Beautiful to God and Ethical Datives - Ethical???

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at
Mon Jan 4 10:18:56 EST 1999

This is an interesting question; while I don't want to get into the
question of the LXX paraphrasing of a Hebrew text, the other parts
nevertheless deserve some comment.

At 11:23 PM -0700 1/3/99, Wes Williams wrote:
>I have several questions resulting from the grammar found at Acts 7:20, that
>Moses was ASTEIOS TWi QEWi.
>Some translations of this expression are:
>exceeding fair
>no ordinary child
>lovely in the sight of God
>divinely beautiful
>This is similar to the expression in Jonah 3:3, that Ninevah was POLIS
>MEGALH TWi QEWi. ("Great to God" or "exceedingly great").
>This is perhaps a Hebraism from LeElohim, as in "River of God," "Mountain of
>God, etc." Applying to Moses, one application is that "in the opinion of
>God," Moses was beautiful. Thus arises the superlative.

First: the word ASTEIOS is itself a fascinating one; originating simply as
an adjective from ASTU to designate a person from the ASTU rather than from
the AGROS but thereby characterizing the person (or thing) as sophisticated
in its urban cultural context as opposed to the rough-hewn agrarian
character of the AGROIKOS, it passes on (acc. LSJ) to "(2) of thoughts and
words, refined, eleegant, witty ...; (3) as a general word of praise, of
things and persons, pretty charming ...(b) ironically[!]; ...; (4) of
outward appearance, pretty, graceful [LXX citations here] ...; (5) good of
its kind ...

The article in the full LSJ (I looked at the web Perseus) repays reading; I
can't check the new edition with appendix by Glare because it's at the
office and I'm snowbound today like most midwesterners--streets are open
but not drivable! I think, however, that this overview of the LSJ shows how
all of the attempts above can be justified. Think of the range of meanings
attaching to English colloquial "smart"!

>My question is that some grammars classify this is an Ethical Dative rather
>than a Dative of Reference (e.g. BDF 192). Why? What is "ethical" about it?
>>From whence does "ethical" come? Smyth/ Meyer is silent on this one.
>Second, is distinguishing between the ethical and referential datives really
>as simple as one is a person (ethical) and the other a "thing" (reference)?

This, I think, is the easier question to answer. While I must confess that
I've never understood the appellation "ethical" (more commonly, but not
more unintelligiby, "ethic") dative, I do know that it refers to what might
better be called a "sentence dative" where the dative, normally of a
person, is the one to whom the fact indicated in the sentence as a whole is
relevant: e.g. TOUTO SOI ESTI GENNAION TI YEUDOS, "Here's a whopper of a
lie for you"--where the SOI depends upon ESTI rather than on GENNAION or
more properly indicates that "you" are the one who will appreciate the
proposition stated in this statement. In the passage under consideration,
question would be whether TWi QEWI is to be understood in the sense "neat
in God's perspective" (dative of reference) or "he was a beaut, so thought
God, at any rate" ("ethic" dative). I think there are sentences where this
distinction is much more meaningful than it is in this instance.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649
cwconrad at OR cconrad at

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