From: Carl W. Conrad (email@example.com)
Date: Sun Sep 03 1995 - 08:21:08 EDT
I would like to propose a discussion on the function of SHMEIA in the
Synoptic Jesus-sayings--or, if there is a standard treatise on the subject
(or 2 or 3 or more!), I'd be grateful to have it pointed out. I would be
inclined to omit the Johannine SHMEIA, partly because it is generally
thought (isn't it) that a distinct SHMEIA-source underlies the first half
of John's gospel, but also because this is a matter of narrative rather
than dominical sayings on the subject of SHMEIA. In part this is a
follow-up to an off-list query from Larry Swain regarding the following
part of an exchange between Jan Haugland and myself:
>At 7:52 PM 8/28/95, Jan.Haugland@uib.no wrote (inter alia):
>>I think we have to note that words about celestial phenomenons ("signs in sun
>>and moon and stars" etc) in the OT, where these word-pictures originated, does
>>not stand alone. Some people have had their nose against the skies for a long
>>time with no good reason, for those words do not refer to anything that shakes
>>the physical universe. We find these words all over the OT, like in Hag
>>2:21,22 >where God is "about to shake the heavens and the earth, and to
>>overthrow the throne of kingdoms." Note the parallelism; the last part --
>>literal -- explains the first -- which is figurative. We see pretty clearly
>>that celestial phenomenon and natural disasters are used to refer to great
>>*moral* and *political* changes and upheavals (like in Ha 2:6,7; Ze 4:7; Ez
>>26:15; 38:19; Jo 3:16; see also Heb 12:26,27).
>>This is the a key to understand the celestial phenomenon referred to in Mt
and I responded as follows:
>I won't argue this point; I agree that it is standard; it isn't even unique
>to the Jewish tradition. There's a standard list of portents that
>accompanied the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C., many of them
>similar to those you've cited above. I don't attribute any more
>significance to them than you do. I do attribute more significance to Mk
>13:7-8, because I think it is very likely that Mark had in mind the
>upheavals in the Roman empire following the assassination of Nero in 69.
Larry made the point to me that we should understand these signs as more
than a literary device--that they were taken very seriously by the
contemporaries of Jesus and the early church (and, I would add, by the
ancient world generally, apart from sophisticated scoffers, who must have
constituted a relatively small percentage of the population. And I think
that this is true. But that set me to thinking about the SHMEIA in this
part of Synoptic Apocalypse which all the Synoptics present as a discourse
of Jesus either delivered on the Mt of Olives (so Mk & Mt) or even in the
Temple precinct itself (so Luke) and the tradition of dominical sayings
apart from this, most particularly the refusal of Jesus to give a sign in
TI hH GENEA hAUTH ZHTEI SHMEION? AMHN LEGW hUMIN, EI DOQHSETAI THi
GENEAi TAUTHi SHMEION.
and what may be an alternative form of the same saying in the Q tradition
(or, if you prefer, in the shared tradition of Mt & Lk), as found, e.g., in
Mt 12:39-42, of which I cite only the beginning:
GENEA PONHRA KAI MOIXALIS SHMEION EPIZHTEI, KAI SHMEION OU DOQHSETAI
AUTHi EI MH TO SHMEION IWNA TOU PROFHTOU. hWSPER GAR HN IWNAS EN THi
KOILIAi TOU KHTOUS TREIS hHMERAS KAI TREIS NUKTAS. hOUTWS ESTAI hO
TOU ANQRWPOOU EN THi KARDIAi THS GHS TREIS hHMERAS KAI TREIS NUKTAS.
Now it may well be that the second part of this is a later expansion from
the original Jesus-saying, a vaticinium ex eventu based on the fact of
Jesus resurrection three days (by the traditional counting of days at both
ends) after his death on the cross. I don't really want to get into that
argument. What I'm really curious about is whether we may say anything
confidently about Jesus' own attitude toward "signs." It would seem that he
saw his own exorcisms and healings not as validation of his own status so
much as indications that the Kingdom of God was dawning (obviously I'm
drawing this from the Q tradition of Lk 11:20 = Mt 12:28.
So my questions are: (1) Is there a bibliography on this subject already
that one turn to for useful discussion of the matter? and/or (2) what do
list-members think about these dominical sayings and the question of Jesus'
own attitude toward SHMEIA (a) as valid indicators of the COMING, and (b)
as validations of his mission?
I realize that my formulation of the second question betrays some
skepticism about whether Jesus actually offered these SHMEIA as indicators
of the end-time, but I don't really want to prejudice that question. It
does seem to me than Jan is right in asserting that some of this is
literary in inspiration and derives from older Biblical traditions. My
question, then, is is it really MORE than literary in terms of Jesus'
actual predictions of signs indicating the PAROUSIA?
Now of course it may be felt that this inquiry is more historical than
textual and therefore has no place in discussions on b-greek. I'd be
grateful, however, even for discussion of the way in which SHMEION is being
used in these sayings.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
firstname.lastname@example.org OR email@example.com
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