The Dead Sea Scrolls, Jesus, and Paul

Capturing the spirit of first-century Judaism through the window of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament writings.

The Dead Sea Scrolls give an important look into first-century Jewish life from a mainly Jewish-Hebrew perspective; a genre lacking until their advent. Most of our extra-biblical knowledge of Israel during the first-century was previously drawn from Jewish Greek and Aramaic writers.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of manuscripts generally published from 200 BC to 100 AD.1 The majority were found in caves around the Dead Sea and the West Bank region.

The manuscripts were originally the property of a community previously called the Qumran community but today goes by the title of Yaḥad (literally it means together, oneness, or more generally, unity). There is debate over whether this a correct term, or whether Qumran would be a better fit. Yaḥad is used here simply because it has a more common usage in modern Dead Sea Scroll discussions and its uniqueness to the English language denotes a foreign, mysterious entity that has yet to be completely unravelled—a case that exists for these people.

It is unknown how widespread this movement was. Perhaps it had satellite communities from Damascus, Syria, all the way to Alexandria, Egypt. Maybe there was only one group in Qumran, or they were ideologically similar groups with loose connections between each other. Since they are not noted by the New Testament texts or the Talmud, they were likely a small movement with little political, social, or religious influence on the greater Jewish community. Their importance rests in the fact they are one of the few bodies from the first-century to leave behind any written evidence.

As one reads the entire collation of Dead Sea Scroll texts as found in the book, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition,2 a picture emerges of the Yaḥad as an extremist group—perhaps even ascetic. This is a community of people gathered together trying to go back 1200 years to the times of Moses and recreate a similar environment.

The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition is an excellent resource.

A little history of the Dead Sea Scrolls

The collection of writings called the Dead Sea Scrolls is large and diverse. The assemblage contains bible texts, hymns, psalms (biblical ones and new ones created by them), apocryphal literature, and rules for community life. They were written mostly in Hebrew, fewer in Aramaic, and lesser in Greek, Latin, and Nabatean. The community life texts contain small snippets about who they were, their liturgy and religious devotion.

The texts referring to the Yaḥad community way of life and religion are the ones looked at here.

Whether the communities were as old as the manuscripts themselves or only a brief generational thing, I don’t know.

Due to Rome’s military occupation and subsequent destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple, and Masada by Vespasian and Titus in 70 AD, the Yaḥad communities put their scrolls in caves for safekeeping. This was a good idea because their communities were physically located in the same region as Masada.

The high mountain fortress of Masada, originally built by Herod the Great as an escape option against the powerful and scheming Egyptian leader, Cleopatra, and to a lesser degree, any possible Jewish revolt, was a last major place of resistance against Rome.3 And if you read Josephus’ Wars of the Jews, the ending went badly for the resistance fighters. After the Romans had breached the wall and entered, they found carcasses strewn about. The results of a mass suicide.

An aerial view of present day Masada

Due to the severity of the war, and Rome’s desire to vanquish the conquered foes through death, slavery, or exile, the people of the Yaḥad never reclaimed the scrolls. Even if this theory does not hold true, one can look 65 years later. The human memory of the cave scrolls was surely erased. The Emporer Hadrian’s virtual annihilation of the Jewish population after the Bar Kochba revolt guaranteed such a state.

One of the many caves that housed the collections of Dead Sea Scrolls

Luck was on our side that these manuscripts were put into these remote locations—a place with low humidity, few or no bugs, or animals. The caves are situated high—some are visible as a hole in the middle of a sheer cliff. They are hard to access and the inhospitably hot climate did not attract human activity around this area for over 1800 years.

All we know about the Yaḥad is by their own writings left behind in the caves. The texts of the New Testament, nor do the Talmud, directly refer to them.

Are Essenes or Therapeutae Greek terms for the Yaḥad movement?

Were they the Essenes described by Josephus?4 Josephus was a first-century Jewish historian. He was part of the revolt against Rome, captured, and initially made a slave. Aside from the New Testament writings, his works are the most detailed and complete about this era. Within his narratives he describes a curious sect called the Essenes. Lively debates exist over whether the Essenes are the Greek equivalent of the Yaḥad. Regardless, the parallels are very close.

Or were they the Therapeutae described by Philo of Alexandria?5 Philo was a Jewish philosopher and writer in the first-century who lived in Roman-controlled Egypt. There are matching practices between the Therapeutae and the Yaḥad but there is a problem. Philo may be guilty of trying too hard to ameliorate his narrow world-view Greek-reading audience with the Jewish world. If the Yaḥad is a related group, his coverage avoids the problems of their rigorous adherence to purification, social order, and isolationism in order to achieve his aims. Consequently, he puts them in a utopian light. I think the Therapeutae are the same group, but Philo’s overarching theme of defending Judaism against the backdrop of a powerful international Greek culture and influence thwarts a definitive connection.

The Teacher of Righteousness

The Teacher of Righteousness (מורה צדקה) is one of the most intriguing subjects found within the Dead Sea Scrolls and remains an unsolved mystery. There is not enough information to complete a picture of this person or narrative but its fun to try and make a guess. The Teacher of Righteousness is historically associated with the founding of the Yaḥad and its break from the Temple authority. This supposedly happened because of a serious conflict with a corrupt priest. Who exactly were the Teacher of Righteousness and his adversary, the corrupt priest? Nobody knows. Lawrence H. Schiffman, a leading scholar on the Dead Sea Scrolls, has deeply considered this issue can only conclude that this event probably occurred during the early Hasmonean empire. Probably around 140 BC.6 One DSS text maintained it happened 390 years after falling to Nebuchadnezzar (Col. i (= 4Q266 2 i-ii; 4Q268 1)). This makes it around 197 BC and creates many difficulties.

What we do know is that this unnamed person was the leader of a schism from the Temple with a priestly class called the sons of Zadok. If one takes a Wikipedia page on the sons of Zadok at face value, they had both literal and allegorical meanings. It is hard to distinguish how it is used here.7 8

The followers of the Teachers of Righteousness felt that they were a faithful remnant while the Wicked Priest, who represented the greater Jewish community, had compromised and corrupted the faith.

One DSS text relates the Teacher of Righteousness as a present person.9 The present TOR may relate to the community receiving the passed-down teachings of the teacher, not the teacher himself. The TOR is found in one apocalyptic verse, where he is announced to precede the Messiah.10 Once again, I don’t think it is relating to a future appearance of the TOR but that the establishment of his teachings and practices are a necessary prerequisite to hasten the Messiah’s arrival.

However, these are not as strong a position as the historical figure.

Whether true history, allegory, a self-patronizing myth created by the Yaḥad to give them status, or as some propose, a proto-Christ, will probably never fully be demystified.

A hyper identity sect

The Yaḥad hardly wanted anything to do with the gentile world or the benefits their economies offered. Their idea of purification was radical and protecting the Jewish image from any improper contact with a greater gentile world was an important part of their narrative.

No-one should sell clean animals or birds, to the gentiles lest they sacrifice them. . . . And he should not sell them anything from his granary or his press, at any price.11

They viewed themselves as morally and religiously superior to the rest of the world:

. . . honour him by this: by consecrating yourself to him, in accordance to the fact that he has placed you as a holy of holies [over all] the earth, and among all the [g]o[ds] he has cast your lot.12

Paul too, in his expanding the Jewish faith to a gentile world, was a serious threat to this type of thinking. Their doctrine of racial and religious purity would have immediately judged him as a traitor. This indeed did happen. The Book of Acts recalls Paul being accosted in the Temple for allegedly allowing gentiles in the Temple and a throng of people immediately attempted to beat him to death. Without the intervention of Roman soldiers he probably would have died. Paul later testified that he did not bring in any gentile or violate the Temple. If such purity views were common in the lands of Judah, or even by a vocal, vigilant, and aggressive minority such as the Yaḥad, it is not surprising that Paul needed a Roman escort out of Jerusalem.13

The language of the Yaḥad

A superficial look presents an absence of Greek or Latin loanwords in their texts. They had some Aramaic but not much. This linguistic purity appears very unusual to me.

The Yaḥad and the Temple

There is a premise that the Yaḥad had dismissed the Temple as being too corrupt and had replaced it with their own set of practices. However, I cannot find satisfactory evidence in the writings to prove such a point. There is no statement that outrightly calls for the abandonment of the Temple.

Rather there is some evidence that the Temple is central to their belief system. It is exemplified by the fact that members covenant not to have any sexual activity in the holy city of Jerusalem in respect to its holiness.14 On the other hand, there is a conflict. The Temple Scroll is very similar in wording to the Damascus Document about Temple observance but it is futuristic. Whereas the Damascus Document seems to press for present observance of the Temple, the Temple Scroll writer(s) pushes for a future state. They see themselves preparing for a restorative Judaism that includes a new Temple that is totally pure. The Temple Scroll outlines plans on a new Temple building and how patrons should enter and behave while in the holy city. These similarities make it hard to distinguish whether the Yaḥad were obligated to perform such ascetic rights now or only in the future.

I would suspect that their restorative idea of Judaism and emphatic emphasis on purification in order to bring along the end-times would lead to them being very strict in their conduct of the Herodian Temple and the holy city.

The Damascus Document implies a present rule of conduct with the Temple, while the Temple Scroll emphasizes a future requirement when the Temple is cleansed and rebuilt.

Leadership structure of the Yaḥad

The Yaḥad were rigorous about rank and order. The Inspector of the Many (המבקר הרבים or המקבר היחד) was the top of the order. He was a combination of a mayor, lawyer, philanthropist, and judge. He gave the final interpretation of any matters relating to Judaic Law. This position required the man to be 30 to 50 years of age and multilingual;15 he was responsible for dealing in matters with outside authorities.

