Thursday, March 18, 2010

Nominal Sentence Predicates and Coptic John 1:1

ΑΥШ ΝЄΥΝΟΥΤЄ ΠЄ ΠϢΑϪЄ -- John 1:1, Sahidic Coptic text

A literal English translation:

In the beginning existed the Word
And the Word existed with the God
And a god was the word.

Did the Sahidic Coptic translators see theos ("god") in the Greek anarthrous construction of John 1:1c as adjectival ("divine") or as a predicate noun ("god/God")? It has become popular for certain scholars to see the Greek of John 1:1c as qualitative in character, matching the descriptive or adjectival use of common nouns like noute ("god") in Sahidic Coptic.

Descriptively (adjectively), Sahidic Coptic ou.noute can be translated as "divine" or "a divine one." Denotatively, Sahidic Coptic ou.noute can be translated as "a god."

Note that whether descriptive or denotative, the Sahidic Coptic common noun with the indefinite article, ou.noute , can be rendered into standard English with the English indefinite article: "a divine one; a god." -- Compare Coptic scholar Bentley Layton, A Coptic Grammar, 2nd Edition (Harrassowitz Verlag, 2004), page 227.

But one important fact must be kept in mind in determining the best English translation at John 1:1c. Although Sahidic Coptic ou.noute may, in context, be denotative ("a god") or descriptive ("divine"; "a divine one") the actual usage of common nouns with the Coptic indefinite article ou- in the Sahidic Coptic Gospel of John (and the Sahidic Coptic New Testament generally) favors the simple denotative function: "a god," "a man," "a woman," "a prophet," etc.

Thus, the first example of this Coptic grammatical form found after John 1:1 is translated denotatively, with the English indefinite article "a" in George William Horner's version as "a man" (ou.rwme). --John 1:6, The Coptic Version of the New Testament in the Southern Dialect, Volume 3 (Oxford, The Clarendon Press, 1911) Similarly, we have "a man" (ou.rwme) again in verse 30; "a dove" (ou.groompe) at verse 32; "a marriage (feast)" (ou.Seleet) at 2:1, and so on denotatively a multitude of times throughout the Sahidic Coptic Gospel of John.

The Sahidic Coptic indefinite article bound to the Coptic common noun is routinely translated denotatively (with the English indefinite article "a") in Horner's Coptic Gospel of John, but not descriptively or adjectivally or "qualitatively" at all.

Coptic scholar Bentley Layton has "a-god" in his interlinear translation of Sahidic Coptic ou.noute at John 1:1c in his Coptic in 20 Lessons (Peeters, Leuven, 2007), page 7.

The tendency to want to view Coptic John 1:1c as adjectival or descriptive ("divine," "a divine one") rather than as denotative ("a god") is that of modern scholars, and does not appear to be the view of the Sahidic Coptic translators, as demonstrated by their regular use of indefinite article - common noun phrases as denotative everywhere else in John's Gospel.