Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests


An Editor’s Faith

posted by David Klinghoffer
This Shabbat, starting here in Seattle at 6:02 p.m. tonight, we begin again the yearly cycle of Torah readings, starting with Genesis 1. With that in mind, I was thinking about this teasing retort from a reader, Sondra, responding to my post on men and angels:

Oh Dear David, why must Jews be such intellectual snobs :) and continue to read into scripture what they want it to say and refuse to accept just what it says period?

I can only speak for myself, but having been a magazine editor by profession, I know careful writing when I see it and I know careless writing. With careful writing, every word counts. It’s there for a reason and reveals something about the writer’s intention. I can’t help but believe that God chooses His words with infinite care and that, as a consequence, paying attention to nuances and clues in Scriptural language must bring us closer to Him. That is one of the main things the rabbis did in their teaching on the Hebrew Bible, whether recorded in the Talmud, Midrash, or the classical commentaries.
It’s also why, as a friend of mine once incisively pointed out (I’m not sure if he’d want it said in his name in public), Christians are confronted in the Gospels with a tragic loss. Jesus did not teach in Greek, the language of the Gospel writers. His original words are all lost forever. We literally do not know what Jesus said, in his own words. Not one sentence.
The Torah is very different. Not everyone believes it was written in Moses’ own hand, at God’s dictation. But one can at least hope so, and the careful scrutiny of the text that’s called for in Jewish study, revealing layer upon layer of meaning, tends to confirm the supposition. No other book so rewards such minute attention. Human beings don’t write like that.


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Philip Koplin

posted October 16, 2009 at 7:53 pm


There are many textual variants of, for example, Deuteronomy (Ulrich, “The Bible in the Making,” in his The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Origins of the Bible). If every word counts, why so many versions, and how do you decide which version is actually God’s dictation?
And can you give an example of a biblical text that no human could have written and why you believe that no writing could meet the criteria for your judgment?



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Turmarion

posted October 16, 2009 at 7:54 pm


We literally do not know what Jesus said, in his own words. Not one sentence.
Ahem. Matthew 27:46; Mark 5:41; Mark 7:34; Mark 15:34. Not much, but at least some complete sentences. Good editors check their sources, too!
Btw, if the theory of Aramaic primacy is correct, then we do have Jesus’ actual words in the Peshitta (the Aramaic New Testament). Personally, I tend to agree with the majority of scholars who hold to Greek primacy; however, even if true, this doesn’t mean that none of Jesus’ original Aramaic made it into the Peshitta through other written or oral sources.
Moreover, many scholars have argued that, given the multi-ethnic makeup of Galilee at the time of Jesus, his frequent contact with Gentiles and Hellenized Jews, and the use in the Eastern Roman Empire of Koine Greek as a lingua franca, that in some contexts Jesus may indeed have taught in Greek, in which case we may have his actual words in the Greek New Testament beyond the few quotes I provided above. I think it especially likely that the dialogues with Nicodemus (John 3) and Pilate (Matthew 27:11, Mark 15:2, Luke 23:3, and John 18:33-37 and 19:11), among others, were conducted in Greek, based on the political circumstances (Pilate probably didn’t speak Aramaic and no interpreter is mentioned) and the pun on anothen in the dialogue with Nicodemus.
In any case, Christian theology holds that Christ is the Logos, the Word of God incarnate (there are certain parallels with the concept of chokhmah in esoteric interpretations of Judaism); thus, the locus of faith has moved from the written text to the person of Jesus Christ. This is why the attitude of Christians towards translation of Scripture is very much different from that of Jews and Muslims, both of whom hold God’s presence, in a sense, to reside in the literal words of Scripture in their original languages. Christians, by contrast, while not denying God’s presence in His word, aver that His ultimate revelation is through the person of Christ, thereby making Scripture in a sense secondary as it points toward Christ; thus, while translation needs to be done carefully in light of the original, it is seen as legitimate in a way that it never could be for the Torah or the Qur’an.
I wouldn’t expect a Jew or Muslim to agree with this perspective, of course–I merely point out that the views of Scripture in the Abrahamic faiths are much more different than is commonly realized.



