Mark 8:12

Steven Lo Vullo doulos at
Sat Jan 26 16:28:02 EST 2002

On Friday, January 25, 2002, at 07:27  AM, Michael Haggett wrote:

> 1. Fine, I'm happy for you to regard it as just possible, it's a
> start.

No, it's not really a start at all. Many things are possible, but in the 
absence of any objective evidence at all, the merely possible cannot be 
taken seriously in the face of the probable, which itself is based on 
objective evidence rather than creative speculation that imports a 
modern idiom into an ancient text.

> 2. Making reference to examples which contain BOTH protasis and
> apodosis is not much use in determining why it should be
> possible for an apodosis to be omitted in a normal figure of
> speech.  Surely one could better argue that if the
> "self-maledictory oath" were intended, it would have been
> quite possible to express it here too. The very fact that it
> ISN'T makes it more likely that some less expressible
> apodosis is implied.

First, how you can say examples with BOTH protasis and apodosis are not 
useful in determining why it should be possible for an apodosis to be 
omitted in a normal figure of speech is baffling! After all, the 
explicit form comes FIRST, and once it becomes a common mode of 
expression the elliptical form FOLLOWS, since the speaker and hearer 
have the established usage of the explicit form of expression in their 
backgrounds. Otherwise, the elliptical form makes no sense to 
speaker/hearer. If I'm talking to a spendthrift and say, "You know what 
they say, 'A penny saved....,'" the only reason that makes sense to the 
speaker and the hearer is because both have in their background the 
saying, "A penny saved is a penny earned." If in two thousand years 
scholars are trying to make sense of a text that has the elliptical 
version, are you saying having the full version would not help them 
understand how the elliptical version came about? Or that in the face of 
such evidence they should nevertheless fill the ellipsis with some idiom 
from their own time? Even though the exact CONTENT of the implied 
apodoses of such conditions found in Mark 8.12 and Heb 3.11 is not set, 
the SENSE of such expressions is, since the reader and hearer have in 
their backgrounds the established usage of the full version of the 
self-maledictory oath, even though the terrible thing(s) implied by the 
apodosis could vary. If Moe (of Three Stooges fame) gets mad and says to 
Curly, "Why, I oughtta....," the hearer doesn't have to have set content 
in mind to understand the sense of the ellipsis. He/she is familiar with 
such threats as, "I oughtta knock your block off," or "I oughtta break 
your legs," since this type of expression is common in the language. The 
point is that something bad inevitably follows "I oughtta." The hearer 
knows that it doesn't mean something like, "I oughtta buy you lunch." 
The same with the elliptical apodoses in Mark 8.12 and Heb 3.11: the 
hearer/reader knows from his/her common exposure to such 
self-maledictory oaths that the idea is "If I do/don't do/did/didn't do 
such and such, may [something bad] befall me." So the ellipses in these 
types of oaths are understood after the analogy of the full conditional 
sentences upon which they are based and from which they derive. You, on 
the other hand, seem to be proposing that we understand/explain the 
unknown on the basis of the unattested. This is nothing more than a wild 

Second, the fact that the full conditional sentence expressing a 
self-maledictory oath COULD have been used but wasn't is irrelevant. It 
is unnecessary to state the apodosis in such cases because the context 
indicates that an oath is intended (WMOSA, e.g., in Heb 3.11) and the 
reader/hearer is well-enough acquainted with such oaths that the 
apodosis is not necessary. That's the whole point of elliptical 
constructions! This is not to say that the full version COULDN'T have 
been used, only that it was unnecessary. If you could point to a single 
text that uses the kind of idiom you are proposing, upon which 
elliptical versions could be based (and thus understood), that would be 
one thing. But you haven't even begun to explain how an elliptical idiom 
of the sort found in Mark 8.12 or Heb 3.11 could have arisen from the 
type of expression you propose, or shown any examples of explicit forms 
of that expression upon which the elliptical could be based and thus 
understood. Elliptical expression arises from explicit expression.

> In the Heb 3:11 (Ps 94/95:11) example you gave Erik before:
> the idea of a "self-maledictory oath" seems singularly
> inappropriate.  And, although you didn't say it, the "(May God
> do thus and thus to me) if ..." obviously doesn't fit either!
> My objection was to the automatic assumption that such a clause
> needed to be understood in order for the sentence to make sense.

First, why would you comment on something I "didn't say" as if I did say 
it? The fact is that nowhere at all in my post did the words "may God 
do" appear. I never said that the subject of the apodosis must be God! 
It could be anyone, or it could be impersonal. In fact, in the example I 
gave from Ps 7.5-6 (LXX) the author speaks of harm being done him by his 
ENEMIES if he has performed the action of the protasis.

As for a self-maledictory oath being "singularly inappropriate" in Heb 
3.11, you don't state WHY it is inappropriate. If it is because nothing 
bad could happen to God, I'm afraid you misunderstand the semantics of 
these expressions. I suggest you read Jeffrey Gibson's post on this. I 
would only like to add a few points:

First, when it is God uttering the oath, the point is NOT that he 
contemplates a real possibility that the curse(s) of the apodosis may 
actually come to pass, since he  does not doubt in any way the condition 
expressed in the protasis! Whether past action(s) are in view or 
intention(s) to act in the future, he has no doubt that he has done/will 
do what is expressed in the protasis, or that the event expressed in the 
protasis will come to pass. So the intended effect on the covenantal 
partner(s) or the hearer/reader is not, "Wow, God thinks something 
really terrible may happen to him," but, "Wow, God really wants us to 
take him seriously and have confidence in his promise/threat!" In other 
words, the whole point is that God is so confident of his 
action(s)/intention(s) that he can with no expectation whatsoever of 
fulfillment of the apodosis call down dire curses upon himself. He is 
using the self-maledictory oath not only to bind himself, but to 
indicate the utter veracity of his action(s)/intention(s). It should be 
obvious from this that it is in no way "inappropriate" for God to 
express himself in this way, since there is really no thought that he 
may actually be telling a fib and ultimately meet his demise! Such oaths 
in this case are taken in order to inspire confidence.

