BUDDHAVACANA.

I’m still making my way slowly through Nicholas Ostler’s The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Babel, and I’ve gotten to a very interesting section on Pali (pp. 146ff.). He starts off with an anecdote about how some monks proposed to the Buddha that his words be translated into Sanskrit so that people all over India could understand them; the Buddha refused, adding anujānāmi bhikkhave sakāya niruttiyā buddhavacanam pariyāpunitum. Ostler says:

The proper interpretation of this fairly simple sentence has never been agreed and will never be because of the heartrending dilemma just considered. The Buddha had clearly picked up the phrase used by the monks to mean “in their own dialects”—sakāya niruttiyā—and stated, “I authorize the monks to learn the Buddha-words sakāya niruttiyā.” But does this mean “each in their own dialect”? Or rather “in my own dialect”? Clearly the Buddha was rejecting the Sanskrit option, probably because of its then association with the Brahmanical religion from which he was attempting to distance his teaching, or (just possibly) because it might have been less accessible to the uneducated. But was he saying that monks could learn (and hence propagate) his teaching in any language they spoke? Or was he rather hinting that a language good enough for the Buddha should be good enough for them?”

Ostler quotes the fifth-century commentator Buddhaghosa as saying “Here, ‘own dialect’ means Magadhi speech as spoken by the Buddha.” But what was that? He goes on:

The Buddha had come from Kosala (modern Awadh) in the Himalayan foothills (where the language would have been Awadhi, a predecessor of modern Hindi), but passed his preaching life in the area of modern Patna and Bodh Gaya, where the local language was indeed Magadhi. We know something of this language: it was similar to modern Bengali in that the s sound is replaced by a hushing š, and the r by l. But the language that became established for Buddhist discourse was something else, the lingua-franca now called Pali, in which all the documents of the Buddhist canon … have been preserved. [Footnote: Originally a Sanskrit word pāli 'line' came to refer to lines of text; pālibhāsā is then originally 'language of the text'. Hence Pali, like Avestan and Vedic, is a holy language that derives its name from the canon of texts preserved in it.... As such, the name has no local resonance.] Although southern commentators thought it was Magadhi—especially in Buddhism’s early stronghold of Sri Lanka, where everyone spoke Sinhala—it is phonetically unlike it. It appears to be a compromise mixture of dialects, related to, but mostly less highly inflected than Sanskrit. It might have evolved among a mixed community in the generations after the Buddha’s death, or even be the Buddha’s approach to talking intelligibly for an audience known to speak many different Prakrits. In the event, this lingua-franca is neither Magadhi nor a Babel of different dialects, but, in a sense, a new Prakrit.

Glenn Wallis starts off his Buddhavacana: A Pali Reader with the Buddha’s quote about learning the Buddha-words (buddhavacanam) cited at the beginning of this post, and points out that “there is great irony here: the language in an ostensibly decisive canonical statement concerning language contains ambiguous language. Exploring this statement and the irony it contains will allow me to explain the purpose and scope of this Reader.” I like that approach to teaching language.

Comments

  1. Uhm, are you sure that’s Empires of the Word and not The Last Lingua Franca?

  2. Here is a lecture from a few years ago by Richard Salomon on this and in particular the recently discovered older Gāndhārī texts.

  3. Bathrobe says:

    I found it curious that he speaks of the Buddha (Budd-ha) as a “noble man” rather than “nobleman” (“man” using schwa).

  4. Definitely TLLF: I looked in Google Books.

  5. “At the Budda,
    Bbuddhavacana,
    Things go precisely as you don’t plan-a. . .”

