usage of διώκω = "persecute," over time

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bcrowell
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usage of διώκω = "persecute," over time

Post by bcrowell »

In the beatitudes, Matthew 5:10 has:

μακάριοι οἱ δεδιωγμένοι ἕνεκεν δικαιοσύνης

(Luke's wording is different, so I guess this is not part of the double tradition.)

The Cambridge Greek Lexicon makes it look like the primary usage of διώκω in ancient pagan times was basically "to chase," and the meaning could be positive (like striving after something), although CGL does also document its use by Herodotus to mean "hound, harry, persecute."

Is this a word like μάρτυς that was sort of repurposed by Christians for a new meaning? Was διώκω already in use in the Septuagint with this meaning? Centuries later, was it the standard term used by people like Eusebius?

Thanks for any light anyone can shed on this.
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Re: usage of διώκω = "persecute," over time

Post by phalakros »

It can have a negative connotation in Classical Greek as well (“hound” as you cite). Often it’s the legal term for prosecution (ὁ διώκων = the plaintiff). But you’re right that in classical usage it doesn’t really have the sense of general “persecution”—closer to specific prosecution/pursuit. More classical would be ἐλαύνειν. In the context of the macarism, nicer Greek would be οἱ ἀδικούμενοι/ἠδικημένοι or similar.

I think the line reflects a play on the biblical “followers/pursuers of righteousness” (Heb. רדפי צדק Aram. רידיפי צדקא Gk οἱ διώκοντες τὸ δίκαιον). The Hebrew verb rādaf has a broader semantic domain (follow, pursue, strive after, prosecute, persecute), which in part expanded the meaning of Greek διώκειν through the influence of the Septuagint. That’s my guess.

Also note on that line that the perf pass form is post-classical. And the lack of an article before δικαιoσύνης is jarring.

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Re: usage of διώκω = "persecute," over time

Post by jeidsath »

Assuming a language explanation first, I was very surprised at how hard it was to find instances in the LXX where the meaning was quite what Matthew was doing here. The closest is maybe Job 19:22 and Jer 17:18. You can find plenty of instances where the meaning admits of persecution, but very few that force it in the way that Matthew does all over. I expected to find clear inspiration in the Psalms at least. Nor is it in Philo or Josephus, as far as I can tell (I got bored paging through though, so a more thorough search could turn something up).

Now Luke *always* edits this use out, even where he quotes the rest of the verse from Matthew, apparently as one of those cases of rube-Greek that he dislikes (as well he should; there are several words on his dislike list, and it would be worth compiling these). But he only edits it out for his Gospel...διώκειν is back with a vengeance in Acts.

The same usage is not Philo or Josephus or the LXX, really. But it shows up, surprisingly, in Paul. Here's Galatians, perhaps the most directly historical piece of early Christian literature:

ὅτι καθ’ ὑπερβολὴν ἐδίωκον τὴν ἐκκλησίαν τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ ἐπόρθουν αὐτήν

My suspicion is that this is not quite "persecution" in Paul's mind, and that he in fact had a specific understanding of what he was doing as a legal "prosecution". You could compare Acts 9:2.

Paul's usage certainly directly inspired the Acts use of διώκειν for persecute, unsurprisingly as Paul's letters are the major source for Acts. Explaining Matthew is harder. Two sources seems a stretch, and it would be easiest to say that Matthew got it from reading some set of Pauline letters. Others have made a (very tenuous) case that Matthew was aware of Paul. But maybe all of the Jerusalem-area Jewish prosecutions of Christians made διώκειν as persecution a general term for early Christians.
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Re: usage of διώκω = "persecute," over time

Post by bcrowell »

Thanks, phalakros and Joel, that's very helpful and interesting!
jeidsath wrote: Sun Jul 31, 2022 10:25 am Now Luke *always* edits this use out, even where he quotes the rest of the verse from Matthew, apparently as one of those cases of rube-Greek that he dislikes (as well he should; there are several words on his dislike list, and it would be worth compiling these). But he only edits it out for his Gospel...διώκειν is back with a vengeance in Acts.
I'm not sure what scenario you have in mind here for the transmission and editing of the texts. I had in mind the two-document hypothesis (2DH), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two-source_hypothesis , according to which Luke doesn't have access to Matthew or Matthew to Luke. Maybe you meant Mark rather than Matthew when you described Luke habitually editing his source's Greek?

For this particular beatitude, the 2DH seems a little hazy. Kloppenborg has a nice web page http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~kloppen/iqpqet.htm where he gives a reconstructed text of Q. It does include this beatitude, but with a reconstructed text that is some kind of mash-up of Matthew and Luke. I'm not sure whether there is any coherent methodology that allows this to be assigned to Q, since the versions in Matthew's Sermon on the Mount and Luke's Sermon on the Plain are quite different.

