Posts Tagged ‘Greek (language)’

The Greek Texts as God’s Word: A Reply to ‘Submit’

July 11, 2013

I had this comment posted by ‘Submit’ to my post Christianity and the Survival of Ancient Learning: Part Two

Are Greek texts pure word of God. Where is Logia of Jesus in Aramaic. Where is Matthew’s Aramaic gospel?

P46 (175CE) is Greek manuscript with the largest percentage of difference on record. This just proved that Church have been changing words since early 2nd century at will.

Here is the words of the early church father, Origen (3rd century CE):
“The differences among the manuscripts have become great, either through the negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others; they either neglect to check over what they have transcribed, or, in the process of checking, they make additions or deletions as they please.” Origen, early church father in “Commentary on Matthew.”

Regarding the oldest surviving fragment, Colin Roberts compared P52 writings using ONLY 5 samples from the early 2nd century CE back in 1935 and concluded based on those 5 samples; P52 was from the early 2nd century.

(Brent Nongbri’s 2005. The Use and Abuse of P52: Papyrological Pitfalls in the Dating of the Fourth Gospel)
What I have done is to show that any serious consideration of the window of possible dates for P52 must include dates in the later second and early third centuries. – Brent

Compare with 4th century codexes. You will be surprise how Holy Spirit inside the scribes fail to prevent them from changing words of God ever since the beginning.

‘Submit’s’ Question and Muslim Attitudes to the Gospels

Now it occurs to me that there’s a bit of Muslim polemic in here. ‘Submission’ is the English translation of the Arabic term, Islam, and while it’s possible that ‘Submit’ took his or her name from the ‘Submit’ button on the comments box, it could also be a reference to Islam’s name. One of the tenets of Islam is that it preserves the original teaching of the Jesus and the other Judaeo-Christian prophets, which the Jews and Christians have deliberately altered. Now I have to say that with arguments like those, I suspect there may be a double standard considering the penalties some Muslim societies have placed on the critical examination of Islam’s own sacred texts in the way the Bible has by Western scholars.

Now let’s examine some of ‘Submit’s’ claims and questions.

Where is Logia of Jesus in Aramaic. Where is Matthew’s Aramaic gospel?

They haven’t survived, but there’s no reason to believe that they were deliberately suppressed. The canon of scripture was formed from the books the churches used for preaching, learning about the Lord, and worship. There was no formal process in which Christian scholars deliberately decided which books to include in the canon, and which to exclude. Now the lingua franca of Jews outside Palestine, and indeed of the eastern Mediterranean in general, was koine Greek. The early Christian communities used the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Bible that had been composed for the Jewish community in Alexandria in Egypt. Some scholars have suggested that the division between the Greek and Hebrew communities mentioned in Acts may not refer to ethnic divisions in the early Christian community, but between Greek and Hebrew-speaking Jews. There is still some debate amongst scholars over how far Rabbinic Judaism was hostile to the early Christian communities. Some Jewish scholars have maintained that the Birakat ha-Minim, or 12th Benediction in the Talmud, was not written against Christians. The Birakat ha-Minim condemns ‘Nazarenes’ and other heretics. Earlier scholars have seen it as an attempt by the rabbis to combat the growth of Christianity. As I said, it’s disputed by Jewish scholars, who have argued that Christians were still welcome in the synagogues until the early 2nd century. The church historian Eusebius mentions Jewish Christians, such as the bishop, Hegesippus. Robin Lane Fox in his book, Pagans and Christians, notes that the Jews were largely hostile and unresponsive to Christian mission. Christian preaching to Jews in the synagogues appears to cease with St. Paul. Given that the wider language of the Jewish diaspora was Greek and that after the First century Gentile Christians exceeded Jewish Christians, it appears to me that Matthew’s Aramaic Gospel may not have survived, not because it was deliberately suppressed, but because it wasn’t relevant to the wider Christian community. Its use by Aramaic-speaking Jews would have meant that it would have died out when their community did.

