Posted By Thomas Perez. July 6, 2014 at 8:26am. Copyright 2014.
“Hebrew is generally the language of teaching…while Aramaic is the language of debate, question and answer.” – Yale’s Steven Fraade on the Talmud’s.
Introduction: Language – A Concealing or Reveling Factor?
No doubt many of you have heard of the upcoming HBO series entitled “The Leftovers” – another “Left Behind” type of production. Hopefully, by now, many of you are wise enough to decipher true Biblical language intent as opposed to pure apocalyptic propaganda aimed at an unsuspecting audience who know very little when it comes to apocalyptic eschatology. This is nothing more than pure Christian Fundamentalism at its worst – it also enhances two Roman Catholic Jesuit doctrines; an apocalyptic futuristic world and the Rapture (these theories were concocted in the 1500’s and 1800’s as a counter attack against the Reformation – It is called the “Catholic Counter Reformation”). It promotes exclusiveness – the have’s and have not’s, as opposed to “all in Christ shall be made alive.”
Protestants now uphold these teachings as well, because they too have their own system of “have’s and have not’s.” However, a good Protestant should teach all theories regarding eschatology; whether it be; Futurism, Preterism, Historicism, or Spiritualism/Idealism and leave it up to the individual to decide which is the more plausible view. But alas…they do not. They teach these things as theological fact. Moreover, they often cite apocalyptic overtones with reference to a literal world wide flood with that of a literal end of days – often drawing comparisons and similarities with the Apocalypse of John.
I also find it quite disturbing that this series came about the same time after the release of the cinematic epic film entitled “Noah” – perfect timing wouldn’t you say? – (sarcasm intended). Well, I guess it behooves me to conduct this study right after my previous article, entitled, “Noah and the Flood?” As we have seen in that study, and previous end of the world “stuff,” – cultures, language intent and linguistics are central key elements to understanding the meaning of God’s Word. Yet, it is also important to have that language spread abroad – to enlarge – to become Universal in scope – to become a Japheth so to speak.
Let me explain…
It is my opinion that any attempt to pin Jesus Christ down to one language ends up concealing Him and His world and Word from us. While it is of most importance to study the Scriptures of any given text in their original tongues, it is also very important not to limit the character of its Holy men to one ethic group or nationality. And while nationalism is a good thing, the reality of Jesus’ language and audience was vernacular and hybrid, reaching beyond existing loyalties to state or people. It was synergistic. It was the cosmopolitan Greek – Koine Greek – an aspirationally universal language that reached beyond the ethic norms and cultures of the day.
Knowing this, what is one to make of the language in which Jesus spoke with reference to Noah’s flood in the New Testament? Moreover, what is one to make of the language in which the Old Testament was written in. What was the languages used in reference to Noah’s flood in the Old Testament account? To answer these questions we must look into the languages as expressed in both; the Old and New Testaments before we can look into the “Smilies of Noah’s Flood” and why I believe Noah’s flood narative is an allegory and metaphor in Point Number 3 in our conclusion. But first, a look at languages.
1. A Look at Languages
By the second century BCE, Palestinian Jews were writing major religious texts in all three languages, and translating the Hebrew scriptures into both Aramaic and Greek. Strikingly, they did not always see Hebrew and Aramaic as two different “languages.” Moreover, although they formed at least two distinct linguistic systems, they weren’t always differentiated in theory or practice.
The problem is not that Aramaic is tainted with Hebrew or vice-versa; mixture is what readers of Galilean inscriptions, the Palestinian Talmud, or early Midrash would expect. The real problem is the pretense of purity itself: the presentation of the languages of Palestine either as purely Aramaic or Hebrew.
Examples of this can be found in the book of Daniel and Ezra. Both; Daniel’s and Ezra’s book switches from Hebrew to Aramaic and Aramaic to Hebrew. Similarly, even the word “Rabbi/Rabbouni” are confusing to the average English reader. The word, etymologically, derives from the Semitic root “rav,” – in Biblical Aramaic, it means “Great” “Revered” – as opposed to just “teacher” or “Master.” It is cognate to the Arabic, meaning “Lord” and is used when talking of God and earthly lords.
The term first appeared in the Mishnah c. 200BCE (the first major written redaction of Jewish oral traditions known as the “Oral Torah” – it is the 1st major work of Rabbinic literature). It is a term used with reference to the Sanhedrin. In the NT, it is used in reference to Scribes, Pharisees, and Jesus. Incidentally both; Hebrew and Aramaic languages, belong to the Semitic family.
