Important Studies of Kinship-terms and Forms of Address
Through reading the recently-published thesis of one of our PhD students, I’ve learned of a body of important studies on terms used in the NT by Professor Eleanor Dickey. Such is the canalization of modern scholarship (and my own limits) that I hadn’t previously known of these studies, but I think they’re essential for exegetes and commentators on NT writings. A blog posting won’t allow space to do justice to all that her work offers, so I’ll confine myself to a few comments.
Let’s start with her book based on her DPhil thesis: Eleanor Dickey, Greek Forms of Address: From Herodotus to Lucian (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996). In this work she analyses the use of terms (other than proper names) used in ancient Greek letters to address recipients. This is of obvious relevance to NT studies given that a number of NT writings are letters. We’re better enabled to weigh the manners in which people are addressed in the NT letters in light of what Dickey provides.
Next, this one: Eleanor Dickey, “KYRIE, ΔΕΣΠΟΤΑ, DOMINE: Greek Politeness in the Roman Empire,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 121 (2001): 1-11. Both κυριε (the vocative form of κυριος = sir/lord/master) and δεσποτα (vocative of δεσποτης = master/lord/owner) are used in the NT, esp. in narratives and reported speech, and Dickey’s study, attentive to changes across ancient centuries, gives important data for weighing what these terms of address mean in NT instances.
And then this one: Eleanor Dickey, “Literal and Extended Use of Kinship Terms in Documentary Papyri,” Mnemosyne 57 (2004): 131-76. This impressively data-rich study covers usage of various Greek kinship terms across several centuries: The Greek words for “father,” “mother,” “brother,” “sister,” “son,” and “daughter.” The analysis focuses on how/when these terms were used “literally” (i.e., referring to actual family members) and when they were used in an “extended” or “metaphorical” sense, for individuals not physically related to the speaker/writer.
This study seems to me particularly important for serious readers/interpreters of NT writings, where we often have individuals referred to with these terms. Just note, for example, Paul’s use of various kinship terms in Philemon, none of which seems to be used in a “literal” sense. Dickey gives reason for caution, for example, in assuming that simply referring to someone as a “brother” connoted an intimate or close personal relationship. The use of the term in Roman-era documentary texts clearly shows that this is not necessarily the case. There are a number of other specific observations in this article that simply must be noted by exegetes.
Finally, this one: Eleanor Dickey, “The Greek Address System of the Roman Period and Its Relationship to Latin,” Classical Quarterly 54, no. 2 (2004): 494-527. In this essay she makes a strong case for the proposal that in the Roman period the Greek terms used for addressees developed under the impact of Latin. Of specific relevance for NT studies, she shows that the vocative form of “kyrios” (kyrie) seems to appear quite suddenly in documentary papyri of the Roman period, and she proposes that this happened as Greek-speakers developed this address-form as a functional equivalent for the Latin “domine“.
Now, on this particular point, I’m not (yet) entirely satisfied that she has adequately reckoned with the use of the vocative, kyrie, in the Septuagint (LXX). This would pre-date the Roman period, of course. Her response is that the LXX is something of a special case, as a translation-text (from the Hebrew and Aramaic), whereas she’s focused on the evidence of “documentary” texts (esp. letters).
But the counter-point is that the LXX likely reflects the use of Semitic-language equivalents for “kyrie,” and this may have been an additional factor promoting the formation and usage of “kyrie.” But this question can’t be engaged adequately here, and, whatever may be the case, her article is a “must” read for serious NT exegetes.
Oh, and the published PhD thesis that led me to Dickey’s work is this one (which I also highly recommend): Julia A. Snyder, Language and Identity in Ancient Narratives, WUNT 2, no. 370 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014).