Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Gospel of Matthew: Preserved phrases or loan words from other languages

Today I welcome back a less-crowded personal schedule with the benefit of being able to pursue some of my more research-intensive studies. This post continues the data analysis project comparing all the ancient documents that are commonly referred to as "gospels", whether inside or outside the recognized scriptures of the Christian faith.

Criterion: Preserved Phrases or Loan Words from Hebrew or Aramaic

For this next part of the series, I'm evaluating the extent to which the author preserved phrases or loan-words from Hebrew or related languages. This would include words absorbed into Hebrew from other languages (e.g. languages spoken in and around Babylon) in earlier times. Those familiar with the New Testament may recall some passages in which a writer used a word that was not in the language of the main narrative, for example:
Mat 27:33  And when they came to a place called Golgotha, that is to say, the place of the skull
In some cases (as above) the foreign loan-word is translated by the original author; in other cases the translation is not included, such as:
Mat 5:22: whoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council
When we see such a passage it gives us pause. The documents are translated into the reader's language for most of the text, yet here we come across a foreign word still in its original language. This is done in recognition that the original author had left the word in a language different than the surrounding text, and the translator reproduced the same situation for us in our own language. In some cases, the modern reader is left in search of a footnote to explain the meaning of the foreign word. In other cases, the words may have become so familiar with time that the reader may have forgotten that words such as rabbi or sabbath are originally loan-words from Semitic languages. In either case, it reflects a situation where the original text contains a foreign word embedded in a text that is generally not in that language.

But enough for the introduction; what do we find of these loan words or foreign phrases in one of our documents? 

The Gospel of Matthew

We'll begin with the well-known Gospel of Matthew, which has come down to us in Greek. Modern translations are based on older Greek manuscripts.

Before I move onto the results, two quick notes on the format: 
  • When I am tracing one specific word, I have looked up the Strong's number (a resource used for word studies by some students of these texts) and have included the Strong's number for reference. For example, the Strong's number for "Golgotha" is "G1115". This is done to make it easier for anyone interested to reproduce or cross-check the results.
  • I'll include text showing the usage for the first example of each word but not for later uses of the same word; this is meant to strike a balance between showing usage and easing the burden on the reader, since interested parties can easily look up the remaining references.

On to the results. While the text of the Gospel of Matthew has come down to us in Greek, it retains a number of untranslated words and/or loan words from Hebrew and related languages:

Amen: G281 (may be translated at times: "truly", or in older translations "verily")
Mat 5:18: For truly I say to you, til heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or tittle shall pass away from the law, til all is fulfilled.
Mat 5:26
Mat 6:2
Mat 6:5
Mat 6:13
Mat 6:16
Mat 8:10
Mat 10:15
Mat 10:23
Mat 10:42
Mat 11:11
Mat 13:17
Mat 16:28
Mat 17:20
Mat 18:3
Mat 18:13
Mat 18:18
Mat 19:23
Mat 19:28
Mat 21:21
Mat 21:31
Mat 23:36
Mat 24:2
Mat 24:34
Mat 24:47
Mat 25:12
Mat 25:40
Mat 25:45
Mat 26:13
Mat 26:21
Mat 26:34
Mat 28:20
Golgotha: G1115
Mat 27:33  And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull,
Corban: G2878
Mat 27:6  And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood."
Passover: G3957
Mat 26:2  You know that in two days is the feast of the passover, and the Son of man will be surrended to be crucified.
Mat 26:17
Mat 26:18
Mat 26:19

Rabbi: G4461
Mat 23:7  And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.
Mat 23:8
Mat 26:25
Mat 26:49
Raca: G4469
Mat 5:22: whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council
Sabbath: G4521
Mat 12:1  At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the grain; and his disciples were hungry and began to pluck the heads of grain, and to eat
Mat 12:2
Mat 12:5
Mat 12:8
Mat 12:10
Mat 12:11
Mat 12:12
Mat 24:20
Mat 28:1
Satan: G4567
Mat 4:10  Then Jesus said to him, Get away from me, Satan
Mat 12:26
Mat 16:23
Hosanna: G5614
Mat 21:9  And the crowds that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.
Mat 21:15
Matthew also contains an instance in which a longer phrase is recorded in another language:
Mat 27:46  And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" that is to say, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Mat 27:47  Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, "This man calls for Elijah."
The previous is something of a catalog of how the Gospel of Matthew uses words or phrases from Hebrew/Aramaic. The last and longest is Jesus' cry from the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Without the form in the other language ("Eli, eli ..."), the reader might not understand why a listener could mistake it as a call for Elijah; that confusion depends on the specific sounds made in the other language. In case of doubts about what language was being spoken at that moment, that quote would seem to point us in the right direction. The writer has preserved a quote in what is being portrayed as the original language of the conversation, and a reaction to those words that is based on the listeners sharing that language.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Fellowship and Theology

If "theology" has to do with understanding God, then I would advocate the view that fellowship is a necessary part of theological studies. I mean this in several of the obvious senses: that fellowship is a rightful topic of study; that practicing fellowship is part of coming to understand God; that fellowship is an intrinsic result of knowing God.

