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Guest Post by Dagesh Forte – “Rhythm And Poetry”

July 2, 2014

Dagesh Forte is the blogger pseudonym of a scholar in biblical Hebrew. You may recognize him as a regular contributor of posts to the blog unsettledchristianity, including a provocative piece noting how “biblioblogs creep into places that maybe they shouldn’t be.” (In the same post, he reveals his part in the “now defunct Hebrew and Greek Reader weblog,” a site that interacted with some of Suzanne’s posts, and mine also, at our other respective blogs.) We are delighted that he has contributed the following guest post here at BLT!
— J. K. Gayle


RAP is a powerful tool. RAP comes from Hip-Hop, the cultural movement that birthed DJing as its own type of music (instead of just a record spinner who introduced songs), break dancing, graffiti art, and RAP music. RAP has come to be stereotyped as crass, sexually and violently explicit, misogynistic, and a host of other negative things that have caused America to label many RAP albums with the tag “EXPLICIT”. Even so, RAP dominates the music scene here in the USA and internationally. I think its high-time that Bible translators begin to explore RAP as a vehicle for translating biblical poetry.

So let me introduce you to four of my favorite rappers. I think they can provide a foundation for how to make good rap.

Gil Scott-Heron

Gil is not what we think of when we think of RAP. Gil was a blueman, a jazz musician, and a beat poet. But unlike other beat poets, Gil’s poetry was about race, specifically black Americans. Gil died in 2011. The latter part of his life was marked with multiple jail sentences for powder cocaine possession and possession of a crack pipe (Until recently, crack cocaine offenders were given lengthier sentences than were powder cocaine offenders). His greatest hit was The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

The music of Gil Scott-Heron is important to me because its beautiful and honest and painful. Anyone who has ever had to deal with the modern (and very American) constructs of “black” and “white” will identify with or feel convicted by some of Gil’s words. Gil showed me how I benefit from institutional racism. And he did it in a way that I could accept because his way was poetic. As Bible translators, I think the lesson we can learn from Gil is that poetry can offend and convict and bring what is in the dark into the light and it can do it in a way that is undeniable.



KRS One is from the early days of Hip Hop and the RAP that came from it. His music is an excellent blend of rhyming techniques with powerful content. He challenges black Americans to reject labels put on them and he invites all people to think before they speak. He is a scholar of Hip Hop. Sometimes when I want to listen to KRS One, I have a hard time deciding if I want to listen to his music or one of his lectures. KRS One shows that sermons can be rapped. Here’s his early hit My Philosophy.

KRS One also give regular lectures. You can find them on YouTube. Here he is commenting on guilt and Genesis 3.


The Wu-Tang Clan

I love The Wu. Wu-Tang is the soundtrack to my undergraduate years. The Wu-Tang Clan is the longest surviving (minus O.D.B.) RAP group from New York. In my opinion, they are the best. The Wu-Tang Clan makes blues music in RAP. This is the voice that says, “If there is a God, he doesn’t love me.” The Wu is a look at the underbelly of American life. Their music makes me think of hard-to-hear psalms like #137. Here is “Heaven and Hell” from Raekwon’s solo album “Only Built For Cuban Linx N*****”. Though his solo album, the whole Wu-Tang Clan joins in the album and this song.


Mala Rodriguez

For decades, Spanish RAP was terrible (in my opinion). Spanish rappers mimicked the techniques that they heard from American gangster RAP. For the most part, that technique was rhyme with a very predictable cadence. In the last few years, I have been impressed with the RAP of Maria “Mala” Rodriguez. Her RAP does not sound like American RAP in Spanish. She plays with Spanish as a Spanish speaker would, not as an American would. Her lyrics are biting and raunchy. And sometimes she growls like a death metal singer.

Mala’s music reminds me that poetry is different from language to language. Rhyme is entertaining in English, but in Spanish it can be incredibly boring (and easy since nouns end in either -o or -a). Here is the single “33” from her 2013 album “Bruja”.


Could RAP translations of Psalms be a useful exercise? I think when we hear a translation of a psalm that causes the foot to tap and the head to nod to the beat, then we’ll know.





Book review as comic strip: Jenna Brager’s review of the graphic book “Mendoza the Jew”

June 29, 2014

Click over to the Los Angeles Review of Books for this interesting way to review graphic books.  Jenna Brager reviews the recent graphic book Mendoza the Jew:  Boxing, Manliness, and Nationalism – A Graphic History.

Here is how it starts:


Snowpiercer: Vagaries of commercial art

June 29, 2014

I saw the amazing film Snowpiercer this weekend, and was absolutely stunned by this striking interpretation of the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige.  It is a rare bird: a cerebral action thriller.  It has an impressive cast:  Chris Evans, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Alison Pill, Octavia Spencer, Tilda Swinton  and the excellent Korean actor Song Kang-Ho.  And, you probably have not seen it – it is only showing in a small number of theaters.  It is only playing in eight US theaters at this time although it will open at approximately a hundred theaters by next weekend.

The film is an extended allegory on religion, North Korean absolute control, and revolutionary movements set within an action thriller genre.  The basic premise is that in an effort to end global warning, science accidentally unleashes a brutal ice age that has killed all of humanity except for a tiny remnant living aboard a massive train that circumnavigates rail lines that circle the globe (with extended bridges connecting, for example, Alaska to Siberia).  The train is strictly segregated with the wealthy in the front, with every luxury imaginable – from sushi bars to hot tub pools – and the masses piled into cattle cars at the back.   A team led by Curtis and Gilliam (a clear nod to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil) attempts to launch a revolution to take charge of the engine car – facing a long series of obstacles and challenges.

“Snowpiercer” is a CGI feast – one that normally would play best on the big screen.  And yet, as a result of a controversial deal with Harvey Weinstein’s video-on-demand unit, the film seems destined to be seen by most on the small screen.  Is this the future of cinema in America?

The Boston Globe gives the fascinating backstory behind the release – a story that has a great deal to say about how movies are distributed.  Here are some excerpts:

“Snowpiercer” is a mesmerizing science fiction/action film that moves like the bullet train on which it takes place.[…] “Snowpiercer” isn’t a perfect movie but it is an astonishing one. Bong takes the dystopian fantasies of such movies as “Blade Runner” and “Brazil” and compresses them into an elongated space that rushes forward on speed and story. The film’s visual imagination is baroque, insane, inspired, with each railway car a newly revealed universe of beauty and peril. […] “Snowpiercer” demands to be seen.

It almost wasn’t. Back in 2012, Harvey Weinstein of The Weinstein Co. bought US rights to the film based on its script and a few sample scenes, but when [director] Bong [Joon-Ho]  turned in the finished film the distributor balked. The 126-minute runtime wasn’t as much an issue as the film’s dark tone, often brutal violence, and general creative weirdness. The wide release Weinstein envisioned now seemed risky; secondhand reports had company executives claiming the film wouldn’t be understood by audiences in Iowa and Oklahoma. Bong was told he had to cut 20 minutes or the film wouldn’t be released. In effect, he was being penalized for being too visionary.[…]

Bong refused to make the edits, especially after a Weinstein cut reportedly tested more poorly than the director’s original. Meanwhile, “Snowpiercer” was released in Korea, France, and other countries to rave reviews and massive box-office returns. Finally Weinstein relented: Bong’s version could go out to US theaters — but only in limited release. Instead of playing 600 to 1,000 screens, “Snowpiercer” would be seen in 100 or so art houses and out-of-the-way multiplexes.[…]

A crucial decision seems to have been Weinstein’s relegating “Snowpiercer” to the company’s Radius/TWC subsidiary, which specializes in releasing movies in innovative multiplatform arrays that include theatrical, video on demand (VOD), and other outlets. This practice severely restricts which theater chains will agree to show a film, since most exhibitors believe that digital distribution cannibalizes their customers.[…]  [O]nce “Snowpiercer” went to Radius/TWC — with an as yet unspecified VOD release scheduled for a number of weeks from now — its shunning by theater chains was assured.[…]

What the “Snowpiercer” saga inadvertently reveals is an entrenched industry in the midst of a sea change while paddling against the current as fast as it can. VOD revenues aren’t reported by distributors — meaning there’s no way to compare those numbers with box office grosses — but the anecdotal evidence is clear. More people than ever are dialing up movies on their TVs, laptops, and phones via cable services, Roku and AppleTV boxes, NetFlix, iTunes, and Amazon. The only movies that still draw mass audiences to theaters are heavily promoted studio blockbusters — and even they last only a few weeks — and the occasional art-house hit like “Grand Budapest Hotel.”[…]

What that means for you, the moviegoer, is as yet unclear. At the very least, films that don’t strictly conform to the big-budget studio entertainment model — that are labors of love, or are challenging, or just different — will find it harder than ever to find a big-screen toehold in this paranoid new world. “Snowpiercer” may have been relegated to the exhibition boondocks because it falls between the audience cracks: It’s too violent for genteel art-house audiences, too weird for the mainstream. And yet it’s impossible to believe that an action-packed science fiction movie starring [Chris Evans who previously played] Captain America (with an 86 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, no less [note, as of 6/29, the Rotten Tomatoes rating has risen to 93%])  couldn’t do a decent chunk of business for a few weeks in 600 theaters[…].

