Our Blessed Mother & The Saints

Central Objections to Svendsen's Sham-Thesis

Presented below are my central objections to Eric Svendsen's sham-thesis on Hes Hou. The material here is a summary of the main points collected in my research. There are, of course, many more fundamental problems with Svendsen's thesis. However, for the sake of brevity, they have been omitted here in favour of the more extreme flaws. Those genuinely interested in this question are encouraged to read my main critique. Some other excellent articles and dialogues can be accessed by visiting my index page.

The Evidence

Flavius Josephus - In his book on page 70, Svendsen dismisses the following source an instance of continuation:

"The king himself, and all the people and the Levites, went before, rendering the ground moist with sacrifices, and drink-offerings, and the blood of a great number of oblations, and burning an immense quantity of incense, and this till the very air itself every where round about was so full of these odors, that it met, in a most agreeable manner, persons at a great distance, and was an indication of God's presence; and, as men's opinion was, of his habitation with them in this newly built and consecrated place, for they did not grow weary, either of singing hymns or of dancing, [hes hou] until they came to the temple; and in this manner did they carry the ark. But when they should transfer it into the most secret place, the rest of the multitude went away, and only those priests that carried it set it between the two cherubims, which embracing it with their wings, (for so were they framed by the artificer,) they covered it, as under a tent, or a cupola." (Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 8:4:1) [http://wesley.nnu.edu/josephus/ant-8.htm]

Yet, it is readily apparent from the context of the passage that the people, while they may have stopped singing and dancing, certainly did not necessarily grow weary of it. Indeed, it is more than likely that once they reached the temple, they would have rejoiced even more and would have continued if the circumstances allowed it. Therefore, it is not at all valid to merely assume that the people grew weary of singing and dancing once they approached the temple.

4 Maccabees 7:1-3 - "For like a most skillful pilot, the reason of our father Eleazar steered the ship of religion over the sea of the emotions, and though buffeted by the storms of the tyrant and overwhelmed by the mighty waves of tortures, in no way did he turn the rudder of religion [hes hou] until he sailed into the haven of immortal victory."

Commenting on this passage, Svendsen writes:

"The writer of 4 Maccabees may also have intended this meaning [i.e. continuation] when he writes: "[The reason of Eleazar] in no way turned the rudder of godliness until it sailed into the harbor of victory over death (7:3). The metaphorical nature of this passage makes it exceedingly difficult to make a firm decision as to the continuation/discontinuation of the action of the main clause. Do we assume Eleazar's reasoning did or did not "turn the rudder of godliness" after it "sailed into the harbor of victory over death"? Or do we assume that the question itself is moot since no reference to cessation or continuation is in mind? Even the meaning of the phrases themselves ("turn the rudder of godliness"; "sailed into the harbor of victory over death") remains uncertain. It would therefore be unwise to uphold this isolated passage as an example of one meaning or the other." (WIMM, p.64-65)

Despite Svendsen's tortured explanation above, it is more than apparent to any sensible reader that Eleazar did not "turn the rudder of religion" even AFTER he sailed to his glory. On the contrary, that rudder became "cemented" in glory and could no longer turn even if Eleazar could turn it! Obviously, when Eleazar met God, his rudder would be set for eternity AND REMAIN SO.

4 Maccabees, unlike much of the Septuagint, is of much later origin. In his book, Svendsen does not distinguish between the books of the Septuagint as being written over vastly different periods. In fact, he incorrectly treats the Septuagint as one corpus and being written before 130 B.C. This is what he writes:

"As for the latest date for completion of the LXX, the prologue to Sirach specifically tells us that the author found a "reproduction" of our valuable teaching" (which he defines as 'the law, the prophets, and the other books') while in Egypt the thirty-eighth year of the reign of Euergetes (132 BC)...and the Editor's Preface of the Septuaginta (ed. A. Rahlfs; Deutshce Bibelgesellschaft Stuttgart, 1979), LVI: 'As the Prologue to the Book Ecclesasticus [Sirach] shows, there was in existence towards the end of the 2nd century BC a Greek translation of the whole, or at least of the essential parts of the O.T." (WIMM, p. 290-291)

But it is clear from many sources (at least a dozen) that there is wide consensus, indeed virtual unanimity, on the dating of 4 Maccabees. Most sources peg this work around the time of Christ. Even the most liberal range offered, 63 B.C. to 70 A.D., is still well within Svendsen's range of research. And since this passage becomes germane to Svendsen's thesis, it represents even more evidence which flatly contradicts his claims.

