Category Archives: Biblical Studies

מֵימְרָא/דָּבַר vs. λόγος

Are the Semitic religious concept of the Word (מֵימְרָא/דָּבַר) and the Greek philosophical concept of the Logos (λόγος) – all three literally translatable as “Word” – interchangeable?  We seem to get the impression from John chapter 1 that they are… but is the Greek “Logos” what was meant in that Gospel’s use of the word λόγος?  It has been argued more often in the affirmative[1], but also in the negative.

In Hebraic thought, Thorleif Boman notes:

‘True being’ for the Hebrews is the ‘word,’ דָּבַר, which comprises all Hebraic entities: word, deed, and concrete object….  Since the Word is connected with its accomplishment, דָּבַר could be translated ‘Effective Word’ (Tatwort in German); our term ‘Word’ is thus a poor translation for the Hebrew דָּבַר, because for us ‘word’ (wort) never includes the deed within it.[2]

He lauds Goethe for being “on solid linguistic ground” with his translation of John 1:1 in Faust for rendering the word λόγος (assuming he worked from the Greek text) as “Tat,”[3] thus:

Im Anfang war die Tat.

(tr. “In the beginning was the Deed”).[4]

It is worth noting that the Aramaic of John uses a different word – ܡܶܠܬ݂ܳܐ (Miltha), which means “Word, Manifestation, Instance, or Substance.”[5]  The range of meaning is virtually identical between the two.

The Targumim offer an insight into the meaning of מֵימְרָא. The word has a special usage as a substitute for the ineffable Covenant Name of G-d.  Genesis 3:8, in Hebrew, reads, in part:

…. וַֽיִּשְׁמְע֞וּ אֶת־קֹ֨ול יְהוָ֧ה אֱלֹהִ֛ים

And they heard the voice of HaShem G-d….

There is an Aramaic rendering, in Targum Onqelos, Targum Yonatan, and Targum Neofiti, which reads a bit differently:

…. וֻשמַעוּ יָת קָל מֵימְרָא

And they heard voice of the Memra….

We see here that מֵימְרָא is used as a representation for Hashem in Aramaic, just as λόγος does in the Greek of John 1:1ff.

But… does this align with the concept of λόγος in Greek philosophy?  An examination of that concept will aid in making that determination.

In Greek, nouns derive from verbal roots, and the root of  λόγος (word) is the verb λέγω (I speak). Passow notes that the basic meaning of λεγ- is “to put together in order, arrange,” thus “the word not according to its external form, but with respect to the ideas attaching to the form.”[6]  This Greek concept seems to lack the Semitic concept found in the idea of מֵימְרָא/דָּבַר of an adjoined concrete deed.

The classical definition of the term λόγος, dating back to Heraclitis (6th century BCE) is “the rationality in the human mind which seeks to attain universal understanding and harmony.”[7]  This is certainly not what John 1:1 is referencing.

Boman and Bultmann, independently of one another, both assert that the Hebraic conception of “the Word” is the opposite of the Greek conception,[8] and the present author stands in agreement with them.  The religious מֵימְרָא/דָּבַר and secular λόγος most certainly constitute a clash between the set apart and the ordinary, the holy and the worldly – opposites indeed.

_____

  1. E.g., Stephen L. Harris, Understanding the Bible (Palo Alto: Mayfield, 1985), 302-310.
  2. Thorleif Boman, Das hebräische Denken im Vergleich mit dem griechischen (2nd ed.; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1960; orig. 1954), 56, 66.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust: Eine Tragödie (1808), Part I, Scene 1.
  5. Andrew Gabriel Roth, Aramaic English New Testament (Jerusalem: Netzari Press, 2012), 232fn2.
  6. s.v. λόγος, in Franz Passow, Handwörterbuch der griechischen Sprache (Leipzig: F. C. W. Vogel, 1931), vol. II: 57-59; cp. s.v. λόγος, Émile Boisacq, Dictionnaire Étymologique de la Langue Grecque (4th ed.; Heidelberg: B & W. O. Bloch & W. von Wartburg, 1950; orig. Paris: Klincksieck, 1938).
  7. “Logos,” PBS Faith & Reason (online: http://pbs.org)
  8. Boman, op. cit., 58f.; Rudolph Bultmann, “Der Begriff des Wortes Gottes im Neuen Testament,” in Ernst Lohmeyer, ed. Deutsche Theologie III (Göttingen, 1931), 14-23.
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Hooked on Pharaonics: Moshe in Royal Egyptian Context

The two leading theories for the dating of Moshe’s life are based on differing understandings as to the date of the Exodus.  The “early date” of 1446/7 BCE is based on 1 Kings 6:1 and the math it presents, while the “late date” of 1270 BCE is built on the mention of a city called Ramses (a 13th Century BCE Pharaoh).  As I personally lean more to the early date, I will flesh out for my readers the dynamics of the pharaonic relationships surrounding Moshe in an 18th Dynasty context.

Thutmose IIf the early date is correct, the Pharaoh at the time of Moshe’s birth is 18th Dynasty Pharaoh Thutmose I, pictured at right, who reigned 1526 (the year of Moshe’s birth) to 1513 BCE. This is going to sound like the script from a soap opera, but the royal Egyptian histories, combined with the archaeological finds of the last 110 years, validate this pharaonic genealogy.  Thutmose I was a general of no blood relation to the previous pharaoh who had served under his predecessor Amenhotep I, who had no male children (heirs to the throne).  Thutmose I had two known children: a daughter with his primary wife Ahmose (the daughter of the previous pharaoh Amenhotep I) and a son, Thutmose II, born of a harem-wife Mutnofret.