Admission to the congregational assembly meetings was restricted to those who were in good health. Those with any skin disorder, age-related walking problems, blind, deaf, etc., were not permitted to sit with the men of renown.16

This community did share all things in common—but that is if you are a qualified member. Any violation of the community covenant could lead to minor or severe penalties.17 Speaking out of order, falling asleep, or even giggling inappropriately could lead to punishments. Acts of disrespect were especially frowned upon.18Also, some food items were defined with a higher sense of purity and privilege. Some qualified for this type of food while others did not.

There is much more about the leadership structure that can be drawn from these texts. For a more thorough look, see Geza Vermes’, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English; especially under the header, Qumran and the New Testament. Pg. 44ff.19 Dr. Vermes was one the earlier scholars to study the Dead Sea Scrolls and his publications on the subject became the standard for many years. I would like to provide one insight that goes along with the flow of thought here—the absolute authority of the Inspector:

But an additional task of the mebaqqer [Inspector] in the towns was to ensure that no friendly contact occurred between his congregation and anyone outside the sect. Whatever exchanges took place had to be paid for; and even these transactions were to be subject to his consent.20

The Yaḥad and miracles

One the key characteristics of the New Testament Gospels and the earlier part of the Book of Acts are the appeals to miracles.

However, it is surprising there is very little reference to mysticism or miracles in the Yaḥad community. There are a few notes about demons but they are not preoccupied by it. Purification by far is their greatest ambition.

The Yaḥad writings and Jesus

In reference to the New Testament texts, there are similarities in thought. This is not surprising because the texts come from the same era. They both draw from the same spirit of the age. Generally speaking, the Judaism presented in the New Testament texts is far more welcoming to the non-Jew, tolerant, and comprehensive, than the rule of life ordered by those communities living in the Judean desert. These desert dwellers lived in a very insulated world.

One has to be careful with such a generality. John the Baptist falls into the description of a Qumran member.

Jesus was likely aware of them and conflicted with their rigorous view of the Sabbath. His assertion that it was OK to violate the Sabbath in order to rescue an animal or son trapped in a watery place on the Sabbath (Luke 14:5) contradicted the Yaḥad. They had a rule that if a person is trapped in a watery place on the Sabbath, he cannot be retrieved by any device. The use of any device such as a rope or ladder would violate the rules of the Sabbath. The rescue must manually occur by the extension of the hands21 and/or the use of personal garments worn by the person.22 Otherwise, the person was left to die. A hand extension or assistance for any animal found in a watery place on the Sabbath was forbidden. The animal was left to die. Jesus contradicted this practice as too extreme. It went beyond the intent of the Law.

It may seem crass for readers today, but the idea of falling into a well was an important discussion during this period. Later Rabbinic leaders went over this problem in great detail.23

Also the beatitudes that Jesus gave which contained the formula blessed are the…24 is also contained in the Dead Sea Scrolls.25 They are not parallel texts. They just contain the same formulaic beginning. However, I would strongly caution against Jesus borrowing from the Qumran community on this. They both borrowed from the spirit of the times.

The Yaḥad shares the same apocalyptic doctrine as the New Testament on the lineage of the Messiah. They also shared that he would come from the tribe of Judah:

Until the messiah of righteousness comes, the branch of David. For to him and to his descendants has been given the covenant of the kingship of his people for everlasting generations. . .26

But then contradicts itself in another place where the Messiah comes from the Aaronic line.27

Conclusion

Although the Yaḥad have many differences from the themes and message of the New Testament writings, there are similarities in writing style and influences. It is clear they are both developed from the same cultural milieu.

It was a great pleasure to read these texts and every Bible reader should add the English translations to their reading list.

There is much more information in these texts than I have mentioned. This is just the beginning.

9 Points on the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

Nine points Pentecostals and Charismatic families of churches must do to build healthy relationships with the nation of Israel, Jews, and Palestinians.

Pentecostals, traditional Charismatics, and third-wave Charismatics are collectively called Renewalists. They staunchly support the nation of Israel regardless of whatever behaviour this nation exhibits. Is this is a good thing?

No. It is not.

There is a great need within the Renewalist movement to build a fair and balanced relationship with the nation of Israel, Jews, and Palestinians. The current oral tradition is sorely lacking in this regard.

Indeed, the present Renewalist thinking slows or even hurts resolving the Palestinian-Israeli crisis. If Renewalists redirect their energy towards a just and meaningful solution between Israelis and Palestinians, it would make the world a much better place.

The Nine points are directly aimed at members of the Renewalist community and perhaps touches on Fundamentalist groups too. These points do not apply to Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Anglicans, and those belonging to the World Council of Churches. They have different histories and politics on the subject.

Why this question is vitally important

There are a lot of Renewalists out there and it is having an effect on world affairs. In fact, it is the fastest growing Christian movement with projections of 700 million followers by 2020.1 The movement has crossed religious lines and some of its values has spread into Catholicism and mainline Protestant churches. So the 700 million estimate may be too conservative.

Their growth is a global phenomenon.2

The Nine Points

  1. The events leading to the end of the world are God’s job, not ours. Any Christian who promotes an eschatological view at the expense of a person’s fundamental rights, whetherJew or Palestinian or Arab is wrong.

  2. The most effective role of the Renewalist is not to fulfill prophecy but to encourage a one or two-state solution.

  3. Whether the new country was correctly established or not, Israel exists. Renewalist oral tradition rightly condemns any talk or action that calls for the annihilation of Israel.

  4. Jews, and Israelis in particular, are to define themselves. Christians should not define them in archaic historic terms. One should not assume an ancient Jew as a synonym for the modern Israeli.

  5. The dynamic between Israel and its Palestinian countrymen, neighbours, and hostiles is a very dysfunctional one. They are both culpable.

  6. Renewalists must push for a lasting peace between the United States and Iran. Iran has sponsored terrorist cells throughout the world to destabilize American interests. Israel is one of those hot-spots. This plays a significant role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

  7. Renewalist dialogue on the Palestinian-Israeli crisis must engage Lebanese, Syrian, Jordanian, Egyptian, and especially Palestinian Christians on the topic.

  8. If Israel is serious about peace then they have to either allow previous landholders driven out of their homes during the 1967 war to return to their homes or properly compensate them through a negotiated settlement. Secondly, Israel has to halt all settlement building activities on Palestinian land. Those that already exist, Israel has to negotiate fair lease agreements with the Palestinian authorities for the use of their land. If Israel cannot negotiate a deal, then the illegal settlements should revert to Palestinian ownership.

  9. If Israel is to offer up those concessions, then their counterparts must do their share. Israel is a small country land-wise and within range of any missile or even small armaments. Any peace given by its neighbours must be tangible and long-lasting. Israel has to be recognized as a country and any foreign opposition calling for their destruction must completely disappear. █

Background information

For those who are unfamiliar with Renewalism and curious about the importance of this nine-point thesis, here is some background information.

Who are these people?

Renewalists subscribe to the belief that signs, wonders, and miracles are still active today in the church today. Pentecostals are the earliest model of this framework back in the early 1900s. Charismatics came upon the scene in the 1960s when Pentecostal influences permeated mainline churches. Over time, the Charismatic followers left the mainline churches and formed their own independent gatherings. The Charismatic movement is now slightly overtaking its Pentecostal parent in momentum throughout the world. 3 Third-Wave Christians are Charismatics who adhere to the signs and wonders but have dropped a distinct Pentecostal doctrine called the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Well, maybe it is an exaggeration to lump all the groups together when it comes to their relationship with Judaism and their views of the Middle East. There are slight differences. Pentecostals have a strong presence in Jerusalem, but from my experience with Canadian Pentecostals, their excitement is tamer than Charismatic and Third-Wave Christians. Neither do I hear such strong fervour from local Charismatic and Third-Wave Pastors either, but it is quite prevalent among their followers.

Why are Renewalists so supportive of Israel and the Jewish People?

Perhaps it is the influence of televangelists such as Pat Robertson, or Jack Van Impe. Or maybe the values reinforced by Renewalist organizations such as Bridges for Peace, the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem, along with many more similar organizations. Their mandate is to foster better relationships with the Jewish people, educate Christians on their Judaic roots, and demonstrate visible support for Israel. They have succeeded and these values have become part of the Renewalist oral traditions.

Better yet, it is the Renewalist penchant for personal Bible devotions. Anyone who is a literalist and reads the Bible from the Book of Genesis to Revelation will find the Jewish narrative a core theme. Without it, the Bible would become very obscure, boring, and unimportant. Therefore, it is a natural fit for Renewalists to link their faith with the Jewish antecedent. They apply their personal Bible readings to interpret modern Judaism, the nation of Israel, and contemporary politics from this perspective.

Renewalist contemporary thoughts on Israel, Jews and Palestinians

The formation of Israel was one of Britain’s last vestiges of colonial rule. It is also a result of Protestant sensitivities to the Bible and their perceptions of the restoration of Israel.

Renewalists are highly apocalyptic and see the formation of Israel as one of the prerequisites for the end of the world.

They also revere the Jewish race because of their special religious status outlined in the Bible.

There is an undercurrent within that seeks to evoke the same faith structure outlined in the first-century. They perceive the loss of the Jewish identity and the rise of Greco-Roman Christianity as a corrupt or watered down version of faith. A condition that has plagued the church until the Pentecostal explosion in the early 1900s. The early 1900s brought a revitalization that insiders in the movement believe parallels the first-century experience and naturally the Jewish dominant themes.

There are other factors at work here, such as the Renewalist lack of liturgy and structure in their mystical existential environment. Judaism is one of the options looked at to fill this void.

There is a small but influential body within various Renewalist communities that seek to imitate Jewish customs or directly integrate them into their faith system. This is more so found in Charismatic and Third-Wave Christians.4

For the Renewalist, Palestinians are classified with the greater Arab population. The Arabs are considered antagonists in their prophetic narrative. For this reason, Palestinians, and Palestinian Christians in particular, are largely ignored in any of their dialogue.

