Thursday, July 30, 2009

PaleoBabble


PaleoBabble



Posted: 30 Jul 2009 10:16 AM PDT
I’ve had a couple of readers and friends email me the YouTube gem. I can’t say it’s as ridiculous as the previous paleo-pile of pulpit dreck, but it’s a doozy. I hate to ask anyone to waste the next 4:13 of their life watching it, but what follows won’t be comprehensible unless you do. So please forgive me.

I’m in an industry that is deeply involved in Bible study and the study of the ancient world. I devoted nearly 20 years to the formal study of biblical Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, and a handful of other ancient languages on the way to my PhD in Hebrew and Semitic studies. I’m therefore sympathetic to people who want to read the Bible with more discernment and comprehension, and for those who are in vocational ministry. I’m also no fan of Barack Obama, as readers of my personal blog know. Barack Obama is not the antichrist. One of his two (!) biographies (Dreams of My Father) tells you what he is in his own words: an African colonialist Marxist. It isn’t hard for anyone who reads what he says about himself and then filters what’s in his speeches through his biographical material. The problem is that most people don’t want to believe it, not that the president is hiding anything.
All caveats aside, the person who made this video should be removed from any public teaching about anything that makes use of biblical languages or that is beyond devotional Bible study. He simply knows nothing about what he’s talking about. It’s a shame to see the biblical text mishandled so badly. It’s absolutely inept.Part of the problem, though, is the tools he is using for his “analysis” - bottom level biblical study resources, not what anyone trained in the languages should be using. But that’s just it; he apparently has no training in the languages, or has forgotten any course he ever took.
Why do I say these things? Here we go.
1. The speaker presumes that Jesus originally spoke Luke 10:18 in Aramaic. We don’t actually know that. Yes, Aramaic was the common language among Jews of first century Palestine, but Jesus and the disciples were at least bilingual (speaking Greek as well, the lingua franca of the Mediterranean at the time) and Jesus was also trilingual (he knew Hebrew well enough to quote the Hebrew Masoretic text on occasion; at least that is what the gospel writers have him doing).1 But the fact remains that we don’t know what language Jesus was speaking on this occasion because we weren’t there and no one who was there had a tape recorder. But this is the least of the speaker’s problems.
2. Incredibly, the speaker doesn’t realize that Hebrew and Aramaic are not the same language. In a textbook example of why YouTube ought to have some sort of peer review (read: a cluelessness filter), the speaker says Aramaic is “the most ancient form of Hebrew” (it’s at 0:31). Pardon me, pastor (making a hopefully erroneous assumption there), but Aramaic is not Hebrew. It’s…uh…Aramaic. Perhaps the speaker was thinking that Aramaic and Hebrew use the same script (letter style). If so, let me point out that just because two (or more) languages might use the same script (font in our modern parlance) does not mean they are the same language! For example, Spanish and English use the same letter shapes/script/font; they are not the same language! Hebrew adopted the Aramaic script (the so-called “block” letter script still used today) after it went into exile in Babylon in the sixth century BC (and Aramaic had earlier displaced Akkadian / Assyrian as the dominant language of Mesopotamia). Aramaic and Hebrew are part of the same language class and sub-class. A quick use of Wikipedia (no graduate degree required) would have informed the speaker of that (and clued him in to the fact that Aramaic and Hebrew are not the same language). I don’t normally recommend Wikipedia (but it’s a step up from this video), but here’s a useful paragraph from the entry on “Aramaic”:
Aramaic belongs to the Afro-Asiatic language family. Within that diverse family, it belongs to the Semitic subfamily. Aramaic is a part of the Northwest Semitic group of languages, which also includes the Canaanite languages such as Hebrew and Phoenician. Aramaic script was widely adopted for other languages, and is ancestral to the Arabic and Hebrew alphabets.
3. Now, you might be thinking, “Okay Mike, he didn’t know Hebrew and Aramaic weren’t the same language, but he still knows Hebrew pretty well - just listen!” Well, prepare for another disappointment. In what follows he shows that he doesn’t even know the Hebrew alphabet. (Just between us, but if you’re ever planning on doing any Bible teaching involving the biblical languages, it’s a good idea to at least know the alphabet).
The speaker clearly says that Jesus would have uttered the words of Luke 10:18 “in Hebrew” (0:50) and then goes on to focus on the words for “lightning” and “heights”/”heavens”. The word for “lightning” in Hebrew, we are told, is “barawk,” sounding suspiciously like the president’s name (Barack). Unfortunately for the speaker, the word for “lightning” in Hebrew isn’t spelled with the consonants b-r-k (Hebrew originally had no vowels, so it’s the consonants that matter here). It’s spelled b-r-q. In Hebrew, the “k” (letter name: kaph) is an entirely different letter than “q” (letter name: qoph). The root consonants b-r-k mean “blessing” as a noun, “blessed” as an adjective, and “to bless” when a verb form is in view. Here are the two words and their respective dictionary entries from Halladay’s Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon:

It is crucial that, even if you cannot read Hebrew, you notice that these words have DIFFERENT final letters (Hebrew is read right-to-left). I’ve noted the confused letters in respective colors, along with the meanings of the words to show that the speaker is giving his listeners misinformed nonsense. “Lightning” in Hebrew is b-r-q, plain and simple. A “q” is not a “k”, in English or Hebrew. They must not be treated as though they are.
That Barack Obama’s first name (in Arabic) means “blessing” (and not “lightning”) has been noted many times. Here’s one example. But what if this is all (typing in hushed tones now) a conspiracy! What if “Barack” doesn’t REALLY mean “blessing” in Arabic! What if Obama’s evil henchmen (granted, he has a bunch of those) have duped the public into not knowing his name really means “lightning” and Jesus really did identify him as the antichrist (which misreads the passage anyway, but we’ll get to that)? Yeah, and what if Cheerios are really made of plutonium and are poisoning our kids ever so slowly. You never know.
Sorry, this line of incoherence doesn’t work either. Below I have both words’ dictionary entries from a more comprehensive (read: scholarly) biblical Hebrew dictionary: The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the OT (HALOT). HALOT is the undustry-standard tool for all biblical Hebrew scholarship. Resources like HALOT, unlike English-based, inferior, outdated resources like the speaker uses (Strong’s Concordance) typically provide the user with the equivalent term in a range of Semitic languages. HALOT gives us the Arabic word that corresponds to Hebrew b-r-q (”lightning”), along with other languages like Old South Arabian, Egyptian Aramaic, Ugaritic, Jewish Aramaic, etc. Notice that I have turned on the pop-out windows in my electronic version of HALOT to show the “ARABIC” abbreviation and its source (a scholarly Arabic lexicon). Below that entry I have the Hebrew word b-r-k (”blessing”/”bless”). Note also the spelling - the one with the “q” on the end is lightning, not the other way around. The one with the “k” also has an Arabic equivalent for “blessing”/”bless”. Arabic and Hebrew are consistent here.


How could the speaker make such a mistake? The answer is in his resource: Strong’s Concordance and it’s extraordinarily simplistic (and often erroneous) dictionary. Now, I once used a Strong’s and loved it. I was a teenager, and after reading the Bible through once, I decided I needed some other tool to help me get more out of it. A friend recommended Strong’s. I outgrew it in a couple of years, and eventually went on to study the biblical languages for real. At that point, you realize that there are a number of other more comprehensive and accurate resources. The problem is, you have to know at least the alphabet to use them, whereas with Strong’s, you need only know English.2As you watch the video, we see the picture below (my words added in blue), where b-r-q is transliterated WRONGLY with a “q” instead of a “k” (the more scholarly lexicons I showed you above have it right):

This error was corrected in the revision of Strongs (note the b-r-q [baraq] spelling) alongside the older, incorrect transliteration:

The vowel transliterations are also wrong, but that isn’t so important here. Strong is just trying to give the reader a rough pronunciation. The real issue is the consonants.
This confusion is a good example of why Strong’s gives someone enough knowledge to be dangerous, and why it is no substitute for actually knowing Hebrew (or at least the alphabet).
4. The speaker then goes to Isaiah 14, and plainly says that it is “LUCIFER” that falls from the heights.3 The word “heights”, we are told, is “bamah”. Again, the hearer is supposed to think “Obama” when he / she hears “bamah”, and then combine that to think “barack obama”. Some fairly obvious problems shouold be apparent to those at least modestly acquainted with the Bible. Last time I checked, the antichrist and Lucifer were not the same person. Revelation 20:10 makes that explicitly clear:
and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
The beast, of course, is the antichrist in the Bible, the one whose number is 666 (cf. Rev. 13:18). In Rev. 10:10, they are separate figures thrown into the lake of fire. This means that Isaiah 14:12, the passage used by the speaker, has nothing to do with the antichrist, since it is Lucifer (the devil) who is thrown out of the heights. Same goes for Luke 10:18. It is the devil who is cast out “like lightning”, not the antichrist. And it is nonsensical to translate Luke 10:18 something like “And I saw the devil cast out like the antichrist.”
5. Regarding the “heights,” the Hebrew word in the text is actually bamot (a plural), but it does come from “bamah”. I wonder what happened to the “O” in “Obama”? Didn’t Jesus know there would be an “O” in the future antichrist’s last name? Or maybe Isaiah was the dunce. This is a classic example of the incredibly shoddy intellectual trajectory: “hey, the sounds are the same between that word in one language, and another word in another language — they must be pointing to the same thing.” Yeah. Just like Greek gune (pronounced “goonay”) is the same as English “goony” (the Greek word means “woman” - now go give that piece of exegesis to your wife or girlfriend). Just like Greek kurios is the same as English curious (kurios means “lord”). Or maybe like Hebrew kar (”pasture”; Isa 30:23) is equivalent to English “car”. There are literally hundreds of these sorts of false equivalences between any two languages. Here’s the point: a sound or group of sounds in Hebrew (or any other language) does not have the same meaning as the same combination of sounds in English. This ought to be self-evident, but I guess it’s not.
6. Also on the “heights”, the “heights” in Isaiah 14 were the place where God lives. There is nothing sinister about the term in this passage. Hence using it to draw attention to the antichrist (Barack Obama to the speaker) is utter nonsense. Logic, please. (PLEASE!!)
7. Luke 10:18 actually points to an event in Jesus’ own lifetime. He is announcing that the kingdom of God has been inaugurated on earth at the beginning of his ministry. This is why the very next verse talks about Jesus giving authority over the enemy and the spirits being subject to his disciples. There’s a ton of scholarly (i.e., not amateurish) material written on this subject. This inauguration of the kingdom may or may not be taken as the final fruition of the kingdom (i.e., you can still have a millennial kingdom on earth after this - the final installation of the kingdom - or not, if one is an amillennialist; that’s a subject for a different blog). Luke 10:18 isn’t about a future antichrist. It’s about the present kingship of Jesus over the evil one(s).
I could go on, but this should suffice. My brain is starting to hurt and my spirits starting to sag. God help us all if this is the kind of “Bible analysis” that people get from the pulpit on any given Sunday.
  1. A side note: most of the time the Old Testament is quoted in the New Testament it is the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, that is quoted.
  2. This gap in resources between the scholar and the non-specialist is one reason why the company I work for (Logos Bible Software) has pioneered something called reverse interlinears. They allow you (in the digital world) to start with English and link to the very best resources in the biblical languages (without having to know those languages). Creating one of those requires hand-linking each word of a given English translation to the Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic word from whence the translation came. I’ve personally created two Old Testaments that way, and one New Testament. It takes eight months for me to do an OT and 100 days for a NT. They aren’t a perfect substitute for actually knowing the languages, but they are light years better than what’s currently out there. We’re trying to be part of the solution, not the problem.
  3. The name “Lucifer” is contrived. It is a Latin translation of the Hebrew phrase “Shining One” that occurs here.
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