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RE: [John_Lit] Re: 'The Word was toward God' question

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  • Gary Henecke
    A lot of assumptions her as fact: assumptions on the language of the first readers, and the community of the first readers, and John s intent or understanding
    Message 1 of 15 , Dec 27, 2008
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      A lot of assumptions her as fact: assumptions on the language of the first readers, and the community of the first readers, and John's intent or understanding from the Midrash writings - even John's knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures versus the LXX.

      Your brother
      Gary Allen Henecke
      -----Original Message-----
      From: johannine_literature@yahoogroups.com [mailto:johannine_literature@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Kevin Snapp
      Sent: Wednesday, December 24, 2008 3:39 PM
      To: johannine_literature@yahoogroups.com
      Subject: [John_Lit] Re: 'The Word was toward God' question

      May I suggest a different angle, that the Greek in this context can
      best be understood by way of Semitic idiom. When I first learned Greek
      a long time ago I had the exact same question -- the usual translation
      was "with God," but "with" was not the usual meaning of pros with
      accusative object. Many years later after a Jewish education I returned
      to John and have been reading it through Jewish eyes, beginning with the
      prologue. John's first language is Aramaic, he knows the Bible in
      Hebrew, and he is writing for a Jewish-Christian community, or at least
      a community with an insider group of Jewish Christians, as there are a
      number of things that only someone with Jewish background would be
      expected to notice. Please excuse the style of the following, which I
      cut and pasted from a draft paper I am working on. I slipped footnotes
      into the text, and the Greek font didn't quite translate, but it's
      readable.

      **********************

      A Jewish reader would understand “the Word” in
      John’s context as referring to Torah -- not the Torah read in
      synagogues, but God’s supernal Torah, the “King of
      King’s Authorized Version,” as it were. Jewish midrash
      portrays God as consulting His Torah as a blueprint, as it were, before
      creating the world, and for John’s Jewish readers this would have
      been the image in play. Midrash Rabbah - Genesis I:1 [Although Genesis
      Rabbah is a third to fourth century collection, it is plausible that
      this image, based upon Pr.8:22, “The Lord made me as the
      beginning of His way,” was commonly known among educated Jews in
      the first century.]

      Although the New Testament normally renders “Torah” as
      “νομος,” “law,” here John is speaking
      of God’s Torah, which for God is not “law,” but the
      divine reason, intelligence and design-- a concept appropriately
      rendered as “λόγος.”

      I contend that the accepted translation, “the Word was with
      God,” does not properly express the relationship between the
      Word/Torah and God that would have been conveyed to John’s Jewish
      readers. In the New Testament, as in classical Greek, the preposition
      πρὸς with an accusative object normally denotes motion
      towards the object, e.g., Jn. 1:42, “ἤγαγεν
      αὐτὸν πρὸς τὸν
      Ιησοῦν,” “he brought him to Jesus.” It
      does not mean “with” in the sense that something is
      together with something else, as demonstrated by Jn. 7:33,
      “Ετι χρόνον μικρὸν μεθ'
      á½`μῶν εἰμι καὶ á½`πάγω πρὸς
      τὸν πέμψαντά με,” “I will be
      with you (μεθ' á½`μῶν) a little while longer, and then I
      am going to him who sent me (πρὸς τὸν
      πέμψαντά με).”

      With a static verb, πρὸσ can mean “with respect
      to,” “in relation to,” as in Acts 24:16, a
      blameless conscience “before God and men,”
      “πρὸσ τὸν θεὸν καὶ τοὺσ
      ἀνθρώπουσ,” or in Rom. 5:1,
      “εἰρήνην á¼"χομεν πρὸσ τὸν
      θεὸν διὰ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν
      Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ,” “we have peace
      with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

      But to translate “ὁ λόγοσ ἦν πρὸσ
      τὸν θεόν” as “the Word was in relation to
      God” doesn’t work. The indefinite expression
      “τὰ πρὸσ τὸν θεόν” can be
      rendered “things pertaining to God,” or “religious
      matters,” as in Rom. 15:17, “I have found reason for
      boasting in things pertaining to God,” but surely John did not
      intend readers to understand that the Word was a “religious
      object.”

