Matt 2:18 ὅτι οὐκ εἰσίν ... historical present?

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Matt 2:18 ὅτι οὐκ εἰσίν ... historical present?

Postby Stephen Carlson » October 9th, 2012, 5:26 am

It is usually said that historical present does not work with statives, but John Battle in his 1975 dissertation on the Greek present (PDF) claims that there is one for the stative verb εἰσίν in Matt 2:18 :-
Matt 2:18 wrote:φωνὴ ἐν Ῥαμὰ ἠκούσθη, / κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὀδυρμὸς πολύς · / Ῥαχὴλ κλαίουσα τὰ τέκνα αὐτῆς, / καὶ οὐκ ἤθελεν παρακληθῆναι, / ὅτι οὐκ εἰσίν.

A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more. (RSV)


(I chose the RSV because it rendered εἰσίν with a preterite.)

Battle does not explain his position for Matt 2:18. Is he right, or, if not, how should εἰσίν be analyzed here?
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Re: Matt 2:18 ὅτι οὐκ εἰσίν ... historical present?

Postby Alan Patterson » October 9th, 2012, 7:20 am

Matt 2:18 wrote:φωνὴ ἐν Ῥαμὰ ἠκούσθη, / κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὀδυρμὸς πολύς · / Ῥαχὴλ κλαίουσα τὰ τέκνα αὐτῆς, / καὶ οὐκ ἤθελεν παρακληθῆναι, / ὅτι οὐκ εἰσίν.

A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel IS weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled,
because they were no more. (RSV) [emphasis added]


Here is a typical example of what some call the Historic Present. But things are different for those who see the Deictic Center being the nucleus of the sentence that is or has been developed.

The DC here is A voice was heard.

This temporal point is the DC. What is confusing sometimes is when people assert that the DC is the time of writing or speaking. This is incorrect. The DC is constantly being changed as the story unfold, and is found in the nucleus of the context being developed.

At the time the voice was being heard, other factors are likewise concurrent with it.
One of those is Rachel (who now represent each mother in Bethlehem) crying.
At the time of the "voice was being heard" one could make out the crying of a woman; we later are told that the woman is Rachel
Why is she crying?
Because her children are not alive (οὐκ εἰσίν). [they are not {alive}]

Rachel IS crying because her children ARE no longer around.

Here, like with all other HP, the event is taking place simultaneously with the DC. There is nothing historical about the Present tense here.

If your DC is the time of writing/speaking, which it can be at times, you will eventually say the Greek language does not encode TIME, but ASPECT. I find this split taking place based on the above.
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Re: Matt 2:18 ὅτι οὐκ εἰσίν ... historical present?

Postby Stephen Carlson » October 9th, 2012, 8:51 am

Alan Patterson wrote:Here is a typical example of what some call the Historic Present.


Actually, it would be a highly untypical example of the historical present--if it is one at all--because it involves a state verb εἰσίν.

My question is whether Battle's identification of it as an HP is correct.
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Re: Matt 2:18 ὅτι οὐκ εἰσίν ... historical present?

Postby Alan Patterson » October 10th, 2012, 6:59 am

Stephen,

My only caution is not to base too much on THIS usage by virtue of the fact it is an idiom within a quote. Idioms by definition are grammatical oddities.
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Re: Matt 2:18 ὅτι οὐκ εἰσίν ... historical present?

Postby Stephen Carlson » October 10th, 2012, 9:43 am

I think you're beginning the question that εἰμί as a historical present is an idiom. That's exactly the point I am questioning.
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Re: Matt 2:18 ὅτι οὐκ εἰσίν ... historical present?

Postby cwconrad » October 10th, 2012, 11:23 am

Stephen Carlson wrote:I think you're beginning the question that εἰμί as a historical present is an idiom. That's exactly the point I am questioning.


I don't think the historical present is an idiom; it's certainly not unique to ancient Greek -- I have no idea in how many languages it appears.

BUT: the text in question:

Matt 2:18
φωνὴ ἐν Ῥαμὰ ἠκούσθη, / κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὀδυρμὸς πολύς · / Ῥαχὴλ κλαίουσα τὰ τέκνα αὐτῆς, / καὶ οὐκ ἤθελεν παρακληθῆναι, / ὅτι οὐκ εἰσίν.


does derive from the LXX of Jeremiah 38:15, representing the MT:

Jer 38:15
רָחֵ֖ל מְבַכָּ֣ה עַל־בָּנֶ֑יהָ מֵאֲנָ֛ה לְהִנָּחֵ֥ם עַל־בָּנֶ֖יהָ כִּ֥י אֵינֶֽנּוּ׃ ס


It looks like the Heb. Piel participle מְבַכָּ֣ה is conveyed by the Greek present participle κλαίουσα, while the Heb אַיִן of אֵינֶֽנּוּ is not really a verb is it, but isn't it rather a negative particle (although translated as "not exist")?