The relevance of this passage against Svendsen's thesis was discovered by Robert Sungenis and Jacob Michael. For a more detailed analysis of this passage and its impact on Svendsen's thesis, readers are encouraged to read this article.

The Apocalypse of Moses - "But when I die, leave me alone and let no one touch me [hes hou] until the angel of the Lord shall say something about me; for God will not forget me, but will seek his own vessel which he has formed. But rather rise to pray to God until I shall give back my spirit into the hands of the one who has given it (31:3-4)."

In the first instance of until [hes hou], the action (i.e. "not touching him") continues into the subordinate clause. There is no hint at all to suggest that after the angel "says something about him", that his audience would be allowed to touch him. In fact, the presumption should really be that no one should touch him ever again, because, in the next part of the sentence Adam says that God will "seek his own vessel" as if to suggest that his body is God's alone. And this is precisely the most cogent understanding if we were to keep reading for the next several chapters (Cf. 38-40). God sent his angels to recover Adam's body and to bury it. This means that, in the preceding chapter referred to by Svendsen, Adam did indeed expect his body to be retrieved by God, and instructed his followers therefore NOT to touch him - either before his death or after it. As such, the main action of "not touching" continues through hes hou. Svendsen's claim of this instance supporting his thesis represents another substantial blunder on his part. There is no evidence whatsoever of a cessation of the action in the main clause. None.

Joseph & Aseneth - "And Aseneth was left alone with the seven virgins, and she continued to be weighed down and weep [hes hou] until the sun set. And she ate no bread and drank no water. And the night fell, and all (people) in the house slept, and she alone was awake and continued to brood and to weep; and she often struck her breast with (her) hand and kept being filled with great fear and trembled (with) heavy trembling."

Although this example clearly refutes Svendsen's contentions, he has, yet again, curiously dismissed this relevant piece of evidence from impacting his thesis, claiming that there is no consensus on the dating of the work. Yet, the sources below say quite the opposite. Although there are a few scholars who might dispute the dating, the consensus is clearly in line with Burchard's dating of Joseph and Aseneth. In fact, Burchard is the central and scholarly source for this work. As Dr. Goodacre admits, "Christoph Burchard [is] probably the most important Aseneth scholar this century." Another reviewer informed us that Burchard is "a scholar who has practically devoted most of his working life to J/A (Gesammelte Studien, 1996)." (http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/1998/1998-12-02.html)

In fact, it is quite revealing how Svendsen was completely oblivious to the Joseph and Aseneth text, and consequently failed to interact with it. This is a serious oversight with a very popular text - not at all obscure. Such a glaring oversight suggests a poor level of scholarship and flawed research methodology overall. It therefore demonstrates that there can be little trust in his work as he may have omitted other evidence as well.

"It is hard to decode this into dates, but we are probably safe to say that the book was written between 100 b.c. and Hadrian’s edict against circumcision, which has to do with the Second Jewish War of a.d. 132-135. If Joseph and Aseneth comes from Egypt, the Jewish revolt under Trajan (c. a.d. 115-117) is the latest possible date. It does appear to have originated in Egypt, since Aseneth, and not another woman such as Ruth or Rahab (Josh 2), is the heroine of the story." (Burchard, C. "Joseph and Aseneth." In The Old Testament Pseuepigrapha. Vol. 2, Expansions of the "Old Testament" and Legends, Wisdom and Philosophical Literature, Prayers, Psalms, and Odes, Fragments of Lost Judeo-Hellenistic Works, ed. James H.Charlesworth, pp. 215. New York: Doubleday, 1985)

"Chesnutt's book falls into three parts. The first part (pp. 1-93) consists of a thorough review of all previous scholarship on JA, and a detailed summary of the present state of research. C. notes that there is now a broad consensus on six important points--that the longer recension b (championed by Chr. Burchard) is superior to the other recensions of JA (including the short recension d, championed by M. Philonenko), that JA was originally written in Greek, that it is Jewish in origin, that it probably was written in Egypt, that it was written some time between 100 BCE and 115 CE, and that it is--generically--a Hellenistic novel. This scholarly consensus serves as a basis for C.'s own work, and it is Burchard's preliminary reconstruction of recension b which is used by C. throughout his study (as well as in the present review)." [Gideon Bohak] (ftp://ftp.lehigh.edu/pub/listserv/ioudaios-review/5.1995/chesnutt.bohak.008)

