Tag Archives: Hebrew

The Structure of the Psalms

A 3000-year general history on the Book of Psalms numbering and divisional systems.

The structural development of the Book of Psalms has an interesting and complex history.

The results are the examination of documents spanning a 3000 year time period. The reader will be journeying through Hebrew, Greek, Syriac, Latin and English texts. Don’t worry. You don’t need to know the languages itself to join in this expedition. This work is designed for both the researcher and the passionate lay reader. Many pictures will be provided that will assist. One can marvel at the beauty of the handwritten text without understanding it.

The findings show that the Psalms began as an unordered list with no assigned numbers. The arrival of the Greek translation called the Septuagint brought about a numbering scheme for the Book of Psalms. The Septuagint also limited to the Book of Psalms to 151 poems, though this was not adhered to by other traditions which went up to 155. Verses were not introduced until much later. Verses were covered in a previous article titled, A History of Chapters and Verses in the Hebrew Bible.

As demonstrated by the Dead Sea Scrolls, the order of the poems in the Book of Psalms was not established in the early centuries. This happened after the widespread acceptance of the Septuagint later on.

The Septuagint assignments of numbers and order were assumed by the Latin translators, which in turn had an influence on the English Bible tradition.

The headers introducing most of the Psalms are the most controversial and misunderstood. In regards to the headers only, we are not so sure today on the meaning behind the original Hebrew or even the Greek translation. This has led to a multitude of interpretations even within the English Bible translation tradition.

These are mere generalities and the readers of this blog prefer details and substantiation. The following is how the above conclusions were arrived at.

Continue reading The Structure of the Psalms

Epiphanius on the Tongues of Corinth: Another Translation

Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, on the problem tongues of Corinth, as translated by Frank Williams.

Epiphanius has one of the most clearest and definitive accounts on the Corinthian tongues conflict than any other author. It is critical that his translation be critically analyzed and looked from a number of sources. An original Greek source text has been built, The Latin, which has its own nuances and may be based on an unknown manuscript, and my own translation is provided on this site, along with this one, done by Frank Williams.

Not much is known about Frank Williams outside of his massive and widely accepted modern translation of Epiphanius’ Panarion. He received his Phd from Oxford, and is now retired from the University of Texas.


Scholion 13 and 21. Marcion has erroneously added the words, “on the Law’s account,’’ < after > “Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding.”

(a) Elenchus 13 and 21. Thus the languages too are by the gift of the Spirit. But what sort of languages does the apostle mean? < He says, “languages in the church,” > to show < those who > preened themselves on the sounds of Hebrew, which are well and wisely diversified in every expression, in various complex ways—on the pretentious kind of Greek, moreover, the speaking of Attic, Aeolic and Doric—< that God does not permit just one language in church, as some of the people < supposed > who had stirred up the alarms and factions among the Corinthians, to whom the Epistle was being sent.

(b) And yet Paul agreed that both using the Hebrew expressions and teaching the Law is < a gift > of the Spirit. Moreover, to condemn the other, pretentious forms of Greek, he said he spoke with “tongues” rather (than those) because he was an Hebrew of Hebrews and had been brought up at the feet of Gamaliel; and he sets great store by the scriptures of these Hebrews , and < makes it clear > that they are gifts of the Spirit. Thus, in writing to Timothy about the same scriptures, he said, “For from thy youth thou hast learned the sacred scriptures.”

(c) And further, he said the same sort of thing < to > the people who had been trained by the Greek poets and orators, and added in the same way, “I speak with tongues more than ye all,” to show that he was more fully versed in the Greek education as well.

(d) Even his style shows that he was educated, since Epicureans and Stoics could not withstand him < when he preached the Gospel with wisdom at Athens >, but were defeated by the inscription on the altar, “To the unknown God,” which he read learnedly—which was read literally by him, and immediately paraphrased as “Whom ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.”

(e) And (they were defeated) again when he said, “A prophet of their own hath said, Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies,” meaning Epimenides, who was an ancient philosopher and erected the idol in Crete. Callimachus the Libyan also extended his testimony to himself by quoting Callimachus and saying falsely of Zeus:

The men of Crete are liars alway, Lord;
’Twas men of Crete that built thy tomb, though thou
Hast never died; thy being is eternal

(f ) And yet you see how the holy apostle explains of languages, “Yet in church I had rather utter five words with my understanding,” that is, “in translation.” As a prophet benefits his hearers with prophecy in the Holy Spirit by bringing things to light which have already been furnished to his understanding, I too, says Paul, < want > to speak so that the church may hear and be edified—not edify myself with the boast of Greek and Hebrew which I know, instead of edifying the church with the language which it understands.

(g) But you have added, “on the Law’s account,” Marcion, as though the apostle meant, “I want < to speak > (no more than) five words in church on the Law’s account.” Shame on you, you second Babylon and new rabble of Sodom! How long are you going to confuse the tongues? How long will you venture against beings you cannot harm? For you are attempting to violate angelic powers by expelling the words of the truth from the church and telling the holy Lot, “Bring the men out!”

(h) And yet your attempt is an attempt on yourself. You will not expel the words of the truth, but you will strike yourself blind and pass your life in utter darkness—fumbling for the door and not finding it, till the sun rises and you see the day of judgment, on which the fire will confront your falsehood also. For this is waiting for you, when you see. (i) “On the Law’s account” is not in the apostle, and you have made it up yourself. But even if the apostle were to say, “on the Law’s account,” he would be saying it, in harmony with his own Lord, not in order to destroy the Law but to fulfil it.

Scholion 14 and 22. “In the Law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people.”

(a) Elenchus 14 and 22. “If the Lord did not fulfill the things that had previously been said in the Law, why would the apostle need to mention things from the Law which are fulfilled in the New Testament? Thus the Savior showed that it was he himself who had spoken in the Law even then, and threateningly declared to them, “Therefore was I grieved with this generation and said, They do always err in their hearts, and I sware that they shall not enter into my rest.” For the same reason he promised to speak to them through men of other tongues—as indeed he did, and they did not enter.

(b) For we find him saying this to his disciples: “Unto you are given the mysteries of the kingdom, but unto them in parables, that seeing they may not see,”and so on. Hence (if ) the Old Testament sayings (are) fulfilled everywhere in the New, it is plain to everyone that the two Testaments are not Testaments of two different Gods, but of the same God.


As taken from: Nag Hammadi & Manichaean Studies. Vol. 63. Einar Thomassen and Johannes van Oort. Ed. The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis. Book I (Sects 1-46). Translated by Frank Williams. Brill: Leiden. 2009. Pg. 349-351

The Language of Instruction in the Corinthian Church

The role of Hebrew, Aramaic, or both as the language of religious instruction in the earliest Corinthian Church.

