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Odd Gospel Greek: Jesus Wept (like a silly little spoiled girl?)

April 19, 2015

None of the synoptic gospels says Jesus wept. The sophisticated Luke, writing latest of the three-in-agreement, does have him sweating in agony in the garden drops of blood. But the sophisticated Greek gospel writer reserves tears for some strange women (in Luke 7) –

And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears [δάκρυσιν], and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. [38]

And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears [δάκρυσιν], and wiped them with the hairs of her head. [44]

This sort of display of emotions, the show of wetness, the exhibition of drops of tears from the eyes is what, in Homeric Greek, a silly little spoiled girl would do. For example, there’s this longer passage in the epic Iliad, the opening lines of Book XVI (Englished by Samuel Butler):

Thus did they fight about the ship of Protesilaos. Then Patroklos drew near to Achilles with tears [δάκρυα] welling from his eyes, as from some spring whose crystal stream [κρήνη] falls over the ledges of a high precipice. When Achilles saw him thus weeping he was sorry for [ποδάρκης] him and said,

“Why, Patroklos, do you stand there weeping like some silly [δεδάκρυσαι] child that comes running to her mother, and begs to be taken up and carried- she catches hold of her mother’s dress to stay her though she is in a hurry, and looks tearfully up [δακρυόεσσα] until her mother carries her – even such tears [δάκρυον], Patroklos, are you now shedding. Have you anything to say to the Myrmidons or to myself? or have you had news from Phthia which you alone know? They tell me Menoitios son of Aktor is still alive, as also Peleus son of Aiakos, among the Myrmidons – men whose loss we two should bitterly deplore; or are you grieving [ὀλοφύρεαι] about the Argives and the way in which they are being killed at the ships, through their own high-handed doings? Do not hide in your mind anything from me but tell me that both of us may know about it.”

Then, O horseman Patroklos, with a deep sigh [βαρὺ] answered,

“Achilles, son of Peleus, foremost champion of the Achaeans, do not be angry, but I feel grief [ἄχος] for the disaster that has now befallen the Argives. All those who have been their champions so far are lying at the ships, wounded by sword or spear. Brave Diomedes son of Tydeus has been hit with a spear, while famed Odysseus and Agamemnon have received sword-wounds;…”

The pathos in both stories deserves much more study. In both Luke’s and Homer’s accounts the femininity of tears gives way to their valorization by grown men. The familial is something the Iliad plays on more as the next lines unfold. There’s the play on the name Patroklos as he begins to move Achilles with his emotions, as he challenges who his mother is and who is father is. And the lack of the familiar, the strangeness of this woman crying, is stressed in the Luke passage.

The odd gospel Greek, the Hellene of the writer called John, attributes to Jesus such tears. Are they tears of sympathy, of empathy, of self pity perhaps, of somebody spoiled and young and wanting her mommy to hold her? What are we readers to make of this?

In an earlier post (in a series of related posts), I tried to suggest that the Hellene in the story of Jesus weeping had us readers hearing him: snort. In this post, the issue is of what we readers are to see, with the tear drops, in verse 35 of John 11. Are (we) Greek readers to see gender, little-girl-like-ness and stranger womanliness, in such weeping?

In a post I wrote yesterday, on rediscovering some intertextuality, I suggested that it is okay, quite human, to cry like Jesus. But was I not being textual enough, not literal enough, not literary enough, not tied enough to the text, to the Greek, as odd as it so obviously is?


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