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

From: Carl W. Conrad (cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu)
Date: Fri Jun 29 2001 - 07:18:29 EDT

At 10:40 AM +0200 6/29/01, Iver Larsen wrote:
>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
>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
>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.

Okay, that was only a tentative suggestion anyhow as to what Luke may have
meant (I personally rather doubt that there ever was a single worldwide
census of the Roman empire). But if the author didn't intend to refer to
that aspect by pinpointing the census as hAUTH, then what does hAUTH refer
to? I would think it OUGHT to point to a census recently mentioned--and I
don't see any other reference than the DOGMA APOGRAFESQAI PASAN THN
OIKOUMENHN. I personally think that Lk 2:1-2 is a rather fuzzy formulation
of the circumstances of the story the author is about to tell, but that's a
matter of opinion. I think the author could have made himself clearer than
he did.

>> 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
>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.

I rather doubt that Luke 2:1 is pointing by means of EN EKEINAIS TAIS
hHMERAIS to the time of Herod the King; I really think it's a pretty fuzzy
reference to past time, characteristic (as some commentators have noted) of
the style of LXX narrative.

>> 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

What reasons other than the need to make Luke 2:2 consistent with 1:5?

>> 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
>in Greek is quite flexible, so we often have to go a long distance to put
>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
>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.

I really see no point in continuing this discussion. It appears to me that
it ultimately turns, when all is said and done, on an effort to reconcile
the time-reference of Luke 2:2 with that of 1:5 as well as upon very
different ways of understanding how PRWTH EGENETO relates to hHGEMONEUONTOS
THS SURIAS KURHNIOU. I will agree with Wallace's conclusion that we're not
going to find a fully satisfactory resolution of the problems presented by
Luke 2:2.

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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