[b-greek] Re: Or a SWMA

From: Carl W. Conrad (cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu)
Date: Fri Mar 08 2002 - 07:50:11 EST

At 1:55 PM -0600 3/7/02, porson wrote:
>Carl Wrote:
>>No, it is NOT just in Homer that SWMA may mean "corpse"; what is true about
>>Homer is that it never means anything else, but LSJ shows it used for
>>"corpse" in later Greek writers too, including Hesiod, Simonides, Pindar,
>>Herodotus, Posidonius, as well as Mark--and in Hellenistic Greek elsewhere
>>than in that one GNt passage in Mark. I don't think Mark got that usage
>>from Homer, anymore than did Ptolemy in Alexandria.
> Agreed. Unless I've missed some mail, I don't recall anyone asserting
>that SWMA referred to a dead body only in Homer.

I'm sorry; I apparently misunderstood what you wrote; I was contending that
the sense of "corpse" for SWMA continued on through the centuries in Greek
and that it shouldn't be surprising to find it in the GNT.

>Porson wrote:
>>with the exception of Homer, seems to refer for
>>>the most part, but not exclusively, to a living body or to the body as
>>>opposed to spirit
>Several of the examples cited by LJS shouldn't surprise anyone: Hesiod,
>Simonides, Pindar, where Homeric affinities would not and are not
>unusual, and are so abundant as to be almost commonplace. Incidentally
>the citation from Pindar, in my estimation, is a weak one to support SWMA
>as corpse. The god of the underworld doesn't lead corpses down to the
>hollow path of the dead. He leads mortal shapes or forms, which I think
>is a better understanding of BROTEA SWME8'. In the example from
>Herodotus, again, the sense seems to be of sacrificial offerings to be
>consumed by fire, not of corpses subject to putrefaction. Now again this
>does not exclude the possible use of SWMA as corpse (subject to
>putrefaction) in other contexts. It just means that in the examples cited
>from Pindar and Herodotus, this is not the case, and, I suspect, it is
>not anywhere as common a use as that which denotes a living body or a
>dead body which either will be free of putrefaction or will be saved from

I must confess that the poets don't really count for much as evidence for
usage, inasmuch as they rely heavily upon Homer and tend to more archaic
and recondite phrasing in any case. Herodotus and Plato weigh in a bit more
heavily, however.
LSJ also cited pap.Ox. and Galen; but see below on BDAG.

>Carl wrote:
>>SWMA also has an etymology, although I wouldn't try to define the word so
>>strictly in terms of it: from the verb SWiZW, the root SW (older SAO): SWMA
>>is what is kept intact (insofar as anything in personhood is kept intact)
>>when what is not corporeal alters or goes away.
>Yes, this is a possible etymology for SWMA. However, at least one other
>possiblility, of which I am aware, has been offered. It has been
>conjectured that SWMA was once SHMA. Now one of the meanings of the
>surviving SHMA is a cairn to mark a place of the dead. The examples of
>Alexander's and Lenin's resting places are interesting in the light (or
>the umbra, depending on one's viewpoint) of this conjecture: the erection
>of cairns, as attested in the Vedic literature, is an Indoeuropean
>practice of great antiquity. SHMA has been related to a Sanskrit root
>meaning to know. SWMA, as a resting place for the dead body (perhaps by
>an analogous connection with a root SHMA, from which it may have split
>off in great antiquity), in Alexander's case, raises an interesting
>question: since Alexander was presumably embalmed, did the tourist to
>Alexandria view a PTWMA or a SWMA? I suspect it was a SWMA. Indeed, there
>is an adjectival form SWMFIAKOS which pertains to embalming practices. My
>concern with putrefaction as a possible key, I think, derives some
>support from Carl's citation of Louw and Nida:
>>Since in some languages one must distinguish varying degrees of
>>decomposition of a corpse, it may be important in certain contexts to
>>indicate whether the body is of a person or an animal which has recently
>>died or one which has undergone considerable decomposition.

Interesting indeed--and nicely indicative of both the fascination and the
peril of etymological probing in lexicology.

>While I agree that Mark probably didn't draw his inspiration from Homer,
>or, for that matter from the tourist trade in Alexandria, it does seem
>that an older primary meaning, which survived as a secondary meaning, may
>have, in a later period of the language, emerged into new prominence.
>However, we might do well not to overlook the ideological (or possibly
>stylistic) issue: In 15:43 Mark uses SWMA for the body of Jesus, which,
>both he and we, in retrospect, know was not subject to putrefaction. SWMA
>in the NT also refers to the glorified body. In Wes's citation for PTWMA
>from Matthew, I would suggest that Matthew chooses to leave the issue of
>resurrection in suspense. Hence he consigns a PTWMA to the tomb.

It seems to me that BDAG (which I really should have looked at long ago on
this question) offers more of substance in support of the currency of this
sense of SWMA in Hellenistic, esp. Hellenistic Jewish texts, than do the
other lexica:

SWMA, ATOS, TO: 1.a. dead body, corpse (so always in Hom. [but s. HHerter,
SWMA bei Homer: Charites, Studien zur Altertumswissenschaft, ELanglotz, ed.
"Schauenburg '57,206-17] and oft. later e.g. Memnon: 434 fgm 1,3,3 Jac.
KAIEIN TO SWMA--burn the corpse; ins pap. LXX, PsSol 2:27, TestJob 52:11;
ApcMos 34 al; Philo, Abr.258; Jos.Bell 6,276, Ant.18,236; Ar 4,3; Mel
P.28,196) Mt 14:12v.l.; 27:59; Mk 15:45 v.l.; Lk 17:37; Ac 9:40; GPt 2:4;
pl. J 19:31. W gen. Mt27:58; Mk 15:43; Lk 23:52, 55, 24:3, 23; J 19:38ab,
40; 20:12; Jd 9; GPt 2:3, Pl. Mt 27:52; Hb13:11,AcPlCor 2:27.

>Carl also wrote:
>>It seems to me that the only objection to translation of PTWMA in Mk 15:45
>>as "corpse" would depend upon some doctrinal presupposition about the
>>reality of the physical death of Jesus.
>I think that at this juncture our different twists and turns begin to
>converge. However,I wouldn't limit the possibility to doctrinal
>presupposition. I think rhetorical preference and narrative device can
>also enter into the soup.

When all has been said, I think this is in fact the case: it's clear enough
that PTWMA and SWMA can and do bear the same DENOTATION of "dead body" in
the texts in question, while on the other hand "body" and SWMA appear to
have a more positive CONNOTATION than do "corpse" and PTWMA.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
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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