Re Flashbacks

Alex / Ali alexali at surf.net.au
Thu Jan 2 10:53:26 EST 2003


A day or so back, Iver posted a fascinating question about flashbacks,
arising out of the thread on the discourse function of the imperfective.
The discussion has moved on since then;  what follows does not take account
of recent posts only because it has had to be jotted down in the few spare
moments I've had over a busy New Year period.  I hope to get back to the
discussion a little later, and thank Iver, Moon, and Jonathan for more food
for thought.

Iver questioned whether it is the aorist alone that is used in flashbacks.
I don't think that is the case, but the first couple of examples I cite
below do use the aorist:

Mark 6:45-52, which follows a description of the feeding of the five
thousand, tells of the Lord's walking on water and the disciples' response.
They were astonished, (Mark 6:52) OU GAR *SUNHKAN* EPI TOIS ARTOIS, ALL'  HN
AUTWN hH KARDIA PEPWRWMENH.  Zerwick/Grosvenor indicate, "transl. 'had
understood' ".  It's interesting to note the difference in translations: KJV
"they considered not the miracle of the loaves"; NAS "they **had** not
gained any insight from the incident of the loaves";  RSV "for they did not
understand about the loaves";  NKJ "they **had** not understood about the
loaves".  The KJV and RSV translations understand the time reference of the
action of SUNHKAN to be the time of the disciples seeing the Lord's walking
on the water;  the NAS and NKJ refer it to the time of the feeding of the
five thousand in the immediately preceding passage.  The ambiguity arises
because the Greek aorist, unlike English pluperfect, does not mark relative
time.

A clearer example occurs in the passage at Mark 9:33ff.  The Lord asked the
disciples what they were arguing about on the way.  Mark 9:34 tells us, hOI
DE ESIWPWN. PROS ALLHLOUS GAR *DIELECQHSAN* EN THi hODWi TIS MEIZWN. The
disciples were keeping silence, for they *had* argued with each other on the
way over who was greatest.  (The imperfect, had it been used, would have
invited the reader to view the process of the disciples arguing;  but the
aorist, DIELECQHSAN, simply affirms the fact that they argued.  The choice
does not depend on the nature of the action [Aktionsart], but how the writer
chooses to present to our attention what happened [Aspect]).

But there are also examples of the imperfect used in this way.

The opening of the fifth chapter of Mark narrates the healing of the
Gerasene demoniac.  At v7 we read, (NRS): And he shouted at the top of his
voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I
adjure you by God, do not torment me."  The following verse reads:  *ELEGEN*
GAR AUTWi, EXELQE TO PNEUMA TO AKAQARTON EK TOU ANQRWPOU.  For he (Jesus)
had been saying to him, ...  (Some of the translations offer: KJV "For he
said unto him,";  NAS "For He had been saying to him";  RSV "For he had said
to him";  NRS "For he had said to him".   KJV does not clearly indicate that
the time sequence has shifted;  of the others cited, only the NAS gives
force to the imperfect.)  Maximilian Zerwick's excellent 'Biblical Greek
illustrated by Examples' notes this verse at section 290 (p98), as well as
Mark 6:17.

The passage at Mark 6:14ff is worth noting.  It is preceded by a recount of
the mission of the twelve, ending with the statement that (NRS) "they cast
out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them".
Mark 6:14 KAI HKOUSEN hO BASILEUS HRWiDHS, *FANERON GAR EGENETO TO ONOMA
AUTOU*, KAI *ELEGON* hOTI IWANNHS hO BAPTIZWN EGHGERTAI EK NEKRWN KAI DIA
TOUTO ENERGOUSIN hAI DUNAMEIS EN AUTWi. 15 ALLOI DE *ELEGON* hOTI HLIAS
ESTIN. ALLOI DE *ELEGON* hOTI PROFHTHS hWS hEIS TWN PROFHTWN. 16 AKOUSAS DE
hO HRWiDHS *ELEGEN*, hON EGW APEKEFALISA IWANNHN, hOUTOS HGERQH.  17 AUTOS
GAR hO HRWiDHS APOSTEILAS *EKRATHSEN* TON IWANNHN KAI *EDHSEN* AUTON EN
FULAKHi DIA HRWiDIADA THN GUNAIKA FILIPPOU TOU ADELFOU AUTOU, *hOTI AUTHN
EGAMHSEN*. 18 *ELEGEN* GAR hO IWANNHS TWi HRWiDHi hOTI OUK EXESTIN SOI ECEIN
THN GUNAIKA TOU ADELFOU SOU.

