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Regarding John 8:58

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Regarding John 8:58

Postby Isaac Newton » Mon Mar 30, 2015 8:37 am

εἶπεν αὐτοῖς Ἰησοῦς Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί.


I've heard at least two rather strange assertions made about the grammar concerning this verse.

(a) That ἐγὼ εἰμί here functions not as a pronoun-verb of simple identification but as a proper name, of God.

(b) That ἐγὼ εἰμί here functions simultaneously as a pronoun-verb of simple identification and as a proper name of God.

IMHO either assertion is crazy, but both are standard fare among trinitarian interpretors. Here's Matthew Henry for instance who goes for option (a):


Before Abraham was, I AM. This speaks Abraham a creature, and our Lord the Creator; well, therefore, might he make himself greater than Abraham. I AM, is the name of God, Ex 3:14; it speaks his self-existence; he is the First and the Last, ever the same, Re 1:8. Thus he was not only before Abraham, but before all worlds, Pr 8:23; Joh 1:1.


But think about this though. If ἐγὼ εἰμί is a name, then there is no subject or main verb to go with πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι (i.e. 'before Abraham came to be' ). Even Wallace, who should really know better, completely loses it here. Net bible:

161sn I am! is an explicit claim to deity. Although each occurrence of the phrase “I am” in the Fourth Gospel needs to be examined individually in context to see if an association with Exod 3:14 is present, it seems clear that this is the case here (as the response of the Jewish authorities in the following verse shows).


Quite peculiar indeed..
Οὐαὶ οἱ λέγοντες τὸ πονηρὸν καλὸν καὶ τὸ καλὸν πονηρόν, οἱ τιθέντες τὸ σκότος φῶς καὶ τὸ φῶς σκότος, οἱ τιθέντες τὸ πικρὸν γλυκὺ καὶ τὸ γλυκὺ πικρόν
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Re: Regarding John 8:58

Postby Isaac Newton » Tue Mar 31, 2015 5:13 am

Believe it or not, there is no magic to the words ἐγὼ εἰμί . In the bible, it always functions as a pronoun-verb of simple identification. Jesus isn't the only one who uses the words ἐγὼ εἰμί. Here are some examples:


καταβὰς δὲ Πέτρος πρὸς τοὺς ἄνδρας εἶπεν Ἰδοὺ ἐγώ εἰμι ὃν ζητεῖτε· τίς ἡ αἰτία δι’ ἣν πάρεστε;


Acts 10:21

ἄλλοι ἔλεγον ὅτι Οὗτός ἐστιν· ἄλλοι ἔλεγον Οὐχί, ἀλλὰ ὅμοιος αὐτῷ ἐστιν. ἐκεῖνος ἔλεγεν ὅτι Ἐγώ εἰμι.


John 9:9

καὶ λυπούμενοι σφόδρα ἤρξαντο λέγειν αὐτῷ εἷς ἕκαστος Μήτι ἐγώ εἰμι, Κύριε;


Matthew 26:22


καὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ ἄνθρωπός εἰμι ὑπὸ ἐξουσίαν, ἔχων ὑπ’ ἐμαυτὸν στρατιώτας, καὶ λέγω τούτῳ Πορεύθητι, καὶ πορεύεται, καὶ ἄλλῳ Ἔρχου, καὶ ἔρχεται, καὶ τῷ δούλῳ μου Ποίησον τοῦτο, καὶ ποιεῖ.


Matthew 8:9

καὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ ἄνθρωπός εἰμι ὑπὸ ἐξουσίαν τασσόμενος, ἔχων ὑπ’ ἐμαυτὸν στρατιώτας, καὶ λέγω τούτῳ Πορεύθητι, καὶ πορεύεται, καὶ ἄλλῳ Ἔρχου, καὶ ἔρχεται, καὶ τῷ δούλῳ μου Ποίησον τοῦτο, καὶ ποιεῖ.