Hatshepsut Metropolitan NY Nov-2005 0763The daughter’s name — Hatshepsut — was unknown until very recently, when her tomb was discovered by archaeologist Howard Carter in 1906.  By early dating, she would be the daughter mentioned in Shemot (Exodus) 2:5, who found Moshe’s “ark” when she went to the Nile to bathe, and who appointed Moshe’s birth-mother as his nurse-maid.  Hatshepsut, depicted at left, is a fascinating figure in Egyptian history.  As the child of Thutmose I with his primary wife, she was groomed to be his successor to the throne, even though she was a female in a male-dominant culture.  She likely would have been the next “pharaoh” (the feminine form would actually be “terra” in Middle Egyptian) were it not for the jealousy of her half-brother Thutmose II.  His only path to the throne was to take Hatshepsut as his primary wife, which would reduce her from heir-apparent (queen-regnant) to a queen-consort.  This is, in fact, what occurred, and she bore Thutmose II a daughter named Neferure.  Thutmose II was very ill most of his life, however, and so his reign was short-lived.  He died in 1504 BCE, leaving his 29-year-old widow Hatshepsut to co-rule the Egyptian kingdom alongside her step-son Thutmose III, the son born to Thutmose II by his harem-wife Iset.  They would serve a co-pharaohs the next 22 years, until her death in 1483 BCE.  It was recently discovered by Egyptian minister of antiquities Zahi Hawas that Hatshepsut’s death was most likely not natural, given the evidence of blunt trauma to her skull at the moment of her death, and it is surmised that at the other end of the instrument was the hand of her step-son Thutmose III, a ruthless tyrant whose desire to reign alone was well-known.

Thutmose IIIHatshepsut’s name was, at some point, perhaps even during the solitary-reign of Thumose III (shown at right) obliterated from all Egyptian records and erased from the kingdom’s history, never to be recovered until nearly 3400 years later.  Thutmose III would have been the step-brother of Moshe, Hatshepsut’s adopted son.  The fact that he most likely murdered Moshe’s Egyptian surrogate-mother might have been a cause of tension between the two.  Thutmose III ruled the Egyptian kingdom another 33 years after Hatshepsut’s death, finally passing the throne on to his son Amenhotep II in 1450 BCE… just 3 or 4 years before the Exodus (by early date reckoning).

Amenhotep IIIf Amenhotep II, shown at left, is the Pharaoh of the Exodus, which by this reckoning he would be… is it any wonder that Moshe would  be reluctant to address the son of the man who had more motive than anyone, not to mention the means and ample opportunity, to have acted as the assassin of his adoptive mother Hatshepsut?  Even at 80 years of age, Moshe (proclaimed in Hebrews to be a skilled speaker) did not wish to associate with the pharaoh.  When Israel was under persecution in Egypt, Moshe disavowed his identity as “the son of Pharaoh’s daughter,” preferring to receive the same treatment as his Hebrew brethren (Hebrews 11:24-26).

Amenhotep II was known as a charioteer.  An ancient relief (right) exists depicting him in a royal Amenhotep II charioteerhorse-drawn chariot of the style likely to have been in view in the events of Shemot 14 and 15.  The sticky wicket with this timeline is that Amenhotep II, according to Egyptian chronology, seems to reign from 1450 BCE to 1424 BCE… which would have him surviving the Reed Sea Crossing.  Dr. William Shea, Ph.D., argues convincingly that there is a strong likelihood that two successive pharaohs are actually conflated into one figure in the Egyptian historiography.  He suggested in a 2008 article that Amenhotep IIA perished in the Reed Sea, and that his successor, dubbed Amenhotep IIB, harbored a strong animosity against the Hebrews due to the demise of his predecessor.  This is recorded in an inscription attributable to Amenhotep IIB, based on dating, in which a searing hatred of the Hebrews is evident even in their absence from the kingdom.  A reference warning against “magicians” could target Moshe, whose performance of miracles put the magicians of Egypt to shame (Shemot 7).  See also Bryant G. Wood’s 2009 article.

The clincher is that the mummy of Amenhotep II is not the correct age to be Amenhotep II if A & B are the same pharaoh.  dream stele of Thutmose IVHe has to be a son of Amenhotep IIA.  Also, the Dream Stele (left) written by Amenhotep II’s son Thutmose IV expresses that he dreamed he would be pharaoh, a position he never expected to have.  Why would he, son of a pharaoh, not expect to succeed him?  This would be expected if he was not the first son.  If Amenhotep IIA had another son before Thutmose IV, or perhaps even more than one son ahead of him in line for the throne, something would have to happen to every son before him that would remove them from the heir-apparent position before they could take the throne… such as the death of all the firstborn sons of Egypt including Pharaoh’s (Shemot 12:29).  This would have claimed not only the firstborn son of Amenhotep IIA, but also of his second son Amenhotep IIB, leaving no heir for the second Amenhotep II except his younger brother, unlikely candidate Thutmose IV.