My interest in the history of this word was actually that I thought it might work as a clue as to the date and place of composition of this text. However, it seems hard to tell. I don't know if we can tell what meaning people would have understood for διώκω (whether it would refer to something like our modern pop-culture image of persecution of Christians, or something broader, like "oppression"). The extent and historicity of the persecution of Christians turns out to be a lot more hazy than I had imagined. Some interesting reading:

Shaw, 2015, "The Myth of the Neronian Persecution," https://doi.org/10.1017/S0075435815000982 , available on sci-hub

Moss, 2013, The myth of persecution: How early Christians invented a story of martyrdom

Shaw seems like he's being intentionally provocative by staking out a pretty extreme position. However, it does seem somewhat persuasive to me that the actual government mechanics of any kind of wide-scale round-up of Christians in Nero's Rome aren't really plausible -- in Nero's time, there wasn't even a word "Christian" yet. Moss is much more measured, but she does really drastically whack back the image of an "Age of Martyrs" as depicted by Eusebius. I was surprised by how short the list is of historically verifiable martyrs from that period, how obscure the names on the list are, and how heavily overlaid the stories are with crazy mythological stuff like talking animals.

The letters between Pliny the Younger and Trajan are fascinating and utterly believable.
Last edited by bcrowell on Sun Jul 31, 2022 4:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: usage of διώκω = "persecute," over time

Post by jeidsath »

I don't find 2-source convincing. I recommend Goodacre's Case Against Q.
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Re: usage of διώκω = "persecute," over time

Post by bcrowell »

jeidsath wrote: Sun Jul 31, 2022 2:14 pm I don't find 2-source convincing. I recommend Goodacre's Case Against Q.
I see. That's interesting, I hadn't known about the Farrer hypothesis as an alternative.

It makes a coherent overarching picture, with Jewish Christianity coming first, and then Luke-Acts and John being later, with their awful, ahistorical blaming of "the Jews." It is a little odd, though, that Luke would omit so much of Matthew. I would find it more convincing if we had clear textual evidence that Luke possessed Matthew, as we do that Luke and Matthew had Mark. It's true that the genre of Q is problematic, but Farrer was writing in 1955, and since then I think there's come to be a much clearer understanding that gospels were a lumpy, disparate category representing a lot of different trajectories. I suspect that a lot of people dislike Q as a hypothesis because it opens up the possibility that there was an initial generation of Jewish Christians that knew of the crucifixion (Luke 14:27, "whoever does not take up his cross") but didn't give it any interpretation in terms of salvation or resurrection. Q does seem to have at least some signs of making sense in terms of time and place, e.g., it doesn't have Mark's Latinisms, so it makes sense as a Palestinian tradition. It makes sense as a very early document, even earlier than Mark, since it omits the description of the last supper as a eucharist.

The WP article on the Farrer hypothesis https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farrer_hypothesis has sections on arguments pro and con. Does this seem to you to be similar to what Goodacre says?
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Re: usage of διώκω = "persecute," over time

Post by bcrowell »

I found this paper criticizing Farrer and its more recent Goodacre version:

Foster, 2003, Is it possible to dispense with Q?, http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/156853603322538730 (available on sci-hub)

It seems pretty persuasive to me, but I'm not an expert. It does seem to have a lot of more purely textual arguments that are not given in the WP article. He shares my impression that Farrer's original motivation has become weak because of better understanding of the genre of gospels after Nag Hammadi.
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Re: usage of διώκω = "persecute," over time

Post by Hylander »

Were religious groups other than Jews and Christians subject to persecution in antiquity?

Polytheists of all stripes were generally tolerant of one another's religious practices, and could freely participate in official religious observance such as Hellenistic king or Roman emperor cults even while observing other cults. Only rigidly monotheistic Jews and Christians resisted participation in the official cults, setting themselves up in opposition to the state and thus inviting persecution.

Perhaps the extension of διώκω to refer to religious persecution in the Septuagint and Christian literature reflects the fact that few if any groups other than Jews and Christians were subject to persecution on religious grounds.
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Re: usage of διώκω = "persecute," over time

Post by jeidsath »

Example:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Senatus ... chanalibus

Given how effective any cult is at political organization, I expect that persecution depends a lot on characteristics of the host state. The history of Buddhism in Japan is full of bloodshed and persecutions from both sides in the first millennium, and they'd never heard of an Abrahamic religion.

And didn't Critias kill 300 Eleusinians? I've heard that that was to suppress the cult, but don't know anything about it.
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Re: usage of διώκω = "persecute," over time

Post by Hylander »

The persecution of the Bacchanalia seems to be the exception that proves the rule.

From the linked article:

" . . . the extent and ferocity of the official response to the Bacchanalia was probably unprecedented, and betrays some form of moral panic on the part of Roman authorities; Burkert finds 'nothing comparable in religious history before the persecutions of Christians'."
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Re: usage of διώκω = "persecute," over time

Post by bcrowell »

Thinking this over some more, my guess would be that even if the stuff about persecution is a later interpolation into a well-known speech by Jesus, it probably has nothing to do with Roman persecution and is instead a reference to strife between Jewish sects: on the one side those aligned with John the Baptist and Jesus, and against them other Jewish sects and power/patronage blocs. Matthew was likely writing for a Jewish audience, so it would make sense that we get this material in Matthew only.

