Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.
 

Re: [Synoptic-L] Hebrew parables

Expand Messages
  • R. Steven Notley
    Jack First, I find it extraordinary that you can suggest that a small handful of editors in Tiberias were able to exert such control over the language of
    Message 1 of 11 , Feb 9, 2004
      Jack

      First, I find it extraordinary that you can suggest that a small handful of editors in Tiberias were able to exert such control over the language of Jewish parables as preserved by Jewish communities both inside and outside of the Land of Israel.  Were they able to exert such control over the Jewish community also in the east?  According to your suggestion, this "handful of editors" sitting in Tiberias were so successful that we have not one Aramaic parable.  Even Stalin was not able to maintain such censorship.  When has the Jewish community ever been so monolithic?

      Your reasoning is likewise questionable regarding their desire to assure that "all matters
      connected to the Torah must be formulated in the holy language."  As you are well aware, Mishnaic Hebrew is not Biblical Hebrew.  If the language of the parables has been artificially fabricated to imitate the "holy language" of the Torah, why not something more akin to Qumranic Hebrew which is closer to biblical Hebrew?  Why not purge it of non-biblicisms (e.g. Aramaisms) that suggest a living, colloquial language and obtain something that more closely reflects the Torah.

      Further, Hebrew parables sometimes occur within (Aramaic) halakhic (legal) contexts were "matters connected to the Torah" are being discussed.  Why this editorial committee in Tiberias chose to translate some "matters connected to the Torah" to Hebrew (i.e. parables), while leaving other "matters connected to the Torah" in their original Aramaic is inconsistent with your explanation of a desire to forumlate matters connected to the Torah  "in the holy language".

      In the end, NT scholarship has little choice but to acknowledge that we have no evidentiary basis to suggest Jesus taught his parables in Aramaic.  All the story parables that we possess are in Hebrew.

      The more interesting question for those on this list is why there is always such strong objections to the acknowledgement that first century Judaea was a (truly!) tri-lingual environment (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek).  In our scholarly circles one is permitted to assume Jesus knew and spoke Greek and Aramaic, but the mere suggestion that he likewise taught in Hebrew raises strong opposition.  Why?

      shalom
      R. Steven Notley
      Nyack College NYC

    • John C. Poirier
      Thank you, Steve and Marc, for your responses. I would like to address a few points. Steve, you keep speaking of the Jewish community when the community in
      Message 2 of 11 , Feb 9, 2004
        Thank you, Steve and Marc, for your responses. I would like to address
        a few points.

        Steve, you keep speaking of the "Jewish community" when the community in
        question is the tiny minority known as the tannaim and early amoraim.
        Of course the "Jewish community" was never so "monolithic", but the
        early *rabbinic movement* was fairly monolithic, and what it lacked in
        cohesion is probably lost to history due to the ascendancy of the
        Tiberian academy. It is not unlikely that most of what the Babylonian
        rabbinic movement learned from the Palestinian community came from R.
        Yochanan and his students. Lee Levine explains the increase in
        Babylonian sages living in Palestine as due to R. Yochanan's influence,
        and suggests that his "longevity and stature attracted students to his
        academy in Tiberias, swell[ing] the ranks of the subsequent generation
        of Palestinian sages" (*The Rabbinic Class of Roman Palestine in Late
        Antiquity*, p. 67).

        Steve, you wrote, "If the language of the parables has been artificially
        fabricated to imitate the 'holy language' of the Torah, why not
        something more akin to Qumranic Hebrew which is closer to biblical
        Hebrew? Why not purge it of non-biblicisms (e.g. Aramaisms) that
        suggest a living, colloquial language and obtain something that more
        closely reflects the Torah." There are in fact two very different types
        of ideological commitments to holy languages. One is borne of sectarian
        social dynamics ("We're in and you're out"), and involves a
        "righteous-remnant" mentality calling forth an antiquarianizing or
        scripturalizing approach to language. We find this at Qumran, and later
        in the Quaker community. (Cf. Schniedewind's comparison of Qumran
        Hebrew with Quaker English.) The other type of commitment is simply
        motivated by a sort of "Scripture principle", and has nothing to do with
        sectarian versus non-sectarian dynamics: it involves a simple acceptance
        of the holy language as the language of religion, without any
        pretensions about antiquarian forms of that language.

