Re: HDH + Perfect = Pluperfect?

Date: Thu Jun 11 1998 - 09:49:08 EDT

Carl W. Conrad wrote:
> At 11:31 AM -0400 6/10/98, wrote:
> >John 19:33 and Mark 15:44 both use HDH with the perfect of QNHSKW.
> >
> >
> >Would the use of the pluperfect in these passages have been redundant?
> >[viz HDH ETEQNHSKEI in Mark, for instance]
> >
> >Does the HDH simply stress emphatically what the pluperfect would have
> >necessarily implied?
> >
> >George Blaisdell
> No; the pluperfect is used to indicate completion or a state achieved at a
> point PRIOR to some point in the past.

The Greek perfect tense system seems tricky to talk about in English.
If it is understood as having past, present and future forms, then
they are:

PAST: Pluperfect
PRESENT: Perfect
FUTURE? Future perfect

The treachery arrives when we think about the perfect as a present
tense, because it indicates completion in the present of an action
that was ongoing in the past. As a present completion of that action,
it entails the idea of its resultant state, because the action itself
is no longer ongoing ~ It is over and done with.

So the ACTIVITY of the action is in the past, and the perfect
indicates the RESULT of that past activity right now, in the present.
So in English we translate the perfect as a past tense, even though in
the Greek it is not. In the Greek, it is simply the present tense of
completion of an action.

And to make matters even more confusing, it often ends up working as
if it is an adjective. To English speaking ears, there is little
difference between saying 'He has died' and 'He is dead', and I
suspect that to the Greek ear there is little difference as well. One
simply has to 'do' the first in order to 'be' the second! ~ Hence the
stative force of the completion of the action. The Greek would seem
to be, generally speaking, more interested in what things DO, than in
what things ARE, hence the perfect tense system of expression, rather
than one that uses EINAI plus an adjective. If a Greek wants to know
someone's death status, he won't ask 'Is he dead?', ~ Instead he will
ask 'Has he completed dying?' ~ Which is the perfect tense.

Again, in English, we tend to see the 'has' in 'has died' as an
auxiliary verb, rather than as the present tense verb that it is. If
we unfold these two words, 'has died', we discover the Greek perfect,
for they say: "Is having the completion of the activity of dying."

Now if HDH is added to [and thus adverbially modifies] the perfect,
does it not move its tense back one time frame? Would it not place
the completion of the action as something that has 'already' occurred,
forcing it then into the past? The perfect says the action is
completed in the present, and if it is already completed in the
present, must it not then be said to be completed in the past? And if
so, does that not then make the perfect a pluperfect? For the
pluperfect is simply the completion of an adtion in the past, at some
point prior to the present, that has HDH occurred, yes?

> Now in John 19:33, where we read
> I think we might translate it into an English pluperfect ("When they saw
> that he had already died") although I'd prefer to translate it as an
> English simple past ("When they saw that he was already dead")--because I
> believe what we have here is a simple stative usage.

I think you're 'dead on' right here, Carl, although I would want to
translate it as "...already he has died", which imho does a little
better job of translating the Greek focus on activity as the way of
expressing the state that results from the completion of dying.

> In Mark 15:44 we have
> something a bit different: an indirect question where the rule requires the
> subordinate clause to be in the same tense as the direct citation:
> This COULD be translated into English as "Pilate wondered if he had already
> died"--as an English pluperfect, but again, in my opinion, the verb is
> really stative and, when converted into normal English, would be "Pilate
> wondered whether he was already dead."

You are 'dead right' again ~ The verb is stative ~ And again, I would
rather see the Greek formulation of this state honored as an action
than as an 'is' plus adjective. Both are 'correct' in English.

Interestingly, you want to put both translations in the English
pluperfect AND retain the 'already', which seems correct as well, and
would seem to affirm the pluperfective force of the HDH in the Greek,
while at the same time honoring its nonpluperfectiveness in English.
[Wow! That's the biggist single word I have ever typed on this
keyboard!! :-)]
> So, in my opinion the HDH in both instances is used adverbially with the
> stative force of the perfect participle and perfect indicative
> respectively. Rod Decker might want to comment on this, however, because
> this goes to the heart and soul of his dissertation, particularly the use
> of HDH with a verb form in Mark.

I'd like to hear from Rod as well, although his would not be, to my
reading of him, a tense approach to the perfect 'tense' system, as I
understand it. Yet the HDH does seem to have a tense shift ability

> These passages nicely illustrate, I think it's worth adding, the imperative
> of understanding the mechanics of both the original and the target language
> when translating--because each has a different strategy for expressing a
> particular kind of notion.

I keep thinking, in this 'target language' idea, of the Lamb of God
being translated as a baby seal to the Eskimos!! I remain utterly
dumbfounded on how to translate the Bible for such a 'target language'
group of folks. Better, I think, to teach their children English and
send them to Seminary school, and let THEM do the translating!!! I
really do not think a non-native speaker CAN.

George Blaisdell

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