Use of the aorist infinitive in Mark 2:4

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Garrett Tyson
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Joined: July 14th, 2018, 6:54 pm

Re: Use of the aorist infinitive in Mark 2:4

Post by Garrett Tyson » August 4th, 2018, 7:10 pm

serunge wrote:
July 31st, 2018, 11:12 am
I’d strongly recommend against thinking of the historical present (HP) as a highlighting device and instead to think more concretely about what it signals. This was one of the most difficult chapter to write in my discourse grammar. The first version was flatly rejected as wrong by Carl Conrad, and rightly so in hindsight. The easiest route I’ve found to explaining the different effects it achieves is thinking of it as a speed bump or a ‘Mind the Gap’ yellow line for you Brits.

If a present indicative (yes, only speaking of the indicative here) is found in a context where it is expected, e.g., within reported speeches or in exposition of the epistles, it is simply doing its job. Nothing about it stands out, so you read right over top of it without really noticing anything. Since you have a ready explanation accounting for its presence you just continue on your merry way.

If you find a present indicative in narrative proper, note that you have a double mismatch with what’s expected (HT to Admiral Buth, ETS 2009). Normally in narrative you find aorist or imperfect indicatives. The former portray the action including the end point, the latter without the end point. Buth schooled me in the fact that the HPs will include the endpoint, I.e., they are substituted for aorists and not for imperfects as some traditional grammarians postulate. So we have a mismatch of aspect, imperfective HPs where a perfective is expected. Nevertheless, the action of the HP is perfective, which suggests the aspectual marker is there for something other than purely semantic reasons. The mismatch makes the verb stand out. To what end? See below. There is also a mismatch in tense, where a non-past form is used in a context where a past form is expected.

Okay, why a speed bump and not a marker of prominence? Because the prominence notion is wrong 60% of the time, even more if one adopts Porter’s view that ALL presents are foregrounding, not just the HPs. The most common use of the HP in Mark is akin to Luke’s use of δε (check out the synoptic parallels), to signal the next step in the narrative or what grammarians have called paragraph marking. It simply signals that there’s a discontinuity of some kind the writer doesn’t want you to miss, but to trip over. If you find the discontinuity there by the HP, you’ve accounted for it and continue on your merry way. Such transitions could be between narrative paragraphs or at the transition from narrative to reported speech (I.e., the initial verb of speech at the beginning of a dialogue). Note that the HP is one of several ways to signal such a transition, so usage needs to be analyzed within that broader constellation of what Levinsohn calls ‘development markers’. So the usage stands out like a speed bump or mind the gap, but the fact that it cooccurs with a discontinuity of some kind (change in time, place, participants or kind of action) means that no further explanation is needed. The action itself is not what’s prominent. It simply signals a discontinuity.

So how do we explain the remainder, the ones that everyone wants to say make the HP action stand out from the context? Using the same principle, but recognizing the change in context. These HPs stand out so much because they are used in contexts of high continuity, right at the crux of the story or there abouts in the gospels and other Koine literature. And this is where you can easily misinterpret the author’s point if you abandon what I would call the speed bump function. Despite the appeal of having the HP verb itself stand out as the most important thing, it is still performing the same, forward-pointing function as Buth has rightly pointed out above. The reason it ‘feels’ different is the fact that the writer is signaling a discontinuity in a context where it is clearly not. Our claims affect our exegetical conclusions, as illustrated above. It can’t be both. I agree with Randall that the markers suggest a steady building of anticipation to the climax, which occurs when the paralytic picks up his litter and walks out. This doesn’t in any way undermine the fact that Jesus forgives. The dialogue with the religious leaders is what sets that off. So it too is significant, but underscored using a different device, and as a secondary theme of this discourse. The HP use is focused on the larger narrative plot, which is resolved when the guy who at the beginning of the story had to be carried in now walks away on his own.

This is a distillation of an article I wrote a while back, so I’d recommend that for folks with questions. It also offers a critique of why the tenseless explanations of the HP fall flat, and more to the point, are simply unnecessary.
Steve, I have one question, if you're willing to help, and a few comments. They're based on Mark 2, not because it's a pet text of mine or particularly important, but because I'm working on Sunday school/sermon stuff on them and wrestling with them. If I say something stupid/wrong, feel free to correct me.

(1) I get that ἔρχονται in Mark 2:3 functions to mark a transition in the text, especially coming after the backgrounding of vs. 1-2 (assuming imperfect sometimes function this way). We trip over the HP, and know that we're about to get a new development in the story. Mark does this often.

(2) And present tenses within speeches aren't unexpected. 2:5: ἀφίενταί σου αἱ ἁμαρτίαι. We'd expect the present tense, because that tense matches the time/situation of the speaker. So we can't call them HP. That makes sense. Mark often uses present tense verbs within speeches, and these fit. They aren't highlighted; we shouldn't make a big deal out of them because they are semantically required.

(3) I can also see how the present tense form λέγει (2:5) is a forward pointing device. It's not that Jesus is speaking that's being given prominence or having attention drawn to it; it's the speech that follows.

(4) The section on your article you linked to about how Mark/others decide which verb tense to introduce speech with was extremely helpful. Present/imperfect/aorist forms of "to say."

I guess I really have only one question:

(1) Can you explain the historical present in Mark 2:4, χαλῶσι τὸν κράβαττον. ?

(a) The sentence doesn't seem to introduce a break in the text. There aren't new characters, or a different scene/context. It's hard to see discontinuity in the text. I wouldn't start a new paragraph here.

(b) I'm not sure how it could be a forward pointing device, because the next major sentence is 2:5, where we have another HP, Jesus λέγει τῷ παραλυτικῷ. This one gives prominence directly to the speech that follows. It's a normal HP for speaking.

In narratives, where each sentence is controlled by one main indicative verb, and there are several sentences in a row with an indicative verb (no speech interrupting), how can a present tense verb be forward pointing? Or, maybe better, what could it be pointing forward to? I struggle to think that's it's an attention-getter pointing forward to Jesus speaking, which points forward to his speech.

(c) As a result, I really struggle to come to any other conclusion than that Mark is giving prominence to the verb here. We are supposed to picture how ridiculous a scene it is, of the four lowering the paralytic. You talk in your article about kind of working your way up a list of explanations. I don't know how else to take this one.

Also, I just want to say, I will always be thankful for your book. It's completely changed how I understand and teach the NT, and how useful I find Greek. And the datasets on logos are extremely helpful as well. The next time you have a job review there, you should say, "Garrett spent $2k at logos because of me."
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