This attitude has to change.

The Renewalist movement and the Israeli Government

The Israeli Government is aware of the Renewalist unwavering theology about the Jews and Israel. They see both a financially and politically rewarding relationship with little strings attached. The Government of Israel has diligently built positive relations with them to ensure continued support. Their relationship with Renewalists does not always sit well within Jewish circles and is viewed often with deep suspicion.

Notes:


Image with Balfour statement is used with permission from dreamstime.com. “The Balfour Declaration was a public statement issued by the British government during World War I announcing support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. . .”5

Comments are welcome, but please be respectful. Any comments that are disrespectful, derogatory, or stereotyping any person, group, community, race, or religion will not be posted.

Tongues of Corinth Infographic

A history of speaking, interpreting, and reading from 500 B.C. to 400 A.D. in Judaism and early Christianity.

An interactive infographic to help you navigate Paul’s world and how these offices later evolved in the Christian Church. Clicking on the image will bring you to the full interactive site.

Paul’s mention of speaking in tongues in I Corinthians is deeply wrapped in the Jewish identity. The same goes for his understanding of speaking, reading, and interpreting of tongues. These rites have a rich history that goes well over 800 years. The initial origins are deeply connected to the times of Ezra.

Infographic explaining speaking, interpreting, and reading at the Corinthian assembly

Here is the link to the Corinthian Tongues Infographic if clicking the image does not work.

The reference to speaking and interpreting in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is entirely distinct from the miracle of Pentecost—for information about Pentecost see A History of Tongues in the Catholic Church and related articles found at the Gift of Tongues Project.

The customs of speaking, interpreting, and public reading are deeply embedded in Jewish tradition and inherited by the early church. Paul, if he was alive today, would be surprised at how the modern interpretations are so different than his intentions.

The Renewalist Response to the Gift of Tongues Project

Current Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Third Wave responses to the Gift of Tongues Project.

A number of readers have asked me lately about the response from the Renewalist communities (Pentecostals, the Charismatic Movement, and affiliations) to the Gift of Tongues Project. Here are a few observations.

An opinion piece

The reader must be aware that the following responses are feelings, opinions, and hunches that are harvested from a very narrow set of data. The results are from personal observations and conversations within the Renewalist communities about speaking in tongues. It is also from data gathered from my website, Facebook ads, and a focus group. Still, even with all these tools at hand, this is speculative and subject to change. Neither do these thoughts align with the standards set out in The Gift of Tongues Project which has a more rigorous objective framework.

Continue reading The Renewalist Response to the Gift of Tongues Project

Greek, Hellenic Judaism and the problem tongues of Corinth

A look at the problem tongues of Corinth being an internal linguistic struggle between Doric, Aeolic, and Attic Greeks.

This is part 2 of an 7 part series on the mystery tongues of Corinth. Part 1, The Role of Hebrew in the Jewish Aramaic World, covered how Hebrew became the language of religion and worship in Aramaic Judaism. The precedence about Hebrew established here transferred over to Jews living in a Greek world.

When you add that the ancient synagogue liturgy of Hebrew as the language of instruction was adopted in the Corinthian assembly, then we are getting close to finding a good answer to the question of Corinthian tongues.

This conclusion is greatly strengthened by a fourth-century church father by the name of Epiphanius. He did not stop at explaining the tongues of Corinth as being a problem of Hebrew instruction. He further commented it was a linguistic conflict between Doric, Aeolic, and Attic Greeks.

This article is an investigation into the ancient Greek world to see if these language conflicts were a problem.

This necessitates a critical journey into the ancient Greek world, Jewish Hellenism, Paul, and references from the New Testament to find answers.

Introduction

The Greek-Jewish faith is one of the biggest background stories to the New Testament writings and the fledgling Jewish Messianic movement—one that was later to entirely break off from its parent and be called Christianity.

If it was not for the dominant presence of the Greek language and culture in the Jesus narrative, the story of salvation would never have become an international phenomenon. The resurrection was timed perfectly for an explosive expansion for all mankind to hear.

Greek Judaism has a different story than the Aramaic one. One of the biggest differences is that the Aramaic Jews developed a wealth of literature for posterity, while the Greek Jews have left very little.

This lack of literature does not negate the influence of Greek culture and language on Jewish life because of an obvious overarching fact. The impact of the Greek language and culture on first-century Judaism and everyone else within the Meditteranean, North Africa, and the Middle-East regions is so great that it cannot be calculated.

It is no coincidence that the New Testament was written in Greek rather than Hebrew or Aramaic.

In fact, no other language or culture, except perhaps English, has had so great a universal impact.

Hellenistic Judaism was an influential group in the first century

Adolf von Harnack built a geographical portrait of Jewish populations in the Roman Empire. The results are found his excellent book, The Mission and Expansion of Christianity. Approximately 1 million Jews lived in Syria during the reign of Nero which comprised about 13% of the population. In Egypt, there were about a million Jews comprising about 7% of the population. 1.5 million Jews resided in Cyrene, Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, Rome, Gaul, Spain, etc. Surprisingly, Jerusalem and Palestine had a smaller footprint, 700,000. Harnack calculated about 7% of the Roman Empire was Jewish1

It is traditionally held that the Roman Empire around the first century was approximately 50 million.2 His calculation does roughly fit within this formula.

How Harnack acquired these statistics is not known. He concluded this over a century ago. New statistics have not been found that either prove or disprove his results. I have to rest on his high reputation alone. These statistics are subject to change if improved and substantiated information comes forward.

These findings do not include the Jewish population in the then Parthian empire which included Babylon.

Harnack outlined a framework where Jews living in Greek-dominated lands were far larger than those that lived in the Roman-ruled Middle-East. As a researcher, this statistic was startling, especially in light of the lack of Jewish-Greek literature available for this period. One would think with such a great mass of Jewish-Greeks living at that time there would be a broad representation of Jewish-Greek literature. Outside of the publications representing the New Testament, Philo, and Josephus, this is not the case.3 But then, there are hardly any pieces of Jewish-Aramaic literature available in the first century either. The production of Aramaic literature comes at a later time.

As noted above, the Jewish community that lived abroad, which is called the diaspora, was larger than the one that lived in Israel major. The population rival to the diaspora Greek-speaking Jews was the Aramaic ones who resided in Syria and in the Parthian empire. Those who principally spoke Aramaic or Hebrew were called Hebrews while those Jews whose lifestyle was heavily influenced by Greek culture and Greek converts were called Ἑλληνιστάς Hellenistas4

The New Testament letters make a distinction between the two but it is not an adversative relationship. There was no Greek Jewish institution separate from the Temple or a distinctiveness from the foundations of the Hebrew faith. Nor was there any Jewish-Greek nationalist movement or hierarchical leadership structure. The small reference to the Hellenizers portray a group striving to maintain the Hebrew faith while living in a Greek world.

The narrative of Pentecost in the Book of Acts did not recognize Jewish Hellenists as an institution or separate movement either. The geographic outlay of the Pentecost outburst did not rest on the Greek language or the boundaries of the Roman Empire. Rather, it outlined all the Jewish communities that existed from the Parthian Empire (starting from the western boundaries of Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and Pakistan) to the westerly reaches of the Mediterranean basin. The focus was on native languages and not Greek. The narrative suggests that Greek was not the mother-tongue of these peoples referred to in the Greek diaspora, but rather connected together by Greek as the international common tongue. Even Parthia, one of the greatest rivals to Rome, had recognized Greek as one of their official tongues. Greek was the glue that held everyone together throughout the Jewish world. This is similar to the position the English language holds in the world today.

The narrative of Pentecost showed that Jews of all the nations flocked to Jerusalem, and especially looked upon the Temple as the source of authority. They recognized Jerusalem as the center of the Jewish faith.

As is documented throughout this series, the Hebrew language was a source of unity. The Hebrew culture and liturgy were not antithetical to the Jewish Greek identity.

The Septuagint

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.5 The text of Talmud Babli Megillah supports the Greek version to have near or equivalent status to that of the Hebrew one.6. 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.7 . . .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.8

The role of the Septuagint became so prominent according to Jennifer Dines in her book, The Septuagint, that it may have forced the Jewish community to explicitly state that the Hebrew text was inspired.9

If one uses the epitaphs on Jewish tombs uncovered in Rome with dates beginning from 63 BC and ending at 300 AD, it shows how powerful the Greek language had become – even at the expense of Latin. Out of the 534 names, 76% had a Greek name, 23% Latin, and only five contained Hebrew, Aramaic, or hybrid name.10

A Greek perspective on Hebrew and 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.

Julian was an Emperor of the Roman empire for two short years (361–363 AD). During this period, Rome was in a divided and crumbling state. In order to restore Rome to its former glory, he felt it necessary to undermine the Christian religion and reinstate the ancient Roman customs. His anti-Christian polemical writings, although not available today in original form, were very popular and widespread.

This popularity went beyond his grave. Later Christian leaders such as Cyril of Alexandria (378–444 AD), were compelled to write a defense against his volleys. Because of Cyril’s treatise against Julian, we find excerpts of Julian’s original message, and are able to somewhat piece together Julian’s original thoughts.

Cyril of Alexandria charged that Greek should not be given so high a status and that it has only a utilitarian value. The Hebrew language has a higher standing because it is a sacred language that most, including himself, did not know and therefore must resort to Greek. Here is an excerpt of his actual response to Julian’s high assertion:

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.11

Even the Latin world highly exalted the Greek language. 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.”12

If one applies the superiority of Greek over Hebrew into the Corinthian saga, then it would be a conflict over the abandonment of Hebrew for only Greek. I don’t think this was the case here. Hellenistic Jews still had a great attachment to Jerusalem and its customs during this time. Jerusalem had yet to start the insurrection or suffer its crushing defeat. The loss of Hebrew would have been too much a religious shift for Paul or the original Jews of Corinth to make.

