Sunday, October 13, 2019

"You shall love the Lord your God"

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength." (Mark 12:30, from Deuteronomy 6:5, see also Luke 10:27). 

In my reading I have come across a teaching attributed to Maimonides, that the command to love God can be acted on by meditating on the infinite love of God towards us:
I have loved you with an everlasting love. (Jeremiah 31:3)

In time, as we become more aware of God's love, our own love for God awakens. And so "You shall love the Lord your God" is not only a command, it is also a promise. Yes, that has been said of other commandments before. This, too, God will add to us.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

A is for Apple, Alef Beth is for Learn Wisdom

In the course of some research the other night, I came across an entry in the Talmud (Shabbath 104a) discussing some of the instructions, lessons, and memory aids that were used in teaching the Hebrew alphabet back in the days of classical Judaism. Seeing that it was both instructive and good-natured, I wanted to reproduce it here as an alphabet chart:

Memory and instruction
Names of letters
Hebrew letters (right to left)
Learn wisdom (alef binah)
Alef, Beth
Show kindness to the poor (Gemol Dallim)

Why is the foot of the Gimmel stretched toward the Daleth? Because it is fitting for the benevolent to run after the poor.
And why is the roof of the Daleth stretched out toward the Gimmel?
Because he (the poor) must make himself available to him.
And why is the face of the Daleth turned away from the Gimmel?
Because he must give to him in secret, lest he be ashamed of him.
Gimmel, Daleth
That is the Name of the Holy One, blessed be He
He, Waw
If you do this, the Holy One, blessed be He, will sustain (Zan) you, be gracious (Hen) to you, show goodness (metib) to you, give you an inheritance (Yerushah), and bind a crown (Kether) on you in the world to come.
Zayyin, Heth, Teth, Yod, Kaf, Lamed
The open Mem and the closed Mem are open teaching (Ma'amar) and closed (esoteric) teaching.
open Mem, closed Mem (final Mem)
The bent Nun and the straight Nun: the faithful (Ne'eman) if bent (humble), will be the faithful, straightened.
bent Nun, straight Nun (final Nun)
Samek, ‘ayyin: support (Semak) the poor (‘aniyyim).
Another interpretation: devise (‘aseh) mnemonics (Simanin) in the Torah and so acquire it.
Samek, ‘ayyin
The bent pe and the straight pe are an open mouth [peh], a closed mouth.
bent Pe and straight Pe (final Pe)
A bent zadde and a straight zadde: the righteous (zaddik) is bent; the righteous is straightened.

But that is identical with the faithful bent, the faithful straightened? The Writ added humility to his humility; so the Torah was given under great submissiveness.
bent Zadde and straight Zadde
Kuf is for Kadosh (holy); Resh for Rasha’ (wicked):

Why is the face of the Kuf averted from, the Resh? The Holy One, blessed be He, said: I cannot look at the wicked. And why is the crown of the Kuf turned toward the Resh? The Holy One, blessed be He, saith: If he repents, I will bind a crown on him like Mine. And why is the foot of the Kuf suspended? If he repents, he can enter and be brought in through this.

This supports Resh Lakish, for Resh Lakish said: What is meant by, "Surely he scorns the scorners, But he gives grace unto the lowly?" If one comes to defile himself, he is given an opening; if one comes to cleanse himself, he is helped.
Kuf, Resh
SHin is for SHeker (falsehood); Taw for emeth (truth):

Why are the letters of Sheker close together, while those of ‘emeth are far apart? Falsehood is frequent, truth is rare.

And why does falsehood stand on one foot, while truth has a brick-like foundation? Truth can stand, falsehood cannot stand.

SHin, Taw
I'm curious how far back we could trace the tradition of teachers making alphabet charts, games, or memory aids. After the custom of teachers everywhere, they do not lose the opportunity to have lessons within lessons, where the examples given are on another subject. Learning letters is generally a preparation for other things that will be learned after reading is mastered. Here the teachers lay the groundwork for what they want the students to learn next. While calling attention to the shapes of the letters, they emphasize learning wisdom, God's benevolence, human benevolence, humility, and truth.

