Mark 8:12

Steven Lo Vullo doulos at
Sun Jan 27 02:36:00 EST 2002

On Saturday, January 26, 2002, at 09:40  PM, Michael Haggett wrote:

> Steve, thanks for the long post ... I started by being amused,
> but became bemused.  I don't think you actually understood
> the point I was making either before or now.  I suppose I could
> pick your post apart point-by-point, but doubt it's worth it.
> Let's cut to the chase.

No, I understand it perfectly and reject it. There is a difference. And 
if I amuse you, check out the other comments on these passages offered 
by other members of the list--it'll be a laugh riot for you, I'm sure.

And you HAVEN'T cut to the chase at all in what follows, since you 
refuse to reveal to us the basis for importing a modern idiom into an 
ancient text.

> I think the weakness in your position is in what you say about
> Heb 3:11 (Ps94/95:11)
> SLoV:
> 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.
> ------
> Now, doesn't this EXACTLY make my point?  The self-maledictory
> oath doesn't fit because in no circumstances could it be taken
> seriously.
> Your original point was:
> It was understood that the apodosis (conclusion) calls for
> something horrendous to happen to the speaker if the action of
> the protasis indeed takes (or has taken) place.
> Most people will see the self-contradiction.

No, it doesn't make your point, and most people, in fact, DO NOT see the 
"self-contradiction"  you see. As I stated above, the other list members 
who commented on these texts agreed that some sort of "imprecation" or 
"self-maledictory oath" is implied. I think most would agree with 
Buchanan (AB) who translates: "So I swore in my anger, '[May such and 
such curses come upon me] if they enter into my rest!'" He then 
comments: "Ps 95:11 said only, 'As I swore in my anger, "if they enter 
into my rest."' RSV rendered Ps 95:11 thus: 'Therefore I swore in my 
anger that they should not enter my rest.' This communicates the basic 
message involved by replacing the oath formula with an indirect 
quotation. The initial understanding was that the Lord took an oath by 
listing some unmentioned curses that he volunteered to accept if the 
oath was broken."

Where you've gone wrong is in assuming the apodosis of the 
self-maledictory oath MUST have the real possibility of coming to pass. 
This is patently false, as recourse to Ps 7.5-6 makes clear: EI 
("If I have repaid with evil those who repaid me [with good], then may I 
perish empty by means of my enemies; then let the enemy pursue my soul 
and overtake [it] and trample my life on the ground and lay my glory in 
the dust."). Since ANTAPEDWKA is aorist, the author is speaking of his 
conduct IN THE PAST. Now please answer: Does the author, knowing full 
well he has NOT repaid with evil those who repaid him with good, 
contemplate the real possibility that he will perish empty by means of 
his enemies and that his enemy will pursue his soul and overtake it and 
trample his life on the ground and lay his glory in the dust? If not, 
should we avoid taking him seriously, as you maintain above? And, by 
analogy, why should we assume that God, knowing full well his intentions 
for the FUTURE, cannot utter a self-maledictory oath, even though there 
is no real possibility of the curse(s) coming to pass? The fact is that 
you have failed to grasp the semantic significance of this idiom when 
expressed by God (or by a human being who is certain of his/her 
integrity, as the Psalmist): The self-malediction is meant to express 
the speaker's/writer's confidence in his/her veracity, and thus to 
convey that confidence and certainty to the audience.

> I think you have fallen into the trap of trying to give a
> literal meaning to something that is idiomatic.  It's rather
> like hearing someone argue that the English idiom "it's raining
> cats and dogs" has a literal connexion with our feline and
> canine friends. The point of
> the construction (i.e an incomplete sentence beginning with EI /
> if) is that it expresses the speaker's determination that the
> event will not happen, or conviction that it is not true!

The first part of the above paragraph is simply a red herring, since at 
no point in this discussion has the subject of literal vs. figurative 
been debated. Rather, the debate has been about which idiom is better 
understood as standing behind the elliptical construction, the one 
attested in the ancient literature, or the one imported from modern 

As for the second part of the above, no one has denied that the 
construction expresses the speaker's determination that the event will 
not happen or the conviction that it is not true. (By the way, the 
protasis may be positive; it need not be negative.)

> I maintain that the actual wording of the apodosis would be
> quite irrelevant and, for that reason, doesn't need to be
> expressed. However, if the hearer DID complete the sentence in
> their heads, they would complete it with something absurd. But
> it would usually be unseemly (perhaps flippant is a better word)
> to express it.  They MIGHT even complete it with something as
> absurd as God coming to harm :-)

No one has argued that the ACTUAL WORDING of the ellipsis must be known, 
only that the SENSE is understood by the audience. The actual wording 
CAN'T be known, because it doesn't exist! The point is that the 
elliptical construction (protasis of a first-class condition with no 
apodosis in an oath formula) arose from a common explicit construction 
(full first-class conditional sentence in an oath formula, as in Ps 
7.5-6). The CONTENT of both the elliptical and the full version could 
vary widely. There was no set list of curses to be recited, but the 
audience understood that imprecation of some sort was implied.

> Yes, I fully admit that "I'm a Dutchman" or "I'm the Queen
> of Sheba" ... or indeed other expressions such as
> "I'm a monkey's uncle" are peculiarly English.
> But that isn't my point.  What gives the construction
> its force is that the unexpressed part is so ABSURD
> that it doesn't NEED to be expressed!  I was showing
> that the "EI/if xxxxxxxxx ..." construction exists in both
> English and Greek.

You still haven't come to grips with the fact that clauses that do not 
need to be expressed do not need to be expressed for a reason. The 
reason is that the audience has in its background examples of the 
explicit version, and from that is able to get the sense of the 
elliptical. Not one of your examples makes any sense outside of the 
common background of an audience familiar with the explicit form of the 
idiom.  The same is true for the texts under discussion.

As for showing that both English and Greek have a word for "if," this 
proves nothing more than that both English and Greek have words for 
"if." It is impossible to base a supposed common, idiomatic expression 
between languages on the fact that both languages have a word for "if." 
If we followed this principle, virtually every English idiomatic 
expression could be imported into the Greek text!

> You maintain that the Greek construction can only be understood
> by completing the sentence with one, and only one, particular,
> literal apodosis.

Really? I said that? Would you mind telling me where? Now you are 
bemusing ME. This is just a straw man that has nothing to do with 
anything I actually said. What I have maintained is that the audience, 
because it is familiar with explicit versions of the self-maledictory 
oath, gets the SENSE of what is left unstated, i.e., that some sort of 
imprecation is implied. And, again, there has been no real discussion of 
literal vs. figurative, so I have no idea what it is I'm taking 
"literally" or even what "literal" means to you in the context of this 
discussion! But since you are charging me with being "literal," though I 
have not used the word even once in this thread--much less discussed 
it--could you please take the next step and tell me what I mean by it? 
This might help me to conclude that you are not contrasting yourself 
with a phantom in the next paragraph.

> I, in contrast, maintain that the meaning of the construction is
> not to be found in ANY literal apodosis.  It simply expresses
> the speaker's determination or conviction. I'd propose
> translating

Steven Lo Vullo
Madison, WI

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