Luke 7:8

καὶ εἶπεν Ζαχαρίας πρὸς τὸν ἄγγελον Κατὰ τί γνώσομαι τοῦτο; ἐγὼ γάρ εἰμι πρεσβύτης καὶ ἡ γυνή μου προβεβηκυῖα ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις αὐτῆς.


Luke 1:18

καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ ἄγγελος εἶπεν αὐτῷ Ἐγώ εἰμι Γαβριὴλ ὁ παρεστηκὼς ἐνώπιον τοῦ Θεοῦ, καὶ ἀπεστάλην λαλῆσαι πρὸς σὲ καὶ εὐαγγελίσασθαί σοι ταῦτα·


Luke 1:19


ὡς δὲ ἐπλήρου Ἰωάνης τὸν δρόμον, ἔλεγεν Τί ἐμὲ ὑπονοεῖτε εἶναι, οὐκ εἰμὶ ἐγώ· ἀλλ’ ἰδοὺ ἔρχεται μετ’ ἐμὲ οὗ οὐκ εἰμὶ ἄξιος τὸ ὑπόδημα τῶν ποδῶν λῦσαι.


Acts 13:25

Here are some more examples -- Acts 10:26, Acts 22:3, Acts 23:6, Acts 26:29, Romans 7:14, Romans 11:1, Romans 11:13, 1 Cor. 15:9 , 1 Timothy 1:15, 1 Cor. 1:12 , 1 Cor. 3:4, John 3:28 , Acts 13:25 , John 18:35, Matthew 26:25

------

Here's Kenneth L. McKay :


Kenneth L. McKay, who graduated with honors in Classics from the
Universities of Sydney and Cambridge, taught Greek in universities
and theological colleges in Nigeria, New Zealand, and England, who
taught at the Australian National University for 26 years, has written
numerous articles on ancient Greek syntax, as well as authored a
book on Classical Attic, Greek Grammar for Students, and A New
Syntax of the Verb in New Testament Greek: an aspectual approach,
provides the following in relation to the alleged "true parallel
between Exodus 3:14 (LXX) and John 8:58":




'I am' in John's Gospel
BY K. L. MCKAY,

It has become fashionable among some preachers and writers to
relate Jesus's use of the words 'I am' in the Gospel according to John,
in all, or most, of their contexts, to God's declaration to MOSES in
Exodus 3:14, and to expound the passages concerned as if the words themselves
have some kind of magic in them. Some who have no more than a smattering of
Greek attribute the 'magic' to the Greek words ego eimi.
(1) I wish briefly
to draw attention to the normality of the Greek in all such passages, and the
unlikelihood of the words ego eimi being intended to suggest any special
significance of this kind.
<...>
The verb `to be' is used differently, in what is presumably
its basic meaning of `be in existence,' in John 8:58: _prin
Abraam genesthai ego eimi, which would be most naturally
translated `I have been in existence since before Abraham
was born,' IF IT WERE NOT FOR THE *OBSESSION* WITH THE
SIMPLE WORDS `I AM.' If we take the Greek words in their
natural meaning, as we surely should, the claim to have been
in existence for so long is in itself a staggering one,
quite enough to provoke the crowd's violent reaction

. . . So the emphatic words used by Jesus in the passages
referred to above [one of which is John 8:58] are perfectly
natural in their contexts, AND THEY DO NOT ECHO THE WORDS OF
EXODUS 3:14 IN THE NORMALLY QUOTED GREEK VERSION. Thus they
are quite UNLIKELY to have been used in the New Testament to
convey that significance, however much the modern English
versions of the relevant passages, following the form of the
Hebrew words, may suggest it.
(K. L. McKay, "`I am' in
John's Gospel," Expository Times (1996): 302-303)
(1) I have seen one such speaker try to impress his audience by writing the
words on a blackboard, only to demonstrate that he was ignorant of even the
simplest details of Greek.