Corinthian Pride

The people of Corinth took great pride in their Greek language and culture. This is best reflected in an oration of a second-century speech by a philosopher by the name of Favorinus. Favorinus was a popular speaker and teacher in Athens and throughout the Roman empire. He was greatly celebrated and had statues erected in his honor. In the case of Corinth, his statue had disappeared and he wrote a speech urging its return. Whether he actually spoke this in person at Corinth, we do not know, but we do have his written speech. Favorinus was originally from the Gaul region (inside or around modern France) and was of the Roman upper-class who by great expense had adopted the Greek language and culture so as to be viewed as a Greek. He felt that Corinth ought to appreciate his acquired Greek identity among many other traits. His speech demonstrated that the Corinthian community had strongly favoured native Greek peoples and contained great suspicion to foreigners who adapted to their ways.13

Even though there is more to come about linguistic infighting, it already comes as no surprise that Paul, an Antiochan Jew, who likely spoke Attic, along with Hebrew and Aramaic, encountered problems navigating through the Corinthian ethos whose native tongue was Doric.

Tension over which Greek language should be the official one of the Corinthian assembly

Now it is time to delve further about the conflict between Doric, Aeolic, and Attic Greeks.

Epiphanius’ explanation needs a detailed look into these three Greek dialects. The following results are a detour from the usual approach in the Gift of Tongues Project which stresses use of source texts. The familiarity of Greek literature before the first-century AD is outside the expertise of the author and therefore reliant on third-party analysis.

This picture was found at Wikipedia with the following citation:

Geographical distribution of the dialects of ancient Greek, in the classical era. Not shown: dialects of the western colonies of Magna Graecia. Map re-drawn after a source map in: Roger D. Woodard (2008), “Greek dialects”, in: The Ancient Languages of Europe, ed. Roger D. Woodard, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p.51. (= partial re-published version of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Ancient Languages, 2004)

This map represents the language groups around 200 BC. There is no map that could be found for the first century. According to Epiphanius, this was still a close representation for the first century.

As was stated in the introduction, Corinth was not an old city, but a new one reestablished and colonized by Rome. It attracted a wide spectrum of peoples and languages.

Corinth was almost in the epicentre where these three language groups bordered.

There were two types of Attic – the native Attic spoken by Athenians, and those that spoke a derivative of Attic throughout the Macedonian Empire broadly labelled by moderns as Koine. Attic was designated the language of the Greek empire by Philip II, father of Alexander the Great.14 It evolved as an official language for over three-hundred years before the Christian era, separate from that of the Athenian experience, and became the primary, and if not, an important secondary language for the inhabitants of conquered lands. This internationalized Attic is commonly referred to today as Koine Greek. The international version became its own brand, surpassing that of its parent by a significant magnitude. Athens was slightly east of Corinth.

Epiphanius was likely referring to the Attic spoken by the Athenians, not the massively influential Koine child.

Koine became the literary standard throughout the Greek Empire, but it did not sideline the various Greek spoken dialects throughout Greece major and immediately east of it on the Asiatic coast in the first century.

The people who lived in first-century Corinth spoke a Doric dialect. Which one was in use during the time of Paul or how much it was influenced by Attic is not entirely known. They shared the Doric family of languages with the Athenian rival city of Sparta in the south. The Doric family of dialects continued to flourish under the Attic radar until at least the third century AD.15

A very small number of people in Greece still speak a Doric dialect called Tsakonian. Here is an interesting video on the differences between Tsakonian and Attic.

Favorinus in his oration to the Corinthians demonstrated a high respect for the Doric language in order to secure his statue being returned.16 This demonstrates that Paul was in an environment where sensitivities to the Greek language, especially Doric, were prevalent.

Aeolic slightly to the north was utilized by the city of Thebes and surrounding areas. An older historian from the 1800s, Ernst Curtis, believed the Aeolic tongue as not a dialect, but the mother of all the Greek languages.17 It is unclear whether the Aeolic Greeks felt this same idea of primacy, but it was a Greek dialect nonetheless representing a major ethnic group in Greece.

One major Greek language group was missing in Epiphanius’ account, Ionic. This dialect had merged with Attic by the first century and lost its own independent use. Epiphanius could have simply been too general, ignorant of language histories, or simply biased against Ionic when he wrote this. We will assume this is not the case in order to finish answering Epiphanius’ assertion.

Paul was dealing with a multicultural problem regarding not only the acceptance of Hebrew as the principal language of instruction but was stepping into a political minefield regarding which Greek language would be the standard one for the liturgy.

What does this all mean?

The background evidence on the Greek life and culture supplied supports Epiphanius’ assertion that the Corinthian tongues conflict was between Doric, Aeolic and Attic Greeks. It makes reasonable sense that can be supported by history.

It also demonstrates the impact of the Greek language and culture was everywhere in Paul’s time and it cannot be omitted while reading his first letter to the Corinthians.

The role of Hebrew in the Jewish-Aramaic World

The influence of Aramaic and Hebrew on Jewish life around the first-century.

The goal of any information gleaned from this inquiry is to find a possible connection with Hebrew being a part of the first-century Corinthian liturgy. A subsequent purpose is to confirm or deny an assertion by the fourth-century Bishop of Salamis, Epiphanius, that the mystery tongues of Corinth had its roots in the Hebrew language.

We cannot assume any synagogue outside of Israel, let alone Corinth, used the Hebrew language as part of their religious service. So, it requires digging deeper into the relationship between Hebrew and Aramaic to find answers.

Introduction

This is a difficult investigation given that Aramaic was the standard language of the eastern shores of the Mediteranean all the way to the borders of Afghanistan, and maybe even further. Its influence was so great and its similarity to Hebrew quite close, that it is hard to find where Hebrew fit in.

The investigation unfolds how wide and expansive the Aramaic influence became. Secondly, one discovers about the Hebrew language from the most ancient times, its use and disuse throughout the centuries, and how it became a sacred language.

The Greek language and culture had a similar impact, but this is left for another article.

The topic is full of controversies between various scholars. Because of the large breadth of subject matter, this article tends to go on some interesting tangents. It is hoped the reader doesn’t mind, as this has been a fun research adventure.

The universal power of Aramaic, and later, Greek languages were important contributors to the Jewish faith. Both Aramaic and Greek were universal languages of law and commerce that dominated Jewish life and thought during different and often overlapping epochs. However, because of these influences, Hebrew was pushed aside as the mother tongue in Jewish life. On the other hand, it was still retained as a religious language. Small pockets in southern Israel may have used the language in everyday usage, but this was a minority.

Perhaps the assertion about Hebrew is too great. Scholars are all over the map about the use of Hebrew after 500 BC.

The important part of the Hebrew language narrative is this: the Hebrew language became a vital component in retaining a distinct Jewish identity under occupation and in foreign lands.

The use of Hebrew as the native tongue from 1200 to around 700 BC is considered an acceptable theory. The interchangeability of Hebrew and Aramaic throughout the 600 BC to around 400 AD is highly controversial that contains a variety, if not, opposite arguments. Once Alexander the Great arrived on the scene and conquered a great many regions, ethnic groups, and languages, this changed the linguistic story again. Greek overtook Aramaic as the universal language of commerce, law, and literature in the Middle East, but not entirely. The combination of these three make for a complex relationship.

The fall of Hebrew and the rise of Aramaic.

Hebrew and Aramaic are offshoots of Canaanite family of languages (which includes Phoenician). This fact is forwarded by the revered paleographer Joseph Naveh,1 the late influential philologist, linguist and member of the Israeli based Academy of the Hebrew Language, Edward Yechezkel Kutscher,2 and the current professor of the Department of Hebrew and Semitic Languages, at the Bar-Ilan University, Prof. Gad Sarfatti.3

Both Aramaic and Hebrew drew from Phoenician for their respective writing scripts. In fact, from the tenth to ninth-centuries BC, Phoenician held an international status.4 Phoenician is severely under-represented in historic coverage, but is one of the leading contributors to the writing systems we use today. The Aramaic language remained more closely aligned with the Phoenician writing system until the 700s, where it began to alter its letters.5 The Hebrew writing system began this morphosis much earlier.

The patriarch of the Israeli people, Jacob, was firstly called a wandering Aramean in the Book of Deuteronomy.6 This reference shows how close the Aramean and Hebrew cultures and languages are finely woven together.7

In fact, the influence of Aramaic is seen weaved throughout the Hebrew language history. After the fall of the Persians to the Greeks, the Jewish scribes adapted the Aramaic script exclusive to their culture and language which is called the Jewish Script. The majority of the Dead Sea Scrolls are representative of this Jewish script. The ancient Hebrew script did continue, albeit in a minority position. This writing system is best represented today in the Samaritan Pentateuch.

Hebrew was supplanted by Aramaic as early as 740 BC when the Assyrians conquered and controlled Northern Israel. As a result, many Israelites were exiled as slaves throughout the Assyrian empire and those that remained were forced under Assyrian rule.8 This was the era where the idiom the lost ten tribes was established. These peoples were never allowed to return in any great quantity.

The Hebrew language likely died in northern Israel with all the Israelites who were deported.

The language story is different with the kingdom of Judah. The tribe remained independent until about 600 BC when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem and deported a great number of its citizens.

The Hebrew language still remained intact with the kingdom of Judah. A Biblical account about a Babylonian military buildup around Jerusalem showed vibrancy of the Hebrew language here. The Jerusalem leaders requested the Babylonians to only speak in Aramaic when shouting their demands. When the Babylonians openly shouted in Hebrew, the common person understood. If they spoke in Aramaic, only the elite of Jerusalem could comprehend.9

The Babylonian Empire was overtaken by the Persians, and a new ruler controlled the lands. Aramaic remained the principle language. Around 537 BC, the Persian King, Cyrus, granted exiled remnants of the tribe of Judah to return to Jerusalem. One of the important figures in this re-establishment was Ezra the Scribe.

