Monthly Archives: February 2010

Grammar for Gemara and Targum Onkelos

Grammar for Gemara and Targum Onkelos: an Introduction to Aramaic, by Yitzhak Frank, is an exceptionally well done grammar for those wishing to read, learn, and translate the Talmud Babli or Targum Onkelos.

It is the standard for Jewish Babylonian Aramaic grammars, comparable in calibre to the leading Latin and Greek ones.

This reference work addresses the common grammatical pitfalls of the classical Hebraist attempting to translate Aramaic.

The serious attention to detail found in the typesetting and formatting makes it easy-to-understand. The binding and high-quality paper makes this book very durable.

Although it does deal with syntax and important points of grammar, the main thrust of this publication is about detailing important Aramaic-verb paradigms along with their pertinent background information. The verb tables are what sets this book apart.

This is a must-have publication for anyone wanting to read the Talmud or Gemara in Aramaic.

The lack of an e-book version is the only downside. The digital ability to do keyword searches for specific grammatical questions or investigating a verbal form would save a significant amount of time using this work. It is hoped a digital version will be coming soon.

The book can be purchased for under thirty dollars at any of these resellers: Amazon, Feldheim, or Eisenbrauns.

The Unknown Tongues in the English Bible

How the adjective unknown became a crucial contributor to the modern christian doctrine of tongues.

Unknown tongues English Bible

Click on image for a full version.

The other tongues of the English Bible has a rich tradition that dates back to the earliest days of the Reformation. The creation of this idiom had powerful political and religious overtones. An idiom the early Protestants created and aimed exclusively at the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church asserted their authority through the exclusive use of Latin while the Protestants volleyed back that Latin was speaking in an unknown tongue that no one understood. The Protestants added unknown to the word tongues in Paul’s famous Corinthian text to win the argument.

As will be shown later on, the addition of the adjective other to tongues by protestant translators in the I Corinthians texts was to wrest Catholics of their divine authority.

This intent got lost over the centuries and became reinterpreted as a mystical or magical expression.

The Pentecostals relied heavily on their interpretation of other tongues to justify their tongues-speaking experience. This was especially key after the missionary tongues crisis that happened in early Pentecostalism. Pentecostals originally believed the supernatural outpouring of tongues was for missionary expansion: the Gospel was to go to the ends of the earth before the imminent coming of the Lord. However, the earliest pentecostal missionaries soon discovered after journeying to foreign lands that they did not have the supernatural ability. The greatest example was that of American pentecostal missionaries, Alfred and Lillian Garr, who came to India believing they had the miraculous ability to speak Bengali, but upon arrival did not. This problem was so universal throughout the pentecostal missionary world that the movement was forced to either abandon or redefine the experience. They chose the latter. One of the key texts that allowed a reappraisal was the idiom other tongues as found in the English Bible. Other tongues allowed the idea that speaking in tongues was not supernaturally speaking a foreign language but something otherwise; a heavenly prayer language or the language of divine worship. It was an entity beyond the realm of human intellect and could not be measured.

Most charismatic and pentecostal leaders are unaware of the history of other tongues and its Reformation roots. Rather, they take it literally as written by Paul himself. The late charismatic leader Kenneth Hagin made this a cornerstone for his tongues argument in his book, Seven Reasons Why Every Believer Should Speak in Tongues. He doesn’t qualify it, just assumes that other tongues is a legitimate source text and heavily leans upon it.

The idiom had no strength when it was only attached to Acts 2:4, when it was expanded to I Corinthians in 1534, this allowed for new ideas to perpetuate.

The pentecostal usage of other tongues outside of Acts 2:4 disregards the historical background or proper usage of the texts. The following is an investigation into the origins and development of the other tongues doctrine that predated the pentecostal movement. The motivations that caused the other tongues idiom to be added to the I Corinthians English Bible text had political motivations more so than a theological impetus.

This article is based on research that compared six early Bible translations. The actual results can be found by reading, The Unknown Tongues of the English Bible: Part II.

One of the most important observations from the research was that the Authorized King James version of the Bible made the translation, unknown tongues in the Book of I Corinthians a universal term.

