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Fire in GTh and in the New Testament

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  • Exolinguist
    Our recent discussion about the usages of the Coptic words for fire in GTh made me curious, so I had to look a little further. I checked 25occurrences of
    Message 1 of 45 , Nov 1, 2008
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      Our recent discussion about the usages of the Coptic words for "fire" in GTh made me curious, so I had to look a little further. I checked 25occurrences of "fire" in the canonical gospels and Acts, in the Sahidic NT. (I'm working mostly from Ciasca, so I don't quite have all of the Sahidic NT, but I have most of it.) It was pretty time-consuming, so I didn't get into the epistles. Here's the way they broke down:

      Mt: kOhet = 2; sate = 9

      Mk: kOhet = 1

      Lk: kOhet = 5; sate = 1

      Jn: kOhet = 1

      Acts: kOhet = 6

      I found the two words to be very interchangeable. For example, in Mt. 3:10, there is a form of sate, while the parallel at Lk. 3:9 has kOhet.

      The two Coptic words go back centuries or millennia in Egypt, and neither appears to be a loanword. kOhet (masc.) = fire; cate (fem.) = fire or flame. Use of one or the other would in most cases be no more than a matter of style. So why do we find mostly "sate" in Matthew, and almost exclusively "kOhet" in the other books (or portions of books) that I checked? I have a theory.

      Clearly, the choice would in most cases be up to the translator. So why would the translator of Sahidic Matthew have used mostly the feminine word, while translators of the other books chose mostly to use the masculine word? This could be a clue, either to the nationality of the translator or to the language he was translating from. In almost all of these cases the Greek NT has some form of "pur," which is neuter gender. But in most Semitic languages fire is feminine. It is so in Aramaic, and it is usually so in biblical Hebrew. This could be an indication that Sahidic Matthew was translated from an unknown Semitic version of Matthew.

      In GTh we find only one occurrence of the feminine "sate" (L. 82), and three occurrences of the masculine "kOhet" (L. 10, 13, 16). While most of these instances portray fire as an agent of destruction or punishment, in L. 82 it is a concomitant of being near to Jesus. Since "sate" is the word used for the fire in a fireplace or oven (ma ensate), and since it has the secondary sense of "flame," I suspect that the fire referred to in L. 82 is the flame of illumination or gnosis, symbolized by a candle or a lamp. It could also represent the comforting and life-enhancing warmth of a fire in a fireplace. I believe that if the intention had been to symbolize judgment, punishment, or martyrdom, the other Coptic word would have been used.

      --Don Traxler

      "I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library."


      --Jorge Luís Borges
    • Exolinguist
      [Maurice:] ... Hi Jack, I m just curious to know how you came up with the limit of 50 years. I haven t seen the translation yet, but it seems that it could
      Message 45 of 45 , Nov 13, 2008
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        [Maurice:]

        > >
        > > Hi again, Don ....
        > >
        > > .... both Jack's reference and your own as quoted are well known to
        > > adept users of Howard's book. Having said this, and despite
        > > Peterson's irresponsible criticism and review of the book (or half
        > > of it), I can just tell that you will draw many rewards from your
        > > $35 investment as indeed I have over the years.
        > >
        > > Cheers !
        > >
        > > Maurice Cormier
        >
        >
        > I agree with this. I have Howard's book because the Hebrew Translation used
        > in Evan Bohan is a fascinating witness to how it was translated about some
        > 50 years before Shem Tov used it.

        Hi Jack,

        I'm just curious to know how you came up with the limit of "50 years." I haven't seen the translation yet, but it seems that it could have been lying around in a geniza for a long time, or kept to use for rhetorical purposes against the Christians.

        > What were the Rabbis attempting to do?
        > Did they translate Matthew into Hebrew touse it for polemical purposes? Was
        > it a translation by Conversos to convince Spanish authorities that
        > "Marannos" were doing their catechism to avoid the inquisition?
        >

        These all seem to be possibilities. Maybe a thorough study of the variant readings would betray some intent or agenda--and maybe not.
        Some variants seem to have arisen (through scribal error or intentionally) while the document was in the Hebrew stage of its transmission. An example is in Mt 7:6, where the canonical text has "Do not give that which is holy to dogs," and the Shem Tov/Howard text has "Do not give holy flesh to the dogs." It seems pretty obvious that this arose because of the similarity between "asher" and "bashar."


        --Don
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