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·
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?
out of My Womb
before that Star of Dawn (and Dusk)
I gave Birth to you.
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.
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:
FROM SERVIUS SULPICUS GALBA AT MUTINA
TO CICERO AT ROME.
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?”
“Legion! [Λεγιών, Legio]” For many demons had gone into him.
He asked him,
“What is your name?”
“My name is Legion [Λεγιών, Legio], for there are many of us.”
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.
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).
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!
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 http://www.languageofjesus.com. And online also there’s also Randall Buth’s and Chad Pierce’s excellent essay “Hebraisti in Ancient Texts: Does Ἑβραϊστί Ever Mean ‘Aramaic’.”)
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.
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.
With an unnamed goyish Canaanite woman?
He answered, “It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to their dogs.”
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.”
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.
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).
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?
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.
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:
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.
Reading through Mark’s Greek gospel, I’ve tried to resist some of my own tendencies to read it through those well-worn cliché tropes. For me anyways, in Southern Baptist Sunday School, I got little summaries of the books of the Holy Bible. There was the rationalization of the substantial variations in and between the four canonical gospels, for example. “Mark wants to show us Jesus as the Miracle Working Christ. It emphasizes His Divinity.”
More often than not, the method of reading, the interpretive method, the “Hermeneutic,” is Aristotle’s principle of non-contradiction. The middle is excluded. It’s the “either / or” binary. Once a “book” can be summarized, and classified, it can be distinguished from the other books. The questions of the canon, then, can be dealt with. “The Gospel of Thomas”? Definitely NOT canonical, unless you’re going to be one of those Jesus seminar types, who includes the unincludable. (Well, the Jesus Seminar scholars don’t get a pass from playing Aristotle’s game. “This is EITHER something Jesus said OR it’s not. Now, tabulate the votes and grade with colors.”)
So is Jesus in Mark Divine? Or is Jesus in Mark Human?
Greek readers have a problem from the get-go since there are different texts to choose from. Either “that one” is the original and right and correct reading. Or “that other one” is. And we see this in Chapter 1. Verse 41 has this verb for Jesus (depending on the text you correctly choose):
The context has Jesus responding to another Human being who has what Mark seems to be describing as leprosy. The narrative has Jesus stretching out his hand and touching this unnamed person. The text also has Jesus doing this action with some sort of emotional motion.
Fair enough. We have two sets of Greek variant texts we must choose from. This results in two different text meanings,two different translations. Either the one or the other.
What I don’t get when reading how some readers read these variants is why one seems more human and the other must seem less human and therefore more divine. Can you guess which tends to be interpreted which way? The one way or the other?
A quick googling gets us this pattern of “either / or” reading:
Maybe Jesus was angry, indignant, annoyed. We might rather not think so, but the theology of the church is that he was not only fully divine, but also fully human. And the man was not dispassionate, he did have a temper, remember how angry
No doubt, he was tired of the crowds and of the exercise of power without any authority so that in a very human moment, Jesus was angry. I think that this reading helps to solidify the humanity of Jesus in this first half of Mark whereas the variant would only gloss over his humanity.
The cliché here seems to be that the human Jesus gets angry, that flying off the handle in indignation is not something God would do. Humans are emotional this way. Gods are more dispassionate.
And so the syllogism follows the major premise (Humans are given to weak shows of emotion). There’s the minor premise (Jesus was fully human). Here’s the conclusion – the Mark text original surely has ὀργισθεὶς since it does not “gloss over his humanity” but rather flaunts it.
I’m not trying here to protest this argument. Rather, I’m just trying to present it as based on binary thinking.
But what if our tight categories leaked a bit? What if gods and goddesses and perhaps even the G-d of the Universe were able to be annoyed by others or by situations? And what if human beings, even those created in God’s image, albeit a little lower than the angels, were able to have divine gut-wrenching compassion for one another and perhaps even for a Deity? What if the historical accident of our having different texts to interpret helps us to open up to possibilities of interpretation that are not so tightly binary? What if the original writer of the gospel of Mark had both phrases, the two verbs, together for the one Jesus? Now wouldn’t that have been something?
