Skip to content

A human creature or a goddess?

September 19, 2013

Here is an good story about how Pisistratus got back into power one more time. He was by all accounts a good tyrant, the kind of tyrant that reduced the taxes of the poor, and did good for the citizens. But he was the last tyrant of Athens, and perhaps lived in the last generation of Athenians naive enough to view a human creature and believe she was a goddess.

ἐν τῷ δήμῳ τῷ Παιανιέι ἦν γυνὴ τῇ οὔνομα ἦν Φύη, μέγαθος ἀπὸ τεσσέρων πηχέων ἀπολείπουσα τρεῖς δακτύλους καὶ ἄλλως εὐειδής: ταύτην τὴν γυναῖκα σκευάσαντες πανοπλίῃ, ἐς ἅρμα ἐσβιβάσαντες καὶ προδέξαντες σχῆμα οἷόν τι ἔμελλε εὐπρεπέστατον φανέεσθαι ἔχουσα, ἤλαυνον ἐς τὸ ἄστυ, προδρόμους κήρυκας προπέμψαντες: οἳ τὰ ἐντεταλμένα ἠγόρευον ἀπικόμενοι ἐς τὸ ἄστυ, λέγοντες τοιάδε: [5] ‘ὦ Ἀθηναῖοι, δέκεσθε ἀγαθῷ νόῳ Πεισίστρατον, τὸν αὐτὴ ἡ Ἀηθναίη τιμήσασα ἀνθρώπων μάλιστα κατάγει ἐς τὴν ἑωυτῆς ἀκρόπολιν.’ οἳ μὲν δὴ ταῦτα διαφοιτέοντες ἔλεγον: αὐτίκα δὲ ἔς τε τοὺς δήμους φάτις ἀπίκετο ὡς Ἀθηναίη Πεισίστρατον κατάγει, καὶ οἱ ἐν τῷ ἄστεϊ πειθόμενοι τὴν γυναῖκα εἶναι αὐτὴν τὴν θεὸν προσεύχοντό τε τὴν ἄνθρωπον καὶ ἐδέκοντο Πεισίστρατον. Herodotus Histories, 1.60

There was in the Paeanian deme a woman called Phya, three fingers short of six feet, four inches in height, and otherwise, too, well-formed. This woman they equipped in full armor and put in a chariot, giving her all the paraphernalia to make the most impressive spectacle, and so drove into the city; heralds ran before them, and when they came into town proclaimed as they were instructed: [5] “Athenians, give a hearty welcome to Pisistratus, whom Athena herself honors above all men and is bringing back to her own acropolis.” So the heralds went about proclaiming this; and immediately the report spread in the demes that Athena was bringing Pisistratus back, and the townsfolk, believing that the woman was the goddess herself, worshipped this human creature and welcomed Pisistratus.

Now, it is pretty clear from this that anthropos means that the woman is a human creature, and NOT that the woman is a man. Nobody thought the woman was a man, nor was she. The question is whether she was human or divine. They thought she was divine and Pisistratus was welcomed back into power.
In a follow up of this event, Pisistratus had agreed to marry the daughter of a powerful ally, which he did. However, he had his own young sons with him, and refused to impregnate his new wife. So after a few years he was out of power again, but returned once more. A woman impersonating a goddess got him into power, along with his promise to marry a certain other woman.
I realize from some of the recent comments that there might be some people still thinking that anthropos means the person is male. Not sure why. It doesn’t function that way in Greek, as far as I can see.
In the days when people believed in gods and goddesses who roamed the earth looking like humans, but being not humans but not quite divine either, it was important to have a way to designate humans as humans, and the way to do that was to say that the creature was an anthropos, and put a feminine or masculine article in front. I blogged about this in the past, but I don’t think I ever posted the full text for this story before.
Here is the opposite argument from Jack Cottrell of CBMW,

The really important point here relates to the second meaning of anthropos, namely, its reference to male individuals. The fact is this: in the New Testament, when this term is used for specific individuals, it always refers to males. There are no exceptions. Thus when it refers to specific individuals, it is a practical synonym for aner [man, citizen] or arsen [male]. It is never used of a woman when a specific woman or group of women is in view. The term used in such a case is almost always gune (gune, “woman” or “wife.” (At times such words as “daughter” and “damsel” and “maiden” are used.)

The list of specific men of which anthropos is used is quite long and need not be recited here. It includes some with names and some who are unnamed. It includes many specific fictional men in parables or illustrations, as distinct from the three times Christ refers to a woman (gune) in a parable (Matt 13:33; Luke 13:21; 15:8).

That the term anthropos may have this distinct connotation of maleness is seen from other data about its use in the NT. First, on several occasions it is used interchangeably with aner.  Second, it is sometimes used for males as contrasted with females, as in these cases: Matt 10:35; 19:5, 10; Luke 22:57-60; 1 Cor 7:1; and Eph 5:31.

