Monthly Archives: December 2013

Idols and images: Exodus 20:1-5.

I continue blogging the decalogue with Exodus 20:1-5:

  וַיְדַבֵּר אֱלֹהִים, אֵת כָּל-הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה לֵאמֹר

  אָנֹכִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים

  לֹא-יִהְיֶה לְךָ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים, עַל-פָּנָי

  לֹא-תַעֲשֶׂה לְךָ פֶסֶל, וְכָל-תְּמוּנָה, אֲשֶׁר בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל, וַאֲשֶׁר בָּאָרֶץ מִתָּחַת–וַאֲשֶׁר בַּמַּיִם, מִתַּחַת לָאָרֶץ

:ה לֹא-תִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה לָהֶם, וְלֹא תָעָבְדֵם:  כִּי אָנֹכִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, אֵל קַנָּא–פֹּקֵד עֲו‍ֹן אָבֹת עַל-בָּנִים עַל-שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל-רִבֵּעִים, לְשֹׂנְאָי

My translation:

1 And God spoke all these words, saying:

2 I am the Lord your god, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slaves.

3 Do not have other gods before my face.

4 Do not make an idol of any form which is in the heavens above, on the earth beneath, or in the seas under the land.

5 Do not bow down to them and do not serve them, for I am the Lord your god, a jealous god, appointing the sins of the fathers onto the sons, onto the third and the fourth generation of those who despise me.

This famous passage of the Bible graces many a church (and courthouse) with its presence.  Breaking my usual pattern of looking at 2-3 words or phrases, today’s post will focus entirely on the nuances of עַל-פָּנָי (ʿal-pānāy).

An Israelite's worst nightmare.  Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/redlinx/211038760/

An Israelite’s worst nightmare. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/redlinx/211038760/

I have written before about the metaphorical usage of various body parts in biblical Hebrew literature.  Literally, this text says to have “no other gods before my face.”  What does this mean?  Most translators render this “before me” (NRSV, NIV) or “besides me” (NAB) or “beside me” (Alter).  They translate the idiom “before my face” into more literal, non-metaphorical language: you cannot worship anything other than Yahweh.  I can’t help but think something is lost in translation.  William Propp comments:

If Yahweh inhabited an idol or stone, the command would simply be not to display other images in his cella [temple sanctuary], as was done around Allah, for example, in pre-Islamic Mecca.  So one possible meaning is that no other deities may be worshipped in Yahweh-shrines. (167)

Monotheism was not pulled out of a hat.  It went through an intermediate stage of henotheism: allegiance to one deity, not denying the existence of other gods but their efficacy and power.  Similarly, it’s possible that Israel’s aniconism (no images!) did not emerge overnight either.  If there were statues of Yahweh, then “before my face” could point to something much more concrete and un-metaphorical than “besides me.”  It may point to another meaning of Alter’s translation “beside me.”  Alter uses a spatial term that carries the same ambiguity as “before my face,” although his notes make it clear he intends it in the idiomatic sense only.

Ancient translators also veered between the literal and the idiomatic in translating this phrase.  The Septugaint renders it “πλὴν ἐμοῦ”: “except me.”  But the Vulgate renders it “coram me”: “in my presence.”  Deuteronomy 5:7, despite being identical to Exodus 20:3, gets translated differently in the same translations!  The Septuagint renders it “πρὸ προσώπου μου” and the Vulgate “in conspectu meo.”  Both preserve the Hebrew idiom.  Still, it raises a question: didn’t the translators of the Septuagint and the Vulgate notice they were translating the same passage twice?

So we are left with two readings.  The first reading takes ʿal-pānāy only in the idiomatic sense: “I shall be your only god.”  Other translators preserve a possible henotheistic, iconographic sense to the idiom.  Perhaps there were images of Yahweh that had faces and shrines.  Pastors often take an entirely different route: an idol is anything that we put before God.  The Oxford Bible Commentary notes that this is not part of the original meaning of an idol (pesel).  So whatever you believe about “before my face” or “besides me,” know that the idols spoken of here are Ba’al and Asherah, not sex and money.

