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L’article présente une enquête lexicographique portant sur le verbe βοηθέω dans la littérature grecque antique, où il apparaît en des contextes variés (militaire, médical, quotidien, etc.) et recouvre un large éventail de sens (aider, secourir, assister, etc.), témoignant ainsi de sa richesse sémantique comme de son potentiel métaphorique et symbolique. Les investigations se concentrent d’abord sur la littérature grecque profane, les papyrus et les inscriptions, avant de s’intéresser plus en détail à la Septante — où le verbe acquiert une valeur théologique importante, notamment lorsqu’il se réfère à Dieu —, puis se penchent sur les écrits du judaïsme hellénistique et du Nouveau Testament.

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  • 1 See below, p. 136.
  • 2  It should be noted that even the most recent HTLS does not devote an entry to it, preferring to li (...)

1“On a day of salvation, I have helped (ἐβοήθησά) you”: this quotation from the Greek text of Isa 49:8, celebrating the Saviour God and repeated verbatim by Paul in 2 Cor 6:2,1 reveals the theological potential of the verb βοηθέω. On further examination of this term, it appears, somewhat curiously, that it has hardly attracted the attention of scholars and that even specialized dictionaries devote only limited space to it.2 However, the verb deserves more consideration: it is indeed common in ancient Greek literature, and enjoys not only a wide range of meanings, but is also striking for the variety of contexts in which it appears, reflecting the richness of the word.

2Far from aiming to be exhaustive, this article wishes rather to present an overall picture of the use of βοηθέω in ancient Greek literature, with a certain focus on the Septuagint. This lexicographical survey will look at instances from Classical and Hellenistic Greek literature, then from papyri and inscriptions, before exploring the Septuagint, then the New Testament, and ending with some observations on the writings of the Apostolic Fathers.

I. Path through Greek literature

  • 3  The Greek passages quoted in this part are taken from the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG).

3Etymologically, the verb βοηθέω comes from the expression ἐπ βον θεῖν and means “run to the call”, hence “come to aid” or “come to the rescue”, i.e. “succour”. It is very frequent and occurs in a wide range of works of Classical and Hellenistic Greek literature from the seventh-eighth centuries BCE onward.3 It also appears in a great variety of contexts.

  • 4 For a similar formula, see Xenophon, Hell. 1.6.22.

41. In a military context, βοηθέω may have the meaning of “to come to the rescue” of a place, a city, a country, or troops. This meaning is found especially among Greek historians. So, for example, Herodotus, Hist. 3.54, reporting the siege of Samos by the Lacedaemonians, recounts that “then Polycrates himself came to the rescue with a great force and they were driven out” (μετὰ δὲ αὐτοῦ βοηθήσαντος Πολυ-κράτεος χειρὶ πολλῇ ἀπηλάσθησαν). In Hist. 1.82, he describes how “the Argives came out to succour their territory from being cut off” (βοηθησάντων δὲ Ἀργείων τῇ σφετέρῃ ἀποταμνομένῃ). Likewise, Thucydides, Hist. 4.72.1, tells that the Boeotians intended “to come to the aid of Megara” (βοηθεῖν ἐπὶ τὰ Μέγαρα), while Polybius describes “the troops that had come to the rescue from Ariminum” (ταῖς ἀπ’ Ἀριμίνου βοηθούσαις δυνάμεσι: Hist. 3.88.8) or Philip “coming to the aid of the Achaeans with an army” (μετὰ δυνάμεως βοηθῶν τοῖς Ἀχαιοῖς: Hist. 4.22.2). For sending ships in the context of a battleship, see e.g. Xenophon, Hell. 1.5.13: “the Athenians came to the rescue of Antiochus with more ships” (οἱ Ἀθηναῖοι τῷ Ἀντιόχῳ ἐβοήθουν πλείοσι ναυσί).4

  • 5 Cf. Lysias, Diogit. 3: βοηθεῖν αὐτοῖς τὰ δίκαια, “to give them the support of justice”.
  • 6 See also Antiphon, Nov. 31.

