Pleonastic Pronouns: An Example from Genesis 1:11

For those of you familiar with Koine Greek, you may have come across the word pleonasm or pleonastic.

The word is derived from the Greek term πλεονασμός, which means “superfluous, unnecessary, redundant.”

The term is most often applied to participles in New Testament Greek, a pleonastic participle. An example of such a participle would be something akin to “answering, he said” (nb: other discourse explanations have been offered for so-called pleonastic participles of verbs of speaking. See chapter 7 of Runge’s Discourse Grammar.) or “going out, he went out.”

Yet, New Testament Greek is not the only place you will find the use of the words pleonasm or pleonastic. If you study the Septuagint, you have most likely encountered several articles on the pleonastic use of the pronoun. Since it took me a bit of time to make the word “stick” in my vocabulary and make application of the concept to examples within the LXX, I thought I might share an example I came across this morning in my studies.

pleonastic pronoun often arises in the LXX, simply put, when the relative pronoun אשר (which) occurs within the Hebrew text. Since אשר (which, whose) is undefined for case, number, and gender, Hebrew authors will often use a pronoun to identify the previous referent for which אשר stands. Let me give you an example from:

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֗ים תַּֽדְשֵׁ֤א הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ דֶּ֔שֶׁא עֵ֚שֶׂב מַזְרִ֣יעַ זֶ֔רַע עֵ֣ץ פְּרִ֞י עֹ֤שֶׂה פְּרִי֙ לְמִינ֔וֹ אֲשֶׁ֥ר זַרְעוֹ־ב֖וֹ

 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth vegetation, plants sowing seed, fruit tree making fruit according to its kind, which [has] its seed in it . . . 

Notice how the relative particle אשר is not marked for case, number, or gender. Thus, the subsequent noun זרע (seed) contains the 3rd person masculine pronoun ו (its) as a reference back to עץ פרי (fruit tree).

How does the Greek translator handle this construction?

καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεός Βλαστησάτω ἡ γῆ βοτάνην χόρτου, σπεῖρον σπέρμα κατὰ γένος καὶ καθ᾿ ὁμοιότητα, καὶ ξύλον κάρπιμον ποιοῦν καρπόν, οὗ τὸ σπέρμα αὐτοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ κατὰ γένος

And God said, “Let the earth put forth pasture land vegetation, seed propagating according to kind and according to likeness, and fruit–bearing tree producing fruit of which its seed is in it according to kind, on the earth” (NETS)

Notice the Greek relative pronoun οὗ (of which)? This pronoun is a neuter singular genitive. As such, the gender and number correspond to the gender and number of ξύλον κάρπιμον (fruit-bearing tree), letting the reader know that a further comment will be made about ξύλον κάρπιμον (fruit-bearing tree). The genitive case tells the reader how the pronoun functions in the sentence.

This one Greek word essentially accomplishes the tasks of two of the Hebrew words in this verse: אשר (which) and the personal pronoun ו (its). Accordingly, there is no need to translate the Hebrew pronoun ו (its). Yet, instead of leaving the pronoun untranslated, the translator renders the unnecessary (pleonastic) pronoun when providing τὸ σπέρμα αὐτοῦ (its seed) as a transaltion for זַרְעוֹ (its seed).

This phenomenon in the LXX, if I’m not mistake, results from a translator’s desire to provide a morphological equivalent for each word in his Vorlage (the original text from which he translates). Notice that the NETS translators, seeking to provide their readers with the feel of the LXX text reflects the pleonastic construction by translating with “of which its” instead of “and fruit-bearing tree producing fruit whose seed is in it . . . .”

I hope this little example helps you understand what it means for an element in NT or OT Greek to be pleonastic and how to recognize it when you encounter one.

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Decker’s Grammar: A Follow Up

downloadIn my previous post, I mentioned that Decker’s introductory grammar to Koine Greek is large, outweighing even Wallace’s Beyond the Basics. Now that I’ve read the introduction and the first two chapters, I thought I should provide a follow up post explaining, in Decker’s own terms, why this volume is as large as it is.

1) Decker includes a number of other features within the Grammar absent in others. For instance, he provides the student and teacher with two different systems of pronunciation instead of just giving the Erasmian schema (13).

2) He also alerts the reader to the presence of linguistically informed discussions throughout the book (xxiii).

3) The grammar is a hybrid between inductive and deductive approaches to teaching a language. That is to say, while the grammar is organized according to a deductive framework, he uses an “inductive reading-based approach” throughout the volume (xxiii). This greatly increases the size of the volume as it, in essence, weds an introductory grammar to a Greek reader.


4) Decker also includes material that would traditionally be relegated to a Greek Exegesis course (xxiv). He writes,

The reason for this is simple: I have found that students repeatedly and habitually turn to their first-year grammar in later years when they need help with a perplexity in a text. Though the answer might in many cases be found in the more advanced grammars, having some introduction in the first book for which they reach has its advantages, especially if the question concerns not just a syntactical issue but is related to the forms of the language (often not included in intermediate or advanced texts). (xxiv).

The result of points 3 and 4 is like having all three of these together

Learn to Read NT Greek





5) Decker strives to provide a grammar that is accessible to students without the aid of an instructor. Many grammars have the bare essentials needed for learning the language, but without the aid of a professor, students will have difficulties learning the language. Accordingly, Decker includes detailed discussions and several examples to help bridge the gap between what one knows about English and what is expected in order to learn Greek.

