Devices of the text

© 2005 Dr. Barbara Thiering (May, 2005)

While pesharists with knowledge of the organisation would readily see the special meanings of terms, extra demands were made on them by certain devices that they must employ on the Greek text. These required them to go beyond normal Greek grammar and usage, to what was sometimes a mechanical treatment of the words. When they were applied they gave a great deal of further information necessary for the history.

  • Plural of representation

    The narrative frequently uses plurals that would normally mean a number of unspecified persons, eg "scribes", "Pharisees", "Jews", "disciples", "apostles". These mean specific persons in the singular, the single head of a group or party. He represented his party, so could be spoken of in the plural in his function as leader. "Scribes" means the Chief Scribe, who in the gospel period was Judas Iscariot, and after his death his successor. "Pharisees" was the Chief Pharisee, who in the gospel period was Caiaphas the high priest. "Jews" means Antipas Herod, a Herod who had adopted all aspects of orthodox Judaism including ordinary marriage. His position in the system was later taken by other Herods with the same definition.

    "Disciples" means the Chief Disciple, a Gentile. There were two main Gentiles to whom this term applies, John Mark and James Niceta, one of the "sons of Zebedee." At the schism of the post-crucifixion period James Niceta replaced John Mark as the Chief Gentile. In the gospels, the two are distinguished by the addition of "his" to John Mark, its omission with James Niceta. Thus "his disciples", with "his" referring to Jesus, is John Mark, and "the disciples" means James Niceta. (James Niceta and John Aquila were two Gentiles, called "sons of Zebedee " in the gospels, whose history is given in the Clementine Homilies 2:19-31, a major source.)

    This device is applied even to adjectives. As has been seen in Special Meanings, the adjective "all", pas in Greek, refers to a royal Herod. When it is used in the plural, pantes, it means a representative of the Herods. In the gospel period this was Antipas Herod, who had been the only Herod left in the country after the abolition of the monarchy. The word is subsequently used of his successors.

  • Questions are statements

    A general rule is that nothing is to be assumed if there is no word for it. There is to be no reliance on punctuation, which was not used in the early uncial manuscripts, nor any subjective judgement about whether some words form a question. Expressions that may be naturally understood as questions from the context, but do not have the word meaning "if", are not questions, only statements. For example, in Luke 23:3 (Clementine Homilies 2:23-24), su ei ho basileus tōn Ioudaiōn, apparently "Are you the king of the Jews?", is a statement, "You are the king of the Jews". The sense of this is seen when "him" preceding it is understood, see below on "rule of the last referent".

  • "And" starts a new sentence.

    The very frequent use of "and", kai, in the gospel style has been thought to reflect the Old Testament, where the word "and" appears frequently and unnecessarily, being a feature of Hebrew grammar rather than simply a copula. This fact gave an additional function to kai. Since there was no reliance on punctuation, kai was used as a verbal full stop. It always starts a new sentence. Sometimes it is used with a short phrase only, but the phrase is still intended to act like an independent sentence.

  • Rule of the last referent The device that makes most demands on pesharists is the rule of the last referent (RLR). This is a mechanical procedure, disregarding normal Greek usage. The rule is:

    "When the subject of a verb or referent of a pronoun is not stated, the referent is the last occurring person who is of the same person, number and gender that has appeared, even if this is not the referent that would naturally be assumed. The referent can be in the nominative, accusative or dative case. Since genitives are regarded as adjectival, a genitive cannot be the referent."

    The application of the rule often makes a significant difference to the meaning. Some examples are:

    In Acts 8:38, ...ho te Philippos. Kai ho eunouchos. Kai ebaptisen auton."...Philip. And the eunuch. And he baptised him". The natural meaning is that Philip baptised the eunuch. But since "eunuch" is the last masculine singular noun appearing before the verb, the meaning is that the eunuch baptised Philip. This is understood when the party politics are known.

    In John 18:33, eisēlthen...ho Pilatos. Kai ephōnēsen ton Iēsoun. Kai eipen autō, Su ei ho basileus tōn Ioudaiōn. Literally, "there came out Pilate. And he called Jesus. And he said to him, 'You are the king of the Jews'." The subject immediately preceding the verb eipen is Jesus (in the accusative case). The meaning is therefore that Jesus said to Pilate, "You are the king of the Jews"- not a question but a statement. This only makes sense when it is know that the word basileus is used, not for a king, but for any graduate. Pilate had been admitted as a member, given graduate status, in the house of Antipas.

    In Luke 23:3 Pilate made the statement (not a question) "You are the king of the Jews" addressed to "him" (auton) just preceding. This "him" refers back to heauton, "himself" in v.2. As seen in Special Meanings, the word "himself" always has the special meaning Himself, and is a derisive title for Simon Magus. It was to Simon that Pilate addressed the statement, meaning that he, like others, was a graduate in the house of Antipas.

    The device of RLR is used in Acts to show the continuing presence of Jesus after the crucifixion. In Acts 9:22-23, Saulos.....symbibazōn hoti houtos estin ho Christos.....synebouleusanto hoi Ioudaioi anelein auton. Literally, "Saul....proving that this is the Christ... the Jews plotted to kill him". "Him" refers back to the last singular masculine noun "the Christ", therefore the meaning is that Jesus was present in Damascus, and an Antipas successor was planning to excommunicate ("kill") him.

    In Acts 7:55-56, Atenisas eis ton ouranon eiden doxan theou. Kai Iēsoun estōta ek dexiōn tou theou. Kai eipen...(Stephen) staring into heaven saw a glory of God. And Jesus standing on the right of God. And he said....." . "He" in "he said" means Jesus, since "of God" is a genitive. The meaning is that Jesus is physically present on a "heaven", that is a platform where prayers were offered. He was standing beside "God", an Annas priest, and it was Jesus who spoke quoted words. He was acting as the deputy of the high priest Theophilus Annas in September 37 AD, when the episode took place.

  • All events successive

    In the narrative parts of the text all events are successive. When it appears at first sight that a previous event is referred to, it is in fact the next event in succession. For example, in John 4:46, "He came again to Cana of Galilee, where he made the water wine". This does not refer back to John 2:1-10, when Jesus first "made the water wine", He was now doing it again, because "making water wine" was a way of saying that he gave the privilege of full initiation to Gentiles who had been limited to baptism by water. He repeated this action on a further occasion when a Gentile was present.

    In John 10:40, at a date late in his ministry, Jesus "went again across the Jordan to the place where John was baptising first (hopou ēn Iōannēs to prōton baptizōn). This does not refer back to John 1:28, which says that John the Baptist was baptising across the Jordan at the beginning of Jesus' ministry. It is the next event at a date late in Jesus' ministry. "First" does not mean "previously" but is always a term for status. But John the Baptist was dead at the date late in Jesus' ministry. It is found that all uses of the name John for a priest (not a layman) after the death of the Baptist refer to his successor as Pope, John II. According to the history given in the Clementine Homilies 2:23-24, the successor of John the Baptist, after a short intermediate period, was Simon Magus. As the new Pope, he brought about a change of policy. He is the one who continued the baptising ministry in John 10:40.

    The rule that all events are successive applies only to narrative. In quoted speech a past or future event may be described.