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Re: [Synoptic-L] Hebrew parables, #8, the reason

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  • Randall Buth
    shalom Yochanan (do you prefer yochanan in Hebrew?) I would like to thank the list, as well, for allowing this discussion to go on. It may appear marginal to
    Message 1 of 6 , Feb 11, 2004
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      shalom Yochanan (do you prefer yochanan in Hebrew?)

      I would like to thank the list, as well, for allowing
      this discussion to go on. It may appear marginal to the synoptics, but it
      goes
      to the whole world view and framework within which the gospel events took
      place. And it is an issue that is too often treated superficially. We have
      finally
      gotten to an important, puzzling question--why parables in Hebrew?
      (picked up below)
      I've added 'the reason' to the thread because this gets into
      background speculation. --Randall Buth

      Poirier wrote:
      >Please understand: I do indeed think that the fact that all of thousands
      >of rabbinic story parables are in Hebrew is an impressive fact.

      Buth:
      Yes, impressive, and it does raise more questions.

      Poirier:
      >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.

      Buth:
      Strange to me.
      It sounds like you are talking about Amoraic times, MH2
      (Mishnaic Hebrew II in Kutscher's topography), 3-6 c CE, where Aramaic
      not Hebrew, became a major teaching language. Most Mishnaists
      distinguish MH1, tannaitic Hebrew when there were still mother-
      tongue speakers (preserved in good manuscripts like Kaufman and Parma
      to the Mishna, or Marshall to Mekhilta) from MH2, amoraic Hebrew
      when it was a second language. Example of a "good" manuscipt: Kaufman
      has about 40 cases of [adan] "person, man" in place of [adam]. (As an
      aside,
      Mishnaists recognize that that is not an Aramaism, which uses enash, enosh,

      bar-nash. Adan is a Mishnaic Hebrew development.) A little over
      a decade ago Bar Asher determined that this adam/adan alternation did not
      stem from a nasalized final vowel but from different dialectical forms of
      the
      word. (I reserve judgment on this last point, just haven't had time to
      pursue, but
      until then I go with Bar Asher.)

      Poirier:
      >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.

      Buth:
      Perhaps a discussion of where Mishnaic Hebrew came from would help.

      Poirier:
      >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?"

      Buth:
      Yes, that is a good question for any theory. Why would such a genre
      develop? At the moment, my superficial answer is linked to the word
      MASHAL. It is a distinctly Hebrew word that is perceived as Hebrew in a
      multilingual environment. (Aramaic on this word is MATLA). Perhaps the
      practice of starting a parable with the phrase "MASHAL, lema ha-davar
      dome?" set the tone for a Hebrew continuation. In multilingual environments
      it is common for a technical term to cause a conversation to shift into the

      approriate language by a trigger point. conversation will then stay in that

      language and even continue beyond whatever first caused the shift, until
      another shift point occurs. Anyway, this would provide a first mechnanism
      but would not explain how it got fixed in so monolithic fashion. For that,
      my
      best guess would be that the fixing happened EARLY, and by early I mean
      at least 2nd temple, and probably not just the end part. Gut reaction? I
      think we're talking 3c BCE, or at least by Maccabean times. At least such
      an early time and a trigger word might explain the monolithic status of
      Hebrew story parables through the ages.

      Poirier:
      >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,

      Buth:
      actually, when embedded in Aramaic material they are usually LATE.
      By LATE, I refer to MH2.

      Poirier:
      >and that many early aphorisms
      >make it through in Aramaic,

      Buth:
      "many" in this case is generous. "some" is more accurate.

      Poirier:
      >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?

      Buth:
      As you've framed the situation, Hebrew is already "special", which creates
      some of the problem of explaining how it developed. As mentioned above,
      I think we need to go EARLY, and early enough so that Hebrew would not be
      considered special. Segal, Kutscher, Rabin, Bendavid, Bar Asher and
      company would have no problem anywhere in the second temple. I think
      that Late MH1 (second century CE) would likely have been too transitional
      to have provided the environment. MH2 is out of the question.

      Poirier:
      > 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.

      Buth:
      On "special" see above discussions. (And the special explanation was
      for us, 20 centuries later, not for Jesus audience.) Still, if you have an
      explanation on why parables were in Hebrew, I'm all ears. It's one of the
      questions I don't normally get to discuss with people.

      Picking up the larger framework as to the very nature of Mishnaic Hebrew.
      What is it and where did it come from?
      (Is the baker's bread order from c300 BCE, from a renegade from a
      pre-rabbinic
      academy? hardly.) Bendavid does a good job with exactly this question.
      The elitists, movers and shakers in society in the early 2nd temple,
      were responsible for bringing Aramaic. Most of the people, the villagers,
      are
      the silent group in the Bible that never went to Bavel. They are the
      society that
      seem to have produced Mishnaic Hebrew(s). After Alexander, the movers and
      shakers, became "Greek", Aramaic remained an important commerce, market
      and legal language, and Mishnaic Hebrew continued to develop though was
      still not used in writing, it only pops through here and there between the
      lines of
      literary Hebrew.

