Re: Acts 2:46: AFELOTH

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Thu Nov 21 1996 - 08:42:34 EST

At 4:35 AM -0600 11/21/96, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>I was intrigued by the word AFELOTHTI in Acts 2:46:
>Acts 2:46 (GNT) kaq hmeran te proskarterountes omoqumadon en tw ierw,
>klwntes te kat oikon arton, metelambanon trofhs en agalliasei kai afelothti
>The UBS Greek dictionary translates this as simplicity or humility, hence
>"simplicity of heart" or "humility of heart". That sounded like a pregnant
>phrase, so I started trying to examine the word AFELOTHTI. However, when I
>looked it up on the LSJ at Perseus, it didn't have much to say:
>a)felo/thj , htoj , h( , simplicity, unworldliness, Act.Ap.2.46, Vett.
> 240.15.
>I assume that this means that this word occurs only once, in Acts 2.46? If
>so, what clues do we have to the meaning of this word? What is the
>morphology of the word? I get as far as A-FELOTH, but I can't find anything
>useful in LSJ under FELOTH or even FELO with partial match.
>Any hints?

Yes, hints is about all you'll get on this word. I read this note at home
early this morning and realized I'd like to check the new LSJ on it. I
find, of course, the entry cited by Jonathan from the Perseus site, but I
also find, by looking around, that this is evidently a later Hellenistic
variant (I should note, for those unaware of it, that -OTHS {gen. -OTHTOS}
is a regular formative element for creating abstract nouns out of
adjectives) of AFELEIA, which is itself evidently an abstract noun formed
>from the adjective AFELHS, which adjective has itself been subject to a (to
me, at least) fascinating etymological speculation. First: the sense of
AFELHS: (1) of persons,(a) in positive sense: "artless, simple"--attested
as early as Sophocles and Demosthenes; (b) in pejorative sense: "bold,
brazen"; (2) of rhetorical style, "simple, not intricate or involved." Now
to the etymology: the main entry in LSJ (i.e. the older one from earlier
revisions) takes a clue from a phrase of Aristophanes regarding the style
of an earlier comic dramatist, Cratinus: hOS POLLWi REUSAS POT' EPAINWi DIA
TWN AFELWN PEDIWN ERREI (roughly tr. "who sometimes gushing with lots of
praise and over the smooth plains vanishes from sight") derives the
adjective from A privative and FELLEUS, "stony ground" --supposing the
plains referred to by Aristophanes to be smooth because they are without
stones. Glare, who is responsible for the new supplement, evidently
recognized the impossibility of this (double lambda won't readily relate to
the single lambda of AFELHS; one might as soon relate it to the Latin
word--which IS derived from Greek --for what Theodosia does well!) and in
the supplement bids the reader to delete that etymology from FELLEUS,
leaving us with the two major senses regarding simplicity of personal
character and simplicity of rhetorical style.

Now: Jonathan's own efforts at an etymology are as reasonable as the
earlier LSJ speculator's, more so in fact, because he doesn't attempt to
relate a single-lambda stem to a double-lambda one, and he also assumes an
alpha-privative. My own speculation here would be to derive the compound
>from APO + hEL, the aorist root/stem of AFAIREW, "take away." IF this is
right (and it can't be anything more than speculation), then the positive
sense of AFELHS for personal character and for rhetorical style must be
something like "refined, reduced to essentials" (this was the Latin style
that Julius Caesar sought to oppose to what he considered the more turgid
Ciceronian Latin prose), while the pejorative sense for personal character,
"bold, brazen" must have an almost opposite sense of "unsophisticated,
unpolished, crude."

It would appear, if all this is right (apart from the speculative
etymology) and the noun AFELOTHS derives from the adjective AFELHS, then
the noun as used in Acts must refer to a sort of simplicity of life-style
which Luke may well have associated with the Cynics, who generally adopted
a life-style dispensing with the niceties deemed essential by "civilized"
urbanites of the Hellenistic world; I suppose it would also be suitable for
the life-style of ascetic Jewish sects like the Essenes at Qumran or the
Therapeutae below Alexandria, of whom Philo writes--it's possible, at
least, that Luke's description of the life-style of the primitive Jerusalem
Christian community follows a kind of stereotype of simple Jewish piety.
But that's speculation too. Fun to meditate upon, however.

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

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