Edwin Graves Wilson, for young readers, compiled some of the poems of Maya Angelou, his friend, into a book. He also wrote an introduction that showed the biblical, literary, and translational influences on this poet friend of his. In part, that goes like this:
Once upon a time, in a Ph.D. dissertation I wrote on Aristotle, I quoted the grown-up Maya Angelou. She was talking with Russell Harris and encouraged not only a higher education but also learning from experiences. Aristotle would be her teacher, also, but clearly not the only one. Here’s what she said in full (that I quoted in part):
One of the last things Maya Angelou said, before she passed away last week, was what she tweeted last. In case you missed it:
In this 3rd part of posting on the Gender Inclusivity of Jesus in Mark, I’m going to offer my own English translation of the Greek translation. What came out of the mouth of Jesus, in Greek, was this:
Τὸ σάββατον διὰ τὸν ἄνθρωπον ἐγένετο
καὶ οὐχ ὁ ἄνθρωπος διὰ τὸ σάββατον·
ὥστε κύριός ἐστιν ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου
καὶ τοῦ σαββάτου.
Shabbat was, for the Human Being, generated as in a breeding,
and the Human Being was not born and bred for Shabbat.
So he, the Human Male Offspring, is Master
and of Shabbat.
The Hellene takes readers back to Hesiod’s Theo-Gony, to the LXX’s Genesis, to Aristotle’s Generation of Animals. The gods are making the heavens and the earth and the sea. God is making Human Beings in His Likeness. This is the Nature of Procreation, with animal species like but certainly lower than the Human species.
The most Hebraic phrase of all, the Hellene-letters σάββατ*, takes readers back to Greek Exodus, to the Decalogue in the Pentateuch. Moses in Alexandria, Egypt among the Jewish community there speaks Greek and relays the Ten Commandments of Kurios, of Master. The one is that the variety of species, animals, and the Human in all its gendered diversity, must observe Shabbat. It was born and bred for them. It is the Nature of things. The Master himself observed Shabbat, is Master of all, and of Shabbat. (This most holy high Hebrew, this phrase of Moses, of G-d. In Alexandria, Egypt sometime around 260 BCE, the Jews living there rendered it into Hebraic Hellene. A century later, suggests historian Sylvie Honigman, this Greek version of Moses became “as sacred – at least as sacred as the Hebrew original.” The readers of the Greek gospel of Mark hear this, remember it, make it as holy.)
The frozen phrase υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου takes readers back to the wordplay of the “Psalmoi” in Greek and then the rest of the Scriptures for Greek reading. We speculate, with a certain plausibility, that the Alexandrian Jews knew their Greek. They seemed to enjoy wordplay in Hellene. Those translating the Psalms seem to have engaged in literary sparks as notes Albert Pietersma reading the Greek for the NETS Septuagint.
In one Psalm, what we refer to as Psalm 8, there’s the hierarchy of Master over all creation. It’s middle lines bring forth an anthropos (ἄνθρωπος) under heaven, out of earth, lower than an angel, above the animals of every species in every place. The LXX translator has Greek readers hearken back to the Hellene Genesis creation story again.
Once I tried to convey, to render, to translate, to bring across some of this Greek into some English. It goes like this:
The hierarchy constructed, and then deconstructed, by the movement of the Greek Psalm here is important. The classes of things in Nature, constructed and deconstructed, is important.
This sort of wordplay, the literary sparks and interpretive spins here, play against the tight classes of Aristotle. Aristotle keeps the various natural categories pure, separate, stratified.
Below is Aristotle writing his Eudemian Ethics. Towards the end of the excerpt, he quotes a playwright, Sophocles (whom Aristotle disparages for his confused rhetoric elsewhere); those who would make unequal classes equal are like the playwright who would have Zeus not just a master ruler but some sort of fathering father of all offspring, of everybody, as if everybody is equal with everybody else. As I did above with my English and the LXX Greek of the Psalm, I’ve highlighted the concordant phrases, putting the English on one side and the Greek on the other. The following fine English translation is by Brad Inwood and Raphael Woolf. Very clearly these translators show Aristotle’s attempt to work classes and categories in binary “either / or” pairs, the one over the other. A close reading of the phrases shows what Mark, the gospel writer, might have been working with. At the very least, I hope readers of this post will see the gender inclusivity of Jesus in Mark. Now here’s Aristotle:
In part 1 of my posting on the gender inclusivity of Jesus in Mark, we compared the LXX Exodus with Mark’s gospel. We also compared Robert Alter’s and Everett Fox’s respective translations of a bit from Exodus with Willis Barnstone’s and Ann Nyland’s respective translations from another bit from Mark. Of course, the Septuagint translation team and the writer of the gospel did not work together in time or in place. And Alter and Fox focused primarily or exclusively on the Five Books of Moses; and Barnstone and Nyland worked on the New Testament.
