Jesus the Essene?

I was lucky to have been raised in a family where my father was very well read. His interests were broad. It was to my benefit that he had a particularly strong interest in religious studies. He would read books that were informed by all viewpoints including those which were sometimes considered to be controversial. Growing up surrounded by books gave me an opportunity to appreciate different viewpoints and the importance of the marketplace of ideas. There was not much need for censorship.  My father’s attitude was that truth would usually prevail given enough information and critical thinking skills. In that environment I read what were (in those days) controversial books such as “The Passover Plot,” “Those Incredible Christians,” “No Man Knows My History,” and many others.

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One particular book I remember reading in high school was a paperback I found lying around the house titled “The Lost Years Of Jesus Revealed” by Rev. Dr. Charles Francis Potter. There was a lot of underlining on its pages and it was obvious to me that my father had read it more than once. It was published in 1958 and revised in 1962.

In those days, books about the Dead Sea scrolls were hard to come by. I found the subject fascinating but it seemed that there was little real information available to the general public. And what was available frankly seemed disappointing and boring. This little book, on the other hand, captivated my interest. Potter’s thesis was that Jesus’ ministry was actually an evolution of the Essene movement. He managed to place much of Jesus’ social and theological teachings in a historical context that came right out of the Dead Sea group. At the time, I considered it speculative but it made for a very good read and was thought provoking. Potter went so far as to surmise that during the “lost years” between ages twelve and thirty, Jesus was part of the Essene school. And it was to the title of the great “Teacher of Righteousness” noted in the scrolls that Potter theorized Jesus probably succeeded.

Enter the Pesher…

I didn’t think a lot about the Dead Sea group or Qumran and the scrolls for a few years (and frankly there wasn’t much out there published) but then in about 1992 I came across Barbara Thiering’s “Jesus And The Riddle Of The Dead Sea Scrolls.” Thiering, a biblical scholar from Australia, attempted to unfold the real life story of Jesus from her reading of the Dead Sea scrolls using the Dead Sea group’s “Pesher” technique. Thiering not only applied the pesher technique to the scrolls, but went on to apply the same technique to the text of the New Testament. Her conclusions seemed so foreign and indeed downright outlandish to me that I struggled finishing her book. It just didn’t make any sense. I wondered how someone with her credentials could come to such shocking conclusions. Was this just a sensationalistic approach to sell books? I wondered.

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Now even though Thiering’s conclusions seemed highly speculative, the pesher technique actually was not as nonsensical to me as perhaps most readers might take it.

So just what is a pesher?

Pesher (פשר‎) is a word found in the scrolls used for a procedure or approach to decoding scripture. It is like a solution to a puzzle and anyone who knows the technique can solve the puzzle.

It works like this. A scroll writer would take an ancient Hebrew Bible book such as Habakkuk and go through it verse by verse. After quoting each passage he would add “its pesher is…”, and then explain its hidden meaning. The approach implies two levels of meaning, a surface meaning and a hidden meaning available to those with specialized knowledge. Some aspects of the pesher technique rely on giving words special meanings. For example, the scrolls use the term “Kittim” to stand for Babylonians by which the writer meant the Romans of his time. Other verses in the Old Testament the scrolls say actually refer to “the Teacher of Righteousness” or the “Wicked Priest/Man of a Lie.”

Now even though this technique violates every rule of mainstream biblical exegesis or hermeneutics it was not particularly new or shocking to me. Having been raised in the Mormon church I was used to scriptures being quoted completely out of context and assigned a dual meaning. The pesher approach reminded me somewhat of the approach taken by LDS scholar Avraham Gileadi in his books on Isaiah. Gileadi argued that Isaiah had a topological mindset,  “what has been shall be” constituted a manner of prophesying. And what was past, Isaiah invariably used as a type of the future. Thus, there was the historical meaning, but also a so-called latter-day meaning or fulfillment. Prophecy was dualistic. (Of historical interest, Gileadi was one of the so-called “September 6” group of scholars excommunicated from the LDS church in September 1993 for supposedly publishing scholarly work against Mormon doctrine. In a move right out of George Orwell’s 1984, the church later reversed his excommunication and expunged it from church records meaning it was supposed to have never happened.)

Now the problem of course with the pesher method or using history as a type is that it really gives the interpreter ‘carte blanche’ to say whatever he or she wants about the hidden meaning of the scripture. And the implication is that the interpreter understands the true meaning of a book of prophecy better than the prophet who originally wrote the book. Whenever a prophecy is not fulfilled, an interpreter can always say that it has a hidden meaning and assign it to a future day or something that is expected to occur soon.