Sources

  • Carroll, Scott T.  Course lectures.  HIS-113: World Civilization.  Grand Rapids, Mich.: Cornerstone University, Fall 2007.
  • Discovery Channel.  (July 2007).  “Secrets of Egypt’s Lost Queen.” (online).
  • Redford, Donald B.  Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times.  Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992.
  • Shea, William.  (2008).  “Amenhotep II as Pharaoh of the Exodus.” Bible and Spade 16: 41– 51. (online).
  • Thutmose IV.  Dream Stele.  Giza, Egypt.
  • Woods, Bryant G.  (2009).  “Recent Research on the Date and Setting of the Exodus.” Bible and Spade 21:4 (online).

Kefa’s Vision in Acts 10: A Genre-Sensitive Analysis

acts 10 visionDid HaShem really mean for Kefa (Peter) to eat monkeys, vultures, and venomous cobras when He showed him the vision of Acts 10?  There is a phenomenon in Scripture that evades many who understand that passage as an abrogation of Torah (esp. of Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14) and the Prophets (e.g. Isaiah 66:17). It is a literary device which has precedent apart from that passage (as well as within it).  That phenomenon is the Hebraic convention of describing persons as animals (food animals or non-food animals) or even as edible plant products to illustrate a point, i.e. a special class of metaphor.  Scripture bears examples of both.

It should not really strike us as unthinkable that people could be compared with food or animals, as we do the same thing in English. [1]  We can also find Messiah Yeshua Himself calling certain of the Pharisees “vipers” (Matthew 23:33) and referring to those who are hostile to His Truth as “dogs” and “swine” (Matthew 7:6).  He also uses two clean animals, i.e. goats and sheep, in order to categorize persons in the eschatological framework of the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 25:31-46).  In this judgment oracle, the goats are consigned to everlasting punishment and the sheep to everlasting life (v. 46).

image source: Dr. Oded Lipschits, Tel Aviv University

image source: Dr. Oded Lipschits, Tel Aviv University (op. cit.)

This is not solely a convention of the B’rit Chadashah (apostolic Testament), however.  We find this same phenomenon in the poetic constructions of Yirmeyahu’s report at 24:1-10 of his canonical work (see summary statement in graphic at right).  Figs are generally a food item, but the statement in Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) 24 attests to the success of the Babylonian strategy to exile only the social, religious, military, and economic “elites” from Judah, in order to deprive them of certain essential skill sets (2 Kings 24:15-16).  All totaled, about 10,000 were removed to exile of a population of approximately ten times that number. [2]

This same type of metaphor appears in Acts 10:9-35.  Those who take this passage as a “blanket permission” (pun intended) to eat pigs, lizards, and rats have to divorce verses 9-15 from the fuller context in order to arrive at that conclusion.  Reading to the end of the pericope, however, brings the reader to Shim’on Kefa (Peter)’s realization of the actual meaning of the vision of the treif (unclean) animals on the sheet.  Verses 17 and 18 tells us that it has yet to be explained:

“Kefa was still puzzling over the meaning of the vision he had seen when the men Cornelius had sent, having inquired for Shim’on’s house. stood at the gate and called out to ask if Shim’on was staying there.” (CJB)

Reading on, we find that the meaning is covered quite clearly in vv. 28, 34-35:

“He [Kefa] said to them, ‘You are well aware that for a man who is a Jew to have close association with someone who belongs to another people, or to come and visit him, is something that just isn’t done.  But God has shown me not to call any person common or unclean’….  Then Kefa addressed them: ‘I now understand that God does not play favorites, but that whoever fears him and does what is right [Torah] is acceptable to him, no matter what people he belongs to.”  (CJB)

canned possumKefa realized and articulated plainly that the vision was not about eating poisonous or otherwise unclean animals at all; it was about Gentile-inclusivity.  “Stop treating as unclean what God has made clean” (v. 15) refers to Gentile converts to the faith, not to creamed possum in coon fat gravy… or any other animal which was not intended for human consumption.  Dr. Friedman notes,

“He did not, according to the text, draw the conclusion that he should stop eating kosher food….  We can be thankful that the book of Acts interprets his vision for us in the continuation of the text.  Acts 10:28 describes Shim’on’s conclusion of the message of the vision….” [3]

Visions, like any other prophetic oracle, must be interpreted according to their genre.  In the exegetical methodology prescribed by Willem VanGemeren, the first and foremost point is this: “Be sensitive to the prophetic imagery.” [4] To interpret a passage divorced from its genre is just as ghastly an error as to sever it from its context.

Leviticus 19.34When proper hermeneutical principles and exegetical processes are applied, it cannot be interpreted any other way than that Kefa’s vision was a message advocating equal treatment for Jew and Gentile alike in the Body of Messiah, a message with Torah roots just as deep as they can get, both with regard to one Torah Standard for Jew and Gentile alike (cp. Exodus 12:49; Leviticus 24:22; Numbers 15:16, 29; see also Matthew 5:17-19; 7:21-23; 1 John chapters 2-3) and regarding equality of treatment for both alike (Leviticus 19:33-34; Deuteronomy 10:19; see also Ezekiel 47:22; Galatians 3:28).

References & Notes

  1. Michiel Korthals, “Food as a Source and Target of Metaphors: Inclusion and Exclusion of Foodstuffs and Persons through Metaphors,” Confgurations  16 (2008): 77–92.  [read online]
  2. Oded Lipschits, “Course Lecture 3.5: Babylonian Arrangements in Judah after Jehoiachim’s Deportation,” The Fall and Rise of Jerusalem (Tel Aviv, Israel: Tel Aviv University, Fall 2014).
  3. David Friedman, They Loved the Torah: What Yeshua’s First Followers ReallyThought about the Law (Baltimore: Lederer, 2001), 62-64.
  4. Willem A. VanGemeren, “Oracles of Salvation,” in D. Brent Sandy & Ronald L. Giese, Jr (eds), Cracking Old Testament Codes: A Guide to Interpreting the Literary Genres of the Old Testament (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman, 1995), 146.