52. The verb occurs frequently in the context of assisting someone or coming to the aid of someone: to assist with money (Aristotle, Eth. Nic. 1130a: βοηθήσας χρήμασι); to help or defend people (Isocrates, Big. 41: τῷ δήμῳ βοηθῶν); to help someone to assert their right (Xenophon, Mem. 2.6.25: τοῖς φίλοις τὰ δίκαια βοηθεῖν).5 Isaeus uses it in connection with the right of heirs: “to defend the rights of heiresses” (βοηθεῖν ταῖς ἐπικλήροις) in Pyrrh. 46, “to help me to obtain my just rights” (βοηθεῖν/βοηθῆσαί μοι τὰ δίκαια) in Apollod. 4 and Cir. 5. The verb can also have more clearly the meaning of “protecting”: for example, to protect or rescue his father from danger of death (Plato, Leg. 874c: πατρὶ βοηθῶν θάνατον). In a context of calling for help, see e.g. Aristophanes, Vesp. 433: βοήθει δεῦρο, “come and help”. Overall, the circumstances and contexts of the appearance of this verb are varied. It can even occur with the meaning of “avenge” or “champion” the death of someone, as in Isocrates, Archid. 23: βοηθεῖν τῷ τεθνεῶτι.6 In the meaning of “repair” one’s fortune, Isocrates, Panath. 140, explains that the people did not suffer the voice of men who, having squandered the inheritances on shameful pleasures, seek to repair their own fortunes from the public treasury (ἐκ δὲ τῶν κοινῶν ταῖς ἰδίαις ἀπορίαις βοηθεῖν ζητούντων). Euripides, Iph. Aul. 79, tells how Menelaus, after the escape of Helen and his lover, invoked the ancient oath exacted by Tyndareus and declared the duty of helping the injured husband (ὡς χρὴ βοηθεῖν τοῖσιν ἠδικημένοις). It should also be noted that in Aristophanes, βοηθέω appears in relation to the gods. Thus in Lys. 303, one is exhorted to hurry forth to the citadel and come to the aid of the goddess (σπεῦδε πρόσθεν εἰς πόλιν καὶ βοήθει τῇ θεῷ), while in Plut. 1026, an old woman complains that the god “hasn’t done right, saying he would support the victims of injustice” (οὐκ ὀρθῶς ποιεῖ, φάσκων βοηθεῖν τοῖς ἀδικουμένοις ἀεί).

  • 7  Cf. H. G. Liddell – R. Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon. With a Revised Supplement, Oxford, Clarendo (...)

63. In a medical context, the verb is used many times in the sense of “cure”, “treat”. It is applied to the physician, who is begged to treat someone, such as in Epictetus, Diss. 2.15.15: “I am sick, master, help me; consider what I must do” (νοσῶ, κύριε, βοήθησόν μοι. τί με δεῖ ποιεῖν σκέψαι). Hippocrates, Vet. med. 13, reports how the physician who would properly treat a sick man must heal (δεῖ τὸν ὀρθῶς ἰητρεύοντα βοηθέειν). Plutarch, Alex. 8.1, records how Alexander not only appreciated the theory of medicine, “but came to the aid of his friends when they were sick” (ἀλλὰ καὶ νοσοῦσιν ἐβοήθει τοῖς φίλοις). Further, in his account of Alexander’s illness, Plutarch, Alex. 19.3-4, tells how “none of the other physicians had the courage to administer remedies” (τῶν μὲν οὖν ἄλλων ἰατρῶν οὐδεὶς ἐθάρρει βοηθεῖν), but Philip the Acarnanian resolved to “try the last efforts to help him” (μέχρι τῆς ἐσχάτης πείρας βοηθῶν). Likewise, the verb can also be applied to remedies or medicinal substances, such as in Theophrastus, Hist. plant. 9.20.1 (πρὸς τὸ κώνειον βοηθεῖ, “an antidote to hemlock”)7 and in Hippocrates, Med. 2 (αὐτόματα γὰρ ταῦτα βοηθεῖν δοκεῖ καλῶς, “for these seem to be a good help just by themselves”) or Med. 12 (ἐδόκει γὰρ τῷ μὲν ἕλκει βοηθεῖν ἡ τῶν περιτιθεμένων δύναμις, “for the strength of what is placed around the outside seems to benefit the lesion”).

  • 8  See in particular F. R. Adrados (dir.), Diccionario Griego-Español, vol. 4, Consejo Superior de In (...)

74. In a more abstract sense, βοηθέω is used with the meaning of “protect”, “save” or “preserve”:8 e.g. to preserve or defend the laws, as in Aristophanes, Plut. 914: “to go to the aid of the established laws” (τὸ μὲν οὖν βοηθεῖν τοῖς νόμοις τοῖς κειμένοις) and in Aeschines, Tim. 33: “the members of the tribe should sit as defenders of the laws and the democracy” (καθῆσθαι κελεύει τοὺς φυλέτας βοηθοῦντας τοῖς νόμοις καὶ τῇ δημοκρατίᾳ). And in Isocrates, Aeginet. 15, the laws themselves provide support: “no law is in their favour, whereas all support my case” (τῶν δὲ νόμων τούτοις μὲν οὐδεὶς, ἐμοὶ δὲ πάντες βοηθοῦσιν). Otherwise, in Plato, Ep. 347e, we find the idea of helping philosophy: “now up to this time I had given help in this way to philosophy and to my friends” (μέχρι μὲν δὴ τούτων ταύτῃ μοι βεβοηθημένον ἐγεγόνει φιλοσοφίᾳ καὶ φίλοις). In Phaed. 88e, Echecrates asks Phaedo to tell him whether Socrates showed any uneasiness or “calmly defended his argument” (πρᾴως ἐβοήθει τῷ λόγῳ), and if “he defended it successfully or defectively” (καὶ ἱκανῶς ἐβοήθησεν ἢ ἐνδεῶς).

II. Exploration in papyri and inscriptions

  • 9  Greek texts, datings and English translations (when available) are taken from Papyri.info, which p (...)
  • 10 See also P.Petr. 2.19 (third century BCE).
  • 11 See also SB 14.11274 [P.Mil.Congr.xiv], 4 BCE; UPZ 1.19 [P.Par. 22], 163 BCE.
  • 12  For similar expressions, see also P.Coll.Youtie 1.16, 109 BCE; P.Fay. 11, after 116 BCE; P.Mert. 1 (...)

