Thursday, October 30, 2008

A voice crying in the wilderness?

It was the practice of John the Baptist to live in, and preach (call out) in the wilderness that has led us to understand Isaiah 40:3 to be a reference to John and his preaching of repentance, declaring to the people of Israel to “prepare ye a way for the Lord.” Most interpretations understand John himself to be the "voice crying in the wilderness," and that he was preparing something special for (or on behalf of) Yahweh.

Isa 40:3 The voice of him that cries in the wilderness, Prepare the way of Yahweh, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

But, a clear understanding of Hebrew coupled with a fair reading of the Bible indicates otherwise. First of all it is not the voice that cries “in the wilderness.” It is “in the wilderness” that the "way" (or "roadway") should be prepared. Also, the roadway was to be prepared not "for our God," but "to our God."

kOl kovra` - "A cry cries!" bamid'bar panu DereC' y'hvah - “in the wilderness, turn toward a road [of] Yahweh” ya$'ru ba,araVah m'silah la`lohaynu - “make straight in a desert a course to our God.”

The ancient Hebrew people believed that mankind's contact with God was through a sort of collective conscience called chokmah (translated as "wisdom"), which called out to mankind attempting to keep him on a straight path. This conscience was thought of as "a voice calling" to mankind from out of nowhere.

Pro 1:20 Chokmah cries aloud outside; she gives her voice in the square;

Pro 8:4 I call to you, O men, and my voice is to the sons of men.
Pro 8:5 Understand chokmah, simple ones; and fools, be of an understanding heart.

Pro 3:6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Monday, October 06, 2008

You are the salt of the earth...

There has been much confusion regarding Matthew 5:13:

You are the salt of the earth: but if the salt has lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

Many have interpreted this reference by first interpreting the use of the word salt to mean “to season,” explaining that to “loose saltiness” renders salt unable to season. Likewise, some have said that salt is to be understood as meaning “to preserve,” and that salt that can no longer preserve is useless. Both of these interpretations miss the point by interpreting the word “salt” in modern terms rather than ancient Hebrew terms.

To complicate this matter, there is quite a bit of misunderstanding surrounding the ancient meaning of the Hebrew word for salt, melach. Brown defines the term as having derived from the similar word malach (to tear away), and for many reasons, this is quite reasonable. The two words are often confused in the Bible. But, the word most likely derives from the root lach, “to wet,” or “to moisten.” The word lach also means “to lick” from the concept of wetting the lips and it is from this word that melach (m-lach or “that which is licked”) derives. A salt lick is a salt deposit that animals regularly lick. Another meaning of the word lach is “vigor,” or “lifeblood,” and essential ingredient of vitality and life. This is the connection between salt and the phrase “salt of the earth.”

To the Hebrews (and in fact almost all ancient eastern societies), salt was a symbol of the lifeblood and a substitute for blood itself in ceremonies involving the binding of people in bonds of friendship—so-called hospitality bonds. This is when two people swear loyalty to one another in a ceremony, known as a blood oath, where the blood of each man is mingled (often ceremonially) together.

According to Dennis Trumble in The Blood Covenant: A Primitive Rite and Its Bearings on Scripture: a Blood Covenant was..

“An agreement between two contracting parties, originally sealed with blood; a bond, or a law; a permanent religious dispensation. The old, primitive way of concluding a covenant (Hebrew, “to cut a covenant”) was for the covenanters to cut into each other’s arm and suck the blood, the mixing of the blood rendering them “brothers of the covenant. Originally the covenant was a bond of life-fellowship, where the mingling of the blood was deemed essential. In the course of time, aversion to imbibing human blood eliminated the sucking of the blood, and the eating and drinking together became in itself the means of covenanting, while the act was solemnized by the invocation of the Deity in an oath, or by the presence of representative symbols of the Deity, such as seven animals, or seven stones or wells, indicative of the seven astral deities; whence Hebrew (“to be bound by the holy seven”) as an equivalent for ‘swearing’ in pre-Mosaic times” (Trumble 1893).

