My God can beat up your God!

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AuthorTopic: My God can beat up your God!
Off With Their Heads
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It is a fact that the Bible contains no more than a handful of actual words of Jesus at most. This much is known. The Bible was written in Greek. Jesus spoke Aramaic. Even if someone had been sitting at each of Jesus's speeches and transcribing them, the problem remains that they were translated, and translation is inherently paraphrase. (And it's particularly tricky because Aramaic and Greek are less closely related than Greek and English. Getting from one to the other is rather a leap.) There are a few words of Aramaic in the Bible (notably at Matt 27:46), but not many.

But, in an ideal situation, translation might still preserve the general idea of Jesus's message, if not his exact words. The problem is the textual transmission, which is hard to understand unless you have some background in textual criticism of classical texts.

Back in the days before the printing press, all manuscripts were copied by hand. Most people wrote on papyrus scrolls, and these usually didn't last more than a few hundred years, so they were being continually recopied. Each copy potentially introduced new errors. Most of these were slight, such as a letter forgotten, changed, or written in the wrong place. Some, depending on the text, were enormous: wholesale insertions, deletions, and revisions of an entire section. (Only one of these appears to be present in the NT, but they can be hard to identify if they happened early enough.) The introduction of the codex — the book — in third and fourth centuries was an improvement, because codices last much longer than papyrus scrolls, but even these were often lost if they were not recopied.

Now, there's an entire science behind textual reconstruction, and it grew out of the effort to construct a faithful text of the Bible. The Greek New Testament's textual status is not bad, on the whole. It is attested far more than anything else, and some of the attestations are rather early (both of which are good things in textual criticism). They're not as early as we'd like, but, really, virtually nothing from then is. Contrary to what Dintiradan said, it is not true that the majority of the text in major critical editions today comes from the third and fourth centuries (only scraps survive from the second century).

The composition of the Greek New Testament is traditionally dated to the second half of the first century (give or take). The first major attestations are from around two hundred years later. Still, the fragments that do survive from earlier contain remarkably few differences, and scribes were very, very careful about recopying, so the accidental differences between the early forms of the Gospels and the forms we have are probably slight. However, there are differences between manuscripts to be accounted for, and constructing a faithful Greek text is a challenge.

There's another consideration, too: the councils that determined what went in the Bible and what did not — which were held in the fourth and fifth centuries and were more interested in theological matters than historical — selected four gospels out of very many. We've found fragments of at least nine gospels that were not selected.

So, to summarize: Jesus preached and died around the twenties and thirties of the first century. The texts that make up the NT were composed several decades (some parts nearly a century) later. We have some fragments from the second century, but no good texts until the third and fourth centuries. The NT was actually collected and combined into "the Bible" in the fourth and fifth centuries. These are the facts. The difficult part is judging from them how accurate a record the Bible is likely to be.

[ Thursday, May 25, 2006 08:28: Message edited by: Kelandon ]

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Arancaytar: Every time you ask people to compare TM and Kel, you endanger the poor, fluffy kittens.
Smoo: Get ready to face the walls!
Ephesos: In conclusion, yarr.

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Raven v. Writing Desk
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"The New Testament has been preserved in more manuscripts than any other ancient work... The sheer number of witnesses presents unique difficulties."

-- An interesting article from Wikipedia

Edit: Pre-empted by an essay from Kel. Thanks for that essay, btw. As someone whose forays into this kind of analysis have been mostly restricted to non-texts (oral transmission of folklore) it was useful.

[ Thursday, May 25, 2006 08:41: Message edited by: 84,000 Stupas ]

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Slarty vs. DeskDesk vs. SlartyTimeline of ErmarianG4 Strategy Central
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quote:
Originally written by Kelandon:

Jesus spoke Aramaic.
At that time period, Judaism was split into two areas of the world. Israel and Babylon. Jews in Israel spoke Hebrew. Jews in Babylon spoke Aramaic. Jesus lived in Israel.