On the Use of Secular References in Scripture

Many years ago, when my faith was yet “new,” I was shocked to learn that there are numerous quotes in Scripture (and/or allusions) from pagan and other secular writings.  I embarked on a study at that time into the context in which these secular sources are cited in the Holy Writings, and I reproduce the findings thereof here.

References to Historical Records

Numbers 21:14 refers to the Book of the Wars of YHWH, an apparently ancient work (pre-15th Century BCE) no longer available and not referenced in any other extant work but the Torah.  What seems to be a community conduct code is mentioned at 1 Samuel 10:25, i.e. Book of Statutes (aka 3 Samuel).

There is also reference to two royal annals which have disappeared from modern access: Chronicles of the Kings of Israel and Chronicles of the Kings of Judah (1 Kings 14:19; 14:29; 16:20; & often in Kings).  These seem to be records from the time of Jeroboam and Rehoboam.  The Annals of King David (1 Chronicles 27:24) and the Acts of Solomon (1 Kings 11:41) are also cited lost works.

2 Chronicles speaks of the Book of Shemaiah and The Annals of the Prophet Iddo (9:29; 12:15; 13:22), neither of these currently extant.

Uncertain References

There are several references in Scripture to works which may be unknown, or may actually be ancient monikers for portions of the Scriptures themselves.

  • Acts of Samuel the Seer, possibly 1 & 2 Samuel (ref. at 1 Chron 29:29)
  • Prophecy of Ahijah, possibly 1 Kings 14:2–18 (ref. at 2 Chron 9:29)
  • Book of Jehu, possibly 1 Kings 16:1–7 (ref. at 2 Chron 20:34)
  • Vision of Isaiah, possibly the canonical Book of Isaiah (2 Chron 32:32)

matthew 5:43-45Another uncertain reference is found in Matthew 5:43, where Messiah Yeshua seems to quote some work (certainly not, as we tend to understand its meaning, a reflection of Scripture nor Talmud) which advocated an attitude of “hate your enemy.”  Hatred for one’s enemies, per the usual definition, is a precept foreign to Pharisaic Judaism (under the umbrella of which Messianic Judaism falls, per Yeshua in Matthew 23:1-3), adherents of which mourn the death of enemies (Pessikta K 189a; Job 31:29-30) and forbids seeking revenge (Leviticus 19:18; Proverbs 20:22; 24:29) or even “abhoring” (hating) one’s enemy (Deuteronomy 23:8).

Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite, for he is thy brother; thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian, because thou wast a stranger in his land” (JPS 1917).

Many have insisted that this is a reference to DSM 1:3f from the Dead Sea Scrolls, considered by most to be an Essene product, which indicates that members should properly harbor hatred toward all enemies of that community, i.e “sons of darkness.”

Rabbi and scholar Pinchas Lapide, however, questions whether that document is the true source behind the reference.   He suggests, “In Jesus’ time the Qumran sect [Yachad] was too young, too distant, and too small to be presumed to have been a norm — or antinorm — in Galilee.” [1]  It is becoming more widely recognized among scholars that the alleged Qumran connection is untenable.  Lapide suggests, instead, a possible connection with Deuteronomy 21:15, where “hated” simply means “loved less than” (ibid., 86).  It may possibly connect to Malachi 1:2-3 as well, where the verb “hated” is better rendered “have not enter into covenant with.”

Pseudepigraphal References

There was a popular genre of fiction en vogue from about the 2nd Century BCE to about the 8th Century CE (though waning the last few centuries of that epoch) called pseudepigrapha.  characterized by the attribution of the name of a well-known figure from the past to one’s work in order to explore what that person might have said on a subject he or she had never addressed. [2]  Pseudepigraphy (false attribution) was a literary device that was well understood by the audience, and in most cases no deception was intended by it (though modern audiences can tend to be confused by the device).  Some pseudepigraphal works, however, clearly overlap with the “propaganda” genre and are intended to deceive, e.g. the agenda-driven Letter of Aristeas (written to spread the fabricated “story” of the creation of the Septuagint).

Popular examples of this fictional genre of writing include the Book of Jasher (referenced at Joshua 10:13 and 2 Samuel 1:18) [3] and the Book of Enoch (i.e. 1 Enoch, alluded to in 2 Peter and Jude).  Both of these contain passages that blatantly contradict Scripture (e.g. 1 Enoch 10:1 reporting that Enoch was instructed to go speak to Noach when he had been raptured 69 years before Noach’s birth).  But, the original audience knew they were reading fiction and thus did not hold it to the standard of Scripture, just as we do not expect theological inerrancy out of a religious-themed novel like The Chosen (Chaim Potok) or The Hobbit (J. R. R. Tolkein).  Likewise, no one reads Jewish author Yudl Rosenberg’s novel and comes away believing “golems” are anything but fictitious creatures invented for entertainment. [4]

Other Pseudepigraphical works referenced in Scripture include Assumption of Moses (Jude 9), Life of Adam and Eve (2 Corinthians 11:14; 12:2), and Martyrdom of Isaiah (Hebrews 11:37), as well as (probably) the Book of Gad the Seer (1 Chronicles 29:29).