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Philip Koplin

posted October 16, 2009 at 7:55 pm


Final part of last sentence should read “…no writing other than that from your preferred version of the Hebrew Bible could meet the criteria for your judgment.”



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Bill from Up on the Hill

posted October 16, 2009 at 9:06 pm


David, I can’t believe this kind of comment from a reader. It reminds me of what Ann Coulter said about the Jews needing to be perfected. I defer to the Jews’ interpretation of their own Scripture. Whether you believe God wrote it or the Jews wrote down a combination of theology, history, genealogy and folklore, it’s their holy book and whatever they say it means, I’m in agreement, especially about the Messiah. Any non-Jew who presumes to think they know better is just whistling “Dixie”.



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Michael Peterson

posted October 16, 2009 at 11:22 pm


In another forum it would be very enjoyable to have a debate over language primacy. As for Jesus’ actual words, David is correct. We have quotes of Jesus translated into Koine Greek, but these are not his actual words since a 1:1 translation between Greek and Aramaic/Hebrew is rare.
As for my opinion, I hold that Jesus spoke Aramaic when discussing non-religious topics and spoke Hebrew when teaching Torah. Hebrew, tho’ a dead language when Jesus was born, was still in existence in the Temple (it was the lingua franca of the Temple much like latin, a dead-language, but for the Roman Catholic liturgies pre-Vatican II). The scrolls and the teachings were all conducted in Hebrew and for those who didn’t know Hebrew, the priests provided translators who orally translated the readings into Aramaic.
Finally, within the last 25 years or so, a great deal of research has been done in understanding idiomatic Aramaic and how these idioms are reflected in the Gospels. Much of the Greek of Matthew, as a matter of fact, reflects the underlying Aramaic (see Steinmann, “Fundamental Biblical Aramaic”).
Anyway, it’s all very fascinating.
Peace,
Michael



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GEORGE

posted October 16, 2009 at 11:28 pm


In some Bibles, the Gospels quote Jesus in red letters. Note that Paul quotes Jesus only once. I recall hearing a Jewish rule that a teacher was not allowed to quote another unless he heard it firsthand. So, Paul kept silent, except for the time having fallen to the ground because of the bright light around him and hearing Jesus speak. In the Bible there are lots of parallel complementing metaphors. We are used to Aristotlean logic, premise A, premise B, conclusion. But, what if there is another logic as found at many location in the Bible where the conclusion comes in the middle and is bracketed by parallel metaphors going out for 5 or 6 verses. For example, I Corinthians 11:10 is the conclusion. The woman may or may not have a covering on her head but she does have authority over her husband. A wise man as head of the family seeks out the counsel and approval of his wife. And dopey liberals think Paul was a sexist.



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Aramaic Scholar

posted October 17, 2009 at 3:19 pm


Following the comments of several others, I also believe that Jesus, as a religious Jew, would not have spoken Greek if he could have helped it, and would have spoken Aramaic primarily, plus Hebrew in the synagogue. There is incredibly strong external and internal evidence that Aramaic Primacy is indeed correct, that the Greek New Testament was translated from the Aramaic. Everyone should look into that evidence for themselves and make up their own mind.



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Ant C.

posted October 18, 2009 at 12:21 am


You must have been an awful magazine editor. Does this: “revealing lair upon lair of meaning” look right to you? Hint: it should be layer, not lair.



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David Klinghoffer

posted October 18, 2009 at 1:50 am


Thanks for the correction, Ant. While I think of it, I’ll mention too that spelling anomalies are one of the ways the Hebrew Bible hints at subterranean meaning, strange as that may seem, despite the fact of its supposedly having been edited or redacted over the course of centuries, woven together from earlier documents. Yet despite the purported heavy editing, the anomalies were preserved. Why? With people, errors signify nothing more than carelessness, hurry, or, yes, poor spelling.