  6. Wallis claims that use of “own” in the Buddha-sentence is an example of ambiguous language. As many educated people tend to do, he then gets excited about a “great irony” to be seen there. Well, great irony is always a good subject for yet another learned book, so I can sympathize with his excitement.
    But there may be a simpler way of accounting for the use of “own” in that sentence, in terms not of irony, but of what I will call the depersonalizing diction of the learnèd classes, for lack of a better expression at short notice. To avoid personal references in speech is one of the little practices that actually constitute the “learnèd classes”, and define their goals as a distinguished social group concerned with generalizations.
    Although I know none of the languages in question, I am struck by the similarity, as regards supposed ambiguity, between “saka” and the German (“indefinite possessive pronoun” ?) eigen [own]. In everyday German speech (I would even make the general claim “no matter what the dialect”), by far the most common way that eigen occurs is in conjunction with a personal pronoun: meine eigene Meinung [my own opinion], ihr eigenes Haus [her/their own house]. You may hear the stock expression in eigener Sache [concerning (his/her/their/our ??) own interests], but that is a legalistic expression used here to create a certain elevated tone.
    In other words, in everday German speech one knows “whose own” is meant, because it is made explicit. In contrast, Germans who make generalizations for a living, or want to stike an elevated tone, leave out personal pronouns where possible, giving in eigener Sache, to name but one. Talking about oneself, however, one would usually specify “my own”, unless one were being very grand and wanted to say “one” all the time. These things just remain “up in the air” in elevated German speech. If you want to know more, you have to ask. The best thing is to go with the flow, and look wise without knowing the exact details.
    Here’s a funny example from the recent experience of yours truly. There is a slightly superior restaurant in Stuttgart (where I am currently working) to which I and my project colleagues repair for lunch. I usually order only a small bowl of soup, since coffee and nicotine keep me generally sated. On offer recently was Spargelcremesuppe mit eigenen Einlagen. This is cream of asparagus soup with – well, what are eigene Einlagen ? A Suppeneinlage is something more or less solid put into a soup, like a raw egg yolk, shark fin or bone-marrow dumpling. In this case probably bits of asparagus are meant.
    Eigene Einlagen seems to mean “bits of one’s own asparagus”. I thought this was a blooper on the menu, so I teased the waitress by saying: “I would have liked the cream of asparagus soup, but I forgot to bring my own Einlagen with me”. She didn’t get the joke, because she was taking eigene is a way that hadn’t occurred to me. She explained that the restaurant adds its own fresh bits of asparagus to the soup – the implication (which she didn’t seem to be aware of) being that the basic soup came out of a can. It would have been clearer to write hauseigene Einlagen, but the waitress herself didn’t even use the word hauseigen.

  7. There is another common, unambiguous use of eigen in everyday German speech, even though, as a linguist might say, there is no explicit personal possessive pronoun (a non-linguist just knows what the speaker means). That occurs when the sentence itself, or the immediate context, makes it clear what person or persons are meant: Jeder nimmt die eigenen Sachen mit [everybody should take/carry their own things (with them)] is equivalent to Jeder nimmt seine eigenen Sachen mit. Nimm die eigenen Sachen mit ! [take/carry your own things (with you)] is equivalent to nimm deine/eure eigenen Sachen mit ! The imperative makes clear that the addressee(s) is/are the person(s) meant.
    Note that I am giving examples from “everyday speech”. In the contexts of everyday speech – the speech itself and everything else that is being taken into account, consciously or no – references are expected to be unambiguous. When they are not, the hearer can immediately ask for clarification. This is true by definition of “everyday speech”, I would like to say.
    When texts come on the historical scene, they can be read by anyone who can read, even if he/she is not present at the writing. This, however, requires the introduction of conventions of clarity, to provide readers with functional equivalents of missing context – because there is no way a reader can immediately ask for clarification. One such convention appears to be simply lowering the reader’s expectations as to specificity: in a sense, this state of affairs is favorable to generalized speech/thought, which by definition is short on explicit references to individual things or persons.
    Back to the Buddha-sentence. Is it the case that the Buddha rarely spoke about himself using forms such as “I” and “mine” ? At any rate, that is what I would expect from the original Buddhist. Perhaps more weight should be given to this wider context of his speech. Perhaps there should be less fretting over a single sentence of his which appear to be formally ambiguous. Squabbles over the interpretation of the grammar of a single sentence may make religious people and linguists happy, but they don’t make scientific sense. I would guess that the Buddha meant “each should use his own language”, but who cares what a non-expert guesses ?