In part 2, let’s look at other very good translations in which the translator team and the translator render, in a single volume, both the Hebrew of Exodus and also the Hellene of Mark into English . Below is what has been published respectively. It is Exodus 20:8-11 and Mark 2:27-28. It is this pair of passages as translated by the team for the New Revised Standard Version, and by the team for Today’s New International Version, and by my co-blogger Craig R. Smith for The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation.
8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
27 Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Inclusive Bible –
8 “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy! 9 For six days you will labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath for YHWH. Do no work on that day, neither you nor your daughter nor your son, nor your workers–women or men–nor your animals, nor the foreigner who lives among you. 11 For in the six days YHWH made the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that they hold, but rested on the seventh day; this is why YHWH has blessed the Sabbath day and made it sacred.
27 Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath. 28 That is why the Chosen One is ruler even of the Sabbath.”
I don’t remember what year it was or exactly how old I was when it happened. The kids were young: that much I remember, so I must have been in my mid-40s. It was summer– I remember that, too.
I was standing in our tiny back yard behind the kitchen door, under a sky filled with stars. I think it was about 10 or 11 pm. I was alone. For some reason more stars were showing than usual; maybe some of the street lights were out. It was very quiet.
I looked up into the stars and thought of God.
And then. . .
Something indescribable fell away from my ordinary sense of things. Perhaps it was the careful, reasoned categories I was accustomed to use to frame my thoughts. I had a sensation of being lifted up and up, though I also knew I was still standing solidly in the night-sweet grass. Over the horizon the moon swept up; it was a gibbous moon, about two-thirds full. And I saw.
Saw that all things were part of a serene and purposeful whole. Saw that I myself was a valued and necessary part of that whole, as were the trees, the grass, the stars, the moon, and the minuscule flying creatures that brushed my face. Felt a tender, loving purpose guiding it all towards some unknowable but beautiful end.
“All is well. All is one. I am here.”
It wasn’t a message spoken in words, but an indescribable knowing that was frankly impossible to doubt or question. I didn’t question it. I breathed quickly, flutteringly– completely astonished yet completely at ease, completely accepted and accepting.
Slowly, slowly the feeling faded, drained away. I was left there in the dark grass again, myself again, and I turned and drifted back through the door and into bed and sleep.
But I have never forgotten, and I have never been the same. The memory of joy– joy present in part now and expectant of fullness in time to come, has ever since held in peace the foundations of my soul.
“There is no proof of your god.”
Several years before the experience I have shared above, I had a crisis of faith. In my early 40s I encountered on the Internet people who knew a lot more about science than I did and who insisted that if something was real, science would support that it was real. I found I didn’t know how to answer them. “There is no proof,” the atheists said, and I knew they were right. Anything that seemed to me to be a good enough reason to believe, was never going to be enough for scientific rationalism. So what if they were right, and I was wrong? Supposing I was only deluding myself about the existence of God?
I remember my frustration, how I cried to the heavens, “God, couldn’t you just give one incontrovertible proof? Something so we could be sure?”
But there was no answer. God, it seemed– if he existed– felt no need to answer such a prayer. Or maybe he couldn’t, because he wasn’t really there. . .
For months I struggled, suspended between faith and doubt. And then an online friend directed me to the Doxa website. “Doxa” means “glory,” and the website author, scholar/theologian Joe Hinman (who calls himself “Metacrock” online) showed me that the real problem was that I was letting the skeptics determine the rules of engagement, playing the rationalists’ game on their own playing field.
They said my God was a big imaginary friend in the sky. They made it sound so silly. But Doxa helped me see that I didn’t– and needn’t– believe in that little straw-man deity anyway.
The scientific rationalists said I needed to question all my assumptions. But I began to understand that they were leaving most of their own assumptions unquestioned. Could their assertion that everything that is real can be scientifically verified, itself be scientifically verified?
If I must doubt my faith, couldn’t I also doubt their skepticism?
“Why should I mistrust my own experiences of God’s presence?” Joe Hinman taught me to ask. After all, we don’t mistrust other things we experience. We don’t doubt that the chair we’re sitting in will hold us, unless we have some good reason to think something has gone wrong with our senses. We don’t have to accept the self-proclaimed expert in science as an expert in metaphysics. Nor need we accept the standard of “absolute proof” in terms of scientific categories that may be inadequate for the phenomenon in the first place. We can have good, reasonable reasons — what Hinman calls a “rational warrant” to believe. His newer website, The Religious A Priori, explores belief and rational warrant from a number of different angles.