Syriac, the Peshitta, and the Hebrew Gospels

There is also the general point that the Patristic sources, which mention this version of the Matthew’s Gospel simply states that it was written for the Jews ‘in their own language’. This could be Aramaic, or possibly Hebrew. It may also mean that the Gospel was superseded by the Peshitta, the Syriac language version of the Bible used by Assyrian and other Eastern Orthodox churches. Syriac is descended from Aramaic, and developed around the city of Edessa after 200 AD.

Problems of Assuming Bible first Written in Aramaic

Now there is the problem in that ‘Submit’ assumes that the Bible, at least in its earliest stages and elements was composed first in Aramaic, then translated into Greek. But this need not necessarily have been the case. AS I have said, koine Greek was the international language of the eastern Mediterranean. The language of the imperial administration, up to the Muslim conquest in the 7th century AD was also Greek. It is possible that Christ may have known some Greek, and part of his answers when tried by Pilate may also have been in Greek. It’s thus possible that the first logia composed by the Christian community may have been in the Semitic koine Greek used by the Jewish communities there, rather than in Aramaic or Hebrew.

Differences in Gospel Copies due to Scribal Errors, Not Invention

Now let’s deal with his contention that there are major differences in the various copies of the Gospels. In fact what he is describing, and what Origen was trying to correct, are copying errors. Manuscripts were frequently copied through dictation. This allowed a single reader, dictating to a number of scribes at the same time, to produce many copies of the same book, rather than a single scribe laboriously copying out the text for one book after another. The problem with that process, however, is that words that sound the same could be confused. Furthermore, Greek texts from the ancient world can be extremely difficult to read. There’s very little punctuation, and no gaps between words. It’s also true that some scribes may have slightly altered the text to make the passage clearer. Despite this, there are no major differences. About 97 to 99 per cent of the text in all the extant copies of the Greek Bible is the same, and there are no differences when it comes to the fundamentals of the faith.

As for scribes changing the text of the Bible ‘at will’, this also isn’t true. The scribal changes follow the conventions of three different stylist families, resulting from the different scriptoria that produced them. If the scribes were introducing such changes at will, they would be much more random and it would be much more difficult to group them into families.

Conclusion: Gospel Texts Accurate with only Minor Differences

So the early Greek texts were not altered at will, but largely through scribal error, and these differences do not altered the fundamental meaning of the Gospels themselves. They remain largely accurate copies of the original documents.

The Churches and Monasteries of Medieval Nubia: Part Four – the Monasteries of Ghazali and Qasr el Wizz

June 23, 2013

Ghazali

The monastery of Ghazali in the kingdom of Nobatia was excavated by Peter Shinnie and H.N. Chittick of the Sudanese Antiquities Service in 1953 and 1954. The monastery lay on the modern Wadi Abu Dam, not far from the town of Merowe. It had first been discovered by Europeans in 1821, when it was visited by Linant de Bellefonds. Lepsius had visited it 28 years later in 1849, and discovered twenty inscribed stones, which he took back to Berlin. The monastery dates from the tenth century, when Nubian Christianity was at it height. It was deliberately chosen for excavation because of the light it promised to shed on Nubian Christianity during its heyday.

The monastery’s church was large by the standards of medieval Nubia. It was 28.1 m long and 13.9 m wide (92 feet by 46 feet). It was composed of mud brick resting on lower courses of dressed sandstone blocks. Its interior was plastered, and covered in graffitti. In its layout, it was a typically Nubian church. It was basilican in plan with a nave and two side aisles. The aisles were divided from the nave by a series of arcades. A bench ran along the entire length of the north aisle. Halfway down the nave was the pulpit. Jars inserted in to the floor suggest that a wooden screen separated the haikal from the nave. Behind the heikal was a series of seven steps leading to an apse-shaped tribunal. South of this apse was the church’s dianonikon, or sacristy.

The church’s floor was tiled. Below this was a drain system, which may have been connected to the baptistry. A large pottery dish, which may have been used for foot-washing, was set in the sacristy floor. Shinnie and Chittick believed that the sacristy’s layout was Greek, rather than Coptic, providing further evidence that the Nubian liturgy stated that Christ had two natures, rather than one. Outside the church on its north side was a tank lined with plaster. This was either the baptistry or an epiphany tank. Its position is unusual as baptistry tanks were usually located in the southeastern corner of the nave.

