Kinship terms in Hebrew
Is adelphoi used at all in C1 literature to indicate sibling-by-blended-family or cousin?
To answer that, one needs to start with Hebrew kinship terms, at least I do. It’s as close as I can get to Aramaic, the language spoken by those who feature in early Christian literature. The first thing to realize is that no Bible translation (that I am familiar with) even begins to provide insight into Hebrew kinship terms. Some pretend to.
The Hebrew word אח means “brother, sibling, fellow.” It can refer to a boy who has the same parent as you do, any sibling, or someone, male or female, who belongs to the same group or nation. “Fellow Hebrew” or “Fellow Christians” are perfectly acceptable ways to translate this word. It communicates the meaning much better than the word “brothers” which sounds in English like a male cabal, bent on no good!
But how then does the Hebrew language refer to one’s cousin? A quick search of various Bible translations may suggest that there is a Hebrew word for cousin, but that is a trap. Here is an example. I have chosen the ESV, as the English translation, since it claims to be literal.
or his uncle or his cousin may redeem him, or a close relative from his clan may redeem him. Or if he grows rich he may redeem himself
אוֹ-דֹדוֹ אוֹ בֶן-דֹּדוֹ, יִגְאָלֶנּוּ, אוֹ-מִשְּׁאֵר בְּשָׂרוֹ מִמִּשְׁפַּחְתּוֹ, יִגְאָלֶנּוּ; אוֹ-הִשִּׂיגָה יָדוֹ, וְנִגְאָל
Now this verse clearly refers in Hebrew to the uncle, specifically one’s father’s brother, and the son of one’s father’s brother. This expression, בֶן-דֹּדוֹ , is not a word for cousin. It does not refer to the son of one’s mother’s brother or sister, or to a daughter or any other sort of cousin. It is specific to the Hebrew kinship system. In Jeremiah 32, the same Hebrew term is used.It is specifically the son of one’s father’s brother.
So the ESV is just pretending that there is a Hebrew word for cousin. There isn’t one that is used in Biblical Hebrew. I suggest that this is not a passage about male authority but about prior responsibility in this kinship system. Anyone can redeem the poor person, any relative at all, so of course a wealthy woman could do so. But the father’s brother, or his son in his stead, has a prior responsibility in this cultural context. This responsibility does not confer any authority. The idea is to rescue a poor relative and set them free.
Curiously, in this passage in Leviticus 25, the ESV translates the plural of אח as “brothers” when it is clear that either a woman or a man could be the “poor relative” that is referred to here. So the real meaning is lost. But then the phrase בֶן-דֹּדוֹ , which means the “son of the brother of one’s father,” is translated as “cousin.” Once again meaning is lost. So frustrating!!
Here is the passage in the ESV,
47 If a stranger or sojourner with you becomes rich, and your brother beside him becomes poor and sells himself to the stranger or sojourner with you or to a member of the stranger’s clan, 48 then after he is sold he may be redeemed. One of his brothers may redeem him, 49 or his uncle or his cousin may redeem him, or a close relative from his clan may redeem him. Or if he grows rich he may redeem himself.
And here it is in The Contemporary Torah,
If a resident alien among you has prospered, and your kin, being in straits, comes under that one’s authority and is given over to the resident alien among you, or to an offshoot of an alien’s family, [your kin] shall have the right of redemption even after having been given over. [Typically] a brother shall do the redeeming or an uncle or an uncle’s son shall do the reeeming – anyone in the family who is of the same flesh shall do the redeeming; or, having prospered, [your formerly impoverished kin] may do the redeeming.
The Contemporary Torah translates the word אח as “kin” since it clearly refers to any relative, not just a male sibling. And it correctly translates בֶן-דֹּדוֹ as “uncle’s son” to emphasize who typically has the first responsibility. But no family member is restricted from redeeming a relative. This is not a restriction to only “the uncle’s son” but an indication of what was normal practice in that kinship system.
So, the upshot is that there is no generic Hebrew word for “cousin.” Could the word אח then mean “cousin?” My guess is that the Hebrew would typically say “the children of my mother’s brother” or some such expression, but I am not sure.
In Greek there is a word for cousin, and here it is in Col. 4:10 – καὶ Μᾶρκος ὁ ἀνεψιὸς Βαρναβᾶ. I have not answered Dana’s question. I don’t know the answer for sure. I am still thinking about it. I really do think that Jesus had actual brothers and sisters. Why not?
And yes, I highly recommend The Contemporary Torah as a way to gain insight into the original Hebrew.