“In my seminar paper on Joseph and Aseneth I will discuss the most common issues regarding the book which scholars throughout the centuries have looked at. My starting point will be the views held by twentieth century scholars, as they generally tend to agree regarding the text's date (between 100BC and AD 135), provenace (Egypt, probably Alexandria), and authorship (Jewish, possibly of Essene or Therapeutae origins).” [Elaine Pardoe] (http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/~www_sd/josasen.html)

"There is no consensus about when Joseph and Aseneth was written. Our first evidence of it is from a Syriac version in the mid sixth century A.D. Battifol, who produced the first critical edition of Joseph and Aseneth, thought that it was a Christian work and dated it in the 4th-5th centuries. Most twentieth century scholarship has tended to treat it as a Jewish work of much earlier origin, probably in the First to Second Centuries A.D. One recent commentator, Gideon Bohak, even dates it in the First Century B.C.. However, Ross Kraemer, in her recent monograph When Aseneth Met Joseph, is inclined to push the dating back towards that postulated by Battifol -- it is a "late antique" work, perhaps even written by Christians. [Mark Goodacre, Univ of Birmingham] (www.bham.ac.uk/theology/g.../intro.htm)

Luke 24:49 - “But stay in the city until [hes hou] you have been clothed with power from on high.” As v. 24 makes clear, Jesus is directly addressing the eleven remaining apostles (cf. Acts 1:2-4). Yet we know that the apostles remained in Jerusalem after the day of Pentecost for quite some time (cf. Acts 8:1). Presumably the other disciples (Lk. 24:33) among the 120 who were empowered by the Spirit stayed in Jerusalem after the day of Pentecost as well (Acts 2:46). There certainly is no indication that the disciples understood Jesus’ instructions in Luke 24:49 to mean that once the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, they had to leave Jerusalem. It was persecution which finally drove out many Christians from Jerusalem, not some perceived obedience to Jesus’ instructions in Luke 24:49. Nor does Luke 24:47 imply that the disciples had to leave Jerusalem after Pentecost; it merely points to the spread of the gospel that would go out from Jerusalem. The taking of the gospel to all nations would be accomplished through Christian converts and missionaries. It was hardly the responsibility of the twelve alone, or even the 120 disciples alone, to fulfill the great commission themselves! Paul, the great missionary to the Gentiles, was not even converted yet when Jesus spoke the words of Luke 24:49. In any case, Jesus’ disciples plainly stayed in Jerusalem for some time after the day of Pentecost, showing that they did not understand Jesus' utterance in the sense that "Svendsen's rule" would require. So Luke 24:49 disproves Svendsen’s thesis. (Paul L. Owen, Ph.D., University of Edinburgh, Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies and Languages, Montreat College)

Acts 25:21 - This verse also disproves Svendsen’s thesis: “But when Paul appealed to be kept in [Roman] custody [terethenai] for the decision of his majesty the emperor, I ordered him to be kept in [Roman] custody [tereisthai] until [hes hou] I could send him to Caesar.” But Paul was kept in Roman custody for some time after he was sent to Caesar by Agrippa. Nor can one argue that tereisthai should be understood in a strictly geographical sense (kept in Caesarea), since the parallel usage of the cognate infinitive terethenai establishes the meaning of “kept under guard” or “kept in custody.” The focus is not on where Paul would be kept, but the manner of the custody. Paul wanted to remain in Roman custody (and protection), rather than be released to face a Jewish trial. If tereo means “kept under guard” in the first half of the verse, then it surely retains that meaning in the second half of the verse. We know that tereo means “keep under Roman custody” in the first half of the verse, and not “keep in Caesarea,” because Paul is to be kept “for the decision of his majesty the emperor.” But Paul would have to leave Caesarea to stand trial before Caesar, and travel to Rome. So the geographical meaning is impossible in the first half of the verse. Only special pleading then would argue for a shift in meaning to “kept in Caesarea” in the latter half of the verse. The point is that Paul is to remain in Roman custody until Agrippa sends him away. And since Paul in fact remained in Roman custody even after Agrippa sent him away, this again disproves the thesis of Svendsen and White. (Paul L. Owen, Ph.D., University of Edinburgh, Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies and Languages, Montreat College)

Matthew 18:34 - For Svendsen and the Reformers, Matthew 18:22-34 is undoubtedly directed toward an eternal and not temporal setting. In this passage, the unforgiving servant neither displays nor is given room for repentance. This makes the wicked servant’s consequent punishment one of eternal damnation; since those who go to Purgatory are only those who must suffer the residual punishment remaining from already confessed sin. Hence, the whole context of Matthew 18 is one of portraying the unforgiving servant as a wicked man who never had a thought to doing what was right or forgiving his debtor.