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quote:
Originally written by radix malorum est cupiditas:

quote:
Originally written by Kelandon:

Jesus spoke Aramaic.
At that time period, Judaism was split into two areas of the world. Israel and Babylon. Jews in Israel spoke Hebrew. Jews in Babylon spoke Aramaic. Jesus lived in Israel.

*blink*

Uh, around the beginning of the AD calendar, there were two significant Jewish communities: one in Palestine and another in Egypt. The ones in Egypt were hellenized - wrote in Greek and used it for everyday discussion and most formal writing. Aramaic, on the other hand, was the vernacular of Palestine at the time.

Hebrew was the province of theology. In fact, it was so unpopular as an everyday language that, around contemporaneous with Christ, there was a translation of the Bible into Greek for practical reasons. (The Pentateuch.)

The Babylonian Captivity was centuries before the period we're talking about. There was not a Hebrew/Aramaic split; there was an Aramaic/Greek split. Neither spoke Hebrew out of habit, and both shared it as a language of theology.

That you don't know any of this is fairly confusing.

And besides all of that, Jesus spoke Aramaic. Any and all direct quotes from the man (or the Man, I suppose) are Aramaic, as are those of his compatriots. Arguing that he wouldn't have is absurd.

...

EDIT: Also, I refer to it as Palestine beacuse that was its legal name; at the time it was a province of the Roman Empire referred to as Palestina. Israel was a country that had been defunct for some time.

[ Thursday, May 25, 2006 10:31: Message edited by: The Worst Man Ever ]
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A question on Biblical literalism that just occurred to me: how can the New Testament be both the literal word of God and the literal word of, say, Mark? Even if we do have a reasonably accurate reproduction of what Mark wrote, he was only human. Humans have a history of being easily influenced witnesses and often mistaken. They also tend to exaggerate and selectively emphasize.

—Alorael, who believes Hebrew survived as a spoken language along with several forms of Aramaic until several centuries after Jesus's death. Jesus was most likely a speaker of Aramaic, however, based on direct quotations and the language spoken in his part of the world.
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Actually, there is some disagreement among scholars about what languages were spoken in Palestine at that time, and what languages Jesus spoke. A good summary of the reasons some suggest Hebrew was spoken is here. The new theory is perhaps less certain than the article suggests, but it does seem to be the best one available.

That said, Aramaic was *definitely* spoken there, so it's likely that Jesus used Aramaic heavily even if he also used Hebrew. That said, this is a really picayune part of arguing about biblical texts.

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Slarty vs. DeskDesk vs. SlartyTimeline of ErmarianG4 Strategy Central
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I'd be interested to know what sort of evidence scholars have been using to suggest that Hebrew remained a spoken language into the Roman era. The fact that a religious language survives as a written language and continues developing new features is not by any means proof that the language continued to be anyone's native spoken tongue, as evidenced by Latin in the Middle Ages.

Regardless, the gospels present Jesus's words in either Greek or Aramaic, but never in Hebrew.

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Arancaytar: Every time you ask people to compare TM and Kel, you endanger the poor, fluffy kittens.
Smoo: Get ready to face the walls!
Ephesos: In conclusion, yarr.

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My understanding was that Jesus spoke both a Galilean dialect of Aramaic, Koine Greek, as well as Hebrew, although Hebrew was mainly for reading the scriptures and such.

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"As our circle of knowledge expands, so does the circumference of darkness surrounding it." --Albert Einstein
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quote:
Originally written by Explication:
Non-coding text:
A question on Biblical literalism that just occurred to me:
IMAGE(http://www.chick.com/tractimages40482/0003/0003_07.gif)

IMAGE(http://www.chick.com/tractimages40482/0003/0003_08.gif)

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The Mishana was completed in the year 200. It was written in Israel. It was written in Hebrew. The Talmud Bavli was completed in the year 700, but was in written format by 550. It was written in Babylon. It was written mostly in Aramaic. The Talmud Yerushalmi was completed in the year 350. It was written in Israel. It was written mostly in Hebrew.