The Wyclif Bible, the earliest known English translation published in 1380, does not contain the adjective at all. It also predominately used the word langagis (languages) instead of tongues in the key-texts.

The Tyndale begins adding an adjective first in 1534 but not significantly. The Geneva Bible expands on this pattern in 1557 and the King James Bible entrenched this phrase in 1611.

Let’s go behind the English translations a bit further and unpack some background to why this happened.

This phrase did not exist in early Christian literature but began to surface in the 13th century and rose to prominence in English Bible translations during the Reformation.

Misunderstandings of the christian practice of tongues can be traced at least to the eighth century. The Venerable Bede commented on Acts 2:4 how the Greek should be understood as aliis linguis (other languages) rather than variis linguis (various languages). Bede believed that Pentecost was not about people understanding the languages being spoken, but a fulfilment of Isaiah 28:11, where the people heard languages they did not know. Aliis suited this position better.1

The first known reference to unknown tongue or alternatively translated, unknown language, can be found by the great 13th century Catholic teacher, Thomas Aquinas:

“I give thanks to God that I speak more than you all,” and it is being said, “they were speaking in various languages, etc.” (Acts 2:4) and many more had obtained this gift from God in the early Church, but in Corinth because they were curious, they were more cheerfully wanting this gift than the gift of prophecy. Because it is now being said here to speak in a tongue, the Apostle means in an unknown language, and not having these things explained, as if he was to speak in the German tongue to some Gallic [person] and the result that it is not explained, this is speaking in a tongue. From whence all speech having not been understood nor explained, no matter what it is, is specifically speaking in a tongue.2

Aquinas’ usage is the first documented time that the term unknown tongue is dogmatically used. His text in Latin reads, lingua ignota. This Latin phrase was also used by Hildegard of Bingen in the 12th century regarding a self-made secret language,3 but it is an isolated case not related to Ecclesiastical usage.

Lingua ignota is not used in the Latin Bible, but quietly began to develop in the English translations. It was popularized by the English Geneva Bible and subsequently followed by the King James version, which made the concept universal in the English speaking world.

Aquinas undoubtedly had influence on later leaders but this correlation has not been concretely made.

The preface to the 1611 Authorized version holds an important as to why unknown tongues was added to their Bible:

But how shall men meditate in that, which they cannot understand? How shall they understand that which is kept close in an unknowen tongue? as it is written, Except I know the power of the voyce, I shall be to him that speaketh, a Barbarian, and he that speaketh, shalbe a Barbarian to me. The Apostle excepteth no tongue, not Hebrewe the ancientest, not Greeke the most copious, not Latine the finest. Nature taught a naturall man to confesse, that all of us in those tongues which wee doe not understand, are plainely deafe; wee may turne the deafe eare unto them. The Scythian counted the Athenian, whom he did not understand, barbarous: so the Romane did the Syrian, and the Jew, (even S. Jerome himselfe calleth the Hebrew tongue barbarous, belike because it was strange to so many) so the Emperour of Constantinople calleth the Latine tongue, barbarous, though Pope Nicolas do storme at it: so the Jewes long before Christ, called all other nations, Lognazim, which is little better then barbarous. Therefore as one complaineth, that alwayes in the Senate of Rome, there was one or other that called for an interpreter: so lest the Church be driven to the like exigent, it is necessary to have translations in a readinesse. Translation it is that openeth the window, to let in the light; that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel; that putteth aside the curtaine, that we may looke into the most Holy place; that remooveth the cover of the well, that wee may come by the water, even as Jacob rolled away the stone from the mouth of the well, by which meanes the flockes of Laban were watered. Indeede without translation into the vulgar tongue, the unlearned are but like children at Jacobs well (which was deepe) without a bucket or some thing to draw with: or as that person mentioned by Esau, to whom when a sealed booke was delivered, with this motion, Reade this, I pray thee, hee was faine to make this answere, I cannot, for it is sealed.4

This preface tried to remedy two serious problems within the Catholic Church at the time. First of all, it was the reading out loud of Scripture in the Latin vernacular, which the majority of worshippers did not understand. Secondly, the King James preface promoted that the Bible was to be available in any language for anyone to read or listen to. This was a powerful argument at the time and had gone viral throughout Christendom. It was also perceived as a threat to the authority of the Church.