Must “the wife of the Lamb” be a Ewe?

June 25, 2014

N. T. Wright has suggested that Heaven marries Earth, that Adam marries Eve, that Christ marries the Church, that this is always and only Nature’s design: the male husband marries the female wife. And so he looks to the prophecies in the NT book of Revelation.

But in Revelation 19:7 and in Revelation 21:9, must “the wife of the Lamb” be a City? Or the Church? Or a Ewe?

If the sex must be different, then must the species also be different?

Below are a few quotations of Sr. Carolyn Osiek, writing to discuss the problems with the male-female marriage metaphor in the NT –


There are other biblical metaphors that have never attained the status or power that this one carries. It conveys the power it does, not only because it taps into the primal human energy of sexuality, but also because it serves certain interests that are closely related to the confusing ambiguity we experience between the desire for connection and the desire to control.
–Carolyn Osiek
It does no good to affirm the full dignity and equality of women with men if our language, our imagery, and our metaphors continue to perpetuate inequality.
–Carolyn Osiek

[N]early all the Hellenistic discussions of household management, beginning with Aristotle, address only one person, the male authority figure (paterfamilias) who must relate differently but always in a superior manner to wife, children, and slaves….  Since Aristotle, the basic types of … analogies have been simile and metaphor….  Metaphor is a more implicit comparison made by direct statement that one thing is another. As Aristotle puts it, when A is to B as C is to D, it is a metaphor to say A is C, or vice versa (POETICS 21.11-12).
–Carolyn Osiek

The spousal metaphor has been a primary one throughout the development of ecclesiology. I need not and cannot document this development. Like any metaphor, it is sometimes carried too far…. One theologian argues on the basis of a social meaning of the Hebrew word basar (flesh, body) that the reference is not only to one’s personal body, but also ancestors, descendants, and particularly, one’s spouse. Thus the husband is considered to have two bodies, his own and that of his wife. Likewise, the wife has two heads, her own and that of her husband. This is supposed to reveal the distinction and the union of Christ and his church….  Since Mary is portrayed as mother of Jesus in the Second Testament and in subsequent theology and devotion, she is also portrayed as mother of the church, or perhaps more accurately, she should have been seen as its mother-in-law. But Mary has also been frequently seen as symbol or representative, a sort of first citizen, of the church. This blurs the distinctions. Thus there has been considerable symbolic slippage between her role as mother and her representation of the church in a spousal relationship to Christ.
–Carolyn Osiek

As you read this little blog post, would you do something?  Would you be brave enough to notice your reading strategies and slippages?  One of my mentors has thought about hers.  And so I’d like us let her help us again with ours.  I’m just interested in how our affirmations, on the one hand, may not always keep up with “our language, our imagery, and our metaphors.”   Just a couple of more items to go.  This is profound stuff, the relationships between what we think, what we say, and what we do.  If you’re a man, a Christian man, a Bible-reading Christian man, then you’ll probably have to think harder than everybody else.  We’re reading now (as with the four epigraphs above) from “The Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:22-33): a problematic wedding,” in Biblical Theology Bulletin 32.1 (Spring 2002), researched and written by Dr. Osiek.  What do you think?:
Male interests predominate in our reading strategies. The implied reader is usually male or represents male interests. This is clear in the case of the history of interpretation of our text from Ephesians. I do not know of any instances in which male readers have deduced from it that as members of the church, which is submissive to Christ, her bridegroom, they should be submissive to their marriage partners. Nor do men generally, on the basis of this metaphor, image themselves as feminine in relation to God, which is the logical conclusion of the marital metaphor. Some older spirituality in English spoke of the soul as “she,” more under the influence of feminine words for soul in Latin and French than anything else, but also perhaps influenced by the marriage metaphor. Likewise, Caroline Bynum calls our attention in her essays on Jesus as Mother to the influence of the submission theme in medieval monasticism: becoming symbolically female meant both the humbling of the self and the assumption of a compassionate attitude toward others (Bynum: 110-69). Here the stereotype of the stern father and the compassionate mother strikes again, to the detriment of fatherhood as well as motherhood, and the stereotype of the dominant male taking on female characteristics by becoming humble belittles the dignity of women. 

Both men and women do, however, make the connection that the ecclesial marriage metaphor means that women as members of the church should be submissive, however troublesome that realization may be, and whether they accept or reject it. Men certainly do identify not with the church in this metaphor, as members of it, but with Christ, because such identifications suit male interests. Herein lies the great danger posed by this ecclesiological metaphor: it encourages men to identify with Christ, women with the church. As everyone knows who teaches or ministers, for most people the line between Christ and God is very thin. As long as the marriage metaphor is in play, gender symbolism is fixed. Men will, even unconsciously, identify with Christ and women with the church, and feminine imagery for God or Christ then has no place. Then God is the ultimate male.

The above is a reposting from And for full disclosure, Dr. Osiek is one of my own teachers, and she advised me through my dissertation project.

UPDATE: If the link to the article above ( ) does not work, then please feel free to request a reprint of it or to subscribe to the journal or to find the essay in your university or local library. There are some important arguments made, such as this –

I would argue that casting the church as feminine, and above all as bride of Christ, far from enhancing the dignity of women, has in fact done harm to perception of the capacity of women to image the divine, and thus of women’s fundamental human and Christian dignity.

and this –

The “head” analogy for a leader of an army, a city, or some other social grouping was already established and quite common [by the time Paul wrote what he wrote]. What is less obvious in the sources is how “head” came to mean authority of one person over one other person as it does here [in male-female marriage, in Paul’s writing], and how “body” could support the meaning of a subordinate yet free individual person. (Slaves were sometimes depersonalized by being referred to legally in Greek as somata, bodies, but a reference to a specific individual slave by this term is unlikely.) These are precisely the points of greatest tension in the simile of this passage. The dissonance of the headship of one person over another occurs previously in 1 Corinthians 11:3, where Christ is the head (kephale) of man, man of woman, and God of Christ. But it was not a well-established metaphor in its day. How is Christ head of the man in 1 Corinthians 11:3, and of the church here? Not as military or political leader, but in a new way here, as savior ([Ephesians] 5:23). Bracket for a moment the accumulation of theological, eschatological, and individualist meaning attributed to the title “savior.” In the first century a savior was one who healed of disease and restored to community; one who protected the weak from the oppression of the strong; a military hero and ruler who was responsible to keep his people from harm. In this last sense a savior could also be head, and in a collective sense, head of the social body. But for an individual man to be head of an individual woman is a very new application of the metaphor of headship.

The comparison of wife to body is more shocking. There is nothing immediately obvious even about the similarity of wife to church, except that wives make up some of the members of the church. But so do husbands. Only by extrapolating from biological to ecclesiological functions can we begin to see some figurative similarities: wives become mothers who produce children, etc., and the
church can be figuratively personified with a somewhat similar role. But there are other more subconscious similarities that produce this metaphor: the ideal shy, pure, therefore inexperienced, virgin bride who submits her body to the waiting bridegroom and is reserved for his pleasure alone, for him to initiate her into the joy of sex in whatever way he would like. I do not mean to titillate, but I think all of these undertones are there, especially in the highly unusual suggestion that the bridegroom is the agent of the bride’s prenuptial bath and purity inspection. The
metaphor comes close to asserting that female biology is destiny. However, it is typical of the kind of projections of the feminine that are based solely on women’s sexual status in the male world: virgin, mother, or whore.

