[B-Greek] Solecisms in the book of Revelation: Demotic?

Carl Conrad cwconrad2 at mac.com
Thu Aug 21 10:05:04 EDT 2008

My apologies for the length and impossible formatting of this  
response; I would expect that most B-Greekers would delete it a first  

On Aug 20, 2008, at 6:13 PM, Don Wilkins wrote:

> Shame on you for pulling me back into this, Carl, by your impeccable  
> scholarship and logic. As always, you both clarify and educate, and  
> I'm forced either to concede everything to you or to attempt to  
> respond, as I do below.

"It's YOUR fault," he shouted.  I tried to send you an off-list e- 
mail, but you evidently have one of those spam-killers that keeps  
everybody but your household pets and sister-in-law from getting  
through to you that way. If you hadn't employed that provocative  
phrase "intentional solecism" once more in your reply to Randall, I  
might have held my electronic tongue, but the notion of a supposedly  
good writer repeatedly and deliberately indulging in what he knows to  
be bad grammar seemed to cry out for response, and since I couldn't  
get in by the back door, I had no recourse but to respond publicly.

> On Aug 20, 2008, at 6:19 AM, Carl Conrad wrote:
>> I had thought we'd finished with this topic, leaving it as a matter  
>> of
>> disagreement between Don Wilkins and myself, but apparently there's
>> more interest in this matter that at first seemed evident -- quite
>> apart from the ongoing endeavors to unsnarl issues of "Who's who" and
>> "Who did what" in Revelation, most of which questions don't really
>> seem concerned with the Greek text as Greek text so much as with the
>> effort to find or demonstrate some inner consistency in what has
>> always seemed to me a more-or-less kaleidoscopic perspective on TA
>> Randall's question about εἷς καθ' εἷς hEIS KAQ' hEIS (John
>> 8:9) and Don Wilkins' repeated claim that the author of Revelation
>> employs "intentional solecism" have sent me scurrying back to BDF and
>> some interesting issues of linguistic history. I am wondering whether
>> what we are seeing in the author of Revelation and occasionally
>> elsewhere in the GNT is not so much deliberate usage of what the
>> writer knows to be "improper" Greek but rather Demotic intrusions  
>> into
>> a text that the writer intends to compose in "standard" Greek.
> I assume that by "intrusions" you mean that the writer intends to  
> write standard Greek, but unconsciously lapses into street language  
> that is commonplace to him. Please correct me if I'm  
> misunderstanding you. This is an interesting idea, since NT  
> scholarship has gone to a lot of trouble to define the NT as non- 
> literary Koine. If you are right, it shows that the categories for  
> NT Greek are generalizations, more so than we realized.

I am glad you called for clarification here, because more than one  
significant point is involved.

(1) Perhaps "intrusion" was not the best choice of words. What I meant  
was more simply that I and most people I know well enough to judge  
about tend to write a different kind of English in regular  
correspondence to non-family members from the English we speak to  
those we feel close to. I think we're taught to do that; you've  
probably had to read papers by freshman students as I have and found  
you sometimes had to admonish kids from using conversational idioms in  
formal expository writing. That's what I think these solecisms that we  
find occasionally in the GNT but more often in Revelation actually  
are: expressions that are probably not uncommon in conversational  
usage but are frowned upon by schoolteachers (like us!). If I gave you  
the explanation of my response to you via the phrase, "Stuff happens,"  
I think you would understand me perfectly well, even with the  
euphemism employed therein, but I think you might be surprised to find  
the equivalent of that in a depiction of the fate of the Great Whore  
of Babylon.

