Tuesday, August 14, 2007


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."