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Monday, October 23, 2017


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More pickiness, Abbey’s ‘A voice crying in the desert’ is not a good translation of ‘Vox clamantis in deserto’. ‘Clamantis’ is genitive ‘of one crying’, i.e. of a person crying, not ‘clamans’, which would refer to the voice. The New Testament interpretation clearly refers to John himself, calling out in the desert. I am not now so sure of Paruc’s claim. See this article of someone arguing (arguentis) that even the Hebrew is ambiguous, and that there are strong hermeneutical claims for both readings.

.. while the phrase ἐν τῇ ἐρήµῳ is not grammatically tied exclusively to either “the calling voice” or “the preparation,” the more natural reading of the [Septuagint] Greek does tie the voice to the desert.
I sentimentally like to think of John wandering in the desert eating honey and locusts, and crying out ‘prepare the way’. On the other hand, if it is a desert or solitude or wilderness, empty of people, no one is listening. Perhaps the wilderness is of the Jewish people in the first century AD, and John is crying out (in a populated place) ‘make way for the Lord in the wilderness’, and people are listening.

PS the paragraph beginning ‘According to the reading ..’ Should be indented, as it is by Pentiuc, not me. I resume with ‘My emphasis’. Also, it is not Matt 3:1 but Mal[achi] 3:1 (‘I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me’).

Paruc = Pentiuc?

You are in a pedantic mood today, Ed. A voice can't cry. Only a person can cry. So, while vox clamantis and vox clamans are grammatically different, they express the same idea.

Also: deserts are typically sparsely populated, but needn't be empty of people. Must a desert be deserted to be a desert? If it is strictly deserted, not even John is out there crying.

I checked the Massoretic text. The Hebrew is grammatically ambiguous: "qol qore bamidbar | pannu derek YHWH :" If we go with the quarter-verse caesura, as the LXX clearly did, the rendering would be: "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way of YHWH'".

But we cannot ignore the parallel with the second half of the verse: "yasheru ba'arabah | mesillah lElohenu", which can only be: "Make straight in the desert a highway for our God". The presumption in Hebrew poetry (or as here, poetic prose) is that parallelism in structure reflects a parallelism in meaning. This tips the balance, in the first half of the verse, in favour of "The voice of one crying, 'Prepare in the wilderness the way of YHWH. '"

(With apologies for not digging out my Hebrew font for the above.)

Continuing the pedantry, note that Latin ‘desertus’ means abandoned, foresaken, lonely etc. It does not have the modern connotation of cactus-filled sunny and dry etc. ‘Deserted’ does of course retain the old meaning.

I think the Greek ἐρήμῳ has the same connotation (desolate, lone, lonely, lonesome, solitary). Of course it seems odd to call Antarctica a desert, but then the ancient near east had no knowledge of such an icy deserted place.

>>If it is strictly deserted, not even John is out there crying.
I think one can be in a deserted place, without its ceasing to be deserted. Interesting question. Consider the generic statement 'deserts are deserted', which is strictly false of any deserts which accidentally contain visitors.

>>while vox clamantis and vox clamans are grammatically different, they express the same idea
I would say they have different meanings. ‘A voice crying’ could be a disembodied voice, or it could be metaphorical. ‘A voice of one crying’ implies a person, i.e. John.

>>Paruc = Pentiuc?
Yes, sorry I was in a rush.

>>I think the Greek ἐρήμῳ has the same connotation (desolate, lone, lonely, lonesome, solitary).<<

I think you are right. There are two kinds of monks, the eremitic and the cenobitic. The eremites (hermits) opt for solitude; the cenobites live in community. A hermitage need not be in a desert, but the Desert Fathers were in the desert in both senses.

So who is the Desert Philosopher? Crying out in the desolation of Western Civilisation, with no one listening? An essentially pessimistic message. Or crying to clear a path in this desolation for something greater? Essentially optimistic.

I am the optimist here. Western civilisation carries a light, the natural light of reason that can be passed from culture to culture like a flame passed from candle to candle. The West may die, but the light, kindled more than two millenia ago in Ionia, will survive. So I believe, and hope.

A further complication which perhaps supports your reading. John 1:23

NIV: “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”
Vulgate: Ait: Ego vox clamantis in deserto: Dirigite viam Domini, sicut dixit Isaias propheta.
Greek NT: ἐγὼ φωνὴ βοῶντος ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ: εὐθύνατε τὴν ὁδὸν κυρίου

So John says he is the voice of the one calling. Does this mean he, the voice, is a different person from the one who is calling? I.e. John is acting for Christ/God calling. Or does he mean that he is the voice of himself calling? That doesn’t make sense.

Odd that we have heard that sentence (in various translations) so many times, yet not paid close attention to its structure.

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