Internalizing the sounds of Philippians.

This morning I stumbled across the blog of Jacob Cerone, a grad student in biblical studies.  Coincidentally he is also working on Philippians – actually memorizing it:

  1. My vocabulary is already increasing. In memorizing the verses, I ensure, before moving on, that I have memorized all the vocabulary contained therein.

  2. Memorizing the Greek text is not simply a task that enables me to reproduce a copy of the NA27. No, I am able to think through the Greek. I am able to translate as I go.

When I started doing Greek and Latin, I assumed I would never have to engage the orality, the sounds of any ancient text.  But Cerone’s approach is making me rethink that.  He has already come up with some thoughts on the sounds of Philippians that I hadn’t caught.  I think I’m going to try this approach.

EDIT: It appears that another blogger took notes on his Philippians memorization a few years back as well!

Paul’s intention for the Philippians: 1:12-14.

Paul continues his letter to the Christians at Philippi:

12Γινώσκειν δὲ ὑμᾶς βούλομαι, ἀδελφοί, ὅτι τὰ κατ᾽ ἐμὲ μᾶλλον εἰς προκοπὴν τοῦ εὐαγγελίου ἐλήλυθεν,

13ὥστε τοὺς δεσμούς μου φανεροὺς ἐν Χριστῷ γενέσθαι ἐν ὅλῳ τῷ πραιτωρίῳ καὶ τοῖς λοιποῖς πᾶσιν,

14καὶ τοὺς πλείονας τῶν ἀδελφῶν ἐν κυρίῳ πεποιθότας τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου περισσοτέρως τολμᾶν ἀφόβως τὸν λόγον λαλεῖν.

My translation:

12 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that my circumstances have led more to the progress of the gospel,

13 so my bonds became visible for Christ to all the palace guard and the rest of those in the prison,

14 and more of the brothers and sisters in Christ have been persuaded to speak the Word more fearlessly and with audacity.

Paul is certainly making the most of his time in prison!  Here I want to focus on two words, ἀδελφοί (adelphoi) and πραιτωρίῳ (praitōriō).

Adelphoi, the plural of adelphos, literally means “brother.”  In early Christian and Essene circles it referred to a fellow member of one’s religious community.  (Some Christians still use this meaning – most obviously Catholic religious orders, but I’ve also heard Mormons and evangelicals do so.)  Since God is referred to as “Father” in Jewish and Christian scriptures, it only makes sense to extend the metaphor and refer to fellow believers as fellow children of God.

Adelphoi, a plural masculine, literally translates to “brothers.”  In English this sounds as if the entire group being referred to are men.  But in Greek, a group of 99 women and 1 man are still referred to as adelphoi.  Words such as this have been at the heart of inclusive-language debates in biblical translation.  Should adelphoi be translated as “brothers” (NAB) or “brothers and sisters” (NIV)?  Some translators have sidestepped the debate entirely, translating it “friends” (NEB) or “beloved” (NRSV).  I considered “siblings,” but it has too legal and removed a tone to translate a word conveying intimacy and love.  I settled on “brothers and sisters” because it’s clear from context that Paul is writing to all the Christians in Philippi, not just the men.

Paul writes that he has convinced the praitōriō in the prison that his imprisonment is for Christ.  Any student of Roman history can recall the infamous Praetorian Guard, the Roman emperor’s bodyguards (and often assassins).

A bust of some of the Praetorian guard.  Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelcjones/9141795998/

A bust of some of the Praetorian guard, c. 50 A.D. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelcjones/9141795998/

This Greek term, a loan-word from Latin, could refer to the guard of the emperor, but also the soldier-guards of Rome or another Roman city.  It could also refer to the palace of the Roman emperor or one of his provincial governors.