        The Qumran approach represents a combination of both paradigms: the
        sectarian aspect of Qumranic self-definition endears the former paradigm
        to them, while the priestly aspect of Qumranic self-definition endears
        the latter paradigm. In this connection, I think that a great deal of
        confusion has resulted from Chaim Rabin's writings concerning the
        languages of Jewish Palestine. Rabin suggested that Qumranic references
        to the "halting language" (1QH 12.16 [was 4.16]), "uncircumcised
        language" (1QH 10.18 [was 2.18]), and "blasphemous tongue" of their
        opponents (CD 5.11-12) were aimed at the Pharisees, who (Rabin believed)
        used mishnaic Hebrew as their language of instruction. More likely,
        these potshots were aimed at the Pharisees' use of Aramaic. At any
        rate, the Qumran model is a poor example for what we should expect from
        groups affirming a "holy language" ideology *per se*, especially from
        groups that are socially expansionist.

        So you see, it is by no means clear that the rabbis would have adopted a
        scripturalizing dialect of Hebrew for their tradition, free of Aramaisms
        and Graecisms. This is to say nothing, of course, of the
        power-brokering aspect of the rabbinic "control" of Hebrew resources
        (which was probably not unlike the thinking of Innocent III on Latin
        resources).

        As for why "the mere suggestion that [Jesus] likewise taught in Hebrew
        raises strong opposition", I would simply suggest that it is a matter of
        where the evidence leads. I personally don't care what language Jesus
        spoke. What I care about is sound scholarship. I have looked at both
        sides of the argument, and have concluded (against the leanings of my
        earlier teachers) that the argument for an Aramaic vernacular is stronger.

        Marc, you wrote that the "linguistic development moving from Hebrew akin
        to late-biblical Hebrew into a clearly distinct 'Mishnaic' Hebrew . . .
        would hardly seem possibly or likely if a select group of scholars sat
        down to unify the language of the sages teachings." The tacit
        assumption seems to be that only vernacular languages develop (an
        assumption that M. H. Segal and Elisha Qimron both use as operating
        principles). But as Joshua Blau has demonstrated, "even dead languages,
        only used in literature, change" ("A Conservative View of the Language
        of the Dead Sea Scrolls," in *Diggers at the Well: Proceedings of a
        Third International Symposium on the Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls and
        Ben Sira*, eds. T. Muraoka and J. F. Elwolde [STDJ 36; Leiden: Brill,
        2000] 20-25, esp. 20 [emphasis removed]). (I am not saying that Hebrew
        was all *that* dead, anyway: only that it was elitist.)

        Since you mention Paul's use of "the Hebrew dialect" in Acts, may I
        refer to Paul's care in mentioning that Jesus spoke "Hebrew" at the
        Damascus Road christophany? Champions of a Hebrew-speaking Jesus seem
        to think that this evidence supports their case, but doesn't it really
        support the opposing view? Why would Paul have to mention that Jesus
        spoke Hebrew unless that was *not* the language that Jesus was normally
        expected to speak? (The rhetorical pay-off is that Jesus' speaking
        Hebrew identifies him as a heavenly being.)


        All best wishes,

        John C. Poirier
        Middletown, Ohio




        Synoptic-L Homepage: http://www.bham.ac.uk/theology/synoptic-l
        List Owner: Synoptic-L-Owner@...
      • Ron Price
        ... John, Surely there is a simpler explanation: the mention of the language spoken by Jews was because Acts was written in Greek. According to the two
        Message 3 of 11 , Feb 10, 2004
          John Poirier wrote:

          > Since you mention Paul's use of "the Hebrew dialect" in Acts, may I
          > refer to Paul's care in mentioning that Jesus spoke "Hebrew" at the
          > Damascus Road christophany? Champions of a Hebrew-speaking Jesus seem
          > to think that this evidence supports their case, but doesn't it really
          > support the opposing view? Why would Paul have to mention that Jesus
          > spoke Hebrew unless that was *not* the language that Jesus was normally
          > expected to speak? (The rhetorical pay-off is that Jesus' speaking
          > Hebrew identifies him as a heavenly being.)