Thus, in time, salt became a symbol used during the fellowship meal to represent the lifeblood and an exchange of salt came to represent the mingling of blood and therefore became a symbol of an indissoluble bond of friendship.

When Yeshua told his disciples that they were the “salt of the earth,” he was not saying that they were the “seasoning” of the earth, or the “preservative” of the earth. He was saying, “you are the lifeblood (or life-giving force) of the earth, without which it would be good for nothing.”

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Toss the children's bread to dogs?

You are invited to read: My Grace is Sufficient

Much has been written about the encounter of Yeshua and a Canaanite woman in the region of Sidon and Tyre. Matthew 15:10-28 and Mark 7:25-30 tell this story of a Syrophoenician woman who finds Yeshua at a house in Tyre and begs him to heal her daughter.

In traditional interpretations of the story, he is depicted as brushing her off, saying ""First let the children eat all they want,...for it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs,” where, presumably, the children are the children of Israel and the dogs are the Gentiles (represented by the Canaanite woman herself), a metaphor found in other Jewish writing. "'Yes, Lord,' she replied, 'but even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.'" As the story goes, he's impressed with her answer and tells her to go home and she returns home to find her daughter healed. Many reconcile this traditional interpretation with Yeshua’s caring nature by stating that: Yeshua was testing the woman with a test he knew she would pass, treating the people he healed as individuals, and dealing with each person differently based on their level of faith.

The traditional view of this story represents Yeshua unfavorably in two ways: first, it depicts him as a racist, and second, it depicts him as indifferent (at least at first) to the sufferings of the woman’s innocent daughter. Yeshua does not deserve such an interpretation and a close reading of the writings indicate that it is probably not an accurate interpretation and that the tortured “test” hypothesis is unneeded.

First of all, it is important to understand why Yeshua was in the region of Tyre and Sidon. Both Mark and Matthew report that Yeshua was fleeing the pressures present in Judea at the time. He was, in fact, in hiding! Mark 7:24a says, “And leaving there, he went into the frontier of Tyre and Sidon. And went into a house and desired no one to know.” Yeshua’s reputation was such, however, that Mark reports (7:24b) “He could not be hidden. For, hearing about him, a woman, whose daughter had an unclean spirit, came up, falling down at his feet.” Yeshua may have believed that he could remain in hiding and thus, he did not immediately respond to the woman’s entreaties. According to Matthew, while Yeshua remained silent and incognito, resisting the temptation to show his presence by responding to the woman, but his disciples grew impatient, and they eventually approached Yeshua asking that he, “send her away, for she cries out after us.” Yeshua responded to his disciples, “I was not sent, except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

This seemingly racist remark is actually not what it seems. Yeshua was actually chiding his disciples for their lack of pity. To understand this, one must understand the words that Yeshua spoke. In both Hebrew and Aramaic the word for “send” is shebaq. Shebaq, like the English word “send” has both a negative and positive connotation. It can mean “to throw out,” or “to send on a mission.” Yeshua was using these similar but contrasting meanings of the word to form a word-play. The disciples had asked that Yeshua shebaq (throw out) the woman, but Yeshua’s response, “I was not shebaq (thrown out). Here Yeshua uses a special form of speech, an ei me (Greek) or eem lo (Hebrew) clause. This type of clause was common in biblical Hebrew. The words mean, literally, “if not,” and they have the effect of negating the previous clause with a special case. In this situation, Yeshua said “I was not “thrown out,” if not ( or except for the special case of ) for the lost sheep of Israel. In other words, I wasn’t thrown out, except for your (the disciples) sake. This was a powerful denouncement of the disciples' indifference to the suffering of another.