  8. Squabbles over the interpretation of the grammar of a single sentence may make religious people and linguists happy, but they don’t make scientific sense.
    I would submit that this sentence doesn’t make sense.
    there is no explicit personal possessive pronoun
    Nevertheless, the person is specified within the utterance itself, if by other means: jeder = 3rd sg., nimm! = 2nd sg. There is no ambiguity even without the context.

  9. bulbul: I would submit that this sentence doesn’t make sense.
    Are you having trouble parsing the sentence, or trouble understanding is for some other reason – or do you simply not agree with what you understand it to be saying ?
    Grammar:
    - “Squabbles … may make people happy, but they don’t make scientific sense” is grammatically faultless.
    Semantics:
    - The sentence means that squabbling by itself may make some people happy, but squabbling over an artificially isolated sentence is not worthy of linguistic science.
    Pure disagreement:
    - Perhaps you would care to elaborate ?

  10. Interesting about the eigene Einlagen, G.

  11. bulbul: Nevertheless, the person is specified within the utterance itself, if by other means: jeder = 3rd sg., nimm! = 2nd sg. There is no ambiguity even without the context.
    The existence of explicit grammatical terminology is one of the post-text conventions for achieving clarity that I am referring to. Explicit grammar – in order to talk about talk – must come after talking. A decision to set up rules of explicit grammar – as opposed to merely describing how people speak – makes sense only when 1) explicit grammar has been invented because 2) there was ambiguous variety in texts due to the impossibility of immediately asking for clarification.
    “There is no ambiguity even without the context”: could it be that you believe meaning is solely a function of syntax ?

  12. bulbul: There is no ambiguity even without the context
    I did write “when the sentence itself, or the immediate context, makes it clear …” and “the imperative makes clear …”. My point was that just staring at the single word eigen lacking a preceding meine etc., but without consideration of the full sentence or other context, will not necessarily suffice in order to understand the sense of eigen. No more than in the similar case of the English adjective “own”, or the Pali (?) adjective “sakaya”.

  13. Uhm, are you sure that’s Empires of the Word and not The Last Lingua Franca?
    Of course you’re right; I went to the right earlier post to copy the code but copied the code for the wrong book. Fixed, thanks!
    Grumbly: I submit that you’re unlikely to come up with an obvious solution to a problem that many people (not all from the “learnèd classes”) have been wrestling with for many centuries, and I further submit that it is a genuine ambiguity and not a matter of context (and do you really think for the last couple of thousand years everyone has been ignoring all context and focusing on the one sentence?). Surely you’re not one of those folks who think that all mysteries can be cleared up with a moment’s thought on the part of a clear-eyed Man of the People?
    That said, I greatly enjoyed the eigene Einlagen story!

  14. Just a clarification about Grumbly Stu’s statement that “Wallis claims that use of ‘own’ in the Buddha-sentence is an example of ambiguous language.”
    I don’t see any irony in the use of “own;” I see it in the fact that, well, as the original post states: the language in an ostensibly decisive canonical statement concerning language contains ambiguous language.
    Nice site, by the way.
    Glenn Wallis

  15. Is it now agreed that Pali was prior to Sanskrit? That was the consensus long ago, I know, but then at some more recent point I thought the consensus was challenged. As I remember, both parties had axes to grind.
    The negative Amazon reviews of TLLF are amusing. One merely suggested that it is not a book for undergraduates or beginners, but several others were angry at the fact that a book had been published which was too difficult for them, and there was also a nationalist objection.

  16. Western scholars of each of the canons have naturally tended to favor their own. A fact that La Vallée-Poussin recognized a century ago. And the priority of Pali for English scholars is caught up with British imperialism. The lecture I linked to above concludes (spoiler alert) that the definitely earlier Kharoṣṭhī fragments haven’t done much to clear up the genealogy. (Boy does that look like a mess in FF4. Okay. I give in. Kharosthi.)