Last edited by Isaac Newton on Fri Apr 24, 2015 2:33 am, edited 1 time in total.
Οὐαὶ οἱ λέγοντες τὸ πονηρὸν καλὸν καὶ τὸ καλὸν πονηρόν, οἱ τιθέντες τὸ σκότος φῶς καὶ τὸ φῶς σκότος, οἱ τιθέντες τὸ πικρὸν γλυκὺ καὶ τὸ γλυκὺ πικρόν
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Re: Regarding John 8:58

Postby Isaac Newton » Thu Apr 02, 2015 3:32 am

To be sure, the old B-Greek did produce some quality posts (and posters). But the new B-Greek, well, let's just say it is true to it's name :

http://www.ibiblio.org/bgreek/forum/vie ... f=6&t=1387

(1) Can something like "since" be assumed from the πρίν preposition alone when it comes with a present perfect sense (even if not in form) in the second phrase?
Jason

(1) My strong opinion, based on quite deep pondering and research, is "no".
Eli


---

The phrase πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί does seem to be ungrammatical as you stated.
george gfsomsel

That's my assumption, too.
Jason


----

For what it's worth -- I'm a theological and grammatical minimalist -- I don't go so far as to say that "It is used in the GoJ in order to establish a claim for the divinity of Christ" -- however, some years back I took on a verse-by-verse examination of all the εγω ειμι statements in John's gospel, and many of the εγω ειμι statements elsewhere in the LXX/GNT. I concluded that, at least in this book, at least when uttered by Jesus, this is a very special formula, NOT used in the mundane sense found in other characters' mouths elsewhere in the LXX/GNT. The εγω refers to himself, Jesus, and the εγω ειμι is meant to echo Ex 3 and Isaiah.

I think of Jesus saying εγω ειμι in John as being grammatically analogous to "Presto!" or "Wow!" or "ta-da!" with the εγω referring to ... himself... and the whole εγω ειμι one with both Ex 3 and Isaiah all the other εγω ειμι's that Jesus utters in John's gospel, e.g. just to name a few Jn 4:26, 6:20, 35, 41, 48, 51, 8:12 etc

If I were writing my own colloquial translation of John's gospel, I would leave εγω ειμι as "I am" but I'd put all of the ones that Jesus utters in a special large bold type-face and include a footnote to Ex 3 and some of the key Isaiah verses so the reader "gets" that it's a special formula. So:

Before Abraham existed, I am.
Susan


etc...


So these folks first proclaim that πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί is ungrammatical (in the original Greek ) , and then they conclude that the author did this intentionally in order to bring out / hint at the "Deity" of Christ through some sort of ungrammatical word play. A rather strange way to declare the "Deity" of Christ , to say the least.

Unfortunately, what they do not realize is that John 8:58 is in fact "fine idiomatic Greek " (as Dr. BeDuhn said in his Truth In Translation). Just because the translation of this Greek sentence cannot be put into pristine English without the addition of a word (like "since" ) does not mean that the Greek itself is ungrammatical. We're dealing with two different languages, and translators often have to add a word (or even words) in order to properly bring out the meaning of a sentence from one language into another, especially so with idiomatic language. Dr. BeDuhn supplies the following parallel example to John 8:58:

ἐγὼ γάρ εἰμι Ιωβαβ πρὶν ἢ ὀνομάσαι με ὁ Κύριος Ιωβ.

“For I have been Jobab [since] before the Lord named me Job.”

Testament of Job 2.1, http://ocp.tyndale.ca/testament-of-job#2-2



We have to supply the word "since" in English translation. Or shall we conclude that Testament of Job 2.1 is ungrammatical Greek ? BeDuhn also furnishes Menander, Dyscolus 616, another parallel to John 8:58 :

“For I have been a friend to you [since] long before I knew you.”

