How crude is σκύβαλον?

Semantic Range, Lexicography, and other approaches to word meaning - in general, or for particular words.

How crude is σκύβαλον?

Postby Jonathan Robie » June 4th, 2012, 10:19 am

Someone asked me just exactly how crude the word σκύβαλον is in NT Greek. He was thinking of this passage:

Philippians 3:7-11 wrote:7 Ἀλλὰ ἅτινα ἦν μοι κέρδη, ταῦτα ἥγημαι διὰ τὸν Χριστὸν ζημίαν. 8 ἀλλὰ μενοῦνγε καὶ ἡγοῦμαι πάντα ζημίαν εἶναι διὰ τὸ ὑπερέχον τῆς γνώσεως Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ τοῦ κυρίου μου δι' ὃν τὰ πάντα ἐζημιώθην, καὶ ἡγοῦμαι σκύβαλα ἵνα Χριστὸν κερδήσω 9 καὶ εὑρεθῶ ἐν αὐτῷ, μὴ ἔχων ἐμὴν δικαιοσύνην τὴν ἐκ νόμου ἀλλὰ τὴν διὰ πίστεως Χριστοῦ, τὴν ἐκ θεοῦ δικαιοσύνην ἐπὶ τῇ πίστει, 10 τοῦ γνῶναι αὐτὸν καὶ τὴν δύναμιν τῆς ἀναστάσεως αὐτοῦ καὶ κοινωνίαν παθημάτων αὐτοῦ, συμμορφιζόμενος τῷ θανάτῳ αὐτοῦ, 11 εἴ πως καταντήσω εἰς τὴν ἐξανάστασιν τὴν ἐκ νεκρῶν.


The person who asked me basically wants to know whether the word is a swear word or not. This isn't the kind of question a Greek lexicon really addresses. And I have no idea whether the modern American concept of a swear word exists in ancient Greek. But he's basically asking whether σκύβαλον is most like the modern word "crap", or more like "shit", or more like some other word.

Based on Spicq's article and BDAG, I had decided I liked Spicq's suggestion to treat the phrase in Phillipians as "it's all crap!"

Wallace mostly doesn't seem to distinguish between "crap" and "shit" in this article. But in the last sentence, he says this:

Wallace wrote:Nevertheless, that its shock value was not fully what “s**t” would be is suggested in the fact that in the Hellenistic period (c. 330 BCE-330 CE) the word was also used on occasion for “gleanings” or “table scraps.”


So that sounds like "crap" is about right?

Can someone help me formulate a clearer, more precise question? And perhaps help me answer it?
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
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Re: How crude is σκύβαλον?

Postby Stephen Carlson » June 5th, 2012, 9:58 am

Moulton and Milligan note the use of Σκύβαλος as a proper name in the second and third centuries. Now, many people had names that were somewhat disparaging (perhaps ironically), but it can't really be that crude if it's used as a name, can it?
Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D. (Duke, New Testament)
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