If anyone has any use for this, I'm tagging this individual post as Creative Commons. Please bear in mind that the Talmud and its English edition are not mine (Soncino/Judaica Press, though I've modernized it somewhat). It's possible that there have been enough changes (between modernizing and simplifying the language, and original work added in the formatting) that this may possibly be considered a new work; users are encouraged to check into that as needed.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Biblical Studies Carnival #164

Biblical Studies Carnival #164 is up at Reading Acts. For the first time I have participated in the carnival. The host was welcoming and receptive; I'd encourage all the bibliobloggers who are not submitting entries to the carnival to consider participating in the future. The current month's host, Philip Long, writes a blog that looks interesting.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

A Study of Hebrew or Aramaic Loan-Words: 4 Canonical Gospels and 8 Non-Canonical Gospels

This post concludes the recent series studying Hebrew and Aramaic loan-words in various documents that are commonly referred to as gospels, whether inside or outside the New Testament. I approach the study of these documents as an exercise in data analysis, employing computerized methodology whenever possible to give the most objective results that I can manage.

Use of Hebrew or Aramaic Loan Words

The chart below summarizes the total occurrences of Hebrew or Aramaic loan words that I was able to discover in these gospels. Within that total count, there is also a breakdown of how often such words were used in phrases attributed to Jesus by the author ("red letter" usage, based on the typographical convention of some texts that use red letters to show Jesus' words). Currently, full phrases such as Jesus' cry from the cross are counted as a single use in this chart.

The results range from the Gospel of Mary on the low end, where I was not able to find any Hebrew or Aramaic usage in the surviving text, to the Gospel of John on the high end. In the break-down of red-letter usage, most of the texts studied did not contain any Hebrew or Aramaic words attributed to Jesus. The exceptions -- the ones which preserve Hebrew or Aramaic words within sayings attributed to Jesus -- are the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, plus the Coptic Gospel of Thomas.

Some of the differences in the number of words may be attributable to the difference in lengths of the documents, and a useful follow-up would be to evaluate the relative frequency of the words (as opposed to simple counts) to control for the length of the documents. Again, some of the differences in the number of "red letter" occurrences may be due to either the shortness of the documents, or the relative or complete lack of sayings attributed to Jesus in some of the documents, and a supplemental review of the relative frequency would be useful.

Range of Vocabulary

This second chart shows the number of distinct words or sayings from those languages contained in each document.

The results range again from the Gospel of Mary on the low end, where I was not able to find any Hebrew or Aramaic usage in the surviving text, to the Gospel of Mark on the high end with the highest number of unique and distinct words. Again, whole phrases in the underlying languages (one such phrase in Matthew, two phrases in Mark) are currently counted as single items. For methodology, it would ultimately be cleaner to break those phrases into their underlying words, as an open item for further work.

Points of Interest

Comparing the charts to each other brings out some interesting points about individual documents:
  • The Gospel of John may have had the most individual occurrences of these words, but that was boosted the usage of "Amen" -- that is, by how often the words in question were, "Truly, truly I tell you". When counting distinct words and range of vocabulary, Mark has the widest range -- even here when currently counting the full phrases found in Mark as single items rather than breaking them into their underlying vocabulary.
  • The Gospel of the Savior follows a pattern not too different from the Gospel of John, in that the use of the word "Amen" constituted a high percentage of the words in question. In the case of the Gospel of the Savior, this is mostly attributed to a single prayer-like section where "Amen" is given as a response 23 times in the reconstructed text. The repeated response of "Amen" accounts for all but one of the appearances of a Hebrew or Aramaic word in that text.
  • The Gospel of Philip may have only had 6 total words in Hebrew or Aramaic, but only "Sabbath" was repeated more than one time causing it to have a relatively high range of different vocabulary words. This reflects the unique vocabulary found in the Gospel of Philip, with its usage of words such as Echmoth and Echamoth which do not appear in any of the other documents referenced so far.
References - Links to Underlying Word Studies
The summary charts are based directly on totals from the material in the linked documents.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Non-Gnostic Gospels Outside the New Testament: Preserved Hebrew or Aramaic Loan-Words

The series continues with a review of documents sometimes called gospels outside the Bible, here focusing on gospels that are not classified as Gnostic. Again it bears mentioning that the study aids and resources (and reference systems) aren't as fully developed for these are for the canonical Christian gospels. Even though I have had the help of interlinear texts in some cases, there is an over-reliance on translations.