Some have suggested, like the Israeli Newspaper called “The Harretz,” that we should take John’s ethno-religious term “Hebraisti” as literally “Hebrew” even when applied to Aramaic words. They cite the Codex Kaufmann to support their pre-supposition. However, the Codex Kaufman uses the Hebrew rendering of the word Rabbi only once – Ta’anit 3.8 as opposed to the Aramaic term “Lord” – a term used over 100 times in the earliest Palestinian Aramaic translations of the Torah – as opposed to zero in the original Hebrew.
The term “Lord” is Universal – and thus the Aramaic has it correct. The Palestinian Targum or Targumim (Bible translations into Aramaic) uses “Adonay” – the Greek uses this as well (the loan-word is “Kurios”). The English Bible Reformers of the 1300-1500’s were correct in their NT rendering of the word “Lord” – they had great Universal respect and recognition of the One true Lord God.
2. The Targumim and the Aramaic
The term “Targumi” means “to explain” “to translate” it also means “interpretation.” The Targum is divided into two groups – Targum Onkelos (the Torah – written law) and the Targum Jonathan ben Uzziel (on Nevi’im – the Prophets). This is the official Eastern Babylonian Targum/Talmud to the Torah and Nevi’im – the Prophets. To this day Yemenite Jewish communities use the Targum when reading the OT. Both; the Onkelos and the Jonathan ben Uzziel are western (Israeli) in origin. Thus is the influence of Darius the 1st demonstrated and the language of Hebrew minimized to a shade of its former self.
Aramaic influences are found even in Hebrew Bibles. For instance, out of the 23,000 verses found in the Hebrew Bible (OT) there are about 250 verses in Aramaic – (Alger F. Johns, A Short Grammar of Biblical Aramaic. Berrien Springs: Andrews University Press, 1972, pp. 5-7).
Why all this Aramaic for a Hebrew/Jewish culture? Well, for those that don’t know. This unification of sorts is due to the Babylonian exile. During the exile, Aramaic became the language of the Jews. And after the fall of Babylon to the Medes and Persians, in fulfillment of Daniels prophecy, king Darius I declared Aramaic as the official language of the Western half of his empire in 500 BCE.
Hebrew became a liturgical language and one of theological constructions. Old Aramaic (of the Neo-Assyrian Empire 8th Cent BCE) became, to a certain degree, a thing of the past as revealed in II Kgs 18:26 – the people did not understand. The language may have been one of international importance, but not of the common people. This continued until the Darius’ proclamation – thus the rendering of Aramaic letters, words, phrases, and parables became a necessary element in rabbinic interpretations. Moreover, the Jews were already reading Arabic letters, words, and documents in the Arabian tongue. Even the Aramaic parables of Ahiqar in the 5th-century BCE at Elephantine in Egypt were read and understood by Jews.
Looking at it from this retrospect – Judaism is a “dead” religion serving the “letter of the law,” not its living spirit. It is a theological polemic problem.
Another ms-conception is the vocalized name Shma – Aramaic for “the name” while the Hebrew pronounces the name as Hashem which also means “the name.” Why do I make mention of this you may ask? The Hebrew Bible, Codex Leningradensis is written not it be read in Hebrew, but in Aramaic. The tetragrammaton is written with the vowels for shma – Aramaic.
But let us remember, during the Hellenization of the “then” known world (the historical spread of ancient Greek culture and, to a lesser extent, language, over foreign peoples, including Europe, Africa, Egypt, and Asia through the campaigns of Alexander the Great, Greek culture bought a sphere of influence and progress, including; arts, exploration, literature, theatre, architecture, music, mathematics, philosophy, and science), Hebrew had become a language used only for schooling and worship. Thus the Targumim (Bible translations into Aramaic) became necessary to give explanations and paraphrases in the common language after the Hebrew scripture was read. Especially in a post Hellenistic period, now under Roman rule.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica…
“The earliest Targums date from the time after the Babylonian Exile when Aramaic had superseded Hebrew as the spoken language of the Jews in Palestine. It is impossible to give more than a rough estimate as to the period in which Hebrew was displaced by Aramaic as a spoken language. It is certain, however, that Aramaic was firmly established in Palestine by the 1st century ad, although Hebrew still remained the learned and sacred language. Thus the Targums were designed to meet the needs of unlearned Jews to whom the Hebrew of the Old Testament was unintelligible.”
