Tag Archives: Aramaic

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.

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 Hebrew was the language of instruction in the Corinthian assembly (Part 6) then we are getting close to finding a good answer to the question of Corinthian tongues.

However, Epiphanius didn’t stop at explaining the tongues of Corinth as being a problem of Hebrew instruction. He further added 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.

Continue reading Greek, Hellenic Judaism and the problem tongues of Corinth

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

An introduction to a series about the tongues of Corinth from Jewish and Greek sources along with tracing the perceptions of this rite through the centuries.

There are many solutions attempting to explain the problematic passages penned by Paul and this has been documented throughout the Gift of Tongues Project. A work whose fourfold goal is to locate source literature on the subject, digitize the original texts, translate into English with critical notes, and trace the perception of tongues in the church from inception until modern times.

These goals are close to completion and after compiling all the information regarding the tongues of Corinth, the evidence points to a different solution than the popular ones existing today—an explanation from Jewish sources. An approach to the mystery tongues of Corinth from a Jewish perspective has been lacking and appears to provide the two best solutions.

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, or even the third Aramaic theory, but this synthesis will not be investigated in any detail.

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.

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

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

Michael Graves, author of The Public Reading of Scripture in Early Judaism 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. Unfortunately, there is no alternative than to draw from later pieces of literature and reconstruct from there.

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.

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 Mummius2 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.[ref[http://www.livius.org/articles/concept/diaspora/jewish-rome/?[/note] The city prospered quickly. Corinth became one of the most important cities in the Roman Empire.3

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.4 He was educated under one of the leading Jewish teachers of the first-century, Gamaliel I.5 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.6

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.7

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”8

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.9

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.10

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 Romans11 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 Jesus12

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.13

  • 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.14

. . . 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.15

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.

———-

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

The Language of Instruction in the Corinthian Church

A look at the ancient Jewish rite of instruction in Hebrew with an immediate translation into Aramaic or local vernacular. How it potentially impacted the earliest Corinthian assembly and how this rite evolved in the church.

This is part 5 of a series on Corinth which attempts to correlate the mystery rite of tongues outlined in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians with standard Jewish liturgy of the time.

For more information on this series go to Introduction to the tongues of Corinth

The tradition of Jewish instructors speaking in Hebrew lasted for centuries. It is no longer practiced in synagogues today but was an important function in Judaism around the first-century. This little-known practice had an important part to play in the Jewish identity, and as will be shown, was a factor in the tongues conflict in Corinth.

In order to better explain this practice and make an association with the Corinthian gathering, we must go into ancient Jewish literature and citations from some of the more prominent Jewish authorities. Some of which is obscure on the first read and takes a little explanation before the truth becomes clear.

Talmud Babli Yoma 20b

Any discussion on the role of Hebrew as a sacred language of instruction will inevitably land on this passage which refers to two Rabbis who lived in the third-century: Rav Shela and Abba Arika. The narrative is about Rabbi Shela wanting to give a lecture in Hebrew which was demonstrated here as the language of Jewish religion and polity — a sacerdotal tongue. In order to perform such a task, a third-party was required to translate it into Aramaic. Abba Arika, often referred to as Rav, offered to provide the translation. While Shela was lecturing, he mentioned call of the rooster and Rav translated it as call of the man. These words call of the rooster and call of the man are almost identical in Hebrew. The words go back into an academic dispute between Jewish scholars on when the priests in the Temple were to wake up and begin their duties. Shela admonished Rav for taking too much liberty in translating. Rav parlayed back that he couldn’t translate it that way because Shela was entirely wrong on this point and demonstrated the thoughts of an uneducated man.

The text makes Hebrew instruction with an immediate translation into Aramaic a standard procedure during this time.

