Tag Archives: Jews

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

Book Review: Soldiers: German POWs on Fighting, Killing, and Dying

Soldiers: German POWs on Fighting, Killing, and Dying, by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer is an eye-opening book about the amorality and monstrosities of German soldiers in the Second World War and how this mindset developed.

Soldiers: German POWs on Fighting, Killing, and Dying, by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer

Sönke Neitzel, a German historian and “currently Professor of Military History at the University of Potsdam”1 and Harold Welzer, a German social psychologist, combine to build a definitive and unassuming portrait based on taped conversations of Germans detained in Allied war prisons. These were secretly done and transcribed by British and American intelligence agents during the Second World War. These dialogues helped the Allied forces better understand the technological and strategic initiatives within the German military during the War. However, the social and moral dynamics found in these discussions had little strategic value and were left unused for over five decades.

Neitzel accidentally found out about these records while working as a visiting lecturer in Glasgow in 2001. Further investigation uncovered a large library of over 100,000 pages. Neitzel contacted Harold Welzer who was electrified about the findings: “. . .men were talking live, in real time, about the war and their attitudes towards it. It was a discovery that would give unique, new insight into the mentality of the Wehrmacht and perhaps of the military in general.”2 Indeed, the documents revealed a rich wealth of information to build a historical and psychological portrait. The findings offered lessons not only on the German war machine, but war in general.

Their analysis dispelled the myth that German soldiers were merely following orders or that the violence was committed by a few rogue groups or leaders. The dialogues portrayed the everyday soldier, airman, or seaman, along with the upper echelons of military brass were compliant in the atrocities. Even the civilian administration was guilty. The mass executions were a lure for a good show, a “semipublic spectacle with a high amusement value.” The circumstances extended even to police officers who wanted to kill someone for the thrill of the experience.3

The book does not delve into the hearts and minds of soldiers and leaders who worked inside the concentration camps, only those captured in battle.

The authors sought to discover what influenced German soldiers to shift into an amoral and monstrous mindset. They concluded the most important factors were unlimited power, unbridled youth, shame, group dynamics, and the military frame of reference. The analysis ruled out any socio-economic status, religious identity, education level, or ethnicity as a contributing factor. Nor was ideology a force. Most soldiers were apolitical.4 The infamous SS or its armed wing, Waffen units, were neither entirely responsible. Soldiers in the general armed forces, the Wehrmacht, had also perpetrated severe violations. The actions were consistent of any participant in the German enterprise.

Wartime soldiers are by and large youngish men who have been separated from their real or would-be partners and freed from many social constraints. When stationed in occupied areas, they are given the sort of an individual power they would never enjoy in civilian society.” 5

Soldiers were most concerned with their own individual survival, their next home leave, the loot they could pilfer, and the fun they could have, and not the suffering of others, especially those considered racially inferior. Soldiers’ own fate was always at the center of their perception. Only in rare cases did the fate of enemy troops or occupied peoples seem worthy of note. Everything that threatened one’s own survival, spoiled the fun, or created problems could become the target of unlimited violence.6

The book is a much harsher reality than the one portrayed in the movie, Schindler’s List, but less intense than the narrative provided by Philippe Aziz, in his book, Doctors of Death, — which focused on the German medical leadership and experimentation on Jewish subjects. The atrocities being widespread and not restricted to loose canons or hierarchical force was also substantiated by Edwin Black in his book, IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation where he shows that low-level clerks and commoners who did the data entry for identifying Jewish identity in Nazi-occupied territories were also direct contributors to the holocaust.

The prison conversations bring to light the general war problem of autotelic violence“violence committed for its own sake without any larger purpose.”7 This is a natural outcome when the modern rules of law are suspended in times of war. The authors shared a conversation of a Luftwaffe observer named Lieutenant Pohl, who said it only took him three days to get used to the violence. After the fourth day, he enjoyed shooting down soldiers — it was breakfast amusement. On one occasion he wanted to drop bombs on a crowded Polish town because he was so full of rage and he didn’t give a damn. “It would have been great fun if it had come off.”8

Another conversation shows how autotelic violence had become routine:

“We sank a children’s transport. . . which gave us great pleasure.”9

Neitzel and Welzer make a formative statement that the rape, tortures, mass killings, forced plunder, genocides, and other war-related fatalities were nothing new in the historical annals of war. The difference was the increased dimension and expression of such phenomena exercised by the Germans. The introduction of new technology and weaponry – the switch from horses, cannons and bayonets to planes, tanks, semi-automatic rifles, and weapons of mass destruction, allowed for death and destruction beyond any historical framework. This greatly expanded the ability to destroy without any limit.10 The coverage of later wars and revolts by the revered journalist, Robert Fisk, clearly points out that these evils are not a proprietary problem of Germany, but an expression of humanity’s dark side wherever a social system collapses and there are no limits on violence.11 Another distinction within the German establishment was the elimination of certain groups that had “nothing to do with the war itself.”12

The authors build a framework to answer why out of 17 million members of the Wehrmacht, there were only 100 attempts at rescuing Jews.13 They believe the solution can be found in their frame of reference. The frame of reference was built around military values in a wartime situation. It became extreme because German society was passive, tolerant of repression, restricted their opinions to the private realm, and did not question the military value systems.14 More importantly was the individual soldier’s relationship with his immediate comrades. Going against the group existential existence, even if the purposes are inhuman, is tantamount to the individual’s emotional or physical death.15

Naturally, the horrendous acts of violence against Jews are included in many conversations. These come as no surprise, but the callousness and the uncaring does. Soldiers got extra rations, pay incentives and other perks for execution duty.16 But a switch began to happen as the war began to shift into Allied control. More emphasis was placed on hiding the killings, including exhuming bodies and destroying any evidence. There was a certain fear that if the Germans lost the war, Jews would look for revenge.

