Our major document in the Gothic language is a translation of the Christian Bible. But this translation gives no information as to how Christianity was received by the Goths. Ultimately it is clear that Christianity took hold among the Gothic tribes, but to see its development in the early stages after the mission of Wulfila (Ulfila), we must have recourse to other historical documents.
Sozomen was a church historian of the 5th century. His work the Ecclesiastical History was likely dependent on the works of several predecessors, in particular the historians Socrates, Eunapius, and Philostorgius. According to Sozomen, the attacks of the Huns led the Goths to send an embassy to the Roman emperor, asking permission to resettle in Roman territory in return for fighting alongside the Romans when the need arose: the leader of this embassy, Sozomen records, was Wulfila. Subsequent events resulted in a division among the Goths, the two major groups led by Athanaric and Fritigern, respectively. As the two fought each other, Fritigern asked the Roman emperor Valens for assistance. In Thrace the combined forces of Fritigern's Goths and Valens' Roman legions defeated Athanric. Out of gratitude for his aid, Fritigern offered to adopt the emperor's religion, and ordered those under his rule to adopt Christianity as well.
It seems however that Gothic adoption of Christianity was not unanimously supported. The passage below describes the trials which befell the Christians during the time period shortly after Fritigern's conversion (translated in Heather and Matthews, 1991):
|At that time, there were many among the subjects of Fritigern who bore witness through Christ and suffered death. Athanaric was annoyed that those under his power also had been persuaded by Ulphilas to become Christians, and subjected many of them to many forms of punishment because the ancestral religion was threatened by innovation...|
It seems that Athanaric was determined to undermine the authority of Fritigern after suffering a defeat at his hands. But in a more general perspective, a reiks such as Athanaric was charged to uphold older traditions, so that the Christians were felt to be a challenge to the authority of the reiks. Sozomen continues:
|It is said that a wooden image was placed on a wagon, and that those instructed by Athanaric to undertake this task wheeled it round to the tent of any of those who were denounced as Christians and ordered them to do homage and sacrifice to it; and the tents of those who refused to do so were burned, with the people inside.|
|And I have heard that an even more dreadful suffering than this occurred, when a large number of Christians who refused to yield to attempts to compel them to sacrifice by force, took refuge in the tent which formed their church in that place, and all -- men and women also, some of whom led their little children by the hand, others with new-born babies feeding at the breast -- were destroyed when the pagans set fire to it.|
Another text crucial to our understanding of the Gothic reception of Christianity is the Passion of St. Saba the Goth. The text survives in 10th century manuscripts, but the story itself dates the martyrdom of St. Saba to April 12, 372 AD. The story tells us that Saba was a Goth living in Gothic territory, and had been a Christian since childhood. He had no possessions except for the bare necessities.
As the story goes, Christians were compelled to eat flesh sacrificed according to Gothic tribal customs, and therefore unclean to Christians. At the level of the village, it seems that Christianity could be tolerated, as long as it was not practiced overtly (translated sections are quoted from Heather and Matthews, 1991):
|[W]hen the chief men in Gothia began to be moved against the Christians, compelling them to eat sacrificial meat, it occurred to some of the pagans in the village in which Saba lived to make the Christians who belonged to them eat publicly before the persecutors meat that had not been sacrificed in place of that which had, hoping thereby to preserve the innocence of their own people and at the same time to deceive the persecutors. Learning this, the blessed Saba not only himself refused to touch the forbidden meat but advanced into the midst of the gathering and bore witness, saying to everyone, 'If anyone eats of that meat, this man cannot be a Christian', and he prevented them all from falling into the Devil's snare. For this, the men who had devised the deception threw him out of the village, but after some time allowed him to return.|
Saba was banished for his vehement espousal of Christianity, since being so outspoken over such matters threatened to upset the traditional social order of the village.
Saba eventually returned. Later, when a reiks visited from elsewhere, village nobles attempted to conceal the fact that any Christians lived in the village, since such village members would be an affront to the authority of the reiks. Saba would not conceal his beliefs and spoke out, whereupon the village elders protected other Christians by saying that Saba was the only one in the village. The reiks mocked Saba for his poverty, and again Saba was cast out.
