Essay: Biblical Exegesis the wiki way

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Aramaic solution to "Logos" controversy?

I think that the way out into the open clear might be through the pass of the Aramaic understanding:

The Hebrew text of Scriptures is very clear in visualizing the God of Israel in physical terms, even if meant to be understood metaphorically. But the Aramaic Jewish translations of the Hebrew Scriptures (Torah/ Targum Onkelos) will not allow it to be so presented, but will rather speak around it (paraphrase) or use an intermediary word between the physical description and God. In the Hebrew text of Genesis 32, Jacob is wrestling with "a man" but after the bout, Jacob says, in the original Hebrew text, "I have seen God face to face and my life has been saved". In the Aramaic translation, however, Jacob is made to say, " I have seen the angel of God face to face and my life has been saved". At times, the intermediary word is actually the word "Word" - in Aramaic, Memra (the root is Aleph, Mem, Resh as in the Hebrew word 'Omer). Again, whereas the Hebrew text (Gen. 3:8) has it, "They (Adam and Eve) heard the sound of the LORD God walking about in the garden", the Aramaic has it, "they heard the sound of the Memra (Word) of the LORD God walking about in the garden" Apparently, walking about in the garden conjured up too much of rustling of leaves and bushes to take figuratively, and so it was the "Memra" of the Lord God that was heard and not the LORD God Himself. This is the pattern in other places in Genesis. An Orthodox Jew, Prof. David Flusser of the Hebrew University (now deceased), notes that it is to this mindset that we owe our understanding of John 1:1 and not to Philo and the Alexandrian "logos" philosophy. "In the beginning was the Word (Memra) and the Word (Memra) was with God.. and the Word (Memra) was God. John 1:1, Flusser maitains, is meant to rip away the distinction between God and the Memra, so assiduously held to by contemporary Judaism, and so declare that they, the Memra and God, are in reality one, ...and this One has, indeed, come down and has become flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. John, in his epistle, would later say in wonderment, " Whom we have handled, we have touched and held Him."

In this view, the Word (Memr'a) is used, not to "mediate" God (or the knowledge of God) to man, but to say that God, needing no mediator, has Himself come down to us and incarnate, in the flesh, has made himself known. How to translate? Not easy as "Memr'a" is being purposely used as a literary device to destroy its former use of keeping God at an untoubable and unknowable distance. A weak comparison but the only one coming to me now " O.k. (to a blind person wanting to know what I look like but too shy to feel my face), so don't touch my face, just touch this hanky (which I put on my face) and feel around," Sounds pretty weak now, come to think of it, but Aramaic Judaism was very "shy" on anthropomorphizing God, and John, too polite to refute directly was nevertheless insistent on what was the truth, and so his way of taking what they believed and pressing on the face of Jesus so that they could touch and feel. This fits into recent (in decades) work that places John into 1st century time (by Dead Sea Scrolls terminology and language) and rediscovering the corpus of Aramaic literature (with its linguistic connections to John) in the first century context - all giving credence to the Gospel of John having "apologetic" force in 1st century Judaism. Perhaps this is the accurate way to translate John 1:1 into English. It is accurate, but who can bear it? "In the beginning was the "Concealing Word" of God, and this Word was with God, and that Word was in actuality God Himself and thus has become the Revealing Word...and He became man Bert Schlossberg 20:05, 1 November 2009 (EST)

A decent explanation, but not a great translation. Your suggestion crosses over into translation commentary (i.e. transitioning from "concealing word" to "revealing word"), rather than strict idiomatic translation, and would better serve as a footnote on John 1:1 than a translation of the verse. I also think that while this gospel certainly would impact Jews, the evidence throughout John's gospel points to it having been written with Greeks in mind, not Jews (unlike Matthew, for example). Thus, the secret to truly understanding what John was saying is unlikely to be found in Aramaic language parallels or Jewish thought. Greeks would have no knowledge of this Aramaic/Jewish explanation, and would be very unlikely to have made any of these connections. I do not dispute anything you say about the Jewish mind, and their understanding of God and of memr'a, I simply point out that this gospel was clearly written in Greek to Greek speaking gentiles, not to Jews, so the secret to a more accurate translation of John's words in 1:1 is not going to be found in Jewish understanding. Michael Back 2:12, November 2, 2009 (EST)

