Early Syriac Translation Technique, Genitive Absolutes & ἔτι

In my last post, I talked about the distinction between Greek ἔτι ‘still’ and the simultaneous relative time significance of the present tense participle. After coming to the conclusion that ἔτι is not merely redundant with the simultaneous time significance of the present participle, the question became more intriguing to me as I considered how some early translations of the Greek New Testament handled something like a potentially redundant ἔτι.

I took a look at Peter Williams’ Early Syriac Translation Technique and Textual Criticism of the Greek Gospels, published in 2004. You can see Justin Taylor’s interview of Peter Williams as Williams has recently taken over as warden of Tyndale House in Cambridge, UK. Williams points us to reviews of his book here, some of which are available online. I have no knowledge of Syriac, so I am completely dependent on the textual apparatus of NA27 and Williams’ monograph for the Syriac text.

In his introduction, Williams (2) summarizes three broad explanations regarding the presence of similarities and differences between Greek manuscripts and the Syriac versions…

The first is the hypothesis that the translation is essentially a literal representation of its Vorlage, the second, that formal alterations were made in the process of translation, and the third, that alterations were made in the process of transmission of the translated text to us…. It is contended here that the Vorlage Hypothesis has been used too much and the Translation Hypothesis explored too little.

In the 21 brief rules that Williams (294) includes in Appendix 1 for using Syriac as evidence for support of a Greek Vorlage, he includes this one about adverbs…

(13) Be careful using [Old Syriac] witnesses to attest the omission of the adverbs ἐκεῖθεν, ἔξω, ἔτι, μόνον, νῦν, and τότε. Never use [Old Syriac] to attest the absence of ἤδη.

This is one of two rules in which Williams uses the language of “be careful” instead of “do not,” so that gives us a hint that Syriac is a bit more consistent in formally representing ἔτι and other adverbs than it is with other features of the text. Looking more specifically at Williams’ section on adverbs, he (160) gives this introduction…

In broad outline the data below suggest that the [Old Syriac] tradition in particular did not feel constrained always to represent these elements when they were present in the Greek. It should be remembered that the [Old Syriac] translation is not one that seeks formal correspondence with its Vorlage, and that in many cases no equivalent Syriac adverb was readily at hand to match the Greek one. There is no reason to believe that there was a systematic decision not to represent adverbs. Rather, whether consciously or subconsiously, these adverbs were sometimes felt not to be important enough to be translated.

Regarding ἔτι specifically, Williams (163) writes…

Greek ἔτι is a word which receives no fixed equivalent in Syriac because it fulfills so many different functions.

Before looking at the Syriac data for ἔτι, what were my expectations? I figured if the Syriac translation omitted a representation of ἔτι, one explanation might be that ἔτι was considered unnecessarily redundant with the simultaneous time aspect of the present participle. Of course, there are other possible explanations for Syriac omissions. Williams (163-64) suggests some alternate explanations (but he is responding to the common practice of hypothesizing an equivalent Greek Vorlage for instances of Syriac omission)…

It is possible that factors causing variation in Greek manuscripts and in Syriac texts could be partly independent. Some variation in Greek manuscripts could be explained by the small size of the particle and therefore its natural oversight in transmission. Variation in Syriac witnesses could be ascribed to the lack of a ready Syriac equivalent in many contexts in which it occurs. Of course, variation in Syriac manuscripts inevitably will also affect the Greek manuscripts from which the Syriac translations are made.

Of 37 occurrences of ἔτι in the Gospels, Williams only finds three references where the Syriac omits the particle over against a consistent Greek tradition: Lk. 8.49; Lk. 9.42; Jn. 16.12. In addition to these, he cites two other references in which the Syriac tradition omits ἔτι where there is only weak support for omitting it among the Greek manuscripts: Mt. 19.20; Lk. 22.71. Williams (164) concludes…

These five cases take the edge off our confidence in the correctness of NA27’s notes saying that [the Curetonianus version of Old Syriac] and [the Sinaiticus version of Old Syriac and the Peshitta version] witness against ἔτι in John 4.35 and 11.30, respectively.

In other words, since in 5 out of 37 cases there are Syriac texts which omit ἔτι where there is little or no support for such an omission among the extant Greek manuscripts, then Syriac may exhibit a certain tendency to omit ἔτι for reasons other than simply following the Greek Vorlage.

Since Williams stated in his introduction that the Translation Hypothesis is explored too little, I would like to explore one possibility for the infrequent Syriac tendency to omit ἔτι where the likely Greek Vorlage includes it. In 2 of the 3 cases in which Syriac witnesses omit ἔτι over against the entire Greek tradition, the adverb is part of a genitive absolute construction.

