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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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(Acts 17:18)

Augustine and Wyclif wrongly derive the word σπερμολόγος from σπείρω λόγους and translate it ‘sower of words.’ It is properly derived from σπέρμα, ‘seed,’ and λέγειν, ‘to gather.’ Originally an adjective, the derived substantive was used of small birds gathering crumbs (Aristophanes, Av. 233, 580). It was afterwards applied to loafers in the market-place who gained a precarious livelihood by what they could pick up, and it thus connotes ‘a vulgar fellow,’ ‘a parasite.’ Greek writers used it as a term of contempt for plagiarists and pseudo-philosophers (cf. Eustathius on Homer, Odyss. v. 490), and Zeno thus names one of his followers. W. M. Ramsay (St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, 1895, p. 242) speaks of the word as ‘characteristically Athenian slang, clearly caught from the very lips of the Athenians.’ The word thus contemptuously implies one who is an outsider and yet wishes to pose as one of the inner circle, and probably does not refer to anything that the Apostle had said. It would seem, therefore, that the expression was used by the philosophers who have just been mentioned rather than by the populace in general. They resented the intrusion of one who had no credentials, and from the first viewed him with hostility (see, further, Ramsay, ‘St. Paul in Athens,’ in Expositor, 5th ser., ii. [1895] 262ff.

F. W. Worsley.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Babbler'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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