Second, it is almost universally accepted that such an idea is expressed 
in the ritual enacted in Gen 15. There God promises to give Abram the 
land of Canaan. When Abram asks how he can know for sure this will come 
to pass, God gives him instructions to bring him various sacrificial 
animals which Abram cuts in half (except the birds) and places on the 
ground opposite one another. Later, God comes in a theophany and passes 
between the pieces and then swears to Abram to give his descendants the 
land. Most scholars understand that a self-maledictory oath is in view 
here, i.e., "If I don't do as promised, may I become like these 
animals." That this is the most likely interpretation is indicated by 
Jer 34.18-20: "18  I will give the men who have transgressed my 
covenant, who have not fulfilled the words of the covenant which they 
made before me,  [when] they cut the calf in two and passed between its 
parts--19 the officials of Judah and the officials of Jerusalem, the 
court officers and the priests and all the people of the land who passed 
between the parts of the calf--20 I will give them into the hand of 
their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their life. And their 
dead bodies will be food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the 
earth [cf. Gen 15.11]." If such an idea is not "inappropriate" in Gen 
15, it is not inappropriate elsewhere. The idea is not that God may end 
up like animals eaten by predatory birds and animals, but that God will 
certainly perform what he has promised.

> \3. You seem to have completely misunderstood the way the
> construction is used in English in the examples I gave.  There
> is no hint whatsoever of levity intended.  Rather the tone
> is one of irony or even sarcasm ... the absurdity emphasizes
> the absolute impossibility it happening.

The expression "If he's a musician, I'm the Queen of Sheba!" has no hint 
of levity? Really? People do not smile when they hear such expressions? 
OK, let's assume that's true. Then please explain to me what you mean 
when you say "the absurdity emphasizes the absolute impossibility it 
[sic] happening?" Of WHAT happening? In your example quoted above, 
someone is apparently claiming to be a musician PRESENTLY, which you 
obviously do not accept. But the fact that you say, "If he's a musician, 
I'm the Queen of Sheba" doesn't establish as reality that he is not a 
musician. Saying it doesn't make it so! This is just an expression of 
opinion. What you say has nothing to do with the reality whatsoever, one 
way or the other, since you have no control at all over that reality. 
And how does such a statement emphasize "the absolute impossibility" 
that such a person COULD become a good musician in the future? How could 
you possibly say, "If he ever becomes a musician, I'm a carrot?" Would 
the "absurdity" of saying "I'm a carrot" ensure the "impossibility" of 
this person ever becoming a musician?

> In both English and Greek it would be unseemly to complete such
> a sentence. The very fact that it would be unseemly to actually
> SAY such a thing is exactly WHY it is left unsaid.  Yet it
> obviously isn't unseemly to utter the "self-maledictory oaths"
> of the OT.

This is, again, sheer opinion asserted as fact. You offer no proof at 
all to establish the "unseemliness" of completing such a sentence. It 
would be no more unseemly than using a copulative verb when such a verb 
could be omitted. The irony here is that you yourself have argued from 
your English examples that the apodosis may either be explicit or not!! 
Here's what you said:

"'If he's a musician, I'm the Queen of Sheba!'

Which, with the right tone of voice, can very often be reduced

'If he's a musician ... '"

Now tell me, if one can validly express the above idiom either with or 
without the apodosis with no "unseemliness," why is it "unseemly" to 
suppose (with evidence) that a self-maledictory oath can be expressed 
either with or without the apodosis?

> What we are faced with here is a figure of speech which proves
> rather difficult for students to understand.  The intended
> meaning is fairly clear (i.e. it is an emphatic denial that the
> event will happen) but what isn't clear is HOW the Greek is
> working in order to convey that meaning. I was seeking to answer
> that particular question.

None of your English examples have anything to do with "an emphatic 
denial that [an] event will happen." In fact, such an idiom would sound 
silly if we were to convert it into such a denial. Try this: "If he will 
become a musician, I'm the Queen of Sheba." Who talks like this?

> In such circumstances, using a modern English parallel is NOT
> reading a modern idiom into an ancient text, it is simply
> unearthing an example of both languages working the same way.
> From a teaching perspective, being able to draw such parallels
> helps.

How is it NOT reading a modern idiom into an ancient text when have no 
examples of such an idiom IN the ancient text? And from where did you 
"unearth" such an idiom in the Greek texts? This begs and pleads the 
question of whether the two expressions are "working the same way" at 
all and whether there IS any "parallel." Superficial affinities do not 
prove parallelism. It seems that the only real parallel between the 
texts under discussion and your examples is that both use the word "if." 
This is hardly enough to establish a parallel idiom! What is interesting 
here is that the mere assertion seems to be the only evidence presented.

Steven Lo Vullo
Madison, WI

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