Here is the actual Talmudic text in English with a link to the original source in the footnote:

Rab came to the place of R. Shila, when there happened to be no interpreter to stand next to R. Shila, so Rab took the stand next to him and interpreted, ‘keriath hageber’ as ‘the call for the man’. R. Shila said to him Would you, Sir, interpret it as: Cockrow! Rab replied: ‘A flute is musical to nobles, but give it to weavers, they will not accept it’.1

This passage used two different words to define the concept of interpreter. The first one was אמורא Amora. The Jewish Encyclopedia explains that this term had two functions. The first one represented all the Rabbinic teachers that flourished during a period of about three hundred years, from the time of the death of the patriarch R. Judah I. (219) to the completion of the Babylonian Talmud (about 500)2 The second definition applies here. “While the lecturer generally pronounced his sentences in the academic language, which was chiefly Hebrew, the Amora gave his explanations in Aramaic. . .”3 The article states that the term Amora as an interpreter or translator was a later usage to that of the word meturgeman and often was interchanged with it.

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

Understanding the word interpret in I Corinthians 14 is one of the keys to unlocking what Paul meant. The Syriac version of this passage is especially helpful which is ܦܫܩ pashek. J. Payne Smith’s Dictionary describes at as to explain, expound, to write commentaries, to translate. The dictionary demonstrated how the word ܦܫܩ was used in the Syrian Church: “he expounds the Six Days of Creation to the congregation,” which exemplifies the fact that Paul wasn’t meaning interpreter to be a literal word for word translation from one language to another but it could be dynamic, or amplified.4

The Syriac presents the idea that whatever translation was given, just like the incident mentioned with Rav Shela above, wasn’t necessarily a literal word-for-word translation, but an amplified version given by the interpreter that the people could understand. If the concept is taken a step further, peresh could allow an interpreter become too stylistic, or promoting his own oratorial skills at the expense of the original speaker. This may have been a contributor to the Corinthian saga as well.

Rashi on Hebrew instruction and interpretation

Almost any analysis on the Talmud will take the researcher to the eleventh-century French medieval Rabbi Rashi. His concise commentary and analysis gives him the classification of one the great writers of the Jewish world. His critiques and analysis are on the same high level as Maimonides and Thomas Aquinas. He chose to explain further the mechanics between the teacher and the interpreter:

The one who interprets stands beside a sage who gives the homily and the sage whispers the Hebrew language to him and he translates to the common language they hear in.5

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

Why did Paul not mention Hebrew specifically in his text?

Paul was purposely being vague because of the ethnic tensions between the traditional Aramaic Jews, the Hellenized Jews who were eager not to lose their ancient Jewish language and customs, and Greek adherents who came from different Doric, Aeolic, and Attic linguistic backgrounds. If he took a side with any of them by naming a certain language, or showing a preference for one over the other, he would have potentially started a split; alienating one group from another. He was in a very difficult position. His reply showed that he was interested in establishing an effective teaching methodology within the parameters of traditional Judaism that assisted both the Greek and Aramaic Jewish layperson, along with Greek converts in learning. He was emphatic that education was the priority, language was secondary to this goal.

Could it be Aramaic instead?

Saul Lieberman outlines in his book, Greek In Jewish Palestine certain practices within the third-century that proposes a different view that may even discount the Hebrew theory and replace it with Aramaic. He stated that when Jewish preachers went into Greek towns, they preached in Aramaic.6

This comment by Lieberman is along the same line of reasoning with a Latin work called the Ambrosiastor text. If we link these two pieces, then Aramaic was the central problem. This conclusion provides a compelling alternative to the Hebrew instruction theory. However, Hebrew instruction has a little bit more substantiation, but not decisively. I put it at 55-45 for Hebrew.

It is a confusing triangle of languages. The reader must be aware of this.

How it evolved in the Church

The Epiphanius text believed the practice of instruction and reading in Hebrew was still being performed in the earliest Corinthian Church. Yet there is one difference between Paul’s exhortation and two hundred years or so later to the time of Rav Shila–during Paul’s time a teacher instructing in Hebrew could provide his own translation.

Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret.7

Rabbinic tradition during Rav Shila’s time did not allow for a person to translate their own speech. Someone else was obligated to do the translation.

On the other hand as one reads on in the I Corinthians letter, Paul prefers that when someone speaks in a foreign language before the assembly of believers that a third-party interpreter/expositor be utilized.

If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God.8

As to Hebrew being the language of instruction, it probably died within the first forty years after the founding of the assembly of Corinth—maybe even earlier. The Jewish revolt and Rome’s sacking of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD led to a widespread distrust of anything relating to anyone belonging to the Jewish race. Any symbols or practices would have been less apparent or even removed for fear of anti-Jewish sentiments especially in a major Roman-ruled city such as Corinth. This was even more apparent under the emperorship of Domitian (81–96 AD), “where there was scarcely a Jew to be seen (in the Roman Empire) during his reign.”9 He also sought to destroy all the family members of the Davidic line in order to maintain perpetual control.10

The fateful decision to excommunicate the entire Jewish-Christian movement by the decree called the Birkat ha-Minim11 from the Jewish world somewhere around 90 AD also may have accelerated the loss of the Hebrew language and Jewish identity in the fledgling movement.

The changing demographic influenced the removal of Hebrew as well. The common Greek adherents began to quickly outnumber the Jewish ones in all the assemblies. An anonymous early text covering II Corinthians claims believed this happened around 100 AD.12

Afterwards, Greek took over Hebrew as the primary language in the church. Saul Lieberman asserted this in his findings. He referred to a church in Scythopolis—especially focusing on a man name Procopius. Procopius lived during the late 200s (AD). Scythopolis was a Greek populated city slightly below the Sea of Galilee and a little west of the Jordan river. Today it is known as Bet She’an. He explains that the the roles of speakers and interpreters continued in the church, albeit in a slightly different form.

On the other hand, Eusebius informs us that Procopius was (around 286) a Reader and Interpreter from Greek into Aramaic in the church of Scythopolis. In the Hellenized town of Scythopolis it was necessary to render a Greek passage in Aramaic before the people could understand it! But Zahn is quite right in his remark that whereas the Biblical lessons, the liturgy and the sermons in the church of Scythopolis were in Greek, there was need of an Aramaic translator for the benefit of the peasants who attended the church. Probably even the peasants knew the limited practical everyday vocabulary of Greek, but explanations by an interpreter (תרגומן) in the mother-tongue of the masses were quite welcome. [/note]

Lieberman refers to an author named Zahn on this topic. The original quote and text from Zahn has not been located. Fortunately, and more important, the actual Eusebius text is available and narrates about Procopius:

His family was from Baishan; and he ministered in the orders of the Church in three things :–First, he had been a Reader; and in the second order he translated from Greek into Aramaic; and in the last, which is even more excellent than the preceding, he opposed the powers of the evil one, and the devils trembled before him.13

It is not clear whether Procopius translated homilies given in Greek into Aramaic during the service, or performed this function for other needs. However, the overall structure appears to support that he was a translator for the homily done in Greek.

A female traveller named Egeria provides an important piece to the puzzle. She lived in the late 300s AD and made a pilgrimage to Israel and surrounding areas. She came from Europe, but it is unknown exactly where. Neither does anyone know who she came with, or how she was funded. All that exists today is a portion of her letters which contains important information about early christian worship in Israel. Her work is called Peregrinatio or Itinerarium Egeriae. In it she wrote:

3. Now, forasmuch as in that province some of the people know both Greek and Syriac, while some know Greek alone and others only Syriac; and because the bishop, although he knows Syriac, yet always speaks Greek, and never Syriac, there is always a priest standing by who, when the bishop speaks Greek, interprets into Syriac, that all may understand what is being taught.

