By the Finger of God, 2 — R.S. Notley

Semitic Influence

In Greek, the construction ἐν δακτύλῳ θεοῦ (en daktylo theou, by the finger of God) betrays Semitic influence. Classical Greek requires an article with the noun δακτύλῳ (daktylo, finger) governing the genitive θεοῦ (theou, of God). On page 135 of their  Greek Grammar of the New Testament, Friedrich Blass and Albert Debrunner note:

In Hebrew the nomen regens [governing noun] would appear in the construct or with a suffix and hence would be anarthrous [without an article]. In the NT this Semitic construction makes its influence felt especially where a Semitic original lies behind the Greek (hence “translation-Semitisms”), but occasionally also elsewhere in Semitizing formulae (“Septuagintisms”).

Although scholars recognize the numerous Semitisms in Luke’s gospel, explanations vary as to whether Lukan Semitisms are a result of the evangelist’s imitation of Septuagintal Greek or whether the idioms attest to a Semitic undertext. In Exodus 31:18 the expression “finger of God” appears in connection with the inscription of the Torah upon stone tablets. There, as in Luke 11:20, “finger” appears in the instrumental case, באצבע אלהים (be-etsba elohimby the finger of God). Yet, in the Septuagint’s translation of Exodus 31:18, “finger” is not anarthrous, but occurs in good Greek style, with the article—τῷ δακτύλῳ τοῦ θεοῦ (to daktylo tou theou, literally, “by the finger of the God”).

If the Semitism of Luke 11:20 is a result of Luke’s imitation of the Septuagint’s style, as most scholars claim, then how is it that Luke’s idiom is more Hebraic than the Septuagint upon which he supposedly relies? The evidence suggests that this is not a Septuagintism but, in Blass and Debrunner’s words, a “translation-Semitism.” Luke’s text seems to rest upon a literal translation of a Hebrew source.

Check back Friday for the final part to this article.
See also Jerusalem Perspective


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