Re: Questions from Matthew's gospel and semitic languages

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sat Oct 05 1996 - 23:47:04 EDT

At 10:33 PM -0500 10/5/96, Mr. Timothy T. Dickens wrote:
>Dear friends,
> My first question is from Matt.1:18c, . . . Prin H sunelqein
>autous. . . . What is the purpose of the H in this passage? I use
>to know, but know I am totally dumbfounded! It is as if the
>sentence could be read without the H!

Certainly it would mean the same without the H, but the H is common enough
in this consruction. Understsnding it requires that one realize that PRIN =
PROTERON, which in this instance means "sooner." We might want to translate
as "prior to" and make it govern an infinitive, but it's closer in meaning
to "sooner than"--and here the H is the "than" of "sooner than." I wouldn't
want to be dogmatic about it, but I rather suspect that this is another
instance of the emergence of a construction beginning as PRIN H and then
becoming elliptical, with the H omitted more often than not; it would be
parallel then to the genitive articular infinitive which originally
depended upon an explicit hENEKA, but over the course of time the hENEKA
tended more and more to be omitted. My recollection, however, is that even
in classical Attic one is as likely to see PRIN used directly with an
infinitive as often as PRIN H + infinitive (and PRIN AN + subjunctive).

> Second, vs. 20 says ". . . Mh pobhqhs paralabein Mariam thn
>gunaika sou." I translated this as "Do not be afraid to take Mary
>(as) your wife." The only problem is the word 'as' is not in the
>text! Does anyone suggest the insertion of 'as' to make sense of the
>text? And if so, why doesn't the Greek test use the word 'ws'? This
>would seem to be good enough in any case!

It is ENGLISH that seems to require the "as;" in the Greek GUNAIKA is
simply predicate accusative with PARALABEIN MARIAM. And English doesn't
always require it; rather it's the usage of some verbs in English. You
could very well have "Don't be afraid to make Mary your wife"--and the
construction would really be exactly the same without any "as"--in fact, an
"as" would be confusing.

> My last question is does anyone know anything about whether or
>not a cognate accusative is a phenomenon borrowed from semitic
>languages? The verse in my mind is Matt. 2:10 ". . . exaphsan xaran.
>. . ." The cognate accusative was indeed part of my training in
>claasical Greek, but I have to admit it is a strange animal, and it
>makes me wonder is such 'strangeness' due to English as my first
>language or a semitism in Greek.

You rightly remember that the cognate accusative is common in classical
Attic Greek (QUSIAN QUEIN, SPONDAS SPENDEIN, etc., etc.); it's not uncommon
in English even, although less common than in Greek: "see the sights," "do
great deeds," "tell a tale," etc., etc. My Hebrew is not good enough to
judge whether it's a common thing in Hebrew, but the construct infinitive
appears similar to it in a way. At any rate, there's no need in this
instance to look to semitism to account for a linguistic phenomenon that
has been a feature of Greek historically from way back when.

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

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