Sophocles and John

From: Brian E. Wilson (
Date: Sun Aug 31 1997 - 02:22:04 EDT

Edward Hobbs writes - (snip) -
>Luke, on the other hand, handles Greek with an astonishing ease. While he
>is of course no Sophocles (NOBODY else is a Sophocles except Sophocles!),
>he can write Greek that sounds like LXX (Luke 1-2)

Is it so certain that the style of Luke 1-2 (apart from the dedicatory
preface in the first four verses) is the style of Luke the gospel-
writer? According to W. G. Most in his article 'Did St Luke imitate the
Septuagint?' in _The Synoptic Gospels - A Sheffield Reader_ ed. Craig A.
Evans & Stanley E. Porter (Sheffield 1995) pages 215-226, the
"septuagintal" style of these chapters is the result of Luke having used
documentary source material written in that style. Luke himself may
even have disliked the "septuagintisms" he copied.

 The most obvious septuagintism in Luke's gospel is EGENETO followed by
finite verb, this occurring 22 times. In the Baptism of Jesus and the
Parable of the Sower, however, although Mark has EGENETO followed by
finite verb, the construction is not used by Luke in the parallel
passages in his gospel. Moreover, the construction occurs nowhere at
all in Acts. If Luke was so fond of this construction, and if he also
wrote Acts, this is a very loud silence indeed.

 One explanation which makes sense of all this is that Luke did not like
the construction EGENETO with the finite verb, and omitted some
instances of it from his source material, but that he did copy quite a
number of instances from the documentary material he used in Luke 1-2
out of general respect for his sources. In this case,the septuagintism
was not supplied by Luke at all, but by his source material.

 Where documentary sources have been used, the style of a book is not
necessarily the same as the style of the writer of that book. Unless we
have first identified the words not taken from sources by a gospel-
writer, we cannot tell what the gospel-writer's own style of writing

It is easy to tell in what style Sophocles wrote, because the words he
wrote were his words. It is a very difficult task indeed to identify the
styles of writing of the writers of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke
and John, because the words they wrote may not have been their words.

Brian E. Wilson
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