Later Saba, along with a prebyter Sansalas, was taken captive by a gang under the leadership of Atharid. They tortured Saba late into the night and then left him. He was freed by a slave woman, but he refused to flee. He was bound again and cursed Atharid, who subsequently ordered him to be put to death. The story continues:
|Those appointed to perform this lawless act left the presbyter Sansalas in bonds, and took hold of Saba and led him away to drown him in the river called the Mousaios.... When they came to the banks of the river, his guards said to one another, 'Come now, let us set free this fool. How will Atharidus ever find out?' But the blessed Saba said to them, 'Why do you waste time talking nonsense and not do what you were told to?...' Then they took him down to the water, still thanking and glorifying God..., threw him in and, pressing a beam against his neck, pushed him to the bottom and held him there.|
So died Saba, though subverting at every moment the attempts of others to help him. It thus appears that none at the village level were involved in the decision-making process for the kuni, under the direction of the reiks. At this lower level, Christianity was tolerated, and converted relatives and friends were concealed and assisted by their fellow villagers and family members. It was apparently at the level of the kuni and the reiks that Christianity threatened the socio-political order, and it was from this level that persecution was enacted.
The following passage is Mark 9:2-13, the Transfiguration. We find in Mark 9.4 an example of a periphrastic construction showing progressive aspect: we:sun ro:djandans 'they were talking'. Though this parallels the Greek e:san sullalountes, it seems that it was a natural construction within Germanic, as the Modern English translation illustrates. Though Old English texts are only attested much later than the Gothic Bible, such a construction is nevertheless as old as Beowulf itself: Swa se secg hwata secggende waes ladhra spella 'So was the valiant warrior speaking of terrible tales' (B.3028).
In Mark 9.5 we find the word hlijans 'tabernacles'. This word only appears here, in the accusative plural. The Proto-Germanic antecedent *hle-wa- gives Old Norse hle', Old English hle:o, Old Frisian hli:, Old Saxon hleo, all meaning 'protection'. This even finds its way into Modern English nautical jargon: lee(ward).
Mark 9.9 gives an illustration of what, in grammars of the classical languages Greek and Latin, is typically termed the sequence of tenses: anaba'uth im ei mannhun ni spillo:de:deina 'he charged them that they should tell no man'. The direct command would have employed a present subjunctive or imperative. However when the indirect command is introduced by a past tense verb, the present subjunctive or imperative is rendered by a past subjunctive. A similar situation occurs in Modern English: the future tense in 'He will go home' is restructured as a past subjunctive (or really a past tense of the present 'will') when subordinate to a past tense main verb, as in 'He said that he would go home.'
9:2 - jah afar dagans saihs ganam Iesus Paitru jah Iakobu jah Iohannen jah ustauh ins ana fairguni hauh sundro ainans: jah inmaidida sik in andwairthja ize.
3 - jah wastjos is waurthun glitmunjandeins, hweitos swe snaiws, swaleikos swe wullareis ana airthai ni mag gahweitjan.
4 - jah ataugiths warth im Helias mith Mose; jah wesun rodjandans mith Iesua.
5 - jah andhafjands Paitrus qath du Iesua: rabbei, goth ist unsis her wisan, jah gawaurkjam hlijans thrins, thus ainana jah Mose ainana jah ainana Helijin.
6 - ni auk wissa hwa rodidedi; wesun auk usagidai.
7 - jah warth milhma ufarskadwjands im, jah qam stibna us thamma milhmin: sa ist sunus meins sa liuba, thamma hausjaith.
8 - jah anaks insaihwandans ni thanaseiths ainohun gasehwun, alja Iesu ainana mith sis.
9 - dalath than atgaggandam im af thamma fairgunja, anabauth im ei mannhun ni spillodedeina thatei gasehwun, niba bithe sunus mans us dauthaim usstothi.
10 - jah thata waurd habaidedun du sis misso sokjandans: hwa ist thata us dauthaim usstandan?
