Jesus' Corpse

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at
Wed Mar 6 19:20:07 EST 2002

At 4:22 PM -0600 3/6/02, porson wrote:
>Carl wrote:
>>I think this is really more of a translation question than a question about
>>the Greek. My sense is that PTWMA and SWMA, while not completely
>>synonymous, do overlap; PTWMA is only used of a dead body; SWMA may be (the
>>main square of Alexandria, where Alexander's sarcophagus was publicly
>>entombed (like Lenin's centuries later on Red Square in Moscow) was termed
>>SWMA for that very reason. Pythagoreans and Plantonists were fond of citing
>>the symbolic formula SWMA SHMA: "the body is a tomb," pointing to the
>>paradox of the living body as an essentially dead vessel containing the
>>living spirit.
>Possibly there is more to this than merely the choice of the translator.
>PTWMA seems to be related to PIPTW, and appears to be used fairly
>consistently to refer to a dead body, a fall, a misfortune, a ruined
>building, etc.

SWMA also has an etymology, although I wouldn't try to define the word so
strictly in terms of it: from the verb SWiZW, the root SW (older SAO): SWMA
is what is kept intact (insofar as anything in personhood is kept intact)
when what is not corporeal alters or goes away.

>SWMA, on the other hand, with the exception of Homer, seems to refer for
>the most part, but not exclusively, to a living body or to the body as
>opposed to spirit (hence the Pyhtagorean example cited by Carl), or
>idiomatically, to various states of health.

No, it is NOT just in Homer that SWMA may mean "corpse"; what is true about
Homer is that it never means anything else, but LSJ shows it used for
"corpse" in later Greek writers too, including Hesiod, Simonides, Pindar,
Herodotus, Posidonius, as well as Mark--and in Hellenistic Greek elsewhere
than in that one GNt passage in Mark. I don't think Mark got that usage
from Homer, anymore than did Ptolemy in Alexandria.

sôma , atos, to (Arc. dat. pl. sômatesi IG5(2).357.156 (Stymphalus, iii
B.C.)), body of man or beast, but in Hom., as Aristarch. remarks (v.
Apollon.Lex.), always dead body, corpse (whereas the living body is demas),
hôs te leôn echarê megalôi epi sômati kursas Il.3.23 , cf. 18.161; s . de
oikad' emon domenai palin 7.79 ; s. kateleipomen athapton Od.11.53 ; ôn . .
sômat' akêdea keitai 24.187 ; so also in Hes.Sc.426, Simon.119, Pi.O.9.34,
Hdt.7.167, Posidon.14 J., Ev.Marc.15.43, etc.; to s. tou tethneôtos
Pl.R.469d , cf. Grg.524c, D.43.65; s. nekron POxy.51.7 (ii A.D.); nekron s.
Gal.18(2).93, cf. nekros 11.1 ; megiston s. . . spodou, = s. megiston ho
nun spodos esti, S.El.758; also later, Wilcken Chr.499 (ii/iii A.D.).

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

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