The prisoners conversations about sexual assaults, rapes and violence against women was shocking. The soldiers’ dialogues carried the sense of pleasure and power without any remorse. While some women did receive better treatment, it was far from altruistic — the soldiers traded protection for a sexual favours. The women were eventually shot and killed in order to hide the abuses and avoid public shame of sex with a Jewish woman. There was also rampant prostitution. The authors described that the sexual predation was widespread throughout the military and led to a major spread of gonorrhoea and syphilis that overwhelmed the medical facilities. Antibiotics treatment had not been introduced yet, and contracting a VD severely weakened the military’s available manpower. The military responded by setting up and sponsoring brothels in order to counter this.

But without doubt, sex was part of soldiers’ everyday existence – with a whole series of consequences for the women involved.17

A statistic for the amount of rapes, violence, and murders against women done by German soldiers has never been given. However, the conversations by the soldiers indicate the rate must have been significantly high.

The overall discussions were so dark, contorted and distasteful, that my mind has difficulty imagining them. But they compelled me to ask, what kind of persons are we dealing with here? How could men with such strong values of hard work, respect, and honour, turn dark so quickly and heartlessly? How could they go home and speak to their wives, mothers or sisters about what they did? Once the war was over, was there a place for them to live? Or did their conscience already die and they moved about as empty shells?

The authors answered the first two questions. The latter questions about the post-war lives of these soldiers are left unanswered. How could these people find peace? Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch woman dispatched to a concentration camp by the Nazis for concealing Jews in her family home, and author of Hiding Place gave one clue. While giving a speech in Germany shortly after the War, a former prison guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp approached her, though not familiar with each other, asked her for forgiveness against the cruelty he enacted on the people at Ravensbruck. She felt both were liberated through the act of forgiveness: letting go of her bitterness that could cripple one’s body and soul, and him, from the prison of his guilty conscience.18 Was this type of remorse and wanting catharsis widespread with post-war soldiers, or was Ten Boom’s encounter an exception? Soldiers: German POWs on Fighting, Killing, and Dying, would have been a more powerful book if the authors followed up interviewing a few of these prisoners that did such atrocities to find whether they remained defiant or later became remorseful.

The popular term today in military mental health circles for soldiers in this circumstance is called moral injury — the “reaction stemming from perpetrating, failing to prevent, or bearing witness to acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs.”19 Most literature on moral injury tend to treat the person as a victim and a mental health problem. I think the authors of Soldiers: German POWs on Fighting, Killing, and Dying would dispute the claim of the perpetrator as a victim. Although many situations can be a perceived sense of guilt and not real, the victims of a person committing a moral injury are either dead, disabled or emotional invalids, while the perpetrator goes on living. This is a cop-out that avoids addressing the moral failure and prevents the perpetrator to admit wrongfulness and receive full catharsis.

The stories shared in the book evoke such anger for real justice. If there is no remorse given by the perpetrators, or any attempt to say sorry to those who have been wronged, the only solace is that these people will have to answer before God at the day of reckoning for the blood of the innocents.

What can be learned from this book for today? This is not a book about ideology but the everyday person in the German military. The idea that, I don’t give a rat’s ass about anything except what affects me, was consistent within all the discussions and a key undertone among many others. A condition that allows hatred to ignite and go unchecked. A mindset that allows the person to complete instructions even against one’s moral convictions, and removes the person from any social responsibility. This circumstance opens a pandora’s box of monstrous proportions when no rules exist. Apathy is a much harder vice to correct than hatred and is the essence of inhumanity. This is not a simply a problem of World War II Germany – examples can be found in almost any major modern conflict in the world. Every society has to guard against this sin.

Would I recommend this book? This is one of the most difficult readings I have ever done. It is well written, researched and documented, but the subject matter is grisly. This book is not recommended for the casual reader, or for anyone personally haunted by the bitterness of war, but a source work for the historian, social psychologist, teacher, or journalist. Neither should one attempt to read in one, two or three sittings. The very nature forces one to read only bits at a time and put it away for a while.

The Jews In Their Land During the Talmudic Age

JewsInTheirLand

Book Review: The Jews in their Land in the Talmudic Age by Gadaliah Alon.

A magnificent piece of scholarly work that touches on life in Israel from 70 to 640 A.D.

His retelling of the story of Middle-East mankind during this period draws from classical Greek, Roman, Patristic, and Rabbinic sources that is simply astounding. He combines religion, culture, language, economic systems, leadership structures both in the Jewish community and in context of Roman occupation, historical analysis, and social perspectives into an intelligent and cohesive narrative. He especially excels covering the change in religious, social and leadership structures after the destruction of the Temple, and the traditions that underlies the development and establishment of the Mishnah and Talmud.

The work is ascribed to Gedaliah Alon, who is an enigma. There are no photos in any popular biography of him, and those bios are normally only a paragraph long. He never wrote a book, but yet there is one. In Israel, where he was a teacher at the Hebrew University, there is a street in Jerusalem named after him, but this is a quiet reminder. He was the first recipient of the Israel Prize, the highest honor given by the State of Israel for excellence, but this only extends to the modern Israeli conscience, not to the English speaking world. His name was never echoed in the halls of the Hebrew University while I was there, nor were there any statues or busts found. He was married to a Mina Alon, and had at least one child, Nahi Alon, who is a clinical psychologist, but the information is sparse.

It was chance that I picked up the book at the Hebrew University’s Akademon book store back in the 1980s. The cover looked interesting and thought it would be worth the risk. It was packed in my to be looked at later file, which took a couple of years to turn the cover. Ever since that first page was turned, it changed my approach to historical critique. This unknown man has had a deep influence on my own approach to the narratives that surround the Christian narrative.

This book is a must-read for anyone trying to develop an idea of how the Middle East world operated during this period, especially for Jews living in the land of Israel.

Alon suddenly died of a heart attack at 49 years of age back in 1950. Admirers of Alon who were deeply impressed by his teachings, collated the many monographs that he previously published, and combined them with his lecture notes to make a posthumous book dedicated to him. Shmuel Safrai, one of his students and later a professor at the Hebrew University, was instrumental in the process. The book was originally written in modern Hebrew, but later translated by Gershon Levi into English, and so the The Jews in their Land in the Talmudic Age was born.

