Monday, November 14, 2011

Stage property maker or a tent-maker?

Many readers of the NT - when asked about the profession of Paul - would certainly answer that he was a tent maker. The Acts of the Apostles (18:3) describe the occupation of Paul as σκηνοποιός. The Vulgate does not translate this word, just offers a partial transliteration (σκηνο - sceno) and partial translation (ποιός - factor) into scenofactor. The vast majority of the English translations render this word as tent-maker. Tent-making is supposed to be the craftsmanship that Paul shared with Priscilla and Aquilla.

The word σκηνοποιός is a hapax legomenon in the entire New Testament. Also in the contemporary extra-biblical writings it does not appear frequently. However, the 2nd century CE author, Julius Pollux noted that σκηνοποιός and μηχανοποιός are similar occupations linked with the theater and making the properties of the stage (Onomasticon). In Comedia Adespota the word σκηνοποιός means exactly “a stage property maker.”

The tension between these two translations of σκηνοποιός is visible when comparing various editions of Bauer's Dictionary. The fifth German edition (1958) prefers a maker of stage properties. The sixth edition, revised by Kurt and Barbara Aland, tends to translate σκηνοποιός as tentmaker. The third English edition (2001), redacted by Frederick Danker, supports the stage-related translation.

We support the translation of σκηνοποιός into modern English as maker of stage properties. One of the question could be: is it necessary to presuppose what Paul's occupation was to interpret his letters?


  1. No, but the things we see, hear and experience on an everyday level will find their way into our writings, and the Holy Spirit generally uses these to speak to us as well.

  2. What is a "stage property maker?" Would this be the ancient equivalent of a set designer? Does it have to do with building sets for ancient plays?

  3. Congratulations! This post was included in the November 2011 Biblical Studies Carnival. This is quite an achievement. My word, yes.


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