4. And because all the lessons that are read in the church must be read in Greek, he always stands by and interprets them into Syriac, for the people’s sake, that they may always be edified. Moreover, the Latins here, who understand neither Syriac nor Greek, in order that they be not disappointed, have (all things) explained to them, for there are other brothers and sisters knowing both Greek and Latin, who translate into Latin for them.14

She clearly demonstrated that the church indeed had inherited the ancient practice of speakers/interpreters. She also reinforced that Greek was the primary language. Aramaic (called Syriac in her text) was secondary while Hebrew had no place in this paradigm. Egeria’s description also substantiates Procopius as an official interpreter in this rite.

Do the Jews still practice these rites in synagogues today?

The public reading of Hebrew is still practised and, furthermore, is part of the traditional rite of Jewish children moving into adulthood.

The interpreter has a different trajectory. The interpreter, known in Hebrew as the Meturgamen later became an odious name. Those who held such an office took too much liberty for their own gain. A Jewish work called, Ecclesiastes Rabbah compiled somewhere between the sixth-to-eighth centuries of earlier sources, remarked about the abuse of the interpreter’s office.

It is better to hear the rebuke of a wise man than for a man to hear the song of the fools. Because a man who hears the song of fools is better than the meturgamens who raise their voices in song for the people to be entertained.15

The office was phased out, but it is not known exactly when, though it is assumed somewhere around the sixth-century.

Conclusion

If one takes face-value the information provided, Paul was referencing the the one who speaks in a tongue as one teaching or lecturing in Hebrew. The interpreter was the speaker or another person familiar with both Hebrew and the target language, translating it on the fly. Paul mentioned in I Corinthians 14:13 that a person who speaks in a foreign unnamed tongue should himself interpret it. I Corinthians 14:28 outlines two conditions that govern whether a teacher should refrain from teaching. We will assume once again he is thinking about Hebrew here, though it is not listed in his actual text. Firstly, if the teacher speaking in Hebrew is not familiar with the local language and cannot translate it himself. The second is when a third party familiar with both Hebrew and the local language is not available to translate. The teacher should remain silent.

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

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

The Public Reader, the Synagogue, and Corinth

A detailed look into the Jewish rite of reading, speaking, interpreting. Practices that set the liturgical framework for the Corinthian and later churches.

This article specifically dwells on the role of the reader in the Jewish synagogue. Another article The Public Reader in the Church, explains how the early church transformed the rite into a Greek Christian one.

The Gift of Tongues Project devoted significant time and resources connecting the Hebrew public reader simultaneously being translated into the local vernacular as the correct interpretation of the tongues of Corinth.

The Jewish rite of reading parallels closely with the office of instruction. The two offices seem to overlap. This study reveals a rich history of the public reader from 500 BC; the transition from Jewish to a Greek custom.

The first public reader, Ezra the Scribe

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

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

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

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

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

7 The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—instructed3 the people in the Law while the people were standing there. 8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear4 and giving the meaning5 so that the people understood6 what was being read.7

A detailed look at the Hebrew text of Nehemiah

The text described Ezra the Scribe reading from a podium along with what appears to be a third party explaining what he read in terms the audience could understand. A number of key Hebrew words develop this inquiry even further;

  • בין, bin, understanding, or teaching
  • פרש peresh, give meaning, explain, or translate and
  • שֶׂכֶל shekel, a synonym to בין comprehend, apply common sense.

The use of בין, bin, is troublesome. It is used in the Nehemiah text in two distinct ways — to understand, and to instruct. Modern Hebrew restricts its usage only to mean to understand, which makes it difficult for those knowing modern Hebrew to discern the nuances here. The contemporary language does not give any sense of instructing, translating, or explaining. This is not the case in this much earlier writing.

The text itself is not entirely clear. Does it mean that Ezra spoke in Hebrew and a translator translated in Aramaic? Or were the people uneducated about Jewish law and life and needed an intermediary to amplify the text so that they could understand it? As discussed in The role of Hebrew in the Jewish-Aramaic World the emphasis was on education, not language. However, many later sources of Jewish literature understood this text as emphasizing language.