“Though written Targums gradually came into being, it was the living tradition of oral translation and exposition that was recognized as authoritative throughout the Talmudic period of the early centuries of the Christian Era. The official recognition of a written Targum, and therefore the final fixing of its text, belongs to the post-Talmudic period of the 5th century ad. The best known, most literal, and possibly the earliest Targum is the Targum of Onkelos on the Pentateuch, which appeared in its final revision in the 3rd century ad. Other Targums include the Targum of Pseudo-Jonathan, the Samaritan Targum, and the Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel.”
“The status and influence of the Targums became assured after the Second Temple was destroyed in ad 70, when synagogues replaced the Temple as houses of worship. For it was in the synagogue that the practice of reading from the Old Testament became widely observed, along with the custom of providing these readings with a translation into Aramaic. When Scripture was read aloud in the synagogue, it was translated aloud by a meturgeman, or professional interpreter (hence the name Targum), for the benefit of the congregation. The translator tried to reproduce the original text as closely as possible, but since his object was to give an intelligible rendering of the biblical text, the Targums eventually took on the character of paraphrase and commentary, leaving literal translation behind. To prevent misconceptions, a meturgeman expanded and explained what was obscure, adjusted the incidents of the past to the ideas of later times, emphasized the moral lessons to be learned from the biblical narratives, and adapted the rules and regulations of the Scriptures to the conditions and requirements of the current age. The method by which the text was thus utilized as a vehicle for conveying homiletic discourses, traditional sayings, legends, and allegories is abundantly illustrated by the later Targums, as opposed to the more literal translations of the earlier Targums.”
This is the most likely manuscript that Jesus used when reading from the Scriptures. It is also the most likely source by which Peter, John, Paul, and the other Apostles drew inspiration from. As the Aramaic Targum was the Scripture of understanding and interpretations, the Korine Greek NT (the language of the common man) becomes the language of the NT – in fact it is the NT – it is simple, yet difficult to decipher when reading it in ordinary English. It isn’t ironic that God would use the nations to express Himself linguistically for all the humanities and their representative communities in the vernacular.
Universal languages, thoughts, or expressions often create a ms-understanding of a given text. In other words, realizing what we have just read; should one go by the Hebrew or Aramaic when performing an exegesis of a given verse linguistically? I think we all know the answer to that question. Use both languages to your God given gifts and abilities. In reference to NT, it is best to use its similes, homiletic discourses, traditional sayings, legends, and allegories to its fullest while utilizing the Greek language to its fullest and remembering the audience relevance.
The audience reveals a pattern. Yes…there seems to be a utilizing pattern – though difficult to decipher – yet not impossible. “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Allow me at this time to sort of give a synergism of sorts, or ages/epochs/dispensations, if you will. The following is not in the traditional format. Yes, we can discuss covenant theology, dispensations and the like; but the following is not about its details per-SE. Instead, it is the way I see things emerging in a general sense. With this view (the view that I have come up with) one can easily insert their particular covenant theologies, dispensational viewpoints and Christology’s to their hearts content – it doesn’t curtail, distract, or take away from any of the following…
In Times Past…
We had the creation of all…I don’t view this as an age. It is the beginning. The beginnings of all things (ages, epochs, etc).
1. Then came the flood. There was water – darkness – for water represents darkness – it also means; juice (as in wine), urine, wasting, semen – in semen is the continuity of life. The term has other meanings as well; the presence of God, the knowledge of God, social justice, purification and cleansing.
2. Then there was oil – Light – for oil represents light. Oil represents the term “destroy.” Its means to make one “smooth” – as if with oil – “to grease, to make fat”). Ancient and modern Judaism confirms this – often citing oil for light.
Numbers 1 and 2 are seen in the story of Noah – The great age of religious darkness, the birth of ceremonial religious law – this came through water – being born of water, not of the Spirit. The two ages were, and are seen though out every culture – yet each culture was able to maintain their own individuality and nationalism through the telling of the story through oral and written traditions – each according to their beliefs and languages.
For a deeper understanding of this; see the my study entitled “Noah and the Flood?”
