Re: Mark 7:26

From: Steven Craig Miller (
Date: Wed Nov 17 1999 - 14:49:18 EST

<x-flowed>To: Eamonnn White,

<< Hi everybody, "The Jesus Papyrus" by Thiede & D'Ancona, P.117 In an
effort to prove that Jesus spoke Greek the Authors use the scene where
Jesus spoke with the Syro-Phoenician woman: Mark 7:26 hH DE GUNH HN
hELLHNIS This they translate as "The woman was Greek-speaking" My
dictionary gives hELLHNISTI as "in the Greek language". My question is :
Are the Authors correct or is it a 'liberal' rather than a literal
translation? >>

First of all, you appear to have confused the adverb hELLHNISTI with the
feminine substantive hELLHNIS. The former does indeed mean "in the Greek
language," but the latter is merely the feminine form complimenting the
masculine form hELLHN.

Second, the primary reference to the Greek term hELLHNIS refers to a woman
of Greek culture and language. At Mark 7:26 scholars have suggested that
the point of hELLHNIS and the pericope is that this woman was non-Jewish
and not merely that she spoke in the Greek language, thus the NRSV
translates: "Now the woman was a Gentile ...", but literally the term means
that she was "a Greek (woman)."

Third, it is unclear what hELLHNIS is supposed to suggest in this passage.
As already noted, many scholars think it merely means that she was
non-Jewish (i.e. Gentile). But Vincent Taylor (1952) claims that "most
commentators" hold that it describes her "religion." And Robert H. Gundry
(1993) notes that it might imply that she was "high society." Another
possibility is that it was meant to imply that she was half-Greek. IMO, the
term implies that the Greek language was her "mother tongue."

Fourth, even if one took hELLHNIS at Mark 7:26 to imply that Greek was this
woman's mother tongue, that does not necessarily mean that she didn't know
some Aramaic also.

Although off-topic for this list, I hope it okay for me to make the
following brief comment. In 1946 R. O. P. Taylor, in his "The Groundwork of
the Gospels" (Oxford), put forth the following argument:

<< ... due weight must be given to a primary fact in His education. He
spent the first years of His life, the years in which He learnt to talk, in
Egypt, that is to say in a Greek-speaking community >> (91).

If one accepts Matthew's infancy narrative as historical, then this would
be a strong argument that Jesus knew Greek. Unfortunately, most scholars do
not hold that Matthew's infancy narrative has much historicity, so Taylor's
argument falls flat. On the other hand, the liberal Robert W. Funk, in his
"Honest to Jesus" (1996), holds that Jesus taught in Greek.

-Steven Craig Miller
Alton, Illinois (USA)

"The use of argumentation implies that one has renounced resorting to force
alone, that value is attached to gaining the adherence of one's
interlocutor by means of reasoned persuasion, and that one is not regarding
him [or her] as an object, but appealing to his [or hers] free judgment.
Recourse to argumentation assumes the establishment of a community of
minds, which, while it lasts, excludes the use of violence" (Ch. Perelman
and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca, "The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation," 55).

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