8The usage of βοηθέω in papyri from the third to the first century BCE fits into various situations of distress from everyday life where an individual requests aid.9 Thus, it is attested in petitions or letters of complaint, e.g. in connection with imprisonment considered unjust or inappropriate. So it occurs in P.Cair.Zen. 3.59492 (third century BCE), where a certain Paosis, incarcerated for a dispute over one hundred drachmas, asks Zenon to come to his rescue (εἴ τι ἔχεις μοι βοηθῆσαι) and release him until he can write to Horos. Similarly, the writer of P.Col. 3.18 (ca. 257 BCE), who is imprisoned, begs Panakestor for help (ἀξ[ι]ῶ̣ σ̣[ε β]ο̣η̣θῆσαί [μο]ι̣).10 The verb is still attested in P.Diosk. 6 (146 BCE), in the report of a brawl during which those who were attacked called out for help (ἐπικαλουμένων βοηθούς) and were assisted by certain people who had arrived on account of the commotion and helped (καὶ βοηθησάντων) them. The aid requested can also relate the refusal of an office: so, in P.Mich. 1.23 (257 BCE), a certain Aristeides, who had the misfortune to be proposed as commissary of corn by the citizens out of jealousy, sent Dromon to explain his situation to Apollonios, “in order that he may help us (ἵνα ἡμῖν βοηθήσηι) and release me from that responsibility”. Moreover, βοηθέω appears in commercial or business correspondence, e.g. to request an advance of money, as in P.Mich. 1.46 (251 BCE). Finally, it often occurs in fixed expressions at the end of various petitions, such as ἵνὦμεν βεβοηθημένοι / ἵνʼ ὦ βεβοηθημένος, “for we/I shall receive succour” (BGU 8.1849, ca. 47 BCE; BGU 8.1860, 64-44 BCE; BGU 16.2601, 12-11 BCE; P.Rainer Cent. 53, 76 BCE)11 or τούτου δὲ γενομένου ἔσομαι βεβοηθημένος, “if this is done, I shall have received succour” (P.Tebt. 3.1.785, ca. 138 BCE; P.Tor.Choach. 8 A and B, 127 BCE).12

  • 13  Greek texts and datings are taken from https://epigraphy.packhum.org (The Packard Humanities Insti (...)
  • 14  “I shall go in support with all my strength as far as possible if anybody goes against the city of (...)

9The verb βοηθέω is attested in many inscriptions from the Classical and Hellenistic periods.13 Against the backdrop of a conflict, it occurs in decrees relating to a defensive alliance, like in IG II2 116 (361/360 BCE, Attica) where Athens allies herself with the Thessalian opposition. In that case, the Athenians, the generals, the Council, the hipparchs and the cavalry shall swear the following oath: “I shall go in support (βοηθήσω) with all my strength as far as possible if anybody goes against the federation of the Thessalians for war, or overthrows the ruling officer whom the Thessalians chose …”, and the Thessalians do the same in a reciprocal formula.14 Compare also the following statement in a decree inviting cities or states to join the second Athenian League, in IG II2 43 (378/377 BCE, Attica): “If anybody attacks those who have made the alliance, either by land or by sea, the Athenians and the allies shall support the latter (βοηθεῖν Ἀθηναίος καὶ τὸς συμμάχος τούτοις) both by land and by sea with all their strength as far as possible.” The verb is attested in other settings too, for example, in honorific decrees, like that engraved on a marble stele for the poet Philippides, who “has continued to say and to do what is in the interests of the preservation of the city, including requesting the king to help (παρακαλῶν τὸν βασιλέα βοηθεῖν) with money and grain”: IG II3 1, 877 (283/282 BCE, Attica). Later, βοηθέω occurs often in inscriptions of Christian origin.

III. Survey in the Septuagint

1. Statistical observations and Hebrew equivalents

  • 15  A. Rahlfs (ed.), Septuaginta. Id est Vetus Testamentum graece iuxta LXX interpretes. Editio altera (...)

10The verb βοηθέω occurs more than hundred times in the Septuagint.15 The most important cluster of occurrences is found in the Psalms, with twenty matches. Then it is most frequent in the books of Maccabees with seventeen matches, in the books of Chronicles with eleven matches, and in Isaiah with ten matches. It is used six times in the books of Kingdoms, five times in Proverbs, four times in Deuteronomy, Esther, Job and DanielLXX, three times in Joshua, Sirach and 1 Esdras, and once or twice in other writings.

  • 16  Cf. E. HatchH. A. Redpath, A Concordance to the Septuagint and the Other Greek Versions of the (...)

