[B-Greek] Genitive Absolute - a fresh look
Carl W. Conrad
cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Thu Nov 2 08:56:41 EST 2006
On Nov 1, 2006, at 2:12 PM, Elizabeth Kline wrote:
> On Nov 1, 2006, at 9:22 AM, Elizabeth Kline wrote:
>> I am not convinced that a fronted genitive participle construction is
>> more prominent ...
> It might be better to simply rest with the idea that fronted genitive
> participle constructions (subsequently GPC) are a narrative
> transition device without introducing the idea of relative
Yes; in fact, the whole question of relative prominence seems to me a
much more subjective thing than is supposed by some who are committed
to fronting for prominence. I've argued against Iver on this point
hitherto in this forum, believing as I do that there is prominence in
fronted position but also in position before a pause (i.e., at clause-
end). I think, as Elizabeth says in conclusion below, that
"Prominence is a subjective attribute which is very difficult to prove."
On the other hand, I have to say that I found this article
illuminating -- in that it opened up to me some fresh perspectives on
the Genitive Absolute or "Genitive Construction" or "Genitive
Participial Construction" -- whatever one may prefer to call it (one
of the more intriguing features of the still today refreshing big
grammar of AT Robertson is his notes on the inadequacy of many of the
conventional terms for morphological paradigms and syntactic
It may well be that the linguists have been aware for some time of
the characteristics of the GA/GC/GPC described by Fuller in her
article, but it has seemed to me in my isolated corner that the
linguists speak and argue primarily in closed circles with each other
or speak and write TOIS EXW in "unknown tongues." Discourse criticism
is something that I've tried to learn about; some of it makes sense,
but I have to say that much of it seems terribly subjective to me,
and in some instances I haven't been able to escape the impression
that it is being employed to prove that sloppy writing or discourse
that doesn't really hang together has some sort of organic integrity
that escapes the eyes and ears of others. That's why I wrote that
"linguists know things about Greek that other people don't." That was
only partly facetious: I'm not sure that they really do know things
about Greek that other people don't; they probably do, but it doesn't
seem to me that they do a very good job of making what they have
learned accessible to other people who are not linguists.
But enough of venting. What did I find valuable in the Fuller article?
(a) an interesting suggestion about the nature and origin of the GA/
GC/GPC -- that it derives from the genitive of time within which.
I've always thought that it was a partitive genitive, and the
genitive of time within which is a partitive genitive in origin --
but I have to say that I think questions like this are like those of
etymology: beyond demonstrability and more a matter of interest than
of real relevance;
(b) a conclusive demonstration that the subject of a GA/GC/GPC need
not be and quite frequently is not different from a person or thing
that is a subject or other integral substantive in a main clause;
this is true even of Classical Attic and the more common in Biblical
Koine. I found this illuminating with regard to the construction's
hitherto anomalous-seeming usage in Acts 22.17-18. and Mark 6:21-22.
(c) raising of the issue of the function of the GA/GC/GPC
construction; I think that Elizabeth is probably right to question
Fuller's claim that it is a "grammatical strategy for bringing an
element of background information into prominence as a piece of
necessary prior knowledge ..., etc." But Fuller says it is "often"
rather this, not that this is what it always and only is. Elizabeth
also questioned whether the GA/GC/GPC is any more important than
other circumstantial participial usage appearing early in a sentence
-- with good reason, I think. And although circumstantial participles
the chief elements of the main clause in the great majority of
instances, they do also occasionally appear AFTER the chief elements
of the main clause -- and so also do the GA/GC/GPC constructions.
(d) I found particularly interesting the discussion on pp. 157-159 of
Fuller's paper the account of a late-2nd-century papyrus, a document
of about 120 words with SIX GA/GC/GPC's. I guess one would really
need to see much more of this sort of contemporary non-literary
narrative accounts to justify a generalization about the greater
frequency of the construction in Hellenistic narrative/expository
prose, but it makes one think -- or at least it strikes my curiosity.
