This post from hmmlorientalia popped up in my RSS reader; it begins “The famous passage known as the pericope adulterae…” and includes a sentence beginning “The word pāsoqā above can mean ‘verse’ as well as ‘section, pericope,'” and my attention was grabbed by this word pericope — if I’d seen it before, I’d forgotten. So I checked the OED (the entry was updated in 2003); it turns out it’s pronounced /pəˈrɪkəpi/ (pə-RICK-əpee), it’s from “Hellenistic Greek περικοπή section of a religious text, verse passage consisting of strophe and antistrophe, already in ancient Greek in sense ‘cutting all round,’” and it means “A section or subsection of a religious text, esp. one appointed for reading in public worship; a lesson.” They include this interesting small-type addendum (I don’t know whether the lack of hyphens in “three and a half year” is an oversight or some weird OED style thing): “In Jewish liturgy, the corresponding term is sidrah (see Sedra n.) or parashah (see parashah n.). Quot. 1869 refers to the ancient Palestinian three-year (or three and a half year) cycle of readings; the modern annual cycle consists of 54 sedarim (cf. quot. 1913 at pericopic adj. 1).” Here are the citations; note that the 1884 one refers to the very pericope that started me off on this quest:

1643 W. Burton tr. J. H. Alsted Beloved City p. xxiv, The whole pericope or passage there seemes plainely to point at the Martyrs.
1695 J. Edwards Disc. conc. Old & New-Test. III. xiii. 566 Jerom speaks of a Pericope of Jeremiah.
1837 Biblical Repertory Apr. 206 The more important parts of the New Testament, especially the pericopes or lessons of the Prussian liturgy.
1869 Liverpool Lit. & Philos. Soc. Proc. 23 313 Next in point of antiquity is the division of the Pentateuch into 175 Pericopes.
1884 Edinb. Rev. Jan. 137 The pericope of ‘the woman taken in adultery’ is entirely omitted from this work.
1957 D. E. Nineham Stud. Gospels 223 It accepts the thesis that the Gospels can fairly be analysed into separate sections, or pericopae, which originally circulated independently of one another.
1988 Jrnl. Semitic Stud. 33 40 Beginning with pericope 2 of the baraitha, no source, parallel, or model appears in the Mishnah.
1997 Jrnl. Near Eastern Stud. 56 5 If the literary context of this Qur’anic pericope can be considered trustworthy as a single unit.


  1. I would have guessed it meant “circumcision”.

  2. Heh. Close, but the Greek for that is περιτομή (with a different verb ‘cut’).

  3. Funny, both words are very familiar to me, since I’ve been reading a lot about the New Testament the last coupla years.

    (Yes! One up on The Hat.)

  4. The word was used by Thucydides and Andocides to describe the mutilation of the herms on the eve of the Sicilian Expedition in 415 BCE. (Andocides was allegedly one of the participants.)

    The mutilation undoubtedly involved more than circumcision.

  5. Nose jobs ?

  6. J. W. Brewer says

    This is one of those words I know perfectly well and have known for a considerable number of years, but purely in a written context. So I had always assumed the final e was silent and the word was pronounced to rhyme with “dope.”

  7. In the context of biblical scholarship a pericope almost always designages a (hypothesized) unit within the text as envisioned by the final author(s) of that text.

    In a narrative text, a pericope is usually a self-contained story. Pericope divisions are less clear in other genres.

    It is contrasted with arbitrary divisions that are imposed on the text later in its history for convenience, such as chapters.

    Lections (readings assigned for religious purposes) are also imposed later, but in many cases tend to reflect the opinion of later readers on what the original pericope boundaries were.

  8. J. W. Brewer says

    I think my working sense of pericope is more or less as a synonym for lesson or “lection”, e.g. the particular portion of Epistle or Gospel prescribed to be chanted on such-and-such particular Sunday, but as suggested that tends to overlap with the opinions of those historically responsible for devising the lectionary as to where the “natural” breaks in the text were (although I wouldn’t say that they necessarily thought of those breaks and the units they defined in a fashion congruent to that of the Herr Doktor Professors of the higher criticism).

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