11The Greek word βοηθέω corresponds to different Hebrew roots,16 especially the root ʿzr “help”. So it is mainly used as an equivalent of the verb ʿāzar “help”, “succour” (e.g. Gen 49:25; Deut 32:38; Josh 10:4, 6, 33; 1 Kgdms 7:12; 2 Kgdms 8:5; 21:17; 3 Kgdms 1:7; 4 Kgdms 14:26; 1 Chr 12:1, 19; 18:5; 2 Chr 19:2; 26:13; 28:16; Ps 9:35 [10:14]; 21[22]:12; 36[37]:40; 45[46]:6; 53[54]:6; 78[79]:9; 85[86]:17; 106[107]:12; 108[109]:26; 118[119]:86, 175; Isa 31:3; 41:6, 10, 14; 44:2; 49:8; 50:9; etc.) or Niphal “be helped” (2 Chr 26:15; Ps 27[28]:7; Dan 11:34Th), and the noun ʿezěrāh “help”, “assistance” (Ps 39[40]:14; 43[44]:27; 93[94]:17; Isa 10:3). Likewise, it renders yāšaʿ: Hiphil “help”, “save” (Deut 22:27; 28:29, 31; 1 Chr 19:19; Prov 20:9c[22]) or Niphal “be saved” (Prov 28:18). Furthermore, βοηθέω corresponds to sāʿad “support”, “sustain”, “hold upright” (Ps 40[41]:4; 93[94]:18; 118[119]:117; see also Ezra 5:2, Pael). Lastly, it is found in correspondence with ʿāmad ʿal-nepeš: “to stand for/defend their lives” (Esth 8:11; 9:16) and it occasionally also translates other verbs.

2. Septuagint use

12Unlike the word βοηθός, the verb βοηθέω is most often applied to human helpers rather than to God. In 4 Macc 14:17, it is even applied to birds that help their children. It explicitly refers to men or nations, often relating to allies and coalition, in the context of a war or a battle, especially in the historical books (Josh 10:4, 6, 33; 2 Kgdms 8:5; 18:3; 21:17; 1 Chr 12:34, 37; 18:5; 2 Chr 26:13; 28:16; see also 1 Macc 3:2, 15; 7:20; 10:72; etc.). Sometimes the verb can serve to express a refusal of help in a war situation, as in 1 Chr 12:20; 19:19.

13It should be noted that the nominal or substantival participle of βοηθέω is quite frequent. It is often found in fixed expressions, such as the sentence οὐκ ἦν ὁ βοηθῶν or similar phrases: “there is/was/will be no one to help” (Deut 22:27; 28:29, 31; 4 Kgdms 14:26; Ps 21[22]:12; 106[107]:12; Sir 51:7; Isa 60:15; Lam 1:7; Dan 11:45LXX; cf. Job 29:12). Here it is difficult to determine systematically what kind of helper is meant, but it probably implies a human helper in most cases. Apart from these texts, the participle (singular ὁ βοηθῶν, “helper”, or mostly plural οἱ βοηθοῦντες, “helpers”) occurs elsewhere, both for God and especially for human helpers, as in Isa 31:3; Ezek 30:8; 3 Macc 4:21; Sir 29:4.

  • 17 See also θεὸς τῆς βοηθείας μου, “the God of my help”, in Ps 61[62]:8.

14Nevertheless, occurrences with God as the subject of βοηθέω remain numerous in the Septuagint. The verb thus acquires a theological value. In the Book of Isaiah, it occurs three times in a first-person statement, as a word of God himself in favour of his people Israel: ἐγὼ γάρ εἰμι ὁ θεός σου ὁ ἐνισχύσας σε καὶ ἐβοήθησά σοι, “for I am your God who has strengthened you, and I have helped you” (Isa 41:10); ἐγὼ ἐβοήθησά σοι, λέγει ὁ θεὸς ὁ λυτρούμενός σε, Ισραηλ, “I have helped you, says God who redeems you, Israel” (Isa 41:14); ἐν ἡμέρᾳ σωτηρίας ἐβοήθησά σοι, “on a day of salvation I have helped you” (Isa 49:8). Likewise, in the Psalms and in other prayers, the subject of βοηθέω is much more often God. This is also the case for the first occurrence of the verb in the Septuagint, in Jacob’s final discourse in Gen 49:25 (καὶ ἐβοήθησέν σοι ὁ θεὸς ὁ ἐμός, “and my God helped you”), or in 1 Chr 12:19 (ὅτι ἐβοήθησέν σοι ὁ θεός σου, “because your God has helped you”). This corresponds to God’s title of βοηθός.17

  • 18  Cf. Ps 39[40]:14: κύριε εἰς τὸ βοηθῆσαί μοι πρόσχες, “Lord, pay attention to rescuing me”.

15Apart from the negative formulas of Ps 21[22]:12; 106[107]:12, which are imprecise (see above), the LXX Psalter uses βοηθέω exclusively for God as the subject of the help. The contexts of βοηθέω are various in the Psalms. The beneficiaries of help are the psalmist himself (e.g. Ps 27[28]:7; 39[40]:14), the poor and needy (e.g. Ps 40[41]:4; 106[107]:41), the orphan (Ps 9:35 [10:14]), the righteous (e.g. Ps 36[37]:40), and so forth. The verb occurs in the Psalter quite often in the imperative, in a supplication or an invocation, as in Ps 43[44]:27 (ἀνάστα, κύριε, βοήθησον ἡμῖν, “rise up, Lord, help us”) or in Ps 69[70]:6 (ὁ θεός, βοήθησόν μοι, “o God, help me”) —in this sense, see also Ps 78[79]:9; 108[109]:26; 118[119]:86, 117.18 Moreover, βοηθέω occurs in yet other prayers and related utterances, as in Esth 4:17l [C14], 17t [C25]; 1 Macc 3:53; 3 Macc 2:12 etc., but also in speeches, such as that of Judith in Jdt 8:15.

