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WWJD on Hanukkah? – Odd Gospel Greek

November 27, 2013

The gospel of John seems to have Jesus observing the feast but in a dispute on Hanukkah.

Verses 22 & 22 of Chapter 10 in the New Revised Standard Version in the Jewish Annotated New Testament read as follows:

22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.

The footnote reads this way:

22: Festival of the Dedication, Hanukkah (beginning on 25 Chislev, a date that [usually] falls in December), commemorating the rededication of the Temple (164 BCE), after it had been desecrated by the Seleucid king Antiochus IV (1 Macc 4.52-59). It is unclear clear [sic] how this feast was observed in the first century.

If we flash back to read 1 Maccabees 4 (also in the New Revised Standard Version), then we find what follows here:

1 Now Gorgias took five thousand infantry and a thousand picked cavalry, and this division moved out by night 2 to fall upon the camp of the Jews and attack them suddenly. Men from the citadel were his guides. 3 But Judas heard of it, and he and his mighty men moved out to attack the king’s force in Emmaus…. 58 There was very great gladness among the people, and the reproach of the Gentiles was removed. 59 Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with gladness and joy for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev.

There’s some odd gospel Greek here that seems to be lifted from the Greek of the Septuagint, of Maccabees. What the NRSV translators make “the festival of the Dedication” in the gospel is their rendering of ἐγκαίνια; and what the translators make the days “of dedication” in 1 Maccabess is their rendering of ἐγκαινισμοῦ. In the entire New Testament, and in the gospel of John, the phrase never appears again.

There are a number of odd Greeky things here. And without ado let’s get to them.

First, Greek readers see how Jesus is in a dispute with οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι as if he’s not one of them. We notice this in particular because in 1 Maccabees 4.2, we read that Ιουδας is leading those in the camp “of the Jews,” or τῶν Ιουδαίων, as opposed to the others of “the Gentiles,” or ἐθνῶν. The NRSV translators make him into the English transliteration Judas, when we all know it refers rather to יהודה המכבי, which could be instead transliterated Y’hudhah HaMakabi or Judah Maccabeus. In the gospel, it would seem that Jesus and the Jews are in opposition, and there’s a different Judas, and not a hero, who ends up betraying him. And who knows where that leaves Jesus in the end, among the Jews or the Gentiles?

At any rate, second, on Hanukkah, as the odd Greek here of the odd gospel might suggest, Jesus and the Jews are doing something interesting. He appears to be engaged in a kind of teaching that is as much Greeky Aristotelian as it is Jewish Messianic. The Greek goes like this:

23 καὶ περιεπάτει ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ ἐν τῇ στοᾷ τοῦ Σολομῶνος. 24 ἐκύκλωσαν οὖν αὐτὸν οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι καὶ ἔλεγον αὐτῷ·

A particular pedagogy here is suggested by the verb peripatei. And a particular learning engagement is connoted by the verb ekyklosan. Jesus is the teacher, the one walking about in the stoa. The Jews are following him around, encircling him there and asking him things somewhat socratically. It’s all, in Greek, rather reminiscent of the Peripatetic school. Now the prologue to this gospel comes right out with this Greeky-Jewish mix of Septuagint Genesis and logos, calling Jesus that right in the Beginning [Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος]. Readers this far into the gospel would have already been impressed by the rhetoric, the Hellenistic rhetoric, with words such as pisteis, which were components of rhetorical enthymemes, or the body of a “proof.” (The Greek of the gospel of Matthew seems to reflect such a reading of enthymeme and of pisteis too.) John’s Jesus has him asking his opponents where their pisteis is, exclaiming and countering twice that there is none in them: οὐ πιστεύετε. This is all beginning to sound rather technical. And so most translators, trying to help readers of English who really don’t bother with all of that Greeky and all of that rhetorical stuff, will just have Jesus talking about “faith” and about “belief” as if that’s the key here. The Greek key in this short Hanukkah context seems to be on Jesus as the teacher here. He’s insisting on good listening [ταῦτα μαρτυρεῖ περὶ ἐμοῦ], on workings of creativity or of poetry [τὰ ἔργα ἃ ἐγὼ ποιῶ], on good retorts [ἀπεκρίθη αὐτοῖς], on good vocals [τῆς φωνῆς μου ἀκούουσιν], on good follow-ship [ἀκολουθοῦσίν μοι], on good epistemology [κἀγὼ γινώσκω αὐτά], on the proper sort of circling [ἐκύκλωσαν οὖν αὐτὸν] around the pedagogue. And so most translators lose all of that and get distracted just by the dispute itself. This is “the Jews” who are opposing Jesus. Hanukkah, of course, is rather inconsequential, especially to Jesus opposed there and then by “the Jews.”

What an odd mix. The Greek is odd. The Greek lifts from the Septuagint. That Greeky older bit is purely a Jewish account, whosoever’s canon might tolerate it. And much of the Hebraic and Jewish nature of the text, of the odd gospel Greek, gets lost.

There are a few translators who have tried, nonetheless, to restore what others have lost.

David H. Stern, “an American-born Messianic Jewish theologian of Israeli residence,” offers one. Another is offered by another Messianic group in America. posts both of these, and you can click here to view them.

The best and most complete work to show what mainly Christian translators of the New Testament have lost and covered over is by Willis Barnstone. Barnstone is a polygot, is Jewish, is a poet, is a translator, is a classicist. Click here to find his New Testament. The rhetorical Hebraic Hellene restored by Barnstone’s English is much beyond any Christianish WWJD affair. Notice the emphasis on the odd gospel Greek rhetoric. Follow his translation that offers how, on “Hanukkah in Yerushalayim,” “[s]ince Yeshua is a Jew … Yeshua argues … as a Jew, [and] he uses the Jews’ common law to prove his point” –



One Comment leave one →
  1. November 29, 2013 12:07 pm

    I love what you’re doing here, Kurk.

    First of all, I’m embarrassed to say I had no idea that the Feast of the Dedication was Hannukah. Although that is noted in the NAB footnote on the term, the footnote doesn’t make it into the lectionary reading!

    I don’t know that we can attach too much emphasis on “of the Jews” here to the Maccabean text, because this is by no means the only or the first place in the gospel of John in which the phrase is used. But the resonance with Judah Maccabeus here is interesting; particularly if we look back to the previous pericope, in which Jesus says

    So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came [before me] are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.

    which now reads to me rather as an anti-political/military/nationalistic text.

    I love all those connections to the peripatetic school and the Greeky style of education — especially pisteis, good grief. That adds so much con-text to this text.

    It also provides context for the practice of early Gentile Christians to have come to Christianity as a philosophy, and to pattern their Christian teachings after the patterns of Greek philosophers who founded schools and gathered students who would follow them. That seemed odd to me when I learned about it in my early church history class, but look, there it is right in the Greek gospel

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