Monday, August 23, 2010

The Lord's Prayer in Hebrew

(Update:Hagop Karakashian informs me that he will be producing a tile with the Lord's Prayer in Hebrew in 2011.)

When I was in Jerusalem last year I wondered again why I could walk into shop after shop in the Old City and find identical "Armenian" "handpainted" ceramic plate renditions of the Lord's Prayer in Greek, Arabic and Syriac, but not Hebrew. So I made my way to the Karakashian Bros' Jerusalem Pottery shop--famous for its original, genuinely Armenian work--and asked the proprietor if he knew of any Hebrew versions of the Lord's Prayer on ceramic pottery. "No," he replied. But before I left he mentioned he would be interested in producing one--if I could provide the Hebrew text. I said I would email a Hebrew version on my return to Canada. Now more than a year later, it is time for me to keep my word.

The obvious answer to the question why no Hebrew versions of the Lord's Prayer are available for sale on ceramic tile is that most Hebrew speakers are not interested, and that the Lord's Prayer was preserved by Christians in Greek, Arabic and Syriac translation. Since Jesus is commonly thought to have taught exclusively in Aramaic, few scholars interested in the ipsissima verba of Jesus have tried to reconstruct a Hebrew version of the Lord's prayer. As I have already explained, my working assumption--based on recent scholarship as well as my experience growing up in Kenya, a country where bilingualism, at least, is the norm--is that Jesus could well have taught in Aramaic or Hebrew, and could probably converse in Greek. A Hebrew original of the Lord's prayer is not out of the question.

The problem is choosing the best Hebrew version. Because there is no centuries-old tradition of reciting the Lord's prayer in Hebrew, there is no standard liturgical version. The three Hebrew translations of the Lord's Prayer that I have consulted all differ, and I am, unfortunately, not qualified to arbitrate between them, much less to improve on them. Hence this post. Below the jump break, I present the English (KJV), Greek (NA27), and Hebrew versions of the Lord's prayer in parallel. I invite your feedback on which translation to recommend.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Carson on Reading the Bible as Scripture

"[T]he vision of 'objective scholarship' (a vain chimera) may actually be profane. God stands over against us; we do not stand in judgment of him. When God speaks to us through his Word, those who profess to know him must respond in an appropriate way, and that is certainly different from a stance in which the scholar projects an image of autonomous distance. Yet this is no surreptitious appeal for uncontrolled subjectivity. . . . an even-handed openness to the text . . . is the best kind of 'objectivity' of all. If the text is God's Word, it is appropriate that we respond with reverence, a certain fear, a holy joy, a questing obedience." - D. A. Carson, "Editor's Preface" to David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles [Pillar; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009], xiv.

Any thoughts about the differences between Carson and Keck?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Keck on Reading the Bible as Scripture

 "It is not enough simply to learn 'what the Bible says.' It is not even enough to learn what the biblical authors intended to say in their own times, though this minimum is absolutely essential. Rather, Bible study in depth becomes possible only if we ask serious questions about what we read. Through these we probe the underlying meaning, and thus take the risk of discovering that there is a significant disagreement between the text and ourselves over the truth of the matter. The person who has never experienced this tension with the text ought to ask whether his real self has yet heard the real message of the Bible. . . . Going beyond simply learning about Acts to the point where one must actually reckon with Acts is an important element of reading the Bible as Scripture. In other words, Bible study can be vital if one not only asks what the Bible says, but whether this is true, true enough to believe, believe deeply enough to act on." (10). Keck adds that "Asking this question openly and trying hard to answer it honestly . . . means allowing people to say 'No' to what Acts says" (11).

- Leander Keck, Mandate to Witness: Studies in the Book of Acts (Judson Press, 1964).

Monday, August 16, 2010

Miller Family History Day

We took a birthday drive out to the old Miller stomping grounds in Elbow yesterday afternoon. The village museum is home to some family artifacts, including the bathing suit, pictured to the left, which my grandmother wore on her honeymoon in 1926.

In biblical style, my genealogy goes something like this: Johannes M. Müller begat Adam B. Miller, Adam B. Miller begat John H. Miller, John H. Miller, begat John G. Miller, John G. Miller begat David M. Miller. But that leaves out a lot--including the women who donated their bathing suits to museums. So here is a bit more information for any Miller relatives (and anyone else) who may be interested.