Not much is known about Ezra, except that he comes from a priestly line and that he was born in Babylon. 10 He was a Levite, not from the tribe of Judah. His aims were to reconstitute the Hebrew faith throughout the Hebrew nation. The center for the Hebrew faith was Jerusalem, and any rebirth or restoration would have to be issued from here.

He came at a critical point of Hebrew history. The nation of Israel, along with the Temple and all its traditions, had collapsed. The people were dispersed and no longer masters of their own destinies. There was an identity crisis. How could a member of the tribe of Judah, or one of the ten tribes, retain their ancient identity? Ezra’s task was for the reconstruction of the ancient Hebrew faith.

The Babylonian influenced Israelites who lived in the more northern reaches of Israel for almost 283 years were totally acculturated. Aramaic customs and language were the norm. Their assimilation into the bigger culture was a great challenge to reverse.

The members of the tribe of Judah were under occupation for over 130 years—a little over three generations. If one uses current immigration stats as a measuring stick, the third generation usually loses the original language in favour of the larger one.11 Ezra himself discovered 50% of Jewish children did not know the language of Judah12 at all during this time. For those 50% that did know the language, Hebrew may have been a second language to them. He did not qualify whether this fluency was beginner or advanced.

Ezra was pragmatic and realized rebuilding the Israelite identity through education and reinstituting the language were two very different but important entities. The following narrative taken from the Book of Nehemiah demonstrates the new direction the Israelite identity was heading:

Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women and all who could listen with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month.

Ezra the scribe stood at a wooden podium which they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam on his left hand. . .

They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.13

Were the people listening in Aramaic or Hebrew?

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.

The word combinations emphasize instructing over translating in either the original or the modern Hebrew sense. The emphasis here was on education, not language.

A shift on understanding this Biblical text happens later on where it is understood more from a language perspective. This is particularly found in later Jewish Babylonian Aramaic writings. The traditional interpretation became this: Ezra read from the Law in the original Hebrew and a translator and/or translators stood by immediately explaining the reading in Aramaic.

The Talmud Babli Sanhedrin 21a and b have an interesting commentary on both the writing script and language employed by Ezra:

Mar Zutra or, as some say, Mar ‘Ukba said: Originally the Torah was given to Israel in Hebrew characters and in the sacred [Hebrew] language; later, in the times of Ezra, the Torah was given in Ashshurith script and Aramaic language. [Finally], they selected for Israel the Ashshurith script and Hebrew language, leaving the Hebrew characters and Aramaic language for the hedyototh. Who are meant by the ‘hedyototh’? — R. Hisda answers: The Cutheans. And what is meant by Hebrew characters? — R. Hisda said: The libuna’ah script.14

The Talmud reference infers Ezra transformed the rite from Aramaic only (often referred to as Assyrian) to a new combination that included both Hebrew as a sacred language and Aramaic as the native tongue. The Hebrew script was dropped for an Aramaic one but the underlying text remained in Hebrew while the old Hebrew script was reserved for the Cutheans – otherwise known as the Samaritans. The Samaritans history is a clouded one. They were allegedly a group of Assyrians, either forced or voluntary, that came to northern Israel after the expulsion of the Israelites and mixed in with the northern Hebrew residents that were allowed to remain. The Samaritans believed (and still do) that they adhere to the true religion of the Israelites before the fall to Babylon. Their main literary source is the Samaritan Pentateuch whose script is in old Hebrew. Traditional historic Judaism has always been at arms-length with this group and often openly hostile.15

What is meant by the libuna’ah script? Rashi is alleged to have explained it as “Large characters as employed in amulets.”16 An amulet is a physical object usually worn by a person that is considered to have magical properties of protection. They were written mostly in Aramaic and sometimes in Hebrew.17

Sanhedrin 21a and b show the progression of Hebrew as a religious language and the cross-over into Aramaic. It is not a complete assimilation but a dual relationship.

A graphic example showing the Aramaic influence on the Hebrew writing system.

The above image demonstrates the influence of Aramaic on the Hebrew writing system. The verse is a portion of Deuteronomy 31:24.

  1. The Israelites around King David’s time used paleo-Hebrew as its writing system. The sample here is from the Samaritan Pentetauch which has traditionally maintained the paleo-Hebrew script even until today.18

  2. This Dead Sea Scroll example comes from a fragment.19 It is written in Aramaic script but has a distinct Judaic influence. Some call it the Jewish Script, while others call it the Square Script. The image has been colourized by me from the black and white original for aesthetic purposes.

  3. This sample is from the Aleppo Codex (10th century AD, copied in Tiberius, Israel).20 Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, this was one of the oldest Biblical Hebrew texts available. This style and period is called the Masoretic text. It is an advancement of the earlier Aramaic influenced Jewish Script. This has become the standard Hebrew religious script in use today.

Public Reading in Hebrew. Interpreting in the local language.

The references found in Talmud Megillah 9a to 24b, probably written around the fourth-century, have scattered references to the rite of reading the Scripture in the original language of Hebrew and simultaneously being translated into Aramaic. The amount of readers, and the number of interpreters varied according to the sacredness of the text. The Megillah references demonstrate the tensions between the use of Hebrew and its adaptation to the Aramaic Jewish community. In addition, the resolutions are uneven in application but do show some general evolution.

More information on the Jewish custom of reading in Hebrew with an interpreter(s) can be found at The Jewish Reader in the Ancient Liturgy

Instructing in Hebrew. Interpreting in the local language.

An ancient Jewish custom was created about religious instruction outside of Israel. The instructor teaches in Hebrew while a third party simultaneously translates it Aramaic. This custom was expanded to mean instruction in Hebrew while a third party simultaneously translated it in Greek, Latin, or whatever the local language.

For more information see The Language of Instruction in the Corinthian Church

How invasive was the Aramaic language in the Middle East?

One can see a shift from Biblical Hebrew to Aramaic in many, but not all, pieces of literature after 600 BC. Part of the Book of Daniel was written in Aramaic. The non-canonical books; Tobit, Jubilees, Enoch, the Greek Esther, and the second book of Maccabees were written in Aramaic21

Josephus wrote his War of the Jews originally in what is understood to be Aramaic and later translated it into Greek.22 However, Aramaic may be a leap in thought. He stated that his book, the Wars of the Jews, was originally written in his native language (τῇ πατρίῳ and sent to the upper Barbarians. He did not define his native tongue, which could have been Aramaic, or a cross between Aramaic and Hebrew (Galilean). However, Aramaic is strengthened by the statement about upper Barbarians. The upper Barbarians were likely the eastern reaches of the Middle-East who spoke Aramaic.

There are numerous transliterated Semitisms found in the Greek New Testament that are labelled Aramaic. On first glance, this appears correct. On the other hand, some researchers, especially David Bivin and Joshua Tilton, have found this type of conclusion too simplistic. David Bivin has spent most of his adult life studying the intersection of languages in first-century Judea, and he, along with Joshua Tilton manage a website, jerusalemperspective.com, that is focused on better understanding Jesus’ life and teachings. They have constructed a page devoted to the Transliterations of Hebrew, Aramaic and Hebrew/Aramaic Words in the Synoptic Gospels whereby they caution against any quick conclusions. They find that it is hard to distinguish between Aramaic and Hebrew transliterations found in the Greek. Firstly, because Hebrew and Aramaic are close relatives linguistically. Secondly, because there were Greek transliteration traditions borrowed from earlier texts that don’t reflect the current language. Therefore, one should not use transliterations as a tool for discovering what language was spoken during the first-century.

Aramaic is blamed in a Latin church document called the Ambrosiaster text on the problem in the early church of Corinth — Hebrew women speaking Aramaic in the Corinthian assembly unannounced.23 This too could be the solution to the Corinthian tongues controversy, but Epiphanius’ account of it being the problem of instructing in Hebrew and a dispute between different Greek ethnic groups appears a more viable one.

It is inconceivable to believe that the Jewish faith existed without the Hebrew language. 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.”24 This may have been restricted to reading by rote. It does not infer written or spoken fluency.

The picture being developed through all this is one of Aramaic being the dominant language of home and civil affairs, and Hebrew, having pockets of localized usage, and emphasized for religious instruction.

Any savvy reader knowledgeable of Aramaic will realize that the references to Aramaic are general terms. Aramaic, like any international language, had many dialects and localisms which should be noted. For those interested in finding out exactly what the important ones relative to this narrative are, go to Israel’s Dead Sea Scroll website. For a later history of the Aramaic language go to peshitta.org’s website for information. Another good historical reference that includes the state of the Aramaic language today is the article Where Do Languages Go to Die?

The rise of Jewish literature

Jewish-Aramaic literature began to slowly grow in prominence after the destruction of the Temple by Vespasian and Titus in 70 AD. The center of Judaism moved from Jerusalem to a central Israel city called Yavneh. This was directly influenced by the Romans. Yavneh was one of many cities whom the Romans moved those who had surrendered.25 This city was of particular interest because this is the place where Johanan Ben Zakkai was placed and began his leadership to rebuild the Jewish identity. His influence was felt both in the Jewish Middle-East and abroad.

Jewish-Greek literature did not follow the same pattern. Publication and distribution of Jewish-Greek literature was hardly existent. Neither is there any indication of a formal Jewish-Greek structure of religious life or leadership hierarchy. This never developed. It is also remarkable that there are so few pieces of Jewish-Greek poetry or literature about the loss of the Temple from the first or second-century.