This is a discussion based on a text supplied by Epiphanius, who believed the Corinthian conflict was because of the arrogance of the Greek rhetorics, who specialized in the various nuances of the Greek languages, did not recognize the Hebrew tongue as a sacerdotal language.

Paul presents a serious literary difficulty when addressing the use of tongues in the first century Corinthian Church. He assumed the reader understood the context which is lost to us today. The problem generally was about a person or persons speaking in a language which was not in the common vernacular of the audience. He mandated that any person speaking in a foreign language must have it immediately communicated in the local tongue. If there was no one available to interpret or the speaker(s) were incapable of interpreting their speech themselves, then the speaker was not allowed to speak. For example if a Rabbinic lecturer from Yavneh, Israel, stood up and gave a powerful speech on redemption in Hebrew, but did not have the ability to later translate it into the local Greek dialect, then he must not speak. It was of no benefit to the audience except for the speaker himself.

Paul also legislated that only one person can speak at a time and that each one must have a turn. This type of legislation parallels very much with ancient Jewish customs on reading, speaking and interpreting as outlined earlier in this series.

Why didn’t Paul name the Hebrew language, or the Greek languages that Epiphanius outlined as sources of the conflict? Paul was confronted with ethnic, linguistic and political forces in his writing that persuaded him not to name the specific language or languages that were in dispute. The Church could have disintegrated into factions by him naming them.

If Paul was emphasizing this to be a problem of liturgical reading, his word choice selection would have been different. The noun reader or the verb read can’t be found anywhere in the key-text. Paul wouldn’t have used the verb to speak such as λαλῶν found in I Corinthians 14:1 ὁ γὰρ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ, the one who speaks in a language in reference to a reader. He would have used something similar to ἀναγιγνώσκων anaginôskôn instead. Therefore the Corinthian problem being that of liturgical reading of the text in Hebrew was not the problem — at least according to the Epiphanius’ text anyways.

This is a difficult obstacle to overcome, and because of this, the Hebrew reader/interpreter theory cannot be held as a viable solution. However the Epiphanius text should be understood differently. The Epiphanius text was asserting Hebrew as an instructional language; a Messianic Jewish sage would speak in the religious tongue of Hebrew concerning the Christian life and an interpretation would be supplied in the local vernacular. This practice was adopted from a Jewish custom contemporary at that time.

Talmud Babli Yoma 20b demonstrates this Jewish rite of teaching in Hebrew and a simultaneous translation in the local tongue. This passage reflects a teaching session given by R. Shila. His instruction was performed in Hebrew, which was demonstrated here as the language of Jewish religion and polity — a sacerdotal tongue. An interpreter was required for the common people to understand the speech. The text makes this out to be standard procedure during this time.

Rab(1)Abba Areka came to the place of R. Shila, when there happened to be no interpreter to stand next to R. Shila, so Rab took the stand next to him and interpreted, ‘keriath hageber’ as ‘the call fo the man’. R. Shila said to him” Would you, Sir, interpret it as: Cockrow! Rab replied: ‘A flute is musical to nobles, but give it to weavers, they will not accept it’.(2)Talmud Babli Yoma 20b. As found as a pdf at halakhah.com There are no page numbers. The pdf is attributed to Tarmo Jeskanen as the author. See also Yoma 20b in the original

The eleventh century Rashi chose to explain further the mechanics between the teacher and the interpreter:

The one who interprets stands beside a sage who gives the homily and the sage whispers the Hebrew language to him and he translates to the common language they hear in.(3)My translation Yoma 20b

Where Rashi got the idea of the Sage whispering to the translator is not known. This may be a much later tradition than Paul’s time.

This passage used two different words to define the concept of interpreter. The first one was אמורא Amora. The Jewish Encyclopedia explains that this term had two functions. The first one represented all the Rabbinic teachers that flourished during a period of about three hundred years, from the time of the death of the patriarch R. Judah I. (219) to the completion of the Babylonian Talmud (about 500)(4)Amora as found in the Jewish Encylopedia. The second definition applies here. While the lecturer generally pronounced his sentences in the academic language, which was chiefly Hebrew, the Amora gave his explanations in Aramaic…”(5)Amora as found in the Jewish Encylopedia.. The article states that the term Amora as an interpreter or translator was a later usage to that of the word meturgeman and often was interchanged with it.

The second word used for interpreter is פרש peresh — to interpret, expound, clarify.

Understanding the word interpret in I Corinthians 14 is one of the keys to unlocking what Paul meant. The Syriac version of this passage is especially helpful which is ܦܫܩ pashek. J. Payne Smith’s Dictionary describes at as to explain, expound, to write commentaries, to translate. The dictionary demonstrated how the word ܦܫܩ was used in the Syrian Church: “he expounds the Six Days of Creation to the congregation,” which exemplifies the fact that Paul wasn’t meaning interpreter to be a literal word for word translation from one language to another but it could be dynamic, or amplified.(6)J. Payne Smith’s (Mrs. Margoliouth) A Compendious Syriac Dictionary. Pg 468 as found at Dukhrana’s website.

This passage from the Talmud also exhibits that it was Jewish tradition for the teacher to speak in Hebrew while an interpreter translated it into the common tongue of the audience. The Epiphanius text believed this practice was still being performed in the earliest Corinthian Church. Yet there is one difference between Paul’s exhortation and two hundred years or so later to the time of R. Shila — during Paul’s time a teacher instructing in Hebrew could provide his own translation. Rabbinic tradition during R. Shila’s time did not allow this. Someone else was obligated to do the translation.

If one takes face-value the information provided so far, Paul was referencing the the one who speaks in tongues as one teaching or lecturing in Hebrew. The interpreter was the speaker or another person familiar with both Hebrew and the target language, translating it on the fly. Paul mentioned in I Corinthians 14:13 that a person who speaks in a foreign unnamed tongue should himself interpret it. Later on in 14:28 he exhorts those who speak in a tongue should not speak at all if a third party interpreter is not available. In the context of what has been discussed so far, Paul was stating a rule about instruction and translation. If the teacher who taught in Hebrew had no knowledge of the local vernacular and there was no one available to translate who knew both Hebrew and the local language, the teacher was to remain silent.

The Epiphanius text stated that there was a conflict between three different Greek ethnic groups. This tension was likely over the translation or elucidation of the original speech done in Hebrew or Aramaic. Doric, Attic and Aeolic interpreters were simultaneously translating in their own mother tongue. This would be very confusing for those not familiar with Jewish customs, especially non-Jews. It would seem like mayhem and would be an obstacle to natural growth. It could also have been a dispute over what the standardized Greek language ought to be in the Corinthian Church. None of the Greek ethnic groups would cede their language to the authority of another Greek dialect.

