2016.01.01 | Laurenţiu Florentin Moţ. Morphological and Syntactical Irregularities in the Book of Revelation: A Greek Hypothesis. Linguistic Biblical Studies 11. Leiden: Brill, 2015.
Review by Garrick V. Allen, Institut für Septuaginta und biblische Textforschung, Wuppertal.
Thanks to Brill Publishers for providing a MyBook paperback inspection copy.
In this revised version of his PhD dissertation, Laurenţiu Moţ examines grammatical irregularities in the book of Revelation. He ultimately argues that Revelation’s grammatical issues are not the result of the author’s background in Semitic languages, but are best explained as inner-Greek anomalies.
Moţ begins with an extensive history of research on so-called solecisms in Revelation, tracing the conversation from Dionysius of Alexandria through to the twenty-first century (pp. 1-30). Next, Moţ presents his primary research questions. His study seeks to answer five questions (pp. 30-31):
- How many grammatical anomalies are in Revelation?
- How should they be classified?
- Are these irregularities the author’s intentional creations?
- If so, how can this be explained?
- How do the irregularities affect the meaning of the text.
Moţ also addresses three main presuppositions—that the author of Revelation is Jewish, that Greek is his second language, and that grammatical issues do no preclude divine inspiration. The final portion of the introductory chapter addresses method. Moţ indicates that he took care to observe textual variation, and that both synchronic and diachronic approaches to linguistic problems are necessary.
The second chapter of the study examines barbarisms, defined as variant order of word components, and solecisms, defined as variation from normal morpho-semantic features, in the linguistic discourse of ancient Greek and Latin authors (pp. 46-73). He identifies ancient guidelines for working through irregularities (pp. 67-73), points toward the use of poetically-licensed barbarisms, and suggests that even ancient grammarians found text-pragmatic ways to create meaning from a text with linguistic issues. The chapter concludes with an evaluation of modern approaches to grammatical correctness (pp. 73-94), arguing for a descriptive-functional approach. In summary, he makes a number of observations: 1. grammatical issues were viewed as negative phenomena in antiquity, although grammarians possessed tools for making sense of a problematic text; 2. Semitic language influence on the Greek text of Revelation is overstated and based on theological beliefs; 3. the time has come for grammars and New Testament introductions to stop using value-laden language in describing the Greek of the Apocalypse.
Moţ’s third chapter represents the substance of the study. He meticulously works through each proposed grammatical irregularity in Revelation, dividing examples into the categories of morphological (barbarisms) and syntactic anomalies, subdividing the latter section further into disagreements of case, gender, and number, incongruities of tense, voice, and mood, and prepositional irregularities. Throughout this dense presentation of raw data, Moţ attempts to explain particular issues as either diachronic development of the Greek language (e.g. p. 107) or seeks parallel examples in synchronic Greek works (e.g. pp. 119-20), including the papyri. From this approach, Moţ is able to highlight, ironically, the general grammatical clarity of Revelation—its irregularities, according to Moţ are found also in many synchronic examples.
In the next chapter, Moţ offers some assessment and implications (pp. 217-43). Of the hundreds of samples examined in the previous chapter, he concludes that Revelation contains no barbarisms and only 45 solecisms that create grammatical problems. To Moţ this indicates that Revelation’s Greek is not unpalatable, especially since the semantics of these texts are rarely intractable (p. 218) and are possibly the result of “poetic license” (p. 221). He then makes a number of suggestions. First, he downplays the role that rhetoric plays in Revelation’s solecisms, suggesting that intentionality of linguistic formation need not be tied to author’s rhetorical designs (pp. 221-22). Second, he notes that scholars who argue that Revelation’s grammar is marred by Semitic language transfer often rely on the LXX, which, even though it is a translation, retains coherent works of Greek literature. Third, he questions the existence of a distinct Jewish-Greek dialect, noting the wide currency of Greek in Jewish communities both inside and outside of Palestine (pp. 223-30). Fourth, Moţ argues that “Revelation is Greek proper, but of an eccentric style…coming close to vernacular Greek” (p. 233), and that “the Greek of Revelation is not inferior to any other of the other NT books” (p. 234). He concludes the chapter with a number of suggestions for NT grammars, exegesis, and theology. He argues that “the meaning is not to be looked for in the correct rendition that the writer failed to perform, but in the actual irregular rendition” (p. 240), suggesting that exegetes need to grapple with the actual text on the page. The final chapter of the book (pp. 244-46) is a brief rehearsal of his main points.
There is much to laud in this effort. Even though the study has not created a paradigm shift into how we think about the Greek of Revelation, it has succeeded in making some valid observations. Moţ’s primary accomplishment rests in his repeated suggestion that “the Greek of Revelation is more regular than irregular” (p. 245). The grammatical issues in Revelation have long been overplayed, especially by those with only a cursory appreciation of the diachronic/synchronic linguistic and social forces that shaped the grammatical substance of the Apocalypse. This focus on Greek parallels has also convinced me that the question of Semitic influence on the Apocalypse needs to be revisited, although I am not yet convinced that the foreign language transfer should be abandoned as a viable option in many of these cases. Also, I am convinced that Moţ’s call to distinguish linguistic solecisms from rhetorical designs is another point to be considered more closely. If nothing else, the book is provocative insofar as it challenges many common platitudes regarding Revelation’s linguistic makeup.
The study is also problematic in many ways. In addition to a number of small errors and omissions (including some repeated typos [e.g. Buttmannn on pp. 122 and 167], improper use of Hebrew diacritics [e.g. p. 162], issues with his understanding of Revelation’s textual history, and an unnecessarily lengthy history of research), the main issue with the work is its attempt to immediately connect linguistic irregularities to the author’s theological message. This is especially awkward in light of Moţ’s critique of those who argue for Semitic transfer as “motivated” by theological beliefs (p. 93). This manifests itself first of all in Moţ’s presupposition that addresses inspiration, in which he presumes that grammatical correctness is not tied to divine inspiration (see above). I would agree with this statement, but it is peculiar that it is an issue at all in a study devoted to detailed linguistic issues. Additionally, chapter 4 concludes with a number of statements that seem out of place and lead one to wonder whether there is an underlying agenda here. One example will suffice: “The linguistic performance of John…points toward inspiration as a divine act upon the thoughts of the writer and only indirectly on his diction” (p. 243). It is difficult to see how Moţ’s linguistic works gives insight into locus of divine revelation. I suspect that the study would have more clear and concise without this issue hovering in the background. It is not that linguistic issues and theology are mutually exclusive, but that the relationship between the two is much more rich and complex than Moţ portrays. The detailed work with Revelation’s text undertaken in chapter 3 should probably have been allowed to stand on its own.
Overall, this book is valuable for specialists who work with the linguistic substance of the book of Revelation. The audience is relatively small, but for this group the book is required reading.
Garrick V. Allen
Institut für Septuaginta und biblische Textforschung
Kirchliche Hochschule Wuppertal/Bethel
allen [ at ] isbtf.de