We have seen that the background metaphor to the simile of wife:husband::church:Christ is that of head as leader. The foreground metaphor is the application of the sacred marriage. It is quite an irony that the historical Jesus, of whose celibacy so much has been made in Christian history, has been transformed into the glorified Christ who is bridegroom ready for the bridal chamber, preparing to be a faithful and self sacrificing husband! Yet that seems not to have stopped the continuing power of the metaphor. “It’s only symbolic,” we say. Yet there are other elements of the metaphor that are taken with complete seriousness, like the need to conform gender symbolism in eucharistic presidency to reflect the sacred marriage of Christ and the church.


Meaning, Marriage, and Allah

June 24, 2014

For centuries, Arabic speakers, both Christians and Jews, have used the word “Allah” to refer to God. As I understand it, that is the apparent etymological meaning of the word’s morphemes: the god.

Recently in Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country, a court order declared that a Catholic newspaper may not use the word Allah to refer to God. This decision claimed the word “Allah” as distinctly and exclusively referring to the God worshipped by Muslims God as God is understood by Islam.

For centuries, English speakers in the West have used the word “marriage” to refer to a legally recognized relationship between a man and a woman, establishing a household.

The etymological meaning of this word’s morphemes is more obscure, and its semantic field is broader. But the relationship is presumptively and normatively sexual, monogamous, lifelong, and includes the birthing and raising of children.

In reality, none of these things have been universally true; there have always been marriages that did not include sex, that did not last lifelong, that were not monogamous, and that did not include children. Indeed, it is presumed that most marriage will include at least one substantial period without children, and will eventually enter a period during which sex is rare or entirely absent. (The reality may be otherwise, but the popular imagination is typically either amused or disturbed by the idea that elderly people are sexually active.) Over the last 50-100 years, with the destigmatization of divorce and the availability of effective birth control, “lifelong” and “intending children” can no longer be taken for granted, even though the norms persist. Increasingly, in this country, the meaning of marriage has come to indicate a legally recognized, presumptively sexual and emotional relationship between two adults that establishes a household. Increasingly, both the majority usage and the law are broadening to embrace such a relationship between either two men or two women.

Recently, a religious minority in this country has vocally claimed the word “marriage” as distinctly and exclusively referring to
the traditional meaning of marriage
relationships that conform to the church(es)’s definition of marriage
relationships between a man and a woman that can have children
relationships between a man and a woman.

Logically, there’s no reason to draw the line there, instead of somewhere else; doctrinally, this is actually a really poor place to draw the line, at least for Catholics. I’ve argued before that the Catholic church should willingly yield all claim to the word “marriage”, withdraw from civil discourse on the matter, and concentrate instead on teaching its flock the distinctly Catholic understanding of sacramental marriage, for which it might use the term “matrimony.”

The majority claim about “Allah” in Malaysia, and the minority claim about “marriage” in this country, both attempt to plant a flag on a particular hill in a word’s semantic field and claim that this hill is the one and only authentic, legitimate meaning of the word. But that’s just not how language works.

Metaphors are not equations

June 24, 2014

Argument by metaphor is always logically perilous, but a particularly severe error can be made when a metaphor is treated as an equation, equating the referent with the metaphorical expression.  When Longfellow compare’s the skipper’s daughter’s eyes to Linum catharticum or when Burns describes his love as a red, red rose, they are talking about humans and emotion, not about botany.  They are not equating eyes or love to plants.  One would not seek gardening tips from their poems.

In a highly-commented on post below, BLT co-blogger Suzanne comments on N. T. Wright’s use of a metaphor – that creation was a marriage of heaven and earth.  There is plenty of discussion about the biases that N. T. Wright brings to the table, but first and foremost, we need to remember that a metaphor is not an equation.  A metaphor comparing creation to the marriage of heaven and earth may shed light on the nature of creation, but it is hardly is useful in understanding marriage.

via a few levels of translation

June 24, 2014

Once I wrote a series of blogposts, just on one name of just one book of the Bible:

“Exodus”: now, then (in the Bible), and then

“Exodus”: Heavily Semiticized (NT) Greek

“Exodus”: Luke is not León Uris

“Exodus”: Whose Is It?

“Exodus” after Aristotle

“Exodus”: My Disbelief

The Beauty of Moses, or his Urbanity? how the Exodus puts it

I guess I have this sort of obsessive aversion to taking for granted the translational and rhetorical wordplay in old Greek loan words in Hebrew. Some of the first translators of the Hebrew Bible into Hellene seemed intentionally to riff off of the old Greek epics, the written-down and also the publicly recited and performed plays and playfulnesses. In Alexandria, Egypt, where the translating was going on, it was as if ἔξ οδος (“Ex-Odos”), the re-named second book of the Five Books of Moses, were to be read and recited as bigger than the Odyssey, of the Two Epics of Odyssean Homer.

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat’s wonderful post today gets into some of this. She writes:

Beginning. Names. God Called. In the Wilderness. The Words. To me these names evoke an entirely different set of associations than Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.

The names we most often use in English come to us via a few levels of translation.

Her post is thoughtful and does get us wondering. Read “What’s in a name? Torah, meanings, translation” here.

The Literary Star Puzzle: in the Ψαλμοὶ

June 24, 2014

Sometimes teams of translators make some very odd choices as they puzzle over the ambiguities and uncertainties of the biblical text. For example the English Standard Version team has this for what we call Psalm 110:3 –


And so, because of all the marks on the English text, we readers must peek at the footnotes in the ESV


The English-standard-version versification may only just make the poetry garbled. Can’t we have an English translation that at least gives us readers a variant both that is somewhat lyrical and poetic and also that is a bit cohesive even within a stanza?

Yes, we can. And here’s Craig R. Smith’s translation in The Inclusive Bible –


And here’s Ann Nyland’s translation


And here’s Robert Alter’s translation


Alter gives these helpful notes on the meanings on the source texts –


What is interesting here is the implied sex, the gender, the generative nature of things in the Psalm.

And there’s a literary spark and an interpretative spin in the Septuagint, in the Jewish-Greek translation –

μετὰ σοῦ ἡ ἀρχὴ
ἐν ἡμέρᾳ τῆς δυνάμεώς σου,
ἐν ταῖς λαμπρότησιν τῶν ἁγίων·
ἐκ γαστρὸς
πρὸ ἑωσφόρου
ἐξεγέννησά σε.

Lancelot Brenton renders this rather closely, and I’ve taken liberties both with the Greek above and Brenton’s English below to break the text into lines that show the play in the prepositional phrasing –

With thee is dominion
in the day of thy power,
in the splendours of thy saints:
I have begotten thee
from the womb
before the morning.

You’ll notice how I also put in bold font the puzzling Greek phrase, ἑωσφόρου

Albert Pietersma for the New English Translation of the Septuagint much more acknowledges the puzzle –


The footnote in the NETS is simply that the antecedent is unclear, but what Pietersma leaves as if unnoticed (or at least without a note) is the import of “Morning-star” for Ἓσπερος /Hesperos/ and all its puzzling meanings.

Very likely, in Alexandria, Egypt during the time of the translating, the translation team there probably had this sort of metaphorical puzzling picture in mind, and from their holy Hebrew scriptures they saw fit to give birth to Hebraic Hellene as some sort of comment on their own cosmology –

And today from the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology we get it –

HE′SPERUS (Hesperos), the evening-star, is called by Hesiod a son of Astraeus and Eos, and was regarded, even by the ancients, as the same as the morning star, whence both Homer and Hesiod call him the bringer of light, heôsphoros (Il. xxii. 317, xxiii. 226; comp. Plin. H. N. ii. 8; Mart. Capell. viii. § 882, &c., ed. Kopp.) Diodorus (iii. 60) calls him a son of Atlas, who was fond of astronomy, and once, after having ascended Mount Atlas to observe the stars, he disappeared. He was worshipped with divine honours, and regarded as the fairest star in the heavens. (Eratosth. Catast.24.) Hyginus (de Sign. Coel. 2) says that some called him a son of Eos and Cephalus. The Romans designated him by the names Lucifer and Hesperus, to characterise him as the morning or evening star.