16When the texts do not designate God explicitly, but nevertheless relate to him, they employ various expressions that refer to God, such as 1 Macc 12:15 (ἔχομεν γὰρ τὴν ἐξ οὐρανοῦ βοήθειαν βοηθοῦσαν ἡμῖν, “for we have the help from heaven helping us”); 3 Macc 4:21 (τοῦ βοηθοῦντος τοῖς Ιουδαίοις ἐξ οὐρανοῦ, “the one who was aiding the Jews from heaven”); Ps 93[94]:18 (τὸ ἔλεός σου, κύριε, βοηθεῖ μοι, “your mercy, Lord, helps me”); Ps 118[119]:175 (τὰ κρίματά σου βοηθήσει μοι, “your judgments will help me”). Exceptionally, it can be an angel: Dan 10:13, 21LXX.

17Numerous texts combine βοηθέω with other verbs expressing rescue, salvation or deliverance, e.g. ἐξαιρέω “deliver”, “rescue” (Josh 10:6; Ps 36[37]:40; Dan 6:15LXX), ῥύομαι “save”, “rescue” (Esth 4:17t [C25]; 1 Macc 12:15; 3 Macc 2:12; Ps 36[37]:40; 39[40]:14; 78[79]:9), λυτρόω “set free”, “redeem” (Ps 43[44]:27; Isa 41:14), σῴζω “rescue”, “save” (Ps 108[109]:26; 118[119]:117). In most cases, God is the agent of this help. We can also find in the immediate context of βοηθέω, and several times in parallel with it, various nouns, sometimes divine titles (in addition to κύριος and θεός), referring either to God or to humans: e.g. βοηθός “helper” (Ps 27[28]:7; 69[70]:6; Job 29:12; 1 Kgdms 7:12; 1 Chr 12:19; Esth 4:17l [C14]), ῥύστης “saviour”, “deliverer” (Ps 69[70]:6), ὑπερασπιστής “protector” (Ps 27[28]:7; see also Ps 36[37]:39-40), ἀντιλήμπτωρ “protector”, “helper” (Ps 53[54]:6), σωτήρ “saviour” (Ps 78[79]:9), σκεπαστής “defender”, “protector” (Deut 32:38 and its parallel Ode 2:38), βοήθεια “help” (1 Macc 12:15; see also Isa 31:3), and so forth.

18In several occurrences, the verb expresses the idea of helping or defending oneself, or more precisely themselves (βοηθέω αὑτοῖς/ἑαυτοῖς): Esth 8:11; 9:16; 2 Macc 6:11; 3 Macc 1:4; Job 4:20; Ep Jer 1:57; see also Wis 13:16. On the other hand, some texts evoke the destruction by God of human helpers, especially in prophetic oracles against Egypt or in connection with it: Isa 31:3; Ezek 30:8.

19Finally, in an abstract or figurative meaning, the verb βοηθέω can be applied, for example, to reason (4 Macc 3:3: “reason can help to deal with anger”) or to wisdom (Eccl 7:19: “wisdom will help the wise”).

IV. Overview of Greek Jewish literature: Hellenistic Judaism and Pseudepigrapha

  • 19  On the evaluation of this etymology, see A. Pelletier, Philon d’Alexandrie. Legatio ad Caium (Les (...)

20In the writings of Philo, βοηθέω occurs more than twenty times. Philo uses it several times in his allegorical interpretation of the creation of Eve in Leg. all. 2.5-8, where sense-perception and passions are described as helping the soul. The verb is also applied to the reason that comes of its own accord to assist us (Somn. 1.111: πάρεστιν αὐτοκέλευστος βοηθήσων), to two mighty forces, pity and hope (Ios. 20: δυσὶ βοηθεῖται τοῖς μεγίστοις, ἐλέῳ καὶ ἐλπίδι), or to the human mind which is insufficient to help itself (Leg. all. 3.31: τὸν μηδ᾽αὑτῷ βοηθῆσαι ἱκανὸν νοῦν). In addition, βοηθέω refers to human helpers, e.g. when a woman wants to help her husband (Spec. leg. 3.173, 175). In Egypt, Moses had no power either to punish those who did wrong or to help those who suffered it (Vit. Mos. 1.40: μήτε βοηθεῖν τοῖς ἀδικουμένοις). According to the Septuagint, Spec. leg. 3.77-78 evokes the case of a young woman violated without anyone to come to her aid (77: καὶ ὁ βοηθήσων οὐκ ἦν αὐτῇ [Deut 22:27]). Otherwise, βοηθέω can express the meaning of “defend” or “rally to” a cause or doctrine (Vit. Mos. 1.24: οἳ τοῖς προτεθεῖσι δόγμασιν ὁποῖα ἂν τύχῃ βοηθοῦσιν). The verb is never applied to God, but in Somn. 1.86 it refers to the Word of God which, when it arrives at our earthly composition, “gives help and succour (ἀρήγει καὶ βοηθεῖ) to those who are akin to virtue and turn to her”. It should be noted that in Legat. 113, Philo links the definitions of the two verbs ἀρήγω and βοηθέω when he relates the name of Ares to “ἀρήγειν, that is ‘help’ (τὸ ἀρήγειν, ὅπερ βοηθεῖν ἐστι)”.19