11 - jah frehun ina qithandans: unte qithand thai bokarjos thatei Helias skuli qiman faurthis?
12 - ith is andhafjands qath du im: Helias swethauh qimands faurthis aftra gaboteith alla; jah hwaiwa gamelith ist bi sunu mans, ei manag winnai jah frakunths wairthai.
13 - akei qitha izwis thatei ju Helias qam jah gatawidedun imma swa filu swe wildedun, swaswe gamelith ist bi ina.
9:2 jah afar dagans saihs ganam Iesus Paitru jah Iakobu jah Iohannen jah ustauh ins ana fairguni hauh sundro ainans: jah inmaidida sik in andwairthja ize. 3 jah wastjos is waurthun glitmunjandeins, hweitos swe snaiws, swaleikos swe wullareis ana airthai ni mag gahweitjan. 4 jah ataugiths warth im Helias mith Mose; jah wesun rodjandans mith Iesua. 5 jah andhafjands Paitrus qath du Iesua: rabbei, goth ist unsis her wisan, jah gawaurkjam hlijans thrins, thus ainana jah Mose ainana jah ainana Helijin. 6 ni auk wissa hwa rodidedi; wesun auk usagidai. 7 jah warth milhma ufarskadwjands im, jah qam stibna us thamma milhmin: sa ist sunus meins sa liuba, thamma hausjaith. 8 jah anaks insaihwandans ni thanaseiths ainohun gasehwun, alja Iesu ainana mith sis.
9 dalath than atgaggandam im af thamma fairgunja, anabauth im ei mannhun ni spillodedeina thatei gasehwun, niba bithe sunus mans us dauthaim usstothi. 10 jah thata waurd habaidedun du sis misso sokjandans: hwa ist thata us dauthaim usstandan? 11 jah frehun ina qithandans: unte qithand thai bokarjos thatei Helias skuli qiman faurthis? 12 ith is andhafjands qath du im: Helias swethauh qimands faurthis aftra gaboteith alla; jah hwaiwa gamelith ist bi sunu mans, ei manag winnai jah frakunths wairthai. 13 akei qitha izwis thatei ju Helias qam jah gatawidedun imma swa filu swe wildedun, swaswe gamelith ist bi ina.
From the King James version:
9:2 And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them. 3 And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. 4 And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus. 5 And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. 6 For he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid. 7 And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. 8 And suddenly, when they had looked round about, they saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves.
9 And as they came down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead. 10 And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean. 11 And they asked him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come? 12 And he answered and told them, Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought. 13 But I say unto you, That Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed, as it is written of him.
The fifth strong conjugation comprises verbs whose roots end in a single non-resonant consonant (i.e. not l,r,m,n). The historical evolution of these verbs is shown in the chart below.
|Class V||Root Shape||Present||Past Sg.||Past Pl.||Past Part.||Meaning|
|PGmc||(K)VT||e/i||a||e:||e (EG i/e)|
|*ghevu (EG *ghiva)||*ghav||*ghe:vum||*ghevan (EG *ghivan)||'give'|
|Goth.||i / ai' [e]||a||e:||i / ai' [e]|
In the above, T stands for any non-resonant, that is any consonant other than l,r,m,n. The resulting ablaut pattern characterizing the fifth strong conjugation in Gothic thus becomes the following.
|Class||Present||Past Sg.||Past Pl.||Past Part.|
|Vb||ai' [e]||a||e:||ai' [e]|
The difference between classes Va and Vb lies in the vowel of the present stem and the past participle. The change is conditioned by the consonant following the vowel. Generally the vowel i occurs, but this is replaced by ai' [e] when followed by h or hw. Hence giba, but sai'hwa.
The verb sniwan 'hasten' belongs to the class Va, with final root consonant w. When this becomes word-final, the w shifts to u (i.e. aw becomes a'u). The verb bidjan 'pray' conjugates according to the pattern of class Va, but the j-augment remains only in the forms built from the present stem. The verb frai'hnan 'inquire' conjugates according to the pattern of class Vb, but the n-suffix remains only in the forms built from the present stem. The principal parts of these verbs are as follows.
|Class||Present||Past Sg.||Past Pl.||Past Part.||Meaning|
The verb giba 'give', with prinicpal parts giba -- gaf -- ge:bum -- gibans, serves to illustrate the forms of the fifth conjugation. The forms are as follows.