The interesting thing about this star is its literary ambiguity. In the Psalmoi, is this the Womb before the Morning-star? The Womb before the Evening-star? The Womb before Every-star that marks the onset of day and the night? Is it a Homeric, and Hesiodic allusion? Hesperus is the Morning-star or the Evening-star? Hesperus is Phosphorus? What is somewhat obvious is that there is puzzling, literary sparks in the new language text. New gendering, new engenderings. Have the goyim ever gotten this? Clearly the new empire of the Romans garbled the epic Hellene accounts of the star(s). The later writers of the gospels and the epistles of the Greek New Testament certainly like to point back to this particular Greek Psalm. Is the star in the birth narrative of Jesus a continued puzzle of some sort? Doesn’t Gottlob Frege get the philosophical implications with his much much later “Frege’s Puzzle“?

Some time ago in the bible blogging world, there was some due attention given to this particular verse and its translation in various ways. As our BLT co-blogger Suzanne gives attention to Greek Mythology in light of questions about sex difference and not-so-different sexual and heavenly and earthly bodies, especially in the context of N. T. Wright’s expresssions of what the Bible can and cannot say, why not now look at the Hebraic Hellene puzzle in the Psalms?

ἐκ Γαστρὸς
πρὸ Ἓωσφόρου
ἐξεγέννησά σε

out of My Womb
before that Star of Dawn (and Dusk)
I gave Birth to you.

N.T. Wright, I Ching and complementarianism

June 23, 2014

About 12 days ago N. T Wright gave a most surprising and somewhat incoherent interview on homosexuality. I still don’t get most of the interview but it certainly raises many discussion points. I, for one, am wondering if there is some secret sort of Christianity floating beneath the surface that I have never heard of before. Here is the best transcript of the interview, at First Things. And here is Sarah Over the Moon’s reaction with comments.

There are far too many odd things to deal with so I am going to take a few paragraphs and have a look at them. Quoted at First Things, Wright says,

Now, the word “marriage,” for thousands of years and cross-culturally has meant man and woman. Sometimes it’s been one man and more than one woman. Occasionally it’s been one woman and more than one man. There is polyandry as well as polygamy in some societies in some parts of history, but it’s always been male plus female. Simply to say that you can have a woman-plus-woman marriage or a man-plus-man marriage is radically to change that because of the givenness of maleness and femaleness. I would say that without any particular Christian presuppositions at all, just cross-culturally, that’s so.

With Christian or Jewish presuppositions, or indeed Muslim, then if you believe in what it says in Genesis 1 about God making heaven and earth—and the binaries in Genesis are so important—that heaven and earth, and sea and dry land, and so on and so on, and you end up with male and female. It’s all about God making complementary pairs which are meant to work together. The last scene in the Bible is the new heaven and the new earth, and the symbol for that is the marriage of Christ and his church. It’s not just one or two verses here and there which say this or that. It’s an entire narrative which works with this complementarity so that a male-plus-female marriage is a signpost or a signal about the goodness of the original creation and God’s intention for the eventual new heavens and new earth.

If you say that marriage now means something which would allow other such configurations, what you’re saying is actually that when we marry a man and a woman we’re not actually doing any of that stuff. This is just a convenient social arrangement and sexual arrangement and there it is . . . get on with it. It isn’t that that is the downgrading of marriage, it’s something that clearly has gone on for some time which is now poking it’s head above the parapet. If that’s what you thought marriage meant, then clearly we haven’t done a very good job in society as a whole and in the church in particular in teaching about just what a wonderful mystery marriage is supposed to be. Simply at that level, I think it’s a nonsense. It’s like a government voting that black should be white. Sorry, you can vote that if you like, you can pass it by a total majority, but it isn’t actually going to change the reality.

I am most interested in the middle paragraph. I never before knew or had been told that male and female were like heaven and earth. I learned that in Greek Mythology but never extended it to Christianity. But to clarify Wright’s belief’s about heaven and earth, a commenter, Alastair Roberts joined the conversation and cited Wright in an earlier book, Surprised by Hope,

These are Wright’s own words from page 116 of the book in question, within a section titled ‘the marriage of heaven and earth’:

Heaven and earth, it seems, are not after all poles apart, needing to be separated for ever when all the children of heaven have been rescued from this wicked earth. Nor are they simply different ways of looking at the same thing, as would be implied by some kinds of pantheism. No: they are different, radically different; but they are made for each other in the same way (Revelation is suggesting) as male and female. And, when they finally come together, that will be cause for rejoicing in the same way that a wedding is: a creational sign that God’s project is going forwards; that opposite poles within creation are made for union, not competition; that love and not hate have the last word in the universe; that fruitfulness and not sterility is God’s will for creation. [emphasis added]

Does  this make Wright’s complementarianism clear? And do we see the natural parallel between heaven and earth and male and female. I had never seen this outside of a pagan context until very recently. Oddly, just a few weeks ago, I read an essay by Peter Kreeft on gender in heaven. Here he writes with much more detail,

But why is Christ’s maleness essential? Because he is the revelation of the Father, and the Father’s masculinity is essential. This is the second half of our equation.

To understand this second proposition, we must distinguish “male” from “masculine.” Male and female are biological genders. Masculine and feminine, or yang and yin, are universal, cosmic principles, extending to all reality, including spirit.

All pre-modern civilizations knew this. English is almost the only language that does not have masculine and feminine nouns. So it is easy for us who speak English to believe that the ancients merely projected their own biological gender out onto nature in calling heaven masculine and earth feminine, day masculine and night feminine, sun masculine and moon feminine, land masculine and sea feminine. In the Hindu marriage ceremony the bridegroom says to the bride, “I am heaven, you are earth.” The bride replies, “I am earth, you are heaven.” Not only is cosmic sexuality universal, its patterns are suspiciously consistent. Most cultures saw the sun, day, land, light, and sky as male; moon, night, sea, darkness, and earth as female. Is it not incredibly provincial and culturally arrogant for us to assume, without a shred of proof, that this universal and fairly consistent human instinct is mere projection, myth, fantasy, and illusion rather than insight into a cosmic principle that is really there?

Once we look, we find abundant analogical evidence for it from the bottom of the cosmic hierarchy to the top, from the electromagnetic attraction between electrons and protons to the circumincession of divine Persons in the Trinity. Male and female are only the biological version of cosmic masculine and feminine. God is masculine to everything, from angels to prime matter. That is the ultimate reason why priests, who represent God to us, must be male.

I had a lot of trouble reading this. First, only about one quarter of languages use gender, that is sexual gender, to classify nouns. Some languages use animate, inanimate, some use tall and short, some use young and old. Some have no noun classes at all. But definitely the ones that use sex as a basis for classifying nouns are in the minority.

Next, certainly Greek myths indicate that the sky was masculine and earth was feminine. However, earlier Mediterranean religions had a male storm God and a female Sun God. Some countries today still have a female Sun God. But back to European languages, in French le soleil m.and la lune, f., but in German die Sonne, f. and der Mond, m.  There is no gender consistency even in such a small pool.

And no I don’t see males as light, sunny, dry and open, vs. females as wet, dark, and earthy, made for the night. (Oh yeah, I can see where some men might like this comparison. 😉 And on one last note, is the electron male or female? I found that some think she is female and others think he is male. Really it is enough to give you a headache. Somehow, the notion of a binary sexualized universe is being called up to support heterosexuality.

But my universe is made of 2)heaven and hell; 3)land, sea and air; birds, fish, animals; protons, neutrons and electrons; 4) north, south, east, west, 5) five fingers on your hand, 6) six sides to the beehive cell, 7) seven, notes in the scale 8) eight – how many children are in my family, and so on.

If N. T. Wright and Peter Kreeft want a syncretistic I Ching Christianity, then they need to make this clear and the rest of us can wander off and stop scratching our heads. We will just write it off as another off shoot cult of Christianity, and let it go.

One last point, hasn’t “heaven and earth” traditionally be treated as a merism which connects to opposing terms to include everthing in between? “Heaven and earth” refers to the totality of all creation. And male and female refers the totality of all humans, male, female and everything in between.

One of the best passages to read on the use of “heaven and earth” is in The Dance Between God and Humanity: Reading the Bible Today As the People of God, Bruce K. Waltke, pages 166 and following. Waaltke also points out that in Rev. 21, both night and sea will cease to exist. In Peter Kreeft’s terms, this implies the anihilation of the female. These arguments put forward by Kreeft and Wright are deeply denying and alienating of anyone but a straight male. It all needs to be tossed. Read the Hebrew Bible with someone who knows how to read Hebrew. Waltke is a complementarian but I have not typically seen him read too many unwarranted assumptions into a text.

Latin-Speaking Jesus

June 18, 2014

Jesus talked in Latin. At least the synoptic Greek gospels have him doing so rather clearly.

