Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Greater love?

John 15:13 says,


"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.


Now, it is difficult to comprehend how this simple thought can be misunderstood, but it has almost universally been so. In fact, the misrepresentation of this verse demonstrates clearly the difficulty in translation caused by projecting backward Christian ideas and forgetting the Hebrew values which spawned it.


Albert Barnes wrote: "No higher expression of love could be given. Life is the most valuable object we possess; and when a man is willing to lay that down for his friends or his country, it shows the utmost extent of love."


John Gill wrote: "By these words our Lord shows, how far love to another should extend, even to the laying down of our lives for the brethren; which is the highest instance of love among men"


These thoughts clearly represent the Christian value developed as a result of Yeshua's death. But, Yeshua was not referring to his own death. In fact, he was referring to a simple, mundane act in his own life--stooping to wash the feet of his friends.


Two important issues regarding the translation that follows. First, the Greek word normally translated as "that," is hina. Clauses beginning with the word hina are purpose and result clauses and should normally be translated beginning with "so that," or "as a result." Second, the Greek word agape, which is normally translated as "love," means much more than love. It means "to act out of love," or "to care for." In the Hebrew mind, agape represented an ethic (or morality) of care, a form of restorative justice, intended to create and preserve shalom among a community.


An ethic of care emphasizes a person as a part of an interdependent relationship that affects how decisions are made. In this theory the specific situation and context in which the person is embedded becomes a part of the decision-making process. Instead of considering the consequences or our duties (as in virtue ethics), an ethic of care considers the situation that may involve a vulnerable, dependent, and weak person who needs the support of the community.

Yeshua had in mind just such a code of ethics of care in this instance. He begins his thought actually in Chapter 13. Just prior to partaking in the Passover feast with his disciples, he does a remarkable thing. (verses 4-5) He rose up from the supper and laid aside His garments. And taking a towel, girded Himself. Then He put water into the basin and began to wash the feet of the disciples, and to wipe [it] off with the towel, with which He was girded.


Explaining to them (at verses 12-15) he said, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me the teacher, and, the master. And you say well, for I am. If then I, the master and teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash the feet of one another. For I gave you an example, that as I did to you, you also should do." Yeshua told them, (at verses 34-35), I give a new precept (or ethical command) to you, so that you might care for one another; according as I cared for you… By this all shall know that you are my disciples, if you have care among one another. (14:12) Indeed, I tell you truly, the one being faithful toward Me, the actions, which I do, that one shall do also, and greater than these he will do... (14:27) I send forth shalom to you; My shalom I give to you. Not as the world gives [do] I give to you.


After explaining, through a metaphor of the vine, how, in order to remain within the sphere of God's care, the disciples must "bear fruit" (by demonstrating care for one another), he said (again referring to the feet-washing example) (in 15:8) "In this thing My Father is glorified, so that you should bear much fruit; and (so that) you will be disciples to me."


Yeshua then repeated the same concept two times (verses 12, 13), "This thing is my precept, as a result you care for one another as I cared for you. 13 Greater care than this thing has no one, as a result, one is laying aside his self in place of his friends.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Grace

Most Christians understand grace to be God's unmerited (undeserved) favor, His unmerited love. They hold that God gives us something even though we deserve the opposite; that God's grace is the basis of our relationship with the God of the universe; and that such grace is made known through Yeshua Messiah, God's unmerited gift to mankind. Now, all of this seems true enough, but it represents a superficial understanding of grace and a profound underreporting of the mutual nature of grace. Yeshua said (Mat 7:2):

"for with whatever judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with whatever measure you measure, it will be measured again to you."

James 2:8-10 says:

"If you truly fulfill the Kingdom Law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you do well. But, if you discriminate, you work sin, being convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep all the law, but stumbles in one, he has become guilty of all."

Thus, grace is not free, and grace is not a matter if "deserving." Grace is a mutual obligation designed to instill safety and shalom within a community. It is the law. One is kind to a neighbor, not because the neighbor either deserves or does not deserve kindness, but because one wants to solicit kindness and peace from their neighbor in return. Likewise, communities pass and enforce laws to protect the peace. This system of obligation to mutual respect is grace.

These concepts of Christian grace are derived from the Hebrew notions of chanan ("hospitality"). Specifically, it is the hospitality of the Hebrew tent camp that is the ancient focus of chanan.

Genesis 33:9-11 says:

"And Esau said, I have much, my brother. Let what you have be to yourself. And Jacob said, No, please, if I now have found favor (chen) in your eyes, take my present from my hands. For I have seen your face, like seeing the face of God; and you are pleased with me. Please take my blessing, which has been brought to you, because God has favored (chanan) me, and because I have all things. And, he urged him; and he accepted."

And, Genesis 42:21 says:

"And they said each to his brother, We are truly guilty because of our brother whom we saw in distress of his soul, when he sought favor (chanan) from us, and we did not heed. So, this distress has come to us."

One of the major responsibilities of the Hebrew clan was to provide hospitality to anyone who came to them. This may be a member of a related clan or even an enemy of another tribe. In both cases it was the responsibility of the clan to provide food, shelter and protection as long as the "aliens" were within their camp. An important custom in Hebrew society was the practice of hospitality. A guest, even an alien guest, was honored and entertained, even at considerable expense to the host (Gen. 18:1-8, 24:28-32). Once under the host's roof, or having shared food, the guest was guaranteed protection (Gen. 19, Judg. 19). Should the stranger settle in the community, he enjoyed most of the rights and responsibilities.

From Deuteronomy 10, we hear a call to do what God requires, to love, fear, and serve God, to walk in God's ways, to keep God's commandments. God does require something of his people -- a certain kind of culture. God's people are to do this with all their heart and soul! After all, God is calling for this particular way of life because the very "well-being" of the people is at stake.

Exodus 22:21 says:

"You shall neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: because you were strangers in the land of Egypt."

The inescapable meaning of this verse (in its proper context) is that we are to treat others with grace precisely because of the grace of God. While grace may not be deserved or even earned ahead of time, it is, in God's plan, certainly to be repaid.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Bring up a child?

Proverbs 22:6 says:

"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. (KJV)"

The CEV says: "Teach your children right from wrong, and when they are grown they will still do right." The CJB: "Train a child in the way he [should] go; and, even when old, he will not swerve from it. "

Gill has noted that "...there are exceptions to this observation; but generally, where there is a good education, the impressions of it do not easily wear off, nor do men ordinarily forsake a good way they have been brought up in..."

This proverb seems more like wishful thinking than the wisdom of sages. Can such an often-excepted proverb have developed among the Hebrews, who measured reality by experience? A closer look says, it probably did not.

In Hebrew, the verse says:

"HanoC' lana,ar ,al ´ piy dar'cO gaM ciy ´ yaz'kiyN lo` ´ yasur mimenah"

The first word, hanoc, means “to throttle, make narrow, restrict, or place limits on.” In Arabic, a sister language, this word was used of a rope in a horse’s mouth, like a bit in a bridal to make the animal submissive and bring it under control. This certainly illustrates how training includes the use of discipline, the application of external controls, in order to bring a child under control, which ultimately means God’s control. Good English words to substitute for this idea are "steer," "direct," or "usher."

