Re: Jn. 5.13: Jesus, a swimmer?

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Fri Mar 29 1996 - 10:12:31 EST

On 3/27/96, Richard Arthur <> wrote:

> dear friends,
> In John 5.13, we read that the cured man did not know who it was that
> had healed him, because IHSOYS EKSENEUSEN OXLOY ONTOS EN TW TOPW - "Jesus
> swam away (had conveyed himself away, ASV, 1901), a crowd being in the
> place." The verb EKNEYW (or EKNEW), properly means "to swim away", but
> according to Liddell-Scott-Jones, 1940, generally means "escape, get safely
> through". Or could the verb be EKNEYW, "shun, avoid"?
> I wonder if in this case, Jesus and the paralytic being at a pool called
> "Bethesda" and the man himself stumbling to get into the water, is it too
> far-fetched to say that Jesus after performing his cure went for a little
> dip?
> There also arises the question whether it is lawful to swim on the
> Sabbath, something still frowned upon in some areas. Note that in Jn. 5.16,
> three verses later, it is said KAI DIA TOUTO EDIWKON hOI IOUDAIOI TON IHSOYN
> OTI TAUTA EPOIEI EN SABBATW, "and for this reason the Jews persecuted
> Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath."

This entire question is evidently based upon the old Victorian version of
Liddell & Scott, which was the basis of the as-yet-unrevised Intermediate
and smaller L&S (surnamed "Middle Liddell" and "Little Liddell"
respectively) and an utterly mis-fired etymology relating the root of the
verb to NAUW, "swim," "float" (whence NAUS, NAUTHS). The fact of the matter
is that the root is seen in NEUW (= Latin nuo), "nod the head." Fairly
common are ANA-NEUW, nod the head backward in denial or rejection, and
KATA-NEUW, nod the head forward and downward in assent (when Zeus does
that, so says Homer, all Olympus quakes). EK-NEUW is from the same root;
its sense is "turn the head away," whence it comes to mean "turn away" and
"depart." And that's what we have here. It's mighty strange that ASV would
translate, "swam away," but when there are fundamental errors in a
dictionary, the repercussions may be far-reaching, or should we say, in
this instance, "water-logged."

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR

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