This is proven by the fact that Yeshua immediately addressed the woman, whom he had previously resisted communicating with. Turning to the woman, Yeshua recited the first clause of a short proverb, “It is not suitable to take the children’s bread and throw it to a dog.” In the back and forth fashion of the teaching method of the time, the woman responded (correctly) by finishing the proverb like a faithful student, “Truly my lord, even a dog eats from the crumbs falling from the table of their masters and live.” Yeshua rewards her faithful response, as Mark reports (Mark 7:29), “because of these words, go, the demon is gone out from your daughter.”

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Persistent Prayer?

Many translators understand that the Bible teaches the need of persistent prayer. Luke 18:1 - 8 says (KJV):

And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?

But, an accurate translation of this passage, brings to light a nuanced meaning.

And He also spoke a riddle to them to teach it is always right to pray, and not to be remiss, saying, A certain judge was in a certain city, not revering God and not respecting man. And a widow was in that city, and she came to him, saying, defend me from my adversary. And at first he would not. But a bit later he said to himself, Even if I do not revere God, and do not respect man, yet because this widow hands me sorrow, I will defend her, so that in the end she will wear me down. And the Lord said, Hear what the unrighteous judge says; and will God not at all execute the defense of His chosen (those crying to Him day and night) and will he hesitate with them? I say to you that He will defend them immediately.

The intent of the parable is not to teach persistence in prayer, but prompt regularity. The message is not that God will respond to annoying persistence, but that, if a unrighteous man will respond promptly (if only to avoid an annoyance), all the more so will God respond immediately.

The parable follows a similar (and similarly misunderstood) parable, the parable of the persistent friend (Luke 11:5-10):

And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

In the Hebrew culture, if a stranger (much less an acquaintance) arrived at your door in the middle of the night, hospitality was mandatory. Anything less would be certain shame to a host. A better translation of this parable is:

And He said to them, Who of you shall have a friend come to him at midnight and say, Friend, lend me three loaves. For a friend of mine has arrived to me from a journey, and I do not have anything that I may set before him. And answering from within you would say, Do not cause me troubles. The door has already been shut, and my children are, like me, in bed. I cannot rise up to give to you. I say to you, Even if he will not get up and give to him because he is a friend, yet because of his shame, he will get up he will give him as much as he needs. And I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For each asking receives, and the one seeking finds, and to the one knocking, it will be opened.

The point that Yeshua makes is not persistence, but, again, the opposite. If a human will rise in the middle of the night to help a friend (if for no other reason but to avoid shame), how much more will God, who loves his people, go out of his way to give to the asker?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

About my Father's business?

At, Luke 2:41 through 2:49, the evangelist recounts a curious event in the life of Yeshua (the only event from his youth recounted in the Gospels.)

"Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Yeshua tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day's journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business? But, they understood not the saying which he spoke to them. "

My Father’s business - Some think that this should be translated “in my Father’s house” - that is, in the temple; that Yeshua reminded them here that he came down from heaven; that he had a higher Father than an earthly parent; and that, even in early life, it was proper that he should be engaged in the work for which he came. But, the key to beginning to understand this story in the final sentence. "But, they understood not the saying which he spoke to them." Another clue is in the Greek word anazēteō "to search diligently," which appears four times in the last six verses.

If Yeshua had intended his parents to understand that he was in temple, he could have said so and they would have had little trouble understanding this. Particularly, since they were from a pious family who "went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover." In fact, the Greek words en to iero "in the temple" appear in verse 2:46 to describe where they found him. But, Yeshua was not talking about where he had been, but what he was up to.

To understand this saying, it is important (again) to realize that Yeshua was not a Greek speaker, but an Aramaic speaker. The Peshitta (and Old Syriac Gospel) render this verse (2:49) as:
amr (and he said) lhwn (to them) mna (why) beyn (seeking) hwytwn (you all are) ly (for me) la (do not) ydeyn (know) antwn (you all) dbyt (that of the house) aby (my father) wla (it is right) ly (for me) dahwa (to be)
Greek writers (and later English translators) seem to have understood the difficulty of this particular turn of phrase. Some have rendered it "in my Father's house," while others have rendered it "about my Father's business," or "in the things of my Father."