Writings from Pagan Cultures

The previously mentioned works are at least Jewish, but what do we do with quotations from or allusion to works that are clearly pagan?  Esther and Nehemiah make mention of a Persian document titled the Chronicles of King Ahasueras (Esther 2:23; 6:1; 10:2; Nehemiah 12:23).

Menander

Menander

More problematic is that Sha’ul (Paul) quotes from Menander’s Thais (1 Corinthians 15:33 — “Bad company corrupts good character”), Epimenides’s De Oraculis (Titus 1:12–13), and Aratus’s Phaenomena (Acts 17:28) — all three of which are pagan penmen.  Menander was a comedy-playwright (3rd-4th Century BCE), Aratus was a poet and astrologer (3rd-4th Century BCE), and Epimenides (referenced as “the Cretans’ own prophet”) was, besides being a pagan seer, also a reknowned Greek philosopher (6th-7th Century BCE).  Aratus wrote the line “For in you we live and move and have our being” for the chief god of the Greek pantheon, which Paul acknowledges with the qualifier, “some of your poets among you have said….”

Conclusion

It is not necessarily an endorsement for canonicity for a Biblical writer to reference a non-canonical work.  It is more an indictment of the audience missing an important truth that “even this secular work recognizes” (the thrust of the citation).  We would certainly not claim that Paul is declaring the writings of Epimenides or Menander to be Scripture by quoting or alluding to them any more than we would say that Pastor Joe quoting from C. S. Lewis is declaring The Chronicles of Narnia to be Scripture.  There is an illustrative use of these texts that we should be careful not to mistake for wholesale endorsement or advocacy of canonization.  The important thing to remember is that these works are not being endorsed wholesale by the authors and Author of Scripture, and thus should not be used a lens for interpreting Scripture.  While they may, perhaps, provide historical-cultural background, they are not (for good reasons) inspired Scripture and should not be exalted as such.

Notes and References

  1. Pinchas E. Lapide, “And I Say to You,” (Orbis Books, 1986; online: http://www.nyu.edu/classes/gmoran/LAPIDE.pdf), 85.
  2. Michael E. Stone, “The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha,” Jewish Virtual Library (online: www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/apocrypha.html); S.v. ψευδεπίγραφος, Liddell & Scott Greek-English Lexicon(online: http://perseus.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/philologic/getobject.pl?c.83:2:17.LSJ).  Nota bene: Though some parts of Stone’s article are flawed, his definition of pseudepigrapha (comprising the 3rd paragraph) is accurate and in agreement with Liddell & Scott (as indicated here) and with responsible 2nd Temple scholarship in general.
  3. http://www.pseudepigrapha.com/pseudepigrapha/jasher.html.
  4. A criticism was made recently of the present author that “to call any Jewish book fiction is anti-Semitic.”  I would answer that charge with a question.  Does this mean that no Jew is ever permitted to write a work of fiction, or that everything any Jew ever writes (Sigmund Freud, Woody Allen, etc.) must be regarded as inerrant or else the person recognizing that, for example, Yudl Rosenberg’s “golems” are fictitious is a Nazi?  If a Jew writes a fiction piece, intending it to be fiction, it is not “anti-Semitic” to place it in the genre the author intended it to be under, and it does not “weaken Judaism” for a Jew to write in a fiction genre.

Parashat Bereshit Studies

Garden Temple

The following course handout is a brief introduction to the view posited by archaeologist Ernest L. Martin with regard to the probability that the structure of the Garden (and greater Eden) was a representation and reflection of the Heavenly Temple, and that Adam and Even were installed (placed) into it as priests with the duty to “labor in the Torah and to keep its commandments.”  The popularity of this view has moved far beyond Dr. Martin, and though popularized in large part by him, did not originate with him.  His charts are used simply because he has charts (and most other proponents do not).  The footnote on the handout below indicates a fairly ancient presentation of the view in Targum Neophyti, generally thought to be a product of the 1st or 2nd Century CE [1], though some place it as late as the 4th. [2]

Click images below to pull up PDF versions for printing or easier reading.
(all documents attached to this page are copyright 2011 by Brian Tice)

Garden Temple pdfNephilim

At the tail end of this week’s parashah, we encounter an obscure word: “nephilim.” [3]  This word occurs only three times in the canon of Scripture — once at Bereshit/Genesis 6:4 and twice in B’midbar/Numbers 13:33 (with two different spellings in the latter passage).  This word has been a cause for confusion and contention for many centuries, but it need not be.

The two different spellings for the word are best explained as a defective (incomplete) spelling and a maley (plene) spelling, since both are encountered in the same verse in B’midbar and are obviously both referring to the same class of people.  It is helpful, linguistically, that we have both spellings, in terms of identification of the shoresh (root).  Though it has been claimed, principally by James Strong, that the shoresh of nephilim (נְפִילִים ,נְפִלִים) is naphal (נָפַל), the forms found as substantivals in Genesis and Numbers cannot be found in any conjugation patterns known to occur in a I-nun Hebrew verb, and thus it is grammatically impossible for נָפַל to be the shoresh.