The Latin language was considered a sacred universal language. A language that could connect the ancients thoughts and literature of the past with the present. The language was considered to have the ability to communicate clearly heightened forms of knowledge and logic that other common languages did not possess and thus limited their societies intellectual and spiritual well-beings. The popular thirteenth-century writer, Dante Alighieri, best known for his work, The Divine Comedy attempted to write a four part series of books on the history and role of language called De vulgari eloquentia and also another writing called the Convivio.. He only completed one and a half volumes with em>De vulgari eloquentia but gave an important picture on the role of Latin and other languages within Europe in his time. However, it is a work that is certainly abstract. He was trying to give credence to other languages as a language of regular discourse, but Latin as an unchanging artificially created human language better suited for universal affairs and technical details. The writers of the Dictionary of Untranslateables: A Philosophical Lexicon described him best:

In the Convivio, three reasons are adduced in support of Latin’s superiority. The first of these is its “nobility”: Latin is perpetual and incorruptible, and this is what allows ancient writings still to be read today. Then, its “virtue”: anything that achieves what it sets out to do the highest degree possible is considered virtuous, and Latin is the vehicle that best allows human thought to become manifest, while the vulgar is unable to convey certain things. And finally, its “beauty”: Latin is more harmonius than the vulgar, in that it is a product of art, and not of nature. Latin, or the grammatica, is in any case a human creation, thanks to its inventors (inventores grammatice facultatis) which is regarded (regulata) by a “common consensus” and is therefore impervious to any “individual arbitrary” intervention. . . .We see, then, how ordinary and everyday variations of different individual ways of speaking (sermo) are unable to affect Latin, which remains the same through the ages, this being a necessary condition for the transmission of ancient knowledge.5

Dante represents the Catholic mindset throughout the European world. This Latin sentiment would lead to leadership to refuse any encroachment on the Latin language which the Protestants and other groups and individuals pressed for. It wasn’t only an assertion about the primacy of the Latin language but fear that the rise of common languages would lead to ignorance. These languages were perceived as primitive and unable to historically attach themselves to the past with any intellectual acuity, nor move forward with any structure. The use of localized languages over Latin was a backward progression for humanity according to the elites.

This uprising eventually led to the Council of Trent which began in 1545 — presided by Pope Paul III. Pope Paul began his leadership of the Catholic Church in 1534, which was the same year the Tyndale version first produced other tonges shall cease” in I Corinthians 13:8. It demanded a response.

The Council of Trent, 4th Session came up with strong language that all publications had to be approved by the Church authorities prior to printing. Special emphasis was on the Latin Bible as being the only authentic one, all the rest are inferior. It failed to address the fact that the majority of the church audience did not understand Latin or how to remedy this problem.

Moreover, the same sacred and holy Synod,–considering that no small utility may accrue to the Church of God, if it be made known which out of all the Latin editions, now in circulation, of the sacred books, is to be held as authentic,–ordains and declares, that the said old and vulgate edition, which, by the lengthened usage of so many years, has been approved of in the Church, be, in public lectures, disputations, sermons and expositions, held as authentic; and that no one is to dare, or presume to reject it under any pretext whatever.

Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, It decrees, that no one, relying on his own skill, shall,–in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, –wresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church,–whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures,–hath held and doth hold; [Page 20] or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers; even though such interpretations were never (intended) to be at any time published. Contraveners shall be made known by their Ordinaries, and be punished with the penalties by law established.

