From: Micheal Palmer (
Date: Wed Aug 26 1998 - 23:48:59 EDT

Today in Greek class a student asked "How do you say 'hurricane' in Ancient
Greek?" It was a particularly relevant question since we were all wondering
whether Bonnie would make it to Raleigh any time soon, but I was stumped
for a moment, because I couldn't remember a word that meant *specifically*
that kind of storm. There are words like MEIZWN and LAILAPS, but they are
used of windstorms more widely, I thought, not just hurricanes.

After class I did a little checking and found something interesting. The
modern Greek word for 'hurricane' is LAILAPS, and this is also the word for
'hurricane' in Homer (according to little Liddell). So I have two questions:

First, assuming that my information on Homer and modern Greek are correct,
why would this word be so specific in both pre-biblical Greek (Homer) and
modern Greek, yet be a general term for a squall or windstorm in the NT?
(Yes, I know that the meaning of a term in an earlier period is not
determinative of its meaning in a later period, but some changes seem

Second, is LAILAPS really that specific in Homer? (I don't have a copy of
the relevant texts here at home, and my big LSJ is at work. All I have with
me coverning Homer is little Liddell, which only says 'Hom.' at the end of
its entry on LAILAPS and gives no more specific information.)

Now for the NT data...

In Mark 4:37 LAILAPS is used of a storm on the Sea of Galilee. Was the
author really thinking of a hurricane, or is the word being used
generically of a strong wind storm over a body of water? Matthew (8:24)
substitutes SEISMOS (a storm with high waves). Luke (8:23) has the same
term as Mark.

The only other time LAILAPS is used in the NT is 2 Peter 2:17, and it could
be interpretted as any kind of storm involving wind in that context (though
it's conceivable that the author meant something more specific).

Well... Nothing like a little lexicography to liven up a stormy night. :-)

Micheal W. Palmer
North Carolina State University
Philosophy and Religion (New Testament)
Foreign Languages (Ancient Greek)

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