Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Greek verb ακουω (akouo) means to hear

The verb ακουω (akouo) means to hear (hence our English word "acoustic"). It probably comes from a combination of the prefix α (a), which in this case means "together with," and a word that probably stemmed from a hugely old Proto-Indo-European root kous-, from whence also our English verb "to hear" comes.

In the New Testament this verb is used pretty much in parallel with our English verb. It may denote the mere perception of sound (Matthew 2:18, 11:15) or the physical ability to do so (Matthew 11:5). But more often describes the receiving of certain news (Matthew 2:3, Mark 2:1) or handed down traditions (Matthew 5:21). It may describe attending a verbal presentation (Matthew 12:42), or the mental capacity to understand what was said (Romans 11:8).

Our verb may imply compliance (Luke 10:16), cooperation (Matthew 10:14), or examination (a hearing; Acts 25:22), but most often it describes the understanding and comprehension of information, which is where faith begins. Or as Paul says, "Faith is by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17, also see Galatians 3:2-5).

Our verb occurs a total of 436 times, see full concordance.

Continue reading ...

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Neapolis - the New City

There were quite a few cities and settlements named Neapolis (= New City) in the ancient world. Creating colonies was all the fad but coming up with snazzy new names apparently wasn't. This is also how the world begot Naples (= Napoli = Neapolis) and the scores of Newtons (= New Town, same thing).

The Neapolis that is mentioned in the Bible is present day Kavala, a city on the coast of modern Greece but Macedonia back then. It's situated about 14 kilometer south-east of Philippi, and its two-fold claim to fame began when it provided the renegades Brutus and Cassius with a military base, right before they were defeated by Mark Anthony and Octavian, at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC. About a century later, with less fanfare but comparable effect, the apostle Paul entered Europe via Neapolis and brought Christianity with him (Acts 16:11).

Paul and Silas had picked up Timothy at Lystra and toured the Phrygian and Galatian region, but in Troas a vision had appeared to Paul in which a Macedonian man pleaded for them to come to Macedonia. As soon as passage was available, the men had boarded a ship headed for the island of Samothrace, and for Neapolis the following day. From there they went to Philippi and that Sabbath, they met and converted a female purple trader named Lydia.

Continue reading ...

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The name Isaac means laughter

The root-verb צחק (sahaq) means to laugh, or rather: to have fun, in pretty much the same range of applications as in English (Genesis 39:14-17, Exodus 32:6, Judges 16:25).

Laughter makes us human and was the first formal result of the covenant God made with Abraham.

The first people to laugh in the Bible are Abraham (Genesis 17:17) and Sarah (Genesis 18:3, 21:6), but when Ishmael, the son of Abraham with Hagar also starts laughing, Sarah drives him and his mother out (Genesis 21:9). Sarah's son Isaac is named after the verb to laugh, and as he marries Rebekah, he appears to have ways to make her laugh as well. That their 'laughing' wasn't restricted to mere merriment is attested by the outcry of the local king Abimelech, "Behold, certainly, she is your wife!" (Genesis 26:8).

Laughter, like speech, is an acquired ability which developed in our past for reasons that have long been obscure. This obscurity in turn was due to the obvious fact that laughter is a continuation of the fear reflex — that's why it's so contagious, so hard to stop when you're at it and often so unclear whether someone is laughing or crying: it's basically the same sound produced by the same body parts.

In the last few decades, the study of natural synchronicity has made the connection clear. Humanity's incredible success in the world is not due to our intelligence, but much rather to our ability to tune into each other: synchronicity, or the mentally blending together at the reflex and subconscious level. Many closely monitored and double-blinded experiments have shown that humans (and particularly kin and romantic partners) have the ability to synchronize their heart beat, skin conductivity and even general mood. Women living together often menstruate at the same time.

In the natural world, one "naked ape" isn't much of a foe, but fifteen of them could be problematic, unless of course these fifteen don't want anything to do with each other. Should they, however, demonstrate a very high level of synchronicity, namely by exclaiming their alarm cry in utter synchronicity (perhaps even in multiple voices and snazzy rhythms, hence vocal music) any enemy with any sense at all will realize that the group is not simply fifteen times a naked ape, but rather one super-organism like a dragon with fifteen heads and a transparent body.

Human singing and laughing originated not in entertainment but in shows of force and are similar to an animal's standing upright, showing teeth or flapping brightly colored feathers. The name Abraham means Their Strength (or They Are Now Protected) and expresses international synchronicity. His son's name Isaac means Laughter.

Continue reading ...

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Nicodemus: a comic encounter

There's only one man named Nicodemus in the Bible but he plays quite a part. His name appears only in the gospel of John (a mere 5 times; see full concordance) and his literary character develops beautifully from scholarly and skeptic to justificatory and finally sympathetic, empathic if not outrageously exuberant.

