Re: Rev 10:2 EUWNUMON

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Mon Oct 27 1997 - 08:59:09 EST

At 7:28 AM -0600 10/27/97, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>Rev 10:2 contains this phrase:
>And he set his right foot upon the sea,
>but the "one of good repute" upon the earth
>This caught me by surprise yesterday, because I saw EU and ONOMA in the
>word, and it didn't look like a word that ought to mean "left". All of my
>translations simply call this his left foot, without discussing the
>reputation of the foot, and BAGD and L&N also translate it as "left",
>without further comment.
>The LSJ entry for this says that this originally means "of good repute", and
>is used as a euphemism, because bad omens come from the left side; it points
>out that ARISTEROS is also a euphemism.
>And now for my questions...
>1. Can anyone give me a fuller picture of "bad omens" in Greek culture, and
>the use of euphemisms to avoid them?

I can't draw pictures (other than verbal ones) very well, but here are a
couple more instances of the phenomenon indicated in the LSJ article:

        EUFHMEW literally means "voice a good utterance" but is a religious
term actually meaning "be silent" (if you say nothing, you're less likely
to say something offending the deity); of course, this very word is the
etymological source of our word "euphemism."
        The Black Sea, when it was not simply called hO PONTOS was called
hO EUXEINOS (PONTOS), meaning "the sea that is friendly to strangers"--and
it was called that because people believed the opposite about it.
        My favorite is SUMFORA, which is related to the impersonal verb
SUMFEREI ("it is advantageous/profitable"); SUMFORA properly speaking means
"favorable contingency" = "good fortune"--yet the common sense in which the
word is used is "disaster." Something comparable is to be seen in the use
of the word "luck" in English in colloquial expressions such as: "I wrecked
my car last night--a total loss; it was just my luck!"

>2. In the NT era, would people still be aware that EUWNUMOS and ARISTEROS
>were euphemisms used to avoid bad omens, or had these usages become so
>integrated with the language that these were simply the normal ways of
>saying "left"?

I'm only guess about this response, but my guess is that this would vary
from one individual to another. Perhaps one of our British list-members
would venture a guess how many users of the adjective "bloody" as a curse
word are actually aware of its original association with "God's blood" shed
on the cross.

>3. Is there any indication that Christians were also concerned about "bad
>omens", like the Greek culture around them? Or was this still a concern in
>the Greek culture of the NT era?

Well, here again, I'm venturing a guess, but this time with a bit more
confidence. Paul speaks of members of his congregations who are "stronger"
and "weaker" in faith; if I understand rightly his usage of these
comparative terms, he holdds that those who are "weaker" in their faith are
more likely to be deeply disturbed by things they've grown up viewing as
taboos. The example of this that comes readily to mind is "food sacrificed
to idols"--i.e. meat from animals offered in pagan sacrifices that was too
much for the priests to use and was therefore put on the open market for
sale to anyone who could afford it. Paul talks a good deal about this in 1
Cor, noting that those who are "stronger in faith" are well aware that
there's nothing actually tainted about such meat, but that since those who
are "weaker in faith" still think such meat IS tainted, those who are
"stronger in faith" should be compassionate to the "weaker" and avoid, so
far as possible, offending their sensitivities that are as yet not inured
to conscientious behavior in terms of their own mature understanding of a
cosmos subject to the will of one God. At any rate, I think that's one
example from the NT. How many believers today might you find who worry (at
least a little bit) about black cats crossing their paths, about walking
under a ladder, about breaking a mirror, about Friday the 13th, etc., etc.?

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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