His story begins in Russian controlled Kobryn, Belarus, where he excelled in his Talmudic studies, and then went to the Unversity of Berlin for a year, which likely broadened his mind to other disciplines outside of Judaism. He then immigrated to Israel and completed his studies at the Hebrew University, and remained there as a teacher for the rest of his life. The foreward in his book claims that he refined the system of interpretation set out by Adolf Büchler1 an “Austro – Hungarian rabbi, historian and theologian” who wrote distinguished works on the Jews during the Second Temple period. 2

He was a historical chronographer, not a theologian by any means, though he does greatly draw from these resources to add to his narrative, they are rarely central to any of his themes. This is what sets him apart, and likely makes him so indistinguished. He appeals neither to the practicing Jew, nor to the ardent Christian, or to those uninterested in religion. This makes his audience quite small, but to those who are looking for coverage of this period from a comprehensive historical literature perspective, this is a veritable gold mine.

The eminent teacher has not escaped criticism. Doron Mendels, a present full-time professor at the Hebrew University, claims that Alon reflected the age that he lived in. Mendels claims that Alon’s background of Orthodox to enlightened Jew, and then European nationalist reflected a writing that wished to redefine Judaism both in historic and modern terms – a “fragmetized type of memory”,3 and another recent book, Judaism and Crisis: Crisis as a Catalyst in Jewish Cultural History, states that Alon wrote with Zionistic sympathies.4

The greatest drawback to Alon is price. The work was originally published in Jerusalem by Magnes Press, which the picture above is from. It was two volumes and has long been out-of-print by them. Harvard University Press has reprinted a paperback version, combining both original volumes into one for under $65.00 US. It may be in your local library, but it is one of those books that you want to keep near your desk. It is a handy resource.

Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues: I Corinthians

Portions of a commentary on I Corinthians attributed to Cyril of Alexandria translated into English.

The translations selected are those relating to the doctrine of tongues.

Tradition asserts the text by Cyril, further study indicates some pieces are from the works of Didymus of Alexandria. Although the majority belongs to Cyril, it cannot be exactly determined which pieces are Didymus’ accounts. For more information see Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues Intro.

I Corinthians 12:91

Thus we say these things to be the works of powers through the oneness of the Spirit. But if another prophesies something, it is still not apart from the Spirit. And so a different person has the discernments of spirits, it is nevertheless from the same Spirit. Concerning the works of the spirits, it has been spoken about before. He verily confidently asserts that it is given to those so that they were skillful with various languages, and also translations as well. For we say this gift itself was supplied in the time and also need in a well ordered manner. But for those ones who were speaking in languages, and furthermore did not know them beforehand, and these ones translating understood, nevertheless [they were] not in the custom of such sounds existing in the past. The divine Paul confidently asserts that it was certainly given to them then to speak in languages, not as an allotted portion2 of the gifts but in the form of a sign for believers. Indeed he was explaining the prophetic word in such a way he supported, that “in strange tongues and foreign lips I will speak to this people and they will not believe such a thing.” The Spirit works the dispensation of gifts in each one in a variety of ways. So that for instance, they say, this body is certainly joined together by the parts pachu3 and from land, so also is Christ, truly His body, that is to say the Church, mindfully apprehended to unity through the many multitude of the faithful, possessing the most perfect composition.

Now for this reason also the divine David says that she [the Church] is to be clothed in colored guilded clothing, [Psalm 45:10] it is the same of the gifts, I think, also valued as well in the manner of signs. ■

I Corinthians 14:24

“For if one speaks in a language, he does not speak to men, but to God.”

It detracts them from what ought to be practiced, as the ability to speak in languages is certainly greater to its own glory than the act of interpreting the things of prophets. Regarding these things having been displayed among us, faith and also hope and definitely of love for both God and the brethren, which also all of the law has the fulfillment [in it], let him add the remaining things.5 For at that time, and at the very time we will be the ones filled of these gifts by God, and we will be enriched in the gifts by the Spirit. I say in regards to have the ability to prophesy, that is a person who can interpret the things of the prophets. For the once only incarnation of the Only Begotten who suffered and also rose from the dead, and of whose ministry has been brought to perfection among us, of such was yet the precise time of prophecy, surely the [function of] prophecy will be about such things? Therefore the one who prophesies about such things would be nothing different, except that one only has the ability to explain about a prophecy, and as in those who are revealing6 for those who are listening, then from whom are the ones who confirm the word to the true thing.7 We will be upright and also steadfast advisors of the most noble things.8

Therefore, it says, “the one who speaks in a language, [is] rather not to men, but he speaks to God”.9 How then, what kind of meaning [is the language] that states “for no one hears?”

For if perhaps the ability is given to a certain one of the disciples to be able to speak in the language of the Medes, and a different one [of the disciples to speak in] Elamite,10 then who will be the ones hearing, [is it] the things about their message perhaps being spoken about to the synagogues of the Jews11 or rather to the [Church] assemblies of the Greeks? Rather, what kind of profit will be of these words? For it will amount to nothing, except only of God who has known everything12 For “in the Spirit,” it says, “he speaks mysteries.” Therefore it is observed, the one who speaks in whatever way to God, speaks in the Spirit.13 Therefore God naturally is the Spirit. Therefore the one who speaks in a language, “rather to God,” it says, “and he is not speaking to men.” On the other hand, “the one who prophesies speaks edification, consoling, and encouragement to men.” In fact one observes that to prophesy is to interpret the matters of the prophets in such things through which the word of encouragement is being established, and the mind of those who have been initiated is to be led into the truth about Christ. He also elsewhere shows beyond comparison that the activity of interpreting the prophets is in superiority than the act of speaking in a language.14 “For he builds himself up,” it says, “the one who is speaking in a tongue.” Of course he understands himself, but someone else, absolutely nothing. This one, who makes use with the voices of those holy prophets and with predictions in regards to [the] testimony, builds up the Church. Greater then also in the highest ranks, and in the most splendid hopes is the application of prophecy. Indeed it is better to mutually build up the Church than himself alone speaking out in a language.” ■