      As to your question, yes, parables would nail down parables. In the same
      way,
      our Greek gospel evidence makes it clear that Semitic written gospel
      traditions
      behind our canonical gospels were Hebrew and could not have been
      Aramaic. It would be begging the question to call either of these "special"
      and
      then say, therefore, whatever we cannot show "must have been Hebrew" was
      Aramaic.
      I would prefer to say, what we can show was Hebrew was Hebrew,
      and the rest is to be extrapolated as best fits individual sociolinguistic
      situations. this may change from scene to scene in the gospels. There is
      plenty of room for Jesus to speak lots of Aramaic, but how much of any of
      that
      is behind scenes in the gospels is a difficult question. House-talk with
      the little
      girl (talita qum--Aramaic! would you believe that I enjoy reading Armaic
      from
      the broad period, especially targum?) makes for a nice language switch,
      though even that is colored by Mark's thaumaturgic rhetorical force.
      sociolinguistically, I think that halakic matters and scriptural
      interpretation
      were routinely done in Hebrew, without thinking it was special, certainly
      not elitist.
      Thus, quite a bit more teaching fills in. Like the sermon on the mount
      type.
      After all, it is introduced with a classic Pharisaic idiom "to fulfill
      scripture" =
      "to interpret correctly" (see mekhilta, passim, MH1). And yes, I think that
      they
      were discussing the Hebrew Bible and not Chilton's targum (whether written
      or oral).

      A final aside on 'elitist', I remember that from somewhere in the thread.
      It
      is a strange word to apply to Hebrew (actually it starts to click on a
      Geiger-
      counter, pun intended). Even during MH2, Hebrew was not elitist. Common
      folk
      in the synagogue were expected to follow BOTH the Hebrew reading AND
      the interpretative targum. they understood and delighted in the subtle
      twists
      and turns. The application and suggestions for midrash are one of the out-
      standing characteristics of the Palestinian targum tradition. However, in
      gaonic/Islamic and medieval times this skill diminished. Arabic
      didn't provide the tight overlap with Hebrew, (sort of like going from a
      Spanish-Italian diglossia to a German-Spanish-Italian). However, in none of

      the Jewish communities around the world was Hebrew "elitist" in a prestige
      sense. The communities were minorities within majorities who could
      care the less for Hebrew. Hebrew became academic and special. So
      when people ask me about 'why can't Hebrew be pictured like medieval
      Latin?' First, it skews the power arrangements quite a bit. Secodnly, as to
      its
      sociolinguistic applicability, it's like telling someone 'you will die'.
      Yes, true,
      but when? Hebrew did become purely academic and special, but the
      evidence controlled by Mishnaists says fairly clearly, "not during the
      second temple, only afterwards and in stages." Which leaves us with the
      complicated, tri-lingual situation that we find everywhere in the Land in
      the documents, inscriptions, gospels, and texts.

      yisge shlamax

      Randall Buth
      www.biblicalulpan.org
      (for those with students who want either of two levels of special biblical
      ulpan)

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    • John C. Poirier
      My apologies to those who think this thread is off-subject. ... Actually, others pinned Yaakov on me in modern Hebrew class (although in my case Jack is
      Message 2 of 6 , Feb 11, 2004
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        My apologies to those who think this thread is off-subject.

        Randall Buth wrote:

        > shalom Yochanan (do you prefer yochanan in Hebrew?)

        Actually, others pinned "Yaakov" on me in modern Hebrew class (although
        in my case "Jack" is short for "John"), but Yochanan is fine.

        It's clear that our differences go beyond a few items and are related to
        the existence of two completely different paradigms. To a large
        extent, the paradigm you hold is typically Israeli, while the one I hold
        is, well, non-Israeli. A lot of what you assert in your most recent
        post is, from my perspective, backwards, including your understanding of
        how the "power arrangements" relate to the linguistic situation, the
        degree to which synagogue goers understood Hebrew, and (related to that)
        the *raison d'etre* for the targums.

        In short, everything you cite from Bendavid strikes me as backward (but
        it at least lets me know that Chomsky wasn't the only one who thought
        that Aramaic was a "prestige language among Jews" [in *JQR* 1951]). The
        claim that the "elitists, movers and shakers in society in the early 2nd
        temple, were responsible for bringing Aramaic" is particularly strange
        to me. I always thought that the *real* elitists were the Temple
        administrators, who were instrumental in preserving Hebrew and who were
        largely responsible (on my view) for making Hebrew into a nationalist
        symbol. You say that "elitist" is "a strange word to apply to Hebrew",
        but I beg to differ, or at least to point out that that judgment is an
        integral part of the package you are offering.

