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A great starting place for Greek literature is always Perseus Tufts, and the entry for "χριστός" returned these dictionary entries and textual allusions.

As expected, we see entries for the verb "to anoint" as well χριστός as a title for a person, however, all of these were cited from either the New Testament or LXX. Of course, χριστός is how "Messiah" is typically translated, but that is out of scope for this question -- I'm solely interested in non-biblical allusions to a person being referred to as χριστός, if it was used that way at all. (It hardly needs emphasizing, but we should not expect the meaning of χριστός in a non-confessional setting to be the same as that used in biblical sources). Among the non-biblical usage examples, Perseus Tufts cites Prometheus Bound, line 480:

οὐ χριστόν, οὐδὲ πιστόν, ἀλλὰ φαρμάκων

But it's not referring to a person or being used as an honorific title. It is referring to the expertise endowed to humans in this myth.

All this said, Perseus Tufts is not the end-all be-all; the site gives abundant quotes and lines for how these words were used but is by no means exhaustive. So, I still don't feel confident that we can safely conclude the ancient Greeks never used χριστός as a personal title outside the biblical setting just because Perseus Tufts doesn't have it.

  • Basic search engine queries didn't return much either, that said, I often find Classics/specialist fields are seldom indexed well by the big search engines.
  • For now, I'm just chugging along with my amateur/intermediate Greek, reading as many sources as I can, but it will take ages to unravel this by myself.

Question

Could someone who is more well-versed in Classics weigh in on where, if at all, the term χριστός was used as an honorific title for a person outside the New Testament or LXX?

Note: Also excluding non-canonical texts, pseudepigrapha, ect. Only examining classical, Hellenistic or archaic. But we can consider Greek texts that were contemporaneous with biblical texts, so long as they are not of Christian/Jewish authorship.

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  • 1
    Question seems to be answered here: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/10370/…
    – user20444
    Mar 14 at 5:31
  • @DavidAnson True, same question, but different tolerances: the accepted answer there cites Perseus, which I've already laid out my misgivings on. Thanks all the same. Mar 14 at 5:42

1 Answer 1

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+25

I understand you to be asking how χριστός was understood in Greek prior to being used in the Septuagint to translate Hebrew מָשִׁיחַ maschiach meaning “anointed”, from מָשַׁח mashach “anoint”, used in the Old Testament for the anointing of priests (Exodus 29:7) and kings (1 Kings 1:34) with oil.

The Perseus Digital Library includes a searchable corpus of texts from Greek and Roman antiquity. It does not include every text from this period, but the classical corpus is small and Perseus covers the majority of the literary texts. By searching this collection we can find uses of χριστός. As expected, we find many occurrences in the New Testament, but just three occurrences in other Greek texts. I quote all three below with context and English translations:

Προμηθεύς τὰ λοιπά μου κλύουσα θαυμάσῃ πλέον,
οἵας τέχνας τε καὶ πόρους ἐμησάμην.
τὸ μὲν μέγιστον, εἴ τις ἐς νόσον πέσοι,
οὐκ ἦν ἀλέξημ᾽ οὐδέν, οὔτε βρώσιμον,
οὐ χριστόν, οὐδὲ πιστόν, ἀλλὰ φαρμάκων
χρείᾳ κατεσκέλλοντο, πρίν γ᾽ ἐγώ σφισιν
ἔδειξα κράσεις ἠπίων ἀκεσμάτων,
αἷς τὰς ἁπάσας ἐξαμύνονται νόσους.

Prometheus Hear the rest and you shall wonder the more at the arts and resources I devised. This first and foremost: if ever man fell ill, there was no defence—no healing food, no ointment, nor any drink—but for lack of medicine they wasted away, until I showed them how to mix soothing remedies with which they now ward off all their disorders.

Aeschylus (5th century BCE). Prometheus Bound 476–483. Translated by Herbert Weir Smyth (1926). Aeschylus, volume 1, p 258–259. Harvard University Press.