For consonant changes before the second person singular past indicative ending, see Section 6.3.
For the sake of illustration, the present active forms of sniwan, bidjan, and frai'hnan are listed below.
Note the second person singular, present imperative active form bidei: the word final j-augment becomes vocalic, giving ei [i:]. The present forms of bidjan parallel those of verbs of the first weak conjugation. The (present) mediopassive forms are constructed analogously. In the finite past forms, the j-augment and the n-suffix do not appear, the conjugations following giba in all respects. The w of sniwan, when word-final, combines with the preceding a to yield the diphthong a'u.
The sixth strong conjugation comprises verbs whose roots end in at most a single consonant. The historical evolution of these verbs is shown in the chart below.
|Class VI||Root Shape||Present||Past Sg.||Past Pl.||Past Part.||Meaning|
|*faru (EG *fara)||*fo:r||*fo:rum||*faran||'travel'|
In the above, K stands for any sequence of consonants, C for a single consonant. The resulting ablaut pattern characterizing the sixth strong conjugation in Gothic thus becomes the following.
|Class||Present||Past Sg.||Past Pl.||Past Part.|
Some verbs of class VI, such as the verb frathjan 'understand', have a j-augment which remains only in forms built from the present stem. The class VI verb standan 'stand' has an n-infix which remains only in forms built from the present stem, cf. English stand vs. stood. The principal parts of these verbs are as follows.
|Class||Present||Past Sg.||Past Pl.||Past Part.||Meaning|
The verb saka 'rebuke', with prinicpal parts saka -- so:k -- so:kum -- sakans, serves to illustrate the forms of the sixth conjugation. The forms are as follows.
For the sake of illustration, the present active forms of frathjan and standan are listed below.
Note the second person singular, present imperative active form frathei: the word final j-augment becomes vocalic, giving ei [i:]. The present forms of frathjan parallel those of verbs of the first weak conjugation. The (present) mediopassive forms are constructed in a similar fashion. In the finite past forms, the j-augment and the n-infix do not appear, the conjugations following saka in all respects.
The genitive case eludes concise description. In its most general sense, it is a case denoting relation of one sort or another. The typical nature of such relation is possession, as in Modern English 'Lincoln's hat'. But certain relations defy such characterization, such as 'Lincoln's presidency'. The genitive may denote the logical subject of the action which the head noun represents: 'Lincoln's death'. On the other hand, the genitive may express the logical object of the action which the head noun represents: 'Lincoln's assassination'. This broad range encompassed by the genitive in English is paralleled in Gothic.
The partitive genitive, as its name denotes, identifies the whole of which a part is specified. Take for example tha'i thiudo: 'those of the publicans, the publicans' (Matthew 5.46); in tho:ei bau'rge: 'in whichever of cities, in whichever city' (Luke 10.8); hwas izwara 'which of you' (Matthew 6.27); manageins filu 'much of a multitude, a great multitude' (Mark 9.14); halbata a'iginis meinis 'half of my goods' (Luke 19.8). As illustrated in some of the preceding examples, this is particularly common with expressions denoting definite or indefinite number: suma'i thize: bo:karje: 'some of the scribes' (Matthew 9.3); qino:no: suma 'a certain one of women, a certain woman' (Mark 5.25); a'ina anabusne: thizo: ministo:no: 'one of these least commandments' (Matthew 5.19); twans sipo:nje: seina'ize: 'two of his disciples' (Matthew 8.21). This construction is occasionally replaced by the preposition us followed by the dative: sumans us im 'some from (among) them, some of them' (Romans 11.14); us tha'im reikam managa'i 'many from (among) the rulers, many of the rulers' (John 12.42). The preposition in with dative is also found: suma'i in izwis 'some among you, some of you' (I Corinthians 15.12).
