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Greeky wordplay in Luke 22


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There's wordplay in Luke 22, the readings from the last two days of this schedule to read the Greek gospels in a year.


The wordplay is reminiscent of that in Plato's Gorgias (492E - 493D). 


To show this in Plato first and then in Luke, let me copy in English translations of around the same period (both translations by individual translators). And let me insert the Greek words that either overlap lexically, Luke overlapping with Plato, or the Greek wordplays that overlap some. 


The semantic notions and metaphors are around body, fluids, containers, leaks, preparations, and especially desires and wishes.

When reading Luke I wondered why the directive of Jesus to Peter and to John to find a man with a jar of water. And then there's the cup over and over. But before that there's this idea that Jesus desires desirously, that he expresses himself this way in Greek:  πιθυμί πεθύμησα

In doing a PhD in classical rhetoric, I spent a lot of time in Plato's Socratic dialogue Gorgias; and Luke's wordplay made me think of how Plato's Socrates likes to invoke wordplay, such as  σῶμά … σῆμα to signify body... tomb and persuadable πιθανόν, a jar πίθον and the idea of a desirous soul being a pourous leaky jar.


Take a look for yourself. What do you think?

Here's Plato first:


Socrates:  Now tell me: do you say the desires ἐπιθυμίας are not to be chastened if a man would be such as he ought to be, but he should let them be as great as possible and provide ἑτοιμάζειν them with satisfaction from some source or other, and this is virtue?

Callicles:  Yes, I say that.

Socrates:  Then it is not correct to say, as people do, that those who want nothing are happy.

Callicles:  No, for at that rate stones and corpses would be extremely happy.

Socrates:  Well, but on your own view, life is strange. For I tell you I should not wonder if Euripides’ words were true, when he says:

Who knoweth if to live is to be dead, And to be dead, to live?

and we really, it may be, are dead; in fact I once heard one of our sages say that we are now dead, and the body is our tomb σῶμά … σῆμα, and the part of the soul in which we have desires ἐπιθυμίαι is liable to be over-persuaded and to vacillate to and fro, and so some smart fellow, a Sicilian, I daresay, or Italian,made a fable in which—by a play of words—he named this part, as being so impressionable and persuadable πιθανόν, a jar πίθον, and the thoughtless he called uninitiate:1 in these uninitiate that part of the soul where the desires ἐπιθυμίαι are, the licentious and fissured part, he named a leaky jar πίθος in his allegory, because it is so insatiate. So you see this person, Callicles, takes the opposite view to yours, showing how of all who are in Hades—meaning of course the invisible—these uninitiate will be most wretched, and will carry water into their leaky jar πίθον with a sieve which is no less leaky. And then by the sieve, as my story-teller said, he means the soul: and the soul of the thoughtless he likened to a sieve, as being perforated, since it is unable to hold anything by reason of its unbelief and forgetfulness. All this, indeed, is bordering pretty well on the absurd; but still it sets forth what I wish βούλομαί to impress upon you,

Here's Luke second:

7 And the day of unleavened came, in which must be sacrificed the pascha. 8 And he sent Peter and John, saying, Having gone, prepare τοιμάσατε ye for us the pascha, that we might eat. 9 And they said to him, Where wilt θέλεις thou that we should prepare τοιμάσωμεν10 And he said to them, Behold, you having come to the city, there shall a man meet you, bearing an earthen vessel κεράμιον of water; follow ye him to the house where he goes in.

15 And he said to them, With eager desire have I desired πιθυμί πεθύμησα to eat this pascha with you before I suffer:

20 Likewise also the cup κεράμιον after supping, saying, This the cup κεράμιον, the new covenant in my blood αματί, poured out for you:

39 And having come out, he went, according to custom, to the mount of Olives; and his disciples followed him. 40 And being at the place, he said to them, Pray ye not to enter into temptation. 41 And he was removed from them about a stone's cast, and having placed the knees, he prayed, 42 Saying, Father, If thou art willing βουλει, turn aside this cup ποτήριον from me: but not my will θέλημά, but thine, be done. 43 And a messenger was seen to him from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in a violent struggle, he prayed more intently: and his sweat was as clots of blood αματος coming down upon the earth. 




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I'm still trying to figure out if there are any connections, but a quick correction: It's ποτήριον both times in Luke 22.20 (not κεράμιον)

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MGVH, Thanks for noticing. I'm not sure how synonymous the two phrases (for liquid containers) are, but I do see this

a Jar, πίθος, κέραμος, αιη, πιθάριον, κεράμιον, οινοφόρον, λάγηνος, dim. λαγήνιον.


as an entry in A Greek and English Dictionary, Comprising All the Words in the Writings of the Most Popular Greek Authors: With the Difficult Inflections in Them and in the Septuagint and New Testament by John Groves (1830).

And well before that, Aristotle gives this:

          Τὸ δὲ ἔχειν κατὰ πλείονας τρόπους λέγεται... ἢ ὡς ἐν ἀγγείῳ, οἷον ὁ μέδιμνος τοὺς πυροὺς ἢ τὸ κεράμιον τὸν οἶνον· οἶνον γὰρ ἔχειν τὸ κεράμιον λέγεται.

Presumably the one may be easier to drink wine from, but the two do hold water and/or wine. And either may be a metaphor in Greek for a soul leaking from desire, whether that is blood, or wine, or water.

-- JKG

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May I add another conjecture? Luke is using Judas Iscariot, the betrayer, and Peter, the thrice denier, (and the other sleeping disciples in the garden) in narrative/character contrast to Jesus. I don't know how well known the parable is that Plato's Socrates invokes by the time Luke is writing; there does seem to be this idea of un-belief and of bad (i.e., Satan) entering into the souls of these men, which makes the soul of Jesus, in some contrast, a soul of integrity. Nonetheless, the garden prayer of Jesus some seems to be a confession of wet wishes and liquid willfulness and dubious desires (when he defers to the will of his Father).

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