Reumann lists four (!) different theories as to what praitōriō refers to in this passage: the imperial palace in Rome, a small barracks attached to it, a Praetorian camp outside the city, or the elite soldiers themselves.  He (and I) go with the last meaning.  But it’s useful to be aware of the nuances of this word, because it is used in the Gospels and Acts to refer to imperial buildings where Jesus and other early Christians were accused.

Paul’s Prayer for Wisdom: Philippians 1:9-11.

Today I continue my blog series on Philippians with Paul’s prayer for the Philippians’ wisdom and discernment:

9 καὶ τοῦτο προσεύχομαι, ἵνα ἡ ἀγάπη ὑμῶν ἔτι μᾶλλον καὶ μᾶλλον περισσεύῃ ἐν ἐπιγνώσει καὶ πάσῃ αἰσθήσει

10 εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς τὰ διαφέροντα, ἵνα ἦτε εἰλικρινεῖς καὶ ἀπρόσκοποι εἰς ἡμέραν Χριστοῦ,

11 πεπληρωμένοι καρπὸν δικαιοσύνης τὸν διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς δόξαν καὶ ἔπαινον θεοῦ.

My translation:

9 And I pray this, that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and all discernment,

10 for your discerning that which is worthy, so that you may be pure and blameless on the day of the Lord,

11 having been filled with the fruit of righteousness through Jesus Christ, for the glory and praise of God.

This passage contains some interesting word pairs: ἐπιγνώσει καὶ αἰσθήσει (v. 9) and δόξαν καὶ ἔπαινον (v. 11).  How do these pairs contrast and work together? The phrase ἐπιγνώσει καὶ αἰσθήσει (epignosei and aisthasei) is translated various ways: “knowledge and full insight” (NRSV), “knowledge and all discernment” (ESV), “knowledge and every kind of perception” (NAB).  BDAG explains that epignosis is not just general knowledge, but “limited to transcendent and moral matters.”  In that sense the term was used by philosophers such as Epictetus and Plato.  In the New Testament it was used especially to refer to knowledge of the will of God. Aisthasei, by contrast, typically refers more to sensory perception.  In later Greek it takes on the meaning in this passage, “a capacity to understand, discernment.”  Reumann translates it “discernment” to better capture a sense of practicality and connection to life.

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/33037982@N04/4952327900

Ruins of Philippi.  Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/33037982@N04/4952327900

Reumann translates the pair as “perception and discernment.”  To me this doesn’t capture the contrast between theoretical and practical knowledge.  But I can’t think of any phrase in English that does.  “[Theoretical] knowledge and wisdom”?  “Theological understanding and discernment in faith”? In v. 11, Paul speaks of the “δόξαν καὶ ἔπαινον” (doxan and epainon) of God.  Doxa survives in English in words like “doxastic” and “doxology,” and generally means “glory/honor.”  Originally in classical Greek, it just referred to reputation or opinion about someone.  But by the time of the NT, that usage had disappeared.  In the Septuagint, it was used to translate the Hebrew kavod (honor or glory).  Under the influence of Greek mysticism and mystery religions it gained the added meaning of shining, brilliance, and splendor.  It’s one of Paul’s favorite words. Epainos, “praise,” can refer to praise of/for humans and of/for God.  Classical Greek texts used it to refer to the praise accrued to a great orator, the same praise that Stoic philosophers sought to free themselves from. While major translations (NRSV, NIV, NAB, Reumann) don’t really differ in translating this pair “glory and praise,” what about the sense of brilliance that doxa carries?  Could we translate the pair “brilliance and praise”?  “Splendor and admiration”?  The latter especially conveys a note of royalty.

The series continues with Paul’s intention for the Philippians.

Prologue to the Decalogue: Deuteronomy 5:1-5.

Merry Christmas!

