Semitic Background to the Nain Story

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The short account of the resurrection of the widow’s son in Nain has a very Semitic feeling. If the Nain story was written originally in Greek, it is a very semitically flavored Greek. Several linguistic features of this story suggest that it may have been written originally in Hebrew.

Revised: 19-Aug-2012

The short account of the resurrection of the widow’s son in Nain (Luke 7:11-17) has a very Semitic feeling. If the Nain story was written originally in Greek, it is a very semitically flavored Greek. Several linguistic features of this story suggest that it may have been written originally in Hebrew.

Noun-Adjective

Languages often vary widely in the way they order the parts of a sentence. One of the first things an English speaker notices when he begins studying Semitic languages such as Hebrew is that nouns precede adjectives.

The Hebrew speaker places the noun first and then describes it, adding modifying adjectives one after the other. For example, where an English speaker would say “good morning” or “good evening,” the normal modern Hebrew phrase is בוקר טוב (boker tov), literally, “morning good,” or ערב טוב (erev tov), literally, “evening good.”

Note that in the Nain story Hebraic noun-adjective word order predominates: “crowd large” (vss. 11 and 12); “prophet great” (vs. 16); “word this” (vs. 17). Only once in this story does the adjective come first: “only-born son” (vs. 12).

Wadi Kelt in the Judean wilderness. Somewhere along this canyon, which stretches from a few miles east of Jerusalem almost to Jericho, is a possible site of Nain. Photograph by Todd Bolen. Photo © BiblePlaces.com.

Verb-Subject

Word order in Greek is very flexible because suffixes are used to make it clear whether a word is the subject, the object, or the verb of the sentence. Still, there is a certain usual pattern, and in classical Greek the subject appears before the verb more than 80% of the time.

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Photos courtesy of BiblePlaces.com.

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