The monastery’s other buildings were located in three groups. They were built of schist and mortar, the majority containing debris left over from when they were occupied and water jars. One of the buildings was probably a refectory. It contained circular benches, similar to those in Egyptian churches. The monastery was surrounded by a wall, beyond which were the complexes latrines. One of the distinctive features of the monastery’s cemetery was the graves of its former inmates. These were box graves with crosses, now only fragmentary. The tombs’ epitaphs are in Greek and Coptic, with most of them in Coptic. Although the epitaphs followed the Byzantine pattern, the extensive use of Coptic suggests that many of the monks may have been Egyptian, who had fled to Nubia from persecution in their homeland. Shinnie’s investigation showed the importance of monastacism to Nubian Christianity, and that Greek, Coptic and Nubian were all used in the church’s liturgy. The layout of the monastery of Ghazali is shown below.

Ghazali Monastery.jpeg

Qasr el Wizz

Ghazali was not the only monastery excavated. Others included that of Qasr el Wizz. This is far more compact than some of the other monasteries, such as the Kom H monastery at Old Dongola. The layout of Qasr el Wizz is shown below.

Ghazali Monastery 2.jpeg

The Churches and Monasteries of Medieval Nubia: Part 1 – Introduction

June 21, 2013

I’ve blogged a bit before on the great Christian civilisation of medieval Nubia in what is now the Sudan. This civilisation consisted of the three kingdoms of Nobatia, Merkuria and Alwa. Nobatia was situated in the area between the Nile’s first and second cataracts, with its capital at Faras or Pachoras. Makuria stretched from the third cataract to the Butana. Its capital was Old Dongola. It was amalgamated with Nobatia in the seventh century. Alwa was centred on its capital of soba far to the south. Alwa is its Arabic name. The Greeks called it alodia. The remains of extremely small churches and a limited number of burials suggest that there may have been a settled Christian presence in Nobatia in the early sixth century before the possible conversion of the pagan temple of Dendur into a church by the king Eirpanome in 550 AD. The Nobatian church was monophysite, like the modern Egyptian Coptic Church, which believes that Christ only had a single, divine nature. The Makurian church, however, was dyophysite. Like the modern Greek and Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic and European Protestant churches, it believed that Christ had two natures. He was both human and divine. Nubia boasted numerous churches. Little is known about Alwa, but the Armenian traveller Abu Salih described it as possessing 400 churches. Archaeological excavations in Soba have uncovered very few buildings that may have been churches, and it is possible that Abu Salih had overestimated their number. One of the very earliest churches in Nubia was in Qasr Ibrim, which was created by the local Christian community in the fifth century through the conversion of the Meroetic temple of King Taharqa, dating from the seventh century B.C.

European and International Exploration and Archaeological Investigation

After its conquest by Islam in the 16th century, medieval Nubia was largely unknown in the West until a series of European explorers and archaeologists visited the area from the early 19th century onwards. One of the first was the great Swiss explorer Jacob Burckhardt, who made two expeditions to Nubia and travelled as far as the third cataract from 1813 to 1815. Burckhardt was the first to describe the Nubians’ way of life, and their faded memories of their ancient Christian past. Two tribes even then still claimed to be descended from the ancient Christian inhabitants. He saqw the remains of two public buildings, which were probably churches at Qasr Ibrim, and came across the remains of a chapel in one of the islands of the Batn el Hajar, lying between the second and third cataract. Later explorers included Count Vidua, Richard Lepsius, the archaeologist, Somers Clarke, and many others. Most of what is known about medieval Nubia comes from the great rescue operations to investigate its archaeology during the construction of the Aswan dam. The first of these was 1899,led by Clarke, and the second, much greater series of excavations in the ‘Save Nubia’ UNESCO campaign from 1960s onwards, caused by the construction of the High Dam and formation of Lake Nasser. These were done by teams of British, American, Polish and Dutch archaeologists.

