More hair-splitting: was Aktionsart of ESKHNWSEN and EGENETO in John 1:14

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at
Mon Jul 5 07:34:40 EDT 1999

I've altered the header: I really think the text in which EGENETO appears
is 1:14 of GJn rather than the non-existent 1:14 of the epistle. Of course,
I suspect that most respondents to the original message won't alter the
header at all.

Hummmmmm ... having just turned from one "hair-splitting" discussion, it
looks like another one is here at hand: when we start talking about "arcane
distinctions," it sounds like someone is asking others to accompany him/her
into an inner sanctum where only the ineffable is discussed--if the
ineffable is ever discussed--or else down "the primrose path" ...

At 1:09 PM +0800 7/5/99, Steven Cox wrote:
>Hello all,
>Maybe a bit of an arcane subject but Robertson on Aktionsart p829 argues for
>3 distinctions in the aorist:
>constative = unmodified point-action
>ingressive = emphasis on beginning of action
>effective = emphasis on conclusion of action
>Then R cites ESKHNWSEN and EGENETO from 1Jo1:14 as examples  of effective
>and ingressive respectively.
>BDF doesn't make these distinctions in discussions of Aktionsart (nor
>discuss the passage in this or other contexts).
>My questions
>1. How valid/useful are the Aktionsart distinctions Robertson is drawing?

I think they are probably useful in many instances. Of course, this whole
question is now SUB JUDICIBUS (i.e., the "aspect geeks"), isn't it? I think
the jury will be out on this one for a long time. The response you get is
likely to be a range of opinions--i.e. discussions of the ineffable ;-)

>2. Robertson has commented "(Incarnation)" in brackets to illustrate his
>point, but is there really a substantial difference in Aktionsart between

I THINK you are asking whether EGENETO is referring to an event transpiring
in a moment of time or whether it is simply the aorist equivalent of HN, a
substitute in view of the fact that EINAI has no aorist.

I don't think that the fact that EGENETO is copulative here decides the
question; it's nonetheless eventive. Moreover, EGENETO is about as powerful
an instance as is to be found of what I've recently used as a term for the
middle-voice: "a "subject-intensive' form. A distinction between EGIGNETO
and EGENETO is, of course, possible: it depends upon whether we want to
understand "birth" or "transformation" in terms of Calculus or of "before
and after."

>What substantially is the difference between SARX EGENETO and e.g. hO hELIOS
>EGENETO MELAS - this does not seem to be "ingressive" in any sense,

Isn't an eclipse of the sun "ingressive" to those who are watching it?
("The sun began to darken"). But of course (or perhaps) one would expect
EGIGNETO in that instance, and I guess that's what you're getting at.

>3. What is the Aktionsart of Gen 2:7/1Cor 15:45 EGENETO hO ANQRWPOS EIS YUXHN

Isn't this something like VA'Y'HI L'NEFESH in the Hebrew? One might ask
whether this is a question about the Greek or about the Hebrew. What comes
to mind now is the once fashionable and now disparaged book of Thorleif
Boman, "Hebrew Thought compared with Greek" with its lengthy chapter
discussing the differences between the Hebrew verb HAYAH and the Greek verb

How Paul understands the phrase in 1 Cor 15:45 is, at least, clarified by
hRIPHi OFQALMOU, EN THi ESCATHi SALPIGGI ... If Paul does intend to make a
parallel between the quickening of the informed Adam and the resurrection
of the dead, he seems to be saying that both are instantaneous

In terms of Robertson's distinctions, I'd probably agree with you that both
ESKHNWSEN and EGENETO in GJn 1:14 are "effective" aorists--although there's
something to be said for calling them both "constative" too.

Quite frankly, I find increasingly tedious the endeavor to impose
metaphysical conceptions of eternity and time upon the Greek grammar of the
Johannine prologue, but I suppose there is nothing that some would rather
continue discussing than the ineffable.

>4. A red herring probably - When I read (or more often hear) Jerome's
>rendering VERBUM CARO FACTUM EST rather than taking FACTUS as a statement of
>transformation (that X changed to Y, here non-physical became physical), I
>would take the verb (admittedly a perfect not an aorist) as an "effective"
>(per Robertson's definition) statement of finished result, or nature - i.e.
>this is how the subject was fashioned. Is there any substantial difference
>between the Greek and the Vulgate here?

I don't think so. And I'd raise two points: (1) while functionally, FIERI
is the passive of FACERE and the perfect of FIERI is supplied by the
perfect of FACERE, these are two different verbs with overlapping semantic
range. FACERE = POIEIN, whereas FIERI = GI(G)NESQAI; (2) the Latin
"perfect" is in origin BOTH aorist and true perfect, can represent
either/both Greek tenses. For instance, Caesar's VENI, VIDI, VICI
unquestionably displays the aorist sense of these verbs; I really think
that the same is true of FACTUM EST: it's the Latin representation of the
Greek aorist EGENETO. You may be right about the Vulgate's Latin verb being
closer to Robertson's "effective" aorist--but isn't it probable that the
recurrent use of the "effective" sense of the aorist is precisely what led
to the evanescence of the perfect? That, of course, is an unanswerable
question, but it's the sort of thing we do, in fact, discuss, when we are
talking about the ineffable.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
Summer: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad at

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