th, 2019, 8:06 amNor does anyone else in the history of interpretation seem to see this, at least in what I can access.
Mmmmphh, I'm not ready to say that nobody has ever thought that before.

BDAG has an article on μενοῦν that refers to BDF (section 450) and A.T. Robinson's grammar (1151ff). Useful reading.
And neither am I, which is why I qualified the statement. Usually if something like this is an issue, the better exegetical commentaries will mention it, and nobody that I looked at mentioned it.
N.E. Barry Hofstetter
Instructor of Latin
Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
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Re: The Peculiar Compound Non-postpositive Hapax μενοῦν in Luke 11:28

Post by DennisKenaga »

Thanks for your considered challenges. I see now that I did not differentiate between the absolute postpositive rule and another proposed rule that I will call the contemporary rule. The absolute postpositive rule is about the initial position of postpositive lexemes in their phrase, not about μενοῦν. It is not that the morpheme/component μέν never comes first. Clearly μενοῦνγε is a classical initial expression or word. It is not that μὲν οὖν or μενοῦν without γε never comes first anywhere. Clearly they do come first in several Alexandrian manuscripts in Luke 11:28, although nowhere else. The rule is not that μενοῦν is impossible. μενοῦν follows the rule.

The absolute postpositive rule I refer to is about lexemes in the lexicon and their position in Greek phrases. μέν, οὖν, μενοῦν, μενοῦνγε and γε are five different lexical entries. Some lexemes are compounds of other lexemes or inflections or morphemes. The absolute postpositive rule is that lexemes are either postpositive or not, and that postpositive lexemes never come first in their phrase. There are no violations. There are only 11 postpositive lexemes, including μέν and μέντοι but not μενοῦνγε, with over 4800 occurrences in the GNT, none initial.

The contemporary rule that I propose is that a word selected for the text should occur in the contemporary literature or be a neologism. Clearly a phrase in dispute occurring only in later copies does not qualify as a supporting evidence from the contemporary literature. That would be circular logic. A postpositive morpheme does not occur in the initial position other than in the μενοῦνγε sequence in contemporary literature. There are no known contemporary exceptions. The first exceptions, if they are that, occur in the Alexandrian manuscripts. μενοῦν follows the absolute rule but not the contemporary rule.

There is no dispute about this absolute postpositive rule itself as far as I know. It is an editorial rule, but the Greeks knew it and practiced it before the editors. The purpose of stating the absolute postpositive rule is to widen the scope of grammatical precedents from μέν to all postpositives, to see if Luke violated a grammar rule and created a neologism or if it was a scribal mistake. The rule itself does not prove that initial μενοῦν is not original.

This absolute rule is respected by the editors of the Nestle Aland text without exception, including μενοῦν. The unique initial hapax lexeme μενοῦν beside the classical postpositive lexeme pair μὲν οὖν was invented by the editors for Luke 11:28 precisely in order to preserve the editors’ textual choice and at the same time to keep this absolute postpositive rule inviolate.

They did so at a severe cost. An editorial convention is that a sequence of lexemes may not be compounded in one place and uncompounded in another. This convention is only violated once in the GNT out of thousands of observances, the word μενοῦν. Smyth compounds μενοῦνγε but not μενοῦν.

My assertion is not that the Alexandrian scribes did not equate the unprecedented initial μενοῦν to the classical μενοῦνγε in Luke 11:28. Apparently they did do that as we see in the manuscripts, although we do not know whether consciously or accidentally. The assumption that they or anybody considered this syntax grammatical would not be warranted. Does anyone know if there are accurate estimates on the age of the Vaticanus correction adding γε back in?

My starting point is to assume the contemporary rule, that a compound of lexemes should have a precedent in classical or Koine literature (as Moulton and Milligan and the lexicons provide everywhere else), but that initial non-postpositive μενοῦν lacks such precedents, making it a neologism or scribal error. In classical and Koine Greek no postpositive morpheme ever comes first in the phrase except μέν in μενοῦνγε. The signal to the classical reader that the morpheme μέν may come first exceptionally must be γε because initial μὲν or μὲν οὖν or any postpositives require γε and never come first in the supporting contemporary literature without γε.

I have a degree in mathematics and statistics. We know that the scribes made thousands of small deviations from the original, often shortening it, because we see thousands of such variants within the small Alexandrian family. We see Vaticanus putting μενοῦν in Romans 9:20 where the others put μενοῦνγε. The suspicion about μενοῦν being an early scribal error in this manuscript family in Luke 11:28 can hardly be shocking since it actually occurs in the extant manuscripts elsewhere.

So the choice is between the claim that Luke put a postpositive in the initial position without the required classical signal γε (there are no such examples outside the Alexandrian Luke 11:28) or the claim that some scribe in the Alexandrian line altered the original (with thousands of examples). Was the unprecedented compound in the initial position invented by Luke or by the scribes?

The odds are zero in the supporting contemporary literature to thousands in the manuscripts. From the perspective of probability the choice in favor of scribal error is clear. All grammar and order rules are based on authority backed by statistics. My assumption is that the text goal is to approximate the autograph, not some particular subset of manuscripts, although of course I reject emendation.

Speculation about whether some scribes in Egypt later thought μενοῦνγε and μενοῦν were equivalent or not does not decide what Luke thought and wrote. No contemporary evidence supports the idea that Luke’s contemporaries considered them equivalent. We don’t want to be circular. In a story problem we try to weed out the extraneous variables.

I acknowledge that the present age is dead set against the idea of impossible anything and that any claims to absolutes will be automatically and confidently rejected by most contemporaries. However, this is just prejudice. The rule against the 11 postpositive lexemes coming first is absolute. The order of boy and its modifier the are absolute in French le garçon but not in parent Latin puer ille. Boy the is impossible English in ordinary literature.

Postpositive morphemes had an equally absolute order in contemporary known literature with the one well-known exception of the γε signal in μενοῦνγε. That such postpositive absolute order would be immediately internalized by everyone is a foreign concept to modern English speakers, but the statical evidence is before us on a very large scale, and science has studied such detailed natural language learning by children. We have such examples today.

So to refine the claim: proving any historical speech impossible may be impossible, but statistically the odds of μενοῦν being a scribal error in Luke 11:28 are overwhelmingly greater than having been written by Luke himself. Contemporary Greeks adhered to the known postpositive practice without known exception, but μενοῦν does not. And μενοῦν lacks the characteristics of the known neologisms.

The critical choice is unreasonable and needs to take Greek language patterns into account sometimes but does not. Since Alexandrian scribes made thousands of errors, often in different places, statistically sometimes all the extant copies are wrong and the current method must be defective. It is elementary probability theory. It is common sense against putting too many eggs in one basket.

Dennis Kenaga, Lansing MI
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