Tag Archives: Languages

Trinitarian Questions and Mormon Accounts of the “Great Apostasy”

I’m currently reading some essays from a book titled Standing Apart: Mormon Historical Consciousness and the Concept of Apostasy.  Each essay is written by a different author and covers a different subject. I have long been interested in the Latter Day Saints and particularly their concept of the “Great Apostasy” – i.e., the idea that early Christianity fell almost immediately into decline and (as it typically goes), with the death of the last Apostle, Christianity ceased to have a priesthood or authority. This decline narrative isn’t unique to the LDS, but the way they employ it is interesting.standing-apart

One of the essays I have read is by Lincoln Blumell, a professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University. He notes in his essay that:

it may be noted that the term Trinity (Grk. τριάς; Lat. trinitas) is not used with any technical meaning, as it would be in subsequent centuries, to define and circumscribe the relationship existing among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. (“Rereading the Council of Nicaea and Its Creed,” p. 197)

He points to Clement of Alexandria in the footnote and admits that Clement does use the phrase ἁγία τριάς  in Book IV of the Stromateis, but there it refers to the trinity of “faith, hope, and love” from 1 Cor 13.13. This is true indeed. However, Clement also uses the phrase in Book V of the very same book to discuss the actual Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The opening of the 14th chapter of the 5th book indicates that Clement is going to demonstrate how the Greeks borrowed heavily from and misinterpreted Hebrew wisdom. He writes,

τὰ δ’ ἑξῆς <προσ>αποδοτέον καὶ τὴν ἐκ τῆς βαρβάρου φιλοσοφίας Ἑλληνικὴν κλοπὴν σαφὲστερον ἤδη παραστατὲον.
Now it must be shown with greater clarity the Greek plagiarism of the philosophy of the Barbarians (Hebrews).
Then, in 5.14.103, Clement writes:
οὑκ ἄλλως ἔγωγε ἐξακούω ἤ τὴν ἁγίαν τριάδα μηνύεσθαι. τρίτον μὲν γὰρ εἶναι τὸ ἅγιον πνεῦμα, τὸν υἱὸν δὲ δεύτερον, δι’ οὗ “πάντα ἐγένετο” κατὰ βούλησιν τοῦ πατρός.
I understand it [the subject of the passage from Plato] to be nothing other than the Holy Trinity, for the third is the Holy Spirit, the second the Son, the one through whom “all things came to be” according to the will of the Father.
Dr. Blumell’s footnote, quoted in part below, seems misleading:
Similarly, Clement of Alexandria is the first to use the phrase “holy trinity/triad” (ἁγία τριάς) but has it refer to the attributes of “faith, hope, and love” when discussing 1 Corinthians 13:13.
Clement indeed does use it to refer to the triad found in 1 Cor 13, but the footnote seems to imply this is the only time he uses it. This is clearly wrong, as demonstrated here. Perhaps this isn’t the sort of “technical language” Blumell is discussing, but I’m not sure exactly what he means by the phrase. Clement refers to the Word being God repeatedly throughout his works, though he does distinguish Him from the Father. However, every good Trinitarian does. Blumell makes another point here that seems unclear – he says that many of the Fathers in the second and third centuries “regarded Jesus as subordinate to and distinct from the Father.” (p. 197). With respect to subordinationism, it is true among some, though not as many, I think, as often stated (e.g. I think Origen’s “subordinationism” is totally overblown in the secondary literature). But as said above – every Trinitarian today thinks the Word is not the Father.
At any rate,  I’m not trying to impose a post-4th century Trinitarianism on the 2nd century, but it’s not as dire as Blumell is making it out to be. There is reference to the Trinity long before Nicaea and the word is used to discuss the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

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Research Languages

I have, in an earlier post, pointed out a resource I consider very helpful in learning and practicing modern research languages (French, Italian, German, etc): http://www.duolingo.com. Another practice I use is to read the Bible in these languages. As an undergraduate, I was completely opposed to using materials which I knew in English to study foreign languages. I promised if I ever was asked to teach Koine Greek, we would only use Josephus or Philo – I didn’t want those future students of mine to get off too easily. Granted, this probably assumes that students would know the Bible well enough to recognize it and this is assuming a lot.

