Use of the aorist infinitive in Mark 2:4

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MRoe
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Use of the aorist infinitive in Mark 2:4

Post by MRoe » July 28th, 2018, 8:32 pm

Good evening all,

As I'm working through Mark 2:1-12, in verse 4 Mark writes, "καὶ μὴ δυνάμενοι προσενέγκαι αὐτῷ διὰ τὸν ὄχλον ἀπεστέγασαν...". My question is, how is the aorist infinitive following δυνάμενοι to be understood? Is this simply complementary? Would it possible to see this as a temporal use of the infinitive describing action prior to the main verb ἀπεστέγασαν? In other words, could this phrase indicate they attempted to pass through the crowd, but after being unable to do so, they go high?

Thanks!

Michael Roe
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Fairfield, OH
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Jonathan Robie
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Re: Use of the aorist infinitive in Mark 2:4

Post by Jonathan Robie » July 29th, 2018, 7:10 am

MRoe wrote:
July 28th, 2018, 8:32 pm
in verse 4 Mark writes, "καὶ μὴ δυνάμενοι προσενέγκαι αὐτῷ διὰ τὸν ὄχλον ἀπεστέγασαν...". My question is, how is the aorist infinitive following δυνάμενοι to be understood? Is this simply complementary?
Yes. It describes what they were not able to do. The infinitive is a complement of δυνάμενοι.
MRoe wrote:
July 28th, 2018, 8:32 pm
Would it possible to see this as a temporal use of the infinitive describing action prior to the main verb ἀπεστέγασαν? In other words, could this phrase indicate they attempted to pass through the crowd, but after being unable to do so, they go high?
In infinitives and participles, tense does not express absolute time, the aorist προσενέγκαι is understood as a complement of μὴ δυνάμενοι, the present μὴ δυνάμενοι is understood relative to the aorist ἀπεστέγασαν, which is the main verb. "When they were not able to bring him ... they made an opening in the roof ..."
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Garrett Tyson
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Re: Use of the aorist infinitive in Mark 2:4

Post by Garrett Tyson » July 29th, 2018, 8:53 am

The participle δυνάμενοι is a present tense, which would mean it's to be considered simultaneous, right?

"And not being able to bring to him because of the crowd, they unroofed the roof where he was,

and (after) digging through (aorist participle showing action prior to the main indicative), they are lowering (present to highlight importance of the action for Mark) the mat where the paralytic was lying (imperfect to show descriptive/background. Mark wants to make sure we know the paralytic is still on the mat).


I think Porter/Black/Decker would say Mark used the aorist infinitive because it's unmarked. Just viewing the action as a whole, without concern for the progress/process. Does that sound right? As the complement to the participle, it's value has to do with aspect and not time?
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Re: Use of the aorist infinitive in Mark 2:4

Post by RandallButh » July 30th, 2018, 2:29 am

With infinitives "tense" is a fiction of metalanguage. (Tense only occurs in the indicative verbs.) The infinitive  προσενέγκαι explains what they could not do. The aorist refers to the complete event, including the end point of the event--they couldn't get the guy all the way to Yeshua.

As for the historical present, it sets up a situation, it is the setting for the important events that will follow but it itself is not "important". In other words, the "lowering" was NOT important to Mark. Again, calling the verb important to Mark is a misuse of metalanguage, possibly aided and abetted by a mistaken paradigm (Porterism).

The overall passage is interesting because of the sustained suspense in the speeches (historical presents), finally being resolved in the aorist, "online"/"foregrounded" events "he got up"..."walked out".
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Garrett Tyson
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Re: Use of the aorist infinitive in Mark 2:4

Post by Garrett Tyson » July 30th, 2018, 8:31 am

RandallButh wrote:
July 30th, 2018, 2:29 am
With infinitives "tense" is a fiction of metalanguage. (Tense only occurs in the indicative verbs.) The infinitive  προσενέγκαι explains what they could not do. The aorist refers to the complete event, including the end point of the event--they couldn't get the guy all the way to Yeshua.

As for the historical present, it sets up a situation, it is the setting for the important events that will follow but it itself is not "important". In other words, the "lowering" was NOT important to Mark. Again, calling the verb important to Mark is a misuse of metalanguage, possibly aided and abetted by a mistaken paradigm (Porterism).

The overall passage is interesting because of the sustained suspense in the speeches (historical presents), finally being resolved in the aorist, "online"/"foregrounded" events "he got up"..."walked out".
As far as the historical present goes, I was under the impression that it's a common argument that it gives prominence to some feature of the text. I've been reading Rijksbaron's book, The Syntax and Semantics of the Verb, and he uses a similar argument about them. "Unlike the imperfect and aorist indicative, the present indicative is, 'at heart,' not suitable for the expression of past states of affairs. As a result of this special status the historical present has a specific effect, or rather, effects, for a number of nuances may be distinguished. . . "When occurring in a narrative, the present 'enables the reader to distinguish between matter that relates to what is the writer's main concern, and other ingredients of the narrative.' (Sicking and Stork 1997, 156). In particular, the present marks states of affairs that are of decisive importance for the story" (Rijksbaron, 22).

