Thursday, 21 October 2010

"Politarches" and the Vardar Gate inscription

Luke is considered by many a pre-eminent historian. His books The Gospel according to Luke and The Acts of the Apostles are written in excellent Greek, and his research and documentation are careful. Anti-biblical bias by some people has led to many claims over the years of several Lukan error. Frequently this unjustified in that many accusations are related to lack of corroborating evidence—as if the sparse extant contemporary records are evidence against what Luke records. An author should not be considered errant solely on the evidence that no other author records the same event. Error is shown by internal and external contradiction, and external contradiction still requires weighting one author more heavily than another.

In Acts Luke mentions Jason being hauled before the city officials
But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, "These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus." And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go. (Acts 17:5-9)
The word translated city authorities is politarches (πολιτάρχη). It occurs here twice but nowhere else in extant Greek literature (though apparently a similar term poli(t)archos may be known from classical Greek?). This led earlier critics to claim Luke was in error.

The word is a compound word constructed from polis (city) and arche (ruler). Even if this was a Lukan neologism it is hardly an error. Even so, an archaeological discovery in the 19th century revealed that politarches was an official title: a stone inscription on the Vardar Gate/ Arch in Thessolonica. This arch was near the Vardar River and spanned the famed Egnatian Way. It reads
∙ΠΟΛΕΙΤΑΡΧΟΥΝΤΩΝ ∙ΣΩΣΙΠΑΤΡΟΥ ·ΤΟΥ ·ΚΛΕΟΠΑΤΡΑΣ ·ΚΑΙ ∙ΛΟΥΚΙΟΥ ·ΠΟΝΤΙΟΥ ·ΣΕΚΟΥΝΔΟΥ ·ΥΙΟΥ ·ΑΥΛΟΥ ∙ΑΟΥΙΟΥ ·ΣΑ ∙ΒΕΙΝΟΥ ·ΔΗΜΗΤΡΙΟΥ ·ΤΟΥ ·ΦΑΥΣΤΟΥ ·ΔΗΜΗΤΡΙΟΥ ·ΤΟΥ ·ΝΕΙΚ ∙ΟΠΟΛΕΩΣ ·ΖΩΙΛΟΥ ·ΤΟΥ ·ΠΑΡΜΕΝΙΩΝΟΣ ·ΤΟΥ ·ΚΑΙ ·ΜΕΝΙΣΚΟΥ ∙ΓΑΙΟΥ ·ΑΓΙΛΛΗΙΟΥ ·ΠΟΤΕΙΤΟΥ ·ΤΑΜΙΟΥ ·ΤΗΣ ·ΠΟΛΕΩΣ ·ΤΑΥΡΟ ∙Υ ·ΤΟΥ ·ΑΜΜΙΑΣ ·ΤΟΥ ·ΚΑΙ ·ΡΗΓΛΟΥ ·ΓΥΜΝΑΣΙΑΡΧΟΥΝΤΟΣ ·ΤΑΥ ∙ΡΟΥ ·ΤΟΥ ·ΤΑΥΡΟΥ ·ΤΟΥ ·ΚΑΙ ·ΡΗΓΛΟΥ

The first word poleitarchountōn is a variant of politarches showing that this is not a Lukan neologism and that Luke was using an official term, much as he does elsewhere in his books. Other inscriptions containing this word have subsequently been found.

I have minimal concern about authors using neologisms and do not consider them errant. Nevertheless it is important to note that critics of Luke made something of this and they were shown to be incorrect while Luke was vindicated. Though this example may not currently be used against Luke, the fact that historical critics of Luke were proven wrong needs to be remembered when dealing with modern critics of Luke.

Further reading here, here, and here.

15 comments:

  1. Are you in discussions on this topic elsewhere? :)

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  2. No. I wrote this a few weeks ago. Is there a discussion going on about this in the blogosphere currently? I can't remember what prompted this.