Much like I said in my previous post . . . wow!

As I have started reading through the chapters, I’ve found the discussions quite helpful and up-to-date. The prose is easy to read and is insightful. Decker’s decision to use an inductive approach within a deductive framework is needed. I’ve always wanted to see a grammar that incorporates more natural Greek earlier on and one that provides extended sections for translation at the end of chapters. Short sentences do not simulate the reading experience. Also, Decker’s inclusion of more details within the grammar on account of the fact that students always return to their initial grammar is well-reasoned. Dr. Black’s Grammar has long been my first stop shop for paradigms or grammatical and syntactical discussions for me. Student’s of Decker’s grammar will be well served by the addition of this detail.

Despite all these strengths—and there are many more that I will probably highlight in future posts—the magnitude of the volume is overwhelming, even for experienced students of Koine Greek. The prose is dense. Chapter 1, for example, on the alphabet (letters, pronunciation, vowels, diphthongs, diaeresis, breathing marks, punctuation, and accents) is 17 pages long, twice as long as another Greek Grammar. Though the material is arranged in a manner that makes it easy to skip unnecessary and more detailed sections, knowing this does not help to ease the mind. Chapter 2, on the nominative and accusative cases, has individual discussions on how case, gender, and number work in English and Greek. While helpful, it seems redundant as both discussions could have been treated together with greater economy.

I acknowledge that Decker handily deals with this criticism in the introduction of the volume. He notes that much of what he will include would typically be a part of the teacher’s art within the classroom experience. He has included it, nevertheless, as a means of assisting students without teachers and for those that will regularly return to the volume for answers. Still, I believe it may have been more beneficial to have two versions of the text: a teacher’s edition (which I believe this volume is) and a student’s edition.

That is to say, when I teach a Greek Grammar class, I typically include all the information Decker includes in his discussions within the classroom and I often look for examples in order to illustrate the material and make comparisons with English. Towards that end, I will, in the future, routinely come to Decker’s grammar for his explanations and examples. Students may get frustrated or distracted, however, by the extensive reading before arriving at the heart of the material. Croy’s grammar mitigates this, for example, by providing students and teachers with a supplemental .pdf file that contains lengthier explanations, worksheets, and handouts.

This criticism should not be a determining factor in using this book inside of outside the classroom. In my experience, many students benefit from a variety of ways of explaining certain features. By including his detailed approach, students will benefit (1) from a different manner of teaching than their own professor, and (2) possess a comprehensive set of notes to which they can always return.

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Decker’s Grammar: First Impression

Dr. Decker’s Reading Koine Greek came in this evening. My first impression is “Wow.” I’ve placed it beside Wallace’s Beyond the Basics and Black’s Learn to Read New Testament Greek for comparison.


Though Wallace may have more pages, Decker “outweighs” him by a few ounces. I wish I had Mounce at the apartment for comparison.

I look forward to exploring the grammar as I have time.

Oh, and before I forget, Decker includes a helpful “Key Things to Know” section at the end of each chapter like Black’s grammar. I always found this section at the end of Black’s grammar to be helpful for both students and teachers.

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E Got A Tattoo

To show us all how excited he is about the release of Logos 6, my 16 month old son got a tattoo.


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A Lesson in “Loving” Too Much

Recently, I picked up the Loeb edition of Herodotus’ The Persian Wars on Logos. After all, I got it on prepublication for $4. It would have been crazy not to …

In today’s reading, I encountered a narrative about Candaules, Gyges, and Candaules’ wife. The story goes that Candaules loved his wife and her beauty to such an extent that he convinced his friend, despite much protesting, to watch in the shadows as his wife undressed. The purpose of this shameful event was to demonstrate that Candaules was indeed correct in his assessment of his wife’s beauty.

There was, however, a bit of a snafu in the plan. Gyges was supposed to leave the room without detection, but, despite his efforts, he was found out by Candaules’ wife. Though she knew what had happened, she gave no inclination to her knowledge. Instead, she decided to avenge her shame and humiliation. Calling for Gyges, she confronts him and gives him an ultimatum: kill yourself for your shameful deed or kill my husband.

In the interests of self-preservation, as you could imagine, Gyges chose the later option. Candaules’ wife, according, stages the scene in the same manner as Candaules in his shameful deed. Gyges is instructed once again to wait in the shadows and to kill Candaules.

Gyges, once again, does as he is instructed:

καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα ἀναπαυομένου Κανδαύλεω ὑπεκδύς τε καὶ ἀποκτείνας αὐτὸν ἔσχε καὶ τὴν γυναῖκα καὶ τὴν βασιληίην

And after these things, when Candaules was asleep, [Gyges] both sneaking in and killing him, had both Candaules’ wife and kingdom.

The moral of this story?: Don’t go showing off your wife’s γυμνός to your friend.

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Runge on a Roll

If you are interested in biblical Greek, you should check out what Steven Runge has been up to these days. Brian Renshaw recently interviewed him about his new High Definition Commentary on Romans. You can check out both parts of that interview here and here.

Also, if you are interested in the Linguistics and Discourse Studies, you will definitely want to look at these recent blog posts:

I look forward to reading more posts as the come.

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Logos 6 Is Here

Logos 6 launches today, and I can honestly say that I have been waiting for this day to come. Having worked alongside a number of people involved in curating the cultural ontology, septuagint syntax graphs, and psalms data sets, I can say that I’m thrilled that it has finally been released.

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