21In the works of Josephus, βοηθέω occurs about sixty times. It is mostly applied to human helpers, only a few times to God. It is often attested in the context of a war or a battle, where it means “help”, “succour”, “come to aid”. Abraham thus undertakes to succour Lot and the Sodomites, defeated by the Assyrians (Ant. 1.177: βοηθεῖν αὐτοῖς δοκιμάσας; cf. Gen 14:14). Similarly, the king of the Israelites “returned in haste to help his own people under the distresses they were in” (Ant. 8.306: μετὰ δὲ σπουδῆς ὡς βοηθήσων τοῖς οἰκείοις κακουμένοις ἀνέστρεψεν). Military assistance between allies is common, e.g. Ant. 7.124; 9.30; 12.418; 16.52; 17.256; Bell. 1.249, 327; 4.229. Outside of a war context, Josephus uses the verb with the sense of “help”, “assist” humans or beasts: Ant. 4.275 (cf. Deut 22:4); Bell. 2.134. He states in Ant. 2.125 (cf. Gen 44) that Joseph wanted to see if the brothers of Benjamin would assist him (πότερόν ποτε βοηθήσουσι τῷ Βενιαμίν). Moreover, in Ant. 11.9 (cf. 1 Esd 2:6), he relates how “all the king’s friends assisted them and brought their share for the construction of the Temple” (οἱ τοῦ βασιλέως φίλοι πάντες ἐβοήθουν καὶ συνεισέφερον εἰς τὴν τοῦ ναοῦ κατασκευήν). Josephus does not often refer βοηθέω to God. It occurs occasionally in the Jewish Antiquities, for example in Ant. 6.25 (cf. 1 Sam 7:8) when Samuel promised to the Hebrews “that God would succour them” (βοηθήσειν αὐτοῖς τὸν θεὸν ἐπαγγέλλεται); see also Ant. 2.345; 3.306; 5.225, 256. The text of Ant. 10.11 (cf. 2 Kings 19:1) is significant in its description of Hezekiah who, “falling on his face, supplicated God and entreated him to help one who had no other hope of salvation” (πεσὼν ἐπὶ πρόσωπον τὸν θεὸν ἱκέτευε καὶ βοηθῆσαι τῷ μηδεμίαν ἄλλην ἐλπίδα ἔχοντι σωτηρίας ἠντιβόλει).

  • 20  See especially A.-M. Denis, Concordance grecque des Pseudépigraphes d’Ancien Testament. Concordanc (...)

22In the Old Testament Pseudepigraphia,20 βοηθέω occurs just a few times. In the Book of Enoch, it is applied to God who will help the elect (1 En. 1.8: πάντων ἀντιλήμψεται καὶ βοηθήσει ἡμῖν), or negatively to those who helped injustice (1 En. 100.4: οἵτινες ἐβοήθουν τῇ ἀδικίᾳ). It appears three times in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, once with an abstract meaning referring to wrath that helps in iniquity (T. Dan 3.5), and twice with Joseph as beneficiary of the assistance of God who succoured and helped him (T. Jos. 1.5; T. Benj. 3.5). In Jos. Asen. 24.11, 14, the verb is addressed or applied to Pharaoh and his son, while in 29.4 it appears in the mouth of Levi enjoining Benjamin to help him cure Pharaoh’s son (δεῦρο βοήθησόν μοι). In the Sibylline Oracles, βοηθέω is employed twice, referring to the succour of widows (Sib. Or. 3.242) or to the aid of sky, sun and moon for humans beloved by the Immortal (Sib. Or. 3.712). Sedrach also uses the expression καὶ βοήθει μοι, “and help me”, when invoking the archangel Michael (Apoc. Sedr. 14.1).

V. Βοηθέω in the New Testament Writings

  • 21  Cf. H. Balz – G. Schneider (ed.), Exegetisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament, vol. 1, Stuttgart, (...)

23In the New Testament, βοηθέω occurs eight times. It is noteworthy that it appears five times in the imperative, as a call for help (Matt 15:25; Mark 9:22, 24; Acts 16:9; 21:28).21 In the Gospels, it is used in supplications addressed to Jesus in the context of miracles, where it has the same usage and meaning as in the Septuagint, especially in the Psalter, while also recalling the medical usage of the verb in classical literature. Thus, a Canaanite woman begs Jesus about her daughter who is being tormented by a demon: “Lord, help me”, κύριε, βοήθει μοι (Matt 15:25). Likewise, the father of a boy possessed by a mute spirit implores Jesus twice: first “if you can do anything, help us”, εἴ τι δύνῃ, βοήθησον ἡμῖν, then “help my unbelief”, βοήθει μου τῇ ἀπιστίᾳ (Mark 9:22, 24).