This renders a difficult section of Paul’s writing to simplicity. This may not entirely be the case. The fourth century or later Latin based Ambrosiaster text on I Corinthians wrote that the Corinthian problem wasn’t about the Hebrew language but Aramaic — a language which surpassed Hebrew as the common language of the Jewish community by Paul’s time. The Ambrosiaster text outlined the conflict being Jewish members (specifically women) of the Corinthian congregation speaking Aramaic as a form of religious superiority above the non-Jewish Greeks in the Corinthian Church. This does not come as a surprise. As outlined in an earlier article, Liturgy, Race and Language in the Corinthian Church, there were tensions between Hebrew and Aramaic in the Jewish religious life. This could also had been reflected in the earliest Corinthian Church over the proper language of instruction. There could have been Hebrew and Aramaic factions competing for preeminence.

This idea of Hebrew and Aramaic competing as the language of instruction fits in better with Paul’s admonition on tongues because on a number of occasions he refers to tongues in the plural, not in the singular.

The Greek community has so far been left of the equation within the formative Corinthian Church. It may have not been Hebrew, as the Epiphanius text states, but which Greek language ought to be the language of instruction and translated into the local vernacular. Doric Greek for example, was the language connected to the historical Corinthian city — whether the people during the first century still spoke Doric locally as the daily tongue or Attic had overcome it is not known. Doric was also the language used for composing choral lyric poetry in the international Greek world.(7) See Choral Doric for more information. Doric could have possibly been wanted as the language of instruction and certain sects within the initial Corinthian community were pressing for this. Since other Greek members of the Church did not know Doric, a translator was required to interpret it into the local vernacular. The Greeks thought their language to be superior to anyone else and would have had a hard time submitting to a foreign language such as Hebrew or Aramaic as the definitive one for religious devotion.(8) See Liturgy, Race and Language in the Corinthian Church for more information.

There is not enough information to substantiate Doric but it does show a potential state for conflict. It could also have been Aeolic or Attic pushed as the premier language of instruction. More research is required in this area.

The probability of the Greeks pressing for a Greek language to be the one for instruction is not as strong as that of Hebrew, Aramaic, or both being the initial language of instruction in the Church with an accompanying interpretation into the local tongue. The Epiphanius text should be understood that the instruction was done in Hebrew and the conflict was in which Greek language should be the primary base tongue in the Corinthian Church.

This was the environment Paul was up against in writing his letter to the Corinthians. It was a church composed of Jewish-Hebrew, Jewish-Aramaic, Jewish-Greek, and non-Jewish Greek members. It was a time where all things of religious faith were allowed to be reexamined, especially in context of Jewish tradition; what rituals were to be included from previous liturgical traditions, what were to be removed, and what new traditions should be started. The Jewish tradition was the underlying base. The Church was both restorative to the ancient Jewish identity but forward looking at the same time. It was more inclusive of many different ethnic groups and practices. Paul seemed unconcerned about the language issue itself but wanted to maintain some type of order so that all these different language speaking groups could operate cohesively together.

One must be aware that there is a lack of complete information on the use of Hebrew in first century Israel and the diaspora. It has been asserted here that it is a religious language used by by the leaders and teachers on matters of Jewish religious and civil matters while most of the Israeli public spoke Aramaic while the diaspora Jews spoke whatever local language they lived in. This is a controversial point. The publication, The Language Environment of First Century Judaea edited by Randall Buth and Steven R. Notley, strongly argue that Hebrew was the common language of communication in first century Judaea.(9) Jerusalem Studies in the Synoptic Gospels—Volume Two The Language Environment of First Century Judaea Randall Buth, Steven R. Notley ed..

If one reads the Pauline passage with the idea of Hebrew/Aramaic as the language of instruction and understands the Jewish structure of speaking and interpretation in Jewish tradition as outlined in this series, the text is clearly understood. It is not a mystical out-of-this-world experience but the re-imaging of Jewish structure in a newly formed Church.

This also answers the question of why the language problems of Corinth existed. If there was no Jewish antecedent forcing the use of a sacerdotal language, the Greek audience simply would have performed all the liturgical rites in their native tongue, and consequently there would have never been a mysterious tongues controversy.■

References   [ + ]

Jewish Liturgy and the Tongues of Corinth

A detailed look into the Jewish rite of reading, speaking, interpreting and how it relates to the Corinthian tongues controversy.

The Epiphanius text, Against Heresies, outlined the tongues problem of Corinth as ethnic conflicts between Doric, Aeolic and Attic speaking Greeks in the congregation. It loosely attached the Hebrew instruction as part of the problem. However, all of this is far from clear. Was it a dispute about the reading of the Hebrew text and which Greek language was to be used in the liturgical translation/explanation? Or was it about the initial Corinthian Church leaders speaking in the language of Hebrew to instruct and disciple, requiring themselves or someone else to interpret in one of the Greek languages listed above? It creates more questions than answers that require a further look into Jewish liturgical traditions.

The evidence so far suggests the second question of the Church leaders instructing in Hebrew (not reading) is the proper interpretation of the Epiphanius text. However the first option must be looked at deeply and be exhausted, removing any doubts as to why it is not the correct interpretation.

In order to structure a Jewish background to the Corinthian saga, historical context has to built. This has to be done from Jewish sources, with some help from the Bible, the Apostle Paul, and a number of ecclesiastical texts.

The coverage is broken into two parts. The first looks at the texts themselves and attempts to rebuild a historical background. The second is to pick-up clues from the reader/interpreter rite in the synagogue. The third is to find if this tradition was incorporated in the earliest Church and if it perpetuated in some type of form since then.

The rebuilding is very difficult. The Jewish texts are all based on eastern dialogues; that is Jewish Babylonian dictums based on the Aramaic culture and language. The problem of Corinth is different ethnically and linguistically; it is Jewish life immersed in the Greek culture and language. Although there is much information on how the Aramaic speaking Jewish community adapted the Hebrew Scriptures to their lives, there is little information about how the Jewish Greeks observed theirs. It is too much to assume that whatever doctrine was established in the Babylonian or Palestinian Talmuds would be exactly followed in their contemporary Jewish Greek world. However, with the exception of Philo of Alexandria and Josephus, there are no Jewish Greek literary traditions to follow and trace the development of early Jewish Greek thought, especially as it relates to the Jewish Greek synagogue practices of the first century.

Neither is it clear how the Greek Septuagint fit within the earliest Corinthian Church. It is irrefutable that the Septuagint was the source Bible for early Christian life, but the Corinthian Church, composed originally with a majority of Messianic Jews, may have initially started with different liturgical and linguistic values. These traditional Jewish liturgical and religious influences may have shifted significantly within a decade.