We will follow the traditional perception of Ezra’s message establishing Hebrew as the language of law and life with the immediate translation into the common vernacular.

The word instructing found later on in the Book of Nehemiah states the lay audience Ezra spoke to did not know Hebrew; the majority knew Aramaic and the rest other foreign languages.8 Therefore the people who heard the reading of the Law were incapable of understanding Hebrew. The great eleventh-century Rabbi, Rashi, commented upon the idea of the Levites instructing מְבִינִים, mivinim, as a case of interpreting the Hebrew words into the common vernacular.9 Therefore בין, bin, must be understood as teaching or instructing within this context.

The complicated word פרש.

The Nehemiah text then shortly after uses פרש parash as a synonym to בין, bin. Parash usually means to make clear, explain or translate. It is important to look at the era that Nehemiah was written in to support the idea of translation.10 Internal evidence from the Book of Ezra 4:18 uses a similar verbal form which correlates with the word translation or interpret. Modern Hebrew understands the word as interpret as well.

פרש does not denote a word-for-word translation but can be amplified, a springboard for an extended lecture in the target language, and a platform for personal gain. This caused many later problems in the synagogue rite that needed to be rectified.

The eminent Hebraist and author of the Hebrew New Testament, Franz Delitzsch probably understood פרש in this manner too. He consistently translated the word interpret and variants in I Corinthians 14 as פרש peresh11 and I agree with this choice. Unless more detailed information arrives, the noun פרש peresh, and its variants, was more likely the one Paul had in mind.

This word also serves as the base for פרשה parashah or its plural, parashot or parashyiot notes a formal section (mainly a paragraph) of the Biblical Hebrew text.

Fortunately, we do not encounter this word as a grammatical construct in this context.

The ongoing tradition of the Reader/Translator

Ezra

The following precepts were established from the time of Ezra:

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

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

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

The Hebrew Reader and Interpreter in the Talmud

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

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

Talmud Babli Megillah 9a

This passage declares that the Books of Scripture may be written in any language, but then later stipulates that it can only be translated into Greek and no other language. The text further states that King Ptolemy, a non-Jewish Greek ruler, legislated a Greek translation in the third century BC, which means the Jewish sages had no choice but to sanctify it and therefore the writing goes on to mythologize this. It also legislated that whatever language the liturgical prayers were originally written in, must stay in their original language.12

Talmud Babli Megillah 17a

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

MISHNAH. If one reads the Megillah backwards, he has not performed his obligations. If he reads it by heart, if he reads it in a translation [Targum] in any language, he has not performed his obligation. It may, however, be read to those who do not understand Hebrew in a language other than Hebrew. If one who does not understand Hebrew hears it read in Hebrew, he has performed his obligation. If one reads it with breaks or while half-asleep, he has performed his obligation.13

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

Megillah 21b

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

A Tanna stated: This is not the case with [the public reading of] the Torah. Our Rabbis taught: As regards the Torah, on reads and one translates, and in no case must one read and two translate [together]. As regards the Prophets, one reads and two translate, but in no case may two read and two translate. As regards Hallel and the Megillah, even ten may read [and ten may translate]. What is the reason? Since the people like it, they pay attention and hear.14

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

Megillah 23b

It explains that the reader is not to read less than three verses on any occasion, but while reading, should stop at each verse so that the translator can keep in rhythm.15

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

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

Nedarim 37b

Nedarim 37b is difficult to understand, even with explanations from ancient commentators. This reference is included because it is quoted by Bernard Spolsky, Professor emeritus at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. He cited Nedarim 37b as evidencein his article, Jewish Multilingualism in the First Century to support the roles of Hebrew as a religious language and Aramaic as the mother tongue. His assertion about Nedarim 37b is in context to the Ezra passage found in Nehemiah 8:

