Thursday, March 20, 2008

Alliteration in Hebrews 1:1

The book of Hebrews begins not just with a thought, but with a sound, the sound of a preacher's voice. When the first phrase of Hebrews is read aloud in the original Greek, we can hear with the ear what could easily be missed with the eye alone: the richness of its tones and the rise and fall of its melody ... this has the unmistakable sound of a sermon. ...

Like the initial line of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address ... these opening words of Hebrews display the cadence, the alliteration, and the keen awareness of the musical flow of beautifully spoken language that signal a carefully and poetically crafted oral event, a style that is sustained throughout the book.

- Thomas Long, Hebrews




Gk (xlit)
PolumerÔs kai polutropÔs palai ho theos lalêsas tois patrasin en tois prophêtais

Multifariam, multisque modis olim Deus loquens patribus in prophetis

God, that spak sum tyme bi prophetis in many maneres to oure fadris,

God in tyme past diversly and many wayes spake vnto the fathers by Prophetes

God in tyme past dyuersly & many wayes, spake vnto ye fathers by prophetes

At sundry times and in diuers maners God spake in the olde time to our fathers by the Prophetes

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,

God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners,

In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets;

In the past God spoke to our ancestors many times and in many ways through the prophets

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways,

At many moments in the past and by many means, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets

After God spoke long ago(1) in various portions(2) and in various ways(3) to our ancestors(4) through the prophets,

1) Or “spoke formerly.”

2) Or “parts.” The idea is that God’s previous revelation came in many parts and was therefore fragmentary or partial (L&N 63.19), in comparison with the final and complete revelation contained in God’s Son. However, some interpret πολυμερῶς (polumerw") in Heb 1:1 to mean “on many different occasions” and would thus translate “many times” (L&N 67.11). This is the option followed by the NIV: “at many times and in various ways.” Finally, this word is also understood to refer to the different manners in which something may be done, and would then be translated “in many different ways” (L&N 89.81). In this last case, the two words πολυμερῶς and πολυτρόπως (polutropw") mutually reinforce one another (“in many and various ways,” NRSV).

3) These two phrases are emphasized in Greek by being placed at the beginning of the sentence and by alliteration.

4) Grk “to the fathers.”

Long ago in many ways and at many times God's prophets spoke his message to our ancestors.

Going through a long line of prophets, God has been addressing our ancestors in different ways for centuries.

In many fashions and in many fragments in former times ...


J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks for this fantastic bit from Thomas G. Long and, of course, from the author of Hebrews. Long agrees with Origen on who would write like this (i.e., "in truth God knows") but he does acknowledge the possible authors who "have been suggested—Apollos, Barnabas, Luke, Clement of Rome, Priscilla, and Silvanus, to mention a few...but on stylistic grounds alone, it is virtually certain that the apostle Paul did not pen this letter."

With the letter from Jacob/James to the 12 Hebrew tribes in the diaspora, we hear and see something similar:

a) the epistle opens with alliteration around the Greek letter π

πᾶσαν χαρὰν ἡγήσασθε ἀδελφοί μου ὅταν
ποικίλοις γινώσκοντες ὅτι τὸ δοκίμιον ὑμῶν τῆς
πίστεως κατεργάζεται ὑπομονήν

b) We're not at all certain today which Ἰάκωβος is the author.

Nathan said...

Interesting; I didn't know the same thing was going on in the James text.

I'm reading through Witherington's massive volume on Hebrews, James, and Jude. He makes a convincing case that Hebrews was written by Apollos. I forget what he says about the authorship of James. But his scholarship is always solid.