Source. (For the benefit of you guys, I learned this back in third grade.)

[ Thursday, May 25, 2006 12:10: Message edited by: radix malorum est cupiditas ]

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Hebrew survived as a religious (and legal) language long after it was no longer used for daily life. That's one of the reasons Hebrew could be so successfully revived centuries after it essentially became a dead language.

—Alorael, who wonders what the modern legal process would be like if one could legitimately use an entirely unused language for legal proceedings. There's a lot of Latin already, but it could be worse.
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Infernal: The Washingtonii Vita was completed in the year 1836. It was written in the United States. It was written in Latin.

What's your point?

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Arancaytar: Every time you ask people to compare TM and Kel, you endanger the poor, fluffy kittens.
Smoo: Get ready to face the walls!
Ephesos: In conclusion, yarr.

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Your source states that it was written in order to teach latin to school children.

The Talmud was written as a book from which any Jew could study the law, and was written for the purpose of writing down the law. Not teaching a new language.

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Newton's Principia was completed in 1687. It was written in Britain. It was written in Latin. It was written in Latin so that any educated person in Western Europe could learn about physics. It was certainly not written to teach Latin.

[ Thursday, May 25, 2006 12:48: Message edited by: Kelandon ]

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Arancaytar: Every time you ask people to compare TM and Kel, you endanger the poor, fluffy kittens.
Smoo: Get ready to face the walls!
Ephesos: In conclusion, yarr.

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Of course jesus KNEW Hebrew. Thing was, Hebrew was the second language in Palestine, and it's not like jesus was preaching to Egyptian Jews. It would have been unnatural and stilted for jesus to have spoken in Hebrew, and for the poor/uneducated, it would have been utterly incomprehensible.

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quote:
Originally written by radix malorum est cupiditas:

The Talmud was written as a book from which any Jew could study the law, and was written for the purpose of writing down the law. Not teaching a new language.
Not really meaning to get into this debate, but I was under the impression that widespread literacy was a relatively recent thing.

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SupaNik: Aran, you're not big enough to threaten Ash. Dammit, even JV had to think twice.
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Related to Ash's point, also: it was a law text. The Magna Carta was written in Latin in Britain in the Middle Ages. We're not talking about wall inscriptions, here, which give a much better indication of the spoken language of a location in a time period.

That's the sort of evidence that I'm wondering about.

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Arancaytar: Every time you ask people to compare TM and Kel, you endanger the poor, fluffy kittens.
Smoo: Get ready to face the walls!
Ephesos: In conclusion, yarr.

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Who inscribes walls in the vernacular?

—Alorael, who believes the Talmud served and serves its purpose of conveying information to literate Jews without becoming entangled in problems of local language of choice. The consequence, however, is that there's even less incentive for anyone to keep up a working knowledge of Yiddish or Ladino.
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quote:
Originally written by Thou Shalt:

Who inscribes walls in the vernacular?

IMANIS·METVLA·ES

[ Thursday, May 25, 2006 22:09: Message edited by: The Worst Man Ever ]
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quote:
Originally written by Ash Lael:

Not really meaning to get into this debate, but I was under the impression that widespread literacy was a relatively recent thing.
One of the laws of being a Jew is to teach your children. Teaching them to be literate is included in that. Literacy was far more common there than in other places in the world. That's relative, though, it still did have a large illiteracy rate.

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Kel: Mishnaic Hebrew (basically Hebrew once Aramaic became dominant in Palestine) bears some parallels to Medieval Latin in that it was definitely used for religion, and was definitely not the dominant language of everyday life. But that doesn't mean it wasn't spoken. Figuring out the exact dates during which an ancient language was spoken is very difficult. Figuring out when it was dominant is easier, as you can determine that with some confidence just by looking at the corpus of preserved texts. But when most of the population wasn't literate, and when most of the writing that was done was done on material that can't survive 2000 years (see below about epigraphy), it gets a little harder.

