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. 

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