  17. In English we never say “own” without some kind of possessive: “your own X”, “an X of your own”, “one’s own X”, “an X of one’s own”. We don’t say “an own X” or “the own X” or “with own chunky ingredients”. Except for “own goals” in soccer.
    mit eigenem Knoblauch: I knew a German academic who was a great lover of garlic. Once in Canada he asked for a garlic pizza, and when it wasn’t on the menu he passed a clove of it across the counter and asked them to please cut it up and strew it on the pie. At home he would go to his favorite Yugoslavian restaurant, choose something from the menu, and whisper something about mit Verstärkung to the proprietor; but I don’t think he had to bring his own.

  18. Bathrobe says:

    Here is a rather long web-page devoted to the question:
    Language Problem of Primitive Buddhism.
    You have to read right to the end to find his conclusion.

  19. Stu,
    Squabbles over the interpretation of the grammar of a single sentence may make religious people and linguists happy, but they don’t make scientific sense.
    Well, for starters, the semantics doesn’t work for me: you seem to treat linguistic analysis or interpretation (hermeneutics?) and science as opposites or at least mutually exclusive, which strikes me as odd. And you regard them with obvious contempt, which I find rather insulting, both as a religious person and a linguist.
    squabbling over an artificially isolated sentence is not worthy of linguistic science
    Ah, now you disambiguate by adding ‘artificially isolated’. And still, the contempt is not lessened – “Only fools like religious people and linguists…”.
    The existence of explicit grammatical terminology is one of the post-text conventions for achieving clarity that I am referring to.
    It has nothing with my point. Even without the grammatical terminology, in the sentences you cited, any native and many non-native speakers of German will immediately recognize whom ‘eigen’ refers to.
    could it be that you believe meaning is solely a function of syntax ?
    Ganesha forbid! In this case, there is no ambiguity thanks to semantics (‘jeder’) and morphology (‘nimm’).

  20. Hat: Surely you’re not one of those folks who think that all mysteries can be cleared up with a moment’s thought on the part of a clear-eyed Man of the People?
    <*blushes guiltily*> Being bleary-eyed and uninterested in sports, I hardly qualify for that role. I was merely going on the all-too obvious assumption that, in my case, “Qui audet adipiscitur” (who listens, is rewarded with adiposity).
    bulbul: Well, for starters, the semantics doesn’t work for me: you seem to treat linguistic analysis or interpretation (hermeneutics?) and science as opposites or at least mutually exclusive, which strikes me as odd.
    I really don’t see how you arrive at that interpretation. What the sentence says is that investigation by experts in the present case seems to have degenerated into squabbling over a small matter.
    bulbul: And you regard them with obvious contempt, which I find rather insulting, both as a religious person and a linguist.
    I am expressing contempt for squabbling, not for religious persons and linguists per se. The relevance of “religious person” here is that the subject is the sayings of the Buddha. The relevance of “linguist” here is that the meaning of “saka” is being debated. Everybody is liable to getting involved in squabbles about the things he cares for – including myself.
    Bathrobe: Language Problem of Primitive Buddhism.
    Thanks for the link. I’ll try to read it in a lean spirit, not in order to find further fuel for my fatuous sally.

  21. I really don’t see how you arrive at that interpretation.
    By reading your words.
    What the sentence says is that investigation by experts in the present case
    Nope, you didn’t say anything about the present case. Your original statement which I repeat below for convenience
    Squabbles over the interpretation of the grammar of a single sentence may make religious people and linguists happy, but they don’t make scientific sense.
    appears to be a general one, not confined to the particulars of the case under discussion. It is only later, largely in reaction to my comments, that you started to add additional interpretative pointers – “artificially isolated”, “in the present case” – originally not present.
    And further to my previous point, could the juxtaposition of the two concepts – ‘squabbling’ and ‘scientific sense’ – be any clearer?
    I am expressing contempt for squabbling
    The contempt for the practice is inherent in the term, the contempt for the perceived practitioners is expressed by using the term to describe them.
    Please don’t get me wrong: your point – otherwise known as the first law of biblical hermeneutics and succinctly summarized by yours truly as ‘Read the whole fucking chapter, asshole!’ – is well taken. It’s the ignorance mixed with presumptuousness (“doesn’t make scientific sense”/”is not worthy of linguistic science”) – both quite untypical of you – with which you dismissed centuries of religious and linguistic tradition that I object to. All in good fun, naturally.

