Tag Archives: Koine Greek

Did Paul See a Fireball on the Road to Damascus?

the Conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus...

The Conversion of Saul on the Road to Damascus — by Michelangelo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently, David Ashton commented here on Vridar:

May I annoy our totalitarian mythicists even further by suggesting that Paul, also a real person, experienced a reparative hallucination, precisely because of a pre-crucifixion hostility to Jesus and his activists, although he may not have engaged Jesus in debate or observed him directly in person. Jacob Aron suggests that Paul’s Damascene Light was the result of a fireball (“New Scientist”, April 25, 2015, pp. 8-9); not so much a medical epilepsy as a meteoric epiphany.

I’m not a mythicist, but I do think the Doherty/Carrier theory is worth considering. I confess I did bristle a bit at the term “totalitarian.” You’d think that ten years as a cold warrior would inoculate me from such charges. And you’ll be hard pressed to find a blog with a more permissive comment policy than Vridar’s. So, I suppose that’s why I responded with the flippant:

Oooh, a fireball! I don’t see why a story invented by the author of Acts requires an ad hoc explanation as to “what it really was.”

But perhaps I was too hasty. Let’s take a look at this story more closely and see if we can learn anything from it. When I checked on line, I could find only brief summaries, so in the end I had to rent the article, Chelyabinsk, Zond IV, and a possible first-century fireball of historical importance (Meteoritics & Planetary Science, 50, Nr 3), for 48 hours. Yes, even stuff like this gets trapped behind paywalls.

A flash and a crash

The author, William K. Hartmann, holds a PhD in astronomy and works at the Planetary Science Institute. He suggests that the narratives of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus accurately describe an atmospheric encounter with some object that produced a bright light and a big boom, similar to the Tunguska Event of 1908 or the more recent encounter with the Chelyabinsk meteor. For your entertainment, we present a video compilation from the Chelyabinsk event.

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Did Jesus’ Mother and Brothers Lose Faith in Jesus?

Max Zerwick

Max Zerwick

He said, she said, they said

Sometimes I like to lull myself to sleep at night by reading obscure books about Biblical Greek. I recently picked up a real snore-fest by Maximilian Zerwick called Biblical Greek: Illustrated Examples. Early in the book Zerwick talks about a phenomenon in Greek, which also exists in English, in which the third person plural refers to some general, anonymous group, usually best translated as “they say” or “people say.”

In German and French, there’s a singular form (“man sagt” and “on dit“), but in English we have the same sort of thing as in Greek. For example:

They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but it’s not one half so bad as a lot of ignorance. –Terry Pratchett (Equal Rites, emphasis mine)

As Zerwick rightly points out, we usually see the indefinite plural with verbs of telling, hence in Latin: “dicunt, ferunt, tradunt.” It’s possible that indefinite plurals were common in Aramaic, which Zerwick suggests may have influenced Mark. He writes:

This is perhaps why it occurs with especial frequency in Mk, often, in parallel passages, corrected by Mt, and still oftener by Lk. . . . [I]n Mk (3,21) we read a text which seems offensive to the honour of the Mother of God: ἀκούσαντες οἱ παρ’ αὐτοῦ ἐξῆλθον κρατῆσαι αὐτόν, ἔλεγον γὰρ ὅτι ἐξέστη [akousntes hoi par’ autou exēlthon kratēsai auton, elegon gar hoti exestē]. These παρ’ αὐτοῦ [par’ autou] are later (v. 31) said to be “His mother and his brethren.” Were they necessarily the ones who thought Jesus was deranged? (Zerwick, 2011, p. 2)

In most English translations, the meaning seems to be that Mary and Jesus’ brothers thought he had come unhinged.

And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:21, ESV)

His family heard” . . . “they went out” . . . “they were saying.” Simple, right?  read more »