This lack of first century Jewish Greek literature, especially from a Jewish Pharasaic religious perspective such as Paul wrote from, or anything that relates to their synagogue liturgical practices in the first century, forces the researcher to a limited array of evidence that is only found in the Bible, Babylonian Talmud, a small number of Patristic writers, and later Jewish thinkers who based their thought on the Talmud.

This is a serious problem and one that will likely never be completely overcome. Therefore the researcher is forced to utilize the best pieces available today, and that is from what is mentioned above.

The oldest Jewish text that attests to such a rite allegedly can be traced to Ezra the Scribe around 450 BC. It is found in the Biblical Book of Nehemiah chapter 8:

1 all the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.

2 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand.(1)וְכֹל מֵבִין 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand.(2)וְהַמְּבִינִים And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

4 Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam.

5 Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. 6 Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

7 The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—instructed(3)מְבִינִים the people in the Law while the people were standing there. 8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear(4)מְפֹרָשׁ and giving the meaning(5)וְשׂוֹם שֶׂכֶל so that the people understood(6)וַיָּבִינוּ what was being read.(7)Nehemiah 8 NIV as taken from the biblegateway.com website. The highlights in red are not part of the original but put in here by me.

The text described Ezra the Scribe reading from a podium along with what appears to be a third party explaining what he read in terms the audience could understand. A number of key Hebrew words develop this inquiry even further; בין, bin, understanding, or teaching, פרש peresh, give meaning, explain, or translate and שֶׂכֶל shekel, a synonym to בין comprehend, apply common sense.

The use of בין, bin, is troublesome. It is used in the Nehemiah text in two distinct ways — to understand, and to instruct. Modern Hebrew restricts its usage only to mean to understand, which makes it difficult for those knowing modern Hebrew to discern the nuances here. The contemporary language does not give any sense of instructing, translating, or explaining. This is not the case in this much earlier writing. There is a clue about this word meaning instructing found later on in the Book of Nehemiah which states the lay audience Ezra spoke to did not know Hebrew; the majority knew Aramaic and the rest other foreign languages.(8)Nehemiah 13:24 Therefore the people who heard the reading from the Law were incapable of understanding the Hebrew reading. The great eleventh century Rabbi, Rashi, commented upon the idea of the Levites instructing מְבִינִים, mivinim, as a case of interpreting the Hebrew words into the common vernacular.(9)http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16515/jewish/Chapter-8.htm#showrashi=true Therefore בין, bin, must be understood as teaching or instructing within this context.

This is a controversial point. What did the people hear? The book, Hebrew Study from Ezra to Ben-Yehuda edited by William Horbury, asserts that the cultural elite only knew Aramaic, and the peasantry conversed in Hebrew.(10)Hebrew Study from Ezra to Ben-Yehuda William Horbury ed. T & T Clark, 2000. Pg. 17 The more plausible theory is the one noted earlier that Ezra read the Hebrew text out loud. The Talmud Babli indicates Academic, religious and political communities understood and could speak Hebrew during his time, but the layperson could not. This fits in better with the paradigm offered in the Talmud.(11)Talmud Babli Yoma 20b

The Nehemiah text then shortly after uses פרש parash as a synonym to בין, bin. Parash usually means to make clear, explain or translate. It is important to look at the era that Nehemiah was written in to support the idea of translation.(12)Ezra 4:18. Internal evidence from the Book of Ezra 4:18 uses a similar verbal form which correlates with the word translation or interpret. Modern Hebrew understands the word as interpret as well.

According to later Jewish texts, this tradition established by Ezra has carried on ever since then. It is not clear how it evolved or adapted over the centuries. Only small snippets in time can be found that reference this. The following precepts were established from the time of Ezra.

  • A reader to read from the original Hebrew text from a specially built podium for this rite,

  • the speaking of Hebrew and a third party, which is here defined as the Levites, translating or explaining the reading in the common vernacular of the audience,

  • the people hearing the reading and translation are to respond with an amen


There is no historical information regarding the role of Hebrew and the translator in the Jewish liturgy for almost five hundred years after the time of Ezra. The next document that refers to it, albeit controversially, is around 60 AD by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians (I Corinthians 14)

Paul addresses the rites of speaking in a foreign language, the audience hearing a foreign language, interpreting, interpreting in turns, saying the amen, and a need for clarifying or explaining a speech. These fully parallel with that of the Jewish liturgy. There are too many key terms that rule out any relationship with the Jewish liturgy as purely accidental.

However, one must keep in mind that Paul did not suggest the reader/interpreter paradigm in his famous tongues passage of I Corinthians 14. The reader/interpreter part of the liturgy may have existed in the earliest Corinthian Church which Paul attended, but this does not appear to be the central thrust of his concern. He was addressing speaking/interpreting which also had a role in Jewish traditional religious piety.

One may note the assumption here of tongues being a foreign language in his text and may question the legitimacy of such a position. The few Patristic writers who did a substantive coverage of the Corinthian conflict support a foreign language. They do not suggest any hint of it being ecstatic, nor were they aware of glossolalia as an alternative interpretation. The Syriac and Latin translations of this text too point to foreign language. If this was not the intention, an adjective would have had to be added to the noun used for their audience to understand it differently, which was not done. The addition of the adjective unknown was only started in English Bible translations during the Reformation.(13) A counter against the Catholic Church stand that Latin was the only language of liturgy, reading and civil affairs. See Uncovering the Unknown of the Unknown Tongues for more details. The idea of ecstasy or glossolalia is a much later tradition imposed on this reading, especially found in the English interpretational traditions.(14) See the History of Tongues as an Ecstatic Utterance for more details. It is a correct procedure to think of Paul’s references to tongues in his writings as foreign languages and to use it as a basis because ancient history aligns with it. It is more speculative to assume ecstasy or glossolalia in this passage.

The next substantial mention of the liturgy of Hebrew being read and a third party standing beside the reader and simultaneously translating it into the common vernacular can be found in the fourth century or later Babylonian Talmud.

Talmud Megillah 9a to 24b have scattered references to this and allude to the history of the reading of the Bible in the Jewish liturgy. They demonstrate the tensions between the use of Hebrew and its adaptation to Jewish communities of different linguistic nature. The resolutions are uneven in application but do show some general evolution.