So I don't know that Porter/Decker/Black is messing me up here. Can we call it giving the story vividness, or prominence, or highlighting something, or drawing attention to something? It's a present tense verb where we don't expect one.

In Mark, the present tense seems to be used in 4 ways so far: (1) to give prominence to specific verbs, (2) to draw attention to a speech that follows (2:5; λέγει), in direct speech (ἀφίενταί; 2:5), or (4) to mark a transition in the story (ἔρχονται; Mark 2:3).

I'm going to have to reread Mark to see if presents are the normal verb of choice for quotations still. I had originally thought Mark was making a big deal about Jesus eating with sinners using the historical present twice, but if that's his normal use within direct speeches, then I'm wrong.


Are you saying that aorists are more prominent in the story than presents?



I think the most important point in this story, for Mark, is that Jesus forgives sins. Not that he healed a paralytic.

"And seeing their faith, Jesus is saying (present tense) to the paralytic,
"Child, your sins are being forgiven."

Mark then gives offline material (does that language work better?), describing the scribe's reaction, using an imperfect:

Now some of the scribes were there,
sitting and thinking in their hearts,
"Why is this one speaking thus? He is blaspheming. Who is able to forgive sins except one: God."

This has the effect of slowing down the narrative, forcing us to think about what Jesus just claimed. It doesn't advance the story like an aorist or present tense would've. But it draws further attention to Jesus' words about sins being forgiven (or maybe, further describes/explains it). Decker and Black call it background, Robie calls it descriptive?, would you call it offline?

Jesus then makes it even more obvious for everyone what he is claiming, switching from an ambiguous passive voice (sins are being forgiven by whom?) to an active (son of man is having authority to forgive sins).

And the healing of the paralytic is evidence that Jesus can do what he claims to do here, in forgiving sins. (If God wasn't pleased with him, he wouldn't be able to heal). But Mark uses aorists, not presents, to describe the paralytic getting up because that's not the point he's giving prominence to. It's proof that Jesus can forgive sins like he says, so if we want forgiveness, we go to Jesus (and not the temple?).

Sorry. I'm not trying to hijack this thread. This has been what I've been wrestling with lately. Apologies for the English translations, also...
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Re: Use of the aorist infinitive in Mark 2:4

Post by Jonathan Robie » July 30th, 2018, 10:12 am

Garrett Tyson wrote:
July 30th, 2018, 8:31 am
As far as the historical present goes, I was under the impression that it's a common argument that it gives prominence to some feature of the text. I've been reading Rijksbaron's book, The Syntax and Semantics of the Verb, and he uses a similar argument about them. "Unlike the imperfect and aorist indicative, the present indicative is, 'at heart,' not suitable for the expression of past states of affairs. As a result of this special status the historical present has a specific effect, or rather, effects, for a number of nuances may be distinguished. . . "When occurring in a narrative, the present 'enables the reader to distinguish between matter that relates to what is the writer's main concern, and other ingredients of the narrative.' (Sicking and Stork 1997, 156). In particular, the present marks states of affairs that are of decisive importance for the story" (Rijksbaron, 22).
I agree with that. And I find Rijksbaron's descriptions particularly clear and easy to follow.
Garrett Tyson wrote:
July 30th, 2018, 8:31 am
So I don't know that Porter/Decker/Black is messing me up here. Can we call it giving the story vividness, or prominence, or highlighting something, or drawing attention to something? It's a present tense verb where we don't expect one.
I'm going to avoid the metalanguage here, I think it's easy to get lost in it, and these terms don't always provide crisp distinctions.

Let's focus on what Mark is doing in the two chapters you have been working on. I think that the historical presents also advance the story, at least in the verbs of speech in this passage - someone says something, someone else responds, each time it is a step in the story.

The non-finite verbs and imperfect indicatives give more background information, paint the scene, etc.
RandallButh wrote:
July 30th, 2018, 2:29 am
The overall passage is interesting because of the sustained suspense in the speeches (historical presents), finally being resolved in the aorist, "online"/"foregrounded" events "he got up"..."walked out".
Seeing the "big picture" view of the passage as a whole is important. It helps keep our intuition pointed in the right direction. Trying to compute meaning from grammatical metalanguage can lead to a lot of nonsense.
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RandallButh
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Re: Use of the aorist infinitive in Mark 2:4