Theology is our pursuit of the greatest treasure of knowledge: knowing God. Along the way we'll be drawn together to reflect on each others' insights and share our own. The more we understand God, the fewer strangers there are in the world. The closer someone walks with God, the closer we walk with each other also. Consider that Jesus sent his disciples out to teach in pairs and so fostered friendships among his disciples. Consider that St Paul would passionately plead with people by name to set aside personal differences, and considered it a worthy use of his letters to spend time greeting people by name. True love of God is not something we can do without knowing our neighbors' names.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

An Objective / Key Result Assessment of the Law - a framework for understanding other the Bible's own comments on the law

For those not familiar with the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) management method, it takes the approach of clearly stating an objective and then measuring progress toward it with key results. The OKR methodology is popular among tech companies. Proponents of OKR often lead its brag-sheet with the fact that Google uses the approach.

I'll start with a general example of how it would be used. If a person wanted to participate in the annual novel-writing challenge in November, a possible OKR write-up for it might look like:
Objective: Complete a novel
  • Key Result: Outline a plot with no more than 20 points by November 3
  • Key Result: Write a chapter covering one plot point each day for November 4 through November 23
  • Key Result: Proof-read and edit 4 chapters a day November 25 through November 29
  • Key Result: Format and publish by November 30
In some ways, everyone who has ever worked toward a long-term goal may find the OKR method to be nothing but common sense. While I'd accept that as a valid point, I'd also mention: common sense is often sorely lacking, and I'd welcome anything that works to secure a place for common sense in the decision-making process. The OKR method makes it clearer  how to turn common sense into an action plan.

So much for the introduction to OKR. But is the method useful in giving us insight into Biblical law? Consider the common observation that the Ten Commandments fall under the general headings of the two greatest commandments: "love of God" for the first table of the law, and "love of neighbor" for the second table of the law. Here is one way to look at that observation from an OKR framework:
Objective: Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength
  • Key Result: You shall have no other gods before me
  • Key Result: You shall not make yourself a graven image
  • Key Result: You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain
  • Key Result: Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy 
Objective: Love your neighbor as yourselves
  • Key Result: Honor your father and mother
  • Key Result: You shall not murder
  • Key Result: You shall not commit adultery
  • Key Result: You shall not steal
  • Key Result: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor
  • Key Result: You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or workers, or property
That OKR framework can shed light on some other comments in the Bible about the law and its place in Christian life. This includes some comments for those of us from the Gentile nations who were never given the Law of Moses, or placed under it.
  • That it is possible for people to honor God with their lips, while their heart is far from Him: we can fulfill certain key results -- or even all of them -- while not actually embracing the objective.
  • That it is possible for people to keep the letter of the law but still go against the spirit of the law.
  • That love is the fulfillment of the law: it is the objective, in this way of viewing it.
  • That anyone who claims to keep the law, but chooses to keep only part of it, is not really keeping the law: When we work toward the objectives, we see that all the results are integral to the objective. 

And, saving one for last: 
If anyone says, "I love God," but hates his brother, he is a liar. (1 John 4:20)
Here John the Apostle's comments are something of a challenge to the idea that the two tables of the law are cleanly separate. Is there really one set of laws for love of God, and another for love of neighbor? When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, why did he choose to answer with the two greatest commandments -- the first as love of God, the second as love of neighbor -- instead of one commandment as asked? Here again we see reason to consider that they may be inseparable. On that view, Love of Neighbor could be viewed as a sub-point under the heading of Love of God, like so:
Objective: Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength
  • Key Result: You shall have no other gods before me
  • Key Result: You shall not make yourself a graven image
  • Key Result: You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain
  • Key Result: Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy
  • Key Result: Love your neighbor as yourself
    • Honor your father and mother (etc)
We may be challenged to see that love of neighbor is part of love of God. Which again fits very well with how Jesus described the Last Day: "Whatever you have done for the least of these brothers of mine, you have done for me."

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Eventual Retirement, and Treasures in heaven

For a little while longer I'll comment on the daily reading, as the summer winds down and I hope to carve out more time for personal things again. 

In today's reading's we see time and again the uselessness of greed. Jesus encourages us to be rich toward God -- which often meant being generous toward the poor. There's some sign from the gospel reading that Jesus would also include not being divided from family by inheritance matters, not being drawn away from people by the lure of money, prosperity, security, or financial ease. I find myself seeking clarity about the line between the retirement planning that is good stewardship, and that which is trying to control the uncontrollable, or trying to buy peace of mind. I do suspect that savings are less comforting than a companion would be.

As the years go by I have more treasures in heaven than on earth: all four of my grandparents, my father, my aunt, and (a year ago today) also my brother. And I see it more clearly: I don't miss things I have lost, only people. My actual treasures in this world are family and friends. Kindness is a more important deposit than the 401k withdrawal. Forgiveness and amends are the bonuses. A renewed acquaintance is better than finding long-lost funds. Reconciliation is like winning the lottery. And a small meal with a friend is more satisfying than a plentiful meal alone.