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Semitisms and Septuagintalisms in the Book of Revelation1

  • Daryl D. Schmidt (a1)

The grammatical peculiarities in the Greek of the book of Revelation have long been noted. In his recent SNTS monograph Steven Thompson re-examines ‘the peculiar language associated with the verb and with clauses in the Apc which have for centuries been a source of perplexity and misunderstanding’. The major portion of this work, based on his dissertation under Matthew Black, looks at the ‘un-Greek use of the verb’ and attributes it to ‘the influence of Semitic syntax, primarily biblical Hebrew’. Reviewers have observed that Thompson uses evidence mostly from the LXX, without directly considering the influence of the LXX itself. Barnabas Lindars evaluates the evidence as suggesting ‘familiarity with the biblical Hebrew and its representation in LXX’. Max Wilcox notes Thompson's dependence on the LXX as a major weakness in the argument: ‘it is also necessary to show why those constructions may not owe their presence in Revelation to some form of influence of the LXX or perhaps even to a deliberate modelling of the language and style of the book on that of Old Testament Hebrew or Aramaic in translation’.

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2 For the most recent discussion of the larger linguistic question see Porter, S. E., ‘The Language of the Apocalypse in Recent Discussion’, NTS 35 (1989) 582603.

3 Thompson, S., The Apocalypse and Semitic Syntax (SNTSMS 52; Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1985) 1.

4 Lindars, B., ‘Steven Thompson, The Apocalypse and Semitic Syntax’, JSemSt 30 (1985) 289–91, esp. 290.

5 Wilcox, M., ‘The Apocalypse and Semitic Syntax, by Steven Thompson’, JTS 38 (1987) 510–12, esp. 512, emphasis added. See also the review of Schmidt, D. D. (JBL 106 [1987] 732–4) 733.

6 Wilcox, M., ‘Semitisms in the New Testament’, ANRW II:25/2, ed. Haase, W. (Berlin-New York: de Gruyter, 1984) 9781029, see 979, 982.

7 Ibid., 984, 986.

8 Ibid., 1016. This is Wilcox's reading of Acts 10.19.

9 See Wilcox', discussion of septuagintalisms in Acts in The Semitisms of Acts (Oxford: Clarendon, 1965) 5868.

10 Moulton, J. H., A Grammar of New Testament Greek 2: Accidence and Word-Formation (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1920) 1416.

11 Howard, W. F., ‘Semitisms in the New Testament’, in Moulton, Grammar 2, 480.

12 Beyer, K., Semitische Syntax im Neuen Testament (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1962) 11.

13 Farrer, A., The Revelation of St. John the Divine (Oxford: Clarendon, 1964) 51. See also A Rebirth of Images: The Making of St. John's Apocalypse (Boston: Beacon, 1949).

14 Montgomery, J. A., ‘The Education of the Seer of the Apocalypse’, JBL 45 (1926) 7080, esp. 75, 80. See also Vos, L. A. (The Synoptic Tradition in the Apocalypse [Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1965] 52), who suggests the author worked from memory, not manuscripts.

15 Laughlin, T. C., The Solecisms of the Apocalypse (Princeton: Princeton University, 1902) 21.

16 Trudinger, L. P., ‘O AMHN (Rev. III:14), and the Case for a Semitic Original of the Apocalypse’, NovT 14 (1972) 277–9.

17 Charles, R. H., The Revelation of St. John (ICC; New York: Scribners, 1920) 1.cxliii.

18 Scott, R. B. Y, The Original Language of the Apocalypse (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1928) 6, 25.

19 Ozanne, C. G., ‘The Language of the Apocalypse’, Tyndale House Bulletin 16 (1965) 39, esp. 4. See also Lohmeyer, E., Die Offenbarung des Johannes (HzNT 16; Tübingen: Mohr, 1953) 199: ‘Er ist ein Seher, dem das Hebräische die vertraute Sprache seiner heiligen Vergangenheit ist …’.