  22. J. W. Brewer says:

    Is this ambiguity about “own” any different than a text which uses a third-person pronoun where more than one antecedent could be the one referred to? Why, just the other day, I saw a headline on the Internet to the effect of “Thatcher Declines to Meet With Palin, Because She’s Crazy.” One can find such ambiguities in the New Testament. A quickly-googled-up example is Jn. 19:16 where it’s not immediately clear whether the “them” to whom Pilate handed over Jesus is supposed to mean the Jewish chief priests or the Roman soldiers. (I haven’t checked against the Greek, but the source I’m stealing the example from indicated it wasn’t any less ambiguous there.)

  23. bulbul, I decline to squabble any further about squabbling. It is enough that we disagree. There is no need to agree that we disagree.

  24. J.W. Brewer: “Thatcher Declines to Meet With Palin, Because She’s Crazy.”
    Is there ambiguity in that sentence ? I understand it to mean “Thatcher Declines to Meet With Palin, Because They’re Both Crazy.”

  25. There is no need to agree that we disagree.
    I agree.
    Re: John 19:16:
    Greek really doesn’t help, it’s simply αυτοις. What complicates the matter is that αυτοις is also used in John 19:15 to refer to the priests. There’s a sort of rhythm here:
    19:14 … λεγει τοις ιουδαιοις
    19:15 … λεγει αυτοις ο πειλατος (and they, οι αρχιερεις, reply)
    And then we get
    19:16 … τοτε ουν παρεδωκεν αυτον αυτοις
    It’s difficult not to construe this αυτοις
    as having the same referent as τοις ιουδαιοις/οι αρχιερεις. The objections to this interpretation are more of a extralinguistic/extratextual nature.

  26. Actually, I think the word Thatcher’s assistant used* was “nuts”, and I can’t see Palin’s lot saying “nuts”. They’d have called her something more Alaskan. A wacko, perhaps.
    *Daily Telegraph: “Lady Thatcher will not be seeing Sarah Palin. That would be belittling for Margaret. Sarah Palin is nuts.”

  27. J. W. Brewer says:

    Well, I’d say the objections are more of a “reading the whole . . . chapter” and/or “reading in light of other accounts of the same event(s)” nature. Whether those objections are “extratextual” I guess depends on what you mean by “text,” although having just scanned the chapter in Greek (a reminder of just how rusty my never-that-good Greek is!) suggests that the ambiguity may be more overt in English than in Greek.

  28. J. W. Brewer says:

    I was inspired by the Geechee reference over at LangLog to see how Jn. 19:16 had been rendered in Gullah, and that version seems to have gone all the way the other direction in its handling of the pronouns. “So den, Pilate han Jedus oba ta um fa leh de Roman sodja dem go nail um ta de cross. So de sodja dem tek chaage ob Jedus.” This may reflect, as they say in the trade, a dynamic-equivalence rather than formal-equivalence approach. As far as I know, a Gullah version of the Buddhist canon has not yet been produced.

  29. Interesting to see that Buddhism had an exclusionary streak from the very beginning.

  30. the ambiguity may be more overt in English than in Greek.
    There appears to be a general assumption that ambiguity in a text can in principle be dispelled, if not by willpower then by intensive exegesis. I see no justification for that assumption, nor for the squabble-ridden practices it sometimes entails. Certain “crucial” texts just seem not to have been written in a way that provides what is needed to understand them within the lifetime of the author(s), much less 2000 years later. Such texts are still being written today, particularly by French philosophers. That may be part of the reason why those texts have been distinguished as “crucial”: because they provide scholars with an interpretive means of living.
    However that may be: just as with speech, techniques of communication with text developed gradually and in different ways over the millenia. What was offered, or expected, in the way of “conventions of clarity”, was itself not always clear to writers and readers. As I wrote above, about texts:

    [They] require the introduction of conventions of clarity, to provide readers with functional equivalents of missing context – because there is no way a reader can immediately ask for clarification. One such convention appears to be simply lowering the reader’s expectations as to specificity: in a sense, this state of affairs is favorable to [speech/thought in generalizations], which by definition is short on explicit references to individual things or persons.

