Friday, January 08, 2010

παράκλητος as a precise legal term

This morning I read Lochlan Shelfer's essay, "The Legal Precision of the Term 'παράκλητος'" (JSNT 32/2 [2009], 131–150), which surveyed (exhaustively, apparently) the use of παράκλητος [paraklētos; from which we get "Paraclete" as a reference to the Holy Spirit] in pagan and Hellenistic Jewish literature and argued that, with one exception from the Classical period (Demosthenes, De Falsa Legatione [343 BCE]), every use of παράκλητος was either (i) a translation of the Latin advocatus, or (ii) consistent with its use a translation of advocatus.

I found a lot about this article interesting, but I think I can best explain where Shelfer's argument took my mind in a series of progressive observations:

  • With the exception of Demosthenes, παράκλητος only appears in pagan literature six times, once in an Oxyrhynchus papyrus (P.Oxy. 2725.10), and in one piece of epigraphic evidence (a "confession inscription" from northeaster Lydia [modern Turkey]). Regardless whether or not we accept Shelfer's argument regarding παράκλητος as a Greek translation of the Latin advocatus, our Greek term appears to have been rare in gentile (pagan) usage.

  • Despite this rarity among gentile writers, Shelfer notes that παράκλητος "is used often . . . by Jewish writers during the Roman Empire" (142). Philo alone, writing in the first-century CE from the northern Egyptian metropolis, Alexandria, uses the term eleven times. Given Philo's involvement in judicial affairs between the Alexandrian Jewish population and the Roman justice system, perhaps the utility of παράκλητος isn't all that surprising. At any rate, our term seems to be especially popular in Jewish Hellenistic Greek relative to gentile Hellenistic Greek. Παράκλητος even appears in transliteration in Hebrew and Aramaic texts as פרקליט [prqlyt]

  • The Johannine writings continue the popularity of παράκλητος in Jewish texts: "The currency of the word in Jewish writings no doubt contributed to its most famous uses in the Christian Scriptures where it appears in two places, four times in a speech by Jesus to the disciples in the Gospel of John, the 'Farewell Discourse", and once in 1 John" (145). Five uses in a single set of texts (the Johannine literature) certainly qualifies as a frequent use of παράκλητος, a usage akin to Philo and distinct from gentile use.

If these observations are correct, then I find it interesting that, whatever else the Johannine corpus (especially the gospel, but also Revelation) says about "the Jews," it nevertheless exists within a Jewish symbolic universe. This is fairly obvious from other, more blatant themes in the text (testimony of Moses, Jesus as the λόγος [logos], etc.), but even in the minor details (here, the use of a Greek legal term) John appears thoroughly at home among Hellenistic and Roman Jewish literature, especially where that literature is distinctive vis-à-vis its pagan counterpart.


Jack Weinbender said...

Makes me wonder if the word might relate to the judicial language of hasatan, "the Accuser," in Jewish and Christian literature. Where Satan "accuses," the HS (or Jesus in some cases, if I'm not mistaken) "advocates" for us.

Rafael said...

Wow, Jack. You've made a good point. Well done.

Yes, Shelfer points to the use of παράκλητος in 1 John 2, which critics accept describes Jesus as "advocate" [advocatus]. But the Holy Spirit in the Johannine Farewell Discourse has given commentators problems here because (if I remember rightly) the variety of functions the HS-παράκλητος performs.

But the very interesting point is that Shelfer points to Pirke Aboth 4.11, which uses both the transliteration פרקליט and the word קטיגור ["accuser"], which Shelfer points out "is clearly a transliteration of the Greek term κατήγορος" (2009: 144). Shelfer then draws the link with השׂטן ["the satan, accuser"] in Job 1.6–12.

It's an interesting analysis.

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