20 Torrey, C. C., The Apocalypse of John (New Haven: Yale University, 1958) xi, 16.

21 See Porter, , ‘The Language of the Apocalypse’.

22 Howard, , ‘Semitisms’, 484, 485.

23 Lohse, E., ‘Die Alttestamentliche Sprache des Sehers Johannes’, ZNW 52 (1961) 122–6, esp. 123.

24 See Moulton, J. H., A Grammar of New Testament Greek 3: Syntax, by Nigel Turner (1963) 19; 4: Style, by Nigel Turner (1976) 1–4.

25 Burrows, M., ‘Principles for Testing the Translation Hypothesis in the Gospels’, JBL 53 (1934) 1330, esp. 21. See also Jellicoe, S., The Septuagint and Modern Study (Ann Arbor: Eisenbrauns, 1978, reprint of the 1968 edition) 315.

26 Thackeray, H. St. J., A Grammar of the Old Testament in Greek (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1909) 13.

27 E.g., H. Swete, B., The Apocalypse of St. John (London: Macmillan, 1911) cliii: ‘in proportion to its length the Book of Daniel yields by far the greatest number’ of allusions (31), second only in absolute number to Isaiah (46). Vanhoye, A. (‘L'utilisation du livre d'Ezéchiel dans l'Apocalypse’, Biblica 43 [1962] 436–76) 439, reports numbers as high as 518 in Revelation, with 88 from Daniel.

28 Trudinger, L. P. (‘Some Observations Concerning the Text of the Old Testament in the Book of Revelation’, JTS 17 [1966] 82–8) finds nine readings against Theodotion, not counting allusions, whereas Charles (ICC 1) lxviii n. 3, lxxx n. 3, does not acknowledge any readings against Theodotion, and Roberts, B. J. (The Old Testament Text and Versions [Cardiff: University of Wales, 1951]) 125, finds six ‘quotations’ from Daniel, all Theodotionic. A. A. DiLella, in his Introduction to Hartman, L. F. and DiLella, A. A., The Book of Daniel (AB 23; Garden City, NJ: Doubleday, 1978) 80, 83, collects 15 direct correspondences with Theodotion and 7 with the LXX. See also Vos, , The Synoptic Traditions, 2053.

29 See one use of this by Martin, R. A., Syntactical Evidence of Semitic Sources in Greek Documents (SBLSCS 3; Missoula, MT: SBL, 1974). See also Jeansonne, S. P., The Old Greek Translation of Daniel 7–12 (CBQMS 19; Washington, BC: Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1988) 131–2, ‘it is fair to say that the OG is a freer translation than that of [Theodotion]’, though nonetheless ‘reasonably accurate and faithful’, i.e. without particular theological Tendenz.

30 Thompson, 109–10. See also Mussies, G., ‘The Greek of the Book of Revelation’, in L'Apocalypse johannique et l'Apocalyptique dans le Nouveau Testament, ed. Lambrecht, J. (BETL 53; Louvain: Louvain University, 1980) 167–77, esp. 172 n. 22.

31 Torrey, 43, treats ἕχω as ‘the standing equivalent’ of the Aramaic idiom because that is how the Syriac renders ἕχω in Revelation. However, this fails to note the evidence from Daniel that is rendered by ἕχω only once (3.15) and ἕχω mostly renders constructions in OG where Θ avoids it.

32 E.g., ἕχω appears 24x in Isaiah and 27x in Ezekiel. In contrast it is used only 16x in all of 1–4 Kgdms.

33 The other occurrences are 9.3; 11.6, 6; 14.18; 18.1; 20.6.

34 The others are Dan 5.16; 6.4, which refer to Daniel.

35 The two instances referring to Daniel have ἄρχω (5.16) and ν ὑπρ αύςо ζ(6.4). Θ also uses ἄρχω similarly at 5.7, where OG has δοθήσεται αὐτ ξουσία.

