Re: Aorists inthe Magnificat

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Mon Apr 22 1996 - 15:37:13 EDT

At 12:19 PM -0600 4/22/96, Kenneth Litwak wrote:
> I have a question about the overall use of verb tenses in the
>Magnificat, Luke
> 1:46-55, so please excuse me if I don't type in transliterated text for
>ten verses.
> (BTW, I've found the cause of my mail woes -- it's a "fix" by my
>computer support
> group for another problem. Some fix). The Magnificat starts with a present
> tense verb and then switches to a string of aorist tense verbs. Most of
> aorist verbs speak of God doing things like giving good things to the
>hungry and
> sending away the rich empty (though I'm still unsure about whether KENOUS
> means empty persons or empty, i.e., useless things, and Bauer's comment on it
> doesn't really help me decide). Since surely Jesus in the womb has not
> accomplished these things during gestation, the aorist verbs raise a
> They have been seen as "prophetic" aorists, gnomic aorists with no time
> or ingressive aorists (starting from here and now). I'd like to know what
> others on the list think about how to understand the aorists and I'd be
> interested in someone like Bruce Terry who seems to understand Porter and
> on verbal aspect better than I to comment on this. I'm personally undecided
> between the "prophetic" aorist in which the speaker sees these events as so
> certain that they can be spoken of as accomplished and and ingressive aorist
> in which they have started but their completion is cerain. Then again,
> aspect may turn the problem on its head. Thanks.

Ken, is this really anything more than citing the text exactly as it's
already found in the LXX? I haven't examined the OT sources in detail, but
it looks like the chief text imitated is 1 Sam 2:1-10, with numerous
additions from elsewhere.

The question, of course, is why they are aorist in the LXX, but isn't the
answer to that normally that they are perfect tenses in the Hebrew?

At any rate, I would think it fair to say that most of the grammatical
rules that one learns in order to deal with the NT don't work terribly well
with the LXX. I've been reading the Joseph narrative from Genesis with a
tutorial student; presumably it's one of the oldest parts translated into
Greek, and it is loaded with a marvelous array of Semitisms, relatively few
of which recur in the NT.

I recall reading somewhere (Raymond Brown, _Birth of the Messiah_?) that
these first two chapters of Luke are formulated deliberately to echo the
tone of OT narrative IN THE LXX and in particular the story of the birth of
Samuel in 1 Samuel.

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

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