Why is there so little? It is hard to find substantiated information on this subject from open access sites or books. Perhaps most Jews that lived in the diaspora were slaves from the various revolts against Rome and were not granted privileges or luxuries such as the art of writing – a process usually reserved for the wealthy. Or, as a conquered entity, the diasporan Jews were treated as a third-class residents such as Irish-Catholics in the 1800s under Protestant rule, the Incas under Spanish supervision, natives in North America by colonialists, or the African slaves in U.S. by plantation owners. Life and conditions were so harsh with these groups that no leadership, social, or literary culture was allowed to thrive. These thoughts are just speculations. There has been no documentation found so far that conclusively explains this lack of Jewish-Greek documentation around the first-century.

Did Hebrew completely die as a mother-tongue?

This is a highly-disputed question among academics concerned in these matters. The following shows just how divided scholars are.

Bernard Spolsky, Professor emeritus at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, who is well-regarded for his expertise in applied linguistics, looked into the matter of the use of Hebrew in post-deportation Israel and concluded that Hebrew was utilized more in southern than northern Israel.

It does seem however that Hebrew was better maintained, or at least less influenced by Aramaic and other languages in Judea than in Galilee, an area where a great number of other peoples had been settled during the Babylonian exile.”26

Spolsky argues that one should not rule out the use of Hebrew entirely. The Dead Sea Scrolls show Hebrew progressing as a language. He rightly points out the Mishnah was written in a Hebrew form. It could easily have been written in Aramaic if the loss of Hebrew was so dramatic, but it was not. He also does not believe that Hebrew was relegated entirely to the language of academies and rabbis.27

The learned professor from the Academy of the Hebrew Language, Edward Yechezkel Kutscher, if he was still alive today, would have argued a slight emendation to Spolsky’s reference to the Mishhah being in Hebrew form. He believed that Mishnaic Hebrew was an evolving form of literature. Mishnaic Hebrew died out somewhere in the second-century AD, and was used only as a literary medium after that period.28 In fact, the first movement that first composited the Mishnah in written form around 200 AD, did not fully understand the Hebrew words.29

Catherine Hezser, in her book, Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine, believed that prior to 165 BC, Hebrew was restricted only to the priestly class. After 165 BC (The Maccabean period where Israel became an independent state), Hebrew expanded to a greater mass of people.30 As for education, Greek was preferred because of the economic and business advantages.31 Only a passive knowledge of Hebrew was required by elementary school Aramaic students.32

The book, Hebrew Study from Ezra to Ben-Yehuda edited by William Horbury contests that the cultural elite only knew Aramaic, and the peasantry conversed in Hebrew.33

The late Gedaliah Alon, a very well studied professor at the Hebrew University, contended that Hebrew and Aramaic were well documented and coexisted throughout the Greek diaspora. However, he simply teased the reader and stated that he would not dwell on this in any detail.34

Julio Trebolle Barrera, a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic studies at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, also finds that Hebrew continued.

The linguistic map of Palestine around the turn of the era and at the moment when Christianity was born is marked by great differences in language. In Jerusalem and Judaea, Hebrew was spoken for preference, with Aramaic as a second language. Hebrew underwent a period of renaissance starting from the nationalistic revolt by the Maccabess (mid-2nd cent. BCE). At the same time there was also a true renaissance of Hebrew literature (Ben Sira, Tobit, Jubiless, Testament of Naphtali, writing of the Qumran Community, etc.). The coining of money with Hebrew inscription is further proof of the revival of Hebrew and of its official importance. Jesus of Nazareth definitely spoke Aramaic, but it cannot be excluded that he also used Hebrew and even Greek. In the Mediterranean coastal area and in the Galilee region they preferred to speak Aramaic somewhat more than Greek. In this area Hebrew was only a literary language.35

According to Irenaeous, Eusebius, and Jerome, the Book of Matthew was originally written in Hebrew.36 This is a discounted theory today, but it shows that the ancient writers appealed to source Hebrew literature for credibility of the faith.

See Hebrew and the First Language of Mankind for more info on Hebrew considered as a divine language of religion.

A reference from the Sefer Haggada demonstrates how far Aramaic was encroaching on the Hebrew language and there was resistance to it. “And the Lord spoke from Sinai. This is the Hebrew language.”37 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.”38

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.39

By the ninth-century AD, Hebrew definitely had been dead for many centuries. The writing system continued to lack vowels. Greek, along with Latin, with their vowels and punctuation, became much easier vehicles for the expansion of literacy. The only way to know how to pronounce a Hebrew or Aramaic word properly was passed on through generations by oral traditions which was easily influenced by localisms. The pressures to adapt the Jewish script had yet another motivation – the transmission of Jewish thought in life was becoming increasingly wrapped in the knowledge of three dead languages – Biblical Hebrew, Mishnaic Hebrew, and Aramaic. This skill was very technical and fewer people had this ability as each generation passed. The loss of pronunciation naturally led to ambiguity of interpretation.

A Jewish group of scholars and Karaite scribes in Tiberius and Jerusalem, called the Masoretes, laboured to retain the ancient pronunciation and speech that existed in the ancient Hebrew text. The tradition set-forth by Ben Asher standardized these additions, called niqqud, in the tenth century. The creation of the niqqud system inserted vowels and alternative vocalizations of consonants in the text. This system became common in the eleventh-century and afterwards as part of the Hebrew text. These were placed above and below the consonants.

For more information see A History of Chapters and Verses in the Hebrew Bible

What does this all mean?

In general terms, with a few exceptions, we can conclude the following. Hebrew was spoken as a native language in and around Jerusalem during the first-century, but it did not extend much further. Aramaic was the language for the majority of Jews who lived east of the Mediteranean to the borders of modern day Afghanistan. Jewish leadership after the destruction of the Temple moved to Aramaic as the central language of communication but Hebrew still held the role of a sacred language in religious worship and instruction.

The Aramaic language was so influential in Jewish life, it is conceivable that those Jews who immigrated to Greek-dominated lands brought Aramaic with them: Greek for commerce and civil affairs, Aramaic for family life, and Hebrew for religious needs.

The findings show it is plausible that the role of Hebrew as a sacred language was potentially the cause of Paul’s address about tongues in I Corinthians.

———

A Jewish-Greek Perspective on the Tongues of Corinth

The following is a journey into identifying speaking in tongues through Hebrew and Greek Jewish traditions.

This is an introduction to a series of articles devoted to this subject.

Researching Jewish traditions about speakers and interpreters has uncovered two very important customs that are so close to Paul’s narrative that it would be hard to call them accidental parallels. The first solution relates to the reading out loud of Scripture in Hebrew with an immediate translation in the local vernacular. The second one is the custom of instructing in Hebrew and providing a translation into the local language.

There is also a third alternative: the use of Aramaic as the principal language of conflict in Corinth. This could be a solution if more information comes forward. For the time being it will be relegated a distant third option and only small snippets of this subject will be addressed. The majority of this series will be devoted to the first two concepts.

These first two options have existed all along but few have paid attention to them in the Christian community. This Jewish-centric approach has been minimized for two reasons: antisemitism and ignorance of Jewish literature in both Catholic and Protestant communities, and the hyper-emphasis on the Greek and Latin cultures to exclusivity by rationalist scholars in the 1800s.

The option of instructing in Hebrew with a translation into the local language best fits the Corinthian narrative. However, the rite of public reading in Hebrew with an immediate translation into the local language does have some strengths that cannot be discounted. The solution could even be a mixture of the two.

Both these Hebrew theories may seem far-fetched to most readers. The above statements are introductory teasers. The articles in the series will not only explain but substantiate such claims. As one reads through all the articles, you will understand why the GOT Project proposes these two customs as the best solutions for understanding the tongues of Corinth.

In both instances, the reader will be shown how the church adapted these Jewish customs in the Greek, and later, Latin context.

The discussion does not stop with a Jewish explanation. The context is about Jewish liturgy in a Greek-dominated city. The research will also note the tensions created by the Greek culture, life, and language that surrounded them. This influence also has a great contribution to the Corinthian tongues saga.

Praying in tongues is another part of the liturgy that will be analyzed in a separate article.

The use of Hebrew in the ancient Jewish liturgy outside of Israel is the most important aspect of this claim. If the Hebrew connection could not be supported, then this solution would be invalid. However, there are substantial evidences that prove such a theory, but since this is new to most readers, I will write at great lengths, and provide important details.

The first letter to the Corinthians is old – written in the first century. The letter was addressed to the earliest gathering in Corinth that was a combined assembly of Messianic Jews and Greek converts. As with any new fledgling organization, they were struggling with what Jewish customs were to continue and which ones were to be left behind. What Greek modes of practice were to be included, and which ones to be excluded.

This is an updated series from what was posted almost a decade ago.

The four dominant themes about Corinthian tongues over the last five-hundred years.

  • A historical Catholic view. Early Catholic writers and leaders, except two and a half writers, Epiphanius, the Ambrosiaster text, and a tad owing to John Chrysostom, do not literally address Paul’s statements on tongues. This is largely due in part to earlier church writers emphasizing allegorical and/or promoting personal obedience rather than a critical interpretation of the Bible.

    For example, Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, often cited I Corinthians 13:1, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love”, to encourage his followers. He never did explain the context that propelled Paul to write such an exhortation.

    Origen wrote a commentary on I Corinthians and offered a few tidbits. However, they are not definitive enough. He spent most of his energy in I Corinthians to reinforce his idea of the role of knowledge in the Christian life.

    For more about Origen on I Corinthians see: Origen on the Doctrine of Tongues

    The I Corinthians reference for tongues is sparsely referred by early church writers. It is not a subject that was important to them.

  • The Cessationist view of Corinthians. This interpretation believed that any miracle, including that of speaking in tongues, died with the early church and could never be repeated. Therefore, any research on the Corinthian tongues problem is only for historical purposes. The tongues of Corinth have no impact on the modern Christian life.