Ezekiel 33:9 indicates that the Hebrew phrase "lo Shab midar'co" means "he will not turn from his way." Whereas this proverb uses "lo yasur mimenah," "he will not be turned aside." The one uses the root shub (to turn) while the other uses sur (to be turned aside).

Also, the words "al piy dar'cO" (literally: at the mouth of the way) form a common idiomatic phrase which means "according to the command of the way."

A better translation:

"Steer a child according to the command of 'the way'; yea even when he grows older, he shall not be turned aside from it."
The thought is that if you train a child properly, though he may stray from the path, no one may remove him from it.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Creation

There is a longstanding controversy regarding the second word of the Hebrew Bible, bara. Some hold that the word should be translated "created," and that the term means "ex nihilo" or "out of nothing" creation. Others point out that the word is reserved for the "creative" activity of God and, even if it does not mean ex nihilo literally, it refers to the creation of the world and all things in it. Thus it is held that even if the verb bara has no explicit connotation of ex nihilo, that it is linked only with the creative power of God suggests that something more than use of preexistent matter is in view.

However, a careful reading of the Hebrew Bible along with a basic understanding of the root of the word will show clearly that the word does not imply ex nihilo, and is not exclusive to God's activity. A look at Ezekiel 21:19 will show both propositions to be false.

"As for you, son of man, make two ways for the sword of the king of Babylon to come; both of them will go out of one land. And cut out (bara) a signpost; cut (bara) it out at the head of the way to the city. (NASB)"
Clearly, this command to the prophet does not require that he make a signpost to mark the way to the city "out of nothing." Additionally, it is the prophet himself that is to be the subject of this imperative. Some have argued that the verb in Ezekiel 21:19 is in the piel stem, while the qal stem is reserved for God's action, but this "logic" goes against all other Hebrew verbs in which the piel intensifies the action of the qal verb or sometimes introduces a nuanced meaning. Elsewhere in the Bible the verb bara means "to cut down," or "to cut out."

Genesis 2:3, in Hebrew (transliterated) says:

"m'la`k'TO `a$er ´ bara` `elohiyM la,aSOT"
This is an interesting Hebrew construction that links the verbs bara and asah (aSOT)" ("making"). It is similar in form to Genesis 1:22:

"vay'VareC' `oTaM `elohiyM la`mor" - "and God blessed them, saying..."
which links the verbs "to bless" and "saying," indicating the process by which God blessed them. Likewise, Genesis 2:3 indicates the method ("making") by which God performed the act described by "bara." This essentially equates the two words.

It is insightful to understand that the verb habar derives from the same root as bara and means "to divide." The most likely cognate of both of the Hebrew words (bara and habar) is the Phoenician word habara, which describes an artisan's trade involving cutting (perhaps stone-cutting, but also likely wood-cutting and wood-carving). Also derived from this word is the Arabic bara, which means "to fashion by cutting." A good English translation would be "to carve," and it is similar in meaning to the Hebrew pasal, "to hew out." But, in Genesis, as in its Phoenician use, the focus (in the qal) is on the craft itself and not the action of cutting.

2 Chronicles 2:14 describes a man who:

"...was a man of Tyre, skilful to work in gold, and in silver, in brass, in iron, in stone, and in timber, in purple, in blue, and in fine linen, and in crimson; also to grave any manner of engraving, and to find out every device which shall be put to him, with thy cunning men, and with the cunning men of my lord David thy father."
1 Kings 5:6 takes up this story:

"...And now, command and they shall cut down for me cedars out of Lebanon. And my servants shall be with your servants. And I will give you hire for your servants according to all that you say. For you know that there is not a man among us knowing to cut timber like the Sidonians."

The extraordinary mechanical skill of the Phoenicians - especially of the Sidonians - was universally famed in the ancient world. Similarly, the best materials were at their command. On the slopes of Lebanon, which belonged to their territory, grew those world-famed cedars with which the palaces of Assyria were adorned, and, close by, at Gebal were the most skilled workmen (see Ezekiel 27:9).

The passages above demonstrate the Hebrew focus on the skilled artisan. And it is in a similar context that God is referred to in Genesis 1 where he is described, as "fashioning by cutting" (bara), "accomplishing" (asah), and "fashioning by squeezing" (yatsar). He commands existence by "speaking" (asah), and directing things to "spring forth" (dasha). He commands his creations to "bear fruit" (parah), "bear many" (rabah) and "fill in" (mala). All of these works are also described as "his work" (m'lakto).

The American Heritage Dictionary defines the verb craft: " To make or construct (something) in a manner suggesting great care or ingenuity." It is in this sense that the verb bara is used of God.

God is the crafty artisan or "craftsman" of the world.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Born Again?

The Christian term "born again," is derived from Yeshua's words to Jewish leader Nicodemus as recorded in the third chapter of the Gospel of John (beginning at verse 1):

"There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Yeshua by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Yeshua answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is sired again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Most Christian denominations hold that a person must be "born again" in some sense to be a Christian. Thus, all who are "true" Christians are in fact "born again," whether they describe themselves as such or not. However, the meaning of the term varies among Christian traditions:

The Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Church, Anglican Church and Lutheran Churches all associate being "born again" with baptism. It holds that "Baptism is ... the sacrament by which we are born again of water and the Holy Ghost."

Some Evangelical, Fundamentalist, and Pentecostal Churches associate being "born again" with a conversion experience that involves a personal, and sometimes intense, encounter of the individual with the power of God.

But, what did Yeshua mean by the term "born again?" Of course, Yeshua did not speak English, but Aramaic. The Peshitta (an extant Aramaic version of the New Testament) records Yeshua's words as "if a man is not who is sired from the beginning…" Now, the word most commonly used in the Peshitta for "again" is toob, meaning "to flow back to the beginning." But, in Yeshua's quote (above) he uses d'reesh, "from the start." This word appears fifteen times in the Peshitta and is normally understood to mean "all over again from the beginning," as opposed to the term toob, which means "again" in the sense of repeating some action. This is a subtlety in the Aramaic language.

The most common Greek word meaning "again" is the word palin, which means the "repetition of an action." In John, the Greek writer translates the Aramaic d'reesh with the Greek word anothen, meaning "from the top." This is the best that the Greek translators can do to recreate the Aramaic word d'reesh. Make no mistake about it, Yeshua here meant "all over again."

Nicodemus responded naturally saying,

“How can a man be sired when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be sired?”

Note here that I use the word "sired," rather than "born." This too is a subtlety of Aramaic (shared by Greek and Hebrew) which the English language lacks. Both the Greek and Aramaic versions of the New Testament use here the masculine word referring to the male act of conception or "fathering." What Yeshua was saying was that a person must be re-sired. Nicodemus is not mistaken to ask "how can this be?"

The ancient Hebrews believed that conception occurred when the male's semen entered into the womb and mixed with the blood of the female. Thus, flesh mixed with flesh makes new flesh and a human cannot exist without this mixing. Also, it is important to note that the Hebrews understood this as the process for creating a true heir, by the lawful mixing of Hebrew blood. (Compare Genesis 2:24, "...therefore a man shall...join to his wife and they shall be one flesh.")

Yeshua responded,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is sired of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is sired of the flesh is flesh, and that which is sired of spirit is spirit."