The Gospel of the Savior 

Cherubim: 1x
38 [The angels] and the archangels [bowed down] on [their faces. 39 The] cherubim [...]... 
Amen [manuscript damaged, possibly 23x on a likely reconstruction]
He said, "Amen!" 
Infancy Gospel of Thomas 

Amen: 1x
11:3 And when they departed into the city Joseph told it to Mary, and she when she heard and saw the wonderful mighty works of her son rejoiced, glorifying him with the Father and the Holy Spirit now and for ever and world without end. Amen
Sabbath: 2x
3:1 Now Jesus made of that clay twelve sparrows: and it was the Sabbath day. And a child ran and told Joseph, saying: Behold, your child plays about the brook, and has made sparrows of the clay, which is not lawful.
Gospel of Peter

Sabbath: 3x
5 And Herod said: 'Brother Pilate, even if no one had requested him, we would have buried him, since indeed Sabbath is dawning. For in the Law it has been written: The sun is not to set on one put to death.'
Proto-Evangelium of James

Amen: 3x without the colophon, or 4x including the colophon
6 And all the people said: So be it, so be it, amen.

Again, the documents in this group have relatively few different loan-words, often only "Amen" or "Sabbath". Outside of these two particular words, so far I have discovered only one other use of such loan-words in these texts, a reference to cherubim in the Gospel of the Savior. For those keeping track of unique words, this is the first time that cherub or cherubim has come to our attention in this series. It is used in the New Testament book of Hebrews in its Greek form, and the Hebrew scriptures contain a number of reference, but the New Testament gospels make no reference specifically to cherubim.

Another noteworthy feature is the high incidence of the word "Amen" in the Gospel of the Savior. This tracks to a section that has the format of many liturgical prayers, with "Amen" being the response.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Gnostic Gospels: Preserved Hebrew or Aramaic loan-words

This series continues with one usual disclaimer and one unusual one.

First the standard disclaimer that not everyone finds the "gnostic" designation helpful or well-defined, and there is some legitimate debate about which writings qualify under that heading.

Then the more unusual disclaimer: here the relative lack of study tools for these writings leads me to a higher reliance on the translators. I've done what I can to minimize the risk of missing something: I've found interlinear versions of some of these gospels on-line (that is: versions where the original language is printed with matching words in my own native language between the lines so I can check the original words). I've consulted Coptic-language lexicons and various other Coptic-language resources on-line when the surviving text has come to us in Coptic, and there's enough overlap between Coptic and Greek that the Coptic script is not wholly unfamiliar to me. Still I've had to rely more heavily on the quality of the translations here than I would with the writings from the Bible, especially for writings where I did not gain access to an interlinear version. There is no convenient way to cross-check my results by searching a Strong's concordance here. So with that disclaimer about the over-reliance on translations, here is what I can determine about the use of Hebrew or Aramaic loan-words in the Gnostic gospels.

Coptic Gospel of Thomas

Sabbath (1 saying, 2 instances)
27 "If you do not fast as regards the world, you will not find the kingdom. If you do not observe the Sabbath as a Sabbath, you will not see the father."

Gospel of Truth

Sabbath (1 saying, 2 instances)
He labored even on the Sabbath for the sheep which he found fallen into the pit. He saved the life of that sheep, bringing it up from the pit in order that you may understand fully what that Sabbath is, you who possess full understanding. 

Gospel of Mary

n/a - I did not locate any Hebrew or Aramaic loan-words in the Gospel of Mary.

Gospel of Philip

A brief note on words included: I've also allowed words from the Syriac dialect of Aramaic here, since in some cases I'm sure that we'd want to include them, and in any case I'd rather include the doubtful ones than miss something.

Sabbath: 1x
but in the other Sabbath […] it's fruitless.
Messiah: 2 passages, 3 instances
But the name "Christ" in Syriac is "Messiah," in Greek "Christ," and all the others have it according to their own language
The apostles before us called (him) "Jesus the Nazarene Messiah," that is, "Jesus the Nazarene Christ." The last name is "Christ," the first is "Jesus," the middle one is "the Nazarene." "Messiah" has two meanings: both "Christ" and "the measured." "Jesus" in Hebrew is "the redemption." "Nazara" is "the truth."
Note: I'm not counting "Nazara" as a loan-word since the text neither mentions the older languages nor comes up with a recognizably-on-topic translation for it from those languages. Though the handling of the name Jesus in this passage calls me to mention to the readers the rules which I have used to classify proper names in this survey. I have generally not credited proper names as loan-words on usage alone since that would obligate us to duplicate much of the work on proper names; I have only included them in the loan-word survey when the passage also calls attention to the translation of the name. However, in the case of the name Jesus, for this survey I have not included this or a passage in the Gospel of Luke that is similar because the name "Jesus" is single most common word in a number of the documents being studied (particularly within the New Testament), and could considerably skew the search for loan-words if someone searched for all uses of the name Jesus.