In Aramaic the words beyn (to seek) and dbyt (that of the house or "amongst") are related. The word beyn literally means "to divide" or "to sort," and the word dbyt literally means "that of the house," or "amongst," and denotes a mingling or intermixing with distinct or separable objects. The word beyn means to separate out dbyt objects. To the Aramaic sage, the concepts of beyn and dbyt were thus entangled. To understand God, one must "sort out" God's wisdom from "that of the house" of God and "that of the house" of man. This was the true calling of the sage.

Because of this unusual Aramaic word, this verse has often been mis-translated and therefore misunderstood to mean that Yeshua belonged simply "in the temple." This is not exactly the case. A paraphrase of what Yeshua is saying is (in a clever way), "why are you separating me into your house and from the house of God's word?" This is the earliest appearance of the wisdom tradition from the mouth of Yeshua himself. At the age of 12, he seemed to have understood himself to be (like chokmah) entangled with Yahweh.

The verse would better be translated:

And, he said to them, why are you sorting me out? Do you not know that amongst my father it is right for me to be.
a truly mature wordplay from a twelve-year-old.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Only Begotten?

In an earlier post, I pointed out that, in the Hebrew culture, the inheritance of land, titles and other property as well as the responsibilities for caring for an individual family was channeled along patrilineal lines using a system of modified Primogeniture, or succession by the eldest son. The institution is explicitly promulgated in Deuteronomy 21:15-17. In part, because paternity cannot be certainly known (like maternity), the Hebrews had two "firstborn" traditions. One, the peter, or "opener" of the womb, referring to the firstborn of the mother. The other, was the bekor, ("he bursts forth") referring to the firstborn "or choicest" of the father.

The bekor was also referred to as the yachiyd "the only one." Genesis 22:2 records the fact that Isaac, the second son (but heir) of Abraham was referred to as "your only one whom you love." Matthew 3:17 refers to Yeshua as the primogenitor of Yahweh, saying, "and behold! A voice out of the heaven saying, This is My son, the loved one, in whom I delight." "Delight" (Hebrew chaphets) was a idiomatic phrase as well that marked primogeniture (see 1Sa 18:22).

In John 1:14, the writer refers to Yeshua as the monogenes, a word which has been greatly debated. Most translators render the translation as "only begotten" (only sired), but this tradition follows the misunderstanding introduced (probably intentionally) by Jerome to conform to his theology. Pre-Jerome, the word was translated as "unique." It means "the only one," or "one of a kind," and refers to Yeshua in his role as Primogeniture of Yahweh. Hebrews 11:17 uses the same word to refer to Isaac: "By faith, being tested, Abraham offered up Isaac; and he receiving the promises was offering up the monogenes," and Isaac certainly was not the "only begotten" of Abraham.

John 1:14 would be better understood to say:

"And the logos became flesh and pitched his tent among us. And we perceived his glory (glory like that of the Father's firstborn), full of grace and of truth. "

John 1:18 says: "No one has seen God at any time; the only son, who is "in the bosom of the Father", this one draws him out." The term "in the bosom of the Father" is also an idiomatic phrase referring to the primogeniture.

From a theological perspective, the first-century Hebrews would have understood Yeshua to be the primogeniture (legal heir) of Yahweh on Earth, legally responsible for carrying out his will and caring for his affairs.

Monday, June 30, 2008

The real hometown of Yeshua?

The traditional town of Nazareth does not meet the description of Nazareth given in the Bible. This document explains why, and then shows photographs of an unexcavated town in Galillee that fits the Bible's description of the real Nazareth. Check it out!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Fled Naked?

As Yeshua was arrested, the gospel of Mark says: "Now a certain young man followed Him, having a linen cloth thrown around his naked body. And the young men laid hold of him, and he left the linen cloth and fled from them naked" ( Mark 14:51, 52).