I Corinthians 14:515

“Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy;” (NASB)

Seeing that it was unexpected, and truly a gift of the gods,16 that men being of Hebrew background were being empowered to speak in languages of others,17 not that some suppose the Apostle rashly determined the nature of the practice to be purposeless, saying it had been given through the work of the Spirit.18 For it was given as a sign for believers, he favorably approves [the practice] and says, “Now I wish all of you to speak in tongues,” for he clearly cuts-off at once the eagerness in this certain thing, and moves to a better one, “even more that you prophesy.” Greater and more palpable the orator is who prophesies than the one who speaks in a language. The one who brings forth [in a language] shows that this is not entirely unprofitable in this action for those who hold such things [dear] and those who are listening.19 “Except if there is no interpreter,” that is to say, if he does not have someone who always sits near and interprets for the beginners.2021

I Corinthians 14:1022

“And none of them is without a voice.”

“Any persons of the status of itinerant teachers23 in the Churches who are endowed in the work of the Spirit should have the ability to speak in languages. Therefore it is necessary that prayers are to be made in these same languages, and certainly for the entreaties of those things, that is to say, of a Psalm,24 these ones who have the ability to proclaim25 in the language of those who are present. Certainly they were not doing this, indeed the persons who congratulate themselves in a self-satisfied way with the gift of languages, they were neither doing psalms or prayers. Paul teaches this, that if there does not exist persons who are hearing [with the] knowledge of the language, which those who have the gift are speaking forth, [then there is] no advantage out of the matter. For numberless are the nations and all the languages of mankind.26

He says, “Without a voice,” [is] absolutely never about the business in respect to the things of the reason, that is, in [concern to the things of] mankind. But if perhaps some may not have known the power of every voice, and certainly neither can these ones know his language, they will be barbarians to each other. Yet these ones are in fact correctly supposed to speak according to his own voice. It is necessary therefore those who are wishing to teach in other [languages], that the word should be uttered27 accustomed for those for those who are listening.

If in fact then the unintelligible sound was also an unaccustomed voice, the striking28 vainly produced in purposelessness with some type of noise,29 only the sound [is] heard of one who knows [the language].

It is necessary, he says, that those wishing to teach, that the word is to be spoken30 accustomed for those who are listening, after that he works for folly. For he that speaks in languages alone does not build up the Church.■

I Corinthians 14:1231

“Seeing that you are zealous about the things of the spirit.”

He defines the spirit in these things [as] the bestowment32 by the agency of the Spirit, that is, the ability to speak in languages. “If then”, he says, “I was to have offered prayers in the Churches by the Spirit,”33 that is, one who entirely has furnished34 in the language by the agency of the Spirit, I will have an unfruitful mind. For it is necessary for the person who should strain to the uttermost in prayers and those who are performing to seek for salvation by God, that it is not to be given a level of merit by a language [used], and a natural result of speaking in a [specific] language.35 In such a case an unfruitful mind develops, and the person who obtains favor for himself [has] not one advantage from such a [selfish] ambition either. ■

I Corinthians 14:1536

“I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the mind.”

It is necessary on my behalf, it says, if I indeed should choose to be praying in a language,37 that is to say, to be fond about speaking in a language; to eagerly try would not occupy an unfruitful mind, and not only would it produce speaking in a language, but to awaken the mind within me.38 and if I should perhaps sing a Psalm39 in a language, for the act of singing a Psalm [is] nothing inferior and for the mind is the power in the understanding of the psalmody,40 and of the prophets, and one is not bound to stop incomprehensible41 words such as these. For if I wish to be speaking useless sounds,42 “I have become a noisy gong.” (NASB).

On which account the one who prophesies is better, that is43 interpreting the divine writings in the Church, than simply enjoying the use44 with languages.

Which one then will be the better alternative? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the mind. In this case once more it is with the spirit, he speaks with the gift by means of the Spirit.

Seeing that an overseer45 could show the unprofitability for him by means of the most greatest and moral senses [about] the act of speaking in a language, because a follower may not have the ability to clearly understand the meaning [concerning] the things of the prophets in alternative ways, and he46 brings up other [languages] through which some would have wished to understand a person who speaks clearly. ■

I Corinthians 14:16-1747

Else if you shall bless in the spirit48 how will the one who makes the room of the laypeople understand say the “Amen”?49

When, it says, you are to speak50, [and] the one who was appointed in the position of the laity,51 if he would have no knowledge of your voice, how will he appropriately supply52 the Amen in their own thanksgivings or prayers? For that the custom of the Churches is to compose53 their voices54 under authority with the prayers of the prefects55 together in all clarity. For these ones bring closure in their priestly voice, appropriately supplying the Amen with their own supplications to God, because it appears to be lacking in completion by the priests, it is to be finished in the meters of the common people, as if “[He has blessed them that fear the Lord] both small and great.”56 as God can hear57 in the unity of Spirit.

For these are common folk who join their own [voices]58 with the prayers of the priests, they believed that these are intended to be agreeable things. God calls to bring forth to the altar of the burnt sacrifices and needy offerings to the overseer, so that the little bit in the end mixed together, becomes acceptable to God.

For in all these things we are in the Lord. Therefore on this account when he says, you should speak in a language — for this is to bless in the spirit. The person [the overseer] did not have knowledge about what you would say, “How will he say the Amen in respect to his own blessing.”59 For how can you rightly do it alone, namely existing inside your mind, nevertheless “the other is not built-up.” For it is in fact necessary that all should achieve which pertains to us towards the building up and profit of the brethren. ■

Unfortunately this catena abruptly cuts-off here, skipping verses 18-40, and the next portion references I Corinthians 15 — which addresses a different theme. There are no more remarks about the tongues doctrine after I Corinthians 14:17.

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A full synopsis of Cyril of Alexandria on tongues including commentaries, translations, and notes can be found at the Gift of Tongues Project menu. Scroll down to the Cyril of Alexandrian sub-category.

Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues: Conclusion

Final thoughts on the texts attributed to Cyril of Alexandria about the doctrine of tongues.

A significant amount of time and labour has been spent on works attributed to Cyril of Alexandria on the Christian doctrine of tongues and for good reason. The Cyrillian coverage offers critical insights into the ancient practice of the gift of tongues within the earlier Church.

These works originate under the influence of the ancient city of Alexandria, Egypt, which gives these works particular significance. The language of the New Testament is Alexandrian Greek with a Semitic influence which means the influence of Alexandria on early Christianity is centrally important. Without Alexandria, there may no Gospel, or at least many of the principal theological traditions passed down through the generations.

It has been learned from this study that the writings credited to Cyril of Alexandria are not exactly correct. Portions are from Didymus of Alexandria. Which parts are Cyril’s and others Didymus’, we do not know, though for the most part it is Cyril. There also may be medieval editorial emendations too. Even though there remain unanswered questions of authorship, it accurately portrays a fifth-century account on the doctrine of tongues as understood and practiced in Alexandria, Egypt.

The results gleaned from these Alexandrian texts do not align with the contemporary Christian practice or liberal interpretations on the Christian doctrine of tongues. They offer different outcomes. Here are the findings.

The Commentary on Zephaniah clearly indicates that the Alexandrian author(s) believed it be speaking a foreign language. There was an emphasis in this commentary about the “changing of tongues,” that defined the speech as a miraculous endowment. Furthermore, those that received this blessing continued to have this power throughout their lives, but it did not persist after their generation. For more information and the actual copy of the Commentary on Zephaniah see Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues: Zephaniah.

The Fragment on Acts has some more clues. The work emphasizes that those who spoke at Pentecost did not know the languages beforehand. It was a spontaneous event. Experienced interpreters, according to the text, were not accustomed to such a display. The purpose of Pentectost was to speak in every language to every nation. The Gospel was not to be a local religion for Jews only, but a universal one. The work goes on to describe a negative aspect of this event. People used it to promote their own extravagance and self-promotion. The actual text can be found at Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues: Acts.

The Catena on I Corinthians had the most information, and the following was discovered.

  • The Corinthian problem of languages was viewed as a consequence of Pentecost. The Corinthian situation is not considered a separate entity. In making the Corinthian situation connected to Pentecost, it creates ethnic rivalries. If a disciple comes speaking in tongues for the purpose of rejuvenating the Jewish faith, then it leaves out the Gentile participants. This would be an untenable position.

  • When the disciples spoke at Pentecost, each one spoke a different language.

  • The Cyrillian text associated I Corinthians 14 with their itinerant preachers whose duty was to visit routinely Churches throughout the Alexandrian Church empire. This was a vast region that had a number of ethnic and language groups. The ability to speak in the various languages was a requirement for these preachers to teach and pray.1

  • Prayers and language held a central part of the Church life. Prayers required mastery and comprehension of more than one written language. Literacy was very low in this period. Some think as low as 5%. The congregation then was entirely dependent on trained leadership to teach through readings, memorization and instruction. The prayers in the Church were led by leaders called prefects — a ruler over monks, clergy, and bishops (ὁ ἡγουμένος).2

    If someone would speak or pray in the Church, whether priest, prefect, or the itinerant preacher, it would be in a high-priestly voice, similar to preachers who speak in King James English, old style Catholics who perform the liturgy in Latin, or the use of High-German in Mennonite Churches. What exactly was high-priestly language to them — was it liturgical Greek, or regular Coptic? It is not known.

    The important requirement of any Church leader speaking to an audience or any layperson was that the Skopos (σκοπὸς) had to understand what they were saying, or someone available that “sits near and interprets for the beginners.”3

    The Skopos played an important position within the Church. The Skopos was an overseer who was to test, examine, and approve everything that was spoken, or done. He was also to translate, but that was likely a later attribute.4

    There was a function in the Church that assisted the lay-people in understanding what the priests were saying, singing, or doing. A type of translator, but more of an intermediary. In the Corinthian text it is the anaplérôn ( ἀναπληρῶν), but in Alexandria it is the keimenos (κείμενος).

    The keimenos is a critical keyword and potentially unlocks the mystery tongues of Corinth. A complete article on this can be found by reading The Mysterious Anapleron of I Corinthians 14:16

    All messages that the keimonos explained to the people were to be concluded with an Amen.

    If the keimonos did not understand the language, or message being spoken, he would not be able to translate or explain on behalf of the laypeople, and therefore would not be able to say Amen.

    All of the references to Alexandrian Church structure; the itinerant preacher, the high priestly language and need for a mediary for the laypeople to understand, the Skopos, the Keimenos, the use of multiple languages, and the amen construct, have a connection with Paul’s coverage of I Corinthians 14. Granted this is 500 years later, and there was likely much evolution in this structure, but the shadows do exist.

  • The Catena on I Corinthians gives a different idea of prophecy and its relationship with languages. 14:2 and 5 covers the office of prophecy. It is more comprehensive than what most practicing Charismatics or Pentecostals offer today. The Alexandrian idea of prophecy was the ability to collate disparate data such as thoughts, words, ideas, dreams, language etc., and make sense out of them. It goes beyond the mechanics of translating or interpreting. Prophecy looks for the meaning behind the words, not just the words themselves. Therefore, prophecy was considered one of the highest forms of Christian practice.

The Cyrillian texts are totally oblivious to any Montanist influence on the tongues doctrine. Nor were there any attempt to write about the need for a subsequent spirit baptism or counter any movements teaching such a proposition. Nor were the Alexandrians aware of a private prayer language.

The Catena on I Corinthians borrows many Greek keywords from the ancient Greek prophetic realm. Some of them new to the tongues debate. However, they are not used in a classical way. They have become Christianized by this period. For more information, see Notes on the Cyrillian catena on I Corinthians 14:10.

