Protoevangelium Miscellany

Saturday I finished reading through the fifth chapter of the Protoevangelium of James. Just in case you are not familiar with it, it is an apocryphal gospel probably written sometime in the middle to late 2nd century. "Proto" means "first" or "early" and "evangelium" means gospel. "Of James" means..."of James"...obviously. The title given does not claim it is the first written but a reference to the fact that it is a gospel of the birth of Jesus. It actually begins with the birth of Mary.

I have no intention at this point of doing a detailed analysis of the work, but I thought I would jot down some notes. This is the first time I've read this document, and I'm reading it first in Greek rather than in English. I still haven't looked at an English translation, so this is a great exercise!

  1. This Greek is very easy for me, and will be for anyone with good exposure to New Testament or Septuagint Greek. I have found very few words that did not occur in one or both. In terms of idiom it is also very Jewish-Christian-Greek. So if you are familiar with this kind of Greek and are looking for a relatively easy read, give it a try. I think I only had to look up four words in the first chapter, though more in the later chapters
  2. There are some odd spellings, but this should be expected. The spelling in the NT strikes me as rather consistent (though there are some notable exceptions). Whether this editorial assistance is on the part of the scribes or the editors of our texts I don't know. Given the variability in spelling that would naturally occur and the itacisms we find in our Greek manuscripts, I imagine a lot of work went into that. So here are the words with unexpected spellings that I found that I actually took note of:
    1. δεήσεος - Since this is the genitive form of δέησις, you would expect that to be δεήσεως. This word means "prayer".
    2. οἴμοι - This word occurs a number of times in the Septuagint, but is spelled οἴμμοι. It means "woe".
    3. ἄρρεν - This would normally be ἄρσεν, which means "male".
    4. ἤλθοσαν - This is an alternative spelling for ἦλθον. It occurs a number of times in the Septuagint, but not in the New Testament.
    5. μασθόν - Normally spelled with a tau, as in μαστόν, this word means "nipple", "breast", or "chest".
    6. ἐννάτην - This is normally spelled with one nu, as in ἐνάτην.
  3. So I was able to use some Greek in my house today. The text has, in the last sentence of chapter 5, καὶ ἔδωκεν μασθὸν τῇ παιδί. That literally means "And she gave the breast to the child" and is obviously an idiom for breastfeeding. The idiom was something I could still use today since I have an infant in the house. I was able to state matter-of-factly to my wife while pointing at my son ἔδωκας μαστὸν τῷ παιδίῳ. See, learning Greek is practical!

If you are looking for some extra-biblical Greek to look out to stretch your Greek mind, give it a try. Wieland Willker has the text up on his site and you can download it for free for Bibleworks, though be aware that it doesn't have morphological info. It is just text.


Chuck Grantham 2008-03-10 11:58:29

I’m most familiar with this from the excerpts found in Aland's Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum. That book is a mini- language course for those skilled or brave enough to use it, since it includes Greek, Latin, Coptic, German, and English. You also get serious exposure to textual criticism, Synoptic studies, Church Fathers and New Testament Apocrypha, all in one volume. If it were a true diglot it might almost surpass my NET NT diglot, Michael Holmes 3rd edition "Apostolic Fathers" and Stroker's "Extracanonical Sayings of Jesus" as my favorite books.

The Protoevangelium itself puts me in fly-catching mode. My mouth opens wider and wider as I read, thinking, "Oh, now really..." It doesn't annoy me like most Gnostic stuff does, though.

Finally, let us all bow three times in the general direction of the greatness that is Wieland Willker, giver of the online textual commentary on the gospels. I've cribbed throughout Matthew with it, and shall do so again in John 20 for Easter.

Eric 2008-03-11 12:43:59

Willker is the man, is he not? Yes, good books. I'm happy to say I actually have a copy of all of those :). I picked up Stroker for a the low low price of $5 a few years ago during an SBL sale. None of the others are nearly that price :)