(2) If "NT scholarship has gone to a lot of trouble to define the NT  
as non-literary Koine," -- in terms as loose as that --, then NT  
scholars are considerably more naive than I think they really are.  
"Non-literary Koine" strikes me as a more-or-less useless  
characterization of the speech-level of the writing of the GNT. Is it  
really true that we lump the Greek of Luke and Hebrews and the Greek  
of Mark's gospel and Revelation all under one heading of "non-literary  
Greek"? My own sense of matters is that even before the advent of  
Atticism and the writers of the Second Sophistic, there was a  
considerable spectrum of speech-levels between the style of the  
scribes who maintained records and handled official correspondence and  
writers such as Philo or Josephus at one end and the "barbarous"  
NEILOUTI letter of Antonios to his Mom we were discussing here earlier  
this month. Surely it would be more accurate to speak of Hellenistic  
Greek as ranging across a spectrum from usage taught in schools and  
maintained in official correspondence and "good" writers at one end  
and street-language at the other. Some of the most amusing items in  
"literary" Greek are those which turn on shifts of speech-level  
within: I'm thinking of Aristophanes' mix of Spartan Doric and  
Athenian Attic in "Lysistrata" and "Acharnians," or Theocritus'  
representation of the patois of Alexandrian suburban mothers going  
downtown to watch the big parade. Surely you've  seen the work of  
Phrynichos of Bithynia (late 2nd c. CE) and found it amusing as well  
as instructive? Caragounis does us a great service by printing out a  
neat catalog of the entire EKLOGH of Phynichos along with the  
schoolmaster's reasons for rejecting each impropriety and  
corresponding Attic, NT Koine, and MG equivalents (Development of  
Greek and NT, pp. 124ff.). I would reiterate here one of my "ad  
nauseam" assertions, that the notion that NT Koine should be  
understood strictly from a "diachronic" perspective is erroneous and a  
hindrance to understanding the language. NT Koine Greek is hardly  
homogeneous; it is a language in flux, a language employing both older  
and newer forms and expressions and a broad range of speech-levels,  
often enough mixed within the same document by the same author. This  
is one reason why defining "solecism" is itself a risky business:  
we're in some instances less than sure about what usage is  
"acceptable" and what is not.

>> Some of
>> the non-standard or "solecistic" items we note in the GNT and other
>> Koine texts exemplify usage that will become much more common and
>> ultimately even standard in the later language. One of these
>> interesting developments in Greek linguistic history is the gradual
>> fixation of nominative forms that may derive from what were  
>> originally
>> accusative forms, some of the nominative forms then ultimately
>> becoming indeclinable. An example is the modern Greek active
>> participle: let's take a verb that survives in MG from AG: βλέπω
>> (BLEPW). The present active participle in MG is βλέποντας
>> (BLEPONTAS). Superficially this looks like an accusative plural of  
>> the
>> ancient participle, but in fact it is the accusative singular form
>> with a nominative -S ending appended to it; the form is in fact
>> indeclinable, as is evident in a sentence that might confound an
>> unwary ancient Greek reader: βλέποντας, δέ βλέπει
>> (BLEPONTAS, DE BLEPEI) "Seeing, he does not see," i.e. "Although
>> endowed with eyesight, he doesn't see."
>> A comparable "solecism" that I had long failed to understand is the
>> "nominative" πλήρης [PLHRHS] in John 1:14 	Καὶ ὁ
>> λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν
>> ἐν ἡμῖν, καὶ ἐθεασάμεθα τὴν δόξαν
>> αὐτοῦ, δόξαν ὡς μονογενοῦς παρὰ
>> πατρός, πλήρης χάριτος καὶ
>> hHMIN,
>> PLHRHS CARITOS KAI ALHQEIAS]. It seems we ought to have an accusative
>> form πλήρη [PLHRH] to agree with δόξαν [DOXAN], the  
>> object
>> of ἐθεασάμεθα [EQEASAMEQA]. But apparently the originally
>> nominative form πλήρης [PLHRHS] of this adjective has come to  
>> be
>> -- or is on the way in Koine to becoming  indeclinable. BDAG has a  
>> very good account of this s.v. PLHRHS §2: "In some of the passages
>> already mentioned πλήρης is indecl., though never without  
>> v.l.,
>> and almost only when it is used w. a gen., corresponding to an Engl.
>> expression such as ‘a work full of errors’" One might note Acts
>> 6:5 ... Στέφανον, ἄνδρα πλήρης πίστεως
>> καὶ πνεύματος ἁγίου [STEFANON, ANDRA PLHRHS
>> PISTEWS KAI PNEUMATOS hAGIOU]. What we're dealing with here is not, I
>> think, an "intentional solecism" but rather an intrusion of a Demotic
>> usage into writing that the author really intends to keep more formal
>> and conformant to "school" usage. I will get to the bearing of these
>> observations on εἷς καθ' εἷς [hEIS KAQ' hEIS] down below.
> I can imagine John slipping into the nominative, perhaps  
> contemplating the wonder of DOXA to the extent that he chooses to  
> ignore the grammar. Acts 6:5 is more interesting. We would expect  
> Luke to be strict in his observation of grammar, but here he  
> juxtapositions ANDRA and PLHRHS, producing a glaring "solecism". The  
> early copyists parted company, with the hand of B showing the  
> accusative PLHRH. This stymied modern editors as well; in the 25th  
> NA edition they opted for B, but thereafter the editors accepted the  
> nominative as an indeclinable form and went with p75/Aleph/A etc. I  
> did a quick check of PLHRHS and found it declined as usual  
> elsewhere, with the possible exception of Mark 4:28 (another  
> interesting textual decision). But in 2 John 8 the accusative  
> singular is found in a normal construction. On balance, the rule for  
> PLHRHS in the NT clearly is standard usage. So the picture I get  
> from Demotic intrusion is that the writers at this point in time are  
> freely using an indeclinable PLHRHS in ordinary street conversation,  
> but taking pains to decline it in their writing of scripture. In  
> Luke's case, assuming that the nominative form is the correct  
> reading, he uses it in a somewhat absent-minded mode in Acts 6:5 and  
> evidently never reviews his writing, because the juxtaposition would  
> be hard to overlook. At the same time, I must admit that I don't  
> have a good explanation for the nominative here, unless it is  
> serving as a form of emphasis such as I might argue for John 1:14,  
> or Luke is citing PLHRHS...hAGIOU as a kind of title or nickname of  
> honor that Steven had acquired. The nominative is clearly the harder  
> reading here, and therefore preferable.