Before we get to that, let’s get to a letter in Latin written long before Jesus, a letter that uses one Roman military phrase that Jesus spoke and understood. Here’s the letter (translated into English by Evelyn S. Shuckburgh around one hundred years ago, with certain Roman-Latin phrases interpolated and put into bold font by me):

On the 15th of April, the day on which Pansa was to arrive at the camp of Hirtius, with the former of whom I was—for I had gone along the road a hundred miles to hasten his arrival-Antony brought out two legions [legiones], the second and the thirty-fifth, and two praetorian cohorts [cohortis praetorias], one his own and the other that of Silanus, and a party of reservists [vocatorum partem]. He confronted us with such a force because he thought that we had only four legions of recruits [legiones tironum]. But in the course of the night, in order to enable us to reach the camp in greater safety, Hirtius had sent us the Martian legion [legionem Martiam]—which I usually command—and two praetorian cohorts [cohortes praetoriae]. As soon as Antony’s horsemen [equites Antoni] came in sight, neither the Martian legion [legio Martia] nor the cavalry [cohortes praetoriae] could be held back. The rest of us were obliged to follow them, as we could not stop them. Antony was keeping his men [copias] under cover at Forum Gallorum, and did not wish it to be known that he had the legions [legiones]. He was allowing none but his cavalry [tantum equitatum] and light-armed men [levem armaturam] to be seen. When Pansa saw that the legion [legionem] was advancing in spite of him, he ordered two legions of recruits [legiones iussit tironum] to follow his lead. As soon as we had got past the narrow ground of marsh and forest, our line [acies] was drawn up, consisting of twelve cohorts [cohortium]. The two legions [legiones] had not yet come up. All on a sudden Antony brought his forces [copias] out of the village on to the field, and without waiting charged. At first the fighting was as keen as it was possible for it to be on both sides: although the right wing [dexterius cornu], on which I was with eight cohorts of the Martian legion [Martiae legionis cohortibus], had at the first brush put Antony’s thirty-fifth legion [legionem] to flight, so that it advanced more than five hundred paces beyond the line from its original ground. Accordingly, when the cavalry attempted to outflank our wing [cornu], I began to retire and to throw my light-armed troops [me coepi et levem armaturam] in the way of the Moorish cavalry [Maurorum equitibus], to prevent their charging my men in the rear. Meanwhile, I became conscious that I was between two bodies of Antony’s troops, and that Antony was himself some way on my rear. I at once galloped towards the legion of recruits [legionem tironum] that was on its way up from camp, with my shield slung behind my back. Antony’s men set off in pursuit of me; while our own menbegan pouring in a volley of pila. It was a stroke of good luck that I got safely out of it, for I was soon recognized by our men. On the Aemilian road itself, where Caesar’s praetorian cohort [cohors Caesaris praetoria] was stationed, the fight was protracted. The left wing [cornu sinisterius], being somewhat weak, consisting of two cohorts of the Martian legion [Martiae legionis duae cohortes] and a praetorian cohort [cohors praetoria], began to give ground, because it was in danger of being outflanked by the cavalry [equitatu], in which Antony is exceedingly strong. When all our lines had retired, I began retiring myself towards the camp on the extreme rear. Antony, regarding himself as having won the victory, thought that he could capture our camp. But when he reached it he lost a large number of men [compluris] without accomplishing anything. The news having reached Hirtius, he met Antony as he was returning to his own camp with twenty veteran cohorts [cohortibus xx veteranis], and destroyed or put to flight his whole force [copiasque], on the same ground as the battle had been fought, namely, at Forum Gallorum. Antony, with his cavalry [equitibus], reached his camp near Mutina at the fourth hour after sunset. Hirtius returned to the camp, from which Pansa had issued, where he had left the two legions [legiones] which had been assaulted by Antony. Thus Antony has lost the greater part of his veteran forces [maiorem suarum copiarum]. This, however, naturally could not be accomplished without some loss in our praetorian cohorts [cohortium praetoriarum] and the Martian legion [legionis Martiae]. Two eagles and sixty colours of Antony’s have been brought in. It is a great victory.
16 April, in camp.

Here is an encyclopedic entry on this letter by one George Edward Jeans, written twenty years earlier:

April 16, 711 A.v.c. (43 B.C.)

This letter gives an account of the battle of Forum Gallorum (a hamlet on the Aemilian road between Bologna and Modena, perhaps the place now called Castelfranco), or, as it is sometimes called, the first battle of Mutina. Victory on the whole declared for the consuls, but the rather indecisive success was more than counterbalanced by the mortal wound received by Pansa, of which he died within a fortnight. The date of the battle is fixed beyond question by this letter to the 15th, though Ovid (Fasti, iv. 625) assigns it to the 14th. On the receipt of the news it was proposed by Servilius to declare the state of siege ended, and to celebrate a public thanksgiving for the victory. On this occasion Cicero delivered his fourteenth and last Philippic, declaring the former part of the proposal premature, but warmly seconding the latter.

The letter is clear and soldier-like, reminding us, says Mr. Forsyth, of the Duke of Wellington’s famous despatch after Waterloo. The author, Servius Sulpicius Galba, was one of the less prominent of Caesar’s murderers, and was now in command of the Martian legion. He was great-grandfather of the Emperor Galba.

Now, here is Jesus talking in Latin, using one of the words written by Servius Sulpicus Galba to Marcus Tullius Cicero (translated into English from the Greek and the Greek transliterated Latin in the early 1920s by Edgar J. Goodspeed):

Then Jesus said to him,
“Put your sword back where it belongs! For all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you suppose I cannot appeal to my Father, and he would at once furnish me more than twelve legions [λεγιῶνας, legiones] of angels? But then how are the Scriptures to be fulfilled, which say this must happen?” [Matthew 26:52-54]


And Jesus asked him,
“What is your name?”
He said,
Legion! [Λεγιών, Legio]” For many demons had gone into him.
[Luke 8:30]


He asked him,
“What is your name?”
He said,
“My name is Legion [Λεγιών, Legio], for there are many of us.”
[Mark 5:9]


When they came to Jesus and found the demoniac sitting quietly with his clothes on and in his right mind
— the same man who had been possessed by Legion [Λεγιών, Legio]
they were frightened.
[Mark 5:15]

Now, to be clear, this last verse I’ve quoted — Mark 5:15 — is not Jesus talking in Latin but rather the writer writing in Greekified Latin. What Mark’s readers get is that this is a military term, an imperial Roman name.

If we English readers wanted to get really specific, then we might turn to the Latin dictionary of Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short. They write:

a Roman legion. It consisted of 10 cohorts of foot-soldiers and 300 cavalry, making together between 4200 and 6000 men. As a general rule, the legion was composed of Roman citizens; it was only on the most pressing occasions that slaves were taken into it. The standard was a silver eagle. The legions were usually designated by numerals, according to the order in which they were levied.

Now, if we go back and read the gospels in Greek, we see that there is also Latin. The Roman language is being played with for readers in the empire. The various texts, and the contexts, sharply and rather violently separate who Jesus is as a Jew from the goyim conquerers in Jerusalem and in the territory of pork eating un-clean-spirit-inhabited men, the Roman territory of the Gadarenes (χώρα τῶν Γαδαρηνῶν, chō̇ra tō̇n Gadarēnō̇n).

update: It might be useful to note other BLT posts related to Jesuses using various languages: here, here, and here.

Gaudete! Congratulations!

June 17, 2014

Victoria Gaile Laidler, this year’s recipient of the Robert F. Leavitt Award for Outstanding Achievement in Theological Studies, author of “The Church as the Locus of Desire for God: Towards a Mimetic Ecclesiology,” completes her MA in Theology, with a concentration in systematics!

Our thanks to her for sharing her journey by blogging at Gaudete Theology! A big BLT Congratulations to her!



World Cup 2014: On Mistakes, in Translation

June 13, 2014

Even if you’re not much of a World Cup fan and missed the opening 2014 match of host-country Brazil vs. Croatia, then you may still have heard the complaining. Worldwide there’s lots of attention in social media given to the poor officiating. Referee Yuichi Nishimura (Japanese League Referee of the Year for 2009 and for 2010 and Asian Football Confederation Men’s Referee of the Year for 2012) made terrible calls that may have affected the outcome of the game unnecessarily. Here’s some of the response:

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese football fans took to social media Friday to express regret and shame over referee Yuichi Nishimura’s contentious ….


