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MEDIEVAL-RELIGION  February 2003

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION February 2003

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Subject:

Re: The meaning of feet

From:

Dennis Martin <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 23 Feb 2003 19:09:07 -0600

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medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

The comment made in passing in a previous post, as cited below, goes too far, my view.  Jean Carmignac, a leading Dead Sea Scrolls expert, as an experiment, in 1963 started translating Mark from Greek back into Hebrew and was surprised to discover that its Greek text obscures a large number of Semitisms, word-plays etc. that make sense in Hebrew/Aramaic but not in Greek.  He believed that this suggests it may have been originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic.  Carmignac argued that both Matthew and Mark and the document base for Luke were originally in Hebrew or Aramaic.  Claude Tresmontant has made a case for an original Hebrew version of John as well.  Their work has generally been ignored by experts in the field, as has that of John A. T. Robinson.  It would require a complete reassessment of the dates of the writing of the gospels (moving them much earlier) and of the Markan priority hypothesis.

Quite apart from these two scholars, the most ancient external evidence for the gospels (Hegisippus, Tatian etc.) as recorded by Irenaeus and Eusebius claim that Matthew was originally written in Hebrew.  This and similar external evidence from tradition has usually been set aside in favor of arguments for sequence and dating (the Synoptic Problem) drawn entirely from internal evidence.

One does not need to accept Carmignac, Tresmontant and Robinson to say at least that one cannot say confidently that it is unlikely the authors of the gospels knew Hebrew.  Given the origin of Christianity squarely within an Aramaic-Hebrew culture, one that interacted, of course, with Hellenized Jews, but nonetheless had its own integrity  (note the conflict between the Hebrew and Hellenistic Christians in the early chapters of the Acts of the Apostles--if the Hellenistic party had dominated, there would have been no conflict--each party must have had a fairly well-developed self-consciousness), it would be very unlikely that none of the authors of the gospels knew any Hebrew, unless, one assumes very late composition dates, after 70 AD and later.  But that view was characteristic of the 19th century through the mid-20thc guild of Scripture scholars.  I think those very late 1st century and early 2nd century datings for all the Gospels really are now passe, quite apart from the more recent claims for very early datings.

To sum up: a priori one would expect at least some of the gospel writers to know some Hebrew/Aramaic; the external evidence and a good bit of internal evidence for at least some of the gospels supports that.  One need not accept Carmignac and Tresmontant to recognize at least some Jewish/Aramaic content in some of the Gospels--the occasional Aramaic words that appear and have to be translated for a Greek readership could, of course, have been sprinkled into the text by someone who learned them by rote--but why?

I speak as an outsider to the guild of scripture experts but I do think one can attempt to summarize the broad trends based on basic principles of historical  evidence evaluation.  One of the problems of the highly specialized field of scripture studies is that, from within it, one tends to lose sight of more basic questions of historical method: internal versus external evidence and so forth.  Because the field is highly charged with significance both for believers in Christianity and unbelievers and because it is so highly developed and specialized, its practitioners face a constant temptation to lose sight of the forest for the trees.

I hope it is clear from what I have written that I am not making a brief for Carmignac, Robinson, or Tresmontant, merely suggesting that their theses and arguments must be included in the mix.

Dennis Martin

>>> [log in to unmask] 02/21/03 10:30AM >>>
medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

It's not at all clear that the writers of the gospels even knew Hebrew, but
rather would have known the scriptures in Greek translations.


-- Mary Suydam

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