Genitives & Discontinuous NPs

I’m still working on my next post on discontinuous syntax in Hellenistic Greek. Presently, I’m examining the 289 occurrences on of discontinuous phrases in the New Testament where the noun is first rather than the modifier, which we’re labeling Y2 Hyperbaton.

[UPDATE] See the comments for clarification of what’s going on here.

What I’m finding though, is that many of hits in of this construction (Noun-Gap-Modifier) consist of the initial Noun, the copula εἴμι, followed by a genitive modifier.

This was an unexpected result from because this construction is described in reference grammars as predicative, rather than discontinuous. BDF is representative here:

The genitive with the function of an adjective is the commonest way in which the case is used; like the adjective it can be used either as an attributive or a predicate (dependent upon εἶναι, γίνεσθαι etc.).

Friedrich Blass et al., A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), 89.

My own inclination is that these sorts of genitive NPs are predicative rather than attributive in discontinuous phrases. Here are some examples:

Matt 5:34 θρόνος ἐστὶν τοῦ θεοῦ

Matt 5:35 ὑποπόδιόν ἐστιν τῶν ποδῶν αὐτοῦ

Acts 12:15 ὁ ἄγγελός ἐστιν αὐτοῦ

Pragmatically speaking (on the assumption that Devine and Stephens are correct), there should be a difference in meaning between these options. Steve Runge’s Discourse Greek New Testament marks these constructions as focused/emphatic. But DS claims that Noun initial discontinuous phrases denote topicalization (or Topical Frames to use Steve’s terminology – that’s a spoiler for my next post by the way).

So we have two options:

  1. We could consider these examples discontinuous phrases.*
  2. We could consider these predicative.

If the former, then DS is wrong about Head Noun initial hyperbaton marking Topic with the following modifier being tail material. If the latter, then both Steve’s analysis as well as that by Devine and Stephens are correct.

Now I’m perfectly fine with DS being wrong. I can definitely handle that. Nobody gets everything right. But I honestly don’t know which is correct.

What do you think?

* There are examples of discontinuous phrases very similar to this: Matt 12:8 κύριος γάρ ἐστιν τοῦ σαββάτου ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου. We know these are clearly discontinuous because of the explicit NPsubject: “the Son of Man.”

6 thoughts on “Genitives & Discontinuous NPs

Add yours

  1. It doesn’t make sense for these examples to be predicative. “A throne is God’s”, “a footstool is of his feet”, “the angel is his” do not make sense in context. But in each of these cases the focused new information is the noun (focus, not topic, I think), whereas the genitive is of secondary importance (tail material?). It seems to me that in each of these cases the subject must be implied or dropped and the predicate is the discontinuous phrase.

  2. I am with Peter on this one, they are discontinuous NPs, with the most salient element being fronted for marked focus. When NPs get too complex, or part of the NP is particularly salient (what J. M. Heimerdinger refers to as a “dominant focal element” or DFE), only that part will be fronted. The balance occurs in its default position. From what I understand of DS, they are talking about the ordering with the phrase, not the clause.

    To follow up on Peter’s second point about the subject being implied, you need to read the context to determine what is presupposed and what is being asserted. In isolation, it would appear that “Throne” is the subject, but the fact that it is anarthrous in this case provides another indicator that it is part of the predicate, not the subject. In the broader context, Jesus is talking about not swearing by heaven, which becomes the null subject of the following clause.

    You may be mixing apples and oranges in trying to apply DS to the clause. I have not read it, just a guess. But stepping out further, I think their claim holds in the attributive reading, as long as you stay within the NP. In the following quote, are they claiming topicalization in the CLAUSE or in the NP?

    “But DS claims that Noun initial discontinuous phrases denote topicalization”

    In the Mt 5:34, the most accessible (topical) element of the NP is fronted, whereas the predicative information that narrows down exactly which throne comes at the end, as expected WITHIN THE NP by natural information flow. To what level do they direct their claim?

    By the way, thanks for posting on this, I am too slammed to follow along at home.

  3. Thanks guys. You’ve confirmed my suspicions.

    Steve: I think you’re right about my apples & oranges too. I’m pretty sure they’re referring specifically to the clause – so it was my blunder in taking it another step further.

  4. Looking back at DS, I realized that I missed something as well – they treat genitive hyperbaton in the next separately from what we have here. So the examples above are unrelated to what I’ll be surveying in the next post.

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