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  3. The Persus lexicon entry for πολιτάρχης (click on the "LSJ" link to see the entry after the lexicon page loads) reports an almost identical variant πολι̣ταρχ-ος was used by Aeneas Tacticus (4th century BC) in his work Aineiou Poliorketika (Aeneas on Siegecraft) 26.12

    Here is the Greek text from Google Books Aeneae Commentarius poliorceticus By Aeneas (Tacticus), Arnold Hug, page 56
    ... καϊ κελενόντων. τον πολίταρχον έαν μη &έλη περιοδενειν ...

    And here is an English translation from AeneasTacticus.net Book 26
    In case the governor of the city from fear of danger or ill health,

    Indeed, Luke was not inventing words or history.

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  4. Thanks Starwind.

    Your link probably explains my parenthetical comment in the post. I am uncertain whether the tau is included in Tacticus. Or if the sceptics were unaware of the Tacticus' use at the time of the accusation?

    I agree that Luke did not invent history. And cases like this are worth noting when the sceptic raises a new issue that cannot be immediately addressed.

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  5. Your link probably explains my parenthetical comment in the post. ... Or if the sceptics were unaware of the Tacticus' use at the time of the accusation?

    The word translated city authorities is politarches (πολιτάρχη). It occurs here twice but nowhere else in extant Greek literature (though apparently a similar term poli(t)archos may be known from classical Greek?).

    The assertion that "politarches (πολιτάρχη) occurs nowhere else in extant Greek literature" traces back to an 1898 paper "The Politarchs"
    by Ernest DeWitt Burton published in the The American Journal of Theology, Vol. 2, No. 3 (Jul., 1898), pp. 598-632, available to JSTOR subscribers at http://www.jstor.org/pss/3153438 (I will be going to the library this week to retrieve a copy). This same paper is the basis for Vine's dictionary entry for "Rulers" and many of the commentaries on Acts 17:6,8.

    I'm uncertain of when exactly the manuscripts of Aeneas Tacticus' work were discovered, but Aeneas Tacticus: Bibliography lists Casaubon's 1609 Editio princeps; Greek text with Latin translation as the earliest publication. So the information was available to Burton when he wrote his paper in 1898.

    Not having seen Burton's paper yet myself, I suspect Burton's assertion that "the word πολιτάρχης found in Acts 17:6,8 does not occur elsewhere in extant Greek literature" reflects an earlier human limitation on collating and indexing words in all extant manuscripts, a limitation that is somewhat alleviated today by computerized databases and searchable texts. Burton's expertise was perhaps archaeology and paleography as related to theology, whereas Liddell, Scott and Jones were focused on the ancient/classical Greek lexicon (1940) and hence knew of a broader class of Greek materials to search than did Burton, which broader class included the works of Aeneas (or Aineias) Tacticus, i.e. 'The Tactician' (not to be confused, BTW, with Tacitus the Roman senator and historian).

    It is difficult to guess at what sceptics actually know or don't. Most seemingly stop fact-checking when their preconceived notions are not contradicted. By definition, "sceptics" lack or dismiss facts sufficient to clear their scepticism. Why they fail to find what is readily findable is beyond me. But it is a syndrome I often encounter.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I am uncertain whether the tau is included in Tacticus.

    Well, it plainly is present in Hug's 1874 text (cited on Google), and in the LSJ lexicon entry (cited on Perseus). Further, J. C. Orellius' 1818 edition of Aeneae Tactici Commentarius de Toleranda obsidione graece ad codices mss. Parisienses et Mediceum, page 81 has the same spelling with the tau:
    ... τινών και κελευόντων τον πολίταρχον εάν μη ΰε λΐ περιο ...

    A Perseus word search on πολιάρχης (poliarchs without the t/tau) yields different literature cites: something said of Zeus and a usage meaning "praefectus urbi" or "prefect of the city". While "prefect of the city" and "city ruler" are arguably synonymous, they nonetheless have distinct spellings and both Luke's and Aeneas' spelling include the Tau. I did a search of Strong's, Thayer's, NAS Exhaustive Concordances and of AMG's Complete Word Study Dictionary and none cite any Biblical instance of "poliarch" (spelled without the t/tau).