          John,

          Surely there is a simpler explanation: the mention of the language spoken
          by Jews was because Acts was written in Greek.

          According to the two commentaries on Acts to which I have ready access, TH
          hEBRAIDI DIALEKTW must have referred to Aramaic, because the form SAOUL is
          Aramaic. Presumably the footnote on Acts 26:14 in the NRSV is based on the
          same reasoning.

          Ron Price

          Derbyshire, UK


          Synoptic-L Homepage: http://www.bham.ac.uk/theology/synoptic-l
          List Owner: Synoptic-L-Owner@...
        • John C. Poirier
          ... I don t get it: that still doesn t explain why the language of Paul s christophany is relevant. ... I am aware that this view dominates the commentaries,
          Message 4 of 11 , Feb 10, 2004
            Ron Price wrote:

            > Surely there is a simpler explanation: the mention of the language
            > spoken by Jews was because Acts was written in Greek.

            I don't get it: that still doesn't explain why the language of Paul's
            christophany is relevant.

            > According to the two commentaries on Acts to which I have ready
            > access, TH hEBRAIDI DIALEKTW must have referred to Aramaic, because
            > the form SAOUL is Aramaic. Presumably the footnote on Acts 26:14 in
            > the NRSV is based on the same reasoning.

            I am aware that this view dominates the commentaries, but it has less
            going for it philologically. (Comparisons with Eusebius' use of similar
            constructions were discussed a few years ago on this list.)


            John C. Poirier
            Middletown, Ohio



            Synoptic-L Homepage: http://www.bham.ac.uk/theology/synoptic-l
            List Owner: Synoptic-L-Owner@...
          • Randall Buth
            TOIS PASI XAIREIN It is nice to see a discussion on an important topic. Several rounds have transpired and I will need to refer to pieces of all of them in
            Message 5 of 11 , Feb 10, 2004
              TOIS PASI
              XAIREIN

              It is nice to see a discussion on an important topic. Several rounds have
              transpired and I will need to refer to pieces of all of them in order to
              keep a
              perspective.

              I'll start with the latest:
              John Poirier quoted Price:
              > According to the two commentaries on Acts to which I have ready
              > access, TH hEBRAIDI DIALEKTW must have referred to Aramaic, because
              > the form SAOUL is Aramaic. Presumably the footnote on Acts 26:14 in
              > the NRSV is based on the same reasoning.
              and Poirier responded.
              >I am aware that this view dominates the commentaries, but it has less
              going for it philologically. <

              Yes, Jack is more than correct here and the quotation shows some of the
              problems in the literature: "must have referred". that is rather strong
              language
              for what is probably a commentator's mistake. syristi is Aramaic. Also,
              "Saoul is Aramaic" is silly. It is a grecization of Hebrew.

              going back a post, Poirier wrote:
              >Why would Paul have to mention that Jesus
              spoke Hebrew unless that was *not* the language that Jesus was normally
              expected to speak? (The rhetorical pay-off is that Jesus' speaking
              Hebrew identifies him as a heavenly being.)<

              Why mention Hebrew? I suppose the champion of the gentile/Greek gospel
              was recalling his roots, which happened to be Hebrew, among other
              languages. (by the way, rabbinic literature records Aramaic 'bat qol'
              heavenly voices. A heavenly Jesus was not required to speak in Hebrew.)
              More interesting, though, is the logic of Jack's question. When the
              same logic is applied to the gospels people say 'foul'. I'm referring to
              Mark's
              three Aramaic sentences, none of which are in a teaching context, and I
              would
              argue, non of which were presented for 20th century antiquarian interests
              but
              for rhetorical effect of foreignness and other-worldliness. Aramaic worked
              fine. Yet they become the bottom-line for many as to what language Jesus
              taught in or in what language the gospel traditions were first recorded in.
              But
              of course, they are actually irrelevant to these questions and if pressed
              would
              point to the opposite conclusion: they were not Jesus' teaching language
              and
              were not the Semitic language of recording the life and sayings. So thank
              you,
              Jack.