Here, Yeshua equates "water" with "flesh." This is easily understood when one learns that the Aramaic word for water mayoa, is a euphemism for semen (which the ancients rightly understood to contain the seed of man), the "flesh" by which one is sired. Yeshua says that, like the mixing that takes place between flesh and flesh in the conception of a "new man," so must the spirit of the man be mixed with the spirit of God to create a "new spirit."

Yeshua believed, as did all Jews that men and women had a spirit within them which enlivens the otherwise inanimate body.

Jas 2:26 "...the body is dead apart from the spirit...."

Job 32:8 But there is a spirit in common man, And the breath of the almighty gives them understanding.

They also believed that by mixing their own spirit with that of Yahweh, a man was changed into another man, becoming a true heir (or son of God).
1Sa 10:6 - 9 "and the Spirit of Yahweh will come mightily on you, ...... and you will be turned into another man. And let it be, when these signs come to you, that you do as occasion will serve you; for God is with you....And it was so, that, when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, God gave him another heart..."

Eze 36:26-27 "And I will also give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. And I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give to you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you shall keep My judgments and do them. "
This is reminiscent of a New Testament expressions of rebirth;

Ephesians 4:22-24: "that you put away, as concerning your former manner of life, the old man, that waxes corrupt after the desires of deceit; and that you are renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, that after God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth."

Rom 8:15-16 "For you didn’t receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, 'father, father!” The Spirit himself jointly testifies with our spirit that we are children of God."

1Co 6:15-17 "Do you not know your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. What? do you not know he, which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, says he, shall be one flesh. But he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit."
Clearly, Yeshua's notion of being "sired all over again" is a reference to the mingling of man's spirit with the spirit of God. Interestingly, it is this type of mingling that the early church (including Paul) evidently understood to have been the cause of Yeshua himself being the "son of God," rather than the later tradition involving the mixing of the Spirit with his mother Mary's flesh within her womb. As Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome:

From the Peshitta:
Rom 1:3-4 EL BRH HW DATYLD BBSR MN ZREA DBYT DWYD ; WATYDE BRA DALHA BXYL WBRWX QDWSh DQM MN BYT MYTA YShWE MShYXA MRN ;
Which (somewhat) literally translated says:

Rom 1:3-4 "...concerning His Son, who was sired with flesh, from seed [of the] house of David, and he was made known Son of God with power, and with spirit of holiness, he who rose from the house of death, Yeshua Messiah our Lord"

And, Yeshua himself used this analogy again:

Joh 7:38 KL MN DMHYMN BY AYKNA DAMRW KTBA NHRWTA DMYA XYA NRDWN MN KRSH ;

Joh 7:38 All in faith with me, as the scriptures have said, rivers of living water, flow from his womb.








Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Ten Commandments?


The Ten Commandments are a list of religious and moral imperatives which, according to Biblical tradition, were written by God and given to Moses on Mount Sinai in the form of two stone tablets. They feature prominently in Judaism and Christianity. The phrase "Ten Commandments" generally refers to the very similar passages in Exodus 20:2–17 and Deuteronomy 5:6–21.

While many churches and religions treat the Ten Commandments differently, all recognize them as ten separate commandments or laws. For example, The Roman Catholic Church considers Exodus 20:2, 3, and 4 to be a single commandment, while separating Exodus 20:17 (the prohibition against coveting) into two separate commandments. Alternatively, the reformed churches consider Exodus 20:2 to be a "preface" and Exodus 20: 3 and 4 to be two distinct commandments, while Exodus 20:17 is a single commandment. Similarly, the Orthodox Church (Greek) treats Exodus 20:2, and 3 to be a single commandment, while taking the reformed churches' view on Exodus 20:17. Jews agree with the reformed and Orthodox churches on 20:17, but consider 20:3 and 4 to be a single commandment.

All of this confusion can be traced to the simple, inescapable fact that there are more than ten statements contained in the "Ten" Commandments and the Bible never really implies that there are ten. In fact, a close and careful reading of the Bible will show that there are, in fact, only two commandments.

The Gospel of Mark records Yeshua's understanding of this fact at Mark 12:30-31:

"…The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord, and 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: this is the foremost commandment. And the second is like, namely this, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment superior to these."

Clearly, Yeshua, paraphrasing Deuteronomy 6:4, lumps Exodus 20:2 - 11 under the single command to "love the Lord." Likewise, he lumps Exodus 20:12 - 17 under the single command to "love your neighbor."

So, the commandments can be better understood as:

Commandment #1 - I am Yahweh your God, who has brought you out from the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage: you shall not have any other gods before Me; You shall not make a carved image for yourself, or any likeness in the heavens above, or in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth; you shall not bow to them, and you shall not serve them; for I am Yahweh your God, a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of fathers on sons, on the third and on the fourth generation, to those that hate Me; and doing kindness to thousands, to those loving Me, and to those keeping My commandments; you shall not take up the name of Yahweh your God in an empty manner; for Yahweh will not leave unpunished the one who takes up His name in an empty manner; remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy; six days you shall labor and do all your work; and the seventh day is a sabbath to Yahweh your God; you shall not do any work, you, and your son, and your daughter, your male slave and your slave-girl, and your livestock, and your stranger who is in your gates; for in six days Yahweh made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all which is in them, and He rested on the seventh day; on account of this Yahweh blessed the sabbath day and set it apart. [Note: These are the ways we honor God and love him.]

Commandment #2 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long on the land which Yahweh your God is giving to you: You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not testify a witness of falsehood against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male slave, or his slave-girl, or his ox, or his ass, or anything which belongs to your neighbor. [Note: These are the ways we honor our father and mother and love our neighbors.]

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Cherubim

Rule #5 of Bible interpretation and translation insists that we first attempt to understand the pantheon of Biblical supernatural beings in a natural sense. The cherubim are a good place to start. The first mention of cherubim (plural of cherub) in the Bible are the mention in Genesis 3 of cherubim being placed, by God, "before" the gan edin ("garden steppe,") to block the return of mankind. However, the cherubim are better understood as the symbolic representation of throne bearers of Yahweh. Psalm 99:1 says:

"Yehweh reigns, let the nations tremble; he sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake."

"The word cherub is a word borrowed from the Assyrian kirubu, from karãbu, 'to be near', hence it means near ones, familiars, personal servants in a sense. It was commonly used to represent the idea of heavenly spirits, who closely surrounded God and served him. Psalm 18:10 poetically equates the cherub with the God's flying chariot:

He rode upon a cherub and flew; And He sped upon the wings of the wind.

In addition, Psalm 104:3 connects the cherubim with the storm clouds:

He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters; He makes the clouds His chariot; He walks upon the wings of the wind.

Horsemen and chariots usually are images of a strong army, prepared for battle (Deuteronomy 11:4; Judges 4:7; 1st Samuel 8:12, 13:5; 1st Kings 9:12; Ezekiel 39:20). Also, the Bible often refers to God with "strength of battle" imagery to illustrate that he is the warrior that goes forth conquering. In fact, Yahweh is referred to as "the Lord (Yahweh) of the armies (tsaba)" at least two hundred and thirty-five times.

