[B-Greek] Dative participial clauses

Steve Runge srunge at logos.com
Mon Jul 9 12:37:12 EDT 2007


You raised a point that I wanted address:

"It certainly seems to be the case; that these dative participial clauses at the beginning of a sentence function very much like the so-called genitive "absolute" constructions. I don't know whether this would be useful or not, but I'm now wondering whether even nominative participial phrases in agreement with the subject of main clauses don't generally display these same characteristics."

I think that you are dead on in your inclination to look for a common function of preverbal participles.  As a starting point, it is worth asking what difference it would have made if each of these participial actions had been conveyed using indicative verbs.  In other words, based on the context what difference is there between use of the participle versus a main clause mood such as the indicative.  I would contend that use of an indicative mood would place the 'participial' action on the same par with the main clause action.  All would have similar weight, from a morphological point of view.  If this is true, then what is the effect of using a participle?  Levinsohn (2000:181-190) has argued that it has the effect of 'backgrounding' the participial action with respect to the main verb.  

What do I mean by backgrounding?  It would be like having a line of soldiers at attention and having some of them take a step back.  Those who step back are pushed into the background somewhat compared to those in their original position.  At the same time, those that have not moved end up in a slightly more prominent position than those backgrounded, even though they have not moved.  The text I have used to illustrate this is Mark 5:25-27, where the writer uses 7 separate participial clauses to establish the needed circumstantial information for the reader to understand the main clause action: the woman touching Jesus.  English does not use participles like this, and thus many of them are rendered as main verbs in translation.  

Had the writer used indicative verbs for some or most of the seven participial actions (as most English translations do), the 'touching' would not have stood out nearly as blatantly.  The woman 'touching' Jesus ends up being the thing that Jesus specifically responds to in v. 30: TIS MOU hHYATO TWN hIMATIWN;

If you are looking for a unifying explanation to describe the function of pre-verbal participles in the gospels and Acts, I would suggest starting with the idea of 'backgrounding' as a hypothesis and testing it.  I have found this explanation also covers a good many of the pre-verbal participles in the Epistles as well.  

Making the main clause action 'stand out' does not make it emphatic.  If you go back to the 'line of soldiers' the line of those who did not move is the normal position.  Having some step back 'backgrounds' them.  Having some of them step forward 'emphasizes' them by making the stand out from the normal position.  

Hope this helps advance the discussion,


Note:  Some folks, like Robert Longacre and Alvierro Niccacci, have described narrative in terms of mainline and offline, foreground and background.  I am not arguing that use of a participle makes the action 'background information'.  Instead, the action is backgroundED with respect to the main clause action, making the main action stand out more than the participial action, compared to if all indicative verbs had been used.  

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