The two lamps on the right belonged to one of the Müller daughters.
My great-great-grandfather, Johannes M. Müller (29 July 1825 - 7 Sept 1916), was born in Daisbach, Baden, Germany to Johannes Müller and Katherina Weber. My great-great-grandmother, Catherine Brandt (1829-1906), was born in Reichertshausen, Baden, Germany, to Konrad Brandt and Annie Marie Schmaltz. Johannes and Catherine sailed to North America in 1852 on the same ship. They landed in New York, and were married in 1852 in Canada. Did they know each other before they left or did they meet on the boat? Their marriage, at any rate, was fruitful. They had nine children: John Henry, Adam B., Charles B., Katherine, Henry B., David, Augusta, William, and Barbara. (I understand that the recurring 'B.' was part of the acculturation process: Canadians wrote their middle names as initials; the Müllers added middle initials as their middle names. Another part of the acculturation process was anglicizing Müller to Miller; this happened gradually.) Johannes M. and Catherine lived in several different places in southern Ontario; they are buried in a small cemetery outside Neustadt, ON.

To recent immigrants like the Müllers, land and livelihood were more important than nationality. While some of Johannes and Catherine's children, such as Charles B., remained in Ontario, others, such as Henry B., moved to the vicinity of Saginaw, Michigan.
Adam B. Miller's scarf (pre-1900)
My great-grandfather, Adam B. Miller (1854-1908), apparently followed Henry south (?) and then west. In 1885, while living in Marion, Kansas, he married Sophia Krueger (Oct 1859-28 Oct 1931), who was born in Serran Mecklenburg, Schwerin, Germany. Adam and Sophia had two children in Kansas (Wilhelmina Edna and Lena Violet). At some point between 1887 and 1890 they returned (or moved?) to Michigan, where their remaining five children were born: John Henry, Walter Lewis, Eleanore Henrietta Marie, Emma Augusta, and Elsie Marie.

Adam Miller Family Potato Masher
In 1905 the Adam B. Miller family moved to what is now Saskatchewan, taking advantage of the offer of free land by the Dominion Lands Act, and set up a homestead at SE Section 12, Township 26, Range 6, West of 3rd Meridian.  After the museum and a stop at the lake, we made a pilgrimage past the old Miller house, the homestead, and the Loreburn cemetery, where Adam, Sophia, my grandparents, and a few other Millers are buried. For pictures and more detail about the house and the homestead, see this post on our April 2008 visit with my Dad and Mom. The house is as dilapidated as ever, but the surroundings look more pleasant in mid-August near the end of a very wet summer:

 Adam died in 1908, three years after moving to Saskatchewan. I have in my possession a collection of century-old letters sent to Adam from his father and siblings in 1907-1908. They were preserved, no doubt, because they arrived around the time he died, but they don't explain why he died. Adam was survived by his wife, and seven children between the ages of 8 and 22. My grandfather, John Henry Miller (15 May 1890 - 20 Feb 1987), was the oldest son, and took over the family farm. (Grandpa's only brother, Walter Lewis [b. Nov 1891 or 1892], presumably helped too; he died in Dawson Creek, BC, in 1917.)

In 1912, John Henry graduated from an engineering school in Regina (2nd from right in the back row):
He later studied agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan. Did this "Cameron, Miller and Miller Threshing Outfit" from 1923 include my grandfather?
On 11 Oct 1926, after the harvest was in, Grandpa married Edith Olive Edmonds (22 Feb 1906 - 19 Mar 2003). Grandma E. Olive Edmonds was born in Maryfield, SK, the daughter of Gunson Edmonds (15 Nov 1869 - 26 Oct 1927) and Mary Margaret Wiggins (28 Mar 1879 - 2 Nov 1958). Grandpa was 36, Grandma, almost 21. A newspaper clipping included in Across Border and Valley, a Maryfield history, reports the following:
Mary Margaret Wiggins's sewing basket
"On Monday afternoon . . . a pretty wedding took place at the home of the bride's parents, Mr. and Mrs. G. Edmonds, of Maryfield, when Edith Olive was united in marriage to John Henry Miller, of Loreburn, in the presence of immediate relatives and friends of the bride.  To the strains of Lohengrin's wedding march the bride entered the parlor leaning on the arm of her father, who gave her in marriage.  . . . The bride was beautifully attired in white crepe georgette, with seed pearls, and crowned with a bridal veil held in place by a wreath of orange blossoms.  After the ceremony the guests to the number of almost 20 sat down to a sumptuous repast.  The white table was decorated with flowers and centered with the wedding cake.  The groom's gift to the bride was a string of pearls, and other presents were numerous and costly, including cheques from her father and uncle, Mr. C. Edmonds, indicated the love and esteem in which the bride is held.  Mr. and Mrs. Miller leave for points west and will spend the winter in California before returning to the groom's farm at Loreburn."

The news clipping accounts for the swimsuit, but does not explain how John Henry met and wooed a woman 16 years his junior who lived on the other side of the province. Fortunately, my dad was able to fill in the gap: Edith Olive Edmonds became a school teacher--in her late teens, presumably, since she was married at 20--and her first school was Wild Lily School, exactly two miles down the road from the homestead. She boarded with her future sister-in-law, Eleanore Miller (married to Dave Miller--same last name, different family--from Dreispritz, Russia). A meeting with Ella's eligible bachelor brother, John Henry, was therefore inevitable.