SAO PAULO — Looking surprisingly stylish and astoundingly composed for a coach who had just labored through more than 90 minutes of excruciatingly competitive soccer, and lost on a lousy call, Croatia’s Niko Kovac smirked at the first question presented to him, in English. He chose to respond in his native language, which was a bit of a shame for those of us who do not speak it.

Because the translation is never quite the same. And still his 3-minute response crackled with criticism of the match referee, Yuichi Nishimura, who awarded a dubious penalty to a Brazil side that couldn’t find any other way to win in the opener of the 2014 FIFA World Cup at Arena de Sao Paulo.

“If that’s a penalty, we don’t need to play more football. Let’s play basketball,” Kovac said. “It’s a shame. We are working hard, we come to the World Cup, and then we come to a referee that is not worthy of that level.”….


Zagreb: Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura has come under fire from all angles for awarding the penalty that allowed Neymar to give Brazil the lead against Croatia in the World Cup opener….

The Croatian media reacted angrily on Friday after Brazil won the match 3-1.

“Injustice!” “Shame!” and “Referee shamelessly broke the Fiery Ones (Vatreni – the team’s nickname)!” read the front page headlines as they lamented an “invented penalty.”
The press gave great play too to Croat coach Niko Kovac’s comments to Croatian state-run HRT television that: “If that was a penalty then we should not play football anymore!”


This morning Nishimura would also have woken up to his [English language] Wikipedia profile having been changed.

Nishimura woke up to see his Wikipedia page changed – it was later changed back

The prankster called Nishimura a “Brazilian” referee and also added: “His very unorthodox upbringing gave him eyes with which he can’t see if someone plays with their head, hand or leg…”

The entry was quickly changed but the official, who sent off Felipe Melo in Brazil’s 2010 World Cup quarter-final defeat against the Netherlands, would still have been left embarrassed.

and at least one moment today here’s the wikipedia entries on Yuichi Nishimura’s performance yesterday, in English, and in Japanese, and in Croatian, and in Portuguese:

2014 FIFA World Cup

Nishimura was chosen by FIFA to referee the opening game between BrazilCroatia of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.[4] The game ended with a 3-1 victory for Brazil, while there were several difficult and controversal Nishimura’s decisions, like a controversial penalty awarded to Brazil with the score at 1-1,[5] and the disallowed Croatia equaliser for 2-2.[6]

Nishimura was chosen as the referee for the opening game at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.[4] Many commentators perceived several errors in favour of hosts Brazil, and Nishimura’s performance received negative reviews.[7][8][9][10][11] In the same match, Nishimura also became the first referee to use Vanishing spray at a World Cup Finals.[12]


2014年6月12日(現地時間)に行われた2014 FIFAワールドカップ・グループAの初戦(開幕戦)、ブラジルの旗 ブラジル – クロアチアの旗 クロアチア戦(6月12日、アレーナ・デ・サンパウロ)の主審を務めたが、この試合の後半24分(69分)、ブラジルのFWフレッジがクロアチアDFデヤン・ロブレンを背負ってエリア内で倒れた。西村はこのプレーに対してPKを宣告、これをFWネイマールが決めてこの試合の決勝点となった。この判定について、ロブレンの手がフレッジにかかって倒されたようにも、フレッジが自分から転んだよう(=シミュレーションの反則)にも見えたことから議論を呼ぶこととなり[17]、イタリアの新聞「ガゼッタ・デロ・スポルト」が2014年6月13日付の紙面で「2-1のPKをプレゼントしたことに議論がある」「主審のミスは大きかった」「このレベルの試合で許されないことが待っていた。ロブレンのフレッジへのPKはなかった」と報じ[18]、元イングランド代表ゲーリー・リネカーが自身のTwitterで「It’s a tight call for Brazil’s man of the match between Neymar and the Referee」(開幕戦のマン・オブ・ザ・マッチは、ネイマールと主審のどちらを選ぶのか難題だ)と皮肉めいたツイートを発信する[19]など、批判が相次いだ。

Stvori Yuichi Nishimura

Participou da Copa do Mundo FIFA 2014, juntamente com os assistentes Toru Sagara do Japão e Toshiyuki Nagi também do Japão.

Portuguese and Croatian wikipedia entry writers seem to be away on twitter and facebook.

Jesus-Speak in the LXX

June 11, 2014

What was the language of Jesus in the LXX? According to his Greek-language translator, it was Ἑβραϊστί (or “hebraisti”). Well, that raises lots of questions, doesn’t it? Who is Jesus in the Septuagint? Who is his translator? And most importantly — given“The Latest Jesus-Speak” — what is “”hebraisti”? Is it Aramaic? Is it Hebrew?

We may recall how Seth Sanders argues that it’s “fascinatingly wrong” to refer to “hebraisti” as “Hebrew” since, Sanders explains, it has to “indicate ‘the speech of the Hebrews’” and since, Sanders insists, the speech of the Hebrews just has to be Aramaic. Here’s the quotation of Sanders again:

Few sacred texts confuse monolingual thinkers as badly as the Gospels, where Hebrew and Aramaic seem to be repeatedly confused. In John 20, Mary Magdalene is described as calling the resurrected Jesus “rabbuni,” which, every standard translation tells us, is Hebrew and means “teacher.” This is fascinatingly wrong. It’s actually the only time in the New Testament that an Aramaic form of the word is used; every other time Jesus is addressed with a similar term it’s the Hebrew “Rabbi.” Indeed, all the comprehensible words in John labeled “hebraisti” (translated “Hebrew”), like Golgotha, are Aramaic (the –tha ending—as in Mark’s famous talitha cumi, “rise (from the dead) o girl!”—is a giveaway).

The Greek writer of John was not using “Hebrew” (hebraisti) as a pure linguistic term, however, but as a cultural one to indicate “the speech of the Hebrews,” which points to an inextricably hybrid situation that baldly violates our later monoglot (and nationalist) ideals.

Again, we may note how he misses the fact that just as in John 20, in Mark 10 somebody is described as calling Jesus “rabbuni.” And Sanders misses this other user of  Ἑβραϊστί (or “hebraisti”) indicating “the speech of the Hebrews.” It’s that language of Jesus in the Septuagint which raises all those questions.

One of the Jesuses in the LXX is the writer of a treatise called Sirach, which is short for The Wisdom of Jesus, the Son of Sirach. The treatise is also known by a Greek name, Εκκλησιαστής (or “Ecclesiasticus”), indicating something like “Assembly Manual.” The translator of Jesus’s Wisdom is Jesus’s grandson, who writes, in his translator’s prologue, his own Greek, about how much forceful the language called  Ἑβραϊστί (or “hebraisti”). Here’s an English language translation of that Greek.

So, what is Ἑβραϊστί (or “hebraisti”)?

Well, to find answers we might look at Ιουδαιστί (or “Judaisti”) and at Ἀζωτιστὶ (or “Azotisti”) and at Χαλδαϊστὶ (or “Chaldaisti”) and at Συριστὶ (or “Syristi”) and what they indicate in their more than a dozen uses total elsewhere in the LXX. Don’t they seem to refer to Hebrew and to the language of Ashdod and to Chaldean language and to Syrian or Aramaic respectively?

Or we might look at even older Greek literary uses of words like Ἀνδριστί (or “Andristi”). Doesn’t this seem to indicate “the speech of the Men”?

At least for the Woman Praxagora, speaking to the other Women — in the play of Aristophanes called Ἐκκλησιάζουσαι (or “Ecclesiazusae”) to indicate something like “Assembly Women” — there’s this use of the word:

Quick then, take the chaplet; the time’s running short. Try to speak worthily, let your language be truly manly [ Ἀνδριστί (or “Andristi”)], and lean on your staff with dignity.

So it would seem in this small Greek body of literature that the suffix -ιστί (or “-isti”) indicates “-Speak” as in Hebrew-speak or Jewish-speak or Ashdod-speak or Chaldean-speak or Syrian-speak or Man-speak. And that would suggest, despite what Sanders argues and insists, that Jesus-speak in the LXX is written Hebrew translated into Greek by his grandson.

(One little parenthetical note is this. Those interested in studying this very question from real experts who disagree with Sanders’ argument might pick up a copy of Discovering the Language of Jesus by Douglas Hamp and/or by looking at Hamp’s website And online also there’s also Randall Buth’s and Chad Pierce’s excellent essay “Hebraisti in Ancient Texts: Does Ἑβραϊστί Ever Mean ‘Aramaic’.”)