  • Talmud Babli Megillah 9a. It declares that the Books of Scripture may be written in any language, but then later stipulates that it can only translated into Greek, and no other language. The text further states that King Ptolemy, a non-Jewish Greek ruler, legislated a Greek translation in the third century BC, which means the Jewish sages had no choice but to sanctify it and therefore the writing goes on to mythologize this. It also legislated that whatever language the liturgical prayers were originally written in, must stay in their original language.(15)Talmud Babli Megillah 9a. The Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Megillah 2a – 32a. Reformatted by Reuven Brauner, Raanana 5771. Pg. 31

  • Talmud Babli Megillah 17a:

    The quotation from below is from the Mishnah, which is an older text inside the Talmud Babli and can be traced often to the second century. The author(s) here cover the subject of reading in Hebrew — its primary usage in the liturgy and should be practiced even if a person doesn’t understand it. The problem appears a difficult one for the Jewish sages as they contradict themselves here. They conclude that hearing or reading in Hebrew, even if it is not understood, is a religious obligation that morally must be observed.

    MISHNAH. If one reads the Megillah backwards, he has not performed his obligations. If he reads it by heart, if he reads it in a translation [Targum] in any language, he has not performed his obligation. It may, however, be read to those who do not understand Hebrew in a language other than Hebrew. If one who does not understand Hebrew hears it read in Hebrew, he has performed his obligation. If one reads it with breaks or while half-asleep, he has performed his obligation.(16)Talmud Babli Megillah 17a. The Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Megillah 2a – 32a. Reformatted by Reuven Brauner, Raanana 5771. Pg. 64ff

  • The Rabbinic discussion proceeds further on this passage, which is not quoted here, struggling with the idea of Hebrew having such a high standing and how the Jewish faith could extend into the non-Jewish vernacular. They concluded that Hebrew was to be used in reading or recitation but the holy language extended no further. The common vernacular could be used in the common prayers, and thus other liturgical rites.

  • Megillah 21b covers the rules of translating the Scriptures into the common vernacular. It concluded that the Torah must only have one reader and one translator for ensuring that the importance of the text is understood. The prophets are considered less important and are given one reader, and two simultaneous translators. The reading of the Talmud had little or no restrictions on the amount of readers or simultaneous translators. The amount of readers and translators, depending on the importance of the text, increased for entertainment purposes. The art of reading or translating together in harmony was like hearing a choir.

    A Tanna stated: This is not the case with [the public reading of] the Torah. Our Rabbis taught: As regards the Torah, on reads and one translates, and in no case must one read and two translate [together]. As regards the Prophets, one reads and two translate, but in no case may two read and two translate. As regards Hallel and the Megillah, even ten may read [and ten may translate]. What is the reason? Since the people like it, they pay attention and hear.(17)Talmud Babli Megillah 17a. The Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Megillah 2a – 32a. Reformatted by Reuven Brauner, Raanana 5771. Pg. 64ff

    This may have been a later addition to the religious liturgy, as Paul in I Corinthians 14:27, established that each one must speak or translate in turn. He did not want a cacophony of voices at the same time.

  • Megillah 23b explains that the reader is not to read less than three verses on any occasion, but while reading, should stop at each verse so that the translator can keep in rhythm.(18)Talmud Babli Megillah 23b. The Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Megillah 2a – 32a. Reformatted by Reuven Brauner, Raanana 5771. Pg. 89

  • The reader is not to skip verses in the Torah, but can skip in the prophets.

  • There is more to the Megillah about reading and translating, such as age, gender and physical requirements, but it does not relate to the Corinthian context, so it is not listed here.

The twelfth century Rabbi, scholar, and physician, Maimonides (also known as Rambam) synthesized the idea of the reader/interpreter into a cohesive form. His coverage of this topic can be found in Mishenh Torah: Book of Love: Order or Prayers (Hilkot Tefilah chapter 12). He copiously wrote in detail on the subject though most if it does not directly connect with the Church of Corinth. There are two themes that do have a connection:

  • The Amen construct found in I Corinthians:

    Each one of the readers opens the Torah scroll and looks at the place from which he is to read. Afterwards, he declares, Barchu et Ado-nai hamevorach, and all the people answer: Baruch Ado-nai hamevorach le’olam va’ed. He then recites the blessing:

    Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who has chosen us from among all the nations and given us His Torah. Blessed are You, God, the Giver of the Torah.

    All the people respond: “Amen.” Afterwards, he reads until he completes the reading, rolls the scroll [closed] and recites the blessing:(19)Mishne Torah. Book of Love. Order of Prayers. Halachah 5. This English translation is done by Eliyahu Touger and available at Chabad website. For the Aramaic text, go to the Hebrew Wikisource website

    Both Paul and Maimonides agree that the amen is part of the Jewish liturgy but disagree on how it is to be used. Paul emphasized that an intermediary between the speaker and the congregation, the anaplêrôn, was to say the amen on behalf of the congregation. The term anaplêrôn is unique to Paul’s writing. The fifth century Alexandrian Church called the person who occupied the position of anaplêrôn(20)ἀναπληρῶν as keimenos(21)the full text has it as ὅ γε μὴν ἐν τάξει τῇ τοῦ λαϊκοῦ κείμενος See also Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues: Conclusion — one who takes homiletic exegesis or highly articulate language and explains it in such a way that the average person could understand. The anaplêrôn would say amen as a way of ending whatever explanation was required. If the anaplêrôn did not understand what was being said, he could not then convert it into common vernacular and therefore would be unable to say the amen. Maimonides, on the other hand, believed the amen was to be done by the congregation itself at the ending of a reading. This may be a later evolution of this rite since Paul’s time.

  • Maimonides believed that the synagogue liturgy of reading from Hebrew with a translator interpreting the reading into the local vernacular was an established fact since the time of Ezra.

    From the time of Ezra, it was customary that a translator would translate to the people the [passages] read by the reader from the Torah, so that they would understand the subject matter.(22)Maimonides. Mishne Torah. Book of Love. Order of Prayers. Halachah 10. This English translation is done by Eliyahu Touger and available at Chabad website. For the Aramaic text, go to the Hebrew Wikisource website

The Aramaic word for interpreter in the Talmud Megillah and commentaries associated with it is is מתרגם meturgem in the singular and מתרגמין meturgemin in the plural. The plural is used more often. Aramaic tradition and the English language has resolved this office to be called the meturgamen. The early history of this word is not known except that it was extensively used from the third century onwards in Aramaic circles. The torah.org website covers the twofold usage of the interpreter in a clear way:

There were two types of Merturgemans (translators/interpreters). The first is the kind who stood by the Torah reader in the synagogue and translated into Aramaic as the reader read, verse by verse. It is mentioned dozens of times in the Talmud; once the Jews were exiled to Babylon, their vernacular was Aramaic – only the scholars and elders spoke or understood Hebrew. Thus to make Torah reading understandable, it was translated. In the same way, the Meturgeman would also sit by the Rabbi in the synagogue or the study hall. When the Rabbi would share words of Torah with the congregation or with his students, he would speak quietly in Hebrew and the trans. would repeat his words in Aramaic.(23)Rambam: Talmud Torah 4:3