    Lastly, the only exhaustive verification I would know to make would be to go back to the original manuscripts (as cited by Pearse), but that is ostensibly what the authors Hug and Orellius have already done.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I meant to add that none of the New Testament texts; not the Greek NT with variants, nor Wescott-Hort, nor Byzantine Green NT, nor 1894 Scrivener TR, nor Stephens 1550 TR, have Luke's spelling πολιτάρχης without tau (i.e. all include tau).

    All the evidence is that Luke knew of the much older spelling πολιτάρχης as used by Aeneas Tacticus.

    Also, it is often forgotten that most texts did not survive to this day. Only a small fraction exist to confirm each other. It would be as if I used the word "Mayor" in this thread and in some catastrophe all the dictionaries of the world and writings in which the word "mayor" was used are destroyed and some sceptic claims I made it up. It is such a common term we don't 'source' it in everyday usage, we know of it and use it as appropriate.

    Luke undoubtedly knew the common usage of πολιτάρχης and used it as well. That there are not numerous confirmatory texts is not indicative of error on Luke's part, but rather near silence in the paleographical record.

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  8. 1898 paper "The Politarchs" by Ernest DeWitt Burton published in the The American Journal of Theology, Vol. 2, No. 3 (Jul., 1898), pp. 598-632

    Downloaded it. Will email you a copy tonight.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hi Starwind, I just emailed you a copy of "The Politarchs",
    Ernest DeWitt Burton The American Journal of Theology, Vol. 2, No. 3 (Jul., 1898), pp. 598-632. It is a pdf just under a Mb. Let me know if it doesn't come thru.

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  10. Thank you very much for Burton's paper. I found it interesting, perplexing, and frustrating. I expect such material to be at least bilingual, Greek and/or Hebrew & English, and often a third language, but Greek, English, French, Latin and German!!! (good grief). It was an interesting synopsis of verifying the provenance of the inscriptions.

    But what I found perplexing was Burton's simultaneous assertion that "the word πολιτάρχης found in Acts 17:6,8 does not occur elsewhere in extant Greek literature" while noting (fn. 1, pp. 598-599) Wendt's remark: "Bei AEneas Tact. 26 findet sich πολιταρχος, im Classischen sonst πολιαρχος." and quoting (fn. 1, pp. 599) from Wendt the very same passage I cited above from J. C. Orellius' 1818 edition of Aeneae Tactici Commentarius de Toleranda obsidione (page 81)!!!

    I can accept that Burton's intent was to survey, marshall and reconcile the various "politarchs" inscriptions and not further evaluate Aeneas Tacticus' reference as it was not an inscription.

    Plainly, I was wrong in that Burton *did* know of Aeneas Tacticus' use of πολίταρχον, but how Burton can claim that πολίταρχον occurs nowhere in extant Greek literature while quoting extant Greek literature's reference of πολίταρχον is beyond me.

    Regardless, Burton confirmed two pre-Lukan uses of "politarchs", and regardless, Aeneas Tacticus' use stands as well, and is the earliest.

    ReplyDelete
  11. "All the evidence is that Luke knew of the much older spelling πολιτάρχης as used by Aeneas Tacticus.
    Also, it is often forgotten that most texts did not survive to this day. Only a small fraction exist to confirm each other"

    where might I find these small fractions of texts?

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  12. All the evidence is that Luke knew of the much older spelling πολιτάρχης as used by Aeneas Tacticus.
    Also, it is often forgotten that most texts did not survive to this day. Only a small fraction exist to confirm each other

    where do I find these small fractions of text?

    ReplyDelete
  13. According to "St Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen" 2001 edition, page 183, archaeological finds for "politarchs" stands at 64 finds that cover several centuries (2nd century BC to 3 century AD). 2/3rds of the finds are in Macedonia from cities of Berea, Apollonia, & Amphipolis.

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  14. Thanks John. It seems that this was the first example that vindicated Luke, and your book identifies more examples have since been uncovered.

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  15. New scholarship has now brought into question Aeneas Tacticus' 'Aineiou Poliorketika' proving it to be a forgery. Darryl Bock

    ReplyDelete

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