Shall we declare that Menander deliberately penned an ungrammatical sentence here ?
Last edited by Isaac Newton on Fri Apr 24, 2015 2:35 am, edited 2 times in total.
Οὐαὶ οἱ λέγοντες τὸ πονηρὸν καλὸν καὶ τὸ καλὸν πονηρόν, οἱ τιθέντες τὸ σκότος φῶς καὶ τὸ φῶς σκότος, οἱ τιθέντες τὸ πικρὸν γλυκὺ καὶ τὸ γλυκὺ πικρόν
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Re: Regarding John 8:58

Postby Vladimir » Thu Apr 02, 2015 3:42 pm

Isaac Newton wrote: BeDuhn also furnishes Menander, Dyscolus 616, another parallel to John 8:58 :

“For I have been a friend to you [since] long before I knew you.”


Could you cite this sentence in Greek?
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Re: Regarding John 8:58

Postby jeidsath » Thu Apr 02, 2015 4:27 pm

Wikisource

εἰμὶ γάρ, ἀκριϐῶς ἴσθι, σοὶ πάλαι φίλος
πρὶν ἰδεῖν
Joel Eidsath -- jeidsath@gmail.com

μὴ δ’ οὕτως ἀγαθός περ ἐὼν θεοείκελ’ Ἀχιλλεῦ
κλέπτε νόῳ, ἐπεὶ οὐ παρελεύσεαι οὐδέ με πείσεις.
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Re: Regarding John 8:58

Postby Paul Derouda » Thu Apr 02, 2015 8:57 pm

Although I want to steer clear of all possible and impossible theological implications of ἐγὼ εἰμί, I think πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί is not unusual Greek. It brings to my mind a similar rather frequent construction with πάρος with a present tense in Homer, e.g.

Iliad 18.386:
πάρος γε μὲν οὔ τι θαμίζεις.

The slight difference being that the present tense in this sort of phrase in Homer has a frequentative force, i.e. something that "used to" happen.

As to why πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί doesn't have an imperfect instead, I don't know, but my guess is that both are possible and the difference is slight, but that the present emphasizes the idea that Jesus (or whoever is talking, I don't know and didn't look) has been in existence the whole time up to the moment these words are uttered, and not just in time the before Abraham lived.
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Re: Regarding John 8:58

Postby Vladimir » Fri Apr 03, 2015 4:46 am

I think it would not be off topic to quote here this:

Recently, Jehovah's Witness apologists have put a great deal of effort into promoting the Sahidic Coptic translation of John 1:1c, because they see it as an important early NT witness that supports the New World Translation's "the Word was a god." I have responded to their claims here.

I have said that we really cannot draw firm conclusions about how the Coptic translators understood John's Christology until we have examined other important Christological texts in the fourth Gospel. I have previously blogged on John 1:18 here, where I demonstrate that the Witnesses cannot point to this verse as supporting the NWT's translation, or its understanding of Christ.

I will now focus on another Christologically significant text: John 8:58. In the NWT, this verse reads: "Before Abraham was born, I have been." The Sahidic Coptic translation reads:

empate abraHam Swpe anok TSoop

Horner translates this: "Before Abraham became, I, I am being."

Horner understands 'anok' as being emphatic (Plumley, Section 46) - "I, I....", which follows the Greek text. The Coptic noun 'Soop' ('Swpe') is defined in Crum's Coptic Lexicon as, "Be, exist." The ti ("T") prefix signifies present tense.

So, right off the bat we see a dramatic disconnect between the Sahidic and the NWT. Witnesses - and others - who follow McKay in understanding EGO EIMI in this verse as a Greek Present of Past Action (PPA) find no support from the Sahidic translators.

Furthermore, the usual pattern for copulative sentences in Sahidic Coptic is to use the copulative pronoun 'pe.' If the Sahidic translators had understood EGO EIMI to be a copulative sentence with an implied predicate ("I am he"), they most likely would have used 'anok pe,' as for example they did in John 8:24.

Instead, the translators used the existential Soop. This choice - which was apparently not followed by the Bohairic translators a century or so later - cannot be without significance. It may be that the translators wished to echo Exodus 3:14, which in the Sahidic reads:

anok pe petSoop'...Je petSoop' pe ntaFtnno oyt' Sarwtn

"I am He who is...This is He who is who has sent me to you."