  • 22  C. K. Barrett, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, vol. 2: Introduct (...)
  • 23  D. Marguerat, Les Actes des apôtres (13–28) (Commentaire du Nouveau Testament 5b), Genève, Labor e (...)
  • 24  In the same verse, Paul emphasises the relevance of the statement to the present time: “Behold, no (...)
  • 25  J. Massonnet, L’épître aux Hébreux (Commentaire biblique : Nouveau Testament 15), Paris, Cerf, 201 (...)

24A similar request is more surprisingly addressed to Paul in Acts 16:9 by a Macedonian, who begs him in a dream to come to Macedonia and help (βοήθησον ἡμῖν), in this case to save them by preaching the Gospel,22 as shown by the correspondence between βοηθέω in v. 9 and εὐαγγελίζω in v. 10. While βοηθέω has a general sense in Acts 21:28, where it occurs in an exasperated cry of Paul’s opponents who call other Jews to join their cause,23 it appears again in connection with salvation in 2 Cor 6:2, which updates the text of Isa 49:8 that is quoted verbatim: “In a favourable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you”, καιρῷ δεκτῷ ἐπήκουσά σου καὶ ἐν ἡμέρᾳ σωτηρίας ἐβοήθησά σοι. It is the only occurrence in the New Testament that uses the verb to describe God himself as the one who helps and saves.24 In a different context, yet still referring to salvation, Heb 2:18 states about Jesus: “for in that he himself has suffered, being tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (δύναται τοῖς πειραζο-μένοις βοηθῆσαι)”, emphasizing Christ’s solidarity with humanity.25

25The last occurrence of βοηθέω in the New Testament occurs in an apocalyptic context: the vision of the woman and the dragon in the Book of Revelation. After given birth to a male child, the woman was pursued by the dragon who poured water after her like a river in order to sweep her away with the flood, but “the earth came to the help of the woman (ἐβοήθησεν ἡ γῆ τῇ γυναικί) and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth” (Rev 12:16).

26To conclude, the opening survey of ancient Greek literature confirmed the value of a more in-depth study of the verb βοηθέω, its trajectory and its nuances of meaning. This is underscored by the variety of contexts (military, medical, daily life, etc.) in which the word appears in non-religious Greek texts, as well as in papyri and inscriptions, which express various situations of distress or evoke the framework of military alliances. Some of these aspects are also found in the Septuagint. There, however, the theological value of the verb is emphasized, as it is often applied to God, and is connected to him, or refers to salvation. This is the case not only in cries for help, but especially in the assurance of obtaining God’s aid, succour or assistance. Thus, βοηθέω acquires an important theological meaning. Similarly, in the New Testament, which does not contain many instances, most occurrences are related to a request addressed to Jesus, or at least in connection with him or with God. The quotation in 2 Cor 6:2 of the text of Isa 49:8 is significant and points to the salvific aspect of the verb.

  • 26  It should be added that βοηθέω is attested seven times in Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho, almost ex (...)

27Regarding early Christian literature, an overview of the writings of the Apostolic Fathers reveals that βοηθέω is not particularly frequent, but still occurs in some important and striking statements. It can arise in Old Testament quotations, like the unique occurrence of βοηθέω in 1 Clement, found in a quotation of Job 4:20 (1 Clem. 39.5).26 Otherwise, the Didache orders members of the community to assist any wayfarer (βοηθεῖτε αὐτῷ) as much as possible (Did. 12.2), while Ignatius of Antioch exhorts his Roman addressees not to help the prince of this world (μηδεὶς οὖν τῶν παρόντων ὑμῶν βοηθείτω αὐτῷ) who wants to tear him into pieces and corrupt his disposition towards God (Rom. 7.1). Finally, it should be pointed out that βοηθέω is used interestingly in 2 Clem. 8.2, namely in the metaphor of a vessel put into the furnace of fire, for which the potter can no longer find any help (οὐκέτι βοηθήσει αὐτῷ), i.e. mend it, as an analogy for men who can no longer confess or repent. This also highlights the metaphorical and symbolic potential of the verb.

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Notes

1 See below, p. 136.

2  It should be noted that even the most recent HTLS does not devote an entry to it, preferring to limit itself to the term βοηθός: see E. Bons, “βοηθός”, in: Id. (ed.), Historical and Theological Lexicon of the Septuagint, vol. 1: Alpha – Gamma, Tübingen, Mohr Siebeck, 2020, p. 1655-1664.

3  The Greek passages quoted in this part are taken from the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG).

4 For a similar formula, see Xenophon, Hell. 1.6.22.

5 Cf. Lysias, Diogit. 3: βοηθεῖν αὐτοῖς τὰ δίκαια, “to give them the support of justice”.

6 See also Antiphon, Nov. 31.

7  Cf. H. G. Liddell – R. Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon. With a Revised Supplement, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1996, s.v. βοηθέω.