The story of Nicodemus is deliberately comical

The gospel of John is one of the latest additions to the New Testament; it was written when the synoptic gospels had been circulating for decades and the letters of Paul even longer. Its perspective is clearly that from after the resurrection of Christ and its intended audience knew that the protagonist was going to end up alive and glorious.

The audience's assumed foreknowledge of the facts is clearly demonstrated by John's introduction of the story of the raising of Lazarus, in which he refers to Mary as the one who had anointed Jesus (John 11:2). He's not referring to something he's already told. John's own version of that account would follow in chapter 12.

John is not trying to add more facts but organize the existing facts in a new way, quite possibly also to address the follies of Gnosticism, which slowly began to distinguish itself as an independent philosophy around the time of John's writing. The early Gnostics began to believe that salvation was the result of a certain true knowledge and that this true knowledge could be achieved by a life of study and ascetic self-denial. Christianity differs from Gnosticism in its belief that salvation comes from Christ, whose love surpasses all knowledge (Ephesians 3:19). Knowledge is of course highly appreciated in the Bible, but ultimately it's not knowledge but He who makes us able to stand blamelessly in the presence of God, and He gives great joy (Jude 1:24, Jude is also a relatively late book). Or said popularly: if true knowledge was the key, the devil would be in.

John's gospel is deliberately joyful; it even ends with a quip (John 21:25; also see John 20:30-31). John is probably too early to be an actual formal response to Gnosticism, but it deliberately shows the inadequacy of the intellectual effort and does that in the form of satire and downright banter. Commentators rarely touch the comic character of the debate between Nicodemus and Jesus, but while Nicodemus is obviously displayed as a stern academic and a very learned man, Jesus treats him like a banana.

Continue reading ...

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The noun πετρα (petra) means rock but Peter means pebble

The feminine noun πετρα (petra) means rock or rather: mountain of a rock. A petra is used to build houses in and on (Matthew 7:24, Luke 6:48) or hew sepulchers in (Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:46). It's also used to metaphorize someone's firmness or strength; the Septuagint uses it in 2 Samuel 22:2 in the familiar phrase "The Lord is my petra and my fortress." Paul refers to the Meribah event in 1 Corinthians 10:4, and compares Christ to the petra from which the waters flowed (Exodus 17:6).

Petra denotes a firm foundation and as such it serves as a metaphor for faith in Jesus Christ (see our article on the word πιστις, pistis, meaning faith, for more on this).

The masculine counterpart of petra is πετρος (petros), which denotes a wobbly flint that won't supply any footing and can be tossed away at will.

Not on some innately strong rock but on these small pebbles will I build my church  ...

All this indicates that the Peter (petros) upon which Jesus would build his church was not one of strength but of ostentatious weakness and collectivity.

Continue reading ...

Monday, January 15, 2018

To sin is to miss your target: the Greek verb αμαρτανω (hamartano)

The verb αμαρτανω (hamartano) means to miss in the sense of to miss a target, road or direction (not in the sense of missing a friend). It describes the difference between aim and impact, purpose and application, or intent and realization.

To sin is to miss your target

In the classics this verb originally described the failure of some ballistic weapon to hit where one was aiming at. In the Iliad, Homer describes how Pandarus hurls his spear at Diomedes, penetrating his shield. Pandarus starts to boast but Diomedes calmly informs him that he missed and not hit (Il.5.287). Athenaeus (3rd c AD) quoted Aeschylus (6th c BC) who complained that at a banquet someone hurled a foul smelling vessel at his head, which "missed me not" but shattered on impact and stank up the room something awful (Deip.1.30).

Over time our verb evolved to also include a difference between intended speech and what one ultimate utters (a slip of the tongue), a failure to possess or hang on to a desired quality (like eye sight), or the fruitlessness of a vain request. But more significantly, our verb became associated with a failure to relate to an ideal absolute and took on the familiar meaning of to err, to do wrong and ultimately to sin. But there's a problem.

Our English verb "to err" and noun "error" come from the Latin verb erro, which is cognate to the Sanskrit arsati and ultimately derive from the Proto-Indo-European root ers-, meaning to be in motion, to wander around. Our Latin verb erro means precisely the same thing as our Greek verb hamartano: namely to miss a target, or to wander from the right way. The Latin word error, meaning a wandering or deviation from the route to the objective, is therefore a perfect equivalent of our Greek noun αμαρτια (hamartia).

