Friday, January 12, 2024

Acts 1:19, continued: what is the subject of κληθῆναι?

 Here's the verse again:

καὶ γνωστὸν ἐγένετο πᾶσιν τοῖς κατοικοῦσιν Ἱερουσαλήμ, ὥστε κληθῆναι τὸ χωρίον ἐκεῖνο τῇ ἰδίᾳ διαλέκτῳ αὐτῶν Ἀκελδαμά, τοῦτ’ ἔστιν, χωρίον αἵματος―

and known it became to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that that field was called in their own dialect 'Akeldama', which is, field of blood -  

Let's start with the one non-Greek proper noun, spelled either Ἀκελδαμά or Ἀκελδαμάχ, or those spellings with the rough breathing instead of the smooth.  

The name derives from Aramaic, which was a Syrian dialect.  (Or as I understand it; check Wikipedia for an extensive discussion of this group of languages.)  If the

translator uses a smooth breathing, it ends up as Akeldama in English transliteration; if the rough breathing is assumed, Hakeldama.

However it is spelled, Ἀκελδαμά is a hapax legomenon, and is said to mean 'field of blood'.

Κληθῆναι is the aorist passive infinitive of καλέω - 'I call, name, summon'.  After the infinitive we find the neuter noun χωρίον, 'piece of land, property, place'.

A number of translations say something like 'they (the inhabitants of Jerusalem) called the field . . .', but the subject of κληθῆναι is not the people doing the calling, but the thing (the field) being called.

I.e., τὸ χωρίον ἐκεῖνο is the subject of κληθῆναι.  But if you use one of the on-line NT Greek resources, such as or, you will find χωρίον parsed as accusative neuter, not nominative.  Why?  Because the subject of an infinitive is generally in the accusative.

The feminine noun διάλεκτος sounds like the English 'dialect'.  Although etymologically related, διάλεκτος seems simply to mean 'way of speaking', or 'that language used by a group of people'.  Modern linguists may use a more precise definition of 'dialect'.

The phrase τῇ ἰδίᾳ διαλέκτῳ, 'in their own language' is  a kind of dative of means or manner.  In other words, it answers the question 'how', or 'in what way' was the field named?  Wallace has much to say about the different datives (Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics), and I refer you to his discussion for more detail.

Διάλεκτος is used six times in the New Testament, all of them in the dative singular, and all of them in Acts.

Three of these use the same phrase: τῇ ἰδίᾳ διαλέκτῳ, and three use the similar phrase τῇ Ἐβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ, 'in the Hebrew language'.

Next post: moving on to Acts 1:20.

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