I’ve changed my mind a bit, or at least relaxed my philosophy. There are a lot of benefits to studying a language with materials which you know in English.

I’m reading through St. John’s prologue this morning in German (in the Hoffnung Für Alle translation) and I noticed that 1.6-7 is not exactly what the Greek says. The Greek reads:

Ἐγένετο ἄνθρωπος, ἀπεσταλμένος παρὰ θεοῦ, ὄνομα αὐτῷ Ἰωάννης· οὗτος ἦλθεν εἰς μαρτυρίαν ἵνα μαρτυρήσῃ περὶ τοῦ φωτός, ἵνα πάντες πιστεύωσιν δι’ αὐτοῦ.

And there was a man, having been sent by God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, in order to witness concerning the light, in order that all men might believe in Him.

The German translation, however, reads as such:

Gott schickte einen Boten, einen Mann, der Johannes hieß. Er sollte die Menschen auf das Licht hinweisen, damit alle durch seine Botschaft an den glauben, der das Licht ist.

God sent a messenger, a man called John. He was meant to point out to men the light so that all men might believe in Him who is the light.

You can see the differences – in the Greek, St. John the Baptist is the subject of the sentence (Ἐγένετο ἄνθρωπος – “There was a man”), but in the German translation I’m using, God becomes the subject (Gott schickte – God sent).  It’s not as though German does not have the passive voice – the translators very well could have written, “Ein Mann war schickten” (A man was sent), but chose not to.

My point in writing this short post is to point out that it’s fun to read these familiar texts in other languages because it’s not always the exact equivalent of what you’re used to. Not only did I get the benefit of reading the German, but because of the oddity, I thought for awhile about German passive construction. Win-win, really.


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The Agnus Dei Explained

Though the majority of Catholics in America attend Masses almost entirely in English, the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) is something that is often sung in Latin. If you have ever wondered what each word means in the song, here you go:

Agnus     Dei           qui                        tollis                        peccata             mundi

Lamb   of God      (you)who            takes away                   the sins           of the world

miserere                        nobis

have mercy                    on us                          (x 2)

Agnus     Dei           qui                        tollis                        peccata             mundi

Lamb   of God      (you)who            takes away                   the sins           of the world

dona             nobis                pacem

grant             to us                 peace

The initial line comes from John 1.29 where John the Baptizer says, “Ἴδε ὁ ἀμνὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ὁ αἴρων τὴν ἀμαρτίαν τοῦ κόσμου” – Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

A few grammatical notes, for those interested:

qui is a relative pronoun and it means “who”. It is most often used with 3rd singular verbs, just like in English. “I saw a man who loves ice cream.” However, Latin will sometimes use it with a 2nd singular verb, which here is tollis (you take away/lift up/raise/destroy). So it’s “you who takes away the sins”.

miserere is an imperative, a command. “Have mercy”.

dona likewise is an imperative. “grant” or “give.” You can see it is related to the word “donation.”


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Friday is for Funny Words

This week’s funny word is βρεκεκεκὲξ, a sound meant to imitate that of the frogs in Aristophanes’ “Frogs.” It is followed by “κοὰξ κοάξ” (ln. 209).

The chorus of the frogs is:

βρεκεκεκὲξ κοὰξ κοάξ
βρεκεκεκὲξ κοὰξ κοάξ
λιμναῖα κρηνῶν τέκνα,
ξύναυλον ὕμνων βοὰν
φθεγξώμεθ’, εὔγηρυν ἐμὰν ἀοιδάν,
κοὰξ κοάξ,
ἥν ἀμφὶ Νυσήιον
Διὸς Διόνυσον ἐν
Λίμναισιν ἰαχήσαμεν,
ἡνίχ’ ὁ κραιπαλόκωμος
τοῖς ἱεροῖσι Χύτροισι
χωρεῖ κατ’ ἐμὸν τέμενος λαῶν ὄχλος.
βρεκεκεκὲξ κοὰξ κοάξ.

