Re: Heb. 2:3 LABOUSA

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Tue Mar 11 1997 - 06:36:24 EST

At 12:06 AM -0600 3/11/97, wrote:
>To b-Greek folks,
>Thanks for all the challenging (and streching) education, but now I have a
>I've been working on Heb. 2:1-4 and I simply do not understand how LABOUSA
>(2Aor. act pct, nom.fem. sing of LAMBANW) fits in the sentence starting at
>2:2 to 2:3. Am I working with a figure of speech here? Modern translations
>do not refer to but with a phrase something like "after it was at first
>Any and all insight is appreciated.

In the Greek text the grammatical connection is clear enough but the
expression seems contorted, even if it is intelligible: v. 3 says "How
shall we escape (PWS EKFEUXOMEQA) if we disregard (lit. "having
disregarded" AMELHSANTES) so great a salvation ([very wooden translation
of] THLIKAUTHS SWTHRIAS), which (hHTIS) having received a beginning (of)
being spoken ([very, very wooden translation of an even more wooden Greek
formulation] ARCHN LABOUSA LALEISQAI) by agency of the Lord ([more wooden
translation] DIA TOU KURIOU) was confirmed (EBEBAIWQH) by those who heard
(hUPO TWN AKOUSANTWN) at last to us ([bloated translation of] EIS hHMAS).

LABOUSA has the form that it has because it accords with hHTIS, the
relative pronoun fem. sg. nom.) whose antecedent is SWTHRIAS (fem. sg.
gen.). That part is not really problematic; what IS problematic is what I
can only term a strange "periphrastic aorist participle" (ARCHN LABOUSA)
complemented by a present passive infinitive (LALEISQAI), the whole
expression apparently (tracing backward) equivalent to ARXAMENH LALEISQAI
([woodenly] "having begun to be spoken"), which in turn might more
"naturally" have been formulated (the whole clause, that is, in a more
hHMAS hUPO TWN AKOUSANTWN. At any rate, I think we have a strange sort of
"transformation" that has taken place here. The "natural" (by which I mean
the unrhetorical) formulation would have been something like "which was
first spoken ... and was confirmed ...," but it has been transformed
rhetorically into something like "which got its start being spoken by the
Lord and was confirmed by its hearers for us."

Although I've read through Hebrews several times, I've never made a study
of its style. I've noticed, one thing which strikes me as very peculiar--it
may reflect some kind of contemporary high Hellenistic style that I'm not
familiar with, but it is alien to anything that I consciously recall ever
having read--in that it does the very thing that English-speaking students
today who are beginning to learn Greek composition are warned against:
using nouns to carry the weight of what Greek normally expresses through
verbs. So here the expression ARCHN LABOUSA LALEISQAI has the "ring," if I
may put it so boldly, of an expression composed by someone who couldn't
figure out the normal way to write "which was first spoken" and who
therefore contrived to say "which got its start of being spoken." At any
rate, it does appear to be characteristic of the style of Hebrews that much
of the weight of the expressions is carried by verbal nouns, as is more
characteristic of normal English, whereas traditional Greek depends much
more heavily upon verbs to carry the weight of expression.

Frankly, I'm glad this little problem was raised. I'm curious how other
list-members react to what seems to me a "most unnatural" sort of Greek
expression, although it is by no means unintelligible.

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

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