Friday, June 22, 2007

Aramaic Thoughts -Idioms in the Bible- Part 9

Idioms in the Bible - Part 9

Mark 16:17 says, “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast our demons; they will speak in new tongues.” Lamsa identifies the concluding clause as an idiom meaning, “You will learn foreign languages wherever you go.” In our day, Lamsa’s claim sounds questionable, due to the widespread influence of the charismatic and Pentecostal movements. There is also further question about the concluding verses of Mark’s gospel.

First, most modern versions have a footnote on Mark 16:9-20 like this one from the ESV; “Some manuscripts end the book with 16:8; others include verses 9-20 immediately after verse 8. A few manuscripts insert additional material after verse 14; one Latin manuscript adds after verse 8 the following: But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told. And after this, Jesus himself sent out by means of them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation. Other manuscripts include this same wording after verse 8, then continue with verses 9-20.” What is the reader to make of this information? Do these verses belong in the gospel of Mark, or do they not?

These are not questions that admit of easy answers. In brief, there are three primary views. The first, and perhaps oldest, view is that the 12 verses (Mark 16:9-20) were part of the gospel originally written by Mark, and hence are to be retained. This is the view reflected in the KJV (Incidentally, the Syriac Peshitta includes these verses). This is due in large part to the fact that the manuscripts and texts available to the translators of the KJV all had that material included in the Gospel of Mark. The second view is that Mark ended at 16:8, and that the last twelve verses were added by someone who felt that the ending was too abrupt, and who thus compiled an ending from the concluding material of the other gospels and from the beginning of Acts. This is perhaps the most recent view to appear. The third view is that the last twelve verses are not original, but were later added because the original ending of Mark was somehow lost. This is the view that was adopted in the original edition of the RSV, where Mark 16:9-20 was placed in a footnote. It is perhaps the most commonly held view today.

The debate on the issue was begun in the latter part of the 19th century, due to the fact that a number of manuscripts of the New Testament had been found that did not include the material, or had other material in its place. The New Testament textual scholars Westcott and Hort adopted the view that these verses were spurious in their influential edition of the Greek New Testament. This decision affected both the English Revised Version of 1881 and the American Standard Version of 1901. Westcott and Hort’s view was vigorously attacked by the conservative scholar John Burgon in The Last Twelve Verses of the Gospel According to Saint Mark Vindicated Against Recent Critical Objectors and Established.
(We will continue this discussion in next week’s column.)

'Aramaic Thoughts' Copyright 2002-2007 © Benjamin Shaw.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Aramaic Thoughts--Idioms in the Bible - Part 8

Aramaic Thoughts
Week of June 3 - 9, 2007

Idioms in the Bible - Part 8

I may have written on this one before, but there is so much misinformation out there about it that it’s worth addressing again. Matt 19:24 reads, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle." Lamsa, on the basis of the Peshitta, translates it "for a rope to go through the eye of a needle." The Greek text reads kamelos (camel), though a few texts of minor importance read kamilos (rope). The Syriac reads lgm (rope), while the Syriac word for camel is gml. The reader can easily see how, given the subject matter, someone could think "rope" was intended instead of "camel." Thus Lamsa explains this as an idiom meaning "with great difficulty (The rich man must give up something.)." However, the point is not that this is something accomplished only with difficulty, but something impossible. Jesus makes it clear with his statement recorded in vs 26, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are impossible." If the word were "rope," one could see how with a big enough needle or a small enough rope it could be done. But with a camel, it is flat impossible. Jesus is engaging in the common Semitic practice of engaging in hyperbole (deliberate overstatement) to make a point in a forceful manner.

Mark 5:25-34 tells the story of the healing of the woman with the issue of blood. In that story, the woman has heard about Jesus, and determines that she might be able to be healed if she can only touch his garment. Lamsa considers this expression an idiom that means "an urgent need." It is true that, "Seizing the edge of someone’s robe was a gesture of fervent entreaty in Biblical and Near Eastern tradition" (Keener, Matthew, 303), and this may be all that Lamsa means. But the matter of literal touching is essential to the story. The woman would have been made unclean by her irregular flow of blood (see Lev 15:25-30). Thus her touching of anyone would have made that person unclean as well. She would have been a social outcast, and her act here is an act of sheer desperation, and an apparent certainty that Jesus not only can but will help.

The centrality of a literal touching continues, however, when her touch effects what she has hoped for, Jesus sensed that power had gone out from him. He then asks who touched him. To this question the disciples respond with astonishment. What does Jesus mean, asking who touched him? The crowd was pressing so close that it was impossible to avoid being touched. Thus there is a play on the sense of "touch," both the physical touch originally intended by the woman and the "psychical" touch Jesus felt as her faith drew upon his supply. In all this, the reality of touching is central, and without that reality, the story loses its power.

'Aramaic Thoughts' Copyright 2002-2007 © Benjamin Shaw.