Pharisatha (Syriac)
The Eucharist is Jesus, because in Syriac he's called "Pharisatha," that is, "the one who's spread out," because Jesus came to crucify the world.
Echmoth (derived from Hebrew word for wisdom)
Echamoth is one thing and Echmoth another. Echamoth is simply Wisdom, but Echmoth is the Wisdom of Death, which knows death. This is called "the little Wisdom."
Echamoth (derived from and/or paralleling the words for wisdom and death)
Echamoth is one thing and Echmoth another. Echamoth is simply Wisdom, but Echmoth is the Wisdom of Death, which knows death. This is called "the little Wisdom."


The documents here do not all have the same characteristics. For the most part, loan-words from Hebrew or Aramaic are few or non-existent; I did not discover any such loan-words in the Gospel of Mary, while in the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Truth I discovered only one passage each mentioning the sabbath. So the majority of texts that we're considering here show relatively little by way of Hebrew or Aramaic roots, without much breadth or depth of usage -- or none, outside the idea of a sabbath.

The Gospel of Philip distinguishes itself from the others on this front. It has more unique words. It also has a different vocabulary, introducing the words Pharisatha, Echmoth, and Echamoth to our study. Some would see that as an indicator that the Gospel of Philip strongly qualifies as Gnostic, being from a somewhat different religious tradition than the Judaism of Roman-occupied Judea that we see in the writings we have reviewed prior to this point. 

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Gospel of John: Preserved Phrases or Loan Words from Other Languages

Again, this continues the research into loan-words or phrases from Hebrew or Aramaic that are preserved in the various gospels, here reviewing the Gospel of John. Once again, Strong's numbers are provided as a tool and a reference, and usage is given for the first instance of each word.

Amen: G281 (sometimes translated "truly", or "verily" in older translations)
Joh 1:51 And he said to him, Truly, truly, I say to you, Hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.
Joh 3:3
Joh 3:5
Joh 3:11
Joh 5:19
Joh 5:24
Joh 5:25
Joh 6:26
Joh 6:32
Joh 6:47
Joh 6:53
Joh 8:34
Joh 8:51
Joh 8:58;
Joh 10:1
Joh 10:7
Joh 12:24
Joh 13:16
Joh 13:20
Joh 13:21
Joh 13:38
Joh 14:12
Joh 16:20
Joh 16:23
Joh 21:18
Joh 21:25

Golgotha: G1115
Joh 19:17 And bearing his cross he went to a place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Golgotha

Cephas: G2786
Joh 1:42 And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, You are Simon the son of Jonah: you shall be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.

Levite: G3019
Joh 1:19 And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who are you?

Messiah: G3323
Joh 1:41 He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, "We have found the Messiah", which is, being interpreted, the Christ.
Joh 4:25

Passover: G3957
Joh 2:13 And the Jewish passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem,
Joh 2:23
Joh 6:4
Joh 11:55
Joh 12:1
Joh 13:1
Joh 18:28
Joh 18:39
Joh 19:14

Rabbi: G4461
Joh 1:38 Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, What are you seeking? They said to him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where are you staying?
Joh 1:49
Joh 3:2
Joh 3:26
Joh 4:31
Joh 6:25
Joh 9:2
Joh 11:8

Sabbath: G4521
Joh 5:9 And immediately the man was made whole, and picked up his bed, and walked: and that day was the sabbath.
Joh 5:10
Joh 5:16
Joh 5:18
Joh 7:22
Joh 7:23
Joh 9:14
Joh 9:16
Joh 19:31
Joh 20:1
Joh 20:19

Satan: G4567
Joh 13:27 And after the bread, Satan entered into him. Then Jesus said to him, "What you are going to do, do quickly."

Hosanna: G5614
Joh 12:13 Took branches of palm trees, and went out to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel who comes in the name of the Lord.