Brekekekex Koax Koax
Brekekekex Koax Koax
Marshy children of the water
Harmonious crying of hymns
Let us sing, my sweet sounding song,
Koax Koax,
which we roared for Nymphian
Dionysus of Zeus
at Limnae
When the crowd drunk in revelry
During the holy feast of pots
Comes to my precinct
Brekekekex Koax Koax

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Friday is for Funny Words

This Friday’s funny word is my favorite Latin word: pullarius or “chicken master.” Cicero in his De Divinitate (On Divination) talks about the duties of the pullarius and his skepticism concerning the efficacy of their omens. In the morning, a pullarius would go out to feed the chickens in silence. If the chickens ate with fervor, it was a good omen. If not, it was received as a bad omen. One of the most famous instances of this type of augury in antiquity was when Publius Claudius Pulcher, during the First Punic war (mid-3rd century BC), sailed out against the Carthaginians even though the chickens did not eat with vigor that morning. He lost the battle (probably because the men were so frightened they were incapable of fighting well) and was subsequently exiled for his sacrilege.

Tum ille: “Dicito, si pascentur.” “Pascuntur”. Quae aves? Aut ubi? Attulit, inquit, in cavea pullos is, qui ex eo ipso nominatur pullarius. Haec sunt igitur aves internuntiae Iovis! Quae pascantur necne, quid refert? Nihil ad auspicia; sed quia, cum pascuntur, necesse est aliquid ex ore cadere et terram pavire (terripavium primo, post terripudium dictum est; hoc quidem iam tripudium dicitur) – cum igitur offa cecidit ex ore pulli, tum auspicanti tripudium solistimum nuntiatur. Ergo hoc auspicium divini quicquam habere potest, quod tam sit coactum et expressum?

My translation is thus:

Then he said: “Tell me if they eat.” “They are eating” responds the Augur. “What birds? And where?” He says, “A man brings the chickens into the birdcage and on account of this is called the chicken master (pullarius).” These chickens are therefore the mediators of Jove! And whether they eat or not, what does it matter? Nothing to the auspices; but because, if they eat, it is necessary that something will fall from their beak and strike the ground (this was at first called terripavium, afterwards called terripudium, and now it is indeed called tripudium [a favorable omen when chickens eat greedily]) – therefore when the food falls from the beak of the chicken, then it is said that the most perfect chicken omen has begun. Therefore how is this omen able to have anything divine, which is so forced and strained?

Come to think of it, tripudium solistimum (the most perfect chicken omen) is pretty funny too.

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A Perfect Example of Thucydides’ use of Preposition with a Genitive

Today’s “Perfect Example Of” comes once again from Thucydides’ Book II of The Peloponnesian War. This comes from an indirect speech of Pericles recorded by Thucydides. Thucydides likes to place between a preposition and its genitive another dependent genitive.

…λέγων τὴν ἰσχὺν αὐτοῖς ἀπὸ τούτων εἶναι τῶν χρημάτων τῆς προσόδου

My translation:

…saying to them that their strength was in the offering of monies….


So here’s a visual of what’s going on:

Thucydides does this elsewhere in Book I.32 where he has a preposition separated from its genitive by another dependent genitive:

μετὰ τῆς ξυμμαχίας τῆς αἰτήσεως

Which I translate as:

After the request of their ally…

Also, notice that Thucydides often uses ξ instead of σ in words like συν and compounds that have that as a prefix.

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Latin vs. Mandarin

Thanks to Darrell Pursiful who thanks the author at Rogue Classicism (an excellent blog!) for pointing out this great article on why it’s a good thing to learn Latin.

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‘Prophetic writings’ in Rom 16.25-26

A friend of mine in my program has put together this great program of reading the Bible. We’re reading through the OT every 6 months, the NT in English every 2 months, the NT in Greek every year, the Catechism once a year, and I’m adding a Psalm in Latin every day. Tonight’s NT reading came from Romans and I read something I’ve never paid attention to:

[25]τῷ δὲ δυναμένῳ ὑμᾶς στηρίξαι κατὰ τὸ εὐαγγέλιόν μου καὶ τὸ κήρυγμα Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, κατὰ ἀποκάλυψιν μυστηρίου χρόνοις αἰωνίοις σεσιγημένου, [26] φανερωθέντος δὲ νῦν διά τε γραφῶν προφητικῶν κατ’ ἐπιταγὴν τοῦ αἰωνίου θεοῦ εἰς ὑπακοὴν πίστεως εἰς πάντα τὰ ἔθνη γνωρισθέντος….