The point is that anthropos can mean “male”; and when used of specific individuals, it is always intended to identify them as males. There is absolutely no reason to think that its use for the specific individual Jesus should deviate from this pattern. That Jesus is an anthropos means first of all that he is a human being; but it also means that he is a male human being.

I guess I am wondering if the New Testament is simply far too small a sample size for linguistic data. There are actually many examples of women referred to as anthropos in Greek literature, so it is hardly likely to be identifying them as male.

Update: I got to thinking that a story about any situation closed to women, or where women were restricted, might have a similar use of a term. For example, a history of the Hudson Bay territory, Rupert’s Land, which covered much of Canada for 200 hundred years, would show that no non-native women were allowed to enter that territory for that period. Does that make the word “Scottish” mean male? No. And when women did come as missionary wives, as the wife in the pair, “the missionary and his wife,” does that make the word “missionary” mean male? No, it doesn’t. These situations do not change the meaning of the word.

Anthropos refers to human beings, not gods, not animals, and the “human and his wife” are still “one human and one human,” they are not anything else. When Christ is referred to as anthropos in the New Testament, this affirms his humanity. It does not deny his maleness, nor does it identify his maleness. Anthropos, when referring to a woman, says nothing about her gender either, but it affirms her equal humanity.

I was very disappointed today to reread 1 Tim. 2:5 in the NIV 2011. Here is the verse in  three translations,

 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man[a] Christ Jesus, ESV

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, NIV 2011

For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, NRSV

Churches should be switching over the the NRSV for accuracy on gender in translation.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 19, 2013 6:51 am

    From the mid 1st century (the time the New Testament is being written originally) is a text that gives this account of an abduction of a woman by men, who are remarking that her good looks go beyond ἀνθρώπινον τὸ κάλλος, or “human beauty.”

    Could they just be saying she’s prettier than “man handsomeness“? Wouldn’t that be odd? Man glamour?

    Here’s the paragraph from the 2007 and from the 1995 translations:

    And even if the woman’s relatives are so grateful they don’t press charges, the magistrates and the people themselves won’t let tomb-robbers off the hook, not when they bring in the proof of their own guilt. Maybe someone’s going to say we’d make more money if we sold the woman. After all, she’ll fetch a high price on account of her beauty. That’s dangerous too. See, gold can’t talk and silver won’t say where we got it from. We can make up a story about them. But loot with eyes and ears and a tongue — who could hide that? After all, her beauty isn’t the normal sort we could hide. “She’s a slave.” Is that what we’re going to say? Who’s going to believe that after getting a look at her? So let’s kill her here and now. Let’s not go hauling our accuser around with us.

    And, even if the girl’s relatives waive charges against us, still the magistrates and the people will not let off tomb robbers who are convicted by the property in their possession. Perhaps someone may say that it is more profitable to sell the girl, since she will fetch a high price for her beauty. But this, too, has its dangers. Gold has no voice and silver will not tell where we got it. We can make up some yarn about them. But who can conceal property which has eyes, ears, and a tongue? And besides, hers is no mere human beauty for us to get away with it. Shall we say that she is a slave? Who will believe that, one he sees her? So let us kill her here and not be encumbered with our own prosecutor.

    Respectively, these are Stephen M. Trzaskoma’s and G. P. Goold’s translations of Chariton’s Callirhoe.

  2. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    September 19, 2013 11:14 am

    Perhaps anthropos also functions as a class designator, a low class designator. Her beauty is noble, or divine. It is not just a beauty than any ordinary woman could have. But only an upper class woman, an aner sort of woman, or andreia woman could have, like the valiant woman of Proverbs who is one of the heroic class of women, not one of the hoi polloi.

  3. September 19, 2013 12:09 pm

    It does seem that the contrast in Greek literature is more between human and god (rather than between man and woman or male and female), when we look at the uses of anthropos. In contrast with immortal divine beings, the class of mortal anthropoi is certainly lower. Here’s another case from the opener of Chariton’s first-century novel.

    When Chariton was writing, so was Luke. Doesn’t his gospel suggest the possibility that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was an anthropos, a human, a mortal?

    There are examples from the Septuagint, from much earlier than Chariton and from Luke, where the anthropos is inclusive of females, so it would seem. Here’s from Genesis:

    καὶ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν ἄνθρωπον [anthropon],
    κατ’ εἰκόνα θεοῦ [theou] ἐποίησεν αὐτόν,
    ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ [thelu] ἐποίησεν αὐτούς.

    And God made humankind;
    according to divine image he made it;
    male and female he made them.
    [translated from the Greek into English
    by Robert J. V. Hiebert]

  4. September 20, 2013 10:46 am


    I have some English examples that may make things clearer here: More on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: