Sappho Papyrus on Display

I happen to be in New York this week; and I plan to get to the Morgan library to see a fabulous display of items on loan from the Bodleian Library of Oxford; including an 1800-year-old fragmentary papyrus of  Sappho’s hymn to Aphrodite. If you want to study the poem before going to the exhibit, Sean Palmer has compiled a very helpful page of the Complete Poems of Sappho that have survived, with Greek Text and English translation.

Dan Wallace Reviews the NIV 2011

OK, I’m a year behind, but I’ve never been accused of timeliness.  The four-part review is very thorough.  This link is to the first of 4 posts, which also includes the links to the rest of the series.

New Fragment of Mark

Thanks to my colleague Wes for passing on this link:

One of my students asked me about this.  I’m trying to catch up with my students.

Hebrew Language

I have been very interested in our discussions of families of languages. I didn’t realize that other empires , besides Rome, had ruled with particular languages that were uniform throughout their empire. As we have discussed the Hebrew alphabet, the written characters actually come from the Babylonian captivity when Aramaic was the ruling language of the empire. The Hebrews in captivity learned Aramaic and then used the characters to express written Hebrew.

This has challenged (maybe?) what I have assumed are major reasons that Jesus came into the world at the time and place that he did. I thought that having a standard of Greek across the Roman Empire was of vital importance to the timing of the Messiah. In addition to the Pax Romana, (Roman Peace), having a language with which the gospel could spread across the Roman Empire seemed to a primary reason to send Christ at this time.

Has a “lingua franca” been a common theme in history? I know that Latin was a scholarly “lingua franca” that allowed the scholors of the earlier church to freely communicate and interact with each others work.

On a side note, does having a ruling language seem in any way to parallel the Tower of Babel story? People desiring power and god-like status to accelerate their power growth with the ability to communicate without hinderance? Just a thought…

Back to learning the shema…


How I Make My Wife Sick…

I have actually already learned Hebrew.  At least, I can read it well enough.  My teacher thought that my only purpose was to read, while my purpose was simply to learn the language.  I wish I could speak it.  Were I taught to speak it, reading it would be a piece of cake.

I started with foreign languages in high school Spanish.  That was easy enough.  Then one summer, I learned Quenya.  It’s a language created by J.R.R. Tolkien that uses an abugida—a system of consonant signs (tengwar) with vowel and other modifying marks (tehtar).  The concept of vowel marks wasn’t foreign to me when I started Hebrew.  The only differences were the direction that you read and write, and that Hebrew is an abjad—you can leave the vowel marks out, and it’s still correct.

The fact that Hebrew words are built from three-letter roots, and several words can be made from the same root, reveals certain things that would be connected in the Hebrew mind.  “Knee” and “bless” (BRK)—you might kneel before someone who blesses you.  “Cattle” and “morning” (BKR)—you milk the cows in the morning.  Though I was once criticized for connecting the DBR words “word/speak” and “desert”.  Wouldn’t a Jew think about God speaking to them in the desert?

I love the way they use repetition.  King of Kings and Holy of Holies—fantastic constructs.  There are a few phrases that seem redundant to us, but to them it just means that it’s intense.  “You will die dying” or “He has triumphed triumphantly”.  I love how vivid it sounds.

And then, there is the infamous tetragrammaton.  YHWH.  The personal name of God.  So sacred, that eventually the Jews stopped saying it, pronouncing it “Adonay” or “Elohiym” instead.  They added vowel points to it differentiate which one it should be, and these words were later transliterated “Jehovah” or the much, much rarer “Jehovih”.  Eventually, our English Bibles printed the words “Lord” or “God”, and sometimes “Lord God,” “Lord God”, or even, “Lord God” (copied these over from Word, Firefox dropped their smallcaps… whoops).  Somewhere along the way, everyone forgot how to say “YHWH”.


I have never actually looked at the Hebrew language in any detail before this class. What immediately struck me about the language/aleph bet was that I would have to change or should I say struggle to change my lifelong training of reading from left to right. And for a 57 year old graduate student who is your stereotypical we “ain’t done it that way before” preacher it has definitely stretched me. As a matter of fact a lot has already stretched me in this class. I hate to admit it, but it is good. There I said it.

And just today, this Sunday afternoon it struck me that yes it is important to study the history of the text you are reading. And as so many of you have said, to deeply look into the text is not so much to question the text as to its truth, but to question your own preconceived notions of what it says. Your questioning may reinforce what you already believed, but it also may open a new light on what you have always believed it said.

Now what does that have to do with the Hebrew language? As I learned in a previous class I took at Lincoln our language is probably the largest window into our culture and our minds that we can examine. When you look at the Hebrew language and its aleph bet and study its history and origins you can see how it arrived on the pages of the Old Testament from civilizations and cultures long past. You can see how words came to describe what people thought of their world and how those words then were used to describe what ultimately is found on the pages of scripture. Many of these words arrived from other civilizations.

The result seems to me to follow if you want to understand the meaning of a text of the Old Testament to its fullest there must be some understanding of the language it was written. This language of Hebrew seems at first to be simple in its basic three letter format yet from these three letters spring a variety of richness that exhibits God’s complexity. This finally struck me in the chapter on Nahum when the author described that Nahum comes from a Hebrew verb that means to comfort or have compassion. And from that came Nehemiah (Yahweh is comfort). It doesn’t surprise me that God would have chosen a language that grows from three letters (is it a stretch to think Trinity here) into such a diverse means of communication.

Hebrew Jonah Comic

I thought I posted this link earlier, but maybe that was on another blog.  The animated Hebrew Jonah Comic strip is a terrific tool for learning Hebrew.  You have to download Shockwave to run it, but you only have to do that once.  You can then play the comic strip online or download it.

The cartoons include sound, and the letters can be displayed in printed Hebrew, cursive,  or archaic script.  In addition, you can display a translation at the bottom of the page in any of several languages.