Ich danke Ihnen herzlich, mein gelehrter Herr Doktor! I think most of  
us who read the GNT in a neatly-edited-and-printed NA27 or UBS4 are  
somewhat shocked to look at the range of readings and spellings in the  
older original MSS and papyri. I find it instructive just to compare  
the same verse in NA27 and Majority Text, where the glaring  
problematic text that the eclectic editors think more like to be  
original has finally been settled in a form that is more familiar to  
the Greek one has learned in school.

>> On Aug 15, 2008, at 2:28 PM, Don Wilkins (drdwilkins at sbcglobal.net)
>> wrote:
>>> Just a quick response to Carl's comment on the solecisms.  ...  it
>>> seems to me that John's solecisms are sufficiently violent that we
>>> would expect to find Revelation riddled with many others, if the
>>> comparatively few that we do find were not deliberate. It's the old
>>> story: you have to know the rules to (deliberately) break the rules.
>>> If John really didn't know better, then it's a minor miracle that he
>>> could write coherent Greek overall.
>> Don and I have agreed to disagree about this "deliberate use of
>> solecisms" -- but it remains inexplicable to me why a writer who  
>> seems
>> to know better would deliberately employ unacceptable grammar. I  
>> think
>> there must be some explanation for each instance of "intentional
>> solecism" if the usage really is intentional: WHY does a writer  
>> employ
>> a solecism in any particular instance?
> Carl, your "AIN'T" example below provides one explanation, if I may  
> call it unacceptable grammar. But you're right, if the solecism is  
> intentional, there must be an explanation. The problem is, our  
> inability to think of one does not necessarily eliminate the  
> possibility.