When they returned from their honeymoon in time for the new farming season, John and Olive settled at the Miller homestead, where my dad, John Gunson Miller, was born. Did Sophia Krueger, John Henry's mother, live with them until she died in 1931, or did she retire to Loreburn or Elbow?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Mandate to Witness

I picked up a cheap copy of Leander Keck's Studies in the Book of Acts over Christmas, and read it on Monday in preparation for teaching the Book of Acts this fall.

Keck's aim was 'to promote a fresh and vital study of Acts' (9) for a church after Christendom. I found myself least convinced by arguments based on a construal of ancient Judaism because the field has undergone a revolution since 1964, when the book was published. The contemporary issues Keck addresses--the American civil right movement and the cold war--are of course dated too. But the book is perhaps the best discussion I have read on the contemporary significance of Acts.

For example, the final chapter on church-state relations anticipates C. Kavin Rowe's "new" take on Acts, and reminds me of Michael Gorman's recent work on Revelation:

[T]he Christian's attitude toward his government is not determined by the government's attitude toward Christianity, but rather by his own faith in the lordship of Jesus. (146)
Because Jesus is next to God, faith in Jesus is really a commitment to him as an absolute authority, a supreme sovereign. ... Whoever holds this belief firmly enough to commit his life to the consequences, finds that every other allegiance must be secondary to this one....Christianity is a totalitarian faith. (147)
We must not always assume that the gospel is a pacifier for mankind to suck in times of distress. It is also a fire and a sword. We must not interpret Acts to mean that Christians are always politically quiet simply because the church is not a revolutionary party. Just the opposite is true: Because the church is not a political party, its impact is not restricted to the realignment of the government, but affects the economy as well. (150)

We Christians also face real danger if the West should win [the cold war], and we face it right now as we struggle to survive. This danger consists of being made into the state religion, of waking up to learn that, like the priests of pagan Rome, we are expected to perform the rituals of the church in order to preserve the state. (151) 

In short, we are in danger of thinking that we are living in times characterized by Romans 13, when actually we are slipping into the era marked by Revelation 13. Already the land is being filled with priests, pagan and Christian alike, who bid us worship the beast....All around us are forces that demand that the church shout "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!"--that is, that ministers go into the pulpits Sunday after Sunday to proclaim the American God and their hatred of communism. Such men are unwitting priests of the state who bid us put incense on Caesar's altar because Caesar is putting incense on ours through tax exemptions and slogans on dollar bills. (152-3)
John's Gospel reports that during Jesus' trial, the Jerusalem crowd bellowed its patriotism by shouting, "We have no king but Caesar." The Book of Acts shows the Christian alternative: "There is another king, Jesus." Here the Christian must take his stand, "come Hell or high water." In our time, he may face both. (153)

Prophetic words. Vintage Keck.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Second Year Hebrew in "Second Life"

My friend, Charles Grebe, the creator of and the director of Briercrest College and Seminary's Distance Learning program, will be teaching 2nd year Biblical Hebrew this fall in a "Second Life"-like virtual world hosted by Reaction Grid. The course will be taught live and offered for credit. I'm a big fan of Charles's approach to teaching the language, and I can't think of a better way for those who don't have access to a regular classroom setting to complete a second year of Biblical Hebrew. Check out this article for more information on what the course will be like. There are more pictures of the virtual classroom environment here. The registration deadline is Sept 5.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Jesus' Mother Tongue Part 2: The Supposed Dominance of Aramaic in First Century Galilee

My aim in this post is not to demonstrate that Hebrew rather than Aramaic was the dominant language in the first century or that Jesus taught in Hebrew rather than Aramaic, but to raise some questions about the nature of the evidence.