Some believe that was Mark's way of putting himself into the story, showing that he knew the things of which he wrote. Others believe that the young man represented the disciples "fleeing from Yeshua." Still others agreeing that the young man was symbolic, think that he represented the future followers of Yeshua, willing to forsake everything and follow "naked."

Of course, an understanding of a Hebrew idiom aids in understanding this verse. The prophet Amos, speaking the words of Yah, said:

Amo 2:11 And I raised up from your sons prophets, and Nazarites from your young men. Is this not even so, O sons of Israel? declares Yahweh. 12 But you gave the Nazarites wine to drink, and you commanded the prophets, saying, Do not prophesy. 13 Behold, I am pressed under you, as a cart full with produce is pressed. 14 And refuge shall perish from the swift, and the strong shall not strengthen his power, nor shall the mighty deliver his life, 15 and he who handles the bow shall not stand, and the swift footed shall not save, and the horse rider shall not save his life.
16 And the strong one in his heart among the mighty shall flee naked in that day, declares Yahweh.

From the context in Amos, the phrase "flee naked" represented the utter futility of escaping God's punishment. In Mark, the phrase is used by the evangelist perhaps for two reasons. First, it definitively identifies Yeshua as the prophet and nazarite of God. Second, it marks the arrest of Yeshua as an act that "pressed" God as "under a cart full with produce is pressed."

The disciple whom Jesus loved

The phrase the disciple whom Jesus loved or Beloved Disciple is used several times in the Gospel of John. It is the Beloved Disciple who asks Yeshua during the Last Supper who it is that will betray him. Later at the crucifixion, Yeshua tells his mother "Woman, here is your son"; that he indicates the Beloved Disciple is the common interpretation. To the Beloved Disciple he says, "Here is your mother." When Mary Magdalene discovers the empty tomb, she runs to tell the Beloved Disciple and Simon Peter. Since the Beloved Disciple does not appear in any of the other New Testament gospels, it has been traditionally seen as a self-reference to John the Evangelist, and this remains the mainstream identification.

Apart from John, there have been numerous attempts to identify the "Beloved Disciple" using any number of interpretations. However, all fail to recognize and understand a simple semitic idiom which is important in helping to zero in on the correct identity.

In the Hebrew culture, the inheritance of land, titles and other property as well as the responsibilities for caring for an individual family was channeled along patrilineal lines using a system of modified Primogeniture, or succession by the eldest son (In reality, succession by a preferred son, was the the custom in practice. See the cases of Isaac, Jocob, Joseph, and David and many others.) . The institution is explicitly promulgated in Deuteronomy 21:15-17.

In Hebrew, the primogeniture was called bekhor (fruit, birthright) and was referred to as the yachiyd ahava "the only loved one." Genesis 22:2 records the fact that Isaac, the second son (but heir) of Abraham was referred to as "your only one whom you love." Matthew 3:17 refers to Yeshua as the primogenitor of Yah, saying, "and behold! A voice out of the heaven saying, This is My son, the loved one, in whom I delight." "Delight" (Hebrew chaphets) was a idiomatic phrase as well that marked primogeniture (see 1Sa 18:22).

Yeshua, as the eldest, was also the primogeniture of his "father" Joseph. But, he had, by Hebrew custom, chosen his own primogenitor. Perhaps a brother?

It is known that James (Yakov), the brother of Yeshua, inherited at least one of his titles hatzadeek as well as his nazarite vow. Also, by the time the gospels were written, Jude, another brother, was referred to as Jude of James.

Clement of Alexandria in the late second century, implying that James was preferred by Jesus, stated:

"For they say that Peter and James and John after the ascension of our Saviour, as if also preferred by our Lord, strove not after honor, but chose James the Just episkopos (overseer) of Jerusalem."