      It should be kept in mind that the native language of both John and his
      “insider” audience was not Greek. In Semitic idiom,
      “in front of,” in Hebrew, “lifnei,”
      literally “to-the-face-of-” someone, in Aramaic,
      “kadam,” “before,” is used metaphorically to
      mean “in his presence” and at a higher remove,
      “mentally present,” i.e., in his awareness.

      When Paul says in Rom. 4:2, “if Abraham was justified by works,
      he has something to boast about, but not “πρὸσ
      θεόν,” he does not mean “but not [boasting] toward
      God,” but rather, not boasting “before God,” or
      “in God’s presence.”

      This is the sense in which the Word/Logos is said to be πρὸσ
      τὸν θεόν, reflecting a shift from the literal meaning
      of the Greek, “toward God,” through the literal Semitic
      “to God’s face,” “in front of God,”
      to the metaphorical Semitic, “in God’s presence,”
      “in God’s awareness.” When speaking of what was
      “in the beginning,” the temporal sense of
      “before” would render “the Word was before
      God” confusing; an appropriate translation might be “the
      Word was in God’s awareness,” or perhaps making God the
      subject, “God was conscious of the Word.”

      C.F. Burney, who argued that John’s Gospel is a translation of an
      Aramaic original, distinguished between New Testament
      “Hebraisms,” usages or idioms derived from biblical Hebrew
      via the Septuagint, and “Aramaisms,” which could be
      derived from Aramaic but not from Hebrew, although acknowledging
      “Semitisms” common to both languages. C.F. Burney, The
      Aramaic Origin of the Fourth Gospel (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1922),
      7-17. Burney states that “the phrase πρὸσ τὸν
      θεόν in the sense ‘with God' is remarkable,” id.
      28, noting that in the Synoptics it is only found in Mark or material
      taken from Mark, and is an Aramaism. He hypothesized that “[i]n
      Aramaic the common preposition לְוָת (possibly akin to the
      verb לְוִ×" ‘join’) denotes (i) connexion with,
      apud, παρα , (2) motion towards, ad, πρόσ. It may be
      suggested that feeling for the second meaning so commonly borne by
      לְוָת has moved the translator of an Aramaic original to
      represent the preposition by πρόσ even when used in the
      former sense.” Id. 29.

      The Peshitta (the Aramaic translation of the New Testament) also uses
      לְוָת. However, I suggest both Burney and the translator of
      the Peshitta passed over the possible alternative Semitic sense of
      πρόσ because, in accordance with traditional Christian
      understanding they assumed that “the Word” is a person of
      equal dignity with God and consequently that πρὸσ τὸν
      θεόν was intended to mean “[together] with God”
      and not “in God’s presence.” According to Burney,
      this usage of πρόσ occurs only this once in John’s
      Gospel. John (or his translator) elsewhere knew and used the usual
      Greek prepositions meaning “with.”

      The universal English translation, “the Word was with
      God,” inclines the reader toward understanding “the
      Word” as it has traditionally been understood in Christian
      theology, as a separate hypostasis. But this would not necessarily have
      been the sense of the original Greek, particularly to one whose native
      idiom was Aramaic. To give an English example, if we read, “when
      the builder constructed the house, X was before him,” without
      being told what X might be, we naturally infer that X is something like
      a plan or model, either literally in front of the builder, or at least
      figuratively in front of him, “in his mind’s eye.”
      If instead we read, “when the builder constructed the house, X
      was with him,” we infer that X is not a thing, but a person, even
      though X could be replaced with “a blueprint,” or even
      “a hammer.”

      So at the creation, the Word, God’s ineffable Torah, was present
      to God’s consciousness, and we are told “καὶ
      θεὸσ ἦν ὁ λόγοσ.” But Torah, even
      personified in Jewish lore as “Wisdom,” is not God. John
      omits the definite article, and does not say, “καὶ ὁ
      θεὸσ ἦν ὁ λόγοσ,” as might be
      expected after “καὶ ὁ λόγοσ ἦν
      πρὸσ τὸν θεόν,” but “καὶ
      θεὸσ ἦν ὁ λόγοσ,” permitting
      θεὸσ to be read adjectivally, “and divine/supernal was
      the Word/Torah,” as if to make clear that this is not
      God’s Word in the form of the Torah we know, but the wholly
      divine version in God’s own consciousness.