        To my mind, the reason for targums is a really big issue. When I read
        an explanation like Rabin's, *viz.* that the targum served primarily to
        clarify difficult biblical Hebrew (for people who basically knew Hebrew
        but might have had some problems with some outdated words), I say to
        myself, "Ah, come on!" Talk about special pleading! (Fraade's and
        Tal's explanations are no better.) To me, the evidence for a Hebrew
        vernacular would have to be very overwhelming before it could offset the
        beauty and simplicity of the supposition that the targums were necessary
        because the people couldn't understand Hebrew.


        John C. Poirier
        Middletown, Ohio



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      • R. Steven Notley
        Jack Let me just interject an observation. You are assuming a prevalence of Aramaic targums in the first century to deal with the relative ignorance of Hebrew
        Message 3 of 6 , Feb 11, 2004
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          Jack

          Let me just interject an observation. You are assuming a prevalence of
          Aramaic targums in the first century to deal with the relative ignorance
          of Hebrew among the common populace. Buth's 2002 SBL presentation in
          the Historical Jesus session was particularly insightful regarding the
          stark absence of targums at Qumran. One of the inconsistencies that
          always strikes me is the relative ease with which NT scholarship
          dismisses early rabbinic (Hebrew) literature because it is "late" but
          without any hesitation will attempt to employ Aramaic targums (that in
          many instances even post-date the rejected rabbinic literature) to
          illuminate NT passages. It is the same inconsistency (but in the
          archaeological sphere) that Marc Turnage pointed out in the use of 2nd,
          3rd and 4th century inscriptional evidence to support the first century
          language environment in the Galilee.

          If Aramaic targums were indeed necessary to assist a populace ignorant
          of Hebrew would not one expect to have found an abundance of material
          evidence?

          To be consistent, if "late" Mishnaic Hebrew material is unacceptable as
          a first century witness, then so likewise is "late" (i.e. post-first
          century) Aramaic targums. I am afraid that all you are left with is few
          pieces of Targum Job.



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        • Marc Turnage
          John C. Poirier wrote: To me, the ... Jack, The problem with the simplicity of this assumption is that the practice of reading from the targum in the
          Message 4 of 6 , Feb 11, 2004
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            John C. Poirier wrote:

            To me, the
            > evidence for a Hebrew
            > vernacular would have to be very overwhelming before
            > it could offset the
            > beauty and simplicity of the supposition that the
            > targums were necessary
            > because the people couldn't understand Hebrew.

            Jack,

            The problem with the "simplicity" of this assumption
            is that the practice of reading from the targum in the
            synagogue is mentioned in any first century source
            (e.g., Josephus, Philo, and the New Testament). The
            only evidence is the targum fragments of Job from
            Qumran (noting as well that there are multiple
            attestations of a targum of Job within the first
            century--Qumran, LXX, and tannaitic literature).
            While this suggests that there was at least an Aramaic
            translation of Job, it does not demonstrate it was
            read in the synagogue service. Again, those first
            century sources relevant here are silent about the
            targum (incidentally Ze'ev Safrai has suggested that
            the literary targum began to be read within the
            synagogue service in the land of Israel in the second
            century C.E.). The Qumran library can hardly be the
            primary foundation for establishing the practice of
            the reading of the targum within the synagogue in the
            first century. I would like to point out that if one
            relies primarily upon the Qumran evidence, then
            doesn't the linguistic evidence at Qumran suggest a
            tri-lingual environment within first century Israel?