Thiering was roundly criticized by many scholars for using the pesher method in attempting to find hidden meanings in the text of the New Testament. Her method has not been accepted in mainstream circles and with time interest in her approach has waned.

On the other hand,  the past twenty to thirty years has witnessed a robust Dead Sea scroll growth industry with the publication of some excellent resources and new approaches to the scrolls by authors such as Geza Vermes, Robert Eisenman, Norman Golb, Lawrence Schiffman, Gabirele Boccaccini and others. With new innovations in bible software it has never been so easy to study the scrolls in the original Hebrew and Aramaic and make a first-hand informed judgment regarding their meaning and relationship to the development of Christianity.

A fantastic resource for self-study is “The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition” by Florention Garcia Martinez and Eibert J.C. Tigchelaar. This two volume book provides a transcription and an English translation of the non-biblical texts found at Qumran arranged by serial number from Cave 1 to Cave 11. It allows you to compare the English translation with the Hebrew.

After recently spending some time reading through The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition I was impressed with how the Dead Sea group was a strict, legalistic Torah observant, Messianic, apocalyptic, baptizing, wilderness, new covenant sect led by a priest they called the “Teacher of Righteousness.” The parallels to the early Jesus movement are really striking.

The groups have comparable rituals of baptism, communal meals, and common ownership of property. There is a parallel organizational structure: bishops or overseers as well as sectarians dividing themselves into twelve tribes led by twelve, similar to the structure of the early Church, with twelve apostles who, according to Jesus, would sit on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel.

The use of similar phrases between the Qumran group and the New Testament is also quite interesting: “sons of light” “sons of darkness” “Holy Spirit” “New Covenant” “living waters” “poor in spirit” the list goes on and on.

Finally, a text that I found to be especially intriguing (4Q521) and given the label “A Messianic Apocalypse”contains direct parallels (at least in my mind) to the early Jesus movement. It identifies in language similar to what can be found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, signs for identifying the Messiah, a single Messiah figure who will rule heaven and earth and the resurrection of the dead in the reign of this Messiah.

The jury is still out on whether John the Baptizer or Jesus was part of this group. Nevertheless it seems to me that the Rev. Dr. Charles Francis Potter was ahead of his time. At the very least, it would seem that the Jesus movement represents a further development in the evolution of the apocalyptic, messianic fervor that was prevalent in that time period.

Was Jesus an Essene? Was John an Essene? What about James the so-called brother of Jesus? If I were guessing, I would think that…well, I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide. The resources available for self-study continue to multiply and are now quite generous.

 

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THE WORLD’S OLDEST BIBLE

I love books. And the older I get, the more I appreciate them. Nothing beats the feel and smell of a really important old book, especially a first edition.

On a table in my office is a facsimile edition of a book that I absolutely relish. Codex Sinaiticus. In terms of calligraphy, it is top-notch. But to most people this book is completely impenetrable. The text is difficult to read, it is written in ancient Greek. However, to those with a knowledge of Christian history it is of immense importance. This “book” called Codex Sinaiticus which literally means something like “the Sinai book” is named after the Monastery of St. Catherine, Sinai where it had been preserved until the middle of the nineteenth century. Technically it isn’t really a book in the way that we think of books. It is a codex. Codices marked a huge transition in book making. The codex is the forerunner to the modern book format. Early Christians rejected individual scrolls and gathered all their texts into one volume which was then rolled over and bound. The codex thus became one of the greatest innovations of its time. This advanced binding technique began the Christian concept of a bible. In some ways, we can thank early Christians for the invention of the book, and Codex Sinaiticus may have been one of the first real books ever produced.

My facsimile edition of Codex Sinaiticus is huge, at nearly 800 pages, to me it weighs at least 20 pounds, probably much more. I really can’t emphasize enough its size and weight. As the world’s “oldest bible” it is obviously of supreme importance in reconstructing the original biblical text. Dating back to the era of Constantine the Great, originally the entire text had about 1460 pages. In present form it includes the complete New Testament, about half of the Hebrew Bible and the Apocrypha as well as two books that didn’t make the later canon cut, the Shepherd of Hermas and Epistle of Barnabas. It is speculated by some scholars that Codex Sinaiticus was part of a project ordered by Constantine the Great to produce 50 copies of the bible in 331 A.D.