The genitive may denote characteristic or measure. For example some uses of the genitive denoting measure are the following: dagis wig 'a day's journey' (Luke 2.44); was a'uk je:re: twalibe: 'she was of (the age of) twelve years' (Mark 5.42). Such uses may specify composition, marking what the head noun consists of or is made from. For example, stikla watins 'a cup of water' (Mark 9.41); hiuhma siponje: is 'a company of his disciples' (Luke 6.17). Constructions denoting characteristic often employ adjectives rather than a noun in the genitive: in spildom sta'ineina'im 'in tables of stone, in stone tables' (II Corinthians 3.3); ni sind thata'inei kasa gultheina jah silubreina, ak jah triweina jah digana 'there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth', literally 'golden vessels...', etc. (II Timothy 2.20).
The genitive frequently complements adjectives. Certain adjectives have their meaning completed or further specified by a noun or pronoun in the genitive. For example, weihs fra'ujins 'holy to the Lord', literally 'holy of the Lord' (Luke 2.23); wai'rthaba fra'ujins 'worthy of the Lord' (Colossians 1.10); skula wai'rthith leikis jah blo:this fra'ujins 'shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord' (I Corinthians 11.27); inwito:ths Xrista'us 'under the law to Christ', literally 'in-law of Christ' (I Corinthians 9.21). Possessive adjectives regularly substitute for their corresponding personal pronouns in the genitive: meina wai'rths 'worthy of me', but literally 'my worthy', or more historically 'mine worthy' (Matthew 10.37).
The genitive occasionally adopts the roles of either instrumental or ablative. For example, frija ist this wito:dis 'she is free from the law', literally 'free of the law' (Romans 7.3); framathja'i liba'ina'is guths 'alienated from the life of God' (Ephesians 4.18); fullo:s gabruko: 'full of fragments' (Mark 8.19).
The genitive may be used independently of any head noun to specify time or place. Such uses of the genitive often have adverbial force in English. For example, jah was fraquman dagis hwizuh stiur .a. 'Now that which was prepared for me daily was one ox' (Nehemiah 5.18); witandans wahtwo:m nahts 'keeping watch by night' (Luke 2.8); framwigis gif unsis thana hla'if 'evermore give us this bread' (John 6.34). Uses of the genitive in reference to place often denote the goal of an action: manna sums gaggida landis 'A certain (noble)man went into a (far) country' (Luke 19.12); usleitham ja'inis stadis 'Let us pass over unto the other side' (Mark 4.35).
Some adjectives have forms frozen in the genitive as common adverbs, e.g. fila'us 'much'; allis 'at all, wholly, indeed'; rai'htis 'indeed'.
The genitive regularly accompanies certain verbs. The genitive is often used as predicate after wisan 'to be' or wai'rthan 'to become' to show possession, partition, or membership. For example, Xrista'us sijuth 'ye belong to Christ', literally 'ye are of Christ' (Mark 9.41); hwarjis thize: wai'rthith qe:ns 'she is the wife of which of them?' (Luke 20.33); jah thu thize: is 'you also art (one) of them' (Matthew 26.73). When a verb does not act over its object entirely, the object may be in the genitive: ei... ne:mi akranis 'that he might receive... of the fruit' (Mark 12.2); alla'i a'inis hla'ibis jah a'inis stiklis bru:kjam 'we all partake of one bread and of one cup' (I Corinthians 10.17); jah swa this hla'ibis matja'i jath this stikils drigka'i 'and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup' (I Corinthians 11.28). Some verbs referring to memory, perception, requesting, or desiring govern a genitive. For example, bath this leikis Ie:suis 'begged the body of Jesus' (Matthew 27.58); du lusto:n izo:s 'to lust after her' (Matthew 5.28); tha'u antharizuh beida'ima 'or shall we expect another?' (Matthew 11.3); hwas mag this ha'usjo:n 'who can hear (of) it?' (John 6.60); jah gamunda Pai'trus wau'rdis Ie:suis 'and Peter remembered the word of Jesus' (Matthew 26.75); ni fai'rweitjandam thize: gasai'hwanane: ak thize: ungasai'hwanane: 'While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen' (II Corinthians 4.18). Verbs meaning 'fill' are often accompanied by the genitive: jah swinthno:da ahmins fullnands jah handugeins 'waxed strong, becoming filled with spirit and wisdom', where the Greek has a dative ekrataiouto pneu'mati 'waxed strong with spirit' for the first Gothic genitive (Luke 2.40); gre:dagans gaso:thida thiuthe: 'he hath filled the hungry with good things' (Luke 1.53). Verbs meaning 'heal' or 'cleanse' may employ a genitive in an ablatival function: ha'iljan sik sau'hte: seina'izo: 'to heal themselves of their diseases' (Luke 6.17); aththa'u jaba'i hwas gahra'inja'i sik thize: 'if a man therefore purge himself from these' (II Timothy 2.21).
