Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

... Revisited: A Philological Reexamination of the New Testament's "Most Difficult Word"

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

... Revisited: A Philological Reexamination of the New Testament's "Most Difficult Word"

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

In a groundbreaking philological study published in 1971, Roy W. Hoover attempted to unravel the mystery surrounding the meaning of ... in Phil 2:6: ..., "who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as ..." (NRSV).1 He argued on the basis of several extant examples that when ... appears (as it does in Phil 2:6) as the complement in an object-complement, doubleaccusative construction connected to certain verbs of considering (e.g., ...), it forms an idiom in which it has the meaning "something to seize upon, to take advantage of," "something to use for [one's] own advantage."2 The study was hailed for "undercutting at a stroke" all previous proposals and is still widely and favorably cited.3 For nearly two decades, it remained largely unchallenged on philological grounds. This changed, however, with the appearance of J. C. O'Neill's article, "Hoover on Harpagmos Reviewed, with a Modest Proposal Concerning Philippians 2:6," a brief study that disputed Hoover's understanding of the idiom and proposed an alternative path forward. O'Neill argued that ... should be understood actively with the general meaning of "robbery"and that Phil 2:6 should be emended to accommodate the meaning.4 While O'Neill has persuaded few of his proposal, his critique of Hoover remains influential, contributing to the divided state of opinion on the meaning of ... generally, to say nothing of its meaning in Phil 2:6 specifically.5

This inquiry returns to the question and offers a rebuttal of O'Neill's thesis and a refinement of Hoover's. Contra O'Neill, I argue that (1) there is an idiom, (2) it does have the general meaning Hoover posited for it, and (3) ... and ... are interchangeable within this idiom, with the consequence that all occurrences- and not just the two involving ...-can and should be used as a basis of establishing its meaning in Phil 2.

In refinement of Hoover's thesis, I argue that the idiom does not in and of itself-that is, apart from context-speak to whether the object deemed ... "belongs" to the subject. Thus I disagree with Hoover's conclusion on the basis of "the ... remark itself" that in Phil 2:6-7 ... represents a status which belonged to the preexistent Christ." My claim is that the idiom does not speak to possession at all, positively or negatively, and that only context may determine the matter.


A. Occurrences of the Idiom with ...

I begin with the occurrences of the double-accusative construction with .... Hoover identifies six such extant occurrences6 and argues that, in all but one (Isidore of Pelusium, Ep. 4.22, PG 78:1072), ... has an idiomatic, passive sense of "something to seize upon, to take advantage of "-a meaning not found outside the construction:7

(i) Heliodorus, Aethiopica 8.7


Arsace regarded what [Cybele] said as harpagma and her long standing jealousy was heightened with anger because of what she related [concerning Theagenes' intransigence]. "You have spoken well," she said, "Ι shall take care to command that the offending female be done away with."

(ii) Heliodorus, Aethiopica 7.11


Cybele regarded the chance meeting as harpagma and as the beginning of a way of capturing [them].

(iii) Heliodorus, Aethiopica 7.20


A young man so handsome and in his prime thrusts away a young woman of similar qualities who yearns for him, and does not regard the matter as harpagma nor even as a piece of good luck....

(iv) Eusebius of Caesarea, Historia ecclesiastica 8.12.2


Since some regarded death as harpagma in comparison with the depravity of ungodly men.

(v) Eusebius of Caesarea, Vita Constantini 31.2


Those who have lived destitute lives for a long time attended by sordidness which no one should have to endure, if they consider such a return harpagma and if from now on they lay aside their anxieties, may live among us without fear. …

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