Is it a question or not

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at
Wed Nov 10 13:44:18 EST 1999

At 1:15 PM -0500 11/10/99, TonyProst at wrote:
>what would account for such an unaccountable ambiguity in such a text? why
>would the author not structure it so that it is clear? the dilemma puzzles me.

I'm not sure that this question CAN be resolved on the basis of the Greek
text alone--we can only speculate. For instance, we could say that, had he
been a better writer and wanted to signal clearly that this is a question,
he might have used an of a question--might have written, AR' HLQES APOLESAI
hHMAS? On the other hand, since the demon claims to recognize the identity
of Jesus, we might take that as sufficient reason to assume this is NOT a
question but a statement: "You've come to destroy us." OR: one might
suppose that there's an Aramaic original formula underlying what we have in
the Greek. It's quite commonly assumed (as I once assumed myself) that
Mark's Greek is "substandard" in terms of the Greek taught in schools; my
own view is that Mark could write well enough when he wanted to but that he
didn't bother to alter the style of a text that he found in his oral or
written source material unless that had a direct bearing upon the
interpretation of the pericope that he wished to highlight. In sum, I think
there are plenty of reasons why this has been left ambiguous, among them
that the author/redactor took it for granted that the reader WOULD
understand it the way it was meant.

Finally, I think it's worth noting that ambiguous writing is by no means
uncommon in most languages. Jay Leno has filled little jokebooks with
newspaper headlines that are ambiguous although the copywriters probably
had no intention of being ambiguous. It's all a matter of how carefully a
writer writes: the very good writer can readily avoid ambiguity if he/she
wants to, but may not even recognize that a phrase is ambiguous; on the
other hand, a careful writer may very deliberately phrase a text so that it
is capable of alternative meanings, both or all of which meanings the
author intends the reader/auditor to consider.

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 

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