    Such ideas seem to be unknown to the present company. Although they are fairly modern notions, I had imagined they were familiar ones by now. It’s not the first time I’ve mentioned them, yet nobody has even once taken them up – perhaps because of their very commonplaceness ?? I got them from Luhmann, Sloterdijk, Atlan, Morin, Gadamer, Schleiermacher and others.

  31. Off topic of Buddha, sorry, but in deference to the expertise on this blog, I wanted to request a future post on English slang. I have just discovered the UK version of Life On Mars (possibly the best-written TV show of all time?) and I notice the police there seem to have a pleasing variety of vocabulary to name a person they don’t like. One of the words seems to be something like “a git”?

  32. Git.

  33. On a trip to the Netherlands in 1987, my wife and I took a wrong turn somewhere and spent half a day driving on yellow brick roads (I jest not) empty of traffic, on which the one and only sign was “EIGEN WEG”. We did not understand this: “OUR OWN WAY?” Or perhaps “ONE WAY?” The signs faced us, so we figured we were all right, and just kept going until we eventually emerged onto a recognizable highway once more (though not before running over a rabbit).
    Only later did we find out that in context the sign meant “PRIVATE ROAD”. Who might have a maze of private roads through water meadows remains a mystery.

  34. The Gullah “nail um ta de cross” reminds me of the dialect humor Mark Twain ridiculed, which spells English words phonetically in order to suggest that the speaker lacked education. Read as written, it would sound at worst like slightly accented standard English.

  35. J.W. Brewer says:

    John E.: isn’t that sort of phonetic spelling the standard way to transcribe regional variant dialects in, e.g., Germany and Italy and not inherently pejorative? In the Anglosphere it’s done with e.g. Scots, Tok Pisin, Jamaican creole, etc., in each case by their boosters at least as much as their deriders. Not that it can’t be used pejoratively, but I assume the proprietors of this particular project were trying to be all sensitive and multi-culti and whatnot.

  36. One gets into ‘eye-dialect’, however. John’s point is that for a non-phonetically spelled language like English, one is able to visually mark words as ‘dialect’ or sub-standard by spelling them phonetically, even if they are pronounced much the same as they would be in the standard dialect. For instance, ‘um’ and ‘ta’ are perfectly standard pronunciations of ‘them’ and ‘to’, which nevertheless take on a pejorative look because they have been misspelled.
    Incidentally, more Buddha stuff! I must read that ‘Language problem’ webpage. The notion that Pali, with its thoroughly simplified phonology, might actually predate sanskrit, is quite surprising to me.

  37. JWB,
    I guess depends on what you mean by “text”
    In this case, the Gospel according to John.
    I’d say the objections are more of a “reading the whole . . . chapter”
    It’s rule one, not the only rule :) In this case, it doesn’t help – eventually (verse 23) you’ll learn that soldiers were involved, but even with that knowledge, the ambiguity remains and the question presents itself whether it’s there by chance or by design.

  38. Bathrobe says:

    After reading this thread, I was surprised the article on Sanskrit at Wikipedia starts out as follows:
    “Sanskrit (संस्कृतम् saṃskṛtam [sə̃skɹ̩t̪əm], originally संस्कृता वाक् saṃskṛtā vāk, “refined speech”), is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.”

  39. Huh. That’s clearly wrong.

  40. bulbul: the ambiguity remains and the question presents itself whether it’s there by chance or by design
    Meine Rede ! Almost. How would one go about finding an answer to that question ? What exactly do you mean by “by chance” ? If it had simply not occurred to the compositor(s) of John that a reader might be unsure whether the priests or the soldiers were meant at 19:16, would this be an example of “by chance” ?
    Perhaps “carelessness” would be a more accurate term for that case. But, as I tried to explain above in unfamiliar terms, writers and readers are not always in complete agreement as to conventions of clarity. How could they be, since most readers come after the writers have died, and these cannot predict the future. So “carelessness” is inaccurate, but “chance” does not do justice to the communication practices involved.
    What kind of “design”, what motives, could we then imagine for the deliberate introduction of ambiguity ? Do we have always to choose between “chance” and “design” ? Suppose, on the contrary, that doubtfulness is here to stay, and that efforts to eliminate it completely in a given case may be of doubtful value, in a cost-benefit analysis. How much hangs, for whom, on this one passage ? Can we not accomodate ambiguity here, and live happily ever after ?