In other words, does it make any sense even to consider this εἰσίν in terms of a "historical present"?
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Re: Matt 2:18 ὅτι οὐκ εἰσίν ... historical present?

Postby MAubrey » October 10th, 2012, 11:29 am

Carl clicked submit before I finished writing what he said.
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Re: Matt 2:18 ὅτι οὐκ εἰσίν ... historical present?

Postby Alan Patterson » October 10th, 2012, 12:59 pm

I am not arguing that the historic present is a idiom!!! I am arguing that οὐκ εἰσίν is an idiom for death. What I am arguing regarding the Historic Present is that there is NO Historic Present at all. I am saying that the Present Tense is in relation to X, whenever that X is. I have argued that the X is the contextually developed Deictic Center. Therefore, in my understanding, the Present Tense is not Historic at all; it is Present or in progress at the time of the Deictic Center event. The Present Tense functions the same way an Aorist, Imperfect, Future, etc. IN RELATION TO THE DC, IN A HISTORICAL CONTEXT. I would reject a Historical Aorist Tense.
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Re: Matt 2:18 ὅτι οὐκ εἰσίν ... historical present?

Postby MAubrey » October 10th, 2012, 2:20 pm

@Alan:
In internet etiquette, all caps is equivalent to shouting. Please don't. If you want emphasis, bold or italics will do.

Beyond that, do you have any evidence for the idea that the deictic center is not the speaker? I'm quite incredulous to your proposal.

@Stephen:
The cognitive linguistic view of such phenomenon as the historical present would say that this is not one. In cognitive linguistics historical present is a unique semantic-pragmatic construction where the speaker conceptualizes a past event as if it is currently taking place. Thus the deitic center is still the speaker (as is standard for the present). Those who hold that the historical present represents a challenge for a tense view of the language on the basis of the historical present and similar constructions commit the mistake of accepting a direct one to one relationship between language and reality. It's a non-prototypical usage, but it still fits falls within the bounds of the schema.

This example here in Matthew does not fit the criteria. It's just bad Hebrew to Greek translation. Perhaps Battles is a little myopic in his categorization to not deal with such issues of translation Greek.
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Re: Matt 2:18 ὅτι οὐκ εἰσίν ... historical present?

Postby Stephen Carlson » October 10th, 2012, 3:33 pm

MAubrey wrote:The cognitive linguistic view of such phenomenon as the historical present would say that this is not one. In cognitive linguistics historical present is a unique semantic-pragmatic construction where the speaker conceptualizes a past event as if it is currently taking place. Thus the deitic center is still the speaker (as is standard for the present). Those who hold that the historical present represents a challenge for a tense view of the language on the basis of the historical present and similar constructions commit the mistake of accepting a direct one to one relationship between language and reality. It's a non-prototypical usage, but it still fits falls within the bounds of the schema.


Thanks, Mike. I don't really have a problem with explanations of the HP that propose shifts in the deictic center/perspective time/orientation time or whatever the theorist wants to call it. From a tense perspective, I don't think it's problematic but it is unprototypical. From an aspect perspective, I think the HP is more of a challenge because we get a bunch of telics and their endpoint / culmination point / entry into a state / telos is (I think, clearly) in view. This conflicts with the typical sense of the imperfective, where the telos is not in view, and makes the HP look more like an aorist than a present.

My immediate difficulty with εἰσίν in Matt 2:18 is that it is stative and I'm not aware of a (rigorous) theoretical treatment of the HP that works with states.

MAubrey wrote:This example here in Matthew does not fit the criteria. It's just bad Hebrew to Greek translation. Perhaps Battles is a little myopic in his categorization to not deal with such issues of translation Greek.


Battle also claims that there are 8 more cases of an HP εἰμί in Relevation (9:19; 14:4a, b, 6; 16:21, 21:16, and 22), so he does not seem to be aware of the claimed restriction by classical Greek grammarians that state verbs are not found in the HP. I don't think we're looking at translation Greek but, granting that, its Greek is not the most idiomatic in the world.
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