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.

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