The cherubim is similar to, and probably derived from, the shedu or "storm winds." To protect houses in ancient Assyria, the shedu, which were depicted as winged lions, were engraved in clay tablets, which were buried under the threshold. At the entrance of palaces often placed as a pair. At the entrance of cities, they were sculpted in colossal size, and placed as a pair, one at each side of the door of the city, each one looking towards one of the cardinal points.

It is this mixed understanding of the cherubim/shedu as the attendants of a warrior-god and simultaneously as the protector of cities, which appears symbolically in the Genesis story guarding the entrance to the Garden of Eden and the way to the Tree of Life.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

YHWH?


There is a problem with the widely accepted etymology of the word YHWH being from the Hebrew verb root for “to be.” In ancient times, the Hebrew root for the word “to be” was HWY, and if the widely accepted etymology based on the verb "to be" (because of Exodus 3:14) where the origin of the name of YHWH, then it would have likely been spelled YHWY. Also, Exodus 3:14 speaks in the first person, 'eyhah', which is mostly translated as "I am" or, more accurately "I’ll be" (in the cohortative, not future tense) by many translators. The word "Yahweh" is a third person form of the verb "to be" in Hebrew, or “He is.” It is a far leap from the first person cohortative to the third person imperfect. Actually, this third person form of “to be” is not found anywhere in the Hebrew scriptures for the root hwh. The more recent form of this root hyh is mostly used, and is current in Modern Hebrew also.

So, what does YHWH mean, and what was Moshe’s point in using the first person cohortative of the verb “to be” to refer to God? As usual, the answer is found in the historical context rather than the pure grammar of the scripture.

A clue comes in Exodus 15:2, where Moshe is quoted as referring to Yahweh by his true name (emphasis added):
YaH is my strength and song, And he has become my salvation: This is my God, and I will praise him; My father's God, and I will exalt him.

This proper name of God (non-descriptive) is given in Psalm 68:4:

Sing to God, sing praise to His name; lift up a song for Him who rides in the deserts, by His name YaH; yes, exult in His presence. His name is YaH.

The word YaH (Hebrew YH) is a cognate of the Akkadian word EA. They are pronounced roughly the same but the Akkadian word EA was pronounced almost precisely the same as the first-person cohortative form of the Hebrew verb to be `eh'yeh (Hebrew 'HYH).

The Akkadian word EA is derived (according to the American Heritage Dictionary) from the Old Akkadian *hayy meaning "living" or "life causer." (It's pronunciation is Eh-Ya). To Akkadian speakers of the Anatolian plateau, EA was the God of living water - the "life-giver God." The Hebrews adopted this word from the early pre-Armenians. (Note that the name Eve (life giver) is derived from the same root.)

Exodus 3:14 says:

vayo`mer `elohiyM `el ´ moSheh `eh'yeh `aSher `eh'yeh vayo`mer coh To`mar liV'nay yiS'ra`al `eh'yeh Sh'laHaniy `alaykeM
Now, the Hebrew word 'aSher is a relative pronoun and is used to introduce a relative clause (in this case, the clause "I'll be" substituted for the normal "I am" because it creates a wordplay.). So the proper translation would be:
"..and God said to Moshe, "Yah [is] who I am!" and he said "You will say this to the sons of Israel, 'Yah has sent me to you.'"
Interestingly, a very similar wordplay appears in the Babylonian epic Enuma Elish:

"su-u ki-ma ia-a-ti; e-a lu-u sum-su" or "He is the same as I am; Ea is his name."

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Unjust Steward.

The Parable of the Unjust Steward was a parable told by Yeshua in the New Testament Gospel of Luke. In the parable, a steward who is about to be fired curries favor with the master's debtors by forgiving some of their debts.

This parable is considered to be one of the more difficult to interpret, since on the face of it Yeshua appears to be commending dishonest behavior. One meaning, provided by Yeshua himself (but which may be a latter addition by revisionists) is- "use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves",

This additional application was espoused by most early church writers including Asterius of Amasea, who wrote, "When, therefore, any one anticipating his end and his removal to the next world, lightens the burden of his sins by good deeds, either by canceling the obligations of debtors, or by supplying the poor with abundance, by giving what belongs to the Lord, he gains many friends, who will attest his goodness before the Judge, and secure him by their testimony a place of happiness."

The seeming commendation of dishonesty is usually explained in one of two ways. It is either pointed out that Yeshua 'commends the dishonest manager for his shrewdness, not the shrewd manager for his dishonesty' - i.e. the manager's principle is the right one, even if he goes about it in the wrong way. An alternative is to interpret the story as not involving deceit by introducing elements not present in the text. For example, it has been asserted that records of a loan were sometimes inflated in order to get round the prohibition against usury; thus a loan of four hundred gallons of oil might be written up as eight hundred, so that the loan would appear to be without interest. The manager thus might be reducing the loans to their original amount - entirely honestly but no more pleasingly to his master.

Of course, these explanations miss the point of Yeshua's story entirely. Again, we can look to context to provide the true meaning of this parable. Like the Parable of the Prodigal Son, this parable is aimed squarely at the Pharisees and Torah-Teachers who continually grumble at the presence around Yeshua of sinners and other rabble. In fact, in Luke 15:1-2, the Bible tells us, "Now, all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to him, to hear him, and the Pharisees and the Torah-Teachers grumbled, saying, This one receives sinners and eats with them." It is in this context that Yeshua tells this and several other parables (including the Prodigal Son).

….Yeshua said: "There was a wealthy man (God) who employed a general manager (The Pharisees). Charges were brought to him that his manager was squandering his resources. So he summoned him and asked him, `What is this I hear about you? Turn in your accounts, for you can no longer be manager.' "`What am I to do?' said the manager to himself. `My boss is firing me, I'm not strong enough to dig ditches, and I'm ashamed to go begging (a playful dig at the pride of the Pharisees). Aha! I know what I'll do -- something that will make people (sinners and publicans) welcome me into their homes after I've lost my job here!' "So, after making appointments with each of his employer's debtors, he said to the first, `How much do you owe my boss?' `Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,' he replied. `Take your note back,' he told him. `Now, quickly! Sit down and write one for four hundred!' To the next he said, `And you, how much do you owe?' `A thousand bushels of wheat,' he replied. `Take your note back and write one for eight hundred.' "And the employer of this dishonest manager applauded him for acting so shrewdly!

According to Matthew, Yeshua taught (Matthew 23:2-4):

"The Torah-teachers and the Pharisees sit in the seat of Moses. So, whatever they tell you, take care to do it. But don't do what they do, because they talk but don't act! They tie heavy loads onto people's shoulders but won't lift a finger to help carry them."

In this story, Yeshua does not deem the action of the steward as dishonest. Quite the contrary, he praises the steward's shrewdness in recognizing and carrying out the generosity of his master. What Yeshua was saying in this parable was that the self-righteous Pharisees and Torah-Teachers, in whom God has entrusted his mercy, would do better to display it to help t sinners, rather than grumbling about their presence around Yeshua.

The Prodigal Son's Older Brother

The Prodigal Son, also known as the Lost Son, is certainly one of the best known parables of Yeshua. The story is found in Luke 15:11–32 and is often read on the third Sunday of Lent. It is the third and final member of a trilogy, following the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Lost Coin.