I once had a Psych professor in college who liked to explain  
"scientific probability" in terms of the difficulty of disproving the  
proposition that "The moon is made of green cheese." You can believe  
it if you want to, but don't try to convince me of its likelihood  
without offering some credible evidence. I can readily enough accept  
the proposition that the author of Revelation invented the combo "hO  
WN KAI hO HN KAI hO ERCOMENOS" in all its solecistic splendor. I  
acknowledge the author's imagistic creativity and the majesty of his  
kaleidoscopic vision, but I continue to think that there are real  
"rough spots" in his Greek that haven't been explained away  
satisfactorily in terms of "intention." For that matter, I also happen  
to think that the gospel of Mark is a literary masterpiece, despite  
the presence of a number of usages that might with difficulty get past  
a university Greek composition instructor's red pencil.

>> We've explored some
>> explanations for some of these (e.g. Iver re Rev. 7:9 where an
>> implicit EIDON may explain the questionable accusative
>> PERIBEBLHMENOUS, or a perhaps implicit infinitive POREUESQAI might
>> explain a use of an accusative hUPODEDEMENOUS in Mark 6:9. But such
>> usages as these could not be called "intentional" solecism; they fall
>> rather under the classification of constructions where something
>> unexpressed seems to have been understood in the writer's mind and
>> intention, something that a reader might be expected to infer from  
>> the
>> context.
> Quite right. I have been sloppy in my use of "intentional solecism,"  
> lacking a better term to use at the moment.
>> On the other hand, I think I could be accused of "intentional
>> solecism" if, upon being told repeatedly that I MUST perform a  
>> certain
>> action without further ado, I responded with, "Well, I AIN'T gonna do
>> that, and that's all there is to it!" Here "ain't" is unacceptable
>> English, but I would be using it to underscore a stubborn resolution
>> to follow my own counsel despite the advice of others.
>> Upon further reflection, therefore, I've come to think that these
>> "solecisms" in Revelation are to be explained --  NOT in terms of a
>> deliberate indulgence in non-standard grammar by an author who  
>> clearly
>> knows how to write "school" Greek -- but RATHER in terms of a
>> slackening in the effort to compose the text in conformity to what  
>> one
>> knows to be good "written" Greek and a slip-up that allows a usage
>> that is not uncommon in the "spoken" Greek of everyday conversation.
>> At any rate, that seems to me a much more reasonable explanation for
>> the "solecisms" in Revelation than that we are dealing in each
>> instance with a deliberate violation of the norms of written Greek.
> Taking Acts 6:5 as an excellent example of what you would call a  
> slip-up, I have to come back to the question of whether Luke would  
> be so blind as to miss the mistake upon a reading of his work,  
> unless we want to assume that he never looked at it after writing  
> it. And a formal proofreading wouldn't be required, only a moment's  
> reflection on what he has just written. In the nine other places  
> where Luke uses PLHRHS, he declines it, and does so correctly.

Well, of course, things are different with our own earlier practice of  
writing rough long-hand drafts, correcting them, and finally writing a  
"fair copy." Horace told would-be poets to read and re-read their work  
and wait nine years before publishing, but I suspect that Luke  
dictated to an amanuensis and trusted him/her to get it onto wax- 
tablet or papyrus as dictated. I suspect that the way we write e-mail  
now is closer to the fashion of writing with which Luke would have  
been familiar. When I look afresh and what I what written when I see  
it in e-mail responses above or below the response, I'm often appalled  
at what I see that I have written.