Today I’ll be continuing my blog series on reading the Decalogue in Hebrew, comparing the ten mitzvot in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5.  Let’s start, as my course did, with the prologue to Deuteronomy’s version:

א  וַיִּקְרָא מֹשֶׁה, אֶל-כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת-הַחֻקִּים וְאֶת-הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי דֹּבֵר בְּאָזְנֵיכֶם הַיּוֹם; וּלְמַדְתֶּם אֹתָם, וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם לַעֲשֹׂתָם.

ב  יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ, כָּרַת עִמָּנוּ בְּרִית–בְּחֹרֵב.

ג  לֹא אֶת-אֲבֹתֵינוּ, כָּרַת יְהוָה אֶת-הַבְּרִית הַזֹּאת:  כִּי אִתָּנוּ, אֲנַחְנוּ אֵלֶּה פֹה הַיּוֹם כֻּלָּנוּ חַיִּים.

ד  פָּנִים בְּפָנִים, דִּבֶּר יְהוָה עִמָּכֶם בָּהָר–מִתּוֹךְ הָאֵשׁ.

ה  אָנֹכִי עֹמֵד בֵּין-יְהוָה וּבֵינֵיכֶם, בָּעֵת הַהִוא, לְהַגִּיד לָכֶם, אֶת-דְּבַר יְהוָה:  כִּי יְרֵאתֶם מִפְּנֵי הָאֵשׁ, וְלֹא-עֲלִיתֶם בָּהָר לֵאמֹר.

Note that the letters alef, bet, gimel are used as the numbers 1, 2, 3, etc.  My translation:

1 Moses called to all of Israel and he said to them, “Hear, Israel, the decrees and the judgments which I speak in your ears today.  And you shall learn them and keep them to do them.

2 The Lord our God cut with us a covenant at Horeb.

3 Not with our fathers did the Lord cut this covenant, but with us here today, all of us living.

4 Face to face the Lord spoke with you on the mountain, from the midst of the fire.

5 I am standing between God and you at that time, to make known to you the word of the Lord; for you were afraid in the face of the fire, and did not go up mountain when the Lord said:

This is simple Hebrew, as Deuteronomist language tends to be with its stock phrases and simple vocabulary.  After spending a semester with biblical poetry, I had forgotten Hebrew could be this easy.

One common trope in this passage is the metaphorical use of body parts.  In v. 1 we have “speak in your ears [ozen].”  Then in 4 and 5 we have the Lord “face [pnei] to face” with Israel, who is afraid “in the face of the fire.”  Hebrew is a very concrete language.  Even highly abstract terms are evoked by concrete images, some of which are echoed in the New Testament.  Body parts, especially the face, ear, and eyes, frequently represent the function they perform for the human and for God.  So God has ears to hear the prayers and petitions of humans just as humans have ears to hear the commands of God.  The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) points out that ears represent not just hearing, but obedience.  While some translators, such as Robert Alter, translate this “in your hearing,” I prefer to preserve the metaphor.

The face [pnei] is also a pervasive metaphor in Hebrew.  TWOT points out that the pnei:

is described not merely as an exterior instrument in one’s physiology, but rather as being engaged in some form of behavioral pattern, and is this characterized by some personal quality.  It is only natural that the face was considered to be extraordinarily revealing vis-a-vis a man’s emotions, moods, and dispositions. (1782)

This makes it possible for Hebrew to use some facial metaphors such as “hard” or “shining,” as in the popular biblical blessing “may the Lord make his face shine on you” (Num 6:25).  Seeing one’s face connotes intimacy with that person.  So while this passage says that God spoke face to face with Israel, that immediacy is mediated by the cloud.  Moses cannot see God’s face.  We cannot get to close to God, or we will die.

Another odd idiom here is to “cut a covenant” (carat berit).  Studies of the covenant form of literature in Exodus show its similarities with political treaties in the ancient Near East.  If this is the model for a covenant, why would the verb not be “sealed” (Alter), “made” (NAB, NRSV, NIV), “drawn up,” “signed,” or “ratified”?