The Jewish Encylopedia further adds:

The weekly lesson from the Pentateuch and the Prophets was read by a member of the congregation, and the meturgeman had to translate into the vernacular the Pentateuchal lesson verse by verse; from the Prophets he translated three verses at a time. While the reader of the Hebrew text was forbidden to recite by heart, the meturgeman was not permitted to read his translation from a book, or to look at the Hebrew text when translating, in order that the people should not think that the translation was contained in the text. The meturgeman was also forbidden to raise his voice higher than that of the reader of the text. He did not limit himself to a mere literal translation, but dilated upon the Biblical contents, bringing in haggadic elements, illustrations from history, and references to topics of the day. This naturally required much time, to gain which the weekly lesson had to be short, so that the Pentateuch was finished only in a cycle of three or three and one-half years; while the portion from the Prophets was frequently abbreviated.

The free handling of the text, which frequently changed the translation into a sermon or homily, gave the meturgeman ample opportunity to introduce his subjective views into the lesson; and with the multiplication of sects this became distasteful to the Rabbis. The increase in the opposition to the meturgeman led to the fixation of the Targumim and to the demand that the meturgeman keep strictly to mere translation. But a mere translation satisfied neither the public, who had known the text from early school-days, nor the meturgeman, who was deprived of an opportunity to parade his knowledge and to display his oratorical gifts. As a consequence the “darshan,” or preacher, was introduced; and the literal translation fell gradually into disuse.(24)as found in the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia

It does not demonstrate what sources were used to show the disuse of the meturgeman and switch to the darshan.

The same article in the Jewish Encyclopedia believed the original term for interpreter was מבין, maven. This word declined and gave way to the use of meturgeman. This may be true but it lacks sufficient documentation.

A better alternative is the standard Hebrew word for interpreter, פרש peresh. The eminent Hebraist and author of the Hebrew New Testament, Franz Delitzsch, consistently translated the word interpret and variants in I Corinthians 14 as פרש peresh.(25)The New Testament text as found at Dukhrana and I agree with this choice. Unless more detailed information arrives, the noun פרש peresh, and its variants, was more likely the one Paul had in mind.

This brings the reader to the third part, did the concept of the Jewish reader adapt into the rites of the earliest Church? This question is attempted to be answered and more in the following article: The Language and Politics of the Public Reader.

The following article may also be of interest: The Language of Instruction in the Corinthian Church.

References   [ + ]

Liturgy, Race and Language in the Corinthian Church

Understanding the tongues of Corinth from linguistic, ethnic and liturgical perspectives along with an inquiry into whether Hebrew was part of their liturgy.

The Gift of Tongues Project has uncovered two ancient Christian writers who correlated the problem tongues of Corinth as ethnic or linguistic conflicts. The Ambrosiaster text emphasized the want of the Jewish adherents to speak in Aramaic during the liturgy, which few understood in Corinth, and the Epiphanius text believed the problem of Corinth was a dispute between three distinct Greek speaking groups; Attic, Aeolic, and Doric along with the use of Hebrew in the Church liturgy.

The Epiphanius text is the most direct on the subject. Although the reference to the use of Hebrew is found here, the text itself failed to directly connect the primary use of Hebrew with the Greek conflict. Nevertheless, it is inferred by its close grammatical relationship. This connection can be understood in two ways:

  • It was the traditional reading of the Hebrew text and the delivery of it into the local vernacular. In the context of the Epiphanius text, the Corinthians couldn’t agree what was to be the standardized Greek language for translation/explanation/preaching in the Church liturgy.

  • Or, it could be that Epiphanius did not want to correlate the Hebrew liturgical reading of Scripture at all, but that this language was the language of instruction and religious devotion. Those masters who were instructing/lecturing on the principles of the Christian faith did so in Hebrew, while an interpreter was required to translate it into the local vernacular. The conflict was in which Greek vernacular was most suited for the Corinthian congregation.

The Corinthian tongues conflict explained by Epiphanius is unique and no thorough investigation has been done to qualify or discard this claim.

There is a definite need for finding a positive solution to the mystery tongues of Corinth since a thorough investigation completed in the Gift of Tongues Project has ruled out the Corinthian tongues as a mystical experience resulting in those speaking ecstatic utterances. As previously written and documented, tongues as an ecstatic utterance was a theory first introduced in the 1800s.(1)See The History of Glossolalia

This series of articles are devoted to finding whether this historical context was correct through investigating Jewish literature, archaeology, and ecclesiastical writings.

The problem of insufficient first-hand data on the Corinthian assembly liturgy.

The ecclesiastical literature cited above, along with a number of pieces demonstrated in Rabbinical writings later on in this series, are mostly all fourth century or later works. Unfortunately, this is the only material a researcher can work from. No matter which way one approaches this problem, the person is forced to look at later texts to rebuild an earlier scenario.

Michael Graves, author of The Public Reading of Scripture in Early Judaism looked into this problem and agrees:

Yet, the use of Jewish liturgical practices to reconstruct early Christian worship is not without difficulties. One of the major problems is the fact that many Christian historians, to some extent following older Jewish scholarship, have operated with the assumption that Jewish liturgy was essentially fixed and uniform in the first century ad. This assumption, however, cannot be reconciled with the available evidence. Recent scholarship on the history of Jewish worship has painted a more complex picture of Jewish liturgical development, thus forcing scholars of Christian liturgy to rethink the potential relationships between early Jewish and Christian forms of worship. Out of this new research has arisen greater awareness of the diversity and flexibility in the earlier stages of development, and also a more skeptical stance toward the use of later documents to reconstruct the customs of earlier times. Of course, total skepticism toward rabbinic reports is unwarranted, and one cannot dismiss older historical and philological studies as having nothing to offer. But when the sources present a picture of diversity, or when no evidence exists for a given practice at a certain time and place, one must avoid simply harmonizing one tradition with another or an earlier time period with a later one.(2)Graves, Michael. The Public REading of Scripture in Early Judaism. JETS 50/3 (September 2007) 467–87

Mr. Graves statement has to be seriously considered. Harmonizing is a good start, but not a good end point. The following analysis agrees with Graves statement that there was diversity and flexibility in the earlier stages of diasporan Jewish liturgy. The Corinth Paul lived in was complex. A whole host of Jewish, Roman, Greek, and Latin influences are found mixed together in a curious blend that cannot easily be untangled. This shouldn’t stop the researcher from trying. This lack of early source material makes it difficult, but not impossible.