Yeshua tells the story of a man who has two sons. The younger demands his share of his inheritance while his father is still living, and goes off to a distant country where he "waste[s] his substance with riotous living", and eventually has to take work as a swine herder. There he comes to his senses, and determines to return home and throw himself on his father's mercy. But when he returns home, his father greets him with open arms, and hardly gives him a chance to express his repentance; he kills a "fatted calf" to celebrate his return.

Some Christians understand the story to expresses that the forgiveness of the son is not conditional on good works. Some interpret this story to mean that, when one comes to God, they should come with the intention to serve Him ("make me as one of your hired servants") rather than to make demands. However, most Christian theologians note that the story demonstrates repentance. All of this may be true enough, but this was not Yeshua's primary intent for telling the story.

In fact, the beginning of the chapter (Luke 15:1-2) tells us why Yeshua told this parable. "Now, all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to him, to hear him, and the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, This one receives sinners and eats with them."

Yeshua used the parable to compare the Pharisees to the older brother of the "prodigal" son. Luke tells that the older brother, " was angry…and he said to his father: Look, these many years have I labored in your service, and never transgressed your command; and you never gave me a kid (young goat), so I might celebrate with my friends. But for this, your son, when he had dissipated your property with harlots, and came [home], you have slain the fatted calf for him."

Yeshua's point was that the Pharisees, like the older brother in the parable, were wrong to grumble against the sinners who sought out Yeshua, for, as the father said, "…it was proper for us to be merry, and to rejoice; because your brother was dead, and is [now] alive; he was lost, and is [now] found."

Thursday, May 10, 2007

"What is Truth"

Our understanding of the English word "truth" fails to do justice to what is described in the Hebrew Scriptures. To the Hebrew mind, emeth "truth" means: firm reliable, solid, faithful, tested, perceptible, and lasting.

There are two understandings of “truth” however: Abstract (or a priori) truth is derived from outside of experience and is absolute. Empirical (or a posteriori) truth is derived from experience and is not absolute. To the Hebrews, truth is a posteriori.

David Hume believed that “false religion” is based on priori, a prior knowledge of ethereal things by metaphysical means, while “natural religion” is based on posteriori, the knowledge gained after the observation. Hume concluded that the order and purpose that were observable in every part of the world about him testified of a Creator. In other words, Hume felt that a religion based upon an abstract God was "false."

Hume highlighted the fact that our everyday reasoning depends on patterns of repeated experience rather than deductively valid arguments. For example, we believe that bread will nourish us because it has done so in the past, but this is not a guarantee that it will always do so. As Hume said, someone who insisted on sound deductive justifications for everything would starve to death.

It is not very well acknowledged that the Hebrew Bible, as well as the New Testament support this idea. But, how can this be true? Does the Bible not teach that "God is truth?" Of course it does, but the Bible does not teach that God is abstractly truth. That is to say that God is not considered to be truth apart from particular cases or instances of being true.

In John 18: 37, Yeshua is quoted as saying, “For this I was sired, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth understands my words."

To the Hebrew mind, Yeshua bore witness to the truth, thus demonstrating it. And, as Yeshua said, (John 8:31) ... if you remain in the word, truthfully you are my disciple; you come to know the truth and this truth frees you.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Take up your cross daily?

Luke 9 (23-25) says (quoting Yeshua):

"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?

Most christians believe and teach that this quote means that a person must be willing to give up their life (and indeed to die) for Yeshua. However, a close reading of this passage along with a sound understanding of Semitic idioms brings the true meaning to light.

First of all, we see the idiom “deny the self.” To the Semitic mind this is a simple enough idiom. It means “to set aside self interest.” This is precisely what is meant by the Semitic idiom “lose oneself.” A form of this idiom appears in this quote in the statement, “whoever loses his life for me…” Interestingly, in this passage, Yeshua uses this same phrase twice. Once to mean "deny the self," and once to mean "forfeit the soul." While the various Greek versions of this passage lose this subtlety, the Aramaic maintains it.

The extant Greek versions all say, in verse 24: apolesê tên psuchên - "[whoever] might lose his soul." In verse 25, they all say: eauton de apolesas - "himself, yet, losing." This shift from using the Greek word psuche for "self" to the pronoun eauton "himself" does two things. One, it undermines the wordplay here, and two it indicates that the intended meaning of psuche is indeed "self."

The Aramaic Peshitta, in verse 24, uses D'NaOB'eD N'PShH - "he is losing [his] self." In verse 25, it says: N'PShH DYN NaOB'eD "[his] soul, yet, he loses."

Plato, the foremost of the Greek philosophers, believed that the soul was a fallen divinity that had prior existence outside the body and that the soul contains all knowledge. He taught that it is up to each person to gnôti sauton - "come to know the self" - through reason and education. It was this self knowledge which led, in Plato's view to "inner harmony." Alternatively, Yeshua believed and taught that the way to shalowm - "harmony" is through service to others and to God, “denying” or “losing” the self. It is the idea of gnoti sauton that Yeshua is referring to here. He uses the word nephish to refer to both to the "self" of the Greek philosophers and the soul of the Hebrews-a clever wordplay.

Now, the word used for “cross” in Greek is Stauros – Greek – “a stake or post” from the Greek word, histemi “to stand.” Stauros does not mean “cross” per se. But, rather, it means “a standing beam.”

The Aramaic word for “to stand” is z’kaf.

In the Aramaic Peshitta, the words used for “take up his cross” are oon’sh’qool z’kifa.

Oon’sh’qool – “and he takes up (as with the hands)”

Z’kifa – n. “cudgel” “club” “rod” from the Aramaic word Z'KAF “to stand.” The word came to mean “rod” because Z’KAF, in addition to meaning “to stand” means “to lift up” or “to take up (as in one’s hand).”

A cudgel or rod was one of the primary tools of the shepherd. The rod specifically was used as a weapon to defend the flock. Idiomatically, to “take up the rod” was to pursue the work of the shepherd and defend the flock.

Thus, to the Semitic mind, what Yeshua was saying was that one must “take up his rod.” Now what does that mean exactly?

The scriptures say:

Exd 4:17 And thou shalt take this rod in thine hand, wherewith thou shalt do signs.

Exd 4:20 And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt: and Moses took the rod of God in his hand.

Exd 7:20 And Moses and Aaron did so, as Yahweh commanded; and he lifted up the rod, and smote the waters that [were] in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh, and in the sight of his servants; and all the waters that [were] in the river were turned to blood.

Exd 17:5 And Yahweh said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go.

Num 17:9 And Moses brought out all the rods from before the LORD unto all the children of Israel: and they looked, and took every man his rod.

Num 20:11 And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts [also].

Mar 6:8 And commanded them that they should take nothing for [their] journey, save a rod (rhabdos – “a rod”) only; no scrip, no bread, no money in [their] purse:

To “take up the rod” means to prepare to do the work of God. This at once demonstrates willingness and action.

In other words, in order to follow Yeshua, one need not be willing to die for him, but rather willing to live for him.

A better translation….

"If anyone would follow me, he must set aside his own self-interest and demonstrate willingness to work every day and accompany me. For whoever wants to be selfish will lose his soul, but whoever loses his self interest for me will preserve [his soul]. For, what good is it for a man to gain [even as much as] the entire universe, and yet lose his soul?"