Michael, no question that the Gospel of John was written in Greek. Do you think that there is any indication of "Jewish interest" within John to warrant consideration that it was written to Hellenized and Greek speaking Jews (or with these Jews in mind), of which, I understand, there were considerable numbers, both within the Church (Book of the Acts) and without? I saya this because a Greek understanding Hellenized yet conversanbt with the Judaism, both Aramaic and Hebrew did exist and they could be the "target population" as well as the Gentile for the Gospel of John. Cyrus Gordon hs shown that in the time of the Philistines, one of the 5 Greek tribes of the Peoples of the Sea, Greek also invaded the Hebrew language, such as "seren" instead of "melekh" (king) for ruiler of the 5 Greek city states of Canaan - "seren" coming from the Greek Tyranos (Tyrant), cov'a the philiistine head gear coming in as "hat" in Hebrew, etc. Likewise, in the 1sst century, there were Greek proselytes (who became Rabbis with their followers), and Greek words invaded Hebrew and Aramaic like "nomos" (law, reulatoru principle)) becoming "nimusiin" (manners), as well as the skillful use of Greek in the Midrashic Targums (Bereshit Rabba)- the Midrash sees father and son somehow both participating in the sacrifice to be, even by implication and hint. The Bible - Isaac: "BEHOLD, THE FIRE AND THE WOOD, BUT WHERE IS THE LAMB OF SACRIFICE?" (the Hebrew word for "lamb is 'seh') Abraham: "GOD WILL SEE TO THE LAMB OF SACRIFICE, MY SON." (here be it noted that the Greek word for "you" is "se"(accusative case) sounding exactly like the Hebrew word for "lamb"). So the Midrash adds in the mind of Abraham "And if God will not provide a lamb (Hebrew - seh) for the sacrifice, then it is you(Greek - se), Thou are that sacrifice, my son!" I think from all this that Dr. Flusser may be right. There were a szeable number of hellenized Greek Jews both in an out of the Church that would have well understood John 1:1 according to the Aramic understanding presented above. [User:BertSchlossberg|Bert Schlossberg 03:40, 2 November 2009 (EST)

About Flusser p Schlossberg 09:54, 2 November 2009 (EST)

This discussion of the logos is certainly becoming fascinating. When I consider the difficulty we have had coming to terms with it, and the difficulty many have had with it, I began to wonder if the use of the term logos was an unfortunate event thrust upon us initially by Heraclitus. As Karl Jaspers pointed out, not even Heraclitus explicitly defined it, while Edward Hussey stated that he "end[ed] with a central difficulty that leaves things more mysterious than before". Philo, Ronald Williamson tells us, used the term logos "very frequently", but "partly because the ideas it was used to express are difficult and complex ones, and partly because Philo's own thought is also profound and complex, it is difficult to give a clear and coherent statement of Philo's thought in this area". Williamson even adds parenthetically "if indeed it can be said that he had a single Logos doctrine". In stating that "one god there is", Xenophanes reasoned that it was "contrary to divine law" that gods should be ruled by another god since it was contradictory that "gods should have masters". (Hussey, p. 13-14) But in attempting to imagine how the one god interacts with and brings order to the world, did the Greeks simply replace "the gods" with the logos? If that is the case, then why should we give the logos any more credence then we would "the gods"?

That said, John's use of the term logos would certainly have been familiar to his Greek-speaking audience. When Jesus said that we must be born "from above", someone familiar with Stoicism, like Marcus Aurelius, could well have responded with "what is born of the earth to the earth returns; but what is born from above, to heaven returns". But John's gospel would not have said too much unfamiliar to a Jewish audience, either. Frank Kermode in his essay on John's gospel in The Literary Guide to the Bible, mentions the times that John alluded to Scriptural texts without acknowledging them. References to sheep and shepherds, Kermode writes, are derived from Ezekiel 34, "but John does not say so, preferring to work the allusions into a highly developed parable . . in which Jesus himself is (ego eimi) shepherd . ." The parable of the vine in John 15 "is adapted without acknowledgment from Psalm 80". As Bert Schlossberg said, such unacknowledged allusions may have been noticed by a Gentile who was interested in Judaism. But a Jew would no doubt notice it. Similarly, such a Gentile and a Jew would have noticed a similarity between Philo's use of the term logos, and John's.