There are a number of assumptions that can be made about the Church of Corinth and Paul’s reference to tongues in I Corinthians 14:

  • Paul was an orthodox Jew whose pedigree was confirmed by his learning under one of the leading Jewish teachers of the first century, Gamaliel.(3)Acts 22:3 Paul had no ambition to overthrow or abandon Jewish culture. He wanted to complete it. His initial strategy was to preach in the synagogues of any town, village or city that he visited. It later expanded to the non-Jewish community.(4)Romans 1:16, Acts 18:ff Therefore his writing style, life and practice was steeped in Jewish influences. The founding of any Church associated with him would reflect this.

  • The initial Corinthian Church had two names attached to it — Titius Justus and Crispus. Crispus was a leader of a synagogue; Titius Justus was described as a worshiper of God, suggesting that he was not Jewish and his name infers a Roman lineage.(5)Acts 18:6ff These two accounts demonstrated that the Corinthian Church was of mixed ethnic origin.

  • The mentioning of a converted synagogue leader, who must have exercised some internal authority in the development of the Corinthian Church, would have had a serious influence on the liturgy.

  • Paul’s address on the tongues of Corinth are reminiscent of Jewish tradition. Speaking, interpretation, the office of an interpreter, and the Amen are all found in Jewish liturgical traditions.(6)This will be documented in part 2 of this series

  • The Hebrew language is a central part of the Jewish religious identity. The Jewish sages had numerous discussions on the role of Hebrew in religious life and affixed when, where, and why Hebrew or an alternative language was to be used. Although the final discussions are the only available corpus today, this must have been an issue in the first century.

Was Hebrew used in the Synagogue liturgy outside of Israel, especially in lands dominated by the Greek language and culture?

The role of Hebrew in the ancient Greek communities of the Jewish diaspora is a disputed subject. Gedaliah Alon, a Jewish historian, noted the interweaving of Hebrew and Greek in the Synagogue before and after the destruction of Jerusalem.(7)Gedaliah Alon. The Jews in their Land in the Talmudic Age. Ed. and Trans. by Gershon Levi. Vol. 2. Jerusalem: Magnes Press. 1984. Pg. 338 Some, like Harry Gamble, have argued a complete abandonment of Hebrew “In the Greek-speaking synagogues of the Diaspora, however, the scriptures were apparently always read in Greek, and no translation was required.”(8)Harry Gamble. Books and Readers in the Early Church. New Haven:Yale University. 1995. Pg. 210 Gamble goes on to conclude within the earliest Christian Church, “no explicit evidence attests the liturgical reading of either the Torah or the prophets in Christian assemblies in the first century, …In addition, when it arrives on the field of historical vision Christianity is already fully wedded to the Septuagint.”(9)Harry Gamble. Books and Readers in the Early Church. New Haven:Yale University. 1995. Pg. 211 Obviously he was unaware of Epiphanius’ account of Hebrew being read as part of the liturgy in the earliest Corinthian Church or felt that Epiphanius’ text was too removed from the primitive Church to be of value. Gamble’s assumption about exclusive Greek reading in the churches is questionable. Alon believed that at least in one synagogue in Alexandria, Egypt, whose principal language was Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic were used for “literary purposes, for worship and even other needs.”(10)Gedaliah Alon. The Jews in their Land in the Talmudic Age. Ed. and Trans. by Gershon Levi. Vol. 2. Jerusalem: Magnes Press. 1984. Pg. 338 This small reference demonstrates that Hebrew still existed as a religious vernacular in some or all of the diaspora which would have had an effect on the structure of the earliest Christian Churches.

The tension between Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic as the lingua franca in Jewish life.

Aramaic was granted a high standing and was the native tongue of most Rabbinic sages. The Aramaic version of the Bible, known as Targum Onkelos has been a prime source of Jewish exegesis for almost two millennia. Yet the public reading was still retained in Hebrew according to Stephen Wylen, who further added:

It became a custom among Jews to read the weekly lectionary portion of the Torah three time through, once in Hebrew and twice in Aramaic. This custom was retained even into the Middle Ages when Jews no longer spoke Aramaic.(11) Stephen Wylan. The Seveny Faces of Torah: The Jewish Way of Reading the Sacred Scriptures. New Jersey: Paulist Press. 2005. Pg. 37

However, not everything was to be done in Hebrew. This was especially noted with the language of prayer. Whatever language the prayer was originally produced in, was allowed to remain in that language. For example, Talmud Babli Megillah established that whatever prayers were originally written in Aramaic, were to remain in Aramaic throughout the diaspora.(12) Talmud Babli Megillahh 9a

This was a disputed point and considerably argued. Aramaic was internally contested in reference to Jewish identity. God’s speaking to Moses at Mount Sinai was used as a polemic against Aramaic. “And the Lord spoke from Sinai. This is the Hebrew language.”(13)Sefer Haggada (in Hebrew) Tel-Abib: Dvir co. ltd. Book III, 3b. My translation There was a concerted effort to resist the inclusion of foreign languages in their liturgy and prayers. “For R. Johanan declared: if anyone prays for his needs in Aramaic [ie. a foreign tongue] the ministering Angels do not pay attention to him because they do not understand that language.”(14) The Soncino Talmud. Trans. by Epstein I. London: Soncino Press. 1935. Pg. 162

There was a movement against Aramaic and Greek in the land of Israel and an assertion that only Hebrew should be used. As reflected in this passage found in the Talmud Babli, Sotah 49b:

and that nobody should teach his son Greek. …At that time they declared,-`Cursed be a man who rears pigs and cursed be a man who teaches his son Greek wisdom!` Concerning that year we learnt that it happened that the `omer had to be supplied from the gardens of Zarifim and the two loaves from the valley of En-Soker. But it is not so! For Rabbi said: Why use the Syrian language in the land of Israel? Either use the holy tongue or Greek! And R. Joseph said: Why use the Syrian language in Babylon? Either use the holy tongue or Persian! The Greek language and Greek wisdom are distinct. But is Greek philosophy forbidden? Behold Rab Judah declared that Samuel said in the name of Rabban Simeon b. Gamaliel , What means that which is written: Mine eye affecteth my soul, because of all the daughters of my city? There were a thousand pupils in my father`s house; five hundred studied Torah and five hundred studied Greek wisdom, and of these there remained only I here and the son of my father`s brother in Assia! It was different with the household of Rabban Gamaliel because they had close associations with the Government; for it has been taught: To trim the hair in front is of the ways of the Amorites; but they permitted Abtilus b. Reuben to trim his hair in front because he had close associations with the Government. Similarly they permitted the household of Rabban Gamaliel to study Greek wisdom because they had close associations with the Government.(15) Talmud Babli Sotah 49b as found at the Instone Brewer website.