Thursday, March 22, 2007

"My grace is sufficient for you."

Speaking of "a thorn in the flesh," Paul writes that he "beseeched the Lord three times that it would be removed from him," but that the Lord replied "my grace is sufficient for you." This is one of our translations at least. This phrase has generally been interpreted to mean that Paul should basically learn to live with his "thorn" and accept God's "grace" and be content with it.

But, this is not what Paul wrote nor what he meant. Remembering that Paul's thorn was a man who was tormenting the church, one can easily see from 2 Corinthians, that Paul's thorn was indeed removed.

Paul said that he was given "a thorn in the flesh," "lest I should be exalted above measure." In the Aramaic language (Paul's native tongue), the word for "exalted" is sageb "to raise up." Paul, here makes a play on words using this same Aramaic word in two senses. Sageb can also mean or "to defend" in the sense of raising up out of the way of danger. "To defend" is precisely the meaning of the Greek word arkeo, which is used in the Greek texts and normally translated as "sufficient."

What Pauls is saying in his clever wordplay is that he was given a "thorn in the flesh" so that he would not be "overly raised up" by men, and, though he asked God three times to remove the "thorn," God's reply was, "my grace will raise you up." A good English translation is "my grace will avail you."

In another wordplay, Paul contrasts the notion of "grace" with "rest." To the Semitic mind, "grace' is derived from the concept of "the hospitality of the nomad's camp" (Hebrew - chanan) where perfect shalom (harmony) is to be found. This is also what is meant by the Greek word (episkeenoo - to camp with) translated as "rest."

Yet another clarification is needed in order to explain this complex text. The word that Paul uses for "made perfect," or "made complete," is teleitai, the passive present form of the word teleioo. Now, although this word is often translated as "to make complete" or "to make perfect," the intent here is the passive form of "to accomplish."

mou gar dunamis en astheneia teleitai - "for my powerful deeds, with weakness are accomplished." What this means is that God, no matter how powerful he is, does not perform powerful acts without the help of his comparatively weak servants.

A better translation...

(7) ...that I should not be exalted (raised) too much, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, that I should not be exalted (raised) too much.
(8) Concerning this thing I implored the Lord three times, that it might depart from me.
(9) And he has said to me, "The hospitality of my camp will avail (raise) you: for my powerful deeds are accomplished with weakness." Most gladly therefore, I will rather rejoice in my weakness, so that the power of Christ may camp upon me.
(10) Because of this, I take pleasure with weaknesses, with insults, with dire needs, with persecutions, with distresses, for the sake of Christ. For when I may be weak, then I am capable.

Monday, March 12, 2007


A "thorn in the flesh?"

In 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul writes

7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.

Many Christians believe that this verse means that God wants some of us (Paul included) to stay sick. They say that Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was an eye disease, migraine, baldness or some other type of sickness, and that God refused to heal him, telling him “my grace is sufficient for you.”

However, the word “thorn” as an idiomatic expression, is never used in the Bible to mean a sickness or physical affliction.

Numbers 33:55 But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you; then it shall come to pass, that those which ye let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell.

Here, the “thorns” are people who have been allowed to remain in the land of Canaan to become an annoyance to the people of God.

Joshua 23:13 Know for a certainty that YAHWEH your God will no more drive out any of these tribes from before you; but they shall be snares and traps to you, and scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good land which YAHWEH your God has given you.

Again, here, the “thorns” were people who have been allowed to remain in the land of Canaan being bothersome "scourages".

Judges 2:3 Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.

Here also, the "thorns" refer to people who have been allowed to remain among the Israelites tripping up the people of God.

2 Samuel 23:6 But the sons of Belial shall be all of them as thorns swatted away, because they cannot be seized with hands:

Here, once more, David makes it clear that “thorns” are people (enemies) allowed to remain among the children of Israel. M,oreover, the Bible makes it clear that these people, in all cases, are a hindrance to the people of Israel, like thorns that must be swatted away because they cannot be seized. A modern idiom may be to compare them to gnats to be swatted away only to return.

So, it is clear that the Semitic idiom “thorn in the flesh/side/eye” refers to anoying people left to live, and cause trouble, among the saints. In fact, Paul's reference is a double insult. At once, a reference to troublemakers, and also a belittling comparison to a minor annoyance.

So, who was Paul’s thorn left among the Corinthians to torment them?

According to Acts 18:1-17, Paul visited Corinth on his second missionary journey and established a church there about AD 50. About five years later, in about AD 55, while in Ephesus, Paul heard of serious problems within the Corinthian church from “Chloe's people" and wrote a letter of instruction to them. He referred to this "previous letter" in 1 Corinthians 5:9. This “previous letter” no longer exists (perhaps, but at least one non-conanical version makes the claim).

Later, Paul was visited in Ephesus by Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus (I Cor. 16:17), friends of Chloe of Corinth. On the basis of a second letter brought by them, and other information that reached him in Ephesus about problems in the church, Paul wrote what is now called 1 Corinthians in about A.D. 55 and sent it to Corinth via Timothy (I Cor. 4:17).

This letter, like the “previous” one was not successful and the situation grew worse. In fact, it seems to have stimulated rebellion against Paul's authority. In response Paul may have traveled to Corinth and certainly wrote a third letter to the Corinthians "out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears." This third letter is referred to in 2 Corinthians 2:3-4, 9, and 7:8, 12. The text of this third letter is almost certainly the last four chapters (10 – 13) of 2 Corinthians, in which he refers to his principal tormenter as a “a thorn in my flesh; a messenger of Satan”

Titus visited Corinth with this "severe letter" in an attempt to reconcile the situation. Paul, in the mean time, was so anxious to hear from Titus that he left Ephesus traveling north to Troas seeking him (2 Cor. 2:13; 7:5, 13). Somewhere in Macedonia, probably Philippi, Paul received the good news from Titus of a change in attitude in the Corinthian church. The leader of rebellion, the “thorn in (Paul’s) flesh” had been rejected and disciplined. The church was once again open to Paul's counsel and desirous of his friendship.

Paul responded by writing what is now called the first 9 chapters of 2 Corinthians around A.D. 56 or 57. He eventually made a final visit to Corinth (Acts 20:1-3) during which he solidified his relationship with the church.

Because the “sorrowful letter” has been appended to 2 Corinthians, it has been mistakenly understood to have included the reference to some physical malady. However, if we understand this letter to have been written before the reconciliation, it is clear that the “thorn in the flesh” of Paul is his chief (yet unnamed) tormenter and opponent who was allowed to dwell (as all of Israel’s enemies) among the saints to “buffet” them.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


Forever his mercy?

The Hodu cry of the Hillel (Psalm 118:1) says: "howdu layhwah ciy ´ tOV ciy l',owlaM Has'DO." - " Let us give thanks to Yahwah for [he is] good; for forever [is] his mercy."

Now, Websters defines "mercy" as: benevolence, mildness or tenderness of heart which disposes a person to overlook injuries, or to treat an offender better than he deserves; the disposition that tempers justice, and induces an injured person to forgive trespasses and injuries, and to forbear punishment, or inflict less than law or justice will warrant.