And now Joe Hinman has encapsulated some of his best thinking into a new book: The Trace of God: A Rational Warrant for Belief.
The Trace of God is a scholarly work, but written in a style that a layperson can follow. Its main point is that experiences like the one I describe above (called “religious experiences” or “peak experiences”*) do constitute good evidence, even from a scientific point of view, of the existence of God.
God can’t be absolutely proven, Hinman says, because God is “not just another thing in the universe.” God is the source and foundation of everything material and empirical; God is not material himself, nor is the sense of God conveyed in human empirical senses such as sight or hearing. Instead we must look for the “co-determinate”:
The co-determinate is like. . . a fingerprint. The trace is the sign that always accompanies the thing itself. In other words, you can’t see the invisible man, but you can see his footprints, and wherever he is in the snow his footprints will always follow. We cannot directly observe God, but we can find the “trace,” the co-determinate, the effect of God in the world. [p. 67]
Religious experience, and especially “peak” experience, is that footprint in the snow. Hinman spends several chapters detailing the methodology and findings of the many careful scientific/sociological studies that have measured and quantified religious experience. He details the real, empirical effects of these studies on those who experience them, in terms of their “ultimate, transformative effects”:
The effects of these experiences are dramatic, positive and long-term. . . There is data to suggest that religious experience has enabled addicts to get off of heroin, alcoholics to stop drinking and even helps people quit smoking. . . [there is] a clear feeling of meaning in life. Many speak of losing their fear of death. [p. 85]
Hinman goes on (pp. 88-89) to highlight the findings of several studies showing that those who have peak experiences:
- Are less likely to value material possessions and money or status
- Give greater value to work for social change, solving social problems, helping the needy
- Are reflective, inner-directed, self-aware, self-confident
- Are less authoritarian and dogmatic**
- Exhibit integration, allocentrism
- Exhibit psychological maturity
- Show self-acceptance, self-worth
- Exhibit autonomy, authenticity
- Experience increased love and compassion
Hinman then spends several more chapters exploring the views of dissenting thinkers and alternate explanations for these transformative effects, and explaining why authentic experience of the divine is the explanation that most reasonably fits the phenomena. For instance, the fact that children often have spontaneous peak experiences precludes the idea that this is a specialized state of mind caused by the self-discipline of meditation.
Finally, at the end of the book he addresses how his understanding of religious and peak experience (which can and does occur in all religious traditions and even happens at times to the non-religious) fits into a Christian viewpoint. Hinman is himself an orthodox Christian, though he does not identify with the evangelical tradition.
I found the book enlightening and uplifting, and was also intrigued to find that the incident in my backyard under the stars was a quintessential “peak experience.” It certainly has had transformative effects on my life! I am less fearful of the future, more anchored and confident, and better able to navigate the trials of life (not that I never doubt or have disappointments in my faith, but that my memories of that time are something I can always fall back on).
As Hinman puts it:
[R]eligious experience enables us to know who we are and where we are going, fills us with purpose and gives us the sense that our lives are on track. . . It also enables us to face life’s trammels and bitter experiences. The upshot of the argument is that RE [religious experience] works for navigation in the world. . . it helps us live and make choices and keep going in a complex world. . . . [ p. 100]
I was honored to be one of those who got to preview this exciting book (which is now available for purchase). I hope many others will enjoy it too
*Note: Hinman uses the term “religious experience” to describe a variety of experiences on a sliding scale from the frequently felt sensation of a presence in prayer or worship, to the more rare, apex-type experience (what happened to me in my backyard is an example). This latter type he calls “peak experience” after Abraham Maslow’s “M-scale” studies; see for instance p. 86.
**Note: The Trace of God is not concerned with cultic, authoritarian or spiritually abusive forms of religious involvement; indeed, my only real criticism of the book is that I think Hinman should have spent a little more time on the existence of this type of religious practice and its nearly opposite, negative effects, in order to differentiate this from normative religious experience. However, he does briefly mention (as I myself have experienced) that often it is genuine religious experience that helps people endure and move out of authoritarian religious control.
The Vision of Christ that thou dost see
Is my vision’s greatest enemy.
Thine has a great hook nose like thine,
Mine has a snub nose like to mine.
Thine is the Friend of all Mankind;
Mine speaks in parables to the blind.
Thine loves the same world that mine hates;
Thy heaven doors are my hell gates.
