historical present in Luke-Acts

Grammar questions which are not related to any specific text.

historical present in Luke-Acts

Postby davidmccollough » June 27th, 2012, 6:03 am

Hi, my name is David McCollough, I'm a grad student at London School of Theology and am new to B-Greek.

I am trying to determine if didotai in Acts 8:18 is a historical present or a case of metalepsis in the narrative. Several factors suggest it might not be HP according to principles in Rijksbaron, A. (2006) “On false historic presents in Sophocles (and Euripides)” in Sophocles and the Greek Language: Aspects of Diction, Syntax and Pragmatics, ed. I. J. F. de Jong and A. Rijksbaron. Leiden/Boston: 127-149; 133:

1)HPs are rare in the Passive
2)HPs are rare in subordinate clauses.

But this is Classical Greek and not Koine. Mt 27:38, for example does have a passive as a historical present.
My question is whether 1 and 2 above apply in Koine Greek.

Sir John C. Hwkins, Hore Synopticae, does not list Acts 8:18 as HP, but maybe he just overlooked it?

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

David
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Re: historical present in Luke-Acts

Postby Stephen Carlson » June 27th, 2012, 7:49 am

Acts 8:18 wrote:ἰδὼν δὲ ὁ Σίμων ὅτι διὰ τῆς ἐπιθέσεως τῶν χειρῶν τῶν ἀποστόλων δίδοται τὸ πνεῦμα,


In my view, it is unnecessary to conclude that δίδοται is an historical present. It is a present in a subordinate clause and so takes the time of its main verb (here ἰδὼν). English requires a "backshift" in tense form in these cases.

I'm not sure why it would be a case of metalepsis either. It looks like an ordinary habitual use of the imperfective.
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Re: historical present in Luke-Acts

Postby davidmccollough » June 27th, 2012, 10:03 am

Thank you for your answer, Dr. Carlson. I was considering the possibility of metalepsis in the sense of a shift in narrative levels from the storyworld to the world of the narrator. For example, "Judah, having seen that the Roman military is the mightiest on earth, offered to surrender." The verb is in the present tense because the narrator wishes to express his own view that the Roman military is the mightiest - Judah recognized what the narrator thinks to be true. A case of metalepsis in Acts 8:18 would mean that Luke views handlaying by apostles as the standard modus operandi for Spirit impartion in his own world, not just in the immediate story context. Normally, one would "backshift" to match the present tense verb with the main verb, but with the sentence transgressing narrative boundaries as it does, an English "backshift" would not capture the significance of the change in tenses.

All the best,

David
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Re: historical present in Luke-Acts

Postby Stephen Carlson » June 27th, 2012, 10:50 am

davidmccollough wrote:Thank you for your answer, Dr. Carlson.


Just call me Stephen.

davidmccollough wrote:I was considering the possibility of metalepsis in the sense of a shift in narrative levels from the storyworld to the world of the narrator. For example, "Judah, having seen that the Roman military is the mightiest on earth, offered to surrender." The verb is in the present tense because the narrator wishes to express his own view that the Roman military is the mightiest - Judah recognized what the narrator thinks to be true. A case of metalepsis in Acts 8:18 would mean that Luke views handlaying by apostles as the standard modus operandi for Spirit impartion in his own world, not just in the immediate story context. Normally, one would "backshift" to match the present tense verb with the main verb, but with the sentence transgressing narrative boundaries as it does, an English "backshift" would not capture the significance of the change in tenses.


The backshift is a syntactic peculiarity of English. Greek doesn't do it. In Greek, the time of orientation for the present tense in indirect discourse (which we have here with ἰδών) is that of the main clause. It's quite an ordinary use of the present. I don't see any "change in tenses" here.

I don't want to get into theological debates about the laying on of hands or reception of the Spirit, but doesn't Act 11:44 present a somewhat different modus operandi for the reception of the Spirit?
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Re: historical present in Luke-Acts

Postby davidmccollough » June 27th, 2012, 1:45 pm

Stephen, thank you. Yes, 10:44 does represent a variation on 8:17-18. Luke presents the Diety as being able to interrupt the ritual process, while at the same time Luke maintains continuity by requiring the mediating presence of an apostle who preaches the word. I am attempting to do a sequential reading of the initiation scenes in Luke-Acts from Jesus' baptism to the Ephesian disciples, observing how the picture of initiation progressively develops from start to finish - cf. the methodology of Joel B. Green, “From ‘John’s Baptism’ to ‘Baptism in the Name of the Lord Jesus’: The Significance of Baptism in Luke-Acts,” in Baptism, the New Testament and the Church: Historical and Contemporary Studies in Honour of R.E.O. White, JSNTS 171 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 157-172; 160-161.

It is the narratological approach that alerted me to the possibility of Gerard Genette's concept of metalepsis occuring in 8:18. Irene de Jong's, "Metalepsis in Ancient Greek Literature," in Jonas Grethlein and Antonios Rengakos, eds., Narratology and Interpretation: The Content of Narrative Form in Ancient Literature (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2009), 87-115, has examples of shift in narrative levels but does not have an exact parallel to Acts 8:18. I need to do more digging to find parallels.

By change in tenses I mean that "through the laying on of the apostles' hands the Spirit is given" is a concept which has meaning in its own right and the fact that Simon saw it is a second concept communicated by the aorist participle. Then based upon this metaleptic recognition Simon offers money.

Thanks again!

David
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Re: historical present in Luke-Acts

Postby davidmccollough » June 28th, 2012, 5:36 pm

In analyzing Acts 8:18, I have taken on board the critique that didotai is in a subordinate clause and thus influenced by the main verb of that clause. I have looked at similar constructions with verbs of perception in the LXX and NT. The following are my results.