  41. J. W. Brewer says:

    Hey, if I’ve got bulbul back to v. 16 being ambiguous, that’s good enough for me. (In the Greek it looks like there’s no overt subject in v. 18, but it’s clear working back from v. 23 that the “they” in English v. 18 can’t be the same as the they/them in v. 15, so the question is whether the unacknowledged transition is between 15 and 16 or between 16 and 18.)

  42. Etienne says:

    John Emerson, Z.D. Smith: Pali is certainly a “later” stage of Indo-Aryan than (Vedic, Classical or Epic) Sanskrit, in the sense that phonologically it had undergone a great many more phonological changes than Sanskrit (assimilation of consonants in clusters, for example).
    *However*, Pali does not seem to go back to any attested variety of Sanskrit/Old Indo-Aryan, but to a sister dialect thereof, which INTER ALIA had preserved some inherited (Indo-European or Indo-Iranian) features not found in Sanskrit but which did survive all the way to Pali.
    If you or any other thread participant is/are interested, I *might* be able to dig up (literally: my notes/books on the topic are in a box) a concrete example or two.

  43. When I said “later” I meant only later in Buddhist history — there was a debate about whether Sanskrit or Pali was closer to the actual language the Buddha spoke, and (mor important) which canon was produced first.

  44. J.W. Brewer: Hey, if I’ve got bulbul back to v. 16 being ambiguous, that’s good enough for me.
    It was I who suggested we can live with v. 16 being “ambiguous”. Since Hat wondered whether I imagine myself a clear-eyed Man of the People, I must now strike a note of humility. That done, I will make the clear-eyed remark that, as regards 19:16, I believe we can allow common sense (shock !) to guide us, and wave aside linguistico-analytical gung-hoetry.
    We all know (!) how easy it is to utter or write sentences in which pronoun references are not clear. This is true in English as well as many other languages. Although my classical and NT Greek was laid to rest 40 years ago, even I rememember that αυτοις means “to them” in τοτε ουν παρεδωκεν αυτον αυτοις, and that the context may or may not help you to know who is meant by “them”.
    The text of the Gospel According to John that we have today – in variants, so far as I know – was composed, copied, edited etc. by who knows how many people. Most importantly, whoever wrote the passages surrounding 19:16 was just an ordinary Joe (John ?) noting down what he took to be historical events. He could not have known that centuries later people would be killing each other over whether Jesus was handed over to the Jewish priests or the Roman soldiers – those who were responsible for what followed. There was no reason for him to exercise special effort in his pronoun references. We all know (!) how hard it can be to explain to someone who has just uttered a sentence that seems ambiguous to us, what it is that we don’t understand.

  45. JWB,
    Hey, if I’ve got bulbul back to v. 16 being ambiguous, that’s good enough for me.
    I never said it wasn’t. I said – and stand by it – that it’s difficult not to understand αυτοις in 19:16 to refer to τοις ιουδαιοις/οι αρχιερεις. It’s ambiguous allright, but only because of what comes later and that’s fishy.
    but it’s clear working back from v. 23
    Is it? How? And why all the counter-intuitive effort, working back from a later part of what is a flowing narrative with a clear progression of events?
    Stu,
    What exactly do you mean by “by chance” ?
    The opposite of intent, so for example errors in textual transmission, scribal errors and so on.
    If it had simply not occurred to the compositor(s) of John
    Now there’s an interesting question, or actually a host of them: does it appear ambiguous to us, but it wouldn’t to your average Koine Greek speaker? Is it ambiguous because of transfer from spoken to written medium?
    There was no reason for him to exercise special effort in his pronoun references.
    Well, that’s where the design comes in. Based on passages like this, many argue that John is if not anti-semitic, then at least anti-priest.