Our word "sin," on the other hand, comes from an ancient root that means "to be" — hence the German verb sein and the Dutch verb zijn; both meaning to be. This root also relates to the Latin noun sons, meaning guilty or criminal, which in turn derives from the participle sum (meaning "being"), of which the infinitive is esse, hence our word "is." All this indicates that our cultural understanding of "sin" is static, intrinsic or even possibly imposed by someone who declares: "he is [guilty]!" possibly despite pleadings and evidence to the contrary. In our world, someone might be "guilty" without having done anything, or "innocent" while stealing all day long.

In most modern societies one is innocent until declared guilty by some authority, which ultimately means that in our world being a sinner has nothing to do with actually doing something wrong, but rather with getting found out. The medieval church was largely an instrument of government, and the idea of ontological sin was conveniently connected to the concept of original sin (we're born wrong; Psalm 51:5, Ephesians 2:3) and to the Great White Throne judgment on judgment day (Revelation 20:11-15). It worked marvelously and money rolled in from everywhere. But it wasn't Biblical, of course.

Continue reading ...

Friday, January 12, 2018

The number Pi in the Bible

Here at Abarim Publications we rarely get nervous, but the pi-challenge presented in 1 Kings 7:23 is formidable, and required more volume of coffee per volume of Twila Paris than any other challenge we were tempted to meet so far.

The brilliant sage Maimonides (1135-1204) once stated in response to the pi-conundrum of First Kings, "The ratio [we know as pi] cannot be known. It is impossible to arrive at a perfectly accurate ratio.

This is an astounding statement, because the irrationality of pi wasn't proven until 1761 (by Johann H. Lambert). And the transcendence of pi wasn't proven until 1882 (Ferdinand von Lindemann).

Continue reading ...

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Could Pilate have been a good guy?

There is only one man named Pilatos mentioned in the Bible (or all of recorded history, for that matter) and that is Pontius Pilate, the infamous Roman governor of Judea at the time of the public life of Christ. His name occurs 55 times in the New Testament (see full concordance) but as simple as the literary character of Pilate tends to be summarized — to most and even serious commentators, Pilate was little more than the quintessential bad guy who let the Jews let the Romans kill Jesus — it's really phenomenally complex, and that in more ways than one. In fact, Pilate my actually have been one of the good guys.

When Pilate called out "See the man!" he didn't express evil disdain but concern and confusion. 

To start with, governors of the forty-plus provinces of Rome remained in office one to three years while Pilate stayed on for a decade. That had to have a reason. The tasks of these local governors were so mundane — basically maintaining a region's financial revenues and directing these to Rome — that the names of only very few of them are known to us today. That means that the literary coverage that Pilate enjoyed, by several non-Biblical first century authors, is no less than phenomenal (for more on Josephus, see our article on Dalmanutha). Also indubitably for a good reason.

Nearly sixty years after the event allegedly took place, the famous historian Josephus felt compelled to submit that Pilate had been reprieved and sent to Rome by the governor of Syria, to explain to the emperor his brutal suppression of a Samaritan uprising. For reasons we'll discuss below, this is so obviously a lie that we can only conclude that Josephus engineered a slanderous ruse about someone who should have been considered a minor player more than half a century earlier. Clearly, Pilate had not been a mere minor player and his influence was still felt in the 90's AD.

Secondly, traditional history has always told the story of the ages by stringing the stories of its superstars together. Nowadays, however, we realize that the influence of superstars on the course of human history is only minute, and the real story is told by what buzzes the common populace. Julius Caesar, arguably one of the most super of superstars and father of Roman imperialism — the familiar Christian phrase "Son of God" was originally applied to Augustus; Julius being the implied paternal deity — was besides a general and statesman a prolific writer who wrote about pretty much everything, sometimes in critically acclaimed poetry. But the bulk of Caesar's work — the "Word of God", so to speak — has been lost!

For some reason, the nameless scribes and scholars of the ancient world preserved for us scores of poems by Solomon and David, who were minor kings (politically speaking), but couldn't be bothered to preserve the musings of the Father of the Modern World. These same scribes, however, began to copy the gospels and letters of Paul on such an industrial scale that we have countless different versions (due to minor copy errors and editorials) that date back to mere years after their original inception.

Continue reading ...

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Greek verb μενω (meno) means to stay

The verb μενω (meno) means to stay, and derives from the same ancient Proto-Indo-European root that gave us the words "remain", "maintenance" and even "mansion", and which also left its traces in Latin and Persian.

Also note the striking similarity with the noun μην (men) meaning month (from the name of the lunar deity Men), which is identical to μην (men), the particle of strong affirmation, which is a variant of the more common μεν (men), meaning truly or indeed. Also note that the latter is suspiciously similar to the familiar Hebrew term אמן (amen), which also expresses affirmation.

