[b-greek] Re: The text of Luke 2:2 and word order

From: Carl W. Conrad (cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu)
Date: Thu Jun 28 2001 - 19:54:48 EDT

At 7:33 PM +0200 6/28/01, Iver Larsen wrote:
>Allow me to make a few more comments. I am looking at the text not so much
>a historical or theological perspective as from a linguistic study of the
>language using some principles from modern discourse linguistics.

Iver, I don't really quarrel with most of the points that you are really
concerned with in your message, but I still find it difficult to understand
how you appear to be understanding the relationship between PRWTH EGENETO
and the genitive absolute hHGEMONEUONTOS THS SURIAS KURHNIOU. I'm going to
delete the other parts and respond only with regard to this matter.

>Carl wrote:
>> I don't think we are going to resolve the problems of this verse to
>> everyone's satisfaction or even eliminate all the problems; it may be that
>> we simply don't have it in the formulation in which it was originally
>> composed. Nevertheless when I say that I understand it to mean "This census
>> first took place when Quirinius governed Syria" I mean that I think the
>> hAUTH enters into play: Luke describes this census as a universal census of
>> the Roman empire (I'm a little bit skeptical about that too, but again,
>> it's beside the point); I'm understanding Luke to say that a universal
>> census of the Roman empire first took place during the governorship of
>> Quirinius in Syria--i.e. the year we refer to as 6 A.D. That's my view of
>> this troublesome verse, and beyond that I really don't want to speculate.
>We may not resolve the issue, but it is still of interest to me to see
>whether a
>discourse analysis offers any help. I looked up Wallace's discussion but
>was not
>satisfied, partly because he works from what I believe now is the wrong text.
>First, of course, we should try to establish the original text and I think
>it is
>beyond reasonable doubt that the original text included the definite article.
>Carl accepted this, but to go into details about it would probably move us
>the TC-list domain.
>So, the text we are looking at is:
>This sentence consists of an NP functioning as subject, an adjective
>either as a predicate to the subject or as an adverb relative to the verb. The
>final genitive participial clause/phrase is temporal.
>I believe we need to distinguish carefully between the discourse function of
>fronted phrases within the sentence structure and the discourse function of
>fronted words within a phrase structure.
>The fronting of the NP subject within the whole sentence is related to the
>concept of topic and comment. Luke wants to make a comment about the topic of
>this census under discussion. Even with the whole NP fronted before the verb,
>there are two options concerning the order of words within the NP.
>My thesis from a fairly thorough study of the demonstrative in NT Greek in
>relation to constituent order in an NP is that hAUTH hH APOGRAFH indicates a
>contrast between this census and some other census mentioned or implied in the
>context. On the other hand, hH APOGRAFH hAUTH would be a back reference to an
>already known census without any particular contrast intended.

So far so good: hAUTH hH APOGRAFH "indicates a contrast between this census
and some other census mentioned or implied in the context." Yes, "this
census" was held at least two times, perhaps several. I would go further
and understand hAUTH hH APOGRAFH to mean "this UNIVERSAL census" indicated

>If this reasoning is correct so far, then a contrast is intended between this
>census and some other census, not mentioned in the text. Rather it is implied
>and therefore it would have to be part of the background knowledge of
>Theophilus and Luke's contemporaries.

Agreed; there must be such an assumption: another or other censuses
conceivably before this one or (as seems more likely to me, at least) AFTER
this one now being referred to.

>The next two words are PRWTH EGENETO. If the intended meaning was that this
>census was the first under Quirinius, I would have expected something like hH
>PRWTH HN. Normally, PRWTOS refers to the first or foremost in a series of
>two >or
>more comparable concepts. In the context of Luke 2:2 there is no other census
>mentioned, but a temporal phrase pointing to the governorship of Quirinius
>follows. In the context of Luke-Acts as a whole and the whole NT, we only hear
>of one other census, the one which Luke refers to as "the census" in Acts
>The wording in Acts suggests that this census was very well known at the time
>when Luke is writing even though it happened many years earlier. It further
>suggests that the other census mentioned in Luke 2:2 was not well known.

I don't see the cogency of this argument. We do know that a census was held
in 6 A.D. at the death of Archelaus when the Romans decided to install a
procurator in Judea rather than appoint another son of Herod as tetrarch of
that area, the function of the census presumably to be to assist the
procurator in the collection of taxes from Judea--because that's the
procurator's chief function: to assure that such order in the area is
upheld to allow the orderly collection of taxes. In Act 5:37 Rabbi Gamaliel
mentions this census primarily because it sparked a rebellion by Judas the
Galilean that was put down by the Romans with considerable bloodshed. But I
don't see any reason why the census referred to in Acts 5:37 can't be the
same one referred to in Luke 2:2; what makes it the more probable in my
judgment is precisely that genitive absolute regularly used by Luke to
indicate adverbially WHEN an event took place. In this instance what took
place is "this census" and it "took place first"--when Quirinius was
governing Syria.

>Going back to sentence constituents the word PRWTH is fronted before the verb
>making it somewhat important for Luke to tell us that this census was
>PRWTH some
>other census. The confusing thing for us is that the other census is only
>referred to indirectly by "when Quirinius was governor" instead of the more
>elaborate "the census that happened when Quirinius was governor". My guess is
>that Quirinius was simply known at the time as the man who oversaw the famous
>census. He may not have been remembered for anything else so many years later.
>The Quirinius census had serious implications for the Jewish nation.

This argument is consistent with your original post of 6/26 where you
already indicate that you want to understand hHGEMONEUONTOS THS SURIAS
KURHNIOU as somehow a genitive of comparison construing with PRWTH rather
than as Luke's standard genitive absolute to indicate WHEN an event

At 10:21 AM +0200 6/26/01, Iver Larsen wrote:
>The word PRWTH with a following genitive can according to BAGD point 1 a under
>PRWTOS be used with a "genitive of comparison" as in PRWTOS MOU HN "he was
>earlier than I=before me" John 1:15,30. Although BAGD does not list Luke 2:2
>under this possibility, it seems to me that this is certainly a viable option
>for Luke 2:2. The following rendering is a literal translation with some
>information in parentheses. It also helps me to understand why the text has
>EGENETO "it happened" rather than just HN "it was".
>THIS census (that I just talked about and which is not well known) happened
>before/prior to when Kurenios was governing Syria (he who is famous for
>overseeing the other census in 6 AD that everybody knows about because it
>caused a great rebellion).

To my mind the attempt to make hHGEMONEUONTOS THS SURIAS KURHNIOU into a
comparative phrase somehow dependent upon PRWTH, so that the meaning
becomes "took place before [the one which took place} when Quirinius was
governing Syria," requires distortion of a construction which is really
very simple. Far simpler, it seems to me, is to understand the text (with
hH sandwiched between hAUTH and APOGRAFH) as "This census was first held
when Quirinius was governing Syria." I take it that "this census" means a
universal census--and that if it was first held during the governorship of
Quirinius over Syria, it was held on one or more later occasions as well.
That seems to me to be a far simpler way of understanding the Greek text as
it you and I both agree to reconstruct it. Of course, it doesn't resolve
the anachronism with Luke 1:5, but that's not our concern here; our concern
here is with this text and what it means and how it means what it means.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
Most months: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu OR cwconrad@ioa.com
WWW: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad/

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