Post by RandallButh » July 30th, 2018, 12:40 pm

In Mark, the present tense seems to be used in 4 ways so far: (1) to give prominence to specific verbs, (2) to draw attention to a speech that follows (2:5; λέγει), in direct speech (ἀφίενταί; 2:5), or (4) to mark a transition in the story (ἔρχονται; Mark 2:3).
I would flip these.
Transition is typically setting material, which sets off a block of material. It is very common with Mark. Inside direct speech it is not normally a historical present. Speech is also very common in Mark.
As for the specific verb, those many setting examples in Mark like "come" above are not giving preference to that verb but re-attracting audience attention for an incident which follows. the incident is thereby highlighted, not the "coming" or scene setting per se. Also note that the historical present rhetorically plays on both the tense and the aspect.
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Re: Use of the aorist infinitive in Mark 2:4

Post by Jonathan Robie » July 30th, 2018, 3:03 pm

If anyone wants to see Levinsohn's discourse analysis of this text, these resources could be useful:
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MRoe
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Re: Use of the aorist infinitive in Mark 2:4

Post by MRoe » July 31st, 2018, 9:46 am

Thank you all for the replies. They are very helpful in thinking through the text. And thank you Mr. Robie for the links to the discourse analysis. I appreciate it.
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Re: Use of the aorist infinitive in Mark 2:4

Post by serunge » July 31st, 2018, 11:12 am

I’d strongly recommend against thinking of the historical present (HP) as a highlighting device and instead to think more concretely about what it signals. This was one of the most difficult chapter to write in my discourse grammar. The first version was flatly rejected as wrong by Carl Conrad, and rightly so in hindsight. The easiest route I’ve found to explaining the different effects it achieves is thinking of it as a speed bump or a ‘Mind the Gap’ yellow line for you Brits.

If a present indicative (yes, only speaking of the indicative here) is found in a context where it is expected, e.g., within reported speeches or in exposition of the epistles, it is simply doing its job. Nothing about it stands out, so you read right over top of it without really noticing anything. Since you have a ready explanation accounting for its presence you just continue on your merry way.

If you find a present indicative in narrative proper, note that you have a double mismatch with what’s expected (HT to Admiral Buth, ETS 2009). Normally in narrative you find aorist or imperfect indicatives. The former portray the action including the end point, the latter without the end point. Buth schooled me in the fact that the HPs will include the endpoint, I.e., they are substituted for aorists and not for imperfects as some traditional grammarians postulate. So we have a mismatch of aspect, imperfective HPs where a perfective is expected. Nevertheless, the action of the HP is perfective, which suggests the aspectual marker is there for something other than purely semantic reasons. The mismatch makes the verb stand out. To what end? See below. There is also a mismatch in tense, where a non-past form is used in a context where a past form is expected.

Okay, why a speed bump and not a marker of prominence? Because the prominence notion is wrong 60% of the time, even more if one adopts Porter’s view that ALL presents are foregrounding, not just the HPs. The most common use of the HP in Mark is akin to Luke’s use of δε (check out the synoptic parallels), to signal the next step in the narrative or what grammarians have called paragraph marking. It simply signals that there’s a discontinuity of some kind the writer doesn’t want you to miss, but to trip over. If you find the discontinuity there by the HP, you’ve accounted for it and continue on your merry way. Such transitions could be between narrative paragraphs or at the transition from narrative to reported speech (I.e., the initial verb of speech at the beginning of a dialogue). Note that the HP is one of several ways to signal such a transition, so usage needs to be analyzed within that broader constellation of what Levinsohn calls ‘development markers’. So the usage stands out like a speed bump or mind the gap, but the fact that it cooccurs with a discontinuity of some kind (change in time, place, participants or kind of action) means that no further explanation is needed. The action itself is not what’s prominent. It simply signals a discontinuity.

So how do we explain the remainder, the ones that everyone wants to say make the HP action stand out from the context? Using the same principle, but recognizing the change in context. These HPs stand out so much because they are used in contexts of high continuity, right at the crux of the story or there abouts in the gospels and other Koine literature. And this is where you can easily misinterpret the author’s point if you abandon what I would call the speed bump function. Despite the appeal of having the HP verb itself stand out as the most important thing, it is still performing the same, forward-pointing function as Buth has rightly pointed out above. The reason it ‘feels’ different is the fact that the writer is signaling a discontinuity in a context where it is clearly not. Our claims affect our exegetical conclusions, as illustrated above. It can’t be both. I agree with Randall that the markers suggest a steady building of anticipation to the climax, which occurs when the paralytic picks up his litter and walks out. This doesn’t in any way undermine the fact that Jesus forgives. The dialogue with the religious leaders is what sets that off. So it too is significant, but underscored using a different device, and as a secondary theme of this discourse. The HP use is focused on the larger narrative plot, which is resolved when the guy who at the beginning of the story had to be carried in now walks away on his own.

This is a distillation of an article I wrote a while back, so I’d recommend that for folks with questions. It also offers a critique of why the tenseless explanations of the HP fall flat, and more to the point, are simply unnecessary. http://www.ntdiscourse.org/docs/ReconsideringHP.pdf
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