The genitive occasionally accompanies negation, a feature Gothic shares with Old Church Slavonic. That is, when a positive statement contains either an intransitive verb with nominative subject or a transitive verb with accusative object, the corresponding negative statement often changes the nominative or accusative to a genitive. Consider the following: ni was im barne: 'they had no child', literally 'not was to them of children' (Luke 1.7); ni was im ru:mis 'there was no room for them' (Luke 2.7); in thizei ni haba'ida diupa'izo:s ai'rtho:s 'because it had no depth of earth', literally '... it had not of deep earth' (Mark 4.5); jaba'i hwis bro:thar... barne: ni bileitha'i 'and if someone's brother... should not leave children' (Mark 12.19); ni habandein wamme: ai'ththa'u ma'ile: ai'ththa'u hwa swaleika'ize: 'not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing' (Ephesians 5.27). As the phrase hwa swaleika'ize: 'any of such things' in the last example suggests, such genitives accompanying negation are generally explained as partitive genitives. That is, e.g., ni was im barne: is to be understood as 'there was not to them (any bit) of children'; similarly ni haba'ida diupa'izo:s ai'rtho:s 'it did not have (a bit) of deep earth'. Such constructions would then parallel the use of ni wai'hts 'no thing, no creature', but with wai'hts omitted. For example, compare ni wai'ht bo:to:s mis ta'uja'u 'I do myself nothing of advantage' (I Corinthians 13.3). In English terms, this is akin to phrasing 'I don't want any of those' as 'I don't want... of those'.
The dative case denotes the indirect object of an action, as in the Modern English 'he is giving a book to me'. More generally, the dative denotes the somewhat vaguely defined referent of an action or state, as in Modern English 'that does not bode well for me' or 'what's it to you?' The dative case in Gothic also subsumes many of the functions represented by the Ablative, Locative, and Instrumental cases in other Indo-European languages. These cases correspond approximately to the Modern English use of the prepositions 'from', 'in' or 'on', and 'with', respectively.
The following examples exhibit the use of the dative to denote reference in Gothic: liuhath du andhuleina'i thiudo:m 'a light for enlightenment to the gentiles' (Luke 2.32); sau'rga meina alla'im ai'kkle:sjo:m 'my care for all (the) churches' (II Corinthians 11.28). This reference sometimes mixes with senses of possession or relation. This is particularly common after the verbs wisan 'to be' or wai'rthan 'to become'. Consider the following examples: jah hwathro: imma sunus ist? 'and whence is he his son?', literally 'and whence is he son to him?' (Mark 12.37); jah ni was im barne: 'and they had no children', literally 'and not was to them (of) children' (Luke 1.7); jah wai'rthith thus fahe:ds jah swe:gnitha 'and thou shalt have joy and gladness', literally 'and there will be joy and gladness to you' (Luke 1.14); ei uns wai'rtha'i thata arbi 'that the inheritance may be ours', literally 'that the inheritance may be to us' (Luke 20.14). Note in the following example the alternation between genitive and dative: swaei frauja ist sa sunus mans jah thamma sabbato: 'Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath', literally 'therefore the son of man is lord also to the sabbath' (Mark 2.28). Greek, by contrast, employs the genitive in both phrases.
