Sunday, June 10, 2007


In the Twinkling of an Eye

1 Corinthians 15.51-52:
Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

ἰδοὺ μυστήριον ὑμῖν λέγω· πάντες οὐ κοιμηθησόμεθα, πάντες δὲ ἀλλαγησόμεθα, ἐν ἀτόμῳ, ἐν ῥιπῇ ὀφθαλμοῦ, ἐν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ σάλπιγγι· σαλπίσει γάρ, καὶ οἱ νεκροὶ ἐγερθήσονται ἄφθαρτοι, καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀλλαγησόμεθα.
The noun ῥιπή comes from the verb ῥίπτω, meaning "throw, cast, hurl." I don't have a commentary on 1 Corinthians, but the accepted explanation of ἐν ῥιπῇ ὀφθαλμοῦ seems to be that the "casting of a glance takes an extremely short time." So Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, s.v. ῥιπή.

Instead of ῥιπῇ, some papyri have the interesting variant ῥοπῇ. The noun ῥοπή comes from the verb ῥέπω, meaning "sink, fall." Curiously, the King James Version's twinkling is closer to ῥοπή (falling) than to ῥιπή (throwing). Twinkling means in the time it takes to wink, and wink means either quickly shut the eyes (Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis 122: "And I will wink; so shall the day seem night") or quickly shut and reopen them.

Perhaps the variant ῥοπῇ arose because its parent verb ῥέπω was sometimes used in connection with the eyes. One of the definitions of ῥέπω in Liddell & Scott is "falls, of a young girl's eye, A.Fr.242; ὕπνος ἐπὶ γλεφάροις ῥέπων sleep falling upon the eyes, Pi.P.9.25."

There are also passages from Greek literature suggesting that the shutting (or winking or blinking) of the eyes is a very rapid motion. One of these is Euripides, Bacchae 746-747 (tr. Moses Hadas and John McLean):
Quicker were their coverings of flesh torn asunder than you could close the lids of your royal eyes.

θᾶσσον δὲ διεφοροῦντο σαρκὸς ἐνδυτὰ
ἢ σὲ ξυνάψαι βλέφαρα βασιλείοις κόραις.
Another is Philostratus, Heroicus p. 291 Kayser:
Faster than shutting the eyes.

θᾶττον ἢ καταμύσαι.
I owe these passages from Euripides and Philostratus to A.S.F. Gow's note on Theocritus 29.27-28. Theocritus uses a different expression for something happening quickly:
And ere a man can spit we grow old and wrinkled.

κὤτι γηράλεοι πέλομεν πρὶν ἀπύπτυσαι / καὶ ῥύσσοι.
Gow ad loc. also cites two comic authors for the "faster than spitting" comparison: Menander, Perikeiromene 202 and Epicrates, fragment 3.20 (Kock, Comicorum Atticorum Fragmenta, vol. 2, p. 283).

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