  46. Stu,
    How much hangs, for whom, on this one passage?
    In this case, perhaps not much, although it has been used by Christian anti-semites for various purposes. But there are other texts and other passages, where the stakes are much higher. If you don’t care much for religious squabbling, then consider the right of the People to keep and bear arms.

  47. Bathrobe says:

    Somehow I doubt he was a john.

  48. Well, you never know. I had considered writing “(John ? johns ?)”, but refrained, so as not to risk hurting anyone’s feelings. Can we sure that it wasn’t Fat Sally, after all ?

  49. bulbul: Now there’s an interesting question, or actually a host of them: does it appear ambiguous to us, but it wouldn’t to your average Koine Greek speaker? Is it ambiguous because of transfer from spoken to written medium?
    That is EXACTLY what I was getting at with my “conventions of clarity” idea.

  50. We dance round in a ring and suppose,
    But the pronoun sits in the middle and knows.

  51. bulbul: Based on passages like this, many argue that John is if not anti-semitic, then at least anti-priest. … But there are other texts and other passages, where the stakes are much higher. If you don’t care much for religious squabbling, then consider the right of the People to keep and bear arms.
    It is highly anachronistic to suppose that what we now call “anti-semitism” existed in any form or fashion in the age of John. Sure, there were plenty of people boiling over with anti-Christian, anti-Jewish, anti-Roman, anti-heathen sentiments. But “anti-semitism” ??
    Time for bit of self-referentiality, folks, in order to confront our perspectives (impossible, you say ?). All the heated disputes and bloody battles of the last 2000 years over religious beliefs and interpretations have shaped the civilizations in which we now think. But 2000 years ago, John was just a Joe writing history. He would never have put pen to papyrus if he had had an inkling of the hot lead of learned opinion which one day would be poured over his little tome. It is entirely anachronistic to expend today’s zeal on a humble ancient sentence or two.
    I must of course make my own standpoint clear, the one from which I wrote the preceding paragraph. For me books are repositories of inky thoughts, and nothing more. It makes no sense to me to invest printed matter and thoughts with “authority” – especially since authorities themselves are piffle to me, unless they have police powers and I might get caught doing something dumb.
    All this conflict over inklings reminds me of my mother, the daughter of a Baptist minister. At some point she decided she didn’t like any of the English translations of the New Testament, because they didn’t sit with her views on God and Jesus. So she set out to learn New Testament Greek, in order to make her own translations and rout the ungodly. I don’t know how far she got. The last I heard is that, after having boldly entered and angrily exited all kinds of Protestant denominations, she decided she would establish her own church. My sister guesses that my mother’s house is her sanctuary.
    Even though my mother is a little old lady with a twinkle in her eye – compared with her, an allegory on the banks of the Nile is but a weenie. It seems that I am my mother’s son in more than one way.

  52. But 2000 years ago, John was just a Joe writing history.
    That’s a firm negative.
    With Luke, you might have had a point. Luke 1:1-4 is how you begin a work on history. But John is a different story altogether.

  53. Adherents to monotheistic religions – “people of the book” – are particularly obsessed with written/printed matter and the authority that supposedly inheres in it. This behavior is like a negative image of the behavior towards (female) genitalia and reproductive details that prevailed in the West for so long, and still does to some extent. Female stuff was considered extremely important, but one was not supposed to mention or see it. Books were also considered extremely important, but were intended to be discussed at every opportunity and pored over in search of revelation. Only with the development of photographic technology did the two images fuse, in the form of pornographic magazines.

  54. Everywhere I go I hear it said
    In the good and the bad books that I have read

  55. Well, “love” is certainly one explanation for all that: carnal and scriptural knowledge. In this respect I’m glad to be unsophisticated.

  56. Bathrobe says:

    Well, you never know. I had considered writing “(John ? johns ?)”, but refrained, so as not to risk hurting anyone’s feelings.
    So whose john do you think it was? Not one of Mary Magdalene’s, I’m sure.

  57. It’s hard to imagine what exactly went on in those licentious times. I would not like to stand surety for a man so careless of his pronoun references.

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