>> On Aug 19, 2008, at 3:12 PM, Bil buss (Paladin343 at aol.com) wrote:
>>> Hi everyone,
>>> Can anyone point me in the direction of scholarly works that list
>>> and/or discuss solecisms in the Gospels, Acts and Revelation?
>> I would think there must be some bibliography on this subject, but I
>> only know of good material in BDF and some really fine information
>> buried in the sub-headings of BDAG.
>> As for bibliographies, I find that Micheal Palmer's excellent site is
>> still accessible at http://www.greek-language.com/ , and more
>> specifically his page, http://greek-language.com/bibliographies/#Greek%20Linguistics
>>  (= http://tinyurl.com/5dnmsr); the reference to Rod Decker's page is
>> there, but note it directly anyway: http://faculty.bbc.edu/RDecker/bibliog.htm
>> In BDF  I already called attention in an earlier post to §§136-7
>> ("More Serious Incongruencies (Solecisms)" (pp. 75-76). But there's
>> good stuff that's relevant at other points in this book that is a  
>> much
>> more useful reference than is commonly recognized. I'll note one such
>> item below with regard to εἷς καθ' εἷς hEIS KAQ' hEIS.
> Another source for solecisms is Turner's contribution of the 4th  
> volume of Moulton's Grammar, On Style. I don't think he is fair in  
> his appraisals, but it is a good source nonetheless.
>> On Aug 19, 2008, at 6:03 AM, Randall Buth (randallbuth at gmail.com)  
>> wrote:
>>> While on the subject of solecisms, how do you all like εἷς
>>> καθ' εἷς EIS KAQ' EIS ?
>>> It seems intentional enough with the correct dropping of e vowel in
>>> KATA, plus the correct Q θ before the word EIS 'one'.
>>> Proper Greek would say KAQ' ENA καθ΄ ενα, though I can  
>>> readily
>>> understand KAQ EIS as a sub-standard dialect nominalization that
>>> even rhymes with a Hebrew "ish ish".
>> On Aug 19, 2008, at 3:33 PM, Don Wilkins (drdwilkins at sbcglobal.net)
>> wrote:
>>> Another good example of "intentional solecism" IMO, probably
>>> resulting from the influence of a foreign idiom as you point out. If
>>> the writer used KATA correctly in other constructions, we wouldn't
>>> infer from this anomaly that he was ignorant of the proper use of
>>> KATA.
>> Again, I think that "intentional solecism" is a curious and
>> infelicitous term suggestive (perhaps even intended by Don to mean)  
>> of
>> deliberate injection of substandard usage into a text that is
>> generally marked by good standard usage, an injection, moreover, that
>> serves some intelligible rhetorical strategy. If that term is to be
>> used, I would expect an explanation of what rhetorical strategy each
>> such usage in Revelation is supposed to serve.
> And you are right to do so.
>> I don't think either that Randall really intended to suggest that  
>> hEIS
>> KAQ' hEIS derives from foreign idiom.
> I should let Randall speak for himself, but he indicated that the  
> expression might be based on the Hebrew "ish, ish" as I recall. To  
> get a better perspective, I ran a TLG search on the phrase (both  
> hEIS KAQ' hEIS and hEIS KATA hEIS). It does not occur in the LXX,  
> which otherwise might have revealed a Hebrew connection. Outside of  
> the NT it is found only twice, both in the writings of Constantine  
> VII, tenth century. The writer uses it in places requiring the  
> nominative. Maybe something like Demotic influence can explain this,  
> if it was an idiom used on the streets that remained popular over  
> the centuries. Certainly in English, and probably in all other  
> languages, we have idioms or frequently used phrases that are  
> substandard. Even if we make it a point to avoid them in our writing  
> or in formal conversation, there are times when we use them  
> deliberately, sometimes because they are especially effective at  
> clarifying something (as in AIN'T), and at other times because we  
> are speaking to someone who routinely uses them, and we want to show  
> empathy with him.

Randall has already spoken for himself: he never intended to suggest  
that hEIS KAQ' hEIS derives from Hebrew usage but only that it was  
similar. He made that clear again in his response to my message  

KAQ' hEIS is found in the GNT also at Rom 12:5 οὕτως οἱ  
πολλοὶ ἓν σῶμά ἐσμεν ἐν Χριστῷ, τὸ  
δὲ καθ᾿ εἷς ἀλλήλων μέλη. hOUTWS hOI POLLOI  
And -- without elision of the alpha: Mark 14:19 ἤρξαντο  
λυπεῖσθαι καὶ λέγειν αὐτῷ εἷς κατὰ  

BDAG s.v. hEIS 5.e.: ἓν καθ᾿ ἕν hEN KAQ' hEN (Aesop, Fab.  
274 P.; PLeid II, X 1, 22) each one Rv 4:8. In this pass. the second  
ἕν hEN could be an undeclined nom. as in εἷς κατὰ εἷς  
hEIS KATA hEIS (cp. Lucian, Sol. 9; 3 Macc 5:34.

