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

From: Iver Larsen (iver_larsen@sil.org)
Date: Fri Jun 29 2001 - 04:40:01 EDT

Carl Wrote:
> 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.

Glad to hear that we agree on most points. I think the reason that you find it
as difficult to understand my reading of the text as I find it to understand
your reading is that we have different views about the significance of word
order in NT Greek. As you know it is one of my pet themes. In the following I
have only kept your latest comments.
> 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

What basis is there to suggest that this census was held in pieces, two or more
times? Since it is not from Luke's text is there some historical information
that I am not aware of that suggests a census to be held several times? What
exactly does it mean? Was it redone as the Florida recounting of votes? I have
read that there was a census approximately every 14 years. Are these different
censuses considered the same census held several times or different censuses?

I cannot see that the idea of universal is pertinent to the text of Luke 2. It
is very much a side comment that the census covered the "whole world", since
this piece of information occupies the final and therefore least important slot
in the sentence in Luke 2:1. If Luke wanted to highlight the aspect of
universality, he should at least have placed the object before the infinitive
verb. It seems that Luke wanted to tell us that the order actually came from the
Cesar and the comment about the "whole" world may be mentioned to explain why
Judea and Galilee were included in the census. The time setting is important.
That is why it is mentioned first.
> 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.

Since Luke-Acts only talk about two censuses and the second one is later, I
agree that the comparison is to a later census, not a possible earlier one.

> 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;

Well, you mention later the supposed "anachronism with Luke 1:5". That is a
strong reason, IMO. Luke 2:1 suggests that the Luke 2:2 census happened in the
days of King Herod which would be before 4 BC. This first census was apparently
not for taxation purposes. The other census was in 6 A.D. as you say. Would you
then put the birth of Jesus in 6 AD? That is a new idea to me.

> 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.

I do not dispute that this is a regular function of the genitive absolute, but
there are other reasons that make this interpretation questionable in this text.

> 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.

Your "simple" solution sounds rather complex to me.
It is very easy for us when we see PRWTH to think within the semantic domain of
English "first", but as we know the semantic area of meaning of PRWTH is much
larger than the area of meaning of "first". One established meaning of PRWTH
with a following genitive is "before". I do not think it is significant that
PRWTH does not immediately precede the genitive construction because word order
in Greek is quite flexible, so we often have to go a long distance to put words
together that belong together semantically and even syntactically. Nor do I
consider it significant that the genitive here is not a single word but a
genitive phrase (I would call it a downshifted clause).

> 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.

I disagree that we should not be concerned with Luke 1:5, because 2:2 refers
back to 2:1 introduced by "It happened in those days" and this is a back
reference time setting to Luke 1:5 "In the days of King Herod." To me, it shows
respect for the author that we try to understand what he is saying from the
historical setting in time that he himself supplies us with. The first two
chapters of Luke deal with the birth of John and Jesus, and Luke tells us that
these events happened in the days of Herod, a couple of years before his death
in 4 BC. If you suggest that Jesus was born in AD 6, I am getting confused.

Best wishes,
Iver Larsen

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