I'm not familiar with all the evidence involved, but I believe some of it relates to the linguistic changes that continued to take place in Mishnaic Hebrew, which are not characteristic of a language used only for scholarly and religious writing, and not widely spoken. Aramaic was certainly dominant, but we simply do not have the kind of records that we do for Medieval times that make it so obvious that Latin was not in popular use.

Infernal and Kel: Kel's right that the existence of those documents in Hebrew doesn't prove Hebrew was spoken. However, they certainly don't prove the contrary. Regardless, the period up for debate runs from about the 3rd century BCE to the 4th century CE, so none of those documents are even relevant!

TM: TM is kind of right, and kind of not. Hebrew was the second language, but that doesn't mean it was unknown. Typically it would be more natural to do that kind of preaching in Aramaic. But I could also understand doing it in Hebrew to try and push the Jewish thing. I don't think it's very likely, but it's not as open and shut as TM and his use of italics suggest.

Kel: Epigraphy does not really give a plain indication of what language was spoken during a time period. Everyday people might write on walls but they wouldn't inscribe them. Different sorts of things would be inscribed in stone or metal than would be written down; accordingly, when multiple languages are in use, the language that was appropriate for those things might not be the language that was appropriate for most speaking.

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Slarty vs. DeskDesk vs. SlartyTimeline of ErmarianG4 Strategy Central
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Slarty: I know. I wasn't asking in general what evidence scholars use to show that a language was spoken or not (and I was just referring to non-literary writing, rather than specifically epigraphy, which I should've made more clear). I was asking what evidence people use in this specific case.

"Some sound changes," you say. Hmm. Making an argument from apparent sound changes sounds spotty at best in this situation. Well, I suppose one might be able to tell the difference between an Aramaic accent and natural sound changes in the Hebrew, so maybe.

EDIT: Regardless, my main point was that Jesus probably didn't give those speeches in Greek. That would've been odd.

[ Friday, May 26, 2006 09:11: Message edited by: Kelandon ]

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Arancaytar: Every time you ask people to compare TM and Kel, you endanger the poor, fluffy kittens.
Smoo: Get ready to face the walls!
Ephesos: In conclusion, yarr.

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The Dead Sea scrolls are from a period contemperous with the time of Jesus. They contain both religious texts and correspondence written in Hebrew, so you have dates in which Hebrew was in common usage for daily life.

At some point Hebrew and Aramaic were both in use in Jewish religious services. The evidence for this is that the Yom Kippur evening opening prayer, Kol Nidre, is in Aramaic even though the rest of the prayers are in Hebrew and the local language. At some point Aramaic was used enough to have been used in services and this prayer survives in the original language and not a translation into Hebrew.

There was probably a debate about using the local language in addition to Hebrew similar to the Catholic Church's one about replacing the Latin Mass with the local language.
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My god is El-Shadai. He's my father and he's so great because only he can take a worthless jerk like me and make something out of him for all the world to look upon and see his glory at work.

My old God was a reptilian ***** and I'm glad I'm rid or him. No doubt I'm in for it now but who cares.

By the way God can make something so heavy he can't lift it, he plays by his own rules, but also he can bypass any one of his rules in a ligitimate way. IE. Making someone who can lift it who would do whatever God says. Although He'd do something unusual like make the least likley person in the world capabl of lifting it. He is the most Ironic Father anyone could have. I'm sure glad I know such a guy.

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The great light bulb converses its thoughts in a fashion most particular to its complicated nature.

Neither twenty-one nor forsaken any longer, I now stand in freedom through Jesus Christ.
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quote:
Originally written by GremlinJoe:

My old God was a reptilian ***** and I'm glad I'm rid or him. No doubt I'm in for it now but who cares.

What, did you used to worship Sss-Thss? :P

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But I don't want to ride the elevator.
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