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Philip Koplin

posted October 18, 2009 at 11:55 am


David: How do you know that spelling anomalies in texts copied and recopied over centuries are hints at meaning rather than evidence of scribal idiosyncrasies? You didn’t respond to my question of why there are so many variants of texts in which every word supposedly counts and how you decided that your version of the “supposed” and “purported” editing is the one that accurately reports God’s dictation. Nor did you offer a text that no human could have written.
ps. I’m also an editor, and I sympathize with the embarrassment of having mistakes show up in my own informal writing.



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Philip Koplin

posted October 18, 2009 at 11:58 am


David: How do you know that spelling anomalies in texts copied and recopied over centuries are hints at meaning rather than evidence of scribal idiosyncrasies? You didn’t respond to my question of why there are so many variants of texts in which every word supposedly counts and how you decided that your version of the “supposed” and “purported” editing is the one that accurately reports God’s dictation. Nor did you offer a text that no human could have written.
p.s. I’m also an editor, and I sympathize with the embarrassment of having mistakes show up in my own informal writing.



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Dan

posted October 18, 2009 at 4:14 pm


What direct, tangible, verifiable evidence is there for the physical existence approximately 200 years ago of the Homo sapien, Jesus of Nazareth recorded in the Christian Bible (KJV or NIV for example) and referenced in Christendom? Or, is this Jesus a mythological figure? If we cannot verify his existence with a high level of confidence, how can we ascribe various acts and written text to him?
I’m inclined to agree with Klinghoffer – I’m not so sure we can attribute recorded utterances to this Jesus of Nazareth anymore than we can claim the flood of Noah was an actual, literal event which more-or-less occurred as recorded in Genesis. (whole earth, 40 days, ark, 2-by-2, etc, etc)



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Dan

posted October 18, 2009 at 4:35 pm


should be “approximately 2000 years ago”



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Dan

posted October 19, 2009 at 3:19 pm


As they may be of interest, I encourage readers of this blog to investigate the findings here:
http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0007272



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Mark2

posted October 20, 2009 at 2:36 am


Turmarion writes: “Personally, I tend to agree with the majority of scholars who hold to Greek primacy; ”
Does that include the book of Matthew? See:
http://forum.prisonplanet.com/index.php?topic=122724.0;wap2
(David, I think you might find this link interesting.)
Philip writes: “You didn’t respond to my question of why there are so many variants of texts in which every word supposedly counts and how you decided that your version of the “supposed” and “purported” editing is the one that accurately reports God’s dictation.”
Just curious if the variants you’re talking about in Deuteronomy (since you referred specifically to that book) are of the type one might find at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bible_errata (caution, this link is funny!) or are they of the “neighbor” vs “neighbour” type.



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Ray Ingles

posted October 20, 2009 at 1:10 pm


It’s worth noting that Muslims frequently claim the Koran in the original Arabic is too beautiful, and too complex and rewarding of study to be the product of a human mind. (Indeed, there are a couple verses that challenge non-believers to create prose of equal quality, if they can…)
So, which one is really the inspired or dictated word of God? Or can we conclude that humans can read meanings into a work pretty much indefinitely if they’re of a mind to?



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Philip Koplin

posted October 20, 2009 at 1:12 pm


Mark2
First, since it’s easy to misunderstand a brief written comment not backed up by what I’m sure would be an interesting face-to-face conversation, I’ll start with what I’m NOT saying:
I’m not denigrating the use of scripture for inspiration and understanding relating to issues of everlasting importance.
I’m not denying the usefulness of scripture as an account of a people’s relationship to its god.
I’m not using the existence of textual variants to raise questions of inerrancy or whether or how biblical reports are “true” accounts of historical events.
I am pointing out that if someone claims that every fine detail of the text in front of him or her has meaning(s) specific to those details, that person should explain why that particular text and no other should be taken as the detail-specific acccount dictated by God.
If you are interested in following up on the Qumran texts of Deuteronomy, check out Crawford’s Reading Deuteronomy in the Second Temple Period at http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1021&context=classicsfacpub



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