In Luke 8.49 ἔτι αὐτοῦ λαλοῦντος “while he is still speaking” follows immediately after Jesus’ statement to the woman who has been healed from her 12-year hemorrhage. Since the previous verses include Jesus speaking, the ἔτι in vs. 49 is truly redundant. It is not needed to show that Jesus was speaking before the action of the main verb began. The verse still means the same thing if the ἔτι is omitted. It is possible that the Syriac would have been deemed unnatural if the redundant ἔτι were formally translated. Therefore, the omission in Syriac can possibly be attributed to formal alteration in the process of translation while maintaining the same meaning.

In Lk. 9.42 ἔτι δὲ προσερχομένου αὐτοῦ ἔρρηξεν αὐτὸν τὸ δαιμόνιον “while he was still approaching, the demon threw him down” comes after Jesus has told a man to bring his son with a demon to him. In this case the omission of ἔτι changes the meaning of the text ever so slightly. Without ἔτι the action of the genitive participle happens simultaneously with the main verb in which the demon throws the boy down: “while he was approaching, the demon threw him down.” Without ἔτι it is possible to understand the demon’s activity being initiated almost as soon as the boy begins his approach. But with ἔτι included, it is apparent that the boy has been approaching Jesus before the demon attacks him. However, such a slight change in meaning may have been easily overlooked by the Syriac translators. Even if they were aware of the fact that they were leaving it out and the slight difference that would make in meaning, they may not have recognized any importance in maintaining such a detailed distinction. Furthermore, perhaps it would have sounded unnatural to speak of the boy “still coming” when it had not yet been specifically mentioned in the text that he had already started to come.

Zephyr update on August 27:
Williams takes the 5 out of 37 instances of the Syriac omission of a representation of ἔτι and states that this suggests some kind of “Syriac tendency.” However, he appropriately restricts his conclusion and merely states, “These five cases take the edge off our confidence in the correctness of NA27’s notes… in John 4:35 and 11:30.”

Perhaps there is some Syriac tendency to omit a formal representation of ἔτι, but since at least a few of the 5 instances of Syriac omission can readily be explained by translation factors, any ‘tendency’ might be more usefully applied if it is understood as a more specific kind of formal alteration in the translation process. I suggest that the specific formal alteration in translation is a tendency for Syriac to omit representations of ἔτι when ἔτι might be considered redundant in the text.

Looking at the two texts to which Williams makes application of the suggested tendency (Jn. 4:35; 11:30), it seems apparent that there are translation factors of redundancy involved similar to those references that include the present participles in Lk. 8:49 and 9:42.

In Jn. 4:35 Jesus says…

οὐχ ὑμεῖς λέγετε ὅτι Ἔτι τετράμηνός ἐστιν καὶ ὁ θερισμὸς ἔρχεται;

Don’t you say, “There are still four months and the harvest comes”?

The use of καὶ ‘and’ here is iconic in that the order of the clauses reflects the natural order of sequential events in time. Therefore, the ἔτι is not necessary to give the right meaning in this text. It might have been considered redundant by the Syriac translators.

In Jn. 11:30 the redundancy of ἔτι is perhaps more apparent. The text reads…

οὔπω δὲ ἐληλύθει ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἰς τὴν κώμην, ἀλλ’ ἦν ἔτι ἐν τῷ τόπῳ ὅπου ὑπήντησεν
αὐτῷ ἡ Μάρθα.

Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but he was still in the place where Martha met Him.

We can think of the word οὔπω ‘not yet’ as the negative equivalent of ἔτι ‘still’. Jesus had not yet gone to the new place because he was still in the old place. The old place is the place where Martha met him, and that meeting occurred in vs. 20. Of course, even though Jesus had not yet gone to the village, this does not entail that Jesus was still at the place where he met Martha. However, the 8 verses of dialogue that follow vs. 20 are naturally understood to have occurred in the same place where Martha met Jesus and they started talking. Thus, we might say that even the whole second clause in vs. 30—”but he was still in the place where Martha met Him”—is logically unnecessary. Yet more specifically, the representation of ἔτι ‘still’ in combination with οὔπω ‘not yet’ is probably somewhat redundant, especially since there has been no mention of Jesus moving from the place where he has been for the last 10 verses.

Given the above discussion, I would agree with Williams that the other Syriac omissions of a representation for ἔτι “take the edge off our confidence in the correctness of NA27’s notes” that indicate that the Syriac supports the Greek omission of ἔτι in John 4:35 and 11:30. However, I want to argue more strongly than Williams does at this point that this is probably a tendency that is influenced by translation factors. This is not just a general tendency to omit a representation of ἔτι that is equally applied across the board.

I think that sufficient arguments could also be made for translation factors being involved in the other passages where Syriac omits the representation of ἔτι (Jn. 16:12; Mt. 19:20; Lk 22:71). It would be interesting to continue this investigation and consider if the use of ἔτι seems to be less redundant (or less susceptible to other translation factors) in the instances where the Syriac does include a formal translation of this adverb.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: