While teaching Greek this semester, I’ve also been providing students with vignettes as a little relief from the drudgery of learning grammar. Here are some of them:

Animals in the Greek Bible

Here are some examples of Greek words for animals that occur in the New Testament.

ἵππος (horse)

This word only occurs in the New Testament only in Revelation: καὶ ἰδοῦ ἵππος λεύκος (Rev 6:2)

The word for river in Greek is ποταμός. So what is a ἱπποπόταμος?

κύων (dog) a masculine third-declension: the genitive form is κύνος and is the origin of the word cynic)

Occurs in Luke 16:21: even the dogs would come and lick his sores.

There are no house cats (αἴλουρος, domestic cat, felis domesticus) in the canonical Bible.

But there are big cats:

λέων (lion) a masculine third-declension

Revelation 5:5: the lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has conquered

 πάρδαλις (leopard) a feminine third-declension

Jeremiah 5:6 [LXX]: a leopard is watching against their cities

 And there’s at least one fictional animal in the LXX: μονόκερως (unicorn) in Job 39:9: is the unicorn willing to serve you? But most scholars think this refers to the ρινόκερως.

Palm Sunday 2018

Western Christians celebrate Palm Sunday, the commemoration of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, this Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. Most Eastern Christians will observe Palm Sunday on the following Sunday. The discrepancy is the result of a difference in the calculation of the date of Easter. Unlike Christmas, Easter is not a fixed holiday but changes based on the phases of the moon. Easter always has to occur after the equinox (which was yesterday) but also after the first full moon after the equinox. This ties the celebration of Easter to the Jewish Passover, whose date is determined according to the lunar calendar.

The original Palm Sunday is described in all of the Gospels. Not all of them specify that the crowd spread palms on the road. Matthew 21:8 says that some of the people greeting Jesus laid down κλάδους τῶν δένδρων (leaves from the trees). Mark 11:8 says they spread στιβάδας τῶν ἀγρῶν (straw from the fields). Luke does not mention any leaves or palms. Instead he just says that the people put down τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτων ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ (their outer garments in the road). John says the crowd took τὰ βαΐα τῶν φοινίκων and went out to meet Jesus. The two dots on βαΐα indicate that this is a word of non-Greek origin . It is a rare word, perhaps of Coptic origin, and means palm-leaves. τῶν φοινίκων is the genitive plural of φοῖνιξ, which means Phoenician. So the phrase could be translated as Phoenician palm-leaves, but φοῖνιξ also is used for date-palms (Phoenix dactylifera) so it more likely should be translated as leaves of a date-palm tree.

The Greek word for a date is ὁ δάκτυλος, which also means finger and is where we also get the word dactyl as in dactylic hexameter and pterodactyl (from τὸ πτέρον, which means wing).


“Good Friday” actually means Holy Friday. In Greek the day is called μεγάλη παρασκευή, or “great Friday.” παρασκευή literally means preparation day, since it is the preparation day for the Sabbath, which is τὸ σάββατον or Saturday.

According to Matthew 27:37, the inscription was written over Christ on the Cross:

οὗτος ἐστιν Ἰησοῦς ὁ βασιλεῦς τῶν Ἰουδαίων

While there are no details in the Gospels about what happened to Jesus between his death and resurrection on Sunday, ancient tradition held that he descended into Hell. An allusion to this may be in 1 Peter 3:18-21:

He was also put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he also went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey.

This is a very vague passage: made a proclamation is the NRSV translation of the Greek κηρύσσει, which, as we know, also means preach. The word translated as prison is ἡ φυλακή, which means a place where people are kept under guard but in Christian contexts is often a euphemism for Hell. What is the point of preaching to souls that will never be saved? Perhaps they were given a second chance and could now repent and be saved. This is the origin of the belief in the Harrowing of Hell, commemorated on Holy Saturday, in which Christ saved the righteous in Hell.

The word for Easter is τὸ Πάσχα, which is also the word for Passover. During Passover commemoration, the paschal lamb is sacrificed in memory of the sacrifice of the lamb whose blood marked the doorposts of the Jews’ houses (Exodus 12:7). That lamb is a type of Christ, who is called the paschal lamb in 1 Cor 5:7:

For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.

The ever virgin?

Fairly early in the history of the early Church, the expression ἀειπαρθένος began to be used of Mary. ἀεὶis an adverb meaning ‘always’ or ‘ever.’

However, the Gospels speak of Jesus’ brothers and sisters. For example, in Mark 6:3—οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ τέκτων, ὁ υἱὸς τῆς Μαρίας καὶ ἀδελφὸς Ἰακώβου;

οὗτος = this (demonstrative pronoun)

τέκτων = carpenter (>tectonic)

In the East a tradition developed that the brothers and sisters were the children of Joseph from a previous marriage. This tradition goes back to Origen in the third century.

In the Western (Catholic) tradition, ἀδελφός and ἀδελφή are understood in the broader sense to encompass cousins and extended family. There is a precedent for this in the LXX. In Genesis 13:8, Abraham refers to Lot and himself as ἀδελφοί even though Lot is his nephew.

The early Protestant reformers (particularly Luther and less stridently, Calvin) as well as John Wesley tended to affirm perpetual virginity, although they acknowledged it as extra-biblical.