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I'm trying to understand the use of the city name Jerusalem in the New Testament. In some places, it appears as a proper noun, singular, feminine (Strongs 2419), And then in other places, it appears with neuter plural declension (Strongs 2414).

For example, in Matthew 2:1, "In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, Magi from the East came to Jerusalem (Ἱεροσόλυμα)"

  • Here, Jerusalem seems to be accusative, Neuter, Plural
  • Appears elsewhere in forms: Ἱεροσόλυμα, Ἰεροσολύμων, Ἱεροσολύμοις which seems to cover all the plural neuter cases (accusative/nominative, genitive, dative respectively).

The plural neuter form appears 63 times while the proper feminine singular version appears 77 times.

A few observations:

  • The two forms appear in both Matthew and Luke/Acts. Galatians also has both
  • The proper noun is rare outside of luke/acts (64 of the 77 instances are in luke/acts)
  • Acts uses both extensively
  • Mark and John use the plural neuter version exclusively

In Hebrew: יְרוּשָׁלַם does have what sounds like the "dual" ending as if it referring to something of which there are two of. At the same time, that may just be the word shalem (שלם) in a compound term meaning city (יר) of shalem, or something like that.

Another thought: There is a kind of dual nature to the concept of Jerusalem in the narratives. There seems to be the idea of a Jerusalem above and the Jerusalem below or the visible Jerusalem and the invisible Jerusalem.

Is anyone aware of why the word is conjugated in neuter plural in certain places?

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  • Look carefully at the spelling - the word actually has more than one spelling and the the most common has the same spelling for several cases. The number and case are deduced from the surroundings as in English.
    – Dottard
    Apr 6 at 11:46
  • Not just the surroundings, but the endings to the noun. Ἱεροσολύμοις is clearly neuter (or masculine) plural dative. -οις is characteristic of this declension. Jerusalem appears with four different spellings including the singular: Ἰερουσαλήμ, and then the plurals: Ἱεροσόλυμα, Ἰεροσολύμων, Ἱεροσολύμοις... The last three are clearly then from the neuter plural according to their endings (-α, -ων, -οις). Do nouns normally change their number based on context even if they are singular? Does Jesus' name, for example, show up plural somewhere?
    – Gus L.
    Apr 6 at 12:15
  • Yerushalayim ends in -ayim, wouldn't you agree ?
    – Lucian
    Apr 30 at 4:25
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Concerning the Greek word for Jerusalem, http://ntresources.com/blog/?page_id=2549

When it is written as a neuter, it is always plural. This is apparently a stereotyped/ frozen form and the plural carries no particular significance. This may be a carry-over from Hebrew which is a “frozen dual” form ...

because it is a “foreign” word, not a Greek word. That is, it is a Hebrew word being transliterated into Greek letters. ...

Although it may refer to “the precincts/environs of Jerusalem” (thus Bernard, ICC 1:98), it should probably be treated as insignificant–that’s just the way they spelled it, and there is nothing significant in this

Some more general info about place names is at http://www.ibiblio.org/bgreek/test-archives/html4/1999-09/32669.html

In the NT a number of place names are brought into Greek as neuter plural nouns; hIEROSOLUMA [Jerusalem] (67), QUATEIRA (4), MURA (1), PATARA (1), hRHGION (1), SAREPTA (1), SODOMA (9). One place name is brought in as a neuter sing. noun; ILLURIKON. Most place names in the NT are brought into Greek as indeclinable feminine nouns; IEROUSALHM (77) BHQZAQA (1), BHQLEEM (8), BHQSAIDA (7), BAQFAGH (3), GEQSHMANI (2), GENNHSARET (3), etc. I know of no hard and fast rules for how such names are brought into Greek.

Dr. Carlton L. Winbery
Foggleman Professor of Religion
Louisiana College

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