To be a substantival derivative of a verbal root, a participial form would have to be in view (which is what Strong claims in his interpretation of “fallen ones”).  The Hebrew plural participial forms for I-nun verbs, however, include neither of the forms נְפִלִים and נְפִילִים as possibilities.  The masculine plural passive forms required for the rendering of “fallen ones” (across the various binyanim) would be naphulim (Gp-stem), niphalim (N-stem), nuphalim (Hp-stem).  None of these matches the forms encountered in Bereshit/Genesis 6 or B’midbar 13. [4]  Koutoupis, in agreement with my own analysis, asserts, “…with an understanding of biblical Hebrew, it is physically impossible for naphal to ever form nephilim…. Understanding Hebrew grammar, naphal can never be its root.” [5]  The roots palalpala’, and palah (in the niphal stem) have also been proposed, but the same conjugation issues found in attempting to use naphash equally plague those three roots.  None of the paradigms allow for any of them to produce a derivative in the form nephilim.

Qumran Cave 4

Qumran Cave 4

It is, however, very easy to get from the Aramaic noun נְפִיל (untimely birth, not viable, something outside of G-d’s design) to the plural noun we find in these passages (נְפִילִים) by changing the Aramaic plural ending to the Hebrew one.  In fact, in the Aramaic text of the Genesis Apocryphon from the Qumran cache, we find the word spelled just as we find it in the maley form in Numbers 13:33, but with the Aramaic ending. [6]  It is not an absurd jump to allow for an Aramaic word to occur in the Torah, since we have other words already well-established as being loanwords throughout the Torah — most from Egyptian, admittedly, but we do encounter a clearly Aramaic term in the Hebrew text of Genesis 31:47, i.e. the place-name יְגַ֖ר שָׂהֲדוּתָ֑א (Yegar Sahadutha; i.e. “stone-pile of testimony”), which is the much simpler גַּלְעֵֽד in Hebrew. [7]

The reading of nephilim  as fallen angels (which is the agenda behind Strong’s insistence upon the shoresh being נָפַל) fails on every level.  The p’shat (simple) reading of Genesis 6:4 even tells us that the nephilim are not fallen angels.  It does not matter how “sons of G-d” is interpreted, the nephilim are a different group of people (or beings depending on your interpretation).  Even if one understands the “sons of G-d” to be fallen from heaven, the nephilim (their offspring) are not.  They are born on earth. [8]  Other issues with this “demon-spawn” view are listed on page 1 of the summary sheet found provided below.  Girdlestone’s contribution to the confusion is his assertion that nephilim is a hiphil (H) participle from naphal, suggesting a meaning of  “those that cause others to fall down.”  The obvious problem with his theory is that the hiphil form would actually be manphilim, not nephilim.

An actual substantival participle that would (and does) derive from naphal (נָפַל) is indeed attested in Scripture, but absolutely not in the context of “giants,” “demon-spawn,” or “alien-human hybrids.”  The participle nophelim (נֹפְלִים) occurs in Ezekiel 32:27, where (of course) human beings are in view [9], i.e., “… the mighty men who fall from among the circumcised [Gentiles] and are gone down to Sheol with their weapons….”  Were that verb in view, this would be a form that would convey the meaning sought by naphal-proponents.

Most attempts to make the nephilim into demon-spawn rely on the pseudepigraphical book of 1 Enoch (generally simply called Enoch in the commentaries and journals).  It must first be understood what genre of literature Enoch is.  Pseudepigrapha is a genre popular from the 2nd century BCE to the 8th Century CE characterized by the attribution of the name of a well-known figure from the past to one’s work in order to explore what that person might have said on a subject he or she had never addressed. [10]  Pseudepigraphy (false attribution) was a literary device that was well understood by the audience, and in most cases no deception was intended by it (though modern audiences can tend to be confused by the device).  Some pseudepigraphic works, however, clearly overlap with the “propaganda” genre and are intended to deceive, e.g. the agenda-driven Letter of Aristeas (written to spread the fabricated “story” of the creation of the Septuagint).  The now-popular Book of Jasher is likewise classified as a pseudepigraphon. [11]

Rabbi Yitzchak Abarbanel

Rabbi Yitzchak Abarbanel

Medieval discussions of the nephilim and “sons of G-d” primarily held that human subjects were in view.  Rabbi Don Yitzchak ben Yehuda Abarbanel insisted on this in the 15th Century. [12]  The principal deviant from this view is the Kabbalistic (Jewish mysticism) text the Zohar (1:58a).  Dr. Kaiser’s observation in regard to the Greek translations is that of the several variant Septuagints, only one (the Alexandrian recension) inserts “angels” into its translation of the text.  Rahlf’s authoritative critical edition shows that the rest do not. [13]  Bernard Bamberger, regarding the fallen angel interpretation, asserts, “As this dualistic myth does not appear in the apocalypses of Baruch and Esdras nor in the aggadah of the talmudic period, it was apparently rejected as incompatible with Jewish monotheism.” [14]  His non-Enochian view (Believer-pagan intermarriage) reflects what was dominant in the Jewish commentaries until after the release of Milton’s fictional novel Paradise Lost resurrected the Vulgate-influenced “giants” reading in 1667.

If the nephilim were giants, as the Vulgate and translations dependent upon it insist, certainly that rendering would have emerged before the 5th Century CE, but Jerome’s Vulgate (which famously translated the light which shone from Moshe’s face as “horns,” inspiring Michelangelo’s goat-horned Moses) is the first work to suggest such a reading.  That Latin work is not even consistent in its treatment of the word, translating it twice by gigantes (giants) and in the other occurrence by monstra (monsters).  If “giants” were the correct understanding, why did it take almost 2000 years for that reading to emerge (1400 BCE to 405 CE)? 