Socrates taught what Meletus
Loath’d as a nation’s bitterest curse,
And Caiaphas was in his own mind
A benefactor to mankind.
Both read the Bible day and night,
But thou read’st black where I read white.
— William Blake, from “The Everlasting Gospel”
I was thinking to do another Odd Gospel Greek post, since it’s only in John 5:21 and in John 6:63 where there’s this Hellene phrase ζῳοποιέω /Zoe – Poie / which means something like Life Creator, or Giver of Life, if it were a Proper Noun. Without too much of a stretch, Greek readers could hear a hearkening back to the poetry of Genesis. Without too much of a stretch, it could be read as Jesus speaking Greek (made into English) this way:
ὥσπερ γὰρ ὁ πατὴρ ἐγείρει τοὺς νεκροὺς καὶ ζῳοποιεῖ,
οὕτως καὶ ὁ υἱὸς οὓς θέλει ζῳοποιεῖ.
(So as, in fact, Abba raises the corpse even as Eve’s Poetry,
so also the Child to whom he wishes makes Eve’s Poetry.)
τὸ πνεῦμά ἐστιν τὸ ζωοποιοῦν, ἡ σὰρξ οὐκ ὠφελεῖ οὐδέν·
τὰ ῥήματα ἃ ἐγὼ λελάληκα ὑμῖν πνεῦμά ἐστιν καὶ ζωή ἐστιν.
(The Spirit is the Poetry of Eve. The Flesh does not at all profit.
The words that I speak to you all, they are Spirit, and they are Eve.)
Some may ask, Why does the English translator have to over specify? Yes, we all get the fact that the Septuagint translator made the Hebrew into Hellene this way:
καὶ ἐκάλεσεν Αδαμ τὸ ὄνομα τῆς γυναικὸς αὐτοῦ Ζωή,
ὅτι αὕτη μήτηρ πάντων τῶν ζώντων.
(And Mortal called the name of his wife Life,
because she was the mother of all living.)
To be very clear, this is odd Greek perhaps. In the Odd Gospel Greek of John, it’s not the usual. None of the synoptic gospel writers use the phrase ζῳοποιέω /Zoe – Poie / which means something like Life Creator, or Giver of Life, if it were a Proper Noun. There’s no gesturing there that this refers to Eve, to a Birth woman, to the first Mother, to that Mother of All Living.
To be sure, the phrase is used in interesting ways in ancient Greek literature before it goes into the Septuagint. That’s another story.
Let’s fast forward to one way Paul the writer of much in the New Testament used it, after all that ancient Greek literature and the Greek translation of the Creation story with Eve.
Paul, for instance, writes to his Greek readers in Korinth to say this:
οὕτως καὶ γέγραπται
Ἐγένετο ὁ πρῶτος ἄνθρωπος Ἀδὰμ εἰς ψυχὴν ζῶσαν·
ὁ ἔσχατος Ἀδὰμ εἰς πνεῦμα ζωοποιοῦν.
He’s sort of riffing off of the Greek translation called Genesis, adding a few words here and there. Go here to see the changes.
The big deal here is that Adam is a human (the first ἄνθρωπος), a living soul. The last Adam is an Eve Poet, or Life Creator.
Here’s a translation of the Greek translation of the Hebrew:
So it is written [in the Greek Genesis]:
The first human the First Mortal became a Soul [like Eve] Living;
the Last Mortal became a Spirit of [Immortal Life Giving], of Poet Eve.
Well, that’s too much this time, isn’t it? It’s absolutely over specified. Paul couldn’t possibly have been thinking of or intending Eve. Nor would his Corinthian readers. So why be so ridiculous with the over reach?
It’s like paying attention to the nose of Jesus. Yes, it’s probably even that offensive. Why mark a body as a particular race? Why stereotype? Why be a racist here, an anti-Semite like Poet Blake? Jesus was a human. Why over specify?
Why not talk about the Last Mortal, the Last Adam, in terms of his nose so specific? So stereotyped? So raced and so marked?
These are the sorts of questions, of course, that aren’t usually asked when translators over specify ἄνθρωπος , anthropos, or human, or Mortal, as a male human, as a man, as a person with a particular body part between his legs. Yes, that’s it. Who cares if it’s over reaching?
(Related: Today, at Richard Beck’s wonderful blog Experimental Theology, there’s this wonderful post of his on Open Theology and how it can make a bit of sense if seen in terms of human relationality. Does he over reach in specifying how Jesus was a man, a limited male? One of his commenters thinks so. What do you think? Is he being sexist? He does give an answer for himself.)