Whether or not it was one of the 50 bibles prepared by Eusebius for Constantine it was nevertheless one of the monastery’s most important possessions.

A Codex Sinaiticus manuscript, right, the earliest complete New Testament, from 4th century Egypt or Palestine on display in the 'Sacred : Discover what we share' exhibition at the British Library in London, Wednesday, April 25, 2007. The exhibition brought together important religious texts from the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

A Codex Sinaiticus manuscript, right, the earliest complete New Testament, from 4th century Egypt or Palestine on display in the ‘Sacred : Discover what we share’ exhibition at the British Library in London, Wednesday, April 25, 2007. The exhibition brought together important religious texts from the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

When I have some free time, I love to turn over its huge pages and examine the erasures, corrections and additions. It is written in what is called Greek uncial script (all capital letters). With no spaces between words and all capitals, even with training in Greek it takes a bit of getting used to. It wasn’t until hundreds of years after Codex Sinaiticus was composed in the three hundreds A. D. that cursive lower case Greek manuscripts began to emerge. It is thought that between the 4th and 12th century later monks corrected what had been written by earlier scribes in Codex Sinaiticus. Hence, there are estimated to be about 27,000 total corrections to the text.

Some readings have theological significance such as the early ending of Mark (in Codex Sinaiticus Mark ends at 16:8, scholars continue to debate whether verses 9-20 are therefore unoriginal). The possibility of these verses in our earliest gospel not being inspired should cause even an amateur reader of the bible to pause and ponder the theological significance.

There are only four remaining uncial codices that contain or originally contained the entire text of the Greek Bible (Old and New Testament). They are:

1. Codex Sinaiticus (330-360 A.D.)

2. Codex Vaticanus (325-350 A.D.)

3. Codex Alexandrinus (400-440 A.D.)

4. Codex Ephraemi (about 450 A.D.)

Codex Vaticanus has been housed at the Vatican library since the 15th century and it is speculated that Vaticanus and Sinaiticus were both part of the project (mentioned above) by Constantine the Great in 331 A.D. to produce bibles for the Bishop of Constantinople.  But only Sinaiticus contains the complete New Testament.

It is interesting that there is a blank column after Mark 16:8 in Codex Vaticanus which indicates that the scribe did not consider the longer ending as part of scripture, but it also tends to prove that he was aware that some sort of longer ending existed.

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As I have leafed through Sinaiticus, what has struck me is how fluid the text may have been to early scribes. Some changes are indeed significant and scripture as it has come down to us over the centuries was transmitted by humans, clearly by very human hands.  If I look closely I can even distinguish different handwriting styles (there are said to be four main scribes). After more than 1600 years of wear and tear the script is still, however, said to be priceless.

Perhaps the book in Sinaiticus that has surprised me the most is the Apocalypse (book of Revelation). The text of Revelation differs considerably from the modern critical editions of our bible. There seem to be scores of changes. The first thing that caught my eye was the use of what is called nomina sacra. nomina sacra is a Latin word for “sacred names.” Anciently, scribes would tend to abbreviate divine names or titles when copying or compiling Greek manuscripts. A nomen sacrum simply consists of two or more letters from the original word with a line written above the letter. It looks like this:

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In this picture the circled Greek letters that look like “KY” are a nomen sacrum for the Greek word kyrios (“lord”).

In most new testament texts, scribes would typically use a nomen sacrum for God, Lord, Jesus Christ and possibly Spirit. The four divine names. But in addition to the four divine names, the book of Revelation in Sinaiticus also includes terms such as heaven, man, son, father, omega, Israel and Jerusalem as nomina sacra. Why? I don’t know.

In addition to the creative use of nomina sacra in the Apocalypse contained in Sinaiticus there is also the striking use of many substituted terms.  “Saints” replaces “servants” in Rev. 1:1; “island” is replaced with “valley” in Rev. 6:14; in Rev. 4:3 “rainbow” is changed to “priests” and “rainbow” is changed to “hair” in Rev. 10:1. Why? Again I do not know.

There are lots of other variants in the book of Revelation I have observed in Sinaiticus. Exactly when they were introduced, why they were introduced and the thinking behind the many, many intriguing readings remains a mystery.