In Genesis 15, Abraham makes a covenant with God:

"God’s Covenant with Abraham," David Martin (1639-1721)

“God’s Covenant with Abraham,” David Martin (1639-1721)

7Then he said to him, ‘I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.’ 8But he said, ‘O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?’ 9He said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon.’ 10He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two.

Scholars speculate that part of the covenant ritual in ancient Israel – whether between God and people or people and people – was cutting animals in half.  Cutting a covenant was an arduous physical process, not just signing your name on a sheet of paper.  And in the case of the covenant with God, it had the implication that the one who does not keep it might themself be cut.

Next up, I’ll be continuing with the commandments themselves.

Blogging on Herodotus.

Apparently inspired by me, my friend Brian has started a series of posts on the language of Herodotus:

Herodotus had such an enormous impact that he was able to create what was essentially a new genre of writing. He was so influential that he transformed the word historia, simply meaning “inquiry,” into the name of the field of study we now call history. But at the time that he wrote, this transformation had not yet occurred, so it is probably best that we translate this word as “inquiry.”

Do check out his post, where he describes some of the dialect-related issues in studying ancient Greek.  Beginning students of Greek, this would be a useful blog to follow.

Philippians, Part Two: Paul’s Gratitude for the Philippians, 1:3-8.

Last week I began my blog-through of Paul’s letter to the Philippians using Jerry Sumney’s reader and John Reumann’s Anchor commentary.  This week I continue Paul’s greeting to the Philippians with my friend Brian:

3Εὐχαριστῶ τῷ θεῷ μου ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ μνείᾳ ὑμῶν

4πάντοτε ἐν πάσῃ δέησει μουὑπὲρ πάντων ὑμῶν, μετὰ χαρᾶς τὴν δέησιν ποιούμενος,

5ἐπὶ τῇ κοινωνίᾳ ὑμῶν εἰς τὸεὐαγγέλιον ἀπὸ τῆς πρώτης ἡμέρας ἄχρι τοῦ νῦν.

6πεποιθὼς αὐτὸ τοῦτο ὅτι ὁεναρξάμενος ἐν ὑμῖν ἔργον ἀγαθὸν ἐπιτελέσει ἄχρις ἡμέρας Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ·

7καθώςἐστιν δίκαιον ἐμοὶ τοῦτο φρονεῖν ὑπὲρ πάντων ὑμῶν διὰ τὸ ἔχειν με ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳὑμᾶς, ἔν τε τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου καὶ ἐν τῇ ἀπολογίᾳ καὶ βεβαιώσει τοῦ εὐαγγελίουσυγκοινωνούς μου τῆς χάριτος πάντας ὑμᾶς ὄντας.

8μάρτυς γάρ μου ὁ θεὸς ὡςἐπιποθῶ πάντας ὑμᾶς ἐν σπλάγχνοις Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ.

And my translation:

3 I give thanks to my God every time I remember you

4 always in all my prayers, on behalf of all of you, as I make a prayer with joy,

5 because of your communion in the gospel from the first day until now,

6 being convinced that the one who begins a good work in you will reach its end on the day of Christ Jesus.

7 So it is right for me to think that on behalf of you, since you have me in your mind, and in my bonds and my defense and confirmation of the gospel, you being my partners in all charity.

8 For God is my witness that I long for you all in the mind of Christ Jesus.

A few things of interest.