In its explanation of this passage (T.B. Nedarim 37b), the Talmud interprets this last verse to refer to the institution of the practice of the Targum, the reciting of an Aramaic translation after the public reading of each Biblical Hebrew verse. (T.B. Nedarim 37b). It is possible that it refers to a translation into any language; it might also refer to an interpretation given in more colloquial language. Even if the practice did not in fact start this early, it is certain that within a few centuries the Aramaic translation and interpretation that accompanied the public reading of the Written Law was firmly established, making clear that in the course of time most of the inhabitants of Palestine, including presumably many who spoke Hebrew, used Aramaic as a lingua franca.16

Maimonides

The concept takes us to the twelfth century Rabbi, scholar, and physician, Maimonides (also known as Rambam). He is considered one of the most influential and revered Jewish thinkers of the Middle Ages. If one reads his works, it is easy to see why he has been given such a high status. He synthesized the idea of the reader/interpreter into a cohesive form. His coverage of this topic can be found in Mishneh Torah: Book of Love: Order or Prayers (Hilkot Tefilah chapter 12). He copiously wrote in detail on the subject, though most if it does not directly connect with the Church of Corinth. There are two themes that do have a connection:

The Amen construct

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

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

All the people respond: “Amen.” Afterwards, he reads until he completes the reading, rolls the scroll [closed] and recites the blessing:17

Both Paul and Maimonides agree that the amen is part of the Jewish liturgy but disagree on how it is to be used. Paul emphasized that an intermediary between the speaker and the congregation, the ἀναπληρῶνanaplêrôn, was to say the amen on behalf of the congregation. The term anaplêrôn is unique to Paul’s writing.

See The mysterious Anaplêrôn of I Corinthians 14:16 for more information.

The fifth-century Alexandrian Church called the person who occupied the position of anaplêrôn18 as keimenos19 — one who takes homiletic exegesis or highly articulate language and explains it in such a way that the average person could understand. The anaplêrôn would say amen as a way of ending whatever explanation was required. If the anaplêrôn did not understand what was being said, he could not then convert it into common vernacular and therefore would be unable to say the amen. Maimonides, on the other hand, believed the amen was to be done by the congregation itself at the ending of a reading. This may be a later evolution of this rite since Paul’s time.

On speaking and interpreting

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

From the time of Ezra, it was customary that a translator would translate to the people the [passages] read by the reader from the Torah, so that they would understand the subject matter.20

The office of the interpreter in Jewish liturgy

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

There were two types of Merturgemans (translators/interpreters). The first is the kind who stood by the Torah reader in the synagogue and translated into Aramaic as the reader read, verse by verse. It is mentioned dozens of times in the Talmud; once the Jews were exiled to Babylon, their vernacular was Aramaic – only the scholars and elders spoke or understood Hebrew. Thus to make Torah reading understandable, it was translated. In the same way, the Meturgeman would also sit by the Rabbi in the synagogue or the study hall. When the Rabbi would share words of Torah with the congregation or with his students, he would speak quietly in Hebrew and the trans. would repeat his words in Aramaic.21

The Jewish Encylopedia further adds:

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

The free handling of the text, which frequently changed the translation into a sermon or homily, gave the meturgeman ample opportunity to introduce his subjective views into the lesson; and with the multiplication of sects this became distasteful to the Rabbis. The increase in the opposition to the meturgeman led to the fixation of the Targumim and to the demand that the meturgeman keep strictly to mere translation. But a mere translation satisfied neither the public, who had known the text from early school-days, nor the meturgeman, who was deprived of an opportunity to parade his knowledge and to display his oratorical gifts. As a consequence the “darshan,” or preacher, was introduced; and the literal translation fell gradually into disuse.22

The problem of the meturgamen taking too much liberty in their expositions may have reflected a problem that Paul was earlier dealing with.