    For more information on the Cessationist framework on speaking in tongues, see the series starting with: Cessationism, Miracles, and Tongues Part 1

  • The higher-Criticism explanation. Higher-Criticism is the dominant modern theory of explaining the tongues of Corinth and Pentecost. This doctrine believes that the christian rite of tongues has its origins with the Greek prophetesses at Delphi. These women performed inside a temple that had fissures underneath issuing volcanic fumes. The inhalation of the fumes would put the prophetess in an ecstatic state and would prophesy in what was believed to be unintelligible utterances. Ecstasy, glossolalia, and ecstatic utterance are keywords for this interpretational system. The higher-criticists supposed the earliest Christians synthesized this ancient Greek rite as part of making Christianity a universal religion. Church writings and ecclesiastical history are willfully excluded from this premise.

    For more information on higher-criticism and tongues see the series starting with: Introduction to the History of Glossolalia for more information.

  • Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Third-Wavers. Most of the leaders in these movements rely on other tongues found in I Corinthians and one instance in the Book of Acts to substantiate their tongues doctrine. Some call it a private prayer language, while others name it glossolalic prayers. In fact, other as in other tongues does not exist in the original Greek of I Corinthians. The adjective other was added to I Corinthians by European protestant translators as a polemic against the Catholic Church. The protestant translators never intended this idiom as a strange or mystical experience.

    The reader should not be thrown off by the use of the noun tongues in Paul’s I Corinthians English text either. English Bible tradition set the translation as tongues which is old and dated. The noun languages should be used instead.

    For more information on the development of other tongues in the English Bible see: The Unknown Tongues in the English Bible

None of the above theories provide a complete or adequate framework to explain Paul’s reference to speaking and interpreting in I Corinthians.

The series of articles

The context of such an approach along with the wealth of information has necessitated breaking this into a seven-part series:

  1. The role of Hebrew in the Jewish-Aramaic World. The rise of Aramaic and the loss of Hebrew in the everyday Jewish life. How they compensated for this using interpreters/speakers in the their liturgy and education.

  2. Greek, Hellenic Judaism, and the Problem Tongues of Corinth The rise of Greek as the primary language of most Jews and how they adapted the ancient faith to accommodate this.

  3. Hebrew as the First Language of Mankind. A look into the perception of Hebrew as a sacred language shared by both Hebrews and Christians. Both communities have a basic theology that it was the language of God, Adam and Eve.

  4. The Public Reader, the Synagogue and Corinth. It follows the development of the public reader in the Jewish faith and how it may align with the tongues of Corinth.

  5. The Public Reader in the Church. How the Jewish public reader assimilated into a Christian rite, the evolution of this office over the centuries and its potential link to the tongues of Corinth.

  6. The Language of Instruction in the Corinthian Church. The instruction in Hebrew and the translation into the local language is the best explanation found to describe Paul’s narration on speaking in tongues. This article sets to unfold the reasons behind Paul’s reference to tongues.

  7. Lightfoot on the Problem Tongues of Corinth. Excerpts about Corinth from the seventeenth-century English Churchman and rabbinic scholar, John Lightfoot. A difficult and complex read, but well worth the effort

Structure, approach, and complexity

Building a portrait of speaking in tongues from a first-century liturgical perspective is fraught with difficulties. The greatest obstacle is lack of primary material from this period. More substantive information can be gleaned from fourth-century ones.

Michael Graves, author of The Public Reading of Scripture in Early Judaism offers cautions to such an approach:

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.1

Mr. Graves is right. Although there are a few literary pieces to draw from around the first-century, and some even earlier, the most substantive information comes from the fourth-century. It is necessary to both reconstruct and also deconstruct from there.

One must be ever aware that the syngagogue liturgies have evolved over that 300 year period. The fourth-century or so Rabbinic leaders and writers may have revised their own liturgy history to fit their own contemporary narrative too.

Whatever conclusion any researcher portrays on this topic is a calculated and thought-out opinion. No conclusion, including my own, can be considered final because of the lack of primary data.

There is considerable debate about the role, function and even existence of the synagogue in first-century Judaism. 2 This series of articles assumes that the synagogue had already an established existence in both Israel and the diaspora during the first-century. This supposition is clearly indicated by the references found in the New Testament texts. The liturgy practice of speaking and interpreting in the synagogue and how it was performed in Corinth are the features looked at here.

The intercultural city of ancient Corinth

The city of Corinth is geographically located in a critical position. It is situated on a narrow finger of land called an isthmus which connects the southern tip of Greece with its mainland. In historic times, Corinth was caught between two rival cities; Sparta in the South, and Athens, slightly to the north-east. The Corinthian residents greatly suffered by choosing the wrong sides during many conflicts. Corinth was sacked and left desolate in 146 BC by the Roman consul Lucius Mummius3 in 146 B.C and left that way until 44 BC where it was purposely repopulated by the Romans.

Military servicemen, freedman, and those of the lower classes from abroad who were looking for better economic opportunities, flocked to the new city. The Jewish immigrants came to Corinth, possibly freedmen, slaves of the Romans occupants, merchants and artisans from Alexandria, some perhaps forced out of Israel by economic, political, or military instability, also made this their home. If Corinth follows the pattern of Rome, the Jewish population was very poor.4 The city prospered quickly. Corinth became one of the most important cities in the Roman Empire.5

The power of the Greek language

The Greek language in the first-century was an international language of commerce and communication throughout the Roman and Parthian empires (from the border of Afghanistan to the western reaches of the Mediteranean basin). It was very similar to how English is used today throughout the world. However, just as in the application of the English language, it was applied unevenly, and there were tensions within ethnic groups about its transformative influence on their languages and cultures.

There were more Jews that lived in the Greek-controlled lands than there were that lived in Israel major or Syria. Greek was the principal language of most Jews, though Hebrew and Aramaic remained part of the Jewish religious identity.

A proper understanding of Paul’s Hebrew identity

In order to explain Paul’s reference to tongues from a Jewish background, it is necessary to briefly dwell on the character of Paul himself.

Paul was a Pharisee, a self-proclaimed Hebrew of Hebrews from the tribe of Benjamin.6 He was educated under one of the leading Jewish teachers of the first-century, Gamaliel I.7 Paul had no ambition to overthrow or abandon Jewish culture. Rather, he wanted to strengthen and expand the central tenets of the Jewish faith: salvation and holiness. 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.8

Paul was born in Tarsus, a south-central city in what is now in the territory of Turkey. A calculated guess is that he would have spoken Greek as his mother tongue. One must keep in mind that he lived close to the Aramaic dominated land of Syria. The location of Tarsus would have exposed Paul to the Aramaic culture and language at an early age. Paul was later trained in Jerusalem. He would have received religious instruction in Hebrew, spoke Aramaic because of the large amount of Jewish pilgrims from Syria and out East that came to Jerusalem for religious or commercial reasons, and taught Greek for civil matters. His teacher, Gamaliel I, would have encouraged Greek so that his disciples could intervene and communicate with the Government.9

It is described in Acts chapters 21 and 22 Paul discussing a matter with a Roman commander in Greek, and then speaking to the public in in the language of the Hebrews–probably meaning the Hebrew language since this incident happened in Jerusalem (If this incident occurred in the Galilee or other northern reaches of Israel, it would have been Aramaic or Greek). Paul may have known Latin, but this has not been validated by any principal source.

Mastery of three, maybe even four languages, is why Paul proudly boasted in his first letter to the Corinthians “I speak in tongues more than you all”10

Paul’s religious identity incensed both the traditional Jewish inhabitants of Israel major and the Hellenized Jews. He started a major debate with the Hellenistas (Greek Jews which is commonly described as Hellenized Jews), in Jerusalem early on his career which led to a serious death threat. Paul was secretly led out of Jerusalem and sent back to Tarsus in fear of his safety.11

Hellenized Jews feared Paul’s message would undermine the traditional Jewish identity. Paul went to great lengths, such as perform a Nazarite vow, to show his allegiance to the customary Jewish faith.12

Paul saw the tension between Jewish and Greek identities as a major obstacle to his vision of an expansionist form of Judaism. On two occasions he wrote a reference to this.

The first one, in his letter to the Romans13 stating there is no distinction between a Jew or a Greek–Ἕλλην Hellen. Paul was referring to a person of Greek origin who was not Jewish in this instance, not a Hellenized-Jew.

He then reiterated this theme again in Galatians. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus14

There was a tension that a true Jew cannot be Greek or vice versa that will be described in detail in this series. This problem may also have crossed into the Aramaic language and culture–the identity of a true Jew was the ability to speak Aramaic, but information about this is missing.

Even with this brief explanation shown above, his writing style, life and practice were steeped in Jewish influences. The founding of any community with his personal involvement would reflect this.

The reader must keep these things in mind as the series progresses in its explanation of the tongues of Corinth.

The composition of the original Corinthian assembly

The initial Corinthian assembly was a mixture of Jews and Greeks. There is not a single reference to Christianity because Christianity did not exist yet. This Corinthian assembly was under the Jewish umbrella. It would take well over a century before the Jewish Messianic movement would become entirely distinct from its origins and be solely called Christianity. Jerusalem, and later, Yavneh (the city where the Jewish leadership were forced to move to after the destruction of Jerusalem), would no longer be the centre of its existence.

In fact, it was in Yavneh, sometime between 80 and 110 AD, where the critical decision was made that you could not be Jewish and believe in Jesus. This was where the complete severance between the two groups occurred.

The structure of Corinth was clearly Jewish, but the attendance was of mixed ethnicity.

  • The initial Corinthian Church had two names attached to it—Titius Justus and Crispus. Crispus was a previous leader of a synagogue and from Jewish ancestry; Titius Justus was described as a worshiper of God, suggesting that he was not Jewish and his name infers a Roman lineage.15

  • 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.

