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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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).

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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.

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Thursday, December 28, 2017

Who was the mysterious Zacharias of Matthew 23:35 and Luke 11:51?

Both Matthew and Luke report of a fire-and-brimstone sermon by Jesus, in which he pronounces the Pharisees' guilt of all shed righteous blood on earth, from that of righteous Abel to that of Zacharias son of Barachias, who "they" murdered between the temple and the altar (Matthew 23:35, Luke 11:51). We know who Abel was but the fellow named Zacharias is harder to place.

The father of the prophet Zechariah was called Berechiah (Zechariah 1:1), so that seems like a good bet, but this Zechariah worked about 500 years before Jesus blamed the Pharisees for all the innocent blood shed on earth. That would mean that Jesus figured that no innocent blood had been shed for the previous five centuries, which would be quite a statement. And Zechariah was never reported murdered, as far as we know. Of course, a lot of things happened in those days that we don't know about but one would assume that Jesus wouldn't refer to an event that was so relatively obscure that not a single other report of it survives.

A Zechariah whose murder does appear in the Scriptures is a prophet in the early days of the divided kingdom, who protested the people's worship of idols and was stoned to death in the court of the temple of YHWH and by command of king Joash (2 Chronicles 24:21). The name is right and the place is right (the inner or priestly court of the temple contained the altar, so Zechariah could have been perfectly positioned between the altar and the actual sanctuary), but this story plays in the ninth century BC (that's more than eight centuries without innocent blood shed), and this Zechariah's father wasn't called Berechiah but Jehoiada (2 Chronicles 24:20).

Proponents of this theory argue that many people in the Old Testament have two names that are used interchangeably, but why would Jesus refer to someone we all know, and all know to be a son of Jehoiada, confusingly as a son of Berechiah, as if he were the later prophet Zechariah?

Others claim that the innocent Zacharias was in fact the father of John the Baptist, but that would require assuming that his father was called Barachias and that he was killed in the temple court, and no one else talked about that. But, really, if we would allow assumptions like that we might as well assume that righteous Zacharias himself isn't otherwise known.

Much more radical is a connection between our mystery man and a story told by the famous Roman-Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (see our article on Dalmanutha), about a wealthy man named Zacharias, son of Baruch, who was murdered "in the middle of the temple" by riotous Zealots who had first organized a mock trial presided over by seventy judges, and who had swiftly acquitted Zacharias, much to the chagrin of the zealots (Jewish Wars, IV, 5, 4). The names Baruch and Berechiah are closely related (one is short for the other, and this kind of truncation is very common in the Bible; the famous Baruch-bulla that surfaced in 1975 even reads "Belonging to Berechiah, son-of-Neriah, the scribe") and there is no huge time gap between this murder and the time of Jesus. The only problem with this theory is that the murder of Zacharias by the zealots happened in the year 67 AD.

Scholars are generally not happy with this connection. "It's doubtful whether this [interpretation] can be justified," writes Spiros Zodhiates (The Complete Wordstudy Dictionary — New Testament) mildly. "That Jesus should predict the incident is absurd," roars John Macpherson (Zacharias: a study of Matthew 23:35).

In footnote IV-9 on his translation of the Jewish Wars, William Whiston makes the obvious objection that the murder of Zacharias by the zealots was decades in the future of Jesus. And he suggests that Josephus cared enough about the sanctity of the temple that he would have certainly mentioned if the zealots had murdered acquitted Zacharias in the inner court.

Here at Abarim Publications we're not so sure.

Josephus paints a clear picture of complete anarchy. It seems that there were hundreds of people gathered in the temple complex that day; spectators, seventy judges and enough zealots to dominate everybody. After the mock trial, the zealots murder Zacharias (yelling something like, "Here's our acquittal! See how that one suits you!") and pummel the seventy judges out of the temple complex with the backs of their swords, so that they could demonstrate to the citizens that they were nothing but slaves to the zealots. Josephus shows obvious indignation to the zealots' general disrespect. As Josephus notes about the Zealots a few paragraphs further up:

"These men, therefore, trampled upon all the laws of men, and laughed at the laws of God; and for the oracles of the prophets, they ridiculed them as the tricks of jugglers. Yet did these prophets foretell many things concerning [the rewards of] virtue, and [punishments of] vice, which when these zealots violated, they occasioned the fulfilling of those very prophecies belonging to their own country; for there was a certain ancient oracle of those men, that the city should then be taken and the sanctuary burnt, by right of war, when a sedition should invade the Jews, and their own hand should pollute the temple of God. Now while these zealots did not [quite] disbelieve these predictions, they made themselves the instruments of their accomplishment" (Josephus — Jewish Wars IV.6.3).

The problem of chronology is evenly easily solved. The reference to Abel and Zacharias was not made by Jesus but by the narrator of the story (whoever that was, Matthew, Luke or the Q-author, or even a later editor). It's an insert, a gloss, comparable to the "let the reader understand" inserts of Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14, and aimed at the audience of the gospels who certainly knew very well about the murder of Zacharias and when it had happened, namely very recently.

Saying that Matthew and Luke referred to a fifth or ninth century martyr is like supposing that when a late 20th century author speaks of "the Kennedy assassination," he is talking about poor lord David Kennedy who was killed at Flodden in 1513. If the evangelists hadn't meant the obvious Zacharias, they would have had to add "Zacharias, not the famous one!"

Poor David Kennedy, who met his untimely demise at the Battle of Flodden in 1513

The murder of Zacharias marked the end of an era. It was an early symptom of the imminent destruction of the temple and the collapse of Jerusalem, and that collapse marked the end of Jewish reality, in effect the end of the world. The murders of Abel and Zacharias encompassed the whole of history, exactly the stretch of time that Jesus speaks about, but the Abel and Zacharias remark was never intended to be placed in the mouth of Jesus; it's a comment obviously made by the story teller. Red-letter Bibles should stop printing red after the word "earth" and pick it up again after the word "altar".

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The verb ρεω (reo) means to flow - hence panta rhei

Heraclitus according to Michaelangelo

The Greek verb ρεω (reo) means to flow; hence the famous dictum panta rhei, or everything flows, made famous by Heraclitus of Ephesus.

This philosopher of the Persian Empire, who lived during the century of post-exilic restoration of Jerusalem, also pioneered the idea of Logos, which proposes that the universe is governed by a single unchangeable unified natural law (Colossians 2:16-17) rather than whimsically warring deities.

Our verb is used for anything that flows: water but also words, which helps to explain the stream of living water that would flow from people's within (John 7:38; which is where our verb's only New Testament occurrence happens).

The verb ερεω (ereo) means to verbally convey. It's clearly related to the verb ρεω (reo), meaning to flow, and is often spelled the same (without the leading ε).

Speaking to the Greeks was what snow is to Eskimos, and our verb ερεω (ereo) appears to emphasize the associative flowing out of words, rather than the actual message (that's described by the verb λεγω, lego), or the act of emitting information (επω, epo), or simply to babble (λαλεω, laleo).

Heraclitus' famous dictum doesn't only mean "everything flows" but also "everything speaks," which brings to mind Jesus' assertion that man should live on not only bread but every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).

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Monday, December 25, 2017

Wanna read the Christmas story in Greek?

Always wanted to read the Christmas story in the original Greek but you don't read Greek?

Then use our free online Interlinear New Testament. Follow the links to view the corresponding Dictionary articles and an analysis of the Greek grammar.

Go to Abarim Publications' free online Interlinear Luke 2 ...

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