              The question of the thread is parables and there are some major points that

              need evaluation. Rabbinic story parables are all in Hebrew. That needs an
              explanation within NT circles, where most are taught that Jesus' parables
              would have been in Aramaic (following Dalman, Black, Jeremias, et al.).

              Poirier has tried to deal with the problem by positing the opposite of the
              data
              as the norm. His attempt to deal with the issue is to be applauded. Few do.

              He suggested that parables were taught in Aramaic but then
              scrupulously translated into Mishnaic Hebrew. Well, if such a theory were
              true, it would allow someone to assume that Jesus taught his parables in
              Aramaic and that those scholars who have built on this foundation may be
              going in the right direction. Of course, such a theory is a bit of a
              conspiracy
              theory, not unlike Geiger's attempts from 1845, refuted by Segal in 1908-
              1909.

              Within scholarship it is often helpful to see whose ideas are supported
              by further discoveries. In this case, the Dead Sea discoveries have
              confirmed Segal as the one on the right track. More below on the
              colloquial nature, too.

              The opposite of Poirier's suggestion needs to be spelled out, as well. What

              if there was no translation conspiracy? Story parables are all in Hebrew,
              and
              presumably because they were all composed in Hebrew. In that case, it
              would be reasonable to assume that Jesus' parables, too, were cast in
              Hebrew. This would be true even in a multi-lingual environment, where
              language use may switch several times in conversation or meeting. (NB:
              the claim is that the first century land of Israel was tri-lingual, not
              mono-
              lingual or bi-lingual.)

              Well, are Hebrew parables in rabbinic literature part of a conspiracy or
              simply the plain recording of a genre?
              We have "rabbi stories" told in both Hebrew and Aramaic. These are
              stories, often with a halakic point being remembered, yet they were not
              translated 100% into Hebrew. This would argue against the conspiracy
              theory. Not water-tight proof, but definite evidence against. It would be
              strong enough, in my opinion, to sway decisions, but there is more.
              More importantly, we have aphorisms that are preserved in Hebrew and
              in Aramaic. The Aramaic ones are called "matla", (=mashal, that's
              "parable" to the Greek audience), yet they are preserved in Aramaic and
              not translated into Hebrew. Thus, some Aramaic parables are preserved,
              but there are no Aramaic story parables! That is a strange inconsistency
              for
              a translation conspiracy.
              Possible? anything is possible. Probable? No. The evidence points to
              the thousands of Hebrew parables scattered in Babylonian and
              Palestinian literature being preserved in their form of composition. That
              is
              real evidence, and it is incredulous to suspect that "they" were able to
              track
              down all of the parables and insure all of the Aramaic story parables [sic]
              got translated. Steve is right, that is too many generations, from too many

              rabbis, from too many locales, and going through mythical censors that
              themselves weren't consistent. (Why the genre? good question for another
              thread.)

              Names were floated in earlier parts of this thread. I missed seeing the
              giant,
              Kutscher, and the following generation, that Bar Asher and Sokoloff
              represent.
              A lesser known is Abba Bendavid. He has written a lucid description of 2nd
              temple and Mishnaic Hebrew:
              leshon miqra ulshon Haxamim, 2 vol. 1967. He not only controls the
              data first hand and has produced a wonderful handbook on stylistic
              phenomena
              of the period, but he shows large doses of common sense in skirting around
              dead ends that some have gone down. I suppose I am waiting for the day
              when NT folk will be reading Bendavid. In the meantime they do have
              Kutscher,
              Qimron, Sokoloff and Bar Asher. Hezser is not a Mishnaic linguist and
              cannot
              be posited next to Kutscher. Rosen is a story, below.