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

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

Another word used for translator/interpreter was אמורא Amora—well, not exactly. Amora refers to the Jewish scholars from 200 to 500 AD. They are expounders of the laws, edicts, and ethics created by the earlier Jewish authorities. They also represented the academies of Jewish learning throughout the Aramaic speaking world. One of the traditions of the Amora was to speak in Hebrew while another Amora would spontaneously translate it into Aramaic.

The Amora would not have been used during Paul’s time because the office did not exist yet.

Was Paul’s reference to speaking in tongues the public reading of Scripture in Hebrew?

The reader/interpreter part of the liturgy may have existed in the earliest Corinthian Church which Paul attended, but this does not appear to be the central thrust of his concern.

Rather, the Corinthian references to tongues matches the Jewish rite of instruction. Aramaic Judaism, along with evidence from a commentary by Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, and further examinations of the interplay between Greek and Hebrew languages in the Jewish world, best supports this theory.

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

What does this all mean?

The use of Hebrew in certain Jewish customs was required, even if the audience didn’t understand it. It was also to be used in the diaspora. The examples given above are in the Aramaic diaspora, but the principles would have applied to Greek Judaism as well.

The case is made that there is a correlation between Paul’s reference to speaking in tongues and Jewish liturgy. The idea of speakers and interpreters and the Amen construct while publicly reading in Hebrew are very close to Paul’s narrative. The Jewish sources show a smoking gun, but do not supply definitive evidence. The research so far proves we are heading in the right direction. The narrative of the public speaker is an interesting one and at least one highly influential church father believed this was the gift of tongues spoken by Paul.

One of the most important points to remember is that the ancient Jewish texts clearly outline the establishment of Hebrew as the primary language of public reading in any assembly outside of Israel major. This would have been an important factor with the initial assembly of Corinth. The lack of Hebrew would have been a serious source of conflict between Paul and the Hellenistic Jews who strongly argued that he had compromised Judaism too much in his theological views.

The details about how the public reader transformed and evolved in the church, along with detailed information about why Thomas Aquinas believed it was the gift of tongues is found in the next article: The Public Reader in the Church

Liturgy, Race and Language in the Corinthian Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Paul’s address on the tongues of Corinth are reminiscent of Jewish tradition. Speaking, interpretation, the office of an interpreter, and the Amen are all found in Jewish liturgical traditions.6

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

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

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

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

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

It became a custom among Jews to read the weekly lectionary portion of the Torah three time through, once in Hebrew and twice in Aramaic. This custom was retained even into the Middle Ages when Jews no longer spoke Aramaic.11

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

This was a disputed point and considerably argued. Aramaic was internally contested in reference to Jewish identity. God’s speaking to Moses at Mount Sinai was used as a polemic against Aramaic. “And the Lord spoke from Sinai. This is the Hebrew language.”13 There was a concerted effort to resist the inclusion of foreign languages in their liturgy and prayers. “For R. Johanan declared: if anyone prays for his needs in Aramaic [ie. a foreign tongue] the ministering Angels do not pay attention to him because they do not understand that language.”14

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Greeks extended the idea of their language being the heavenly one and this had a universal influence, even in the Latin world. One of the greatest Roman leaders and Orators, Cicero, so highly valued the writings of the Greek Philosopher Plato that the god Jupiter “were it his nature to use human speech, would thus discourse.”17

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

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

The role of the Septuagint became so prominent according to Jennifer Dines in her book, The Septuagint, that this Greek translation may have forced the Jewish community to explicitly state that the Hebrew text was inspired.22

God dictated to Moses the importance of literacy for the perpetuation of the faith, “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates…”23 though this was not ever completely established, because 700 years later at the time of Ezra, as mentioned by the great thirteenth century AD Jewish thinker, Maimonides, Hebrew was switched to a liturgical language and required an interpreter for any local reading.24 The first century Jewish writer, Josephus, related that Hebrew literacy was up again in the first century, “and it is ordered to bring the children up (in) the letters concerning the Laws and to place upon (them) the works of the ancestors.”25 This may have been restricted to reading by rote. It does not infer written or spoken fluency.

