Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Hebrews 2:7-8—three asyndeta

For reading, exegesis, and exposition, the Greek language is rich in conjunctions. One day I'm sure I'll have occasion to gripe bitterly about the practice of dropping conjunctions in translation. Sure, it can make for "smoother" English reading; but sometimes I think the conjunction is exegetically significant (Matthew 17:1 always leaps to mind in this connection).

So it is always notable when a writer tersely drops conjunctions altogether, and fires off a staccato series of statements, assertions, or exhortations.

Our passage is an example today. Such a clause is called an asyndeton; the plural is asyndeta. There are three asyndeta in Hebrews 2:7-8. I can make the reading more arresting, the points blunter or more emphatic.

I think they're best seen in this case by removing verse numbers and breaking them up on separate lines. I number the asyndeta, thus:
διεμαρτύρατο δέ πού τις λέγων·
τί ἐστιν ἄνθρωπος ὅτι μιμνῄσκῃ αὐτοῦ, ἢ υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου ὅτι ἐπισκέπτῃ αὐτόν;
1. ἠλάττωσας αὐτὸν βραχύ τι παρ᾽ ἀγγέλους,
2. δόξῃ καὶ τιμῇ ἐστεφάνωσας αὐτόν,
3. πάντα ὑπέταξας ὑποκάτω τῶν ποδῶν αὐτοῦ.


Tom Gee said...

Does any of that styling have to do with this being an OT quote? Is it possibly a Hebraism?

DJP said...

Did you look at the Hebrew, though? I'm away from my tools, but using the Unbound Bible, it looks to me as if there are at least two conjunctions which are not represented in the author's citation.

Someone with tools at hand could perhaps check the Hebrew, then the LXX?

Matthew S. Harmon said...

The citation here in Heb 2:6-7 is verbatim from the LXX, with one exception. For whatever reason, the author of Hebrews omits the line καὶ κατέστησας αὐτὸν ἐπὶ τὰ ἔργα τῶν χειρῶν σου ("You caused him to rule over the works of your hands") that would fit between the last line of Heb 2:7 (δόξῃ καὶ τιμῇ ἐστεφάνωσας αὐτόν) and the first line of Heb 2:8 (πάντα ὑπέταξας ὑποκάτω τῶν ποδῶν αὐτοῦ).

Some important and impressive manuscripts (א A C D, etc.) have this line, but the early and important p46 omits it, leading Metzger and the committee to conclude that the shorter reading is original and the longer reading is the result of scribes "correcting" the omission.

From what I can see at quick glance the LXX seems to follow the MT pretty closely. But Dan is right that it seems the LXX does not render some of the vavs, but I am not sure whether this is exegetically significant or merely an attempt to capture the poetic nature of the passage.

Another example of asyndeton that cannot be explained as depending on the LXX is Gal 3:13 - Χριστὸς ἡμᾶς ἐξηγόρασεν ἐκ τῆς κατάρας τοῦ νόμου γενόμενος ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν κατάρα ("Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us").

DJP said...

Well, now that I have my tools, it may not be quite so simple as perhaps some suggested above:

The Hebrew text very literally has "And you made him a little while lower...and You crowned him" (v. 5; Heb 6), whereas the LXX has no conjunctions. However, the LXX adds a conjunction that both the Hebrew text, and the letter to the Hebrews, lacks at the start of v. 6 (Heb 7).

So the writer here isn't going strictly by either the Hebrew text, nor the LXX, overall.

Faith Matters said...

Matt Harmon,

How is Gal 3:13 an example of asyndeton? Is it because it lacks the postpositive particle de, which occurs in vv. 11 and 12? Or are you expecting to see some sort of conjunction inside verse 13?

I really appreciate this blog. I've been challenged to try to read through the whole NT in Greek this year for the first time. Although I've used Greek in sermon and study preparation I've never just read through the GNT.


Matthew S. Harmon said...

Hi Tom:

The basic definition of asyndeton is a sentence that begins without any particles or conjunctions such as kai, gar, de. Two exceptions to this include sentences that begins with a noun in the vocative case or an adverb). If you look at Galatians 3, every sentence contains some sort of particle, conjunction, vocative, adverb, or demonstrative pronoun as the first or second word of the sentence. That makes the lack of any such connective in 3:13 all the more noteworthy; it is Paul's way of drawing attention to this particular statement.

For more, and if you have access to it, you can look at Blass, DeBrunner, Funk (BDF), Greek Grammar of the NT, §459-460.

Hope that helps.

Faith Matters said...

Thanks, Matt. Yes, that helps.