Modern ruins of Philippi.  Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/33037982@N04/4952686280/

Modern ruins of Philippi. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/33037982@N04/4952686280/

First, the word μνείᾳ (mneia) in verse 3.  Sumney translates this as “mentionings.”  The NRSV translates it “every time I remember you.”  It’s a little more complicated than that.  The word was used in Plato to refer to a “token of remembrance” of the dead.  Reumann notes that the idiom mneia poieisthai (lit. “to make mentionings/remembrances”) was used as an idiom for prayers in early Christian literature.  I suspect there’s a connection here between mentioning as an oral act and prayer.  Think of how prayer is conceived of: talking to God, listening to God, etc.  In Hebrew there is a similar word, hagah, a verb that (in one meaning) literally refers to the moaning before God in prayer, softly reciting a phrase or word.  But in English I can’t think of a word that conveys a similar connection between remembering, prayer, and speech.

Second, the word κοινωνίᾳ (koinonia) in verse 5.  This word is often translated as “communion,” but Sumney translates it as “participation” and Reumann as “sharing.”  It’s related to κοινός, a word referring to that which is shared or communal.  We know from texts like Acts that many early Christian communities strived for an ideal community of shared property.  Plato himself uses the term to refer to his political order, and the same term is used of the Pythagorean cult.  How close is this bond of sharing, communion, and participation?  Koinonia was used throughout the Greek world to refer to the bond between husband and wife.  Imagine not just two people seeking that closeness, but an entire community.

When first studying Hebrew, I learned that the Hebrew language maps metaphors of the human body differently.  The gut is the source of emotion and instinct while the heart is the source of volition, will, personality, and rationality.  What I didn’t know: it’s similar in Greek.  So when Paul says “you have me in your καρδία [heart],” he doesn’t just mean feelings or emotions, but the seat of physical, spiritual, and mental life.”

But it is usually rendered “heart.”  Think of preachers imploring people to “take Jesus into your heart!”  Every time I hear that phrase (sometimes in an altar call), it means something very emotional, contrite, powerful.  But when you take Jesus in an altar call, have you had time to reason through the Christian worldview?  In other words, while καρδία (and its Hebrew equivalent, lav) and “heart” refer to the same physical thing, when used metaphorically they have different meanings in Greek, Hebrew, and English.

So why do translators render this “heart”?  It’s inaccurate.  But it’s hard to find a word in English that fits the bill. I translate it “mind” to be thought-provoking, but that too has problems.

Next up: Paul’s imprisonment, 1:12-14.

Greek Isaiah in a year, reloaded!

Recently Abram K-J over at Words on the Word (a great blog focusing on Scripture, especially the Septuagint) finished his year-long question to read Isaiah in Greek.  The most logical next step, of course?  Do it again:

On November 30 the group Greek Isaiah in a Year read the last verses of Isaiah 66. And what a rewarding experience it was to read slowly–over the course of a (church) calendar year–through Isaiah.

Blogger Brian Davidson wants to do it again.

I’m sorely tempted.  If you are as well, check out the main resource page for the project.  It only asks 5 verses a day, 5 days a week.  Having read some Isaiah in Hebrew, I can only pray the Greek is easier.

Philippians in Greek, Part 1: Epistolary Greeting, 1:1-2.

In June I finished first-year Greek.  Though a fellow student and I read half of Pseudo-Lucian’s The Ass last summer, it has now been almost three months since I really looked at a Greek text.  And despite my original desire to read Greek for the New Testament, it has been never since I looked at a biblical text.

0008333_philippians_a_greek_students_intermediate_reader__300

So for the next 3-4 weeks, I will work my way through Philippians with my friend Brian, using Jerry Sumney’s useful reader and Reumann’s Anchor commentary.  Philippians is ideally short.  And not knowing it very well, I won’t be able to fake my way through remembering what it says.

Part of the terror – and thrill – of blogging as I read is that I don’t know what will come next.  But I have faith in the fact that every section, even the most prosaic, contains nuggets of linguistic insight.

With that confidence in mind, let us move to the first part, Paul’s greeting to the Philippians.

1  Παῦλος καὶ Τιμόθεος, δοῦλοι Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ, πᾶσιν τοῖς ἁγίοις ἐν χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ τοῖς οὖσιν ἐν Φιλίπποις, σὺν ἐπισκόποις καὶ διακόνοις·

2 χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ.