And wishing, as is just, to impose a restraint, in this matter, also on printers, who now without restraint,–thinking, that is, that whatsoever they please is allowed them,–print, without the license of ecclesiastical superiors, the said books of sacred Scripture, and the notes and comments upon them of all persons indifferently, with the press ofttimes unnamed, often even fictitious, and what is more grievous still, without the author’s name; and also keep for indiscriminate sale books of this kind printed elsewhere; (this Synod) ordains and decrees, that, henceforth, the sacred Scripture, and especially the said old and vulgate edition, be printed in the most correct manner possible; and that it shall not be lawful for any one to print, or cause to be printed, any books whatever, on sacred matters, without the name of the author; nor to sell them in future, or even to keep them, unless they shall have been first examined, and approved of, by the Ordinary; under pain of the anathema and fine imposed in a canon of the last Council of Lateran: and, if they be Regulars, besides this examination and approval, they shall be bound to obtain a license also from their own superiors, who shall have examined the books according to the form of their own statutes. As to those who lend, or circulate them in manuscript, without their having been first examined, and approved of, they shall be subjected to the same penalties as printers: and they who shall have them in their possession or shall read them, shall, unless they discover the authors, be themselves regarded as the authors. And the said approbation of books of this kind shall be given in writing; and for this end it shall appear authentically at the beginning of the book, whether the book be written, or printed; and all this, that is, both the approbation and the examination, shall be done gratis, that so what ought to be approved, may be approved, and what ought to be condemned, may be condemned.”6

One naturally has to look at the German by Luther at this time period to see if there are any similarities of approach. He does not follow the same convention of the English translators about adding the equivalent adjective of unknown in the German language. However, he does meddle with the Corinthian texts on tongues. Heinrich August Meyer noted in his Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistles to the Corinthians, wrote that “Luther too, up to 1528, had “tongues” but from that date onward has “languages.” In chap. xiv., however, he has still “tongues” in 1545.”7 Why did Luther change from tongues to languages and vacillate between the two? It is not known.

R.P. Spittler did give some clarity to why this was done, though it is not final, “For Luther and his foes, “speaking in tongues” had to do with Roman Mass offered in Latin. Luther said the vernacular.”8

This addition was influenced by the writings and leadership of Jean Calvin. He knew that he purposely added the adjective to I Corinthians; the Latin text he drew from and printed beside his text has no such parallel.9 His Institutes of the Christian Religion clearly draw his premise for the addition:

It is also plain that the public prayers are not to be couched in Greek among the Latins, nor in Latin among the French or English (as hitherto has been every where practised), but in the vulgar tongue, so that all present may understand them, since they ought to be used for the edification of the whole Church, which cannot be in the least degree benefited by a sound not understood. Those who are not moved by any reason of humanity or charity, ought at least to be somewhat moved by the authority of Paul, whose words are by no means ambiguous: “When thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say, Amen, at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? For thou verily givest thanks, but the other is not edified,” (1 Cor. 14:16, 17). How then can one sufficiently admire the unbridled license of the Papists, who, while the Apostle publicly protests against it, hesitate not to bawl out the most verbose prayers in a foreign tongue, prayers of which they themselves sometimes do not understand one syllable, and which they have no wish that others should understand?10

His influence among the many protestant leaders who came to Geneva, either through expulsion or for missionary purposes, further reinforced this mindset. An English Bible was produced in Geneva with a Protestant sense, and thus called the Geneva Bible, which was based on the earlier Tyndale Bible. It became a runaway best seller in England. The Geneva Bible greatly reinforced the addition of other tongues in I Corinthians. It set a new tradition that the King James version adopted in its translation.

So now it is becoming clear that unknown tongues were becoming a popular dogma in 1534 as a dispute against the Catholic Church. It was a strong statement that anything said in Latin, and not the local vernacular was not profitable.

For more information:

Latin and the Subjunctive

When one attempts to translate a Latin author, or a Greek one with a parallel Latin text, one will invariably be faced with how to understand the Latin subjunctive.

In a number of ways it operates similarly to the contemporary French subjunctive. It does not work like the Greek one.

Latin translators often have a tendency to translate the Greek aorist with a subjunctive. So if one is translating a Greek text and using the Latin parallel as a proof-text, it is important to understand the Latin subjunctive.

The following quotation details some of the problems though the source no longer can be traced. (I have done some edits in the process as well).