Seeing how the LXX translated the "word" of God in the Hebrew text as the logos of God prompted Philo to use the term as well, according to Williamson. But Philo would have also been aware that the idea of the logos mirrored the wisdom of God. The wisdom of God had many of the same "attributes and functions" as the logos of God, as found in the Hebrew text at Psalm 104:24, and Proverbs 3:19. But it was also in Ecclesiasticus and the Wisdom of Solomon where the qualities of Wisdom could be compared with the logos. In the Wisdom of Solomon we read that Wisdom is the "fashioner of all things"; "the breath of the power of God". (7:22, 24-25) But what made the logos win out over wisdom was most likely that logos is masculine, while wisdom - sophia - is feminine, making it "much more useful because of its masculinity to both Jewish and Christian writers in the first century AD" - according to Williamson (p. 104-5) If John was one of those first century writers so influenced, then it is easy to see how his reading of the Wisdom of Solomon 9:15 - substituting logos for wisdom - could have influenced his gospel: "For a perishable body weighs down the soul, And its earthly tent burdens the thoughtful mind". In his gospel, verse 1:14, John wrote that the logos became flesh, and "pitched its tent" among us. John may have been communicating to both a Greek and Jewish audience in terms that they would understand. But he was also deeply influenced by both the Greek and Jewish world in which he lived, and which helped shape his gospel. - Danielitld

Dear Daniel, Michael, Andy, and whatever other good angels are listening in to this most recent conversation, all this goes to show that whatever good will come from these discussions to issue forth in benefit to the Conservative translation, great good is coming out anyway in the discussion itself. I will ask your opinions concerning what I will present that to me decides the case for translating the Greek "logos" of out text with the understanding that it means what is simply posited and echoed in many of the translations - "Word", (but this word being understood in its Aramaic dress "Memr'a" with its usage as spoken about above (that is not to say that I know how to put it succinctly in idiomatic English!) Here is what I would say in support of what I have just said. It is clear to me that what "informs" John 1:1 is Genesis 1:1. "In the beginning was the Word (as I would put it)" must have been written by an author (human) who has had resounding in the inner ears of his head, the mighty words of the beginning of our faith, In the beginning God created". Certainly what follows in that first Chapter of Genesis over and over, in the making of all, is "and God said", "and God said" and "God said" Each of these "sayings" bears the adumbrations of "Memr'a". And just as certainly the Son, having come and shall come again, is known in the New Testament as the "Word of God" - and for good reason!. And just as certainly does the N.T. Epistles, and you can review them in your mind, see the Son as the One, and the vehicle by which the created universe came into existence - He is the "God said" of Genesis. All this latter, together with the Genesis 1. -Gospel of John 1. literary "conjunction", decides it for me that "logos" is to be translated as "Word" and that understood as the Memr'a. I believe that is what was in John's mind, and I believe that his readership among the Aramaic biblically imbued Hellenistic Jews, of which there were, within and without the Church, would have understood him, and understood the audacity of it all that the Almighty God Himself, ripping away all guise intended to obscure and hold Him at arms length, would have come down, taken flesh, and rustled around among us. But if there were none of these people around, If John would have uttered what was in his mind by himself in the confines of his bedroom, I think that John would have said it anyway. That's how real progress is made in this turgid world of ours!Bert Schlossberg 01:50, 3 November 2009 (EST)

While I am not convinced that Memr'a truly captures the meaning of logos as John intended it, I very much like your vivid and strikingly visual description. You definitely match the poet's eye with the scholar's pen. Keep it up. I truly believe the Lord will use this skill of yours to minister to many people. Just for clarification, my suggestion, "living word" is an attempt to incorporate the traditional translation, "word," with John's clear intent to do the very thing you are describing: to illustrate that the logos is much, much more than just a concept, philosophy, idea, or character trait, but is living, powerful, and is, in fact, God. Having said that, I would be fine with either "Living Word" or "Word," as I have no problems with the traditional translation (because, frankly, there simply is no English word that can accurately relate what logos means to an English speaking audience). I have long ago made peace with the simple fact that human language is inadequate to truly capture or describe our God. Michael Back 2:57, November 3, 2009 (EST)

Thank you, Michael, from you, as I have come to know you in your good words on this page, that certainly is a compliment. And we all echo you, "human language is inadequate to truly capture or describe our God." Bert Schlossberg 03:15, 3 November 2009 (EST)

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