Exodus 3:14 in Sahidic is a fairly literal translation of the LXX: "EGO EIMI hO WN." The Greek 'hO WN' ("the one who is") = Sahidic 'petSoop' (Soop, prefixed by the definite article 'p' and the relative pronoun 'et,' ["who"]). This is the same word used by the translators at John 8:58, albeit with a different prefix.

Whether the Sahidic translators understood a connection with Exodus 3:14 or not, it is clear that they did not understand 'EGO EIMI' to be either a PPA or a copulative. They translated it as an existential present, in agreement with an overwhelming number of Greek scholars and commentators down through the ages, signifying the eternal existence of the Son.

Thus, while Witnesses may use the Sahidic translation to support the NWT's version of John 1:1c (at least to some extent), it does not appear that they can do so with 8:58. Further, if Coptic scholars are correct, and the Sahidic indefinite article in 1:1c can denote a qualitative meaning ("The Word had the same nature as God") or an indefinite one, the more verses we find in which the Deity of Christ is upheld (as it is in 1:18 and 8:58), the more likely the qualitative meaning becomes.

http://forananswer.blogspot.com/2007/02 ... ation.html
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Re: Regarding John 8:58

Postby Isaac Newton » Fri Apr 03, 2015 6:55 am

Hi Vladimir,

Vladimir wrote:I think it would not be off topic to quote here this:



Question: Do you agree with Matthew Henry that the words ἐγὼ εἰμί in John 8:58 are functioning as the name of God ?--

πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί
Οὐαὶ οἱ λέγοντες τὸ πονηρὸν καλὸν καὶ τὸ καλὸν πονηρόν, οἱ τιθέντες τὸ σκότος φῶς καὶ τὸ φῶς σκότος, οἱ τιθέντες τὸ πικρὸν γλυκὺ καὶ τὸ γλυκὺ πικρόν
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Re: Regarding John 8:58

Postby Isaac Newton » Fri Apr 03, 2015 5:19 pm

The way I figure it is that if the author of John 8:58 wanted to make Jesus God, he would have followed the LXX rendition at Exodus 3:14 and written πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί ὁ ὤν . Remember, in LXX 3:14 "I am" or ἐγὼ εἰμί is a pronoun verb of simple identification, it is ὁ ὤν which is the name or title which God appropriates to himself. BeDuhn correctly (and soberly) notes the following in his Truth In Translation, p.108:

"The Septuagint of Exodus 3:14 has God say ego eimi ho on, 'I am the being,' or 'I am the one that exists.' Plainly, ego eimi functions here exactly as it does in the mouth of all speaking characters throughout the Bible, as a first person pronoun subject, followed by the b-verb, to which a predicate noun is attached. God does not say 'I am I AM,' he says 'I am the being.' 'I am' sets up the title or identification God uses of himself, it is not itself that title. Separating 'I am' off as if it were meant to stand alone is an interpretive sleight-of-hand, totally distorting the role the phrase plays in the whole sentence, either in the Greek Septuagint version of Exodus 3:14 or in John 8:58."
Οὐαὶ οἱ λέγοντες τὸ πονηρὸν καλὸν καὶ τὸ καλὸν πονηρόν, οἱ τιθέντες τὸ σκότος φῶς καὶ τὸ φῶς σκότος, οἱ τιθέντες τὸ πικρὸν γλυκὺ καὶ τὸ γλυκὺ πικρόν
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Re: Regarding John 8:58

Postby Vladimir » Fri Apr 17, 2015 5:20 am

Isaac Newton wrote:Question: Do you agree with Matthew Henry that the words ἐγὼ εἰμί in John 8:58 are functioning as the name of God ?