My translation:

1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the holy ones in Christ Jesus in Philippi with overseers and assistants,

2 grace to you and peace from God our father and the lord Jesus Christ.

Even in this innocuous greeting, I found some linguistic nuggets.

First, “ἐπισκόποις καὶ διακόνοις.”  The KJV translates these as “bishops and deacons.”  At first glance it is an easy choice.  But ἐπισκόπη in Greek was used to refer to any officials in government or officers in an organization.  The word goes all the way back to Homer and Sophocles.  And διακόνος, though it is cognate with the English word “deacon,” could refer to any intermediary, assistant, or agent in a transaction.  Cynic philosophers used it to refer to themselves.  Josephus used it to refer to Rachel in her role as an intermediary introducing Jacob to Laban.

As tempting as it is to translate “ἐπισκόποις καὶ διακόνοις” as “bishops and deacons,” it is inaccurate.  It might lead a reader to think that the Philippians in the 50s A.D. had bishops and deacons just as we do now.  They did not.  The NRSV rightly translates this “overseers and helpers.”

Also, thanks to Brian for pointing out that this word is related to the verb σκοπέω: to look at, examine, oversee.  So an ἐπισκόπη was someone who literally watches (σκοπέω) on or at (ἐπί) someone or something.

Second, the term δοῦλος.  When I was learning Greek, I thought δοῦλος could refer to a servant or a slave.  But it very clearly only refers to a slave.  We know from the letter to Philemon that the earliest Christians included both slaves and slaveowners.  Reumann notes that there was no real questioning or criticism of slavery in the ancient world.  He also notes:

In a tiered hierarchy among slaves, “middle-level” douloi with managerial skills (as in Matthew’s parables) could control property and achieve upward social mobility and status by association with the upper class in a patron-client system. (56)

So a δοῦλος, while a slave, was a higher-class slave, perhaps like the house slaves in American history.  Speaking of America, BDAG notes that early American Bible translations tend to render δοῦλος as “servant,” despite all good philological sense.  Interesting.

Probably not one of the saints of Philippi.  Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pjhodges/4745916734

Probably not one of the saints of Philippi. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pjhodges/4745916734

Third, the ἁγίοις that Paul writes to, usually translates “saints.”  I am wary of this translation because it runs the risk of (like “bishops and deacons” above) making the reader project onto the past, as if first century Philippians (or any Christians) had a canonization process.

In the Septuagint, ἁγίος is the translation of קדוש, literally someone who is holy or set apart by God.  So perhaps we should translate ἁγίοις as “holy ones.”  But that is so vague in English, I am not sure what it refers to.

How fascinating that even the most (seemingly) simple words can have unexplored nuances and meanings in the original tongue.  I hope you can join me as I continue with the next few verses.

“Thou shalt blog:” Reading the Decalogue in Hebrew, Part 1.

To kick off my blog, I’d like to start a series.  I’m going to blog through the Decalogue (aka Ten Commandments) in Hebrew over the next four weeks.

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/waltjabsco/231958950/

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/waltjabsco/231958950/

Some questions I will ask:

  • How are the decalogues in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 different?
  • Does the order of the 10 differ?
  • How do authorial voices (as in the documentary hypothesis) factor into those differences?
  • Was the decalogue different at Qumran?

Along the way I will parse some of the thornier parts and look at any linguistic oddities raised by the Hebrew.

510moOosfJL

To aid me, I’ll be using the Lehrhaus Judaica course on that same subject.  (If you are a Hebrew enthusiast, you should check them out.  They videostream the Advanced Hebrew courses.  We have a student taking the course from New Zealand.  Okay, advertisement done.)

I’ll also be reading through William H.C. Propp’s commentary on Exodus in the Anchor Bible series.

I hope you can join me!  See my first post, on Deuteronomy’s prologue to the ten commandments.