In a subordinate clause Greek can present action in the present tense but with the time orientation understood to be that of the main verb. However, depending upon the context, I observe that the sentence can move beyond the level of the narration and into the level of the narrator. This phenomenon of metalepsis (à la Gerard Genette, I do not mean transumption) is a function of the context and not simply of the grammar. The following examples of present tense verbs in subordinate clauses with main verbs being verbs of perception illustrate the continuum:

1) Present tense used to state a fact valid in the storyworld at a particular time in the storyworld:
a. (Gen 29:31). “And the Lord, having seen that Leah is hated, opened her womb….” In this case, no one would think that the narrator hates Leah. The narrator uses the present tense to state a fact valid in the storyworld at a specific time in the storyworld. There is no metalepsis.
b. (Ruth 1:18). “And Naomi, having seen that she is determined to go with her, stopped speaking to her anymore.” Again, the narrator uses the present tense to state a fact valid in the story world at a particular time in the storyworld.
c. (Lk 7:37). “…and having known that he is reclining in the house of the Pharisee….” A Lukan example of the same idea.

2) A general statement of fact valid in the story world and unrelated to any specific point in time. (Mark 2:16) “And the scribes of the Pharisees, having seen that he eats with the sinners and tax collectors, were saying to his disciples….” The idea here is not that his eating occurred at the time of their seeing, but that they recognized a characteristic – he eats with sinners.

3) A statement of fact unrelated to any specific point in time and valid for both the storyworld and narrator’s world.
a. (Acts 28:1). “And having been brought safely through, we then recognized that the island is called Malta.” The island is called Malta, both at the time of the event narrated in the story and at the time of the narration of the story.
b. (Acts 8:18). “And Simon, having seen that through the laying on of the hands of the apostles the Spirit is given, offered them money….” Simon, at a specific point in storytime observed a general principle which the narrator himself considers valid. This shift from reality in the storyworld to reality in the narrator’s world is metalepsis.
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Re: historical present in Luke-Acts

Postby Stephen Carlson » June 28th, 2012, 6:00 pm

I have to admit that I still feel that the use of metalepsis here to drive your interpretation of Acts 8:18 is a bit overcooked. May I suggest a different approach?

It's the word ἰδών. Acts 8:18 doesn't say that Simon believed it, but that he saw it. Seeing something implicates its reality. So the connotation of this word is not only that the character in the narrative believes it, but also that the author of the narrative believes it to be real. In order words, I would look at the pragmatics of the statement.
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Re: historical present in Luke-Acts

Postby Eeli Kaikkonen » June 29th, 2012, 5:18 am

You have missed the obvious. All your examples have a (main) verb of human cognition: seeing, understanding etc. In many respects they behave in the same way that verbs of speaking etc. so that the subordinate verb is in the present tense - as if it were "direct discourse". I don't have any books at hand, but I remember seeing something about it in Rijksbaron's book about Greek verb, and possibly also in Robertson.

This explanation is strictly grammatical, but I find it easy to understand it from an experiental standpoint. It is like taking the place of the person who perceives: They saw: "Hey, he eats with sinners".

EDIT: replaced "indirect discourse" with "direct discourse" and removed a sentence. Sorry about my mistake.
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Re: historical present in Luke-Acts

Postby davidmccollough » June 29th, 2012, 5:41 am

[quote="Eeli Kaikkonen"]You have missed the obvious. All your examples have a (main) verb of human cognition: seeing, understanding etc. In many respects they behave in the same way that verbs of speaking etc. so that the subordinate verb is in the present tense - as if it were "direct discourse". I don't have any books at hand, but I remember seeing something about it in Rijksbaron's book about Greek verb, and possibly also in Robertson.

This explanation is strictly grammatical, but I find it easy to understand it from an experiental standpoint. It is like taking the place of the person who perceives: They saw: "Hey, he eats with sinners".


Thank you! So if Acts 8:18 is seen as direct discourse then would it be rendered with the reader experiencing it firsthand, as in, Simon saw: "the Spirit is given through the laying on of the apostles' hands"?
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Re: historical present in Luke-Acts

Postby davidmccollough » June 29th, 2012, 6:12 am

Stephen Carlson wrote:I have to admit that I still feel that the use of metalepsis here to drive your interpretation of Acts 8:18 is a bit overcooked. May I suggest a different approach?

It's the word ἰδών. Acts 8:18 doesn't say that Simon believed it, but that he saw it. Seeing something implicates its reality. So the connotation of this word is not only that the character in the narrative believes it, but also that the author of the narrative believes it to be real. In order words, I would look at the pragmatics of the statement.


I like that approach! You are right with ἰδών. It presents the narrator's perspective. Luke does not write, "Simon, supposing that the Spirit is given...." Luke is fully able to identify a character's own perception with some modifier when he wants to, both when that perception is accurate and when it is false. For example:

Acts 27:13 δόξαντες τῆς προθέσεως κεκρατηκέναι, ἄραντες The sailors "supposed" they had attained their purpose, but they hadn't really.

Acts 16:13 ἐξήλθομεν ἔξω τῆς πύλης παρὰ ποταμὸν οὗ ἐνομίζομεν προσευχὴν εἶναι They accurately supposed prayer to be taking place at the river.

Acts 16:27 ἤμελλεν ἑαυτὸν ἀναιρεῖν νομίζων ἐκπεφευγέναι τοὺς δεσμίους. The jailer falsely supposed the prisoners had fled.
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