This conclusion may seem subtle and boring, but it took a laborious amount of work to achieve. The discovery of the actual texts themselves was a challenge. They were found only in the original Greek, and the publications they were found in posed difficulties. Comparative work between different texts was required. The Alexandrian Greek requires a slow translation process as this vernacular has some peculiarities and unique vocabulary. Then there is the challenge to make cohesive sense out of all of them. Anyone who has visited this site over the years will see the narration of the doctrine of tongues is the one that has taken the longest to achieve. It is not an easy task for such a big project.

The reader does not have to take these conclusions at face value either. The original Greek Cyrillian texts can be found at Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues: The Original Texts. Or one can read the English translations and come up with a personal conclusion by going to the Gift of Tongues Project and scrolling down to the Cyril of Alexandria Category and clicking on the translation links.

Notes on Translating Ambrosiaster’s Corinthians 12-14

The Ambrosiaster Manuscript: Notes on the English Translation of I Corinthians Chapters 12-14

The purpose of this translation was to bring background and definition to the gift of tongues sequences in the Ambrosiaster writer(s) commentary on Corinthians.

Because most people are unfamiliar with the Ambrosiaster writings and this is the only known online translation of the I Corinthians work in English, it was imperative to first introduce some notes and then move into commentary of his text.

1. The Goal of this Translation

The Ambrosiaster text has a number of key passages that ties in with Epiphanius’ description of the problems at Corinth. The references to the historic use of the gift of tongues by Ambrosiaster manuscript are brief but very important. It is critical that the translation and interpretation of the text must be understood within the context of Ambrosiaster manuscript as a whole. A familiarity with the author(s) style and intentions, acknowledgement of the historical background to the text and acceptable translation standards are also requirements in order for the conclusion to stand under critical inquiry.

2. The Ambrosiaster Manuscript from a Literary Perspective

The key to understanding the Ambrosiaster manuscript from 12:28 up to 14:30 was the polemic against personal ambition. One cannot achieve honour or merit before God by one’s status, achievements or human success.

The work also stressed equality between the classes. It taught that all are in possession of the gifts of God and it had nothing to do with ones social status. For example I Corinthians 14:30:

“That if it [any thing] would be a revelation to someone else who is sitting, the first is to be silent.” That is, [it is] preferable he is to allow for the one below [his status] in order that if he is able, he should speak. Not that it is to be done reluctantly, because the gift can be given also to that person. While he appears to be inferior because he has not been allowed for more useful things. For just as the whole cannot be parceled out in one, although better, it cannot be for some, however much inferior that nothing is being imparted [to them], for no one is devoid [of some type of gift] in the grace of God.

The work was written from a pastoral perspective to encourage and inspire the members of the Church. It is not intellectually deep nor a masterpiece of literary genius when compared to Augustine, Gregory Nazianzus, Thomas Aquinas or the like. On many occasions, it simply re-phrases Paul’s writing in contemporary terms of that time with little historical, social or theological reflection.

3. Problems with Authorship and Dating

Although the Ambrosiaster manuscript has its origins in the fourth century, the Latin style suggests that this is a later manuscript. There are some good clues that suggest this document is at least 8th century. First of all the work is also not built around a neo-platonic framework which was totally typical and expected in fourth century writings. Another clue relates to later Latin writers and translators of Greek texts. The grammatical style and word selection is very similar to that of Thomas Aquinas and not of the Venerable Bede or Augustine.

Gerald L. Bray in his Commentaries on Romans and 1-2 Corinthians By Ambrosiaster, touches greatly on this subject and concluded;

“Ambrosiaster’s commentary can be broken down into two, or possibly three, principal recensions. Untangling these can be a delicate task, because in later centuries there was a good deal of cross-pollination, as monastic copyists incorporated elements from different recensions into their own text. It is possible that Ambrosiaster left his work in a semipolished state, which was then touched up for publication by literary executors who smoothed out some of its rough edges and filled in material that was either missing from the manuscript(s) they had or that was felt to be needed in order to make sense of what Ambrosiaster wrote. But it is also possible that Ambrosiaster produced the different versions himself, perhaps with a variety of audiences in mind. The style of the shortest recension is lapidary to the point of obscurity, and in some ways is more like a series of lecture notes than a finished commentary. It is often difficult or impossible to know what Ambrosiaster meant, and the second and third recensions were trying to explain the obscurities of the shortest text. Sometimes they are genuinely helpful and illuminate the commentary, but there are places when later hands digressed from Ambrosiaster’s thought pattern and added material that is either irrelevant or contradictory.”1

From my perspective this work is an evolutionary one with its beginnings in 360 or so AD with many redactions, especially the 11th or 12th century, and the addition of Biblical verses put this version around the 14th.

For example, the writing in I Corinthians 14 makes an abrupt change. It starts with simplistic, get-to-the-point writing that is not so difficult to translate. When one reaches verse 30, it makes a strong shift. The translation difficulty increases substantially. It becomes wordy and shifts more into an Aquinas type of thought. I actually changed my approach to translating his commentary on Corinthians after 14:30 as a document akin to a Thomas Aquinas writing. There were too many parallels in style in form.

The text after 14:30 also appears to be fragmented. The train of thought seems to be interrupted and does not flow very well. This is not so much a problem of my English translation but a direct result of what appears to be editorial snippets pieced together by Latin redactors as some sort of mnemonic trigger.

Gerald Bray’s work and translation on Ambrosiaster is considered a definitive work and ought to be consulted in any research work on the subject.

Also Bray’s comment on the Ambrosiaster text being a heavily redacted one is an important note. The Ambrosiaster manuscript is not alone in this tradition. The Chronicon Paschale is a good example of this type of tradition where an original piece has been added to over the centuries. The 7th century or so Chronicon is based on Jerome’s writings, which are heavily influenced by Eusebius, and Eusebius owes much work to Africanus.

In my mind, this does not cause any problems of accuracy or legitimacy of the original manuscript. This is an evolutionary document that traces a line of thought throughout the centuries on the Christian faith as outlined in the Book of Corinthians. What we have today is a bona-fide manuscript at the endpoint in its own evolution.

