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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Basket (2)


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BASKET.—All four Evangelists, in narrating the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, describe the baskets in which the fragments were placed as κόφινοι (Matthew 14:20 = Mark 6:43 = Luke 9:17 = John 6:13); while the two who report the other miracle of feeding the four thousand, state that the fragments were placed in σπυρίδες (Matthew 15:37 = Mark 8:8). It is clear from Matthew 16:9 f. (= Mark 8:19 f.) that the variation is intentional. The baskets used on the one occasion differed either in size, shape, or material from those used on the other (cf. (Revised Version margin) in Matthew 16:9 f. and Mark 8:19 f.). Our Lord preserved the distinction, and our present Gospels have also done so.

‘Basket’ occurs in the Authorized and Revised Versions Gospels in the above passages only. The older English versions use the confusing rendering of ‘baskets’ for both words, except that Wyclif has ‘coffyns’ and ‘leepis.’ By ‘coffyn’ he evidently meant a small basket. Rheims renders στυρἰδων, ‘maundes,’ i.e. hand-baskets. Davidson (NT, 1875) at Mark 8:19-20 has ‘basketfuls’ for κοφίνους and ‘walletsful’ for σπυριδων, as if he had found τηρῶν.

The authors of such renderings as the above forgot that St. Paul (Acts 9:25) made his escape in a σπυρἱς. This fact at once excludes wallets or hand-baskets. If the distinction was one of size at all, which is not certain, we should perhaps have to assume that the σπυρίς was the larger. Bevan (Smith’s DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] 1 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] i. 172) says that the κόφινος was the larger, quoting Etym. Mag., βαθὺ καὶ κοῖλον χώρημα, and the use of cophinus in Latin, e.g. Colum. xi. 3, p. 460, as containing manure enough to make a hotbed. Greswell (Diss. viii. pt. 4, vol. ii.) thought that the cophinus was big enough to sleep in. He probably misunderstood the passage in Juvenal quoted below; for though the hay may have been used as a bed, it is not said that it was in the cophinus. Nor is it clear that the Latin cophinus and the Greek κόφινος were at all times identical in meaning (so the French balle is not a cannon-ball but a musket bullet, while our cannon-ball is a boulet). Let us examine the two words more closely.

(1) κόφινος is said to be derived from κόττω; but this appears to be more than doubtful, and the grammarians considered it less Attic than ἅρριχοτ, which was clearly a wicker or flag basket. In the Gr. OT it is used by LXX Septuagint and Symm. [Note: Symmachus.] for Heb. dud in Psalms 80 [81]:6, and by Symm. [Note: Symmachus.] only in Jeremiah 24:1-2 (where LXX Septuagint has κάλαθος), and for sal by Aq. [Note: Aquila.] in Genesis 40:16 (where LXX Septuagint has κανᾶ). Certainly in the two latter passages a small basket, carried in the hand, or on the head, would suit the contexts. Suidas defines κ. as ἀγγεῖον τλεκτὀν. In CIG [Note: IG Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum.] 1625, lines 44–46, it is clearly a corn-basket of a recognized size; cf. also CIG [Note: IG Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum.] 2347 k. In Xen. Anab. iii. 8. 6 it occurs as a dung-basket (see the Latin cophinus in Columella, as cited above). It is said that the Jews at Rome carried cophini about with them to avoid the chance of food contracting any Levitical pollution in heathen places. The reason given appears fanciful, and anyhow would hardly apply to the journeys of our Lord and His apostles. But the fact is vouched for by Juvenal (Sat. iii. 14: ‘Judaeis, quorum cophinus fœnumque supellex’; vi. 542: ‘Cophino fœnoque relicto | Arcanam Judaea tremens mendicat in aurem’) and Martial (Epig. v. 7).

(2) στυρίς (or σφυρις, as WH [Note: H Westcott and Hort’s text.] prefer) is not found in the LXX Septuagint. It is generally connected with στεῖρα = anything twisted (Vulgate sporta, of which the diminutives sportella and sportula occur, as small fruit or provision-baskets). Hesychius explains σπυρίς as τὸ τῶν τυρῶν ἀγγος, as though from πυρός; cf. δεῖτνον ἀτὸ στυρίδος (Athenaeus, viii. 17). Hence Greswell thought that before Pentecost, the season of wheat harvest, when the second miracle took place, the disciples were able to use corn-baskets, while the first miracle happening before Passover time, they used another kind of basket! Besides the improbability of this, we may note that there is no proof that in either case the baskets belonged to or were carried about by the disciples, for they may have been borrowed when needed. Yet Trench (Miracles, p. 380 note 2) inquires why the apostles should have been provided with either kind, and mentions (a) that perhaps they carried their provisions with them while travelling through a polluted land, such as Samaria (yet cf. John 4:8; John 4:31; John 4:40, Luke 9:52); and (b) he also mentions Greswell’s theory, that the disciples carried these baskets in order to sleep in them sub dio. This all comes from applying to the Twelve in the Holy Land what Roman satirists said about Jewish beggars at Rome.

As στυρίς in Acts 9:25 = σαργἀνη in 2 Corinthians 11:33, and as the Vulgate has sporta in both places (and also in the Gospels for στυρίς but not for κόφινο;), we are led to inquire as to the force of σαργάνη. It is used of anything twisted like a rope, or woven of rope (aesch. Suppl. 791—πλἐγμα τι ἐκ σχοινίων Suid.). Fish-baskets were specially so made (ἀτὸ σχοιαἰων τλεγμάτων εἰς ὑποδοχὴν ἰχθὺων, Etym. Mag.), as rush-baskets are used in London.

Meyer considered the difference between σπυρίς and κόφινος to lie not in size, but in κόφινος being a general term, and σπυρίς specially a food-basket. Perhaps the true force of the words we have discussed is to be discovered in the use made of them by Greek-speaking working people at the present day. The writer of this article has therefore consulted a Greek priest, the Rev. H. A. Teknopoulos. In his reply he says: ‘In Asia Minor and in Constantinople our porters call κὁφινος that big and deep basket in which they carry different things. Σπυρίς is a smaller and round and shallow basket. Σαργάνη is a long bag, knitted by (i.e. of) rope, which is in one way very like the δίκτυον of fish, but is different from it in other way(s).’

One might ask whether the στυρἰς of Acts 9:25 is not an error of memory on the part of St. Luke. St. Paul in his own account of his escape would surely use the right word. If so, the supposed need for a στυρίς being big enough to hold a person disappears, and we may accept the decision of those who consider it the smaller of the two kinds mentioned in the Gospels.

George Farmer.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Basket (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/b/basket-2.html. 1906-1918.

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Sunday, October 25th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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