August 5, 2012

Archelaus in 4 BC & 'Being-King' vs 'Reigning'

Is it the same to 'rule' as to 'be king'? The answer may depend on the time and place of the pseudo-monarch in question. For example:

When Herod the Great died, he decreed his son Archelaus the new King. However, because Augustus Caesar hadn't yet confirmed Herod's last will & testament, Archelaus officially refused to presume to be King. Of course, despite that political front, Archelaus absolutely did spend the next several weeks in Judea actively ruling as King (Antiquities 17.188-250, 299-323). This "reign" lasted no more than weeks because the 19 (18?) year old "non-king" started a riot and skipped town, sailing straight for Augustus, and - five or six months later on - a demotion to 'Ethnarch'.

Cut to the Gospels, where Matthew 2:22 says Archelaus was 'reigning' (βασιλεύει), or perhaps literally, 'kinging'. If the holy family left Egypt when Herod died, according to divine messenger, then Matthew's timing and grammar happen to agree with the specific chronology of Josephus' Antiquities. That is, somewhere around mid-April of the year 4 BC, Joseph heard about Archelaus' behavior, and this occured while the yet-to-be-Ethnarch was still boldly and foolishly acting as King.

In other words, the content and grammar of this particular scripture verse appears to align accurately with historical data, as long as the reader has precise awareness of the historical and chronological context.

Unfortunately, most NT surveys present Archelaus' demotion to Ethnarch as if it occured at the moment when Herod died, and therefore most NT commentators react with embarrassment to Matthew 2:22 or apologize for it. English translators, notoriously, avoid any royal allusions here. As a group, they strongly prefer 'ruling' to 'reigning', and when Raymond Brown translated "Archelaus was king", it was a deliberate setup for his vigorous criticism. Of course this would be fine, if it were actually justified.

I've got *much* more to say about the history and the commentators, but that's for some other time.

Today, I'm thinking more about the translating. Here's why:

It's starting to look like the most famous translators of Josephus (Whiston, Thackeray, Wikgren, Feldman) sometime preferred translating functional verbs and participles (such as βασιλεύσει or βασιλεύοντος) into official designations (as Brown did, above). I don't have an exhaustive list yet, but just a bit of a hunch. Perseus is very helpful, but exhausts me far more quickly than I exhaust it's examples, much less understand what I'm trying to read.

Anyway, here's what I'm thinking.

I'm wondering if English preference for translating the verb form <kinging> as noun <was king> owes anything to the increasingly non-executive nature of the British Monarchy (after 1689). I mean, if the chief function of Queen Elizabeth II is to "be Queen", then isn't "reign" the same idea as "being Queen"? Today, yes. In the ancient world, methinks, absolutely no way.

There's probably not enough data to prove that's an influence, even if it is true. On the other hand, maybe some astute reader here will be able to think of a similar pair of Greek words (noun-verb) where the verb doesn't (or does?) get translated like a noun just for custom's sake. Or maybe a study has already been done on this? (I wish!) Any help here will be greatly appreciated...

For what it's worth, it seems to me that a non-modern and non-western mind would make the proper distinction more easily here. For what it's worth, I think it's clear to see in Josephus what Archelaus was and wasn't, and how he acted. For what it's worth, I'm not so very clear on the translation issues, but arguing over what to call a phenomenon is less important than observing carefully the behavior of that phenomenon.

Am I right here, or what?

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