It does however invite questions of authorship. No one knows who the original author was, nor the names of editors who expanded the text throughout the centuries. It may be best to simply reference this as the Ambrosiaster manuscript and not cite any author.

This work is not cited by the popular ancient Latin writers such as Augustine, Bede, Aquinas, etc., and at least within my readings so far, any Greek Patristic writer. If this manuscript was available to these ancient leaders, or it did circulate, the quality of this writing may have been dismissed by the above as a B-grade publication.

4. Bible Versions

It is obvious Ambrosiaster is working from different Bible than what has evolved into the Vulgate. Some have called it the Old Latin or the Itala version. Traditionally, when I come across a Biblical citation in a Latin commentary, I merely input the Douay-Rheims English translation instead of attempting to translate the Latin into English myself. However, because of the multitude of minor differences between this text and the Vulgate, it forced me to translate the Biblical texts entirely on almost every occasion.

Variant Latin Biblical texts are not uncommon to come across with Latin Patristic writers. There is no equivalent in Christian history that reflects the broad spectrum of differences that are contained in Latin Bible versions.

The goal of this translation is not to compare the citation of Biblical texts to any Greek or non-Latin sources. It is merely to translate what is written here and noting any difference from the Vulgate.

5. Some Translation Notes

The translation provided herein has only gone through two stages of the translation process. The first one is the direct translation from the Latin with some attention to English grammar and meaning. The second pass was to improve on the English meaning and grammar.

More time and energy could be spent on improving the flow in the English, and there are some passages that are problematic and may require a re-translation. Since the central focus of this work is to discover the background and meaning to the christian doctrine of tongues, efforts to complete this translation to a final level will not be considered, except for the passages relating to the gift.

It is still in a good stage for researchers to get a first look into the Ambrosiaster manuscript and decide whether to look into this text any further.

The use of the subjunctive is highly utilized. If anyone needs some experience in translating the Latin subjunctive, this is the writing to practice with. Some thoughts on the subjunctive in more detail can be found at the following article Latin and the Subjunctive.

This is the first time I have encountered the use of nominal sentences in Latin (a sentence lacking the verb esse ‘to be’ but the writer assumes the reader understands that it is inferentially there.)

The use of the pronoun “se” concerns me when translating Latin. This fear can be traced to my knowledge of French where se used in a pronominal sense alters the meaning of the verb. I don’t know if this rule applies to Latin, but if it does, I have missed it.

If there are colloquialisms in the text, I have probably missed them.

Translating the Gerundive. The gerundive appears quite frequently in this text and required some thoughtful attention. The conclusion to this journey can be found on a previous essay The Mysterious Latin Gerundive.

One must note the approach to some Latin keywords:

The translation of the Latin charitas. In our Reformation thinking, this is supposed to be translated into English as love. However, Ambrosiaster wrote well before the Reformation and did not think on these same lines. Love may arguably may be right but charity is a word that better reflects his intentions. Even if one disagrees with the contemporary Catholic teaching of the word, this is what they thought at that time. One cannot change that.

The reader must note that the English translation for lingua throughout the document is translated as language, which is a synonym for tongue. If one was to insert the word tongue every time the word language appears, it changes the nuance and it becomes a more mystical, undefined reality. However, this is not what the author(s) intended, so the translation remains as language. See the blog article: The Difference Between Language and Tongues for more details.

6. The Result of this Research as it relates to the doctrine of Tongues

The text was written in the imperfect tense when relating to the doctrine of tongues. The writer(s) approached it historically with no reference to any modern practice; it solely wanted to convey what Paul and the Corinthian congregation were thinking or doing. Unlike the coverage on prophecy, which does go into some detail, the gift of tongues never goes beyond Paul’s description.

The Ambrosiaster manuscript contains an important text on the role of tongues, the law and the influence of Hebrew in the early Church.

The Ambrosiaster commentary on I Corinthians 14:19:

(Vers. 19) “But in the Church,” it is said, “I wish to speak five words according to the law that I may also build up others than ten thousand words in a tongue.” He [Paul] says it to be more useful speaking in small words in the making of a speech in order that everyone should understand than to have a lengthy speech in obscurity. [Col. 270] These were from the Hebrew who at length in the Syrian language and for the most part by Hebrew women who were indulging in homilies or presentations for approval. For they were boasting calling themselves Jews according to the right of Abraham, that the same apostle held this to no account teaching, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14). Indeed these ones who are mimicking, they prefer to speak in their unknown language to the people in the Church which belongs to them.”

There a number of elements to address but the first one that captures the readers attention is the alternate Biblical text, “I wish to speak five words according to the law…” Normally this should read, “however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind…” (NASB). The NASB version more closely aligns with the Greek manuscripts than does the Ambrosiaster text.

Why the insertion of law instead of mind? One must be cognizant of the fact that the difference in Greek between law and mind is one letter νὸμον “law” and νόος “mind”. It would be easy to mix these two up by a copyist. However, this is not the only place where law is used. Epiphanius in his Against Haeresies text also acknowledged the use of this verse in a translation. More details on this can be found in the article, Epiphanius on the Problem Tongues of Corinth.

One assumption some may make by reading this text was that the Ambrosiaster writer(s) was of Jewish descent or influence, having understood a Judaic background to the Corinthian saga. As one reads through the text, one will discover that this is not the case. The author(s) had a narrow view of Judaism. For example, the commentary on I Corinthians 14:21 reads:

Thus one is able also to understand that because many of the Jews were spiteful and therefore it was not worthy to speak to them the Gospel in a revelation, that they spoke to them in parables, and therefore that it is not being shown to them who are the ones who understand because they were wicked neither also would they reform themselves. While the ones who have merit were benefitting themselves to hear the words of God by means of the the exposition.

As outlined in the commentary on I Corinthians 12:28, it did recognize the influence of Jewish custom on the early Church:

“Third teachers.” That he says the teachers who, since the epistles and the readings out loud [and traditions]*4* must be preserved in the Church, were giving the young men initial instruction in the custom of the synagogue because the tradition of these people, it was prepared to be brought over to us.