              Specialists in Mishnaic Hebrew are not sharply divided, and
              a person needs to be careful whom they are citing. For example, Haiim Rosen
              came out with an iconoclastic book in French about twenty years ago.
              Rosen was a structural linguist, classicist and semitist, he produced
              a critical edition of Herodotus if my memory of names is not failing me. He

              also wrote about the syntax of Aramaic verbs in Daniel and Ezra that
              was clever and a "tour de force" (with the negative implication). what he
              forgot to do was explain how Aramaic verbs got themselves into the system
              he described for Daniel, and then how they got themselves out of that for
              the
              Qumran and later Jewish Aramaic system. I've known a few dozen Aramaicists
              in my day, but I have yet to find someone who embraces Rosen's "system".
              Of course, just because Rosen was off base on Aramaic verbs doesn't mean
              he is wrong on 2nd temple languages. But he was. (OK, I had a benefit of
              reading Kutscher and Bendavid [and the data!] between the time of reading
              Matthew Black [before] and Rosen [after].) By the way, Rosen was a
              first-rate
              scholar, but his judgment was not sound on the language question and he is
              not followed by Mishnaic linguists.

              Some data that does not replace what Segal already argued but confirms
              his approach:
              A perspective not often covered is the period between the wars, 70 CE to
              130
              CE. There is not an archaeological peep of Hebrew. Did everyone forget it?
              No way. but it may be compared to German in the US right after World War I.

              Post-70 Hebrew was politically incorrect, with a vengeance.
              Who wanted to wave a red flag in front of a Roman administrator?
              What is more amazing is that after a 60
              year tunnel of suppression, common people still knew the language.
              Bar Kochba's man did not learn his Hebrew in school or from the Bible.
              Even first-year Hebrew students in the northamerica today would not dare
              to write "ani me`id TAshamayim". But Bar Kochba's not-too-educated folk
              did. What is interesting and fun, is that that is exactly the way people
              talk today: hizmanta TA-kafe o ha-te? "did you order the coffee or the
              tea?"
              or as Eyal Golan sings, "amart she-ha-geshem yishtof TA-dema`ot"
              "You said the rain would wash away the tears." (Don't laugh, it's a nice
              song. sort of Israel's internal answer to American country.) It is
              obviously
              the way they talked back then, too. It's a natural language process.

              Perhaps the problem stems from thinking that all of the 2nd temple
              prophets and writers were "blowing smoke" when they used Hebrew. A large
              segment of Biblical literature was written during this period, and
              certainly not
              for a few rabbis (excuse the anachronism). I like to think they were
              speaking
              to the people. (There is evidence that they were, of course. Please consult
              Bendavid, et al. Bendavid has close to a hundred pages on these issues, if
              I remember right.)

              Back to the gospels, one must ask about historical probability. Is it
              possible
              that everything was done in Aramaic, but 99% of Pharisaic stuff was
              translated
              into un-holy holy Hebrew (for holy Hebrew, try Qumran), that all parables
              were done
              in Aramaic, but they were all translated into un-holy Hebrew, (unless they
              were
              aphoristic and then they could be left in Aramaic, or unless they were just
              'rabbi'
              stories and then they could be left in Aramaic)? Yes, that is
              theoretically possible. It is just not probable.
              Responsibility requires us to say that the "Jewish story parable" was a
              genre
              that was enjoyed in Hebrew, uniquely. Burden of proof is on the conspiracy

              theory.

              What does that say about the gospels and Jesus' teaching of parables.
              Simply, one may assume that Jesus' parables were in Hebrew, even though
              our records are in Greek. While it is "possible" that other languages were
              used, there is no evidence to support it. Conspiracy theories are possible,
              and sometimes they are true (remember 2Kings11 "qesher qasher!"?).
              The scary thing
              is to realize that alot of scholarship has been built on a
              conspiracy theory, Dalman, Black, Jeremias all have Jesus teaching
              Aramaic parables. (Geiger was the conspiracy theory originator, to what
              degree the others were aware of that, I wouldn't know, but Geiger is
              mufrax.)