The remainder of Psalm 118 describes how Yahwah will provide a means for the writer (David) to destroy his enemies. Hardly an act of mercy.

The Hebrew word translated as "mercy," is chesed from the root chasad, a primative Hebrew root meaning, to bow by bending the neck.

But, can an all-powerful God be described properly as "bowing" rather than "merciful?" The answer, of course is yes! Once one understands that the semitic concept of chesed is more closely translated as "committed." God is committed to Shalowm. God has promised shalowm for those who take up his name. He is committed to this promise and this shalowm.

In the Hillel, David is praising this committment.

Forever is his commitment!
Mark of the Beast?

Many Christian groups believe in the so-called “mark of the beast”—a supposed mark or sign upon the forehead and hand of those who worship the image of the antichrist.
Revelation 13:16: “And the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the freemen and the slaves, it causes that they give to them all a mark on their right hand, or on their foreheads”
Of course, this interpretation fails to recognize a Hebrew idiom--"a mark upon the hand/head." In the old testament this idiom has a simple meaning. To have "a mark upon the head" means to recall that which the mark stands for, namely God's word. To have "a mark upon the hand" means to be marked for the work of God's word.

Exo 13:9 "Moreover, it will serve you as a sign on your hand and as a reminder between your eyes, so that Yahweh's Law may be on your lips; because with a strong hand Yahweh brought you out of Egypt.

Deu 11:18 Therefore, you are to store up these words of mine in your heart and in all your being; tie them on your hand as a sign; put them at the front of a headband around your forehead;
Therefore, the reference to the "mark of the beast" in Revelation means:

“And the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the freemen and the slaves, it causes that they give to them all to recall and do the work of his word.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

And the earth was without form....


Genesis 1:2 is says,
"And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters."
However, this translation does not do this passage justice. The Hebrew version says:

"w'ha`aretz hay'tah tohu wabohu w'hoshek al-p'nay t'hom w'ruakh alohiym m'rakhefet al-p'nay hamayim"
Now, the first word "w'ha'aretz" is made from affixing the waw "w" and the hay "ha" (the) to the word "aretz" (land). In this form, the waw affixed to a noun, although always in such a connection grammatically disjunctive in some fashion, is here used specifically with emphatic force to introduce the clause. It should therefore be rendered as "now" or "yea," rather than "yet," or "but," or otherwise "and" (as would be the case if the waw was affixed to the verb. See Genesis 1:3 for this example.)
Also, the second word "hay'tah" should be rendered as perfect "became" or "appeared," rather than imperfect "was."
The next three words make up a figure of speech which substitutes a conjunction for a subordination. This is common in Hebrew, Greek, and English. The typical form substitutes the normal noun plus adjective form with a noun conjunction noun form. In Greek, this particular (three for one) form is called a "hendiatris." An English example is "wine, women, and song" to mean "party." If the units involved are not in any way synonyms but rather "circumnavigate" the one idea expressed, the figure may be more correctly, precisely, and expediently described as a triad.
In this case, the Hebrew words mean, "formlessness," "emptiness" and "darkness." All are similar, but are better understood to circumnavigate the idea of "void" or "chaos"-a formless and disordered state. So, in this case, the most likely intent of the form could be translated by either converting the triad back to a adjective plus noun form (i.e., a formless and empty darkness), or alternatively maintaining the hendiatris form (i.e., formlessness, emptiness and darkness). However, perhaps the best way to understand this hendiatris is as a figure of speech which is best translated by a descriptive version of the idea that it circumnavigates - "utter chaos."
The next work "al-p'nay" literally means "on the face," and can be translated as "over" or "surrounding."
The next word t'hom comes from the root hwm, meaning "roar," and it refers to the roiling primal waters (again a reference to chaos). It is a cognate of the Akkadian word "tamtu," which means "a primal ocean."
A better translation of Genesis 1:2 would be:

"Now, the earth came into being; an utter chaos surrounding a primal sea; yet, the spirit of God was soaring over the sea."

Sunday, February 11, 2007


“I AM”


Most commentators make the claim that Yeshua (primarily in the Gospel of John) uses the code word ego eimi (translated “I am”) to equate himself with Yahweh. It is said that, the Greek words ego eimi refer to Yahweh’s statement to Moses in Exodus 3 (Hebrew - `eh'yeh `asher `eh'yeh – “I’ll be what I’ll be”). It is also claimed that the phrase is only used of Yeshua (and Yahweh).

For Yeshua to have used the first person present (I am) in Greek to refer back to the first person cohortative in Hebrew (I'll be being) is a far stretch.

Of course, without resort to complex linguistics, this is demonstrated to be untrue. For, if it were true, the Gospel writer Luke would not have had the messenger Gabriel say (at Luke 1:19) “ego eimi gabriol” (I am Gabriel). Also Luke, would not have had Zachariah, the father of John the baptizer say “ego gar eimi” (I, indeed, am). Even the Gospel writer John has John the baptizer say “ego ouk eimi” (I am not). Matthew recounts (at 26:22) Yeshua’s pupils saying to him “sorrowfully” ego eimi kurio (…I am Lord?).

Of course, these are only a few of the occurrences of the phrase ego eimi, which demonstrate the fallacy of the claim. In fact, the more accurate translation is demonstrated in the account in Matthew 26:22 “it is me.ego eimi (lit. “me I am”).

For example:

Mat 24:5 For many will come in My name, saying, (ego eimi) It is me, the Christ. And they will cause many to be led astray.

Mat 26:22 And grieving exceedingly, they began to say to Him, each of them, Lord, not at all (ego eimi) it is me?

Mat 26:25 Then Yhudah (which betrayed him) answered and said, Rabbi, (ego eimi) is it me? He said unto him, Thou hast said.

Mar 6:50 For they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: (ego eimi) it is me; be not afraid.

John 9:9 Some said, This is he: others said, He is like him: but he said, (ego eimi) it is me.

And, on and on…

Saturday, February 10, 2007


“Wisdom is justified…”


In both of the gospels of Matthew (at 11:19) and Luke (at 7:35), Yeshua is quoted as saying “Wisdom is justified from her deeds (or children).” But, what exactly did Yeshua mean by this?


First of all, I will briefly say that the word translated by both Matthew and Luke as "children" (Gr teknon) is either a mistranslation of the Aramaic word bnyh, which comes from the child root bna "to build," or a correct translation of the same word from the primary root bn "son." The yh suffix (with the dropped a for the root bna) denotes femenine possession. Thus the word should be translated as either "her building" or otherwise "her son." In either case, as we will see, the meaning remains the same.

This passage is not as mysterious as many make it out to be. Luke preserves the thought better than Matthew does.


What Yeshua is doing is comparing the "generation" or "lineage" of the current, unjust Jewish elite class to the generation of the poor, but just, working class. Proverbs 24:3 says:

b'khak'mah yibaneh bayiT uvit'vunah yit'covnan - or -
"With wisdom is built a house and by understanding it is set out."
Pro 9:1 says: khak'movt ban'tah baytah - or -
"Wisdom has built her house."

These wisdom riddles do not, of course, refer to the construction of a real "house," but to the building or siring of a family, clan or lineage. It is clear from these riddles that Wisdom's "building" was her "sons."