“If the subjunctive were still fully active in English, learning Latin would much easier because English speakers would have something in their own language to build from, but unfortunately the English subjunctive is now largely a “schoolbook” form with little relevance to the spoken language. In other words, “If this be true, . . .” now sits on a dusty shelf in the Museum of Good English—horrendum dictu!—so you’ll be learning as much about your own tongue as the Romans’…

With no clear counterpart in English—no single English word (such as “might,” “may,” “would”) can cover the Latin in any way that’s even remotely comprehensive—the Latin subjunctive has to be identified in form and usage independent of translation. Thus, you must learn to match the subjunctive form to its use and then disregard both, rendering the Latin subjunctive as an English indicative or in a way that accords with the proper English expression of a particular construction.

From the perspective of English speakers, one of the hardest features of Classical Latin to learn is that there is no infinitive of purpose (e.g. “I went to the store to buy bread”). Instead, the Romans use the subordinate conjunctive ut/ne + the subjunctive mood to express purpose. This has a counterpart in English: “I went to the store so that I might buy bread.”

e.g. Milites miserunt qui dicerent . . ., “They sent the soldiers to say . . .” (literally, “They sent the soldiers who would say . . .”). If the purpose clause contains a comparative adjective or adverb, quo is used: Scutum deiecit quo celerius fugeret, “He threw away his shield in order to flee more quickly.” Note that relative clauses of purpose are often associated with verbs of motion and that the rules for sequence of tenses apply…

The subjunctive is often seen in clauses embedded in indirect discourse (Indirect Statement, Indirect Question, Indirect Command). This has less to do with the sense of uncertainty which originally defined the subjunctive than with the ancient Romans’ habitual use of the mood in various types of subordinate clause. That is, by the Classical Age the Latin subjunctive had begun to lose its association with specific

functions (prohibition, volition, potentiality, etc.)—the job of relating the particular connotation of a clause had devolved on specific adverbs like cum, dum, ut, etc.—and this mood ended up serving as little more than a way signalling that a clause is dependent. In other words, the subjunctive had become the mood of “general subordination.”

INDICATIVE: These are the men who did it (the very ones who did it);
SUBJUNCTIVE: These are men who would do it (they didn’t actually do it, but they could have).

INDICATIVE: He is the man who did it (and he actually did it);
SUBJUNCTIVE: He is the sort of man who would do it (but he might not have done it).

In other words, it describes the character rather than the actions of the antecedent, which is how the construction got its name.”

The subjunctive as a subordinate clause is an important concept to grasp. The book, Latin: An Intensive Course, explains this clearly:

“In most subordinate clauses in which the subjunctive is used, a system called sequence of tenses occurs. That is, if the verb of the main (independent) clause is in a primary tense, the verb of the subordinate (dependent) subjunctive clause must be primary. This is called primary sequence. Likewise, if the verb of the main clause is in a secondary tense, the verb of the subordinate clause must be secondary. This is called secondary sequence.

In primary sequence, the present subjunctive regularly denotes an action which occurs at the same time as that of the main verb or will occur at some time subsequent to that of the main verb. The perfect subjunctive denotes an action which occurred prior to the time of the main verb.

In secondary sequence, the imperfect subjunctive regularly denotes an action which occurs at the same time as that of the main verb or will occur at some time susequent to that of the main verb.”

The book supplies this concept in a more visual way. Click here to see it.

The following link has a dedicated page for those trying to understand the subjunctive as a subordinate. It has over 70,000 hits – a demonstration of how many others have found this mood worth more studying.

Of course the subjunctive can be used as a jussive, volitive, hortatory or purpose related, but the subordinate clause is something many English speakers are not prepared or looking for and it appears quite frequently.

Ambrosiaster on the workers of miracles

The Ambrosiaster text gives a fourth century or later Latin perspective on the workers of miracles as described by St. Paul.

Paul wrote about this function in his First letter to the Corinthians (12:28).

Here is the actual Biblical citation:

“And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.” (NIV)

The key-text here is the “workers of miracles” which in the Greek text is δυνάμεις and in Ambrosiaster’s text, virtutes.