              My spin on the above moves toward the next generation. Given that we
              have this mammoth amount of data to be using, from Qumran to rabbinic
              literature, isn't it time we raised the bar and required our NT students
              to control Hebrew to a level of reading Bendavid without paging through
              a dictionary? (and apparently few ever do even that). the Hebrew parables
              alone would suggest such training.
              I can't see much movement taking place if people can't control the data.

              ERRWSQE
              Randall Buth
              Jerusalem
              www.biblicalulpan.org

              Synoptic-L Homepage: http://www.bham.ac.uk/theology/synoptic-l
              List Owner: Synoptic-L-Owner@...
            • John C. Poirier
              Thanks, Randall, for your long and thoughtful post. Please understand: I do indeed think that the fact that all of thousands of rabbinic story parables are in
              Message 6 of 11 , Feb 10, 2004
                Thanks, Randall, for your long and thoughtful post.

                Please understand: I do indeed think that the fact that all of thousands
                of rabbinic story parables are in Hebrew is an impressive fact. I don't
                think that every one of them was originally said in Aramaic: certainly
                many of them are late enough that their provenance is the rabbinic
                academy, where, in most cases, Hebrew would have been the language of
                instruction. The ones that need explaining (on my theory) are the ones
                that belong more to a pharisaic than a truly rabbinic provenance.
                Perhaps that still leaves hundreds for my "conspiracy theory"--I don't
                know and I don't have my books with me at the moment.

                But for the sake of argument, let's say that my "conspiracy theory" is
                wrong and even the earliest of the story parables were originally said
                in Hebrew. The question then is "Why?" Since you and Steve both admit
                that these parables are often imbedded in Aramaic material, and seem to
                imply that that material is also early, and that many early aphorisms
                make it through in Aramaic, then it follows that the hebraicity of these
                parables cannot be used as a simple index of the linguistic situation of
                the time, but requires a special explanation. What is that explanation?
                Assuming that a plausible explanation can be had, we can perhaps then
                posit that Jesus' parables would also have been said in Hebrew, but the
                fact that a special explanation was needed implies that we cannot then
                extrapolate from the (reconstructed) language of Jesus' parables to the
                language of Jesus' general teaching.


                John C. Poirier
                Middletown, Ohio



                Synoptic-L Homepage: http://www.bham.ac.uk/theology/synoptic-l
                List Owner: Synoptic-L-Owner@...
              • Ron Price
                ... Randall, If I have understood your distinction correctly, it is very similar to the distinction which I have made (based on the 3ST) between aphorisms in
                Message 7 of 11 , Feb 10, 2004
                  Randall Buth wrote:

                  > More importantly, we have aphorisms that are preserved in Hebrew and
                  > in Aramaic. The Aramaic ones are called "matla", (=mashal, that's
                  > "parable" to the Greek audience), yet they are preserved in Aramaic and
                  > not translated into Hebrew. Thus, some Aramaic parables are preserved,
                  > but there are no Aramaic story parables!

                  Randall,

                  If I have understood your distinction correctly, it is very similar to the
                  distinction which I have made (based on the 3ST) between aphorisms in the
                  early sayings source, many of which go back to Jesus, and long parables not
                  in the early sayings source which in my opinion do not go back to Jesus. If
                  Jesus taught in aphorism/parables and not in "story parables", then this
                  would appear to remove a major objection to the idea that Jesus taught in
                  Aramaic. Perhaps the earliest evidence for this idea comes in the Greek
                  words GEENNA, MAMWNAS and SATON, which apparently derive from Aramaic (or is
                  this also silly?) and which occur within aphorism/parables that probably go
                  back to Jesus.

                  Ron Price

                  Derbyshire, UK


                  Synoptic-L Homepage: http://www.bham.ac.uk/theology/synoptic-l
                  List Owner: Synoptic-L-Owner@...
                Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.