Τροφός εἴ τοι δοκεῖ σοι (χρῆν μὲν οὔ σ᾽ ἁμαρτάνειν:
εἰ δ᾽ οὖν, πιθοῦ μοι: δευτέρα γὰρ ἡ χάρις,
ἔστιν κατ᾽ οἴκους φίλτρα μοι θελκτήρια
ἔρωτος, ἦλθε δ᾽ ἄρτι μοι γνώμης ἔσω,
ἅ σ᾽ οὔτ᾽ ἐπ᾽ αἰσχροῖς οὔτ᾽ ἐπὶ βλάβῃ φρενῶν
παύσει νόσου τῆσδ᾽, ἢν σὺ μὴ γένῃ κακή.
δεῖ δ᾽ ἐξ ἐκείνου δή τι τοῦ ποθουμένου
σημεῖον, ἢ πλόκον τιν᾽ ἢ πέπλων ἄπο,
λαβεῖν, συνάψαι τ᾽ ἐκ δυοῖν μίαν χάριν.

Φαίδρα πότερα δὲ χριστὸν ἢ ποτὸν τὸ φάρμακον;

Nurse If such thy mind, thine heart should not have sinned:
But now—obey me:—’tis the one hope left:—
I have within some certain charms to assuage
Love: twas but now they came into my thought.
These, not with shame, nor hurt unto thy mind,
Shall lull thy pang, so thou be not faint-hearted.
Howbeit there needs of him thou yearnest for
Some token, or a word, or fragment caught
From vesture, so to knit two loves in one.

Phaedra A salve, or potion, is this charm of thine?

Euripides (428 BCE). Hippolytus 506–516. Translated by Arthur S. Way (1912). Euripides, volume 4, pp. 202–203. London: William Heinemann.

πολὺ γὰρ χεῖρον καὶ διεφθαρμένου σώματος καὶ νοσοῦντος ψυχὴ διεφθαρμένη, μὰ Δία οὐχ ὑπὸ φαρμάκων χριστῶν ἢ ποτῶν οὐδὲ ὑπὸ ἰοῦ τινος διεσθίοντος, ἀλλ̓ ὑπό τε ἀγνοίας καὶ πονηρίας καὶ ὕβρεως καὶ φθόνου δὴ καὶ λύπης καὶ μυρίων ἐπιθυμιῶν.

For far worse than a corrupt and diseased body is a soul which is corrupt, not, I swear, because of salves or potions or some consuming poison, but rather because of ignorance and depravity and insolence, yes, and jealousy and grief and unnumbered desires.

Dio Chrysostom (1st century CE). Discourses 77.45. Translated by H. Lamar Crosby (1951). Dio Chrysostom, volume 5, pp. 300–301. London: William Heinemann.

So you can see that, outside of Jewish and Christian texts, χριστός meant an ointment or salve—used in Prometheus Bound as medicine, in Hippolytus as a magical charm, and in Dio Chrysostom as poison.

The usual word that was used in classical Greek for anointing a person with oil was ἀλείφω, for example, in the Iliad:

τὼ δὲ λοεσσαμένω καὶ ἀλειψαμένω λίπ᾽ ἐλαίῳ

But when the twain [Odysseus and Diomedes] had bathed and anointed them richly with oil

Homer. Iliad 10.577. Translated by A. T. Murray (1924). Perseus Digital Library.

ἀμβροσίῃ μὲν πρῶτον ἀπὸ χροὸς ἱμερόεντος
λύματα πάντα κάθηρεν, ἀλείψατο δὲ λίπ᾽ ἐλαίῳ
ἀμβροσίῳ ἑδανῷ, τό ῥά οἱ τεθυωμένον ἦεν:

With ambrosia first did she [Hera] cleanse from her lovely body every stain, and anointed her richly with oil, ambrosial, soft, and of rich fragrance

Iliad 14.170–172.

The translators of the Septuagint reserved χριστός for the anointing of priests and kings, and used ἀλείφω for anointing in non-sacred contexts, for example, in 2 Samuel 12:20 where David washed and anointed himself before going to the temple. Perhaps the magical sense of χριστός that we find in Hippolytus helped make this distinction.

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