Saint Jerome, De Viris Illustribus, quotes Hegesippus' account of James from the fifth book of Hegesippus' lost Commentaries:

"After the apostles, James the brother of the Lord surnamed the Just was made head of the Church at Jerusalem. Many indeed are called James. This one was holy from his mother's womb. He drank neither wine nor strong drink, ate no flesh, never shaved or anointed himself with ointment or bathed. He alone had the privilege of entering the Holy of Holies, since indeed he did not use woolen vestments but linen and went alone into the temple and prayed in behalf of the people, insomuch that his knees were reputed to have acquired the hardness of camels' knees."
James was succeeded as bishop or Jerusalem by Simeon of Jerusalem, the brother of James.

The Bible does not reveal the name of the "disciple whom Yeshua loved," but it is James, the brother of our Lord, who best fits the description.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Do this as my memorial.

Truth, belief, and knowledge. These three epistemological concepts play an important role in our religion. However, how they interact in modern Christianity is not quite the same as the ancient understanding of their roles and importance. In fact, during the time of Yeshua, the theory of knowledge was well developed. Plato, who, by that time, was an ancient philosopher had profoundly impacted the understanding of this area of study.

What we believe is true and what is, in fact, true are not the same. Further, what we believe is true and what we know to be true represent distinct sets as well. Ancient Hebrews understood "knowledge" (da'ath) to be a subset of our beliefs, namely, those beliefs, which had been vindicated or borne out (shafat) by experiences. Frankly, unlike many modern Christians, ancient Hebrews had little regard for mere beliefs. Their focus was on knowledge.

Unfortunately, while ancient people had adequate means for transmitting their belief's, as we do, from generation to generation, it was nearly impossible for them to transmit knowledge adequately, since the ability to transmit experience through culture was limited to oral and some written traditions. One means that ancient people developed to transmit such knowledge was the so-called memorial, in Hebrew the word zakar; in Greek, anamnesis. The collective memory of a culture is represented in large part by the memorials it chooses to erect. Public memory is enshrined in memorials, which make it possible for later generations to reconstruct a cultural identity.

For example, Ancient Hebrews could believe that Adam and Eve really existed, but had no proof, therefore, their existence was a belief, not knowledge. But, they could know that Abraham existed because he built a memorial (a pile of stones for example) which could be experienced and about which stories could be passed on (Ancient Hebrews put little emphasis on the reliability or infallibility of proof.), and about which one could identify with. An anamnesis was, therefore, not so much a reminder (as the word memorial implies today), but a collective experience that served to bear out (to some level of assurance) the truthfulness of a belief, particularly a belief regarding belonging and identity. Likewise, while the western understanding of a memorial is to recall something from the past, the Hebrew notion was to experience a current truth (e.g., "Abraham is our father" is true.).

History is written by victors. It is the dominant paradigm and its culture and institutions that define what is to be remembered, and how it will be remembered. “Collective amnesia” is a term that refers to what is unregistered in the imagination of the individual, unchronicled in books, and uncommemorated by monuments, relics, and ritual observances. Collective amnesia is a metaphor for failure to transmit knowledge about the past.

At the last supper, when Yeshua took up the bread and broke it and gave thanks, he said, "This you are to prepare for my memorial." His statement was not intended to ensure that his disciples remembered him, but that they continue to know that, in spite of his impending death, he really had existed and they still belong to him.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"Sons" of Shem

Genesis 10:22 sets out the "sons" of Shem as: Elam, and Asshur, and Arpachshad, and Lud, and Aram.

While almost all scholars accept this putative genealogy as a description of the root Semitic cultures known by the Hebrews at the time, there are many, many descriptions of what two of these names mean. Aram, Asshur and Elam are known definitively as the cultures of those respective cities, the Elamites of present-day Southwest Iran, the Assyrians of the upper Tigris river valley, and the Arameans of Northern Syria.

The name Lud is accepted by many scholars to refer to the Lydians of the (now) Manisa region turkey. However, the Lydians were not semitic speakers, but instead spoke an Anatolian language. It is therefore highly unlikely that the Hebrew scholars would have listed them as "sons of Shem" (i.e., Semitic). In fact, Lud more likely represents a corrupted spelling of the city, Lubdi, a city well known from cuneiform script and situated between the upper Tigris river and the Euphrates, north of Babylon.