Familiar enough with the genitive absolute in Classical Attic, I
still read with some awe the string of them at the opening of chapter
3 of Luke where they set the framework for the baptism of Jesus. I'm
just wondering -- in terms of my perspective of Biblical Koine as a
language in flux -- whether these genitive absolutes aren't simply
paratactic clausal units that function adverbially, more often than
not at the beginning of a narrative segment but also sometimes later
-- they paint the scenic background, introduce significant details,
append what amounts to a footnote (when coming later). Compare: "It
was a dark and stormy night. I'd been slogging through the woods. My
feet and ears were freezing. Then I heard a noise -- my hands
quivered." I can imagine three genitive-absolutes preceding a YOFON
EXAIFNHS HKOUSA and then TREMOUSWN TWN CEIRWN MOU.
I think of the great long run-on sentence of Faulkner's short story,
"The Bear," and I wonder (but am not quite sure) whether we should
see the usage of the genitive absolute in Koine Greek as a loose
adverbial clause that's somewhat easier to use than a circumstantial
participle properly hooked-up to an appropriate substantive somewhere
in an independent clause.
> First of all we need to ask, prominent in relation to what?
> Fuller states:
> "The use of the Genitive Construction (GC) is often a grammatical
> strategy for bringing an element of background information into
> prominence as a piece of necessary prior knowledge, and alerting the
> that this information is important for understanding the impact of the
> rest of the sentence or even the paragraph or discourse."
> Fuller appears to be suggesting that a GPC marks information as
> prominent relative to other information within the narrative segment.
> She also appears to be suggesting that the use of the genitive
> participle makes the construction more prominent than similar
> constructions in other cases. Lets examine the first claim that a GPC
> marks information as prominent relative to other information with the
> narrative segment.
> MATT. 26:26 ESQIONTWN DE AUTWN LABWN hO IHSOUS ARTON KAI EULOGHSAS
> EKLASEN KAI DOUS TOIS MAQHTAIS EIPEN: LABETE FAGETE, TOUTO ESTIN TO
> SWMA MOU.
> Is ESQIONTWN DE AUTWN particularly crucial or new information? It
> doesn't seem like it. We already know that they are having a meal.
> The following LABWN hO IHSOUS ARTON is both new and more significant.
I'm not so sure about this: some might say that it is important to
see this ritual action
WITHIN THE CONTEXT of a meal.
> MARK 10:17 KAI EKPOREUOMENOU AUTOU EIS hODON PROSDRAMWN hEIS KAI
> GONUPETHSAS AUTON EPHRWTA AUTON: DIDASKALE AGAQE, TI POIHSW hINA ZWHN
> AIWNION KLHRONOMHSW;
> Here EKPOREUOMENOU AUTOU EIS hODON provides a transition and gives
> information required to make sense out of PROSDRAMWN hEIS. The GPC is
> important as a framing device but since Jesus is regularly found
> EKPOREUOMENOU EIS hODON it hardly qualifies as prominent or
> significant news.
> LUKE 4:42 GENOMENHS DE hHMERAS EXELQWN EPOREUQH EIS ERHMON TOPON: KAI
> hOI OCLOI EPEZHTOUN AUTON KAI HLQON hEWS AUTOU KAI KATEICON AUTON TOU
> MH POREUESQAI AP' AUTWN.
> GENOMENHS DE hHMERAS anchors the scene in the narrative sequence.
> Other than that the information isn't a prominent aspect of the story.
> ACTS 14:20 KUKLWSANTWN DE TWN MAQHTWN AUTON ANASTAS EISHLQEN EIS THN
> POLIN. KAI THi EPAURION EXHLQEN SUN TWi BARNABAi EIS DERBHN.
> Here is an example where the GPC introduces a highly significant
> aspect of the story. KUKLWSANTWN DE TWN MAQHTWN doesn't introduce a
> new scene but it does announce a significant transition, moving from
> one location to another.
> ACTS 23:12 GENOMENHS DE hHMERAS POIHSANTES SUSTROFHN hOI IOUDAIOI
> ANEQEMATISAN hEAUTOUS LEGONTES MHTE FAGEIN MHTE PIEIN hEWS hOU
> APOKTEINWSIN TON PAULON.
> Again the GPC is a temporal marker, otherwise not crucial to the
> I included the ACTS 14:20 to illustrate what I would consider a GPC
> with significant information prominence, the other GPC examples do
> not appear to highlight anything in the story.
> Prominence is a subjective attribute which is very difficult to prove
> one way or another without a lot of rigorous qualification. Take for
> example the ongoing argument about fronted constituents.
And again I say, Amen.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
1989 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad2 at mac.com
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