This was qualified to reduce the Jewish influence and demonstrate the Church had taken it over. The commentary on Corinthians 14:31 further opines:

(Vers. 31) “For you are all to prophecy by each one at a time, that all are to learn, and all are to be encouraged.” This tradition is of the Synagogue which he wishes us to continually follow because he is certainly writing to Christians but to those who have been reared Gentiles, not from the Jews. That the ones that remain are possibly debating, seniors with rank according to the throne, attending on the tribune’s seats, the most extraordinary on the pavement above the mats. If anyone would be [in] a revelation, the one that must be gifted is to receive in advance a designated place, neither one ought to be looked down upon, because they are the members of the body.”

It is clear from the above texts that the writer(s) were not Jewish and were scape-goating the ethnic Jews with whatever problems existed in the Church.

The Bible quotation by the Ambrosiaster writer(s) was not intended by them to be an exegesis of Jewish custom or practice but were simply citing a verse from their Bible, which in this case happened to be the Old Itala Latin version. The Ambrosiaster author(s) simply had not made any emendation or elucidation to the text.

The author(s) also had a much broader definition of what the law comprised. The author(s) believed Isaiah 28:11 (See his commentary on I Corinthians 14:21) to be part of the law. In some ancient Christian circles, the whole Bible canon was considered a legal text, which the Ambrosiaster manuscripts promoted as well.

For example, the commentary of I Corinthians 12:1 supplies an almost fundamentalist view of Bible interpretation:

So also the ones worshiping God, they are to exist with the form of the law of the Lord, these ones march as if it is to be pleasing with the Lord. In fact the form of every piece of the law ought to appear in the occupation and the behaviour of the worshiper.”

The Ambrosiaster text suggested that the problem of the Corinthians tongues was that of women speaking in Aramaic in a predominately Greek based church.

The conclusion of Hebrew women speaking in Aramaic is only referenced historically. It does not use this as an example for how the office of the gift of tongues was to be used in the Church.

The author(s) believed that since an outside party, ie: the Jews, had introduced this problem, it was not reflective with their perception of the true Church, its community and what it really practiced.

This is the only historical reference made to the gift of tongues. The practical interpretation the author(s) promoted for their own interpretation and application was different. For example, the commentary found at I Cor. 14:27 demonstrated a total lack of recognition regarding the historical aspect and delves into understanding the text from a literal-simplistic perspective:

(Vers. 27) If any speaks in a language, by two, or at the most three and specifically that one shall interpret,” This is, two or three and no more are to be speaking in languages but one at a time, not each at the same time. Lest they were to appear to be insane. “at the most three.” Lest the ones speaking in languages and their translations were to occupy the day and prophets do not have the time explaining the Scriptures which they are illuminators of the whole Church.

As one can immediately see, there is not much added by the Ambrosiaster writer(s) to the Pauline text on tongues. There is no practical application or demonstration of how the Pauline text on tongues influenced or was applied in their contemporary Church worship.

The author(s) do not see the need to explain why so many people were permitted to speak at once or any antecedents that led to this type of practice.

The manuscript does delve into Paul’s address about tongues. Here are some highlights, though there are more:

Chapter 12:28 “”Kinds of languages”. That the gift of God is to know many languages. “Interpretation of words.” When this is granted to some by the grace of God that he has the expertise of languages which require translations.”

Chapter 13:9-10 “In fact who can do it that can grasp all the human languages, is that of God?”

Chapter 14:10-11 “Certainly he does not teach it being desirous that in turns they be seen with each other by a foreign language of a barbarian.”

It is clear that the Ambrosiaster writer(s) believed the tongues of Corinth to be actual foreign languages. There was nothing mystical in their minds.

Chapter 14 (Vers. 22) Therefore languages they are as a sign.” This is, the words of God have been concealed by a veil of unknown languages, nor do they appear by deceit, and when the unknown languages are being heard, it is to be a sign, because it was made on account of faithlessness, lest the ones hearing are to understand. “By all means it is not for those who believe, but for the non-believers.” [Col. 271] This is what he said, because they go on in languages to the unbeliever for the purpose of hiding the meanings.

The writer(s) here in 14:22 fail to distinguish who is a believer and unbeliever. Why would someone speak in a foreign tongue to a pagan Roman or a Barbarian? What would this benefit the Christian cause? They failed to answer this critical question.

Chapter 14 (Vers. 26) “What is it then brothers? When you come together each one of you has a song.” That is they are speaking praise to God through song.” He has a teaching.” This is, he has a narration of the meaning by spiritual wisdom. “He has a revelation.” That is, prophecy regarding the hidden things by the agency of the holy Spirit is a basis for discussion which reaches to the mind of every person. “He has a language.” That those who were able to speak in a language, they were not to be discouraged, he permitted them to speak in languages. Still yet interpretation was to follow. He therefore says, “He has an interpretation.” That if an interpreter was to be present, a spot was to be given belonging to those preparing to speak in languages.”

The idea that the gift of tongues in Corinth was the speaking of a foreign language was not new to the Ambrosiaster writer(s). This was typical of ecclesiastical tradition.

7. The Ambrosiaster Manuscript on the role of Prophecy

The Ambrosiaster writer(s), along with Thomas Aquinas, spends far more time with the function and definition of prophecy than defining the literary problems of tongues in I Corinthians 14.

The office of the prophet is kept completely separate and distinct from the gift of tongues.

8. Disclaimers

The nuances of anti-semitism and the role of women in this composition do not reflect my own personal opinions. Nor is this translation meant to be a vehicle to promote such knowledge. It is submitted to the reader that this attitude should not be accepted or promoted. The reader should always be aware that the ancient Christian writers were susceptible to the influences of their time, whether good or bad, just like anyone else and it should be read with a watchful eye.

This has not been reviewed or approved by an experienced or reputable authority. Use the translation at your own risk. Also, this translation can change without notice.

9. The Actual Translations and Latin Original