The last of the five "sons" of Shem is Arpachshad (ARPKSD). This city has been identified by most scholars as the city of Arabkha in modern-day Kirkuk, Iraq. Also, many scholars further identify this city as the infamous Ur-Kasdiym, mentioned in Genesis as the birthplace of Abram's father Terah.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

This is my body....

Luke 22:19 says:

And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.

It is significant that, here, Yeshua said touto estin to soma mou” (this is my body) rather than, “ego eimi ho artos” (I am the bread) as he is recorded saying at another time. It is clear that he did not intend that the emphasis be on him or his own corpse, but rather on the bread itself. Or rather on the “loaf,” which is the correct translation of artos. A closer look at the passage reveals its more likely meaning.

The Peshitta states,

wnsb lxma wawdy wqca wyhb lhwn wamr hnw pgry del apykwn mtyhb hda hwytwn ebdyn ldwkrny

and he took a loaf and he gave thanks and he broke and he gave them and he said, “this [is] my body for afikoon which [is] given. This you are to prepare for my memorial.”

Loafs of bread were significant symbols of the people of Israel. Shewbread (lit. “bread of the face” or “presence bread”) is the name given to 12 leavened cakes placed in two rows on a table made of acacia wood, which stood on the north side of the altar of incense in the holy place (Ex. 25: 23-30). Frankincense was placed upon each row (Lev. 24: 7) of loafs. The shewbread was changed every Sabbath day and the old loaves were eaten by the priests in a holy place (Lev. 24: 9). In the shewbread the embodiment of the 12 tribes were perpetually present before Yah. The consumption of the shewbread by the priests of Yah represented communion with God. The burning incense represented a memorial (Greek: anamnesis) to Yah.

Lev 24:7 And you shall put pure frankincense upon each row, so that it may be on the bread for a memorial, even an offering made by fire to Yahweh.

Now, the Apostle Paul used the expression soma Christou (“body of Christ”) in Romans, Ephesians, and Colossians, as well as in First Corinthians. In Ephesians (1:22-23), he explains that: Yeshua is “the head of the assembly, which is his body…” So, like the showbread of his ancestors, the bread at the last supper represented Yeshua’s body—his assembly, not his physical corpse. This is a twist on most traditional translations. But, it holds up when one understands that the Aramaic word afikoon means “presence,” or “shewbread.”

A better translation of Luke 22:19 might be:

and he took a loaf and he gave thanks and he broke and he gave them and he said, “this [bread] (which represents my assembly) is given for a shewbread. This you are to prepare for my memorial.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Blessed is he......

The early portion of the so-called "Sermon on the Mount" has Yeshua delievering the "beatitudes." The word beatitude is from the Latin beatitudo, which means "happiness." Many understand these simples listings to describe the state of mind of a Christian, and some texts translate the first word as "Happy," or "blessed." This is because the Greek word which appears here is makarioi which is normally translated as "they are fortunate," or "they are well off." The blessed nature that these characteristics endow is thought to be psychological. The word traditionally translated into English as "blessed" or "happy" is in the Greek original μακαριος (makarios). A more literal translation into contemporary English of this thought may be "possessing an inward contentedness and joy that is not affected by physical circumstances"

But, makarios was used historically almost exclusively for the gods, the dead, or (at least) the wealthy. Used in the Septuagint, the word translated the Hebrew esher and described the state of upright life. It does not really speak to psychology, but the physical being.

By the time of Yeshua, the Aramaic word was shoobyhoon, "they are restored," and referred likewise to the state of being restored or returned to life upon an upright path.