Luke writes (7:29-30) “And all the people and the tax collectors, baptized with the baptism of John, hearing, justified God. 30 But the Pharisees and the lawyers, not baptized by him, set aside God's counsel for themselves.

Now, "hearing" is "doing" or "obeying."

In other words, Yeshua is saying that the humble sinners heard God’s wisdom (as espoused through Yeshua) and acted on it by doing what was asked--namely teshuva (repenting) and rakhetset (bathing or baptism). Conversely, the self-righteousness scribes and Pharisees, heard God’s wisdom and, rather than acting upon it, stood around and endlessly debated with each other, considering whether they, as righteousness men, needed to do teshuva and whether they needed to submit to baptism.


Of importance is the word translated as "wisdom" - Khokmah. While this word is commonly translated by the Greek sophia and the english "wisdom," it is better understood to mean "conscience" - the inner knowledge of right and wrong. Khokmah was believed to be transmitted via the spirit Khokmah from God to men.


This Lukan passage highlights a few items, 1) the use of the Greek word dikaioos (normally translated “justified”) applied here to God (whom one would not normally think of as being “justified.”) and the word atheteo (to lay aside) as its opposite. The word dikaioos appears twice in the passage. Once referring to the "justification" of God and at Luke 7:35 “…wisdom is justified from all her deeds.” Clearly from this context the word dikaioos (in the aorist – edikaiosan) means “bore out,” or “proved to be right.” It was the action of the sinners (teshuva, rakhetset) that “bore out” the truth of the wisdom of God. Also, of note is the fact that although the passage says that the sinners "justified God," it is clear from the next sentence that it is "God's counsel" that is "justified."


Now, let’s look closer. Yeshua was a Khokmah, "a wise man," a sage (or a "man of conscience"). In this role, he was dedicated, as all sages were, to dividing (sifting through) the Khokmah of the law and the prophets to divine “the way of equity” (which we often call “paths of righteousness”)--in simple words, “the right way." The Hebrew people believed that “the right way” is hidden from the self-professed “wise” men (priests, etc.,), but was revealed to the humble sage in the form of conscience.

Matthew 11:25 “… I praise You, Father, Lord of Heaven and of earth, because You hid these things from the sophisticated and cunning and revealed them to babes.”



And further that “good behavior” is demonstrated as a result of this wisdom


Jam 3:13 "Who is wise and knowing among you? Let him show his works by his good behavior, in meekness of wisdom."


The role of the humble khokmah was to divide the word of God, taking up the “true knowledge”, and laying aside (atheteo) that information with which it was hidden. Of course taking up "true knowledge" also led to proper behavior in accordance with this conscience. In this way, he justified, vindicated, bore out, or proved (dikaioos), by means of his behavior, the knowledge as “wise.”


After Luke’s preamble (7:29-30), Yeshua begins his statement by comparing the current generation in a simple parable or riddle (at Luke 7:31)

“And the Master said, ‘Then to what shall I compare the men of this generation? What are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in a market and calling to one another.”


Although both Matthew and Luke add “saying” to this quote, the quote should actually end here. Both Luke and Matthew misunderstood the meaning of this passage and thought that the words following it were quotations of these so-called “children sitting in the market.” But this is not correct. Yeshua, by this statement was referring to the common practice of the khokmah (sage) of standing in the market and calling out (proclaiming, preaching) his wise words. This, John did as well as Yeshua. In this passage, Yeshua is simply saying to the Pharisees and Scribes, that they are like children, playing a game, pretending to be sages, but instead of conscience, spouting gibberish.


Next, Yeshua says


“We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed to you, and you did not weep.”


By this, Yeshua means that he and John approached from two different means. One, (John) proclaimed the woe of their sinful state and the ultimate outcome (“we mourned to you”). The other (Yeshua) was the opposite (“we piped to you”), he proclaimed the liberty of living a life of equity. Yeshua follows this up by repeating the same thought differently. (Luke 7:33)

“For John the Baptist has come neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, He has a demon. 34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, Behold, a man, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners."


A better paraphrase of Luke would reorder it in this way: Luke 7:29-35

The Master said, “Then to what shall I compare the men of this generation?" And, "to what are they like?" "They are like children sitting in a market and calling to one another.” Also (he) said, “We piped to you, and you did not dance (For, the son of man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.'). We wailed to you, and you did not weep. (For John the Baptist has come neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, 'He is deranged.'). And all the people (including the tax collectors) obeying, baptized with the baptism of John, vindicated [the counsel of] God, But the Pharisees and the lawyers, not baptized by him, set aside God's counsel for themselves. Therefore, wisdom was vindicated from all she built."


Sunday, January 28, 2007


"I came to fulfill!"


In Matthew 5:17 Yeshua is quoted as saying, “Don’t think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn’t come to destroy, but to fulfill.” But, a semitic understanding of what Yeshua said, brings forth a nuanced meaning.

Remembering that Yeshua spoke mostly Aramaic and Hebrew rather than Greek, it is easy to see that Yeshua was speaking a short Hebrew poem, which plays on the similar sounding (and similar meaning) Hebrew words mala (to fill a vacant space) and kalah (to make an end, to accomplish).

Deuteronomy 31:24 says, And it came to pass, when Moses had accomplished (kalah) writing the words of this law (towrah) in a book, completely (tamiym)…

In other words, Yeshua was saying, “I have not come to accomplish the law, but to fill it.”

It seems that something is hiding in the subtlety of this phrase.

The Hebrew word “mala” means “to fill a vacant space.” What Yeshua was doing was contrasting the concept of observing the general law, but failing to fill in the gaps that it leaves in specific cases.

Aristotle (who lived almost 400 years before Yeshua) taught that equity and justice are closely related. While not identical, they belong to the same family of moral good. What is equitable is more than just since equity is the principle applied to correct justice when it errs. In Chapter Ten of Book Five of the Nicomachean Ethics, he writes:

…law is universal but about some things, it is not possible to make a universal statement which will be correct. In those cases, then, in which it is necessary to speak universally, but not possible to do so correctly, the law takes the usual case, though it is not ignorant of the possibility of error. And, it is none the less correct; for the error is not in the law nor in the legislator but in the nature of the thing, since the matter of practical affairs is of this kind from the start. When the law speaks universally, then, and a case arises on it, which is not covered by the universal statement, then it is right, when the legislator fails us and has erred by over-simplicity to correct the omission--to say what the legislator himself would have said had he been present, and would have put into his law if he had known.


An equitable man is not a stickler for the letter of law; he will even be satisfied with less than his legal share in certain situations if he feels this is more just. In other words, equity fills the gap left uncovered by legal justice, just as Yahweh uses his equity (tsedekah) to fill the gap left uncovered by our imperfect equity (or righteousness).

Yeshua came to teach equity, and this is what he was saying: “Do not think that I have come to accomplish (only) the law (or the prophets), I have come not (only) to accomplish it, but (also) to fill in the gaps (that it has in it). For truly I say, ‘until heaven and earth pass away, not even the smallest letter or the tinniest stroke shall in any way perish from the law, until all things have happened. Whoever, therefore, shall break one of these least commandments, and teach others to do so, will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven; but whoever shall do and teach them shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. For I tell you that unless your equity exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, there is no way you will enter into the kingdom of heaven.