The following uses of the dative stem from its function as instrumental case:
The following uses of the dative stem from its ablative or instrumental functions:
The following uses of the dative stem from its locative function:
As in other Germanic languages, certain verbs in Gothic use the dative to mark the direct object, leaving out the accusative altogether. Some such verbs may be grouped into general types:
A common construction in Gothic is the dative absolute. Such constructions employ a noun or pronoun combined with a participle to function as a self-contained clause. The noun and participle are placed in the dative (though occasionally the accusative, or even the nominative, is employed), and remain grammatically distinct (absolute) from the other elements of the sentence. For example, usleithandin Ie:sua in skipa aftra hinfar marein, gaqe:mun sik manageins filu du imma 'and Jesus having passed over on a ship to the other side of the sea, there came to him a great multitude' (Mark 5.21). In other Indo-European languages such as Latin or Greek, such absolute constructions can refer only to entities completely grammatically absent from the remainder of the statement. The constructions in Gothic, however, are rarely so absolute. They frequently refer to someone or something which appears later in the statement, generally in the dative. For example, qimandin than in garda duatiddje:dun imma tha'i blindans 'And when he was come into the house, the blind men came to him' (Matthew 9.28). The Gothic dative absolute is often preceded by the preposition at: at andanahtja than wau'rthanamma atbe:run du imma da'imo:narjans managans 'When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils' (Matthew 8.16); jah at Ie:su ufda'upidamma jah bidjandin, uslukno:da himins 'Jesus also being baptized and praying, the heaven was opened' (Luke 3.21); at libandin abin 'while (her) husband liveth' (Romans 7.3).
The particle ei is a general relative particle, akin to Old Norse er. It has no definite meaning of its own, but serves to mark a pronoun or clause as relative. It combines as an enclitic with demonstrative pronouns to produce the associated relative, e.g. thata 'that (thing)' vs. thatei 'which (thing), (the thing) which'. When ei serves as a freestanding relative marker, it may introduce various types of temporal or substantive clauses. The following are some of the most common:
The particle thei functions as a relative marker similar to ei. Compare the Old English relative the. There is one example of its use without nominal antecedent, in which it marks a temporal clause: iba'i magun sunjus bru:thfadis qa'ino:n und thata hweilo:s thei mith im ist bru:thfaths 'Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them?' (Matthew 9.15). Frequently thei immediately follows an indefinite pronoun or adverb. For example, thatahwah thei wileith, bidjith 'ye shall ask what ye will' (John 15.7); thishwaruh thei merjada so: ai'wagge:ljo: 'Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached' (Mark 14.9); thishwaduh thei gagga'ith in gard 'In what place soever ye enter into an house' (Mark 6.10).
The particle thei, like ei, introduces purpose clauses, in which it is followed by the subjunctive. For example, thata ro:dida izwis thei in mis gawai'rthi a'igeith 'These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace' (John 16.33). Compare the use of ei in the following: thata ro:dida izwis, ei ni afmarzja'inda'u 'These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended' (John 16.1). thei may likewise introduce indirect statement: qitha thus thei hana ni hrukeith 'I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow' (John 13.38); qitha izwis thei gre:tith 'I say unto you, That ye shall weep' (John 16.20).
The word thatei may occasionally function like ei, introducing substantive clauses denoting belief. As with ei, such clauses may have a verb in the indicative or subjunctive. For example, gatra'ujands in alla'im izwis thatei meina fahe:ths alla'ize: izwara ist 'having confidence in you all, that my joy is the joy of you all' (II Corinthians 2.3); gatra'ua a'uk thatei ni da'uthus... magi uns afska'idan 'For I trust that neither death... may separate us' (Romans 8.39); ga-u-la'ubjats thatei magja'u thata ta'ujan 'Believe ye that I am able to do this?' (John 9.18). Uses of thatei to introduce indirect commands or wishes are uncommon: fragibands im thatei sunjus thiudangardjo:s wai'rtha'ina 'granting them that they become sons of the kingdom' (Skeireins 3.20). thatei may likewise introduce indirect statement: jah jaba'i qe:thja'u thatei ni kunnja'u ina 'and if I should say, I know him not' (John 8.55).