Posts Tagged ‘Syriac’

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.

Ethiopian Martyrs under WW 2 Italian Fascism

June 1, 2013

The Ethiopian Coptic Church is one of the most ancient churches in Africa. The country converted to Christianity under King Ezana in the fourth century. The currency he established was on a par with the Roman denarius, so that the country could freely trade with Rome. The Copts are Monophysites, who believe that Christ had only a divine nature, while Chalcedonian Christians in the western churches – Roman Catholics, Protestants and Greek and Russian Orthodox consider that Christ was both human and divine. The theological argument for this is that Christ’s humanity was swallowed up in His divinity, in the same way a small drop of water is swallowed up by an immense ocean. As I understand it, the liturgical language of the Church and the Ethiopian Bible is Ge’ez, an ancient language descended from the South Arabian languages. It’s therefore a semitic language, related to Hebrew, Arabic, and Syriac, the language of the Syrian Orthodox church, which is itself descended from Aramaic, the language probably spoke by our Lord Himself. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church received its Christianity from the Egyptian Copts. During the succeeding centuries the Ethiopians were in communion with the other eastern Orthodox churches, and translated a series of theological and other religious works from Coptic and Aramaic.

The Book of Enoch

The Ethiopian Orthodox Bible also contains a book not in the Western Biblical canon – the Book of Enoch. This is about the journey of the prophet Enoch to heaven. It contains a series of passages describing the Fall of the Angels and predicting the arrival of the Messiah at the End of Time. This Messiah is called the Son of Man, the title, which Christ uses of Himself in the Gospels.

Ethiopian Society and Church Similar to Old Testament

The Church itself, and traditional Ethiopian society, has been described as very similar to that of the Old Testament. According to the ancient epic of the Ethiopian emperors, the Kebra Nagast, the country’s monarchs are descended from Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The lyre is still played in Ethiopian, and as in King David’s time. The churches each possess a copy of the Ark of the Covenant. Ethiopian men also wear the tobe, a kind of toga. The country’s great buildings include a number of churches cut into the very rock itself, so that they are below ground level. These were built in the Middle Ages to protect them from attack from the neighbouring Muslim peoples. Many traditional Ethiopian names are direct statements or references to Christian theology. For example, the name of the former Emperor Hailie Selassie, means ‘Power of the Trinity’.

Invasion of Ethiopia and Defeat of Italian Army during World War II

During the Second World War Ethiopia was attacked and conquered by Fascist Italy as part of Mussolini’s project to create a revived, Roman Empire in the Mediterranean and Africa. This included a brutal extermination campaign in the Ethiopian countryside in 1937 under Marshal Rodolfo Graziani. Graziani was responsible for a series of atrocities during Italian invasion of Libya, earning him the nickname ‘the Hyena of Libya’. During his campaign in Ethiopia Graziani was responsible for killing a quarter of million Ethiopians. These atrocities were in response to an attempted assassination on Graziani in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. After its failure, the assassins fled to the ancient monastery of Debra Libanos. Graziani order the massacre of the monastery’s monks and nuns, as well as the citizens of Addis Ababa itself, and directed a campaign of terror against educated Ethiopians. The Fascist colonial regime finally ended in 1941 when British and Ethiopian forces entered Ethiopia from Sudan. On May 5, 1941, the Emperor Hailie Selassie re-entered the ancient capital of Addis Ababa. Older people in the area around Bath and Bristol in the English West Country remember that during the War, Hailie Selassie’s children were sent to safety in Bath.

Selassie’s Overthrow

In the event, Hailie Selassie’s failure to modern the country and his cover-up of a famine in one of the Empire’s provinces resulted in him becoming increasing unpopular. He was overthrown in a coup in 1973, which ushered in a Marxist, military dictatorship until Communism itself finally fell. The great rock cut churches have been featured in a number of programmes on the BBC, including one where they were visited by the great architectural historian and broadcast, Dan Cruikshank.

The Legend of St. Tekla Haymanot and the 1985 Famine

In 1985 Collins published a retelling of the legend of the Ethiopian saint, St. Tekla Haymanot, by Elizabeth Laird and an Ethiopian priest, Abba Aregawi Wolde Gabriel, to raise money for Oxfam’s campaign against the Ethiopian famine. It was that famine that prompted Bob Geldof’s Band Aid and Live Aid records and concert to provide relief for its African victims. The frontispiece contained a prayer, written in Ge’ez that is recited at the festivals of St. Tekla Haymanot and the other saints of the Orthodox Church. The prayer gives glory and praise to God, Our Lady, and Christ’s Cross. The priest requests that the prayer may rise before the Lord’s throne, and praises Him for providing the bread and wine of Holy Communion, and food and clothing.

“Of him who has given us to eat this bread,
Of him, who has given us to drink this cup,
Of him, who has prepared fr us our food and
our clothing.”

Sources
‘Africa, Italian East (AOI, Africa Orientale Italiana)’, ‘Ethiopian War’, ‘Graziani, Rodolfo’, and ‘Selassie, Hailie’, in Philip V. Cannistraro, ed., Historical Dictionary of Fascist Italy (Westport, Connecticut/ London: Greenwood Press 1982)

Elizabeth Laird and Abba Aregawi Wolde Gabriel, The Miracle Child: A Story from Ethiopia (London: Collins 1985).

Edward Ullendorf, The Ethiopians: An Introduction to Country and People, 3rd Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1973).