Psalm 1:1-2 describes such a man:

esher is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked; and in the way of sinners, does not stand, and in the seat of scoffers, does not sit. But rather in the law of Yahweh, does he delight; and in his law does he meditate, day and night.
The beatitudes do not describe a state of mind (happy), but a pathway of life for the upright (tzaddikiym). As Psalm 1 concludes:

For Yahweh is aware of the road of the tzaddikiym, but the road of the wrong ones is lost.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

I am the bread of life

At John 6:48 – 57, the Bible details a controversial issue introduced by Yeshua:

[Yeshua said] “I am that bread of life. Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, so that a man may eat of it, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.“ The Jews therefore wrangled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Then Yeshua said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, “Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, always has life; and I will lift him up in the final day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, persists with me, and I with him. As the living Father has sent me, and I live by means of the Father: so he that eats me, even he shall live by means of me.”

Albert Barnes has written, “to such absurdities are men driven when they depart from the simple meaning of the Scriptures and from common sense.” How right he was, but unfortunately, his commentary did not go far enough. Though he clearly dispels the notion that Yeshua was speaking literally, he did little to clarify the intended meaning of this passage.

Catholic apologists have (somewhat) rightly pointed out that the term “eat my flesh” was a Hebraic idiom which meant “to slander,” and that it is absurd to think that Yeshua meant his followers to understand that in order to have infinite life, they must slander him. However, rather than not going far enough, as in the case of Barnes, these apologists go too far, implying that since Yeshua couldn’t have meant "slander me," he must have meant the words literally. This is absurd. One only need to look to other uses of the idiom to understand the words.

In fact, the concept of eating or drinking is used idiomatically to mean “consume” or “to possess for oneself, what belongs to another." This can have a negative connotation, or a positive one. Such is the meaning in Jeremiah 15:16:

Your words were found, and I ate them; and your words were to me a joy and the rejoicing of my heart: for I am called by your name, O Yahweh, God of hosts.

Also, the prophet Ezekiel (Eze 2:8 – 19 and 3:1 - 3) wrote:

But you, Son of Man, hear what I say to you; don't be rebellious like that rebellious house: open your mouth, and eat that which I give you. And I looked and saw that a hand was put forth to me; and saw that a roll of a book was in it; And he spread it before me: and it was written inside and outside; and there were written in it lamentations, and mourning, and woe.

And he said to me, Son of Man, eat that which you find; eat this roll, and go, speak to the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth, and he caused me to eat the roll. And he said to me, Son of Man, cause your belly to eat, and fill your insides with this roll that I give you. Then I ate it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness.

Also, Ezekiel importantly uses an extraordinarily similar phrase at 39:17-18:

"And you, son of man," says the Yahweh God, "speak to every feathered fowl, and to every beast of the field, assemble yourselves, and come; gather yourselves on every side to my sacrifice that I do sacrifice for you, even a great sacrifice upon the mountains of Israel, that you may eat flesh, and drink blood. You shall eat the flesh of the mighty, and drink the blood of the princes of the earth, of rams, of lambs, and of goats, of bullocks, all of them fatlings of Bashan. And you shall eat fat till you are full, and drink blood till you are satiated, of my sacrifice which I have sacrificed for you."
In this passage, "flesh" and "blood" refer to riches and possessions of any sort. "To eat the flesh of kings, captains," is to consume their wealth. In other words, to "eat the flesh" and "drink the blood" of someone is to "possess their possessions." It is in this way that it also came to mean "to slander" (In other words, "to slander" is "to own someone's reputation".).

These passages in Jeremiah and Ezekiel clearly establish the use of the concept of eating, or devouring to mean, idiomatically, “to take to oneself something that belongs to another.” It was in this context that Yeshua used the words as well. He was, after all, a teacher and guide. At John 6:63, Yeshua is quoted as saying:

“It is the spirit that gives life….the words that I speak to you, they are spirit and they are life.”

Proverbs 9:5-6 says:

Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled. Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding.

Yeshua wanted his disciples to devour his words (his wealth) and possess them as their own in order to "forsake the foolish" and obtain the shalom of infinite life.