(1) As I mentioned in part 1, it is often claimed that the Greek words Hebrais and Hebraisti should be translated "Aramaic" instead of "Hebrew." In response I will simply quote from Ken Penner, whose argument I find persuasive:
In summary, all the anomalies to the otherwise consistent ancient distinction between Hebrew and Aramaic can be accounted for: First, John's Rabbouni can be considered a Hebrew word. Second, Josephus and Philo's Pascha and sabbata are taken directly from the Septuagint, and Asarta has a final alpha to aid pronunciation. Third, John's three place names called Hebraisti, namely Bethzatha, Gabbatha, and Golgotha should not be given much weight in the light [of] the resistance of proper names to translation. Thus all the apparently Aramaic words cited could easily have been used in Hebrew speech. Finally, Philo's claim that the Bible is written in chaldean is insubstantial, given that he probably knew neither Hebrew nor Aramaic. To refute the claim in the lexicon that Hebrais "refers to the Aramaic spoken at that time in Palestine," only one of the following three premises must be conceded. I have demonstrated the first two: First, Hebrais(ti) normally means Hebrew; second, Hebrais(ti) never certainly means Aramaic; and third, Hebrew was a spoken language in first century Palestine. This last premise has also now been generally conceded . . . (p. 10)
(2) Scholars who accept that both Aramaic and Hebrew were widely used often suggest that Aramaic was more common in Galilee, while Hebrew was more common in Jerusalem and its environs:
  • Chaim Rabin* concluded in 1976 that "while in Jerusalem mishnaic Hebrew was a home language and probably already also a literary language, and Aramaic a lingua franca, in Galilee Aramaic was a home language and mishnaic Hebrew the upper language of a diglossia" (1036).
  • Michael Wise** agrees, though he is less confident about the use of Hebrew: "The fact that the region [of Galilee] came under Jewish control only after some centuries of government by Aramaic and Greek-speaking rulers suggests that Hebrew was much less well known in Galilee than it would have been in Judea. . . . With the passage of time Aramaic became the most widely spoken language in Syria and Palestine, and, presumably, among the Jews, with the possible exception of the Jews of Judea" (437).
  • Mark Roberts refers to the "fact" that Aramaic was "the official language of Galilee": "It makes sense that residents of Nazareth spoke Aramaic, given the fact that Aramaic became the official language of Galilee from the sixth-century B.C. onward. Thus, it seems likely that ordinary residents of Galilee, including Nazareth, spoke Aramaic as their first language. This was the language of common discourse among Jesus' family and friends."
The problem with Roberts' assertion, in particular, is that Galilee came under Jewish/Judaean Hasmonean control in the second century BCE. Since there is strong evidence for Hasmonean preference for Hebrew, it is at least possible that Hebrew spread widely during this period among the Jews in Galilee. To be sure, this is an argument from silence. Wise** notes that written evidence for the use of Hebrew applies "only to Judea. . . . Similar evidence for Galilee is entirely lacking" (437). But Wise cites no epigraphic evidence that Aramaic was spoken in Galilee either. (There are inscriptions from late antiquity, but I know of no Galilaean Aramaic inscriptions dated to the Second Temple Period. I confess my ignorance: are there any? Scratch that: According to this article by Mark Chancey, there are perhaps two Galilaean Hebrew or Aramaic inscriptions from the Second Temple period. If there is little or no written evidence, both sides argue from silence--at least with respect to written evidence.

(3) Scholars now rightly avoid citing Rabbinic literature without further ado as evidence for first century usage. The reason is simple: Literature written after 200 CE must be examined first for what it says about the time in which it was composed (or compiled); it cannot be read as direct evidence for speech and practice hundreds of years earlier. It is worth noting, however, that the earliest Rabbinic literature (the Mishnah, the Tosefta) is preserved in Hebrew not Aramaic.

(4) As Wise** explains, the evidence from the Gospels about the language of Jesus is extraordinarily difficult to assess. In a bilingual context "Aramaic words might appear, for example, in the course of a conversation conducted mainly in Hebrew or vice versa; such phenomena are commonly observed in the speech of modern bilinguals" (442). Apart from the Aramaic command recorded in Mark 5:41,
"The other verbal sentences recorded as Jesus' direct speech . . . [Mark 7:34; Mark 15:34 and Matt 27:46] . . . are problematic as to language. . . . Thus it is impossible to be certain whether on these occasions Jesus spoke Hebrew or Aramaic. As a result, based on Mark 5:41 one can only say that Jesus certainly spoke Aramaic on occasion. This much was to be expected on the basis of our knowledge of the dominant language among the Jews of Galilee" (542).
I would merely add that "our knowledge of the dominant language among the Jews of Galilee" rests on inference; it seems not nearly as well-founded as is commonly supposed.

In the end I remain agnostic about Jesus' mother tongue. I assume Jesus was at least bilingual; he may well have taught in both languages. (I am not persuaded by arguments that Jesus taught in Greek.) I'd like to think he taught primarily in Hebrew, but see no way of knowing for sure. When I talk about Jesus' original language, I refer to "Hebrew/Aramaic" just to be safe.


*Rabin, Chaim. “Hebrew and Aramaic in the First Century.” Pages 1007-1039 in The Jewish People in the First Century: Section One: Historical Geography, Political History, Social, cultural and Religious Life and Institutions. Edited by Shmuel Safrai and Menahem Stern. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976. 
**Michael O. Wise, "Languages of Palestine." Pages 434-44 in The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (IVP: 1992).
See also David Goodblatt, "Constructing Jewish Nationalism: The Hebrew Language." Pages 49-70 in Elements of Ancient Jewish Nationalism. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.