Which language(s) of Jesus?

June 10, 2014

With the Hebrew speaking Moses and Elijah?

They were glorious to see. And they were speaking about his exodus [ἔξ οδος] from this world, which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem.
–Luke 9:31


To G-d?

And he said, Abba [Ἀββᾶ], Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.

–Mark 14:36


With an unnamed goyish Canaanite woman?

He answered, “It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to their dogs.”

–Matthew 15:26


With the Official Latin-Speaking Prefect of Rome?

Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus replied, “You’re correct in saying [σὺ λέγεις] that I’m a king. I have been born and have come into the world for this reason: to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to me.”

–John 18:37


For the public literate (as ephemeral as graffiti)

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger…. Again he stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground.

–John 8

The Latest Jesus-Speak

June 10, 2014

In the past few weeks, we’ve heard more and read more and more about the speech of Jesus. “I know without a doubt which language he did surely speak!” This is what the world’s leaders and bible experts and reporters and bloggers are speaking about.

The best piece yet is one that helped kick off much of the renewed arguing. It’s a linguistically and culturally rich article:

Third-culture-kid Ishaan Tharoor (with an Indian passport and an N.Y.C. upbringing in a Hindi-English speaking home) writes in English how Israeli Prime Minister “Netanyahu is addressing the Spanish-speaking, Argentine pope in Hebrew, which is translated by the interpreter into Italian.” The Prime Minister explains in Hebrew that Jesus spoke Hebrew. The Pope listening to the Hebrew and Italian retorts with a single corrective word in Hebrew, ארמית [that is, “Aramaic”]. In other words, there’s an argument in Hebrew here (and in Italian) reported to Washington Post readers in English over which language Jesus spoke in Israel, Hebrew or Aramaic. Tharoor’s article in English refers to an exchange he excerpts via youtube, which has closed captions in Russian. (Go here to see, hear, read, translate, for yourself.) And Tharoor includes this fact: how the Pope-PM exchange prompts Farsi-English speaking-writing Iranian-American Professor-of-Islamic-Studies and expert on Jesus despite-what-Fox-news-would-report fiction writer Reza Aslan to tweet in English, “And no. Jesus didn’t speak Hebrew. He may have understood it but it wasn’t primary spoken language. He spoke Aramaic.”

The worst piece yet is another that helped kick off the arguing about the language of Jesus speak. Bilingual Elon Gilad writes in English only in Israel to side with the Pope against the PM asking “What language did Jesus speak?” and answering “Aramaic was the lingua franca in the Holy Land, not Hebrew or Arabic.”

The best scholarly attempt to respond to all of this so far is also only in English in America. The piece entitled “Why the Argument Over Jesus’ Language is More Complicated and More Interesting Than Media Experts Have Claimed” by biblical professor Seth Sanders is interesting. Sanders’s best point is that “‘Aramaic’ isn’t Entirely Aramaic” and, before that, that the writer of that odd gospel Greek “was not using ‘Hebrew’ (hebraisti) as a pure linguistic term” but was rather doing something odd with Greek like (and I paraphrase Sanders) “Hebrew-speak.” The worst thing Sanders does is to get something fascinatingly wrong when calling others fascinatingly wrong:

In John 20, Mary Magdalene is described as calling the resurrected Jesus “rabbuni,” which, every standard translation tells us, is Hebrew and means “teacher.” This is fascinatingly wrong. It’s actually the only time in the New Testament that an Aramaic form of the word is used; every other time Jesus is addressed with a similar term it’s the Hebrew “Rabbi.”

Has Sanders not recalled the only other time that this very same John 20 word is used in Mark 10:51?

The worst scholarly attempt to respond to Elon Gilad’s bad response to the Prime Minister is in English in Israel. The piece is entitled “Why Jesus really was a Hebrew speaker” by English-Arabic-modernHebrew-speaking Aramaic-ancientHebrew reading former-Wycliffe-Bible-Translators, former-United-Bible-Societies American-missionary-to-South-Africa Randall Buth. Buth’s best question in his own English text is “What is the sub-text that unifies many of those who suggest that Jesus taught in Aramaic?” The most excellent thing that Buth writes in English here is that “Rabbouni is, in fact, excellent Mishnaic Hebrew.” The worst thing he writes is this:

Parables are the third piece of the linguistic puzzle. Certain Jewish literary genres were always in Hebrew, one of which was the rabbinic story parable. In rabbinic literature, even within Aramaic contexts, the story parable was always given in Hebrew. The potential connection with Jesus is obvious, since Jesus, too, is frequently characterized as someone who taught the populace in parables. The parable genre was used for making a point that could be readily grasped by all levels of society. They were a popular literary genre, not “highbrow” or “elitist.”

Buth calls what Jesus spoke “parables,” which is not only an English transliteration of Greek but is also a highly theorized Greek genre made famous by the likes of Aesop and criticized by the likes of Aristotle. That the synoptic Greek gospel writers have Jesus speaking parables like the Greeks is just fascinating and needs more study and less giving-away-the-puzzle definite and mono-cultural conclusions.

The best blogpost is the one ordained minister Judy Redman writes in English down under today. She reminds us that before Pope Francis corrected Prime Minister Netanyahu in Hebrew-Italian-Hebrew speak, Englishman Maurice Casey was asking “In Which Language Did Jesus Teach?” and American Stanley E. Porter was asking “Did Jesus Ever Teach in Greek?”

This mostly English blogpost of mine, for the record, can be ranked as one of the worst. I have nothing to add about the latest Jesus speak today really, except to recall that when I was a little bilingual boy in South Vietnam reading a red-letter edition English Bible that my American Southern Baptist missionary parents had given me for Christmas I noticed that an editor and / or the publisher neglected to color one little phrase that quoted Jesus. Maybe I was a good child for reading my Bible. Perhaps I just was a little bookish and enjoyed reading lots of different things. At least I was paying attention, but I don’t think I ever bothered anybody else with the what-could-seem-to-some a grave mistake (until now).


weak women and womanish men like Jesus in Mark

June 7, 2014

In “Cliché, Binary Readings of Jesus in Mark,” I read the mixture of verbs describing Jesus (in two sets of variant manuscripts for Mark’s gospel) against the binary epistemology of Aristotle. In other words, Mark’s gospel has two different – seemingly contradictory – Greek words for the emotions of Jesus. The “either / or” binary makes readers choose either the one Greek word or the other. And to make the choice, readers might find a binary set of categories by which to naturally classify the seemingly opposed Greek words for the emotions of Jesus. There is either the mere human set or there is the definitely divine set. So, given the binaries, readers can decide on the variant texts. Either the one variant is original or the other variant is. There can be no mixing here. Or so goes the binary rule.

This morning in my reading of the next chapter of the gospel of Mark, I come to a verb used for Jesus. It’s a rare verb. In the New Testament, only the gospel of Mark has it and only this once. In the LXX, it is used in Greek Isaiah just once and in the Psalms just once. Outside the NT and the LXX, it is rarely used anywhere else. Aristotle uses it once in his Nicomachean Ethics.

I don’t know if the writer of the gospel of Mark read Aristotle. I do have a little more certainty that Aristotle named this work of ethics of his after either his manly father named Nicomachus or after his own manly son conceived with Aristotle’s concubine, his male offspring whom Aristotle named Nicomachus. (Aristotle was able to have a child with his wife, but she was a female offspring, therefore a botched human; and Aristotle never named any treatise of his in honor of a woman, not either his mother or his daughter. Both his wife and her daughter were named Pythias.) By the time the gospel of Mark is written, Aristotle’s manly student Alexander the Great has conquered the world and has set up his namesake Polis called Alexandria in the Mediterranean seaport of Egypt, where not too long afterwards the lackey king called for the translation of Hebrew Bible into the imperial lingua franca Greek. This is an important event, the translation that becomes known as the Septuagint, because the Jewish translators of their own Scriptures into Greek seems subversive. This is the narrative according to the Talmud, as Naomi Seidman points out. And, as Sylvie Honigman points out, the translators do not follow an Alexandrian paradigm in their work on their text but rather a Homeric paradigm. There seems to be a battle over what sort of Greek language to use. One is politically correct. The other is politically subversive, tricky, sophistic, rhetorical, translational, womanish even. “Avoid ambiguities,” and use “good Greek” is how Aristotle taught Alexander. In Alexandria, the Jews who seemed to know their Greek could choose and did choose. In Jerusalem, Mark using Greek also seems to choose. How conscious is he of this political struggle over Hellene? Surely he was at least aware of the political need to contain good Greek as opposed to ambiguous Greek. Surely this is in view even still:
the Aristotelian view of how “not males” used language and how manly men were better when they practiced the ethics of manliness, including manly language and manly relations with his manly friends.