Taking this from the point of view of other Jews, John and Jesus's followers were carrying out extreme acts of provocation such as invading mainstream synagogues and hijacking their services (Mark 6:1), as well as destroying property (Mark 11:15). The John/Jesus bloc’s leadership cadre included a known member of a violent underground extremist movement (Luke 6:15), as well as a known Roman quisling (Matthew 9:9). Their rhetoric was violent and advocated the disruption of the closest family relationships (Matthew 10:34, Luke 22:36). There was a backlash, which we know resulted in the death of the main leaders. History tends to document leaders and elites, but I would imagine that Jesus's most ordinary followers were also pretty fearful for their own safety. To them, διώκω would probably seem like a verb that was relevant in their lives.

A lot of the other material in the Sermon on the Mount can also be read as a survival manual for this marginalized group of John/Jesus followers, analogous to Martin Luther King-style passive resistance, which was after all inspired by Jesus. And a lot of it is structured as Torah commentary, which would be of interest to that group, not gentiles.
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Re: usage of διώκω = "persecute," over time

Post by bcrowell »

I did some more research on the usage of διώκω, and here's what I came up with.

The verb διώκω mainly means to chase or put to flight, and it's related to δίεμαι. The less common active of δίεμαι is δίω, which is to flee or be afraid. There is also καταδιώκω. The metaphorical or specialized usage to mean "hound, persecute" exists in classical Greek, but it's rare.

In the septuagint (early koine), it's mainly used to translate the Hebrew rdf (רָדַף, chase), although it also occurs as a translation of about a dozen other Hebrew verbs such as dhd (rush, dash), shdd (ravage, despoil), rdh (rule), shft (judge, govern), and chrd (tremble, be afraid).

Most usages in the septuagint mean simply to chase. Examples (WEB): "Barak pursued the chariots" (Judges 4), "he who chases fantasies is void of understanding" (Proverbs 12:11), "all who pursue the word of the god of Israel" (2 Es?). A slogan that recurs in varying forms is "How could one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight" (Deuteronomy 32:30, in a song sung by Moses as he presents the law to the people).

It's very rare in the septuagint to find the verb meaning "persecute." Out of about 80 usages, only one is clearly what we would mean by "persecute:" "Why do you persecute me as God, and are not satisfied with my flesh?" (Job 19:22). There are a few other possible semantic matches, such as Deuteronomy 30:7, Lamentations 1:3, and 1 Maccabees 2:47, but these are less clear-cut.

The semantics of the verb seem to be such that it can be: positive (seeking knowledge); natural or impersonal (the sun chasing the sea foam); or meaning to drive or propel (a ship being driven by the wind). It is never: instantaneous; symmetrical or used to describe strife; done from in front; an action against someone already at hand, bound, or confined. These considerations suggest that usages such as those in the sermon on the mount probably could not be understood by Greek speakers as referring to oppression (Romans against conquered lands, second temple authorities against Galileans) or sectarian strife.

Based on all of this, I think it's a little difficult to have Matthew 5:10, 5:11, 5:12, or 5:44 be accurate translations of an actual Aramaic speech given by Jesus to his followers in Palestine, and meant to be intelligible to them. The repeated and heavy emphasis on the same Greek verb would have to be a translation of a single verb in an Aramaic original, and only rdf seems to make sense -- the other possibilities (run, ravage, rule, cause fear, et al.) don't seem to fit the context.

The best hint that Jesus gives as to his meaning is "for that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matt 5:12).

If this is meant to warn of the rounding up of the movement's leaders, then that would make sense in terms of the historical record. At least according to the gospels' chronology, John the Baptist could already have been killed by the time of this speech, and Josephus also documents the execution of both Jesus and his brother James. But this is all about the leadership, and it doesn't seem reasonable for Jesus's listeners to make the leap to imagining themselves as victims or possible future victims of persecution. (There have been suggestions that some portions of the sermon on the mount are addressed to the crowd, while others are to the twelve.)

The extended discourse on persecution could work as a prediction of a generalized persecution of the movement's followers, but no such persecution existed until around 250 CE, and even if we put aside the question of a naturalistic or supernatural method by which Jesus could make such a prediction, such a prediction would not be understandable (or useful) to his listeners in 30 CE.

Subject to the various uncertainties in this analysis, it seems to me like it really points toward the idea that at least this portion of the sermon on the mount (most or all of Matthew 5?) has to be the product of a later era of the early church, during which the execution of people like Paul and James led to a self-definition of the emerging religion as a persecuted group. This late dating of the material would also fit well with the fact that the usage of διώκω to mean "persecute" seems to have been quite rare until the Pauline school and other early church groups began using it frequently that way. A late dating was suggested by Bultmann.
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