From: Edgar Foster (
Date: Thu Apr 23 1998 - 11:48:39 EDT

Dear Carl,

I appreciate the dialogue. It improves my proficiency as a classicist
and also forces me to study more. :-)

---"Carl W. Conrad" <> wrote:
> At 9:22 AM -0500 4/22/98, Edgar Foster wrote:
> >> >So I would agree, Thales is evidently not referring to a personal
> >> >deity, but evidently a force of some kind. This still doesn't
> >> >that QEOS ever "meant" (in a marked or unmarked sense) "power."
> >> >closest I have come to finding any evidence for this is the
> >employment
> >> >of QEO by Plato to describe the world soul. Etymologically, QEO
> >> >evidently means "I run" (i.e., power). But I find no usages Greek
> >> >literature which indicate that QEOS ever MEANT power, over against
> >> >Deity.
> >> >
> >> >Usage is my main point here.
> >> >
> >> >While Burnet says that QEOS means "god" in a religious sense, he
> >> >says that is not its only signification. Later, he adds, however:
> >> >"This non-religious use of the word "god" is characteristic of the
> >> >whole period we are dealing with" (Burnet 14).
> >> >
> >> >So here is the crux of the issue for me. I can agree that QEOS was
> >> >employed to DESCRIBE powers, but I see no evidence that it ever
> >> >"power." How does this apply to Biblical Greek? My friend suggests
> >> >that if QEOS means "power," it could affect our understanding of
> >> >in John 1:1.

> >---"Carl W. Conrad" <> wrote:
> >> Let's be clear here: there's all the difference in the world
> >saying
> >> that QEOS may have meant "power" at some point and to some
> >speakers/readers
> >> of Greek and saying that QEOS must therefore be affected by that
> >sense of
> >> its meaning in John 1:1. I DO think that QEOS was probably used
in a
> >> non-religious sense in the pre-Socratic literature, but I really
> >> think I'd try to bring that to bear upon understanding of John 1:1.
> >
> >Maybe I'm splitting hairs here, Carl. But if I use a word to signify
> >something else, does the word then take on the meaning of the thing
> >signified? For example, if an entire society of persons applied the
> >word to a tree, does QEOS then mean "tree"? I think it would be more
> >accurate to say that QEOS was used to describe a tree, or that a tree
> >was called QEOS--but QEOS does not mean "tree." I.e., "tree" would
> >qualify as a lexical entry for QEOS. Maybe as a semantic domain.
> Well, there clear ARE words that have such a history. One instance is
> POIHTHS which any plain fool can see is an agent noun from POIEW and
> "creator"--but you will almost never find this word used in Greek
for anything other than a poet, although the verb continues to be used
for the
> activity of other kinds of creative artists, as for example by the
> who sign their own work, e.g. "EXECIAS EPOIHSEN."

This is an excellent example, but I would not say that the QEOS
problem is totally analogous with the aforesaid example. One
difficulty we face with QEOS is that there are evidently no
unambiguous uses of QEOS in the PreSocratics. True, some might aver
that QEOS means "power" in Homer, Hesiod, or in Thales--but this would
be a proximate assumption at best. As you well know, there are two
schools vis-a'-vis the issue of Hellenistic religion. One school
(Burnet) would say that QEOS denotes impersonal force in the
PreSocratics. Hack leaned toward the PreSocratics teaching both divine
anthropomorphism and impersonal Godhood. Phillip Wheelright goes even
further, saying that Greek religion was thoroughly heterogenous (there
is a big dichotomy between the ouranian and chthonic. Thus the problem
of equating the PreSocratic use of QEOS with impersonality.
> >I feel that the same applies to QEOS and "power." If you have
> >from the Classical literature where QEOS clearly MEANS "power," I am
> >open to it. But, I differentiate between a semantic domain and a
> >meaning.

> And what I'm saying is that the semantic range of QEOS in classical
> even Hellenistic) Greek is not so narrowly defined or definable. I
> never want to say that QEOS and DUNAMIS are synonyms, although they
may be
> used in ways suggestive of each other. I wonder whether your
> perhaps was thinking of the way ELOHIM may be used occasionally in
> at the opening of Genesis, some think that the RUACH-ELOHIM "moving
> the face of the deep" means not Spirit of God, but a "powerful
> ELOHIM may here ben the equivalent of an adjective for "very
powerful." You
> may very well want to say that QEOS in Greek is an exact equivalent of
> "god" in English, where "god" must refer to a named divine
personality, a
> deity.

My interlocutor is primarily basing his views on Kitto's comments
about the PreSocratics. Regarding ELOHIM, I think it can indeed mean
"powerful." But there are unambiguous examples of this usage in the
OT. I cannot say the same for QEOS.

>But there is a peculiar way in which writers of the pre-classical
> age use QEOS of impersonal transcendental power that puts the word
in a
> different sphere altogether from what the OT calls "the God of
> Isaac, and Jacob." And when Cleanthes penned his "Hymn to Zeus," it
is not
> at all clear what sort of religiosity we are supposed to attribute
to him
> for supposing the existence of an immanent teleological principle in
> universe.

And that is my main point. Its hard to impute a meaning of "impersonal
deity" or "power" to the PreSocratics if we are unsure about their
belief system and linguistic "use in location." In the book _The
Greeks and The Irrational_ E.R. Dodds argues that Homeric poetry is
filled with anthropomorphisms and religiosity. He gives many examples
which strongly indicate that the PreSocratics held a personalistic
view of Deity. At least, some of them did. I don't know that I would
say that about Xenophanes.

> In sum, I don't think I'm arguing any big thing here, although it
may have
> wide-ranging implications: that the USAGE of a word is by no means
> divorced from the perceived MEANING of a word over the course of a
> tradition.

Good point.


E. Foster

L-R College
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