 

THE ELUSIVE JOHN AND THE FIFTH GOSPEL

Christian tradition associates one man, John (Ἰωάννης or יוחנן) with the author of our fourth gospel, one of the twelve apostles, the beloved disciple, the so-called letters of John, the brother of James, a son of Zebedee and Salome and the author of the book of Revelation. San_Juan_Evangelista_El_Greco_1610 If true, this would be an unrivaled biography, this one man would be the author of five books in the New Testament and that would put him next to Paul in authorship.

But the list goes on. In the New Testament, he is portrayed as part of Jesus’ inner circle, a “pillar” in the Jerusalem church, a witness to Jesus’ conversation with Moses and Elijah, the only one who didn’t forsake Jesus in the hour of his passion and the one to whom Jesus gave the responsibility for the care of his mother Mary. Are we talking about just one man, or perhaps others?

There is a tradition that he was thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil but came forth unhurt, banished to the Isle of Patmos for a year and eventually died at Ephesus about the year 100. An alternative account of John’s death, which is credited to the early second-century bishop Papias of Hierapolis, claims that he was slain by the Jews. There is a Muslim tradition, involving the legend of Habib the Carpenter, which places John as one of the three disciples sent to Antioch to preach to the people there.

The Orthodox often depict him in their icons as looking up into heaven and dictating to a disciple who was named Prochorus. It is also said that he trained Polycarp who later became Bishop of Smyrna.  Polycarp then taught Irenaeus, passing on to him stories about John. In Against Heresies, Irenaeus relates how Polycarp tells the odd story of John rushing out of a bath house:

“ John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus within, rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, “Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.”

Unfortunately little is known about this Cerinthus (Κήρινθος)

Now what got me thinking about John, was a great fiction book I recently finished reading by Ian Caldwell. The Fifth Gospel.

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Caldwell spent a number of years (actually ten) working on the book. In his words, The Fifth Gospel “evolved from a historical enigma I discovered more than a decade ago. The Bible never tells us what Jesus looked like, and in the earliest surviving paintings of him, he is sometimes depicted as short-haired, sometimes as beardless, with no authoritative version winning out over the others. Yet around 400 AD, all of the other competing images were replaced by the long-haired, bearded Jesus we know today. Why? What discovery made the Christian world decide this was how Jesus really looked? That question gave birth to The Fifth Gospel.”

“The Fifth Gospel” is a murder mystery set in the Vatican. At the heart of the mystery is the Shroud of Turin and a fifth gospel (the Diatessaron) discovered by a researcher (Ugo Norgara) which he believed would prove the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin. Caldwell’s so-called fifth gospel is an original Diatessaron discovered by researcher Nogara who is murdered for unknown reasons. The plot reminded me somewhat of the DaVinci Code.

Those familiar with early Christian history know that the Diatessaron was an attempt by a man named Tatian to condense the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) into one definitive account of the life of Jesus which would clear up any inconsistencies between the four gospels. In The Fifth Gospel, Nogara attempts to use his discovery of the contents of the original Diatessaron to prove the authenticity of the Shroud.

This brings us back to the elusive John. Without giving away the plot and ending of “The Fifth Gospel” I would just say that in Caldwell’s book, it is John’s account of the burial of Jesus that the plot ultimately turns on.

In reaching that point, the book introduces us to the rise of a group known as the Alogoi (ΑΛΟΓΟΙ). The Alogi (also called “Alogians”) were a group of Christians in Asia Minor that flourished around 170 CE. The Alogi are dated to the same timeframe as the composition of the Diatessaron. They refused to accept neither the Gospel of John nor the book of Revelation.  They attributed the two New Testament books to Cerinthus, who as noted above was actually an enemy to John.

Most modern day Christians believe that John authored both of these books. Most scholars on the other hand have their doubts.

At the very least, it is doubtful that the same author wrote both the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation because of wide differences in eschatology, language, and tone. The first time I read these two books in Greek it was like reading from completely different authors. The book of Revelation contains grammatical errors and abrupt abnormalities whereas the Gospel and the three Epistles tend to be stylistically consistent. This might indicate that the author of Revelation may not have been as familiar with the Greek language as the author of the Gospel of John and the letters attributed to John.  When Revelation and the Gospel refer to Jesus as “lamb” they use different Greek words, they spell “Jerusalem” differently, the books seem to come from two different worlds . There are differing motifs between Revelation and the Gospel and the book of Revelation does not go into several typically Johannine themes, such as light, darkness, truth, love, etc. On the other hand the terms “Word of God” and “Lamb of God” for Jesus Christ are used similarly, indicating possible common theological backgrounds.