Attempts to date Enoch prior to the inception of the pseudepigrapha genre, such as the claim of postmodern Norwegian author Helge Steinar Kvanvig that the text was written in Babylon in the 6th Century BCE (three centuries before pseudepigrapha were in vogue) [15], are disingenuous and deprecated.  The discoverer of the oldest fragments of Enoch, Józef Milik, dated them to only 150-200 BCE. [16]  It should be remembered when analyzing any claim regarding the date of a text that dating a document is much like any other exegetical task in that the exegete brings with him or her certain presuppositions which often “bend” the data toward an expected result.  This is just as true in assigning a date to an archaeological element as it is in assigning a meaning to a Biblical text.  It is a phenomenon called “archaeological bias.” [17]

Since the genre is a speculative approach, guessing at what a famous figure what have to say on a matter, it is generally categorized under the meta-genre of fiction.  Pseudepigraphical works are not included in the Jewish canon, nor in the Christian canon, but these do not comprise all the non-canonical writings of the time period.  Australian scholar of Armenian studies Michael E. Stone lists examples of writings from this genre in his Jewish Virtual Library article. [18]

LXX (Septuagint) is also cited in arguments for the “fallen ones” rendering.  It should not escape our attention, though, the tendency of LXX, observed by Perlitt, to translate (especially in the Torah portions) in a quite unorthodox and deprecated manner reliant on „historisierenden Notizen des Alten Testaments mit weitgehend mythologisch in sensu stricto,“ i.e., the pollution of historical events recorded in Scripture with influence from mythological non-canonical texts.  The same source concludes „Kurzum: die Frage nach den Riesen im Alten Testament fände auf dem Wege über die griechische oder lateinische Konkordanz nur falsche Antworten,“ i.e., that the conclusion that “giants” are in view (a claim that often runs in tandem with the “fallen angel” assertion) cannot be legitimately deduced from the Hebrew text before us, or even from the Greek, as problematic as it is in its own way, but only from Jerome’s flawed Latin of the Vulgate (completed in 405 CE, nearly 2000 years after the Torah was written). [19]

The phrase from Bereshit 6:4 which is even messier to sort out is “sons of G-d” (בְּנֵי הָֽאֱלֹהִים).  Most conservative scholars, however, stand in agreement that it is not a reference to promiscuous angels. [20]  Though this has been interpreted a number of ways, it is not as difficult to parse as one might suspect.  The term occurs in several passages throughout the Scriptures (both testaments), always in discussions about human beings.  A chart is provided on page 2 of the summary sheet below.

The ancientest understanding in Judaism is that the “sons of G-d” in Bereshit/Genesis 6:4 are believers (the usual meaning of the term), and the daughters of men” are pagans, and that it is the intermarriage between the two that leads to the moral corruption described in Bereshit/Genesi 6:5.  Other explanations have been bandied about, but this is the one with the greatest Scriptural support.  This is evidenced in the Bible’s use of the term בְּנֵי הָֽאֱלֹהִים and its Aramaic equivalent always in where the subject is human beings (never angels or demons).  See the handouts below covering the Nephilim discussion, esp. the table on page 2.

Rabbi Shim'on bar Yochai

Rabbi Shim’on bar Yochai

A slight variation on this is found among the oldest commentaries covering Bereshit, a 3rd Century BCE text titled 4Q417 (also called 4QInstruction or מוסר למבין), which informs its readers of “sons of Seth,” i.e. righteous human descendants of the Biblical figure, who “rebelled against G-d” by intermarrying with daughters of Cain.  In fact, despite the Ethiopic insistence that 1 Enoch is Scripture, the Amharic Ethiopian Orthodox Bible also presents as fact the Sethian view of the בְּנֵי הָֽאֱלֹהִים (“sons of G-d”). [21]  Though it is not logically necessary, as a mandate of Scripture, for someone who is righteous to be descended from Seth rather than Cain, that seems to be among the earliest Jewish understandings. [22]  Tannaitic Sage Rabbi Shim’on bar Yochai (Rashbi) taught in the 2nd Century CE, “… from Seth were born and descended all the generations of the just; from Cain were born and descended all the generations of the wicked,” and he famously and publicly cursed anyone who dared interpret the phrase בְּנֵי הָֽאֱלֹהִים as anything non-human. [23]  This is the same sage who was a student of Rabbi Aqiba, father of Rabbi Eleazer bar Shim’on, and is credited with sparking and leading the revival of Torah learning following the Bar Kokhba Revolt. [24]  The table on page 2 below illustrates the reason for Rabbi Rashbi’s insistence on the בְּנֵי הָֽאֱלֹהִים being human beings rather than angels or demons.

Another interpretive option is presented in the Targumim.  Onqelos, Neophyti, Symmachus, and the Samaritan all insist that the “sons of G-d” are men of the noble class.  Dr. John H. Walton is the most vocal proponent of this view in modern scholarship (see page 3 of handout below for this view).  The present author, however, finds the Enochian and alien views untenable, and prefers the position that forbidden intermarriage between Believers and pagan women is in view over the “nobility” understanding.  The present author’s view does not depend on righteous being descended from Seth, necessarily, nor on the pagan wives being from Cain, but finds the Hebrew of the text to indicate merely that Believers with pagan wives are indicated.

Below are summary sheets which provides some tables and bullet-point lists for quick reference.  Pages 1-2 are a single PDF (click page 1), and page 3 is separate (click that page to access the corresponding PDF).