36 Rev 2.26; 6.8; 9.3; 13.2, 4, 5, 7; 17.13; Dan OG 3.30(97); 5.7, 29; 7.14, 27; Dan Θ 7.6, 27.

37 For Torrey, 44, the frequency of μέλλω in Revelation suggests , ‘ready, about to’, which he finds ‘common in all branches of Aramaic, but not in Hebrew’. It only occurs at Dan 3.15, where both the OG and Θ render it τοίμως.

38 See Swete, cxliii. Other ἃ μέλλει constructions occur at 2.10; 3.2. Beale, G. K., The Use of Daniel in Jewish Apocalyptic Literature and in the Revelation of St. John (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1984) 167–8, follows Charles (1.lxxx) in suggesting that the primary allusion here is to Dan 2.29, 45 Θ τί/ἃ δε γενέσθαι μετ τατα. Beale acknowledges that ἃ μέλλει γίνεσθαι from Isa 48.6 is a ‘possible allusion or echo’. Both Swete and Charles cite Rev 1.19 as ἃ μέλλει γίνεσθαι, which, in fact, makes it identical to Isa 48.6, but the addition of μετ τατα appears to be completely determinative for Charles, even though it is common in Revelation. Mussies, G., The Morphology of Koine Greek as Used in the Apocalypse of St. John: A Study in Bilingualism (Leiden: Brill: 1971) 180, 230, 334, cites the verb here as γεινεσθαι, derived from γίγνεσθαι (30).

39 For the significance of this Daniel text for the structure of Revelation, see Beale, G. K., ‘The Influence of Daniel upon the Structure and Theology of John's Apocalypse’, JETS 27 (1984) 413–23.

40 Rev 2.21; 11.5, 5, 6; 22.17; Dan (OG) 1.13; 2.3; 4.14; 7.19; 8.4.

41 Thompson, 52.

42 This translates , which occurs only six other times in MT: Eccl 7.16, 17 μ γίνου; Prov 3.7; 23.20; 24.28 μ ἴσθι; and Prov 22.26, an imperative.

43 See Mussies, , Morphology, 331.

44 Beyer, , 109–11.

45 Dan OG 2.10, 11; 3.25(92); 4.30; 5.8; 6.5(4); 8.27; Dan Θ 4.32; Rev 3.8; 5.3; 7.9; 14.3; 15.8.

46 Dan OG 2.4; 4.29(32); 6.5(6); 7.14, 14; 11.6, 12, 37, 27; 12.10. Dan Θ each time has οὐ + future, except 4.29(32), where it has no parallel (οὐ μ + subj. occur in 1.8, 8; 11.17).

47 Following Nestle-Aland26 at Rev 9.6; 18.14.

48 Mussies, , Morphology, 321–2; Thompson, 23, 98.

49 Nestle-Aland26 has it another 8 times: 6.4; 8.3; 9.4, 5, 20; 13.12; 14.13; 22.14. For instances in other manuscripts see Mussies, Morphology, 322.

50 Thompson, 28.

51 Ibid., 23.

52 See also 13.12, 13, 15, 16.

53 See Schmidt, D. D., Hellenistic Greek Grammar and Noam Chomsky: Nominalizing Transformations (SBLDS 62; Chico, CA: Scholars, 1981) 55–9.

54 Dan OG 1.8, 10; 2.16, 49; 3.10, (30), 28(95), 29(96); 4.24(27); 6.5(6), 8(9), 12(13), (13a, 13a); Dan Θ 2.30; 3.15; 4.14(17); 5.15. Swete, 261.

55 See above.

56 Robertson, A. T., A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville: Broadman, 1914) 136.

57 Beale, G. K., ‘Revelation’, in It is Written: Scripture Citing Scripture: Essays in Honor of B. Lindars (ed. Carson, D. A. & Williamson, H. G. M.; Cambridge University, 1988) 318–36, esp. 332.

1 Revised from short paper presented at the 44th General Meeting of SNTS in Dublin, July 26,1989.

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