      So even in this first verse, John may not be saying what we are
      accustomed to understanding him to say. Verse 2, “οὗτοσ
      ἦν ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸσ τὸν
      θεόν” “this was in the beginning in God’s
      awareness,” can be read as re-emphasizing the separation and
      distinction between Logos/Torah and God, so that verse 3,
      “πάντα δι? αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο,
      καὶ χωρὶσ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο
      οὐδὲ ἕν ὃ γέγονεν,” should be
      read, “all things came to be through it (Logos/Torah), and apart
      from it nothing came to be that came to be,” rather than
      “all things came to be through him. A Jew would have no
      difficulty in affirming that all things came to be
      “through” or “by means of” (Greek δια,
      Hebrew ×`-) God’s primal Torah.
      *************************************
      Kevin Snapp
      Chicago
    • Gary
      Hi Mark, Thanks for the encouraging comment. Sorry about the unintentional anonymity on the earlier posts (perhaps like John? :). Here s my normal email
      Message 2 of 15 , Dec 30, 2008
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        Hi Mark,

        Thanks for the encouraging comment. Sorry about the unintentional
        anonymity on the earlier posts (perhaps like John? :). Here's my normal
        email signature:
        _________________________________________
        Gary Manning, Ph.D.
        http://eutychusnerd.blogspot.com/
        Interim Academic Dean
        Associate Professor of Bible and Biblical Languages
        Pacific Rim Bible College
      • Kevin Snapp
        Hello, Gary, If the purpose of your post was to warn someone without background in NT scholarship that what I suggested should not be taken as authoritative,
        Message 3 of 15 , Jan 1, 2009
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          Hello, Gary,

          If the purpose of your post was to warn someone without background in
          NT scholarship that what I suggested should not be taken as
          authoritative, fine, but I doubt that anyone could make that mistake.
          If you want to teach me or advance the discussion, you will need to
          be specific.

          "Fact" and "assumption" are a false dichotomy. We have no "facts"
          in the sense of generally undisputed historical truths concerning the
          author of the Fourth Gospel and his community; there is debate even
          as to who the author was. There are only inferences, more or less
          supported (or supportable) and more or less accepted among scholars.
          In calling into question the accepted understanding of "pros ton
          theon" I was proposing something outside the scholarly "mainstream,"
          but in proposing it I don't believe I was assuming anything outside
          the mainstream with respect to the matters you cryptically mention.

          I did assert (or "assume") certain things without giving reasons, but
          I believe they are reasonably well-supported in the literature. I
          accept that the author of John's Gospel -- the first author, not
          necessarily the last contributor -- was a Palestinian Jew, that
          his own community was Jewish, that he knew Jewish laws and customs,
          that he was familiar with much of the Bible in Hebrew as well as in
          Greek, and that the prologue reflects familiarity with Jewish
          extra-canonical oral and written traditions relating the "Wisdom"
          figure of Proverbs, the Torah and God. The author wrote the Gospel
          intending both that it would be preserved within his own
          Jewish-Christian community and be disseminated among other Christian
          communities, Jewish, Gentile and mixed.

          I am aware that some highly-respected scholars have taken the position
          that the prologue was originally a separate composition, but my
          assumption (I have reasons, but assume it here) that it is an integral
          part of the Gospel is, if anything, a conservative one.

          I think this is all mainstream, even if not all undisputed. What
          assumptions do you believe I am making that are unsupported and/or
          outside the mainstream of Johannine scholarship?

          Kevin

          --- In johannine_literature@yahoogroups.com, "Gary Henecke"
          <ghenecke@...> wrote:
          >
          > A lot of assumptions her as fact: assumptions on the language of the
          first readers, and the community of the first readers, and John's
          intent or understanding from the Midrash writings - even John's
          knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures versus the LXX.
          >
          > Your brother
          > Gary Allen Henecke
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