Thursday, January 14, 2016

Rafael Rodriguez and The Lukan Beatitudes

In a recent post on the Jesus blog, Rafael Rodriguez, a scholar for whom I have the utmost respect, definitively pronounced that two other scholars (Francis Watson and Mark Goodacre, for whom I also have the utmost respect) were wrong.  Here is what he said,
"Therefore, Watson (and Goodacre) are wrong to insist on translating the Lukan beatitudes, "Blessed are those who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God."
Now, I am not a big fan of definitive pronouncements in general, and I think that Rodriguez was unfair to do so in this case.

Now, the issue is the translation of Luke 6:20-21 in which Jesus pronounces three groups of people as blessed. Grammatically, the form of these three groups is in the masculine, plural, nominative, which would normally translate as "the poor, the hungry, and the weeping."  So, per Watson and Goodacre, the verses would be translated, "blessed are the poor," "blessed are the hungry," and "blessed are the weeping (or those who weep)."

Now, Rodriguez makes his case that the construction should be translated as "blessed are you who are poor, blessed are you who are hungry, blessed are you who weep," based on a grammatical argument. According to Rodriguez, the nominative case is actually functioning here as a vocative due to the second clause in each beatitude which is unambiguously translated, "for yours is... for you shall...for you shall."  In support of this, Rodriguez calls on the grammar of Blass, Debrunner, and Funk, one of the authoritative Greek grammars in the field.  BDF uses as an example of the nominative functioning as vocative, Luke 6:25, which is one of Luke's corresponding woes (see BDF §147, p. 81).  6:25 is also unambiguously translated, "woe to you who are full."  But in this case, the woe to you is unambiguously in the text in the first clause.  Not so, in 6:20-21.  So, even though BDF draws an example from a verse that is in close proximity to 6:20-21, it is not a slam dunk therefore to argue that 6:20 must therefore be translated as a vocative, "blessed are you."  All that this proves, in my mind, is that it is certainly possible to translate the three blessings in 6:20-21 as vocatives, i.e., "blessed are you."

But, for the moment I don't want to dwell solely on the grammar,since I think that both translations ("blessed are the..." and "blessed are you...") are grammatically possible, but I want to highlight the possible rhetorical figure of speech in 6:21-22 which may play into the argument and possible translation.  In my 2011 book Figuring Jesus  (Keith Reich, Figuring Jesus: The Power of Rhetorical Figures of Speech in the Gospel of Luke, BINS 107, Leiden: Brill, 2011) I highlighted Luke 6:20-21 as the figure of speech Apostrophe (p. 59).  According to  Heinrich Lausberg, Apostrophe "is 'turning away' from the normal audience and the addressing of another, second audience, surprisingly chosen by the speaker.  The practice has an emotive effect on the normal audience, since it is an expression, on the part of the speaker, of a pathos." (Heinrich Lausberg, Handbook of Literary Rhetoric, (Leiden: Brill, 1998), § 762 p. 338.).  At the time I wrote that book, the figure seemed obvious.  In 6:21, Luke begins his blessings with a general audience, "blessed are the poor."  But then, using the figure of Apostrophe, he changes audience and directly addresses the disciples, "for your's is the Kingdom of God."  This shift in audience has already occurred once in the passage.  In Luke 6:17, Jesus is said to be "with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon."  So, we envision a large crowd of all sorts of people surrounding Jesus. But then, at 6:20, Jesus "lifting up his eyes to his disciples, he said."  I think the interplay here is a switching between one audience, the large crowd gathered around Jesus, and a second, more specific audience, Jesus' disciples.  So, in each of the blessings, the first clause is pronounced to the large crowd ("blessed are the poor..." "Blessed are the hungry now..." "Blessed are those who weep now..."), while the second clause is a direct address to Jesus' disciples.

If this figure is at play in 6:20-21, then Watson and Goodacre are correct in their translation and Rodriguez is mistaken.  What do you think?

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