Nephilim Study pdf

Nephilim Study pdf p2

More Recent Views (Nephilim)Nota bene:  The reference on page 2 (above) to Marcus Jastrow’s tome, though dated, is still the most comprehensive Aramaic lexicon available for less than $100.  It is used here not for the Rabbinical literature (which is admittedly late), but rather for Rabbi Dr. Jastrow’s attention to works from much earlier time frames than that of his immediate focus in the preparation of his work.  It is this diachronic approach which gives this lexicon value beyond the time period specifically covered by its title.  Cross-reference to Sokoloff’s several Aramaic tools uncovered no different data than found in Jastrow.  The late Dr. Jastrow was a highly-esteemed rabbi and professor at Maimonides College, and his dictionary is still widely held in high regard.

Notes & References

  1. Said to be 1st Century by Alejandro Díez Macho, Neophyti 1: Targum Palestinense MS de la Biblioteca Vaticana, Vol. 1: Genesis: Edición Príncipe, Inroducción General y Versión Castellana (Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1968); but in Gabriele Boccaccini, “Targum Neofiti as a Proto-Rabbinic Document: A Systemic Analysis,” The Aramaic Bible: Targums in their Historical Context (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), 254-263, a 2nd Century date is argued.
  2. Martin McNamara, Targum Neofiti 1: Genesis (The Aramaic Bible, Vol. 1A; Collegeville, Minn.: Michael Glazier, 1992).
  3. This text derives from lecture notes from a collegiate “Tanakh Exegesis” course taught by the present author in Fall 2011 (nota bene: this summary should not be taken as an exhaustive transcript of the course lecture, as such a product would amount to roughly 40 typed pages of text, i.e. an unfeasible amount for this medium… thus more interested readers should consult the works footnoted and/or take the present author’s “Tanakh Survey” course at IMTI).
  4. Duane A. Garrett & Jason S. DeRouchie, A Modern Grammar for Biblical Hebrew (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2009), Appendix 8; Allen P. Ross, Introducing Biblical Hebrew (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001), 549; Choon-Leong Seow, A Grammar for Biblical Hebrew (rev. ed.; Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 346-47.
  5. Petros Koutoupis, The Nephilim: Their Origin and Evolution (Edinburgh: Graham Hancock, 2007).
  6. Florentino Garcia Martinez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar (eds.), The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition Vol. 1:Q1-4Q273 – Vol II: 4Q274-11Q31 (DVD; Logos Bible Software, 2010), Genesis Apocryphon.
  7. Miles Van Pelt, Basics of Biblical Aramaic (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2011), 165n1.
  8. Michael S. Heiser, The Meaning of the Word Nephilim: Fact vs. Fantasy (n.d.).  Nota bene: Though the present author disagrees with Heiser’s final conclusion, his analysis raises some important linguistic considerations.
  9. Moshe Greenberg, Ezekiel 21-37 (The Anchor Bible 22A; New York, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1997), 665.
  10. Michael E. Stone, “The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha,” Jewish Virtual Library (online: www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/apocrypha.html); S.v. ψευδεπίγραφος, Liddell & Scott Greek-English Lexicon (online: http://perseus.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/philologic/getobject.pl?c.83:2:17.LSJ).  Nota bene: Though some parts of this article are flawed, Stone’s definition of pseudepigrapha (comprising the 3rd paragraph) is accurate and in agreement with Liddell & Scott (as indicated here) and with responsible 2nd Temple scholarship in general.
  11. http://www.pseudepigrapha.com/pseudepigrapha/jasher.html.
  12. Rabbi Don Yitzchak Abarbanel, Quaest iv; Comm. in Pent. fol. 31.
  13. Walter Kaiser, Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 106-07.
  14. Bernard J. Bamberger, Fallen Angels: Soldiers of Satan’s Realm (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1952), 3-59.
  15. Helge Steinar Kvanvig, “Roots of Apocalyptic: The Mesopotamian Background of the Enoch Figure and the Son of Man;in Wissenschaftliche Monographien zum Alten und Neuen Testament 61 (Neukirchener: Neukirchen-Vuyn, 1988).
  16. Józef T. Milik (with Matthew Black). The Books of Enoch: Aramaic Fragments of Qumran Cave 4 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1976).
  17. Scott T. Carroll, Course lectures, HIS-491: Coptic Language and Early Egyptian Christianity (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Cornerstone University, Fall 2008).
  18. Michael E. Stone, “The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha,” Jewish Virtual Library (online: www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/apocrypha.html).  Nota bene: Though flawed in his dating of the text (agreeing with Kvanvig; cp. fn. 8), Stone is correct in classifying 1 Enoch as belonging in the pseudepigraphal genre.
  19. Lothar Perlitt, „Riesen im Alten Testament,“ in Forschungen zum Alten Testament 8 (Tübingen, 1994), 205-246.
  20. Sven Fockner, (Jun 2008), “Reopening the discussion: another contextual look at the sons of God,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 32(4): 454; John Walton, Genesis, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan , 2001), 296; Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (Word Biblical Commentary 1; Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1987), 139, 143; et al.
  21. Ethiopian Orthodox Bible (2001); cp. H.C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis 1 (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Wartburg Press, 1942), 250.
  22. Ibid.; 4Q417 (4QInstruction); Rabbi Shim’on bar Yochai in Archie Wright, The Origin of Evil Spirits, (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2005), 64.
  23. Rabbi Shim’on bar Yochai, Pirqei de Rabbi Eleazer, 22.
  24. Ronald L. Eisenberg, Essential Figures in the Talmud (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012), 227ff; citing Yev. 62b.