Not much is known about the fourth century writers(s) later coined Ambrosiaster. This entity wrote a comprehensive commentary on the Book of I Corinthians.

When translating this text, I got stuck on virtutes. It is not qualified in the Latin and the English translations of the Latin Vulgate seemed to have no basis to render such a translation as “worker of miracles.”

The Greek too as well seems to be ambiguous.

There may be a religious tradition that allows for the English to be worded “workers of miracles”, but I am not taking the time to figure that out. This posting will remain focused simply on the contribution by Ambrosiaster writers on this text.

The most machine-like translation of both the Latin and Greek would render “worker of miracles” as “powers”. It would be an interpolation to translate it any further.

Ambrosiaster wrote:

“In the fourth position it is to be: “Then powers, then the grace of healings”. For any who can are not to be a Bishop as having in him the gift of the power of soundness of health.”1

It is clear that whatever powers means, it is not directly attached to the ability to physically heal. This is gratiam curationum which is found earlier in his text.

The first clue to what Ambrosiaster believed powers to mean was at the end of the sentence, “the power of soundness and health.” This is a difficult line to translate. In the Latin it is “et habere in se donum virtutis sanitatum.”

The question here is what virtutis sanitatum really means.

Firstly virtutis is the genitive form of virtus, which Whitaker’s Words describes as “strength/power; courage/bravery; worth/manliness/virtue/character/excellence”. The type of power being referenced here is one is one who possesses a superior moral authority or a person of esteemed character.

The Latin Biblical text could have chosen viris instead which would have connoted power as a strong force that overcomes a weakness, or it could have used potentiae instead which emphasizes command authority over a health condition, but it didn’t.

Whitaker’s Words defines sanitatum from the root sanitas and it means, “sanity, reason; health.” It is addressing a mental condition. Lewis and Short believe it be a mental condition as well but add that bodily health can be included.

At this point, Ambrosiaster makes no reference between mental health and demons. He simply states that an office exists in the Church that deals with such problems.

However he does go on to make this correlation;

“Can it be all are powers?” This one is able to possess the power, to whom God gives to expel demons.”

This leads into greater questions of the early Christian doctrine of demonology and mental illness which is far beyond Ambrosiaster’s text and a study area I am not familiar with.

What one can easily conclude though: the Ambrosiaster writers do recognize a distinction between physical and mental illness in this commentary, which isn’t usually identified in other Church documents. It shows that some sections of the Church were beginning to make a clearer distinction between these two realms, and does recognize the validity of mental illness and the need for third party intervention.

His account also displayed an early Church dictum that anyone identified with this gift was not eligible for the office of Bishop. They must have felt that people with the gift of power could wield too much if in a position of authority. It was potentially a conflict-of-interest.

Patrology and Greek Philosophy

For those just beginning the journey in Patristics, it is recommended that one not only learn either Greek or Latin, but immerse themselves in Greek philosophy. One doesn’t have to agree with the Greek philosophical framework, many of the Patristic authors even rally against it, but it is a prerequisite for the entrance into the Patristic world.

The author and scholar Panagiotes K. Chrestou made this point early on in his helpful book, Greek Orthodox Patrology: an introduction to the Study of the Church Fathers.

“…we shall note the great contribution of Greek philosophy in the elaboration and construction of Christian theology. On this account, the study of Greek philosophy is in this case not simply useful but necessary, even when the influence is only negative. But this, of course, goes hand in hand with the totality of the Classical and Greek literature.” (Page 8).

Years back when I first started translating Patristics, which began with Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, the Greek philosophical underpinning was a difficult task that went beyond language. Then as I moved on to Gregory Nazianzus, Didymus Alexandrini, Gregory of Nyssa, Origen, Theophylacti of Ohrid, Thomas Aquinas, etc., the usage of a Greek philosophical framework became a normative reading experience.

Then the realization came that none could not be properly translated without a thorough understanding of neo-Platonism, Plato and Aristotle.

It actually took me just as much time to familiarize myself with Greek philosophy as it did with the languages themselves.

Many theological passages cannot be understood outside this context.