Unfortunately we know very little about Cerinthus who the Alogoi attribute to be the true author of both the Gospel of John and Revelation. And we don’t even know very much about the Alogoi. Even more unfortunate is that most of what is known about Cerinthus comes to us from his opponents. In a future blog post, I will address what we know about Cerinthus and provide my opinion on his relationship to the writings that have been attributed to John.

Just how much is lost in translation?

A question I am sometimes asked is:  “How important is it to read the Bible in the original Greek or Hebrew?” And another is: “Just how much is lost in translation from Hebrew or Greek to English?”

Unfortunately, sometimes a lot. And sometimes a translator can completely embellish a text to the point it conveys an entirely new meaning.

Lately, I’ve heard that knowing Greek or Hebrew is not important at all.  What is important is being familiar with a number of good English translations. While I can sympathize with that view, and I actually agree that in general, it is not essential to know Greek or Hebrew, I recently had an experience that illustrates what can be lost in translation – and even added, more about that later.

The following analogy that I’ve seen floating around the internet I think makes the point about biblical languages. It goes something like this:

Reading the Bible without knowing Greek and Hebrew is like watching a 20″ television. Reading the Bible knowing Greek and Hebrew is like watching a 65″ LED 1080p HDTV with stereo surround sound. You can understand what is going on with the 20″ television, but the 65″ LED HDTV with stereo surround sound gives added depth and clarity. You are able to see things that you would miss with the 20″ television.

And what most people do not realize is that the problem is actually much bigger than language alone. When moving from one language to another, you also move from one culture to another, complete with different histories, perspectives and often, especially with the Bible different time periods .

I took my first class in koine Greek more than 20 years ago. It wasn’t long after, that I stopped relying on the King James version (KJV) of the Bible. Before that point in time, I don’t recall ever looking at another version of the Bible in English. I had always assumed that the KJV was the most accurate and I think subconsciously I was associating the cadence and Elizabethan English of the text with the holy spirit. It made me feel good. Not too many weeks into studying Greek I realized that if I were going for accuracy, all bets were off, I needed to start examining other translations. The King James version in some ways had let me down. Although it has stood the test of time and had a remarkable impact on the English speaking world and is one of the most influential books ever published in the English language, I would not say it is the most accurate translation of the Bible. And any student of a biblical language soon figures this out. But at the same time, other English versions are not without fault as I have discovered. I might say that they have also let me down. There is no perfect translation.

If you don’t use a language you tend to lose it. So as a way of brushing up on my Greek, I recently joined an internet group made up of people of various backgrounds from around the world who take turns reading and then  translating the New Testament from Greek into English. We gather on Sunday night for an hour. Each of us in turn reads a few verses in Greek and then provides a translation. It is very laid back and has been a great way to strengthen ones understanding of the text. Typically there are maybe 5 to 10 who show up and literally these are people from all over the globe. Theological discussion is minimal.  The goal is becoming more fluent with the Greek text. So far we have read the Gospel of John, the letters of John, Philemon, Mark and we are now working on Matthew. The target is to read through the entire Greek New Testament in a year. We seldom get through more than a few pages in an hour so I expect in the end it will take more than a year. It is slow going, but anyone who has put forth the effort to translate a text from one language to another knows that it takes time and sometimes can be quite puzzling.

So, back to the question – How much is lost in translation? I ran across this in one of our recent readings. The following comes from the gospel of Mark, chapter 7.  The issue here is: Did Jesus declare all foods clean? Here is how the first 15 verses read in the standard King James version:

1 Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem.

2 And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault.

3 For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders.

4 And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables.

5 Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands?

6 He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.

7 Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

8 For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.

9 And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.

10 For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death:

11 But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free.

12 And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother;

13 Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.

14 And when he had called all the people unto him, he said unto them, Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand:

15 There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man.

In these verses, Mark (or whoever actually authored what is known to us as the gospel of Mark) is providing an account of the Pharisees and Scribes taking issue with Jesus and his disciples concerning his compliance with the tradition of ritually washing hands before eating. But when read carefully, there is no discussion of kosher laws. They are being accused of rendering themselves as impure (see verse 2) by not washing their hands. Here we also see Mark adding an explanation for the Gentile reader who may not be well informed about these Pharisaic traditions (see verses 3-4). He basically summarizes the Jews’ problem as neglecting the commandment of God, you “hold the tradition of men” (verses 7-8).

Mark then goes on to provide the following additional information:

17 And when he was entered into the house from the people, his disciples asked him concerning the parable.

18 And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him;

19 Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?