3. As mentioned above, the story gave way to practical forms – it became ethical – thus giving birth to morality and social orders. This is seen in the Code of Hammurabi and the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) though the last 5, out of the 10, are Universal, not cultural. This is sometimes referred to as the dispensation of Law. This is not only seen in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, but also in the Kings, the Chronicles, and the Judges – with gleamings from the Psalms and Proverbs.
It is also seen through out every culture. Every culture has a civil form of social justice, even the primitive ones. Yet, they all differ as to its applications.
Then came the Prophets, Avatars, or Messiahs – it was there job to reveal and/or fulfill the finer truths of the former ages past. In Judaism, we have the prophets – who reveled the hidden messages of God – they were inspired. Not that God deliberately hidden a truth from humanity, but that humanity wasn’t really ready to digest meat – we were still nurturing our watery birth pains and its subsequent laws of ethics and morals – still under the guise and curse of ignorance and want. Even the Indian faiths have their avatars – proclaiming their social ramifications of do’s and don’ts. Even they suffer ignorance and want.
4. Then came birth through the Spirit – The stars foretold His birth – even to those who lived far in the East (those of the Zoroastrian belief system – the Magi’s). Our former watery birth and its subsequent by-products gave way to a spiritual birth – where we are born again. Born anew. It is a new faith, a new conscience – where the old man is buried – giving way to the new man in Christ Jesus. Its traditions and languages are Jewish; but while their traditions and languages are homogenized and subsumed under the title “Jewish,” they can be seen now as buried artifacts to be excavated and displayed for someone else to use.
This age is sometimes referred to as the dispensation of Grace by Christians. It is also referred to by some as; “the Church Age,” “the Picean Age,” “the Age of Grace,” “the Age of the Sword,” and/or “the Age of Kalki.” – Indian faiths.
Some believe Messianic traditions to be broader – not limited to just Jewish ancestry or one particular ethnic group. This broader concept isn’t heresy. In fact it is Good News. It is good that the term Messiah has taken on many connotations or meanings. Such as; the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ (Universal in its concept), Avatar, Savior and Redeemer. Sure, the semantics and applications differ from one school of thought to another – but it is its general message of justice, mercy, good faith, hope and love that continues to grow and prosper.
What all of these ages share is the idea that Jesus’ language is something for others to excavate. It must come from somewhere else, somewhere older, destined to be forgotten, but resurrected for other people’s purposes. With a fresh new revelation of Collective Effervescence. And this is only accomplished through a resurrected Jesus as opposed to a dead one. Our resurrections are accomplished and will be accomplished in this life and in the life to come – Clement said this and wrote of such in his “Church History.”
We now await its fulfillment – not as the Dispensationalist views it, not as the Preterist views it, not as the Historicist views it, and not even as the Allegoricalist views it, but as a collective combination – where the beginnings of these birth pains – wars, rumors of wars, famine, pestilence, etc, are ever present during our birth into His Kingdom. Are not the former things due to ignorance and want?
Ignorance and want will be a thing of the past when Man has stuffed himself to his satisfaction – until he can digest the vanity of the world and all that it has to offer no more. We are even encouraged not to love the world nor the things that are in the world. For all that is in the world; the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life is not of the Father, but is of the world. The world passes away and the lust there of, but he that does the will of God abides forever (I Jn 2:15-17).
It will be a time…
5. Where the elements will melt with fervent heat (II Pet 3:7-12) – Elements represent something in “orderly arrangement,” “to walk orderly” its root word in Greek is to “conform to virtue and piety.” Almost military – as in “to keep step.” While fervent – means intent, without ceasing, (SHC 4747-4748 & 1618). It is also used in charity (I Pet 4:8). Heat – represents “an act” “to be burned” “a glare“ (SHC 2740-2741).
The passage therefore can easily be read as – “…Where the orderly walking arrangement will conform to virtue and piety, an act without ceasing to be burned.”
This is the world that is passing Vs 17 of I John Ch 2. But he that doeth the will of God abideth forever – an act without ceasing to be burned continually as demonstrated in Spirit and Fire – For we have received the witness to these things on earth; the Spirit, the water and the blood…I John 5:8. The Spirit bears witness of these things Vs 6. Hebrews 12:29 says that God Himself is a consuming fire. Malachi 3:2 says that God is like a refiner’s fire and like the launderer’s soap.
For more on the Hebrew and Greek meanings to the word “fire,” “hell” and all that other “stuff,” see the study entitled “An Unbiased Approach (Part 3)”