ἰδοὺ (transliteration: idou) is the second person singular aorist active imperative of the Greek verb οἶδα (eido: to see), literally meaning: See! Lo! Behold! Look! It especially calls attention to what follows from it.
Usage in the Bible
In the Septuaginta, ἰδοὺ is the most common translation of the Hebrew demonstrative particle הנה (transliteration hinneh or hinei): it is used over 900 times. In the New Testament, it appears about 200 times, mostly in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. As James H. Moulton stated in his inaugural lecture in Manchester in January 1906: "We very rarely use the interjection 'Behold' in ordinary speech, and normal late Greek speech did not use it much more than we do. In those parts of the New Testament which come from Aramaic sources, or are written by men (like St. James) who continued to use Aramaic as their ordinary language, we find this 'behold' extremely often."
In the King James Bible, ἰδοὺ is generally translated as behold, which seems to be archaic today. Modern translations have various strategies to cope with this word which they regard as anachronistic: The New International Version and the New English Translation both tend to omit the word, the latter usually stating in a footnote that “the Greek word ἰδοὺ (idou) has not been translated because it has no exact English equivalent here but adds interest and emphasis.” In this way it fulfills the function of modern English's exclamation mark or underline of text.
However, in the preface to the English Standard Version, the translators state:
- [T]he word “behold,” usually has been retained as the most common translation for the Hebrew word hinneh and the Greek word idou. Both of these words mean something like “Pay careful attention to what follows! This is important!” Other than the word “behold,” there is no single word in English that fits well in most contexts. Although “Look!” and “See!” and “Listen!” would be workable in some contexts, in many others these words lack sufficient weight and dignity. Given the principles of “essentially literal” translation, it is important not to leave hinneh and idou completely untranslated, and so to lose the intended emphasis in the original languages. The older and more formal word “behold” has usually been retained, therefore, as the best available option for conveying the original sense of meaning.
The Conservapedia Bible Project has no uniform approach: E.g., in Matthew 1-9 (Translated), the word has to be translated 21 times. Thirteen times, it is omitted, three times behold is used, twice then and suddenly, and once even to their great surprise, following the line that a less literal translation also captures the intended reason for the emphasis. At Matthew 5:23, it is argued that at the moment is a nuance of ἰδού, but no scholarly source is given yet.
- Danker, Frederick W.: A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3d ed. University of Chicago Press.
- The Science of Language and the Study of the New Testament, Manchester, University Press, 1906, p. 16. by James Hope Moulton