Syntax & Translation in 4 Maccabees 9:7

I was looking at 4 Maccabees 9:7:

πείραζε τοιγαροῦν, τύραννε, καὶ τὰς ἡμῶν ψυχὰς εἰ θανατώσεις διὰ τὴν εὐσέβειαν, μὴ νομίσῃς ἡμᾶς βλάπτειν βασανίζων.
NRSV: Therefore, tyrant, put us to the test; and if you take our lives because of our religion, do not suppose that you can injure us by torturing us.

The NRSV’s rendering of καὶ here is perplexing. It seems to me that it should be understood as adverbial here and translated like this:

Therefore tyrant, put us to the test—and also our souls. If you put us to death because of our faith, you should not have it in your head that you can hurt us with torture.

It’s difficult for me to see καὶ τὰς ἡμῶν ψυχὰς as functioning as part of the conditional clause when its placed before εἰ. For the translation of the NRSV, I would expect the Greek to look something like this:

πείραζε τοιγαροῦν, τύραννε, καὶ εἰ θανατώσεις τὰς ἡμῶν ψυχὰς διὰ τὴν εὐσέβειαν, μὴ νομίσῃς ἡμᾶς βλάπτειν βασανίζων.

Thoughts anyone?

Is there anywhere else that an entire constituent is fronted and removed from a conditional clause?

8 thoughts on “Syntax & Translation in 4 Maccabees 9:7

Add yours

  1. Though not involving a conditional, Gal 2:10 fronts a constituent before ἴνα.

    For what it’s worth, Rahlfs and Brenton punctuate it as the NRSV, so this understanding is much older than the NRSV.

    I’m not sure I understand your translation, however. There’s no “us” in the Greek for the καί to conjoin. If the καί is construed with the prior clause, it would have to be the so-called “adverbial καί.” In other words, it is not so much “test us and our souls/lives” but rather “test even our souls/lives.” A point against this construal is that I have no clear what this is supposed to mean.

    1. I’ll concede your point about the και, though I don’t see it as terribly important. I wasn’t going for any sort of literal translation — και would never connect to an “us” anyway, but an English “also” would and does.

  2. πείραζε τοιγαροῦν, τύραννε, καὶ τὰς ἡμῶν ψυχὰς εἰ θανατώσεις διὰ τὴν εὐσέβειαν, μὴ νομίσῃς ἡμᾶς βλάπτειν βασανίζων.

    I would translate that like you:

    Go ahead then Tyrant, test us, even our souls. If you kill us because of our religion, don’t imagine to harm us with torture.

    Stephen may be right about the adverbial kai though. But the ‘us’ is still implied by the overall discourse. You nailed the coffin on the head man. Or put the fork in the bush.

  3. I don’t find the fronting of τὰς ἡμῶν ψυχὰς problematic; I think that sort of thing is not at all uncommon in literary Greek prose. And I agree with Stephen, it’s not necessary to suppose an implicit “us” as object of πείραζε — I think this imperative verb might be used absolutely rather than transitively, although “put us to the test” is also possible; I think, moreover, that this is indeed conditional: “Put it (us) to the test then, King; even if you put us to death, don’t suppose that your torturing us will do us harm.” The sentiment seems to reflect that of the Platonic Socrates as cited even by Epictetus at the end of the Enchiridion:
    “ἐμὲ δὲ Ἄνυτος καὶ Μέλιτος ἀποκτεῖναι μὲν δύνανται, βλάψαι δὲ οὔ.” I also think it’s a mistake to suppose that τύραννος bears the pejorative sense of English “tyrant.” It’s quite commonly used of kings reigning with absolute power. Sophocles’ play Οἰδίπους Τύραννος has the Latin title “Oedipus Rex.”

  4. The rest of 4Maccabees really seems to learn towards a pejorative sense for the word, or at least a demeaning sense, implicating that the tyrant in question is not capable of exercising real authority.

  5. have you checked all the examples of ei to validate that an accusative of a conditional particle cannot come before the conditional particle?

    Also, I’m confused by your translation:

    “Therefore tyrant, put us to the test—and also our souls. If you put us to death…” Where are you gettting the “us” in “If you put us to death.” That could be why RSV does what it does, εἰ θανατώσεις otherwise lacks an accusative.

  6. I support Mike’s position too. Formal “If” clauses at least seem to always precede “then” clauses, even if there is heavy elipsis, which is common in both Greek and English. Conditionals are notoriously badly handled in English translations, which perpetuates confused ideas about their Greek usage.

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