SPERMOLOGOS in Acts 17:18

From: Jim Beale (eghx@gdeb.com)
Date: Thu Jun 19 1997 - 17:06:50 EDT

Here's an offbeat question! :-)

SPERMOLOGOS, in Acts 17:18, is usually translated as "babbler." My
impression, though, is that the Athenians intended to convey
something somewhat more demeaning than that. As I see in LSJ, the
word seems to have had connotations of "seed-picker" or "guttersnipe,"
which I have understood to be the descriptive name of a little bird
who picked up seeds out of human excrement. Does it have these
connotations in Koine? The Athenians were _so_ rude to Paul!!??

Does it seem to be the case that SPERMOLOGOS has as much to do with
the message as with the man? In Demosthenes, _On the Crown_, 18.127
it is translated "scandalmonger." My guess is that the referent of
that would be a man who "mongs scandals" (-: which seems to say
as much or more about what the man was saying than about the man
himself. Is this reasonable? Does 'babbler' convey this to anyone?

Might the Athenians have had this passage in mind?

   Why, if my calumniator had been Aeacus, or Rhadamanthus, or
   Minos, instead of a mere scandalmonger, a market-place
   loafer, a poor devil of a clerk, he could hardly have used
   such language, or equipped himself with such offensive
   expressions. Hark to his melodramatic bombast: "Oh, Earth!
   Oh, Sun! Oh, Virtue," and all that vaporing; his appeals to
   "intelligence and education, whereby we discriminate between
   things of good and evil report"--for that was the sort of
   rubbish you heard him spouting.

   Virtue! you runagate; what have you or your family to do
   with virtue? How do you distinguish between good and evil
   report? Where and how did you qualify as a moralist? Where
   did you get your right to talk about education? No really
   educated man would use such language about himself, but
   would rather blush to hear it from others; but people like
   you, who make stupid pretensions to the culture of which
   they are utterly destitute, succeed in disgusting everybody
   whenever they open their lips, but never in making the
   impression they desire.
   (Demosthenes, _On the Crown_, 18.127-128)

It's such a challenge to hermeneutically place oneself in the cultural
context of the time. . . but it's alot of fun reading the background
material. I'm jealous of Carl's extensive classical background! ;-)

Jim Beale

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