Now most other English versions also add at this point that “Jesus declared all foods clean.”

New International Version: “For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)
English Standard Version: “since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)
New American Standard Bible: “because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.)
Revised Standard Version: “since it enters, not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)

If your only contact with the text was through these last four English versions you would be left with the obvious conclusion: Jesus declared all foods clean. It seems pretty clear and straightforward. No more kosher laws. Jesus just put bacon, snails and shrimp back on the table.

But what is really going on here?

When I was reading these verses carefully in Greek, I definitely did not have the impression that we see in English translations of Jesus declaring all foods clean. The last four words of verse 19 in Greek are καθαρίζων πάντα τὰ βρώματα which may be literally translated as something like “cleansing all the foods.” These words when read in Greek at first came across to me as at most a parenthetical ambiguous editorial comment, perhaps even intentionally ambiguous. If anything, it seemed that this is one that the Greek is closer to the English translation found in the KJV translation than the others, even though frequently it is the KJV that lacks accuracy.

But then, the more I looked at this verse, the more the words made sense not so much as an editorial comment by Mark, but what Jesus actually said and the English was not even close to what is found in the Greek text.  The English versions were  embellished translations by translators who likely had an agenda. There is no word in the Greek text that can be translated “declared”.  It was added, along with other words that can’t be found in the Greek manuscripts.

I did a little bit of investigation and noticed that Mark’s editorial comment is completely missing from Matthew’s parallel (15:17). Furthermore, Codex Sinaiticus (our oldest complete Greek copy of the New Testament) has these words completely missing. Pretty soon I was down a rabbit hole reading about Jewish dietary or kosher (kashrut) laws during the first century and comparing other verses in the New Testament such as Peter’s statements on kashrut in Acts 10 to Mark paying close attention to context.

Without going into all the reasons for my conclusion, let me just say that in the end, it seemed clear to me that Mark has been misread. Jesus did not declare all foods clean in Mark 7:19. Mark’s Jesus did not abandon or abrogate such basic Jewish practices as keeping kosher. The mainstream Christian sense of where the Jesus movement stands in relation to the Judaism of its time certainly could withstand revision.  In short, if the earliest Christians actually saw Jesus as keeping kosher, this adds more weight to those who view Christianity as another contending branch of Judaism.

But, if I had never read these verses in Greek, and in fact had only read the verses from a translation such as the New International Version (NIV) it would never have even crossed my mind.

Sometimes, not only is a lot lost in translation, but a translation can be completely embellished by a translator with an agenda.

Welcome!

Welcome to my blog. I decided to enter into the so-called field of “biblioblogging” in April, 2015.   My  focus will be on such issues as biblical languages, the historical Jesus, end-times, Bible codes, James the brother of Jesus, the Apocalypse of John, the Dead Sea scrolls and lots of other things that flow from a careful probing of the biblical text. There really is no end to the questions and issues that arise. While many find the Bible boring and of no use to modern society, I have found it to be endlessly fascinating.

Admittedly many who study the Bible don’t always necessarily “believe” in it, but they do tend to have a strong attachment to the texts. Why would one be interested in its study but not necessarily be a true believer? As noted by Professor Bart Ehrman the reasons for being interested in studying the Bible are the same as the “reasons for being interested in studying Chaucer, or Plato, or Latin classics, or modern German history, or medieval Japan, or most anything else.”

In our current world, there may well be no other book that has had more influence on Western civilization. Hence a healthy intellectual curiosity often draws one inescapably to a study of the Bible.  Who shouldn’t be interested in who wrote the Bible, how it developed, whether it was corrupted, how it all started? And of course Jesus of Nazareth is considered to be the most important person in human history. Who wouldn’t want to know if he really existed, what we can know about him, and the religions associated with him?

I tend to agree with scholar Richard Elliot Friedman who wrote: “Whether one is a Christian or a Jew or from another religion or no religion, whether one is religious or not, the more one knows of the Bible the more one stands in awe of it.”

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Who am I?

I have a B.S. from Utah State University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Idaho. I have a fascination with languages and am familiar with Japanese, koine Greek, Biblical Hebrew and a few others. Most of my biblical language experience has been with the Greek of the New Testament. I can’t begin to count the number of books I have read over the years related to religious studies.

In the real world, I am a lawyer with a law practice devoted to helping the disabled.

Feel free to leave your comments.

χάρις καὶ εἰρήνη

Greg Maeser