8  See in particular F. R. Adrados (dir.), Diccionario Griego-Español, vol. 4, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Madrid, 2006, s.v. βοηθέω.

9  Greek texts, datings and English translations (when available) are taken from Papyri.info, which provides access to papyrological data aggregated under the Integrating Digital Papyrology project: https://papyri.info.

10 See also P.Petr. 2.19 (third century BCE).

11 See also SB 14.11274 [P.Mil.Congr.xiv], 4 BCE; UPZ 1.19 [P.Par. 22], 163 BCE.

12  For similar expressions, see also P.Coll.Youtie 1.16, 109 BCE; P.Fay. 11, after 116 BCE; P.Mert. 1.5, 149-137 BCE.

13  Greek texts and datings are taken from https://epigraphy.packhum.org (The Packard Humanities Institute), and the English translations from Attic Inscriptions Online (AIO): https://www.atticinscriptions.com.

14  “I shall go in support with all my strength as far as possible if anybody goes against the city of Athens for war or overthrows the People of the Athenians”: βο[η]θ[ήσ]ω παντὶ σθένει κατὰ τὸ δυνατόν, ἐάν τις ἴ[η]ι ἐπὶ τὴν πόλιν τὴν Ἀθ[ην]αίων ἐπὶ πολέμωι ἢ τὸν δῆμον καταλύει τὸν Ἀθηνα[ίων].

15  A. Rahlfs (ed.), Septuaginta. Id est Vetus Testamentum graece iuxta LXX interpretes. Editio altera quam recognovit et emendavit R. Hanhart, Stuttgart, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2006.

16  Cf. E. HatchH. A. Redpath, A Concordance to the Septuagint and the Other Greek Versions of the Old Testament (Including the Apocryphal Books), Grand Rapids (MI), Baker Academic, 19982.

17 See also θεὸς τῆς βοηθείας μου, “the God of my help”, in Ps 61[62]:8.

18  Cf. Ps 39[40]:14: κύριε εἰς τὸ βοηθῆσαί μοι πρόσχες, “Lord, pay attention to rescuing me”.

19  On the evaluation of this etymology, see A. Pelletier, Philon d’Alexandrie. Legatio ad Caium (Les œuvres de Philon d’Alexandrie 32), Paris, Cerf, 1972, p. 140-141, n. 3.

20  See especially A.-M. Denis, Concordance grecque des Pseudépigraphes d’Ancien Testament. Concordance, corpus des textes, indices, Louvain-la-Neuve, Université catholique de Louvain – Institut orientaliste, 1987.

21  Cf. H. Balz – G. Schneider (ed.), Exegetisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament, vol. 1, Stuttgart, Kohlhammer, 19922, col. 536.

22  C. K. Barrett, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, vol. 2: Introduction and Commentary on Acts XV–XXVIII (The International Critical Commentary), Edinburgh, T&T Clark, 1998, p. 772; J. Jervell, Die Apostelgeschichte (Kritisch-exegetischer Kommentar über das Neue Testament 3), Göttingen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1998, p. 417; R. Pesch, Die Apostelgeschichte, vol. 2 : Apg 13–28 (Evangelisch-Katholischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament 5/2), Neukirchen-Vluyn, Neukirchener Theologie, 20032, p. 102.

23  D. Marguerat, Les Actes des apôtres (13–28) (Commentaire du Nouveau Testament 5b), Genève, Labor et Fides, 2015, p. 265.

24  In the same verse, Paul emphasises the relevance of the statement to the present time: “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (ἰδοὺ νῦν καιρὸς εὐπρόσδεκτος, ἰδοὺ νῦν ἡμέρα σωτηρίας). On this “eschatological now”, see e.g. J. D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, Grand Rapids (MI), Eerdmans, 1998, p. 180; T. Schmeller, Der zweite Brief an die Korinther, vol. 1: 2 Kor 1,1–7,4 (Evangelisch-Katholischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament 8/1), Neukirchen-Vluyn, Neukirchener Theologie, 2010, p. 348.

25  J. Massonnet, L’épître aux Hébreux (Commentaire biblique : Nouveau Testament 15), Paris, Cerf, 2016, p. 93.

26  It should be added that βοηθέω is attested seven times in Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho, almost exclusively in quotations or directly linked to them. Thus it occurs several times in a quotation of Ps 21[22]:12 (with addition of μοι): Dial. 98.3; 102.1; 103.1 (ὅτι οὐκ ἔστιν ὁ βοηθῶν μοι, “for there is no one to help me”); cf. 103.2bis.

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Nathalie Siffer, « Βοηθέω: A Lexicographical Inquiry »Revue des sciences religieuses, 95/1-2 | 2021, 125-138.

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Nathalie Siffer, « Βοηθέω: A Lexicographical Inquiry »Revue des sciences religieuses [En ligne], 95/1-2 | 2021, mis en ligne le 30 décembre 2021, consulté le 17 janvier 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/rsr/10475 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/rsr.10475

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Nathalie Siffer

UR 4377 – Faculté de théologie catholique
Université de Strasbourg

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