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

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

The composition of the earliest Corinthian assembly.

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

What does this all mean?

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

Next: Jewish Liturgy and the Tongues of Corinth.

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.

Attempts on Translating Rashi and Jewish Aramaic

Rashi, an 11th century French Rabbi, is one of the most important commentators of the Talmud and is central to the contemporary study of it. In fact, some texts of the Talmud are difficult to understand without reference to him.

One would think that his works would be ubiquitous for the English reading audience, but English translations, outside of his commentary of the Torah, are almost non-existent.

This forces curious researchers such as myself to look at texts in the original language, which in this case is a complex mixture of classical Hebrew, Rabbinic Aramaic and at a lesser rate, old French.

There are several barriers one has to overcome in providing a legitimate translation of his works. First of all, the translator will immediately arrive with the problem at the lack of resources. “The study of Aramaic is a difficult thing, not merely because of the inherent toughness of the language, the lack of standarisation in spelling and grammar, and the wild dialectal varieties one finds; but also because grammatical and lexicographal aids are few and far between.”1

The best aids found so far are:

  • Aiding Talmud Study by Aryeh Carmell. It is so succinct and helpful. No beginner translator should work without it. It is also very inexpensive.

  • There is also A Manual of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic but this one is not recommended. It is definitely not designed for independent study and is frustrating to approach it with such an intention.

  • Marcus Jastrow’s Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Babli, Yerushalmi, and Midrashic Literature is also indispensable. It is also available on-line for free access.

  • The Hebrew on-line dictionary called morfix is helpful. It requires that you type in Hebrew for dictionary finds. It takes some time to learn to type in Hebrew, but it is worth it. At first, I just cut and paste Hebrew text directly into the search engine. Now I have learned to change my Mac’s typing direction along with the Hebrew font very quickly. This site is very quick and thorough. Sometimes it is not sufficient enough for words in a Rabbinic context.

  • Eliezer Ben Yehuda’s complete 17 volume or so Hebrew dictionary can also be a good source for referencing hard to find words. Unfortunately it is not available on-line, nor on DVD. It has to be purchased through a specialty bookstore. It is not the same as the pocket dictionary under his name. This is not a good source to work from.

  • The Talmud Babli itself with its corresponding Rashi commentary in the original text and layout can be found online at edaf. I prefer to use the Hebrew Wikisource version of the Talmud found here. It contains the entire Talmud page in searchable text, plus any texts originally printed in Rashi script is converted to the regular Hebrew font.

    One of the initial difficulties is dealing with the unique Rashi font typically used in any publications of his original works. It is a unique script that most readers familiar with traditional Aramaic or Hebrew block fonts will not recognize. It is closer to modern Hebrew cursive. Rashi Script was not invented nor promoted by Rashi. Rather it was the font chosen by the printers to publish his text. If one prefers to translate from the original printed text, it takes some time to get used to. I find it especially difficult to differentiate between the heth and teth, and also the mem and samek.

    If one wants to translate directly from the Rashi script, then this site will help with understanding the alphabet link

  • There is also Instone-Brewers Rabbinic writings site. This is a massive project to provide the Talmud in parallel English and original texts. However, it does not provide translation of Rashi. Also, one has to realize that this is a work in progress. The English translation does not always parallel with the Hebrew equivalent. These problems are still being ironed out.

The internet is not very helpful as a tutor to translate Rashi. One place that had at least some introductory help is the Megilla Tutor, but this is one of the better choices out of very few sites available.

The traditional way of learning to translate Rashi, along with most Jewish Rabbinic texts is firstly through a Yeshiva. This is a higher centre of Jewish learning, the equivalent of an intense Bible College. An alternative would be through the mentoring and discipleship of a local Rabbi versed in this style of learning.

So those who do not have access to such resources have a more difficult but not impossible task. It just will take more time.