The Proleptic Aorist revisited

Rolf Furuli furuli at
Fri May 31 07:48:25 EDT 2002

Dear Iver,

See my comments below:

>It seems to me that the examples you give are good examples of the Greek
>aorist being used not as a tense marker, but as a verb form with a
>perfective aspect. Tense and aspect operate on different levels, and it
>appears that the Greek aorist at times is used to indicate a past time
>event, and at times is used to indicate perfective aspect.
>  Sometimes both perfective aspect and past tense are involved. When 
>two independent parameters overlay, one or the other can be more 

I agree that the examples given by Mark's have future reference, and 
are good examples of such. But I wonder if you take "past time" and 
"past tense" to mean the same thing. It is generally agreed that 
"tense" is a "grammaticalization of location in time", but "past 
time" needs not be the same as "past tense". Aorist cannot be half a 
tense and half an aspect.  If it signals past tense this will 
*always* be so, except for possible special examples that can be 
explained. Because a reasonable number of aorist verbs have futrue 
reference, it is excluded that it can signal past tense, although in 
most cases an aorist has past reference.

>The perfective aspect indicates that an event is *considered* as completed,
>even if it has not yet been completed or not even begun in the "real" world.
>In English it corresponds to something being "as good as done". For a future
>time reference, the perfective aspect indicates "it will certainly be done",
>the decision has been made and nothing can stop it.

I take issue with the view that the perfective aspect indicates 
completedness. This is the case in English but not in Greek. Please 
consider (1) and (2) below

(1) John 11:35 "Jesus wept (AORIST)" or "Jesus burst into tears" or 
"Jesus gave way to tears".

(2) John 11:36 "Therefore the Jews began to say (IMPERFECT)"

The imperfect of example (2) makes visible a small part of the 
durative and dynamic action of speaking. The part of the speaking 
event that is focussed upon is likely the beginning and a small part 
of the continuation.To try to convey this focus in English I use the 
words "began to" which imply that the event was not terminated at 
reference time. If an imperfect was found in (1) instead of an 
aorist, I would have translated, "Jesus began to weep". (Please 
consider the second imperfect of 11:36 as well. What is the meaning 
of state+imperfect?)

But what does the aorist of (1) really signal? A compleTED event? 
Hardly! While we cannot explain the meaning of Greek verbs by our 
English translations of them, we can learn how we ourselves take the 
Greek verbs by looking at our English translation. The perfective 
aspect in English is expressed by perfect. The aspect can be 
expressed by present perfect, by pluperfect (past tense+perfect), and 
by future perfect (future tense+perfect). Simple past is not an 
aspect but only a tense, and this is very important to keep in mind.

If we had taken EDAKRUSEN hO IHSOUS  as Greek perfective in the 
English sense of the word perfective, that is, as a compleTED  event 
(as the English perfective aspect always signal), we had three 
translation possibilities:

(a) Jesus had wept.

(b) Jesus has wept.

(c) Jesus will have wept.

Nobody will choose any of these options, but naturally simple past is 
chosen. And what does simple past signal? Simply the fact that Jesus 
burst into tears is focussed upon. It is not that Jesus *had* wept 
but that he wept. The use of Greek imperfect would make the details 
visible, a small part of the weeping without the end would be made 
visible. The aorist does not give any details, it just focuses upon a 
part of the weeping including the beginning and a part of the action, 
but is indifferent as to a possible end and neither implies that the 
end was reached or was not reached.

An example which is best taken as stative but can be taken as 
actional, is seen in (3)

  (3) Romans 5:14 "Nevertheless, death reigned (AORIST) from the time 
of Adam to the time of Moses

There is no doubt that death continued to reign also after the time 
of Moses, but here the focus is in the beginning and on a great part 
of the state (or the actions, if the take the rule as such).

It is true that the end very often is included in the aorist verb, 
and this is the reason why it is believed to be an uncancelable 
characteristic of the aorist. However, the inclusion of the end in so 
many cases is *pragmatic*, it is due to the context and not to an 
intrinsic property of the aorist. So I see no reason to include any 
certainty or any end in an aorist with future reference,it simply 
refers to the future without any restrictions.

>My thoughts,
>Iver Larsen



Rolf Furuli

University of Oslo

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