Baker Academic

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Aramaic background to the Gospels: speculating about euthus

 Following on from previous posts on Aramaic sources (here and here)…

Some of the possible Aramaic influences on the Gospels have a stronger explanatory force than others. Some are speculations and probably should remain speculations. Here is one such speculation for εὐθυς in Mark which I can't decide if it's a serious possibility or little more than a parlour game.

The adverb εὐθυς (‘immediately’, ‘at once’ etc.) occurs about 42 times in Mark which is a strikingly high amount. This much is commonly stated. One possible explanation which is very rare in scholarly literature (Pesch’s commentary on Mark is one exception, I think) is based on an Aramaic (or ‘Semitic’) influence. In the Septuagint (Gen. 15.4; 24.45; 38.29), εὐθυς can translate the Hebrew demonstrative particle, הנה (‘see!’, ‘behold!’, ‘lo!’, translation dependent upon how antiquated you feel), an Aramaic equivalent of which is הא. So one possible explanation for this εὐθυς saturation in Mark could be the (mistaken? deliberate?) translation of this exclamation, common of course in Hebrew Bible/OT narratives. This explanation could work with some passages in Mark (e.g. ‘And see! they left their nets and followed him’, ‘See! The leprosy/skin disease left him’)

Then again, Mark might just have a particular εὐθυς fetish because, so the conventional argument goes, he wanted to produce a fast-paced narrative. As I said, this is a speculative exercise. But still, even the conventional explanation for εὐθυς is not necessarily exclusive of the speculative approach here and it remains that there is an unusually high level of εὐθυς in Mark…


  1. The possibility of "Look!" rather than "immediately" would certainly fuel the fires of those invested in performance theories of transmission.

  2. But the much more common translation of hinneh is idou, no?

    1. Yes, indeed, and which is one of the main reasons for my scepticism: why not go for the obvious translation? But then I keep thinking about why so many occurrences of euthus it can translate the demonstrative particle. I'm obviously not convinced but still...