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Re: [Synoptic-L] Hebrew parables

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  • 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 1 of 11 , Feb 10, 2004
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      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


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    • 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 2 of 11 , Feb 10, 2004
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        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



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      • 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 3 of 11 , Feb 10, 2004
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          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

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        • 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 4 of 11 , Feb 10, 2004
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            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



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          • 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 5 of 11 , Feb 10, 2004
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              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


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