Nubian Courts and Kings Styled on Byzantine Empire

Archaeological finds and inscriptions, including evidence from churches, indicate that Nubia had strong connections with the Byzantine Empire. Often these were stronger than its relationship with the Egyptian Coptic church to the north. Inscriptions found by J.W. Crowfoot in the region of ancient Mekuria in 1927 indicates that the Nubians used Greek and followed the Byzantine liturgy in their worship. Documents discovered and published the following year by F.Ll. Griffiths showed that the Mekurian court was also modelled on that of the Byzantine Empire. There were courtiers and officials with the Byzantine titles of meizoteros (mayor of the palace?), proto-meizoteros (premier super-mayor), domesticus, primacerius and eparchos. A graffito in mangled Greek at St. Simeon’s monastery, dating from 7th April 1322, records that the last Christian king of that part of Nubia, Kudanbes, styled himself ‘president of the Caesars’.

Construction of Nubian Churches

Nubian churches were mostly built of mud brick, which does not survive very well in the archaeological record. Otherwise churches were composed of fired, red brick on stone foundations. These were either of sandstone, or granite from the marginal areas near the desert. The roof, which could be either flat or vaulted, were supported by granite pillars. These were painted or plastered, and occasionally were covered with frescoes. Stone capitals, doorjambs and lintels were carved with a wide variety of motifs and designs which reached their zenith in the eighth century. These included fish, crosses, vine and palm leaves. Granite capitals have been found in Upper Nubia, but they are rare, and were probably robbed out for reuse after the buildings were abandoned. William Adams identified four phases in the evolution of Nubian church architecture from his work in Lower Nubia. In the first, earliest phase churches probably consisted of the Byzantine basilica type. These were rectangular buildings comprising a nave flanked by two aisles. The Byzantine influence on these churches suggest that the dyophysite Christian communities in Nubia were earlier than indicated by the historical sources. The next phase, termed Early Nubian by Adams, lasted from about 650-800. This still roughly followed the form of the classical basilica, but with some slight differences. These may have been the result of changes in the Nubian liturgy, or the deliberate creation of a separate architectural style by the churches’ builders.

The zenith of Nubian church architecture was reached in the next phase, the Classical Nubian, which lasted from roughly 800 to 1150. This was defined through the addition of a passage running across the east side of the church, leading from the baptistry in the south to the vestry on the north side of the church. These were probably constructed to allow the clergy to pass from one side of the church to the other without going through the sanctuary or heikal. In some churches of this type there was a brick wall between the sanctuary and the nave. This indicates that the ceremonies in the sanctuary was becoming more secret and spiritual, and so concealed from the view of the laity.

According to the Polish archaeologist, Wlodiemiercz Godlewski, who excavated Old Dongola, the first three phases also saw changes in the construction of the baptistry. These were usually located south-east of the nave or narthex. These originally possessed large, circular tanks into which the candidates for baptism could walk. These were gradually replaced by square fonts, which were placed on a pedestal or base, similar to those in modern western churches from the eleventh centuries onwards. It appears that there was thus a move away from large, public baptisms towards a smaller, more intimate ceremony.

During the last phase of church construction from around 1150 to 1400, churches became smaller. The earlier large tanks for baptism were not generally built in churches of this period, and the emphasis was now on the sanctuary. This suggests that the church interior was exclusively reserved for the clergy, and that the congregation were deliberately kept outside. It also indicates that baptisms were being conducted in the Nile, rather than in a special space within the architecture of the church. This may well have been produced by changes in the liturgy, or as a result of the position of Christianity in Nubia becoming increasingly endangered from Muslim and desert raider incursions from the north. It is possible that the Nubian church became increasingly orientated towards Byzantium after Muslim raiding and conquest made contact with the Egyptian Coptic church increasingly difficult.

Among the churches that have been excavated are those of West Arminna and the cruciform and granite column churches of Old Dongola. The monasteries that have also been revealed and investigated by archaeologists include those of Ghazali and Qasr el Wizz. I will talk about these in parts two and three of this essay.

Sources

William H.C. Frend, The Archaeology of Early Christianity: A History (London: Geoffrey Chapman 1996)

Niall Finneran, The Archaeology of Christianity in Africa (Brimscombe Port: Tempus 2002)