A number of commentators have confirmed this view. John Calvin, for instance, says this about Matthew 18:34:

"Delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that he owed." The Papists are very ridiculous in endeavoring to light the fire of purgatory by the word 'till';48 for it is certain that Christ here points out not temporal death, by which the judgment of God may be satisfied, but eternal death."44

This poses huge problems for Eric Svendsen's thesis, however. Matthew 18:34 becomes at least one instance in the New Testament where Protestant commentators have consistently maintained that the action before hes hou continues. Yet, Eric insists that the action in the main passage ceases. As he confirms in his article:

Unfortunately, Sungenis has demonstrated neither of these points. Sungenis’ point (1) is a straw man. I have never asserted that heos “always terminates the action of the main verb.” Nor have I ever asserted that hes hou always terminates the action of the main verb. There are a few instances in the LXX where it clearly does not. All I have ever asserted—and continue to assert—is that hes hou in all the literature of the two centuries surrounding the birth of Christ, when it means “until,” always terminates the action of the main clause. That is an irrefutable fact. If Sungenis had read my work he would have known this. If Sungenis has an example contrary to my proposed usage for this era, let him produce it—he can’t because it doesn’t exist." (http://www.ntrmin.org/sungenis_and_heos_hou.htm) (emphasis mine)

Yet, not only is his "irrefutable fact" an "irrefutable error" as the three preceeding texts clearly show, but his claim that the action in the main clause always terminates is clearly false with respect to Matthew 18:34 - at least from the Protestant perspective. Of course, if Mr. Svendsen wished to leave the Protestant perspective behind and adopt a purgatorial understanding of the passage, we would be happy to concede this passage to him.


Before - In his coverage of the instances of hes hou in the Septuagint, Svendsen marks out a special sub-category of hes hou which implies continuation. He writes:

"In each of the above cases, hes hou appears in a context whre the action of the main clause discontinues after the action of the subordinate clause. This is, with relatively few exceptions, the primary usage of this phrase. There are few instances, however, in which this connotation is present, but is secondary to the temporal meaning before." (WIMM, p. 61-62)

Svendsen then goes on to discuss a number of instances where before means discontinuation. He argues that in all Septuagint instances of before the action in the main clause ceases. But even his analysis here is grossly deficient at least in one respect (Cf. Eccl 12:1-2). Be that as it may, Svendsen has insisted throughout his defense that Catholics should abandon Mary's perpetual virginity because his thesis says there are no instance of hes hou denoting continuation within his range. Of course, we all know that is now an unsustainable thesis. But, for the sake of argument, let us continue along that road for awhile and see where it leads. In his book, Svendsen allegedly provides all of the instances of hes hou between 100 B.C. and 100 A.D. None of these, he explains, allows for "until" to mean continuation of the action in the main clause. But here is something else to observe. In all of the instances which he provides, there is no meaning which he identifies as "before" within his thesis range either! Therefore, because Svendsen did not identify an instance of "before" in his thesis range, does this meaning ALSO drop out of existence between 100 B.C. and 100 A.D.?

Statistical Irrelevance - If we were to extrapolate the percentage of "continuation occurrences" from the Septuagint (calculated to be 9.6%) to the fifteen occurrences 33 of the relevant hes hou population in the New Testament, we would expect to find approximately 1.44 instances (9.6% * 15) of hes hou where the action in the main clause continues. From a statistical point of view, even if no such instances were found in the New Testament, this would not be significant enough to draw a conclusion on Matthew 1:25. The significance of this is nothing short of devastating to even considering the question itself as a thesis. It is a statistically irrelevant question!

Gratuity Unmasked - Svendsen conceded occurrences in the second century BC (100-200 B.C.) in order to manufacture "a range of relevancy" for his thesis from the period 100 B.C. to 100 A.D. What Svendsen would therefore have us believe is that hes hou always implies a cessation of the action in the main clause within the range he has selected (100 B.C.-100 A.D.), but not outside of this range. Svendsen's thesis is not merely about usage "dropping out of existence" as he claims. It is more precisely about a particular usage (i.e. continuation of the action in the subordinate clause) occurring before his thesis range, disappearing within his thesis range, and then mysteriously re-emerging again after his thesis range. I will leave the assessment of such scholarship to our readers. One cannot help but conclude that Svendsen's "thesis" is more of an exercise in gratuity than it is authentic scholarship.