The goddess Men

In the New Testament our verb μενω (meno) mostly expresses a staying or dwelling in the same place (Matthew 10:11, Acts 20:15, 2 Corinthians 3:14).

Almost only in the Johannine gospel and epistles occurs the usage of this verb in the sense of remaining or abiding within a teaching or (in that sense) a teacher (John 6:56, 8:31, 1 John 2:6, 2 John 1:9). Sporadically this verb may express a waiting for someone (Acts 20:5).

Continue reading ...

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Beyond sacrifice in the Bible

From our article on the verb זבח (zabah), meaning to slaughter or sacrifice:

The act of sacrificing animals is very common in the Bible as well as in classical cultures at large, but it's often overlooked how profound a concept sacrifice really is. Sacrifice has two main functions, and these reflect almost perfectly the greatest command and the second one that is equal to the first (Matthew 22:36-40):

(1) Love the Lord your God with your whole heart, soul and mind

When humans were hunter-gatherers, survival depended largely on the clan's ability to stick together, to have clan members diversify and specialize, and thus form a sort of super-organism. The quintessential human ability to use language actually developed from a universal proto-language called syntax (discussed in Genesis 11:1) not as a tool to convey data, but as a tool to forge and strengthen bonds — meaning that small-talk is language's main function; laughter and music probably stem from similar considerations, see our article on the verb צחק (sahaq).

Formal religion too appears to have arisen mainly as a tool to keep the clan together; a shared devotion to an entity which was not only imagined to protect the group from an outside perspective but which also strengthened bonds between clan members from within. In effect, a clan's deity was the clan; its spirit was the clan's spirit, its culture and its life.

The acquisition and preparation of food was obviously a main occupation of the clan, and sharing this food with the clan members effectively was equal to sharing this food with the deity. Cultural evolution may have forged formal and complicated rites, but the idea remained the same. (1 Corinthians 9:13, 10:18-22).

(2) You shall love your neighbor as yourself

Equally important to forging a clan's internal bond is its collective understanding of the general operating principles of creation, and its local role on the grander stage — or in other words: that a clan understands that its internal integrity is as important and of the same essence as its external integrity. A clan's internal symbiosis is as important as the harmony of creation at large: the whole of creation is a super-clan and the local clan fits the super-clan the way one person fits the local clan.

There's nothing wrong with a good theory, but buzz-words like "competition" and "survival of the fittest" are not the main driving principles of the biosphere. If they were, we would have had a winner by now. This winner creature would have eaten all the others and hence ended bio-diversity, while at the same time find a way to halt the hallowed mutations to prevent diversity from emerging again — it's a self-contradicting scenario.

Variety makes all the difference

In stead, the biosphere is endowed with all sorts of mechanisms that promote and preserve diversity at all costs. If one particular creature becomes too populous, its food will automatically run out, multiple predator populations will increase, and even viruses and such will slay with greater efficiency too much cloning or near-cloning (that's what caused the famous 19th century famine in Ireland).

Sacrificial rituals are secondarily designed to express and instill gratitude and acknowledgement towards the sacrifice. The sacrifice sustains the sacrificer, and the sacrificer in turn becomes a sacrifice. This sounds like a lot of wasting, but that's only because that's what the word sacrifice has come to mean to us. The word sacrifice comes from the same Latin root as does the word sacred. Sacrificing something doesn't mean to do away with it, but to sanctify it; to utilize it into the great circle of life. Sacrifice means sanctify and has the same effect as love. The biosphere is an ongoing cycle of servitude; death is not the enemy but a worthless and unapplied and unshared life is (Matthew 10:39).

It's tempting to project human feelings of individuality upon the biosphere, but our human feelings may be delusional rather than natural. Like a tree that is eager to give up its fruits for the benefit of its customers as much as its own, so is a large herd of animals or school of fish designed to give up some of its members. The herd-mind consists of all the minds of all the animals together, and is much more dominant than one individual mind. That may seem unfair, but our own human mind is in fact the mini-minds of all our cells combined, like a choir of a trillion voices. Our separate cells die and are replaced every few months, and none of them objects as long as the total continues.

To almost every human individual, the wish to matter to others is far stronger than the wish to overwhelm them. Asking someone for help benefits both; you don't have to go it alone and the other feels valuable. This basic driver of social evolution is based on the primary operating principle of life on the collective biosphere scale, and even explains the death and resurrection of the Christ.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Free online concordance of the Greek New Testament

Our free online concordance list words and names that occur more than 3 times in the New Testament.

Follow the links to these words' respective concordance pages. From there you can zip to the respective dictionary articles that discuss your word, or the chapter of our interlinear New Testament in which your word occurs.

That page also lists the grammar parsing of your word for additional clarity.

Continue reading ...
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...