>> What we have here seems better
>> explained in BDF § 305 with respect to "Each" under the heading of
>> Pronominal Adjectives":
>> "305. 'Each'. ῞Εκαστος hEKASTOS, intensified εἷς
>> ἕκαστος hEIS hEKASTOS. Fropm the distributive use of  
>> κατὰ
>> KATA (ἀνὰ ANA, §248(1)), καθ’ KAQ' (ἀνὰ ANA) εἷς
>> hEIS developed, since καθ’ ἕνα ἕκαστον KAQ' hENA
>> hEKASTON became fixed as καθένα ἕκαστον KAQENA hEKASTON
>> and a corresponding nom. was created: thus MGr καθείς KAQEIS
>> καθένας KAQENAS 'each'; cf. Jannaris §664; W.-S. p. 247 n.;
>> Psaltes 192. Yet not many examples of this vulgarism are found in the
>> NT."
> Actually καθένα ἕκαστον never occurs in the TLG  
> sources. According to LSJM, KAQEIS is a back-formation from KAQEN.  
> Interestingly, Lucian (2nd cent. A.D.) uses the expression KAQ' hEIS  
> twice in one of his dialogs, so if we are going to call it a  
> solecism, we probably should blame him as well.
>> So John 8:9 οἱ δὲ ἀκούσαντες ἐξήρχοντο
>> εἷς καθ᾿ εἷς ἀρξάμενοι ἀπὸ τῶν
>> πρεσβυτέρων καὶ κατελείφθη μόνος
>> καὶ ἡ γυνὴ ἐν μέσῳ οὖσα. [hOI DE AKOUSANTES
>> MONOS KAI hH GUNH EN MESWi OUSA]. Although it's possible to read
>> εἷς καθ᾿ εἷς hEIS KAQ' hEIS as a pronoun subject of
>> EXHRCONTO, even Englishing it as "one by one," the phrase as
>> pronominal seems rather to be "each individual" ( = hEKASTOS)
>> functions more or less adverbially as "individually" and the second
>> hEIS with its preceding KAQ' is not conceived grammatically as a
>> nominative at all.
> KAQ' hEIS shows up 18 times in the TLG sources, including Lucian and  
> Constantine VII (if taken as one word), and is consistently used as  
> a nominative. Lucian seems to be the oldest, and almost all the rest  
> are Christian sources.
>> In Modern Greek "each one, every one" is καθένας KAQENAS
>> (Demotic), καθείς KAQEIS (Katharevousa). καθένας KAQENAS
>> is derivative -- like the MGr participle noted above -- from the
>> accusative καθένα KAQENA with addition of the nominative  
>> ending -
>> ς -S.
>> κάθε KAQE, we might note, seems to be in indeclinable adjective/
>> pronoun meaning "each" or "every."
> Interesting, but I think the earlier Greek is more relevant.

I think, as does Caragounis, that there's an ongoing development; I  
simply don't buy that "diachronic" conception of what Koine Greek must  

>> Another quite comparable and interesting (from the perspective of
>> Koine and a diachronic perspective on Greek) is κανένας  
>> (Demotic), κανείς KANEIS (Katharevousa, with fem. KANEMIA, n.
>> KANENA), meaning "none," "no one," or "not any." This derives
>> ultimately from AGr κἀν KAN, earlier καὶ ἂν KAI AN, still
>> earlier καὶ ἐὰν KAI EAN "even if" -- and ἕνα/εἷς  
>> hENA/
>> hEIS.
>> κάνε KANE, as might be expected, is an indeclinable adjective/
>> pronoun meaning "none," not any."
>> In sum then, I think that these "solecisms" in Revelation and
>> elsewhere in the GNT are best explained as intrusions into a written
>> composition of expressions that are already used in "demotic" speech
>> but usually do not get used in writing.
> I wouldn't rule this out categorically, and indeed it is an  
> interesting theory. But I still think we are in the agree-to- 
> disagree state as to whether these are unintentional errors.

You are welcome to disagree, but if you really want to get anyone to  
believe in this notion of "intentional solecism," you're going to have  
to adduce some plausible evidence.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

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