Pamela Eisenbaum, in her well written and researched book, Paul was not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle strongly asserted that both Paul, and the earliest church were Jewish entities:

But in the first century the letters could not possibly have functioned as a marker distinctive of Christian identity. First, there is the obvious reason that there was not such religious category “Christian.” As far as can be determined by historians, archaeologists, and biblical scholars, there were no distinctively Christian institutions, buildings, or symbols in the first century, and few scholars believe that Christians did not materially distinguish themselves until the late third or early fourth century.16

. . . Modern readers of Paul tend to assume that Pharisees and other Jews would have considered Paul an apostate, a Jewish heretic who was no longer part of the Jewish community because of his belief in Jesus, and thus not really Jewish. In the context of the first century, however, Paul’s belief in Jesus did not make him less Jewish. Belief in a messianic savior figure is a very Jewish idea, as can be demonstrated by a historical analogy.17

Final thoughts before you read the rest of the articles

Discovering and applying the Jewish modes of worship and liturgy are the best solutions for explaining the tongues of Corinth. You can find the logic and substantiation behind this in the articles mentioned above.

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Photo of reading from the Torah courtesy of Roylindman (Template:Roy Lindman) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Tongues of Corinth teaser

A sample of an interactive web series on the tongues of Corinth from a Jewish perspective.

This is only a screen shot of the interactive web page in development. Because of this, the rollovers and information links won’t work. The graphic shows the first tab. The second and third tabs are still a work in progress.

tongues of Corinth from a Jewish perspective

Please note: the previously published articles on the tongues of Corinth available at the Gift of Tongues Project are going to be phased out and completely replaced by new ones. The information will not change, but the new articles will align with the structure supplied in this interactive web page.

Your feedback would greatly be appreciated on the layout, design, and information.

Is it the end of the world?

End of the World

Is this the moment we all have been waiting for?

This is a brief look into the end-of-the-world theology, its oral history, and a few thoughts along the way.

Another round of end-of-the-world scenarios are in vogue throughout the world. This time the date is set for September 20th, or September 23rd, 2017, depending on who you listen to.

Christians have been anticipating and hoping for the end-of-the-world for over two-thousand years. Each generation believes they are the last. A Wikipedia page is devoted to listing predictions made by a variety of Christians and sects throughout history. This list is by no means exhaustive but shows that the human psyche is fixated on this theme.

Why people get excited about this theory

Jesus warned that the end-of-the-world was near. He stated that the signs can be found in the increase of wars, even just rumors of them, famines, social unrest, lies, delusions, political instability, and earthquakes. He unequivocally stated that these were necessary precursors before He returned.

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.1

St. Paul suggested an immediate return of Christ during our near his lifetime.2 He likely would have found Jesus’ return two-thousand years or more in the waiting highly inconceivable.

The Biblical texts allude in metaphorical language about the end-of-the-world. Readers and ardent religious followers have been challenged to unlock these metaphors into actual dates using a variety of methods. None have succeeded to unlock these literary devices into actual dates.

The advent of the internet has brought abundant information about climatic, environmental, agricultural, historical, social, political, and warring conditions throughout the world. This information has made us more aware of world instability — a heightened sense of how fragile our network of communities and the earth are.

End times doctrine is not a deal breaker

There are ardent Christians who associate acceptance of a certain end-time system as a mark of a true Christian. One may hear theological buzzwords such as pre-, post-, or a-millennial, tribulation, or rapture. However, the end-times doctrine carries no weight in the grand scheme of the christian religious life. No one who enters the pearly gates is going to get graded on their theological view of the end times.

The closest times we came to the end of the world

There are five occasions that came close to the end of the world. These conclusions are mainly based on a Western Civilization view of history that align with the biblical narratives. There are two more possibilities that only modernity could supply.

  1. The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD by the Vespasian and Titus.

    This event was likely the closest symbolizing the end of the world. Jesus predicted the destruction and warned people to flee when this event was to unfold. The first-century historian Josephus chronicled this devastation in his book, Wars of the Jews.

    No early christian writing specifically acknowledges or details the impact of this destruction. This absence has always been puzzling.

  2. The Bubonic Plague in the 1300s.

    This plague was a human tragedy of epic proportions. It is estimated that 25 to 60 percent of the European population was wiped out with this epidemic. The death toll may even be higher if one includes China and its neighboring countries. There is no real estimate of the worldwide loss except that it was massive. Agnolo di Tura survived the plague and narrated his experience in detail. Here is a quote from his Plague in Siena:

    There was no one who wept for any death, for all awaited death. And so many died that all believed that it was the end of the world.3

  3. World War I and its child, World War II.

    These wars created casualties not just from war, but famine and disease. The high death toll plus the conversion of the military from hand to hand into technological warfare had almost brought the end-of-the-world clock to its final position.

  4. The volcanic eruption of Mt. Tombora in 1816.

    Rated as one of the greatest eruptions ever, this Indonesian volcanoe caused the the year without summer. The ash in the atmosphere impeded sunlight reaching the earth. It was responsible for over 100,000 deaths in Europe.4 The eruption happened while the world lacked the scientific know how nor the communication systems to educate about the origin of this year without summer. It must have scared a lot of people.

The devil doesn’t need to directly intervene in order to achieve his evil objectives with the next two. He can just sit back and watch. Mankind can do this without outside assistance.

  • The present nuclear age.

    The nuclear arsenal around the world is enough to destroy the majority of humankind and destabilize the planet. The earth could potentially fall into a perpetual darkness called a nuclear winter for many years.

    If a nuclear war began, would that bring on the end? I don’t know.

  • Toxic Waste

    Polluting our air and oceans, deforestation, mining, fracking, oil drilling and so many more activities are highly destructive. The earth may not be able to sustain or replenish life at the current progress that it is being gutted and altered. When that point comes, if ever, I don’t know.

God by very nature is not restricted by time as we humans. He doesn’t work by a timeclock at all. The end could be tomorrow, or it could be another 2000 years. His reasons are beyond time. Neither is our intellectual capacity able to grasp such big things. We cannot play God on this issue.

The ability to kill on such a large scale would mean that there would be no humanity, and in a worst-case scenario, no habitable earth left to direct under the devil’s control. Perhaps, even the devil is restrained from encouraging these destructive capabilities.

Traditional Jewish perception of the end

Some sects of Judaism emphasize that the end of the world will occur when the last soul is born. They believe when God created the world, He created all the souls at the same time. Once that supply is finished, the end will come.

the Messiah, son of David, will not come until all the souls of the body have been finished – Yebamot 62a

The manufacturing of the end of the world

A commonly held perception among some circles of Judaism and Christianity (especially the Protestant sects of Fundamentalists, Pentecostals, and Charismatics) is the establishment of the nation of Israel and the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. These are thought to be the surest signs of the end-times.

The formation of Israel in 1948 was greatly advanced by political leaders in Britain and the United States who were personally influenced by the biblical narrative regarding Israel.

For more information on the topic of Christians and the formation on modern Israel, see the following:

The fervor associated with the re-establishment of Israel and the rebuilding of the Temple has allowed for Arabs to be second class citizens. Protestant Christians have especially turned a blind eye to the humanitarian and legal rights of Arabs in doing so.

This blind zealousness teaches a lesson that the manufacturing of end times is dangerous. The culmination of the end is God’s job, not ours. Anyone who facilitates such an agenda that allows for the building up of arms, denial of rights, disrespect, and war, has failed in the primary objective of Christians to love their neighbors.

The AntiChrist

Jesus predicted many future leaders would arise that would either claim to be Him or an ardent follower of Him. He cautioned that many would do this to achieve their own personal agendas. The term for these type of leaders is called the antichrist.

The Popes and the Romish Church are historically the most popular names of being called the antichrist. The Reformation leaders such as Martin Luther entrenched this theme in the early protestant identity.

Evangelical and fundamentalist christian tradition generally believe the antichrist is yet to come. This figure rivals in the power and glory of Christ. He will be a powerful dictator with authority that encompasses all the nations. This one world rule is when the ultimate battle between good and evil occurs.5

The rise of technology which allows people of diverse languages and backgrounds to work together has created suspicions within pockets of these communities. There is a sense that it only a matter of time now that the antichrist will rise and rule over the earth.

A tongue-in-cheek historical review of 14 people being named the antichrist is found at Rose Publishing. There is a special emphasis connecting the numbers 666 to their identities. Although this is a playful article, it does show how numerology is an important aspect of building end-of-the-world theories. Numerology in this scenario is about converting letters and words into numerical symbols and then applying a mathematical calculation. The results are intended to predict future events.

How can we prepare for the end of the world?

The Biblical texts on a number of occasions speak of the end occurring like a thief in the night.6 In other words, the event will come as a total surprise. Judging by the long wait of over 2000 years since this idiom was given, every generation has a small chance of witnessing the end of the world.

The Canadian Government recommends that everyone should have an emergency kit that is good for up to 72 hours. Whether it is a house fire, an environmental disaster, a major storm, or other dire fortunes that can possibly surprise us, we have to be ready. Perhaps the end of the world or the apocalypse should be added to the list for emergency preparedness.

7 Facts About Speaking in Tongues

A seven point historic portrait on the christian doctrine of speaking in tongues. The conclusions have been derived from the Gift of Tongues Project. A research work that has a fourfold aim of locating, digitizing, translating source texts and tracing perceptions from inception to modern times.

These seven points may change if any new documents arise with important new clues.

Click on any of the conclusions for more documentation.

The goal of tracing the perceptions of tongues through the centuries may not necessarily align with the actual realities that surrounds the events. The realities are up to the reader to decide. Go to the The Gift of Tongues Project for the source information.

This is only a general summation. There are many more details and movements at the above link.

*7 does not have a clickable link because no documented study has been found.