I’ve read that in the early and medieval church, describing a woman as a virgin wasn’t so much about the state of her hymen as her autonomous personhood. Especially in a patriarchy, for a woman to be other-than-a-wife set her outside the patriarchal family structure. It meant she was not under a man’s name, authority, roof: she had a separate independence. She was not defined by her relationship to men. She owned herself.
Watching Suor Cristina dance reminded me of this.
In case you missed it, Suor (Sister) Cristina is an Italian Catholic nun who appeared as a contestant on the Italian version of “The Voice” to the complete astonishment of the judges and the utter delight of the audience.
…Read the rest and watch the videos over at Gaudete Theology.
I have written so often of Adam and Ish, claiming a portion of these domains for women. So when I write of Eve, I will not exclude men. Men are Life too, investing in the next generation, caring and nurturing. I know it! Rashi knew it, and when the Hebrew of Gen. 3:16 says,
הַרְבָּה אַרְבֶּה עִצְּבוֹנֵךְ
I will increase, yes increase your sorrow
This refers to the pain of child rearing.
Men and women, both, rear children, invest, divest, laugh and weep over their children. So for me, Adam and Eve are the prototypical parents, and metaphorically between the two of them, represent mortality and life, earth and sky, fate and hope, all those pushes and pulls of life. But mortality and life are not meted out one for men and the other for women, not at all! Women die and men give life. So now back to the story, Gen. 3:20-24,
20 καὶ ἐκάλεσεν Αδαμ τὸ ὄνομα τῆς γυναικὸς αὐτοῦ Ζωή,
ὅτι αὕτη μήτηρ πάντων τῶν ζώντων.
21 Καὶ ἐποίησεν κύριος ὁ θεὸς τῷ Αδαμ καὶ τῇ γυναικὶ αὐτοῦ χιτῶνας δερματίνους
καὶ ἐνέδυσεν αὐτούς. –
22 καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεός Ἰδοὺ Αδαμ γέγονεν ὡς εἷς ἐξ ἡμῶν τοῦ γινώσκειν καλὸν καὶ πονηρόν,
καὶ νῦν μήποτε ἐκτείνῃ τὴν χεῖρα καὶ λάβῃ τοῦ ξύλου τῆς ζωῆς
καὶ φάγῃ καὶ ζήσεται εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα.
23 καὶ ἐξαπέστειλεν αὐτὸν κύριος ὁ θεὸς ἐκ τοῦ παραδείσου τῆς τρυφῆς ἐργάζεσθαι τὴν γῆν,
ἐξ ἧς ἐλήμφθη.
24 καὶ ἐξέβαλεν τὸν Αδαμ
καὶ κατῴκισεν αὐτὸν ἀπέναντι τοῦ παραδείσου τῆς τρυφῆς
καὶ ἔταξεν τὰ χερουβιμ
καὶ τὴν φλογίνην ῥομφαίαν τὴν στρεφομένην
φυλάσσειν τὴν ὁδὸν τοῦ ξύλου τῆς ζωῆς.
And Mortal called the name of his wife Life,
because she was the mother of all living.
21 And the Lord God made for Mortal and his partner garments of skin [of dead animals],
and clothed them.
22 And God said, Behold, Mortal is become as one of us [Immortal], to know good and evil,
and now lest at any time he stretch forth his hand, and take of the tree of Life
and eat, and [so] he shall live forever– [like us Immortals]
23 So the Lord God sent Mortal forth out of the garden of Delight to cultivate the [decaying and mortal] earth
out of which he was taken.
24 And God cast out Mortal out and caused him to dwell outside the garden of Delight,
and stationed the cherubs
and the fiery sword that turns about to guard the way of the tree of Life [from Mortal and Life.]
And here is the beginning of chapter 4,
Αδαμ δὲ ἔγνω Ευαν τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ,
καὶ συλλαβοῦσα ἔτεκεν τὸν Καιν
καὶ εἶπεν Ἐκτησάμην ἄνθρωπον διὰ τοῦ θεοῦ.
And Adam [Mortal] knew Eve [Life] his woman
and she brought together and gave birth to Cain
and she said, “I have created a [another] Mortal with [the help of] God [the Immortal.]
In fact, Adam, the mortal, took Life with him, out of the garden, and Mortal and Life made another Life together with the help of the Immortal.