So let’s now get to Aristotle’s use of the rare Greek word in question. Then let’s look at this single New-Testament use of this same rare Greek word as the gospel of Mark applies it when describing Jesus.

Here’s from the Nichomachean Ethics (at 1171b) translated into English in the early 20th century by one H. Rackham; [I’m interpolating the Greek word / and my transliteration of it / in the context]:

Yet the pleasure that the company of friends affords seems to be of a mixed nature. It is true that the very sight of them is pleasant, especially in time of misfortune, and is a considerable help in assuaging sorrow; for a friend, if tactful, can comfort us with look and word, as he knows our characters and what things give us pleasure and pain. But on the other hand to see another pained by our own misfortunes is painful, as everyone is reluctant to be a cause of pain to his friends. Hence manly natures shrink from making their friends share their pain [συλλυπεῖν /syl-lypein/], and unless a man is excessively insensitive, he cannot bear the pain that his pain gives to them; and he will not suffer others to lament with him, because he is not given to lamentation himself. But weak women and womanish men like those who mourn with them, and love them as true friends and sympathizers. However, it is clear that in everything we ought to copy the example of the man of nobler nature.

And here’s from the gospel of Mark (at Chapter 3) translated into English in the mid 20th century by one J. B. Phillips; [again I’m interpolating the Greek / with a transliteration/ in the context]:

Then he said to them, “Is it right to do good on the Sabbath day, or to do harm? Is it right to save life or to kill?” There was a dead silence. Then Jesus, deeply hurt as he sensed their inhumanity [συλλυπούμενος /syl-lypoumenos], looked round in anger [ὀργῆς /orges/] at the faces surrounding him, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand!” And he stretched it out, and the hand was restored as sound as the other one.

Now, let’s compare.

Aristotle is writing concerning what is ethical for men, and to be very specific he’s writing about what is ethical for manly elite Greek men in the Polis of the coming Greek Empire. He’s writing about the ethics of friendships. He’s saying that it is not natural for manly men to have the sorts of emotions in friendships that not-manly-men have. Manly men do not share their pain with other manly men; they do not like weak women and womanish men do show any grief. Manly men are of a nobler nature. That’s the lesson.

Mark is writing with profound ambiguities concerning what Jesus. In Chapter 2, in one of two different variant readings, he has Jesus showing the emotion of anger. Or, if we must choose the other variant reading, then he has him showing gut-wrenching compassion. Are these really so different? Here in Chapter 3, there’s no mixed up variant texts to sort out. Rather, there are two emotional descriptions for Jesus that may seem to contradict one another. One the one hand, Jesus is sharing pain (like a weak woman would and like womanish men do, according to Aristotle), and he’s treating those men he’s confronting with two rhetorical questions as a false binary choice as friends for whom and/or with whom he grieves. There hearts are hard, Mark goes on to explain after the excerpt given above; and Jesus seems upset and perhaps compassionate towards them about that. And then, on the other hand, there’s the anger again. Could these by synonymous? Ambiguities not avoided in the description of Jesus? A mixed nature unsorted out into convenient categories by a strict binary? A womanish man? A womanish son of Humanity? A wo-man-ish male offspring of God?

70th Anniversary of D-Day

June 6, 2014


D-Day is such a tragic and heroic event of our present history that it is difficult for me to come fully to terms with it.  This photographic exhibition from The Guardian helped; it shows images from 1944 that morph into the same view of the present day when clicked.

The SBC Binary of Al Mohler and the Biblical Spectrum of Marriage and Sexuality

June 6, 2014

Wilson argues that, even as he has come to affirm same-sex behaviors and relationships, the issue need not divide congregations or Christians.
Pastor Cortez cited Wilson’s argument as foundational to the position he and his church are now taking — “agree to disagree and not cast judgment on one another.”
But, there is no third way. A church will either believe and teach that same-sex behaviors and relationships are sinful, or it will affirm them….
There is no third way on this issue. Several years ago, I made that argument and was assailed by many on the left as being “reductionistically binary.”
But, the issue is binary.

— Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., “president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.”

Well, let’s not assail Dr. Mohler’s old argument. He’s re-articulated it anew here.

It would not take too much research to go back just a little further in Southern Baptist Convention history to find lines drawn, crossed, and then erased. For example, in 2010, there was this:

RESOLVED, That we call on our churches to proclaim God’s mercy and grace to all people—including those who have been divorced without biblical grounds—due to the truth that the blood of Jesus can atone for any sin and can cleanse any conscience;

And, for instance, in 1999, there was this:

Many of our Southern Baptist forbears defended the right to own slaves, and either participated in, supported, or acquiesced in the particularly inhumane nature of American slavery. . . .

Be it further RESOLVED, That we lament and repudiate historic acts of evil such as slavery from which we continue to reap a bitter harvest, and we recognize that the racism which yet plagues our culture today is inextricably tied to the past; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we apologize to all African-Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime; and we genuinely repent of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously (Psalm 19:13) or unconsciously (Leviticus 4:27); and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we ask forgiveness from our African-American brothers and sisters, acknowledging that our own healing is at stake; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we hereby commit ourselves to eradicate racism in all its forms from Southern Baptist life and ministry….

Divorced people got a bit more grace. African-Americans got a bit more of a welcome. The former got that because there was more and more acknowledgement of more and more divorce among the SBC members. The latter got a bit more of a welcome because more and more of the majority Euro-American SBC members were acknowledging more and more how out of step their churches were with a more and more intentionally inclusive South, where governments and neighborhoods and other churches perhaps were more intent on race reconciliations. The capital letter RESOLVED is just to mark the watershed moment where a majority at the Convention can publicly agree on a statement. It is progress if not so progressive given the late date in human history and given the surrounding culture relative to the SBC culture.

But, really, the legacy of the SBC and many other Baptist groups is to be decentralized and to allow the local congregants and members to take their own positions along a theological, and political (i.e., church polity), and “biblical” hermenuetic spectrum.

When it comes to marriage and sexuality, there are lots of Baptist views allowed. There is even this ironically-consistent Baptist-culture belief that allows for variation, difference. The SBC may be a Convention that tries to articulate for all Southern Baptists what must be practiced, followed, and believed. But the “either / or” and “in” or “out” mentality is counter to the history. I’m tempted in writing this blogpost to run through the Bible like a William J. Webb. It sure is helpful to notice the variation in the Bible on marriage and on sexuality. It flies in the face of an Aristotle-like insistence on some “A is not NOT-A” formula applied to biblical ethics.

Let me just end by linking to a blogpost of American Baptist minister Rev. Robin Lunn. I heard her preach Jubilee from the Bible last summer at the Old Cambridge Baptist Church in Massachusetts. I was so impressed that I went looking for things she’d written and found what she’d posted just three days earlier:

A Baptist Revival Of Love

The day Rev. Lunn posted this, somebody named Darryl drags the SBC into the conversation with this comment:

The Southern Baptist Convention dominates what people think about Baptists in general, and the SBC is where most of the KJV-only fundie crowd lies. The Baptist part of Christianity is generally a heavy Free Church tradition, with emphasis on personal revelation, so Baptists will range throughout the theological spectrum.

The tradition and culture of the SBC is the one I’m most familiar with. My parents were SBC missionaries, and I grew up an SBC MK (the K standing for “kid”). (I’m still growing up.) My spouse grew up an SBC PK (the P standing for “preacher’s”), and my father-in-law is still an SBC ordained minister. There are pressures from Dr. Mohler and the like to make sure there is no middle ground on sexuality and on marriage and on purity and the like. If SBC history proves anything, nonetheless, it’s that there may be lines drawn, and crossed, and then erased. Hopefully the SBC can be less “binary” and more varied, more biblical. Hopefully there will be no big huge public need for a RESOLVED about the regrets of the SBC because of Baptist misbehaviors towards persons, church members even, who are LBGTQIA persons.