Arbitrary Range - Svendsen appears to minimize the significance of those writings which begin to encroach on his thesis. Based on what fundamental linguistic or historical criteria does Svendsen arbitrarily set his period of search? What is the rationale, for instance, in restricting his period of search to the period 100 B.C. to 100 A.D.? One has to wonder what the rational is for not allowing his ultimate conclusions to be affected by a wider period of search from, say, 250 B.C. to 250 A.D.? If this period were chosen, then not only would the Septuagint passages completely debunk his sought-after objective, but non-biblical Greek sources from the second and third centuries A.D., supporting the non-restrictive sense, would also make his sought-after objective impossible.

Imprecise Distribution - Not only is Svendsen's 200 year range completely arbitrary, but even his own two hundred year distribution is fundamentally flawed! Consider this diagram:

The time frame for Svendsen's thesis is depicted in Exhibit A. Since he chose 100 years before and after the birth of Christ instead of 100 years before and after the writing of the Gospel i.e. 50 A.D. (Exhibit B), his whole approach is skewed and compromised. The "center point" should be on Matthew's gospel and not on the Birth of Christ! Moreover, if we were to widen the period of search (and there would be no substantial reasons for rejecting this widening) to 200 years before and after Matthew's gospel (Exhibit C), all of the references contradicting Svendsen's generic claim over hes hou come into play (3 Baruch, for instance, was written in the late second century). For a list of these references, please read my original piece.


Scholar Survey - In doing research on this question, including the academic and scholar survey which I conducted, without prejudice, I came across no source (other than Svendsen's book endorsements and his doctoral committee) which lent the least bit of support to his thesis. Not one. In fact, I challenge him to supply the endorsements of TWO noted scholars who still endorse his work AFTER reading my work. I challenge Eric Svendsen to post his doctoral dissertation on his website for closer scrutiny along with ALL scholars who support his work, including those listed on his doctoral thesis committee.

Ecumenical Support - In Svendsen's bibliography, he lists The Birth of the Messiah by Raymond Brown. In this work, Raymond Brown essentially concurs that Svendsen's position on hes hou has no scholarly basis.

"Leaving aside post-Reformation quarrels, we must seek to reconstruct Matthew’s intention, first from the immediate context and then from the whole Gospel. How does "not know her until" fit into the immediate context? In English when something is negated until a particular time, occurrence after that time is usually assumed. However, in discussing the Greek hes hou after a negative...K. Beyer, Semitishce Syntax im Neuen Testament (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck, 1962), I, 132(1), points out that in Greek and Semitic such a negation often has no implication at all about what happened after the limit of the "until" was reached."?"18 (emphasis added)

Beyer's professional, scholarly, and - note this well - UNBIASED opinion on a grammatical question determined that there was no substantial difference between classical Greek and Koine Greek on this particular issue. Why should the reader simply take Svendsen's word that a real New Testament scholar's opinion is wrong - especially when that scholar has no polemical bat to play with? Beyer is no doubt a bona fide expert in Koine Greek, having written "Semitishce Syntax im Neuen Testament", an impartial and extremely technical source. As such, it should be given precedence over a sectarian who is advancing a thesis which depends on Beyer being wrong!

Eminent Protestant Scholarship - Not only do Brown et. al. also refer to the K. Beyer's opinion in Mary in the New Testament which refutes Svendsen's thesis, but Svendsen himself even concedes the scholarship arrayed against him:

"Protestants scholars who take this view include Robert Gundry, Matthew,: A Commentary from His Handbook on a Mixed Church Under Persecution, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 25, who says, "By itself hes hou, which belongs to Matthew's preferred diction (4,2) does not necessarily imply that Joseph and Mary entered into normal sexual relations after Jesus' birth"; Richard B. Gardner, Matthew (Believers Church Bible Commentary; Scottsdale, P.A.: Herald Press, 1991), 41,...states that "the language of the text leaves open the question of how Joseph and Mary related to each other after Jesus' birth..." (WIMM, p. 286-287)

It's truly amazing how Mr. Svendsen is not at all phased with the scholarship arrayed against him.

John Pacheco
The Catholic Legate
December 12, 2003

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