My translation is:

To the one who is able to support you according to my Gospel and the preaching of Christ, according to the unveiling of the mystery having been hidden for a long time but now is made manifest through prophetic writings according to the command of the Eternal God, who has been made known, for the sake of obedience of faith among all nations…

The last bit there kind of stinks and I’d polish it up, but my main concern is what I underlined. The “mystery” about which Paul speaks – what is it? And, more interestingly, what “prophetic writings” does Paul here have in mind? Are the prophetic writings the Hebrew Bible and now, because of Christ’s teaching, we can see what was hidden there for ages? Or, was there a mystery there that is now revealed in new writings? I’m going to have to check some commentaries tomorrow to see what the deal is here. Any suggestions are welcome, of course.

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Thucydidean Dating in Book II

In Book II of his Peloponnesian War, Thucydides gives us the date and time for when the Thebians invaded the town of Plataea. The way he goes about it, however, is interesting. He uses typical Hellenic ways of dating (the Priestess at Argos, the Ephor at Sparta, the Archon at Athens). But he works his way down from the year, the month, all the way down to the very hour at which the Thebans entered Plataea. Here’s a little outline of how he dates it:

1 He tells us his history is written in order according to the winters and summers
-γέγραπται δὲ ἑξῆς ὡς ἕκαστα ἐγίγνετο κατὰ θέρος καὶ χειμῶνα.

Now onto the event. It happened:
2. After the fourteen years of the Thirty Year treaty had gone by
-τέσσαρα μὲν γὰρ καὶ δέκα ἔτη ἐνέμειναν αἱ τριακοντούτεις σπονδαὶ.

3. Which was made after the capture of Euboea
-αἵ ἐγένοντο μετ’ Εὐβοίας ἅλωσιν

4. Thus in the fifteenth year
-τῷ δὲ πέμπτῳ καὶ δεκάτῳ ἔτει

5. In the forty-eighth year of Chrysis being Priestess in Argos
-ἐπὶ Χρυσίδος ἐν Ἄργει τότε πεντήκοντα δυοῖν δέοντα ἔτη ἱερωμένης

6. When Ainesias was the Ephor in Sparta
-καὶ Αἰνησίου ἐφόρου ἐν Σπάρτῃ

7. In the second-to-last month of the Archonship of Pythodorus in Athens:
-καὶ Πυθοδώρου ἔτι δύο μῆνας ἄρχοντος Ἀθηναίοις

8. Six months after the battle at Potidaea
-μετὰ τὴν ἐν Ποτειδαίᾳ μάχην μηνὶ ἕκτῳ

9. At the very beginning of spring
-ἅμα ἦρι ἀρχομένῳ

10. The Theban men entered the city at the first watch of the night
-Θηβαίων ἄνδρες…ἐσῆλθον περὶ πρῶτον ὕπνον

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A perfect example of the dative of degree of difference

I’ve been thinking of starting a little ‘series’ on the blog called “A Perfect Example Of…” where I point out good examples of different grammatical concepts in the texts I’m reading. I figure most people won’t benefit from this because they already know it, but the random first year Greek or Latin student may do a google search and find these examples, so hopefully they’re helpful.  Today I’ve got a good example of the dative of degree of difference from Thucydides. Thucydides says that a little more than three hundred men entered Plataea. The Greek is:

Θηβαίων ἄνδρες ὀλίγῳ πλείους τριακοσίων…ἐσῆλθον…ἐς Πλάταιαν (Peloponnesian War, Book II, Sec. 2)

The ὀλίγῳ is the dative here and it’s showing a degree of difference. So, the men of Thebes were more than three hundred by a little.

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