            Blessings,
            Marc Turnage


            --- "John C. Poirier" <poirier@...> wrote:
            > My apologies to those who think this thread is
            > off-subject.
            >
            > Randall Buth wrote:
            >
            > > shalom Yochanan (do you prefer yochanan in
            > Hebrew?)
            >
            > Actually, others pinned "Yaakov" on me in modern
            > Hebrew class (although
            > in my case "Jack" is short for "John"), but Yochanan
            > is fine.
            >
            > It's clear that our differences go beyond a few
            > items and are related to
            > the existence of two completely different
            > paradigms. To a large
            > extent, the paradigm you hold is typically Israeli,
            > while the one I hold
            > is, well, non-Israeli. A lot of what you assert in
            > your most recent
            > post is, from my perspective, backwards, including
            > your understanding of
            > how the "power arrangements" relate to the
            > linguistic situation, the
            > degree to which synagogue goers understood Hebrew,
            > and (related to that)
            > the *raison d'etre* for the targums.
            >
            > In short, everything you cite from Bendavid strikes
            > me as backward (but
            > it at least lets me know that Chomsky wasn't the
            > only one who thought
            > that Aramaic was a "prestige language among Jews"
            > [in *JQR* 1951]). The
            > claim that the "elitists, movers and shakers in
            > society in the early 2nd
            > temple, were responsible for bringing Aramaic" is
            > particularly strange
            > to me. I always thought that the *real* elitists
            > were the Temple
            > administrators, who were instrumental in preserving
            > Hebrew and who were
            > largely responsible (on my view) for making Hebrew
            > into a nationalist
            > symbol. You say that "elitist" is "a strange word
            > to apply to Hebrew",
            > but I beg to differ, or at least to point out that
            > that judgment is an
            > integral part of the package you are offering.
            >
            > To my mind, the reason for targums is a really big
            > issue. When I read
            > an explanation like Rabin's, *viz.* that the targum
            > served primarily to
            > clarify difficult biblical Hebrew (for people who
            > basically knew Hebrew
            > but might have had some problems with some outdated
            > words), I say to
            > myself, "Ah, come on!" Talk about special pleading!
            > (Fraade's and
            > Tal's explanations are no better.) To me, the
            > evidence for a Hebrew
            > vernacular would have to be very overwhelming before
            > it could offset the
            > beauty and simplicity of the supposition that the
            > targums were necessary
            > because the people couldn't understand Hebrew.
            >
            >
            > John C. Poirier
            > Middletown, Ohio
            >
            >
            >
            > Synoptic-L Homepage:
            > http://www.bham.ac.uk/theology/synoptic-l
            > List Owner: Synoptic-L-Owner@...


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          • R. Steven Notley
            (Sorry, I forgot to sign the post!) Jack Let me just interject an observation. You are assuming a prevalence of Aramaic targums in the first century to deal
            Message 5 of 6 , Feb 11, 2004
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              (Sorry, I forgot to sign the post!)

              Jack

              Let me just interject an observation. You are assuming a prevalence of
              Aramaic targums in the first century to deal with the relative ignorance

              of Hebrew among the common populace. Buth's 2002 SBL presentation in
              the Historical Jesus session was particularly insightful regarding the
              stark absence of targums at Qumran. One of the inconsistencies that
              always strikes me is the relative ease with which NT scholarship
              dismisses early rabbinic (Hebrew) literature because it is "late" but
              without any hesitation will attempt to employ Aramaic targums (that in
              many instances even post-date the rejected rabbinic literature) to
              illuminate NT passages. It is the same inconsistency (but in the
              archaeological sphere) that Marc Turnage pointed out in the use of 2nd,
              3rd and 4th century inscriptional evidence to support the first century
              language environment in the Galilee.

              If Aramaic targums were indeed necessary to assist a populace ignorant
              of Hebrew would not one expect to have found an abundance of material
              evidence?

              To be consistent, if "late" Mishnaic Hebrew material is unacceptable as
              a first century witness, then so likewise is "late" (i.e. post-first
              century) Aramaic targums. I am afraid that all you are left with is few

              pieces of Targum Job.

              shalom
              R. Steven Notley
              Nyack College NYC




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            • John C. Poirier
              Steve and Marc, Boxing matches only last fifteen rounds, right? ;) Randy and I went round and round on the significance of the Qumran Job Targum on the
              Message 6 of 6 , Feb 11, 2004
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                Steve and Marc,

                Boxing matches only last fifteen rounds, right? ;)

                Randy and I went round and round on the significance of the Qumran Job
                Targum on the Jerusalem Perspective website. I stick by what I wrote
                there, which was not that we should suppose that there were a number of
                targums in the first century, but only that the paucity of targums at
                Qumran proves nothing one way or the other.

                Let me make clear that I'm fine with the absence of targums in the first
                century. In fact, it's probably to be expected given the probability
                that the synagogues were at that time controlled by priestly and/or
                scribal groups. For the centuries for which we know that targums *were*
                used in the synagogues, we also know that not everybody was happy about
                it. It is entirely in keeping with a "linguistic necessity" explanation
                for the targum to say that the practice of targumic reading could not be
                instituted within the synagogue until such a time that control of the
                synagogue came to be more in the hands of private (non-priestly,
                non-scribal) individuals or groups. In the century or so after the
                first revolt, it seems that *no one* was in control, which allowed the
                synagogue service to go in a more democratizing direction. It should
                also be noted that, given the power scramble that apparently went on at
                this time, concessions to popular piety would have been politically
                expedient.

                In point of fact, I also disagree with some of the ways in which
                targumic readings are used in NT studies: at least I disagree with the
                inference that NT anticipations of targumic readings demonstrate the
                earliness of the targum. More likely, these anticipations are better
                explained by recourse to alternative textual traditions of the biblical
                text (e.g., the *kaige*).


                John C. Poirier
                Middletown, Ohio




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