There are a number of time-shifts in this sequence.  The time reference of
FANERON GAR EGENETO TO ONOMA AUTOU precedes HKOUSEN hO BASILEUS HRWiDHS,
hence NRS correctly renders "for Jesus' name *had become* known" (rather
than "became known").  Then we get the imperfects, ELEGON, ELEGON, ELEGON,
ELEGEN - some were saying ..., others were saying ..., others again were
saying ..., but Herod was saying ... - creating the kind of layering effect
that I referred to in my previous post.  These actions are not meant to be
viewed as successive, but as concurrent;  the imperfects well convey the
swirl of uncertainty about Jesus as various people maintainted different,
conflicting views about him.  It's not that the action denoted by an aorist
verb is necessarily different in its nature, but that the continuative
emphasis of the imperfect makes it the better choice to describe such
layering, as opposed to the aorist which would merely posit the fact that
these different views were expressed.  Then we have EKRATHSEN and EDHSEN:
for Herod '*had* arrested and bound' John the Baptist (as we would translate
according to English idiom, but the Greek merely says 'he arrested and
bound'); another time-shift, it refers to a period *before* the discussion
of who Jesus might be.  Next, hOTI AUTHN EGAMHSEN, (Herod imprisoned John on
account of Herodias) because he *had* married her;  again, the 'had' is
required by English idiom which marks relative time, whereas the Greek
actually says only, 'he married' her.  Finally, ELEGEN, another element in
this sequence of temporal movement;  not, 'for John *was saying* to Herod
...' but 'for John *had been* saying to Herod ...' ie before Herod had him
arrested.  The use of GAR is noticeable - v14, FANERON GAR EGENETO TO ONOMA
AUTOU;  v17 GAR hO HRWiDHS .. EKRATHSEN .. KAI EDHSEN; v18 ELEGEN GAR hO
IWANNHS TWi HRWiDHi ...  .  The GAR signals that the time reference of the
verb may be out of sequence from that of the main narrative;  hOTI in v17 is
used in the same way.  (I saw only after writing this, Moon, that you had
noted in relation to my earlier examples, 'it is GAR that makes the events
described by the aorist precede the currently established event'.  I'd have
written 'GAR *allows* the events described by the aorist to precede the
currently established event', but agree with what I understand Moon's
fundamental thrust to be, that the GAR is a significant marker in these
narrative sequences.)

Iver mentioned his doing a quick search of the pluperfect in the NT in
relation to the matter of flashback.  Zerwick's  'Biblical Greek illustrated
by Examples' (section 290, p98 of the English edition adapted from the
fourth Latin edition) includes the following which is of relevance to our
thread:

"The pluperfect in the NT as in classical use, is simply the past tense
corresponding to the (present) perfect, i.e. it indicates a past *state* of
affairs constituted by an action still further in the past;  e.g. the parent
of the man born blind feared the Jews because these "had agreed
(SUNETEQEINTO) that anyone who acknowledged Jesus as Messiah should be
banned from the synagogue" Jn 9,22, and the arrangement still stood.  It is
to be noted that since Greek does not express relative time as such, the
pluperfect is *not* used simply because the action denoted was prior to the
past time of the main verb or the narration in general (as Latin in English
would use the pluperfect): Greek uses simply the aorist or imperfect
according to the aspect required."  (The emphases are Zerwick's.)

In other words, the English "*had* done such-and-such" does not correspond
to the meaning of the Greek pluperfect in those instances where the English
"had" is denoting (not a prior state but) the temporal anteriority of one
action in relation to another which belongs to the past.

Alexander Hopkins
Melbourne, Australia




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