The duration, strength, or popularity of this opinion which existed in the land of Israel is not known. These examples are two to four centuries removed from the time of St. Paul, and may have even been stronger during the Corinthian conflict.

The Greek influence and encroachment on traditional Jewish life and practice.

On the other hand there was a problem of Greek perception towards the Jews. The Greeks believed their language and culture to be superior to anything else. For example the last non-Christian Roman Emperor, Julian, rejected what was then known to be the sect of the Galileans (Christianity) because it was not of Greek origin, nor wrought from the Greek language, and worse yet, it came from something obscure and unimportant as Hebrew. This can be gleaned from Cyril’s refutation against Julian;

For you esteem very lightly the distinguished men with the one subsequent Hebrew language that went a different way from the Greek , and I reckon that your Italian which was made for everyone, that you arranged it a certain number? Furthermore has it not been truly said to us that if we wish to understand the straight and narrow, the Greek language is not about to be held as the author of religious devotion… And so we are taught that the greatest place of moral virtue is through the sacred writings of the divinely inspired Scriptures. Nevertheless, we use such things for the preparation of sound teachings with Greek thoughts since we are not familiar with the Hebrew language.(16)S. Cyrilli Alexandrini, Contra Julianum, Lib. VII [234]. MPG: Vol. 76. Pg. 858. Translation is mine.

The Greeks extended the idea of their language being the heavenly one and this had a universal influence, even in the Latin world. One of the greatest Roman leaders and Orators, Cicero, so highly valued the writings of the Greek Philosopher Plato that the god Jupiter “were it his nature to use human speech, would thus discourse.”(17)Plutarch. The Parallel Lives. The Loeb Classical Library. Trans. by Bernadotte Perrin. 1919. Pg. 141

The Greek Septuagint was introduced to the Graeco-Roman world over three hundred years before the advent of Paul and his address to the Corinthian Church. The Septuagint was the standard in many Jewish circles, especially the diaspora. Paul himself made substantial usage of the Septuagint; when 93 Biblical quotes from Paul are examined 51 are in absolute or virtual agreement with the LXX, while only 4 agree with the Hebrew text.(18)http://www.religiousforums.com/forum/abrahamic-religions-dir/118238-paul-septuagint.html The text of Talmud Babli Megillah supports the Greek version to have near or equivalent status to that of the Hebrew one.(19)Talmud Babli 9a. Philo believed that the Greek text was necessary for the Jewish faith to become a universal standard:

But this is not the case with our laws which Moses has given to us; for they lead after them and influence all nations, barbarians, and Greeks, the inhabitants of continents and islands, the eastern nations and the western, Europe and Asia; in short, the whole habitable world from one extremity to the other.(20)Philo. On the Life of Moses: II IV:20 . . .Some persons, thinking it a scandalous thing that these laws should only be known among one half portion of the human race, namely, among the barbarians, and that the Greek nation should be wholly and entirely ignorant of them, turned their attention to their translation.(21)Philo. On the Life of Moses: II V:27

The role of the Septuagint became so prominent according to Jennifer Dines in her book, The Septuagint, that this Greek translation may have forced the Jewish community to explicitly state that the Hebrew text was inspired.(22)Jennifer Mary Dines. The Septuagint. New York: T&T Clark, 2004 Pg. 64

God dictated to Moses the importance of literacy for the perpetuation of the faith, “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates…”(23)Deuteronomy 6:9 though this was not ever completely established, because 700 years later at the time of Ezra, as mentioned by the great thirteenth century AD Jewish thinker, Maimonides, Hebrew was switched to a liturgical language and required an interpreter for any local reading.(24)Maimonides הלכות תפילה This will be demonstrated in more detail with the next upcoming article. The first century Jewish writer, Josephus, related that Hebrew literacy was up again in the first century, “and it is ordered to bring the children up (in) the letters concerning the Laws and to place upon (them) the works of the ancestors.”(25)Translation is mine. “to bring the children up (in) the letters” clearly refers to literacy. The popular William Whiston english translation has “It also commands us to bring those children up in learning, and to exercise them in the laws, and make them acquainted with the acts of their predecessors,” it misses the emphasis on literacy here. This may have been restricted to reading by rote. It does not infer written or spoken fluency.

An objection can be raised that Hebrew had this level of prominence through the study of tomb epitaphs. Jewish tombs have been uncovered in Rome with dates beginning from 63 BC and ending at 300 AD. Out of the 534 names, 76% had a Greek name, 23% a Latin, and only five contained Hebrew, Aramaic, or hybrid names.(26)http://www.livius.org/di-dn/diaspora/rome.html There are a number of problems with this conclusion. First of all, it reflects a long period of time, over 400 years. The Jews who had lived there during the time of Paul may have still kept their original mother tongue and the results are a later calculation. Secondly, Corinth was an international city that was a major intersection for the Jewish diaspora. There would always be an influx of Jews from Israel that would maintain the language. Thirdly, Hebrew may have been retained strictly as a liturgical language which would hardly have been reflected on burial inscriptions.

A relatively unknown group of Hellenized Jews later evolved a system called minhag-romania, whereby they performed “traditional Jewish prayers that were recited and chanted in Greek, but were written with Hebrew letters.”(27)http://gulnbla.tripod.com/romaniotes.htm This unusual rite was based upon the fact that they understood that the Rabbis dictated all readings must be from Assyrian Script. It is not known how large this movement was, or when it began. The website article contains little substantiation.

The composition of the earliest Corinthian assembly.

Paul’s strong background in Judaism, the appointment of a synagogue leader to lead the original Corinthian assembly, and the liturgical problems outlined by Paul in I Corinthians demonstrate that this was a highly influenced Jewish organisation. A second century writing dubiously claimed to be by Clement claimed that the Greek adherents quickly outgrew the Jewish ones in a short manner of time, “Seeing that our people who were given to be abandoned from God, have become more numerous than of the righteous who have God.”(28)MPG Vol. 1. Clement. Epistola II Ad Corinthios. Chapter 2. Col. 333 This suggests the abandonment of directly connected Jewish traditions and liturgies probably before the end of the first century.

What does this all mean?

Although the majority of these authors were of a later age, the majority of takes give a good outline demonstrating what kind of ethnic and linguistic tensions confronted Paul in the initial Corinthian Church. Epiphanius’ statement about Greek ethnic infighting and Hebrew being part of the original Corinthian liturgy is a very plausible explanation. The best one that has come forward.■

Next: Jewish Liturgy and the Tongues of Corinth.

References   [ + ]