Rather I don't.
It is interesting that unlike other ancient commentators Cyril of Alexandria seems not to dress any direct parallel with Exodus 3:14. He just says the Jews wanted to stone Jesus because they thought He had insulted Abraham. On the other hand, Cyril pays attention to the verbs referring to Chrit and to Abraham, εἰμί and γίνομαι. According to him, the first verb as different from the second one shows Jesus' eternity. Here Cyril's opinion is surely in full accord with other Fathers who told the same about those two verbs in the prologue of the Gospel accoring to John: when talking about the Logos it is said ἐν ἀρχὴ ἦν ὁ λόγος, but about John the Baptist it is said ἐγένετο ἄνθρωπος. Do you think one can give philological proof of that contextual difference in the meaning of εἰμί and γίνομαι?
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Re: Regarding John 8:58

Postby Isaac Newton » Mon Apr 20, 2015 11:30 pm

Vladimir wrote:
Isaac Newton wrote:Question: Do you agree with Matthew Henry that the words ἐγὼ εἰμί in John 8:58 are functioning as the name of God ?

Rather I don't.


So would you say then that it functions "normally," as a simple pronoun-verb of identification ?
Οὐαὶ οἱ λέγοντες τὸ πονηρὸν καλὸν καὶ τὸ καλὸν πονηρόν, οἱ τιθέντες τὸ σκότος φῶς καὶ τὸ φῶς σκότος, οἱ τιθέντες τὸ πικρὸν γλυκὺ καὶ τὸ γλυκὺ πικρόν
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Re: Regarding John 8:58

Postby Vladimir » Tue Apr 21, 2015 9:55 am

Isaac Newton wrote:
Vladimir wrote:
Isaac Newton wrote:So would you say then that it functions "normally," as a simple pronoun-verb of identification ?

Yes, it functions "normally", but why do you say it is an "identification", since here ἐγὼ εἰμι doesn't mean "it's me"?
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Re: Regarding John 8:58

Postby Vladimir » Tue Apr 21, 2015 11:08 am

Isaac Newton wrote:ἐγὼ γάρ εἰμι Ιωβαβ πρὶν ἢ ὀνομάσαι με ὁ Κύριος Ιωβ.

Why is the word ὁ Κύριος in the nominative? Wouldn't it be more natural if it were in the accusative as the subject of the infinitive ὀνομάσαι like, e.g., in John 1:48: Πρὸ τοῦ σε Φίλιππον φωνῆσαι ὄντα ὑπὸ τὴν συκῆν εἶδόν σε?
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Re: Regarding John 8:58

Postby Isaac Newton » Thu Apr 23, 2015 7:19 pm

Vladimir wrote: but why do you say it is an "identification", since here ἐγὼ εἰμι doesn't mean "it's me"?


I think you misunderstood what I said. The verb εἰμί is used to express the notion of "to be." It is invoked by every speaker in the bible (including God) to denote oneself. ἐγὼ εἰμί is just an emphatic form of the copulative verb (or copular verb) εἰμι . Does this really need explaining ?
Οὐαὶ οἱ λέγοντες τὸ πονηρὸν καλὸν καὶ τὸ καλὸν πονηρόν, οἱ τιθέντες τὸ σκότος φῶς καὶ τὸ φῶς σκότος, οἱ τιθέντες τὸ πικρὸν γλυκὺ καὶ τὸ γλυκὺ πικρόν
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Re: Regarding John 8:58

Postby mwh » Sun Apr 26, 2015 2:48 pm

Vladimir wrote:ἐγὼ γάρ εἰμι Ιωβαβ πρὶν ἢ ὀνομάσαι με ὁ Κύριος Ιωβ.
Why is the word ὁ Κύριος in the nominative? Wouldn't it be more natural if it were in the accusative as the subject of the infinitive ὀνομάσαι like, e.g., in John 1:48: Πρὸ τοῦ σε Φίλιππον φωνῆσαι ὄντα ὑπὸ τὴν συκῆν εἶδόν σε?

A good question, and I’d be interested to know the answer. I suspect ὀνομάσαι should be ὠνόμασε. Scarcely counts as a change palaeographically.
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