Category Archives: Exegesis

Hebrew Enantiosemy

homographic-homophonic-autantonymsThere is a phenomenon that occurs in almost every language, but especially frequently in Hebrew. It is a form of split polysemy whereby a single word or root can be used to connote two concepts which are opposite one another in meaning. An English example is “cleave,” which can mean to split apart (e.g. “a cloven hoof”) or to cling together (e.g. “leave the parents and cleave to the spouse”). Another is “refrain,” which can be used to indicate both “abstain from an activity” or “repeat multiple times” (e.g. in music). Other English examples are listed at Several names have been assigned to this linguistic peculiarity, including enantiosemyenantiodromy (enantiodrome being the referent for an exemplar thereof), antagonymy (antagonym), contronymy (contronym), and auto-antonymy (auto-antonym)… or in Hebrew, סתירה עצמית.

The following list of examples in Hebrew is certainly not exhaustive, but does demonstrate that the phenomenon is anything but rare in the holy tongue. In each of the pairings below, the commoner meaning is listed first with the rarer afterward.

  • אלהים (Elohim): (the one true) G-d; (false) deities. Psalm 82 provides an example where this word conveys both meanings in the same verse:
    • Ps 82:1(a) אלהים נצב בעדת־אל  G-d stands in the congregation of the mighty…
    • Ps 82:1(b) בקרב אלהים ישפט  in the midst of the deities1 He judges.
  • ברך (barakh): to bless; to curse (euphemistically). The more usual meaning is “to bless,” and “to kneel” is also frequently in view. The antithetical meaning “to curse,” however, is attested only in 1 Kings 21:10, 13; Job 1:5, 11; 2:5, 9; and Psalm 10:3 for the latter.
  • גרד (garad): to scratch; to itch. More common in Modern Hebrew than in Classical, this enantiodrome connotes both the act of scratching an itch and the state of feeling itchy which compels one to scratch.
  • זנב (zanav): tail (as a noun); to cut off the tail (as a verb), to cut off the rear flank (in military jargon). In this example, one might call to mind the English verbal exemplar “seed,” which means both “to plant” (put seeds into the ground) and “to remove seeds from a plant (e.g. seeded grapes).
  • חטא (chata’): to sin (miss the mark, go astray); to cleanse (from sin). The second meaning seems to only be tenable in the piel and hithpael binyanim (stems). In Modern Hebrew, the word for disinfectant comes from this same root, i.e. חיטוי (chitui).
  • קלס (qalas): to defame, mock, scoff, ridiculeto praise. The former is the only meaning attested in the Tanakh, but in other Hebrew literature, it can be found with the opposite meaning “to praise.”
  • סקל (saqal): to throw stones at (all stems)to remove stones from (qal and piel stems only).
  • שכח (shakhach): to forget; renowned, widepread. The Aramaic cognate שכך is likewise enantiodromic.
  • שרש (sharash): to take root; to uproot, to sever from the roots. Both meanings are attested in the Tanakh. The former can be seen in Isaiah 27:6; 40:24; Jeremiah 12:2; Psalm 80:9; and Job 5:3; and the passages where the latter meaning is conveyed are Psalm 52:5 and Job 31:8, 12. The Hebrew grammatical term שֹׁ֫רֶשׁ (shoresh) is used to indicate the root of a derived form.

This phenomenon is an excellent example of why context is so important, and why translation methods wherein every instance of a Hebrew root is translated exactly the same are problematic. Words in isolation have semantic domains, i.e. ranges of meaning; but in actual usage, the context (surrounding words, sentences, paragraphs, themes, etc.) dictate which possible meanings are viable and which are not applicable in a particular instance.

In addition, there is also the Semitic phenomenon at play whereby Hebrew words convey both a “positive charge” and a “negative charge” simultaneously. Boman observes that in Hebrew, there is no stasis. In every word conveying a person or thing at rest, the motion from which it is resting is implied (p. 31). For example:

  • עלל (alal): to enter; to exit. In Hebraic thought, entering one space (the positive charge) involves exiting another (the negative charge), thus both meanings are conveyed simultaneously via the same word.
  • בּוֹא (bo): to come; to go. As in the previous entry, in order to be coming to one location, one must be at the same time in the process of leaving another location. It is a matter of perspective whether the word בּוֹא is to be translated as “come” or “go.” “Come” is the positive charge, and “go” is the negative in this example.

Likewise, filling one vessel implies drawing from (or emptying, to some extent) another. I welcome readers to supply any more exemplars which you have observed, of either type, in the comments.


  1. Though this is the usual translation, אלהים could, admittedly, also be translated “mighty ones” in this passage; there are, however, many instances where אלהים is clearly intended to be understood as “false deities” rather than being given a positive rendering (“G-d” or “mighty ones”).

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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:
  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.

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.


  • 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).



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….”


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:, 85.
  2. Michael E. Stone, “The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha,” Jewish Virtual Library (online:; S.v. ψευδεπίγραφος, Liddell & Scott Greek-English Lexicon(online:  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.
  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.

On this Rock… ܐܒܢܝܗ ܠܥܕܬܝ

upon this rockThere has been at least a thousand years of debate over the meaning of Yeshua’s response to the Petrine Confession (Matthew 16:13-20).

First, a history of interpretation is in order.  In Catholic thought, it is Peter himself who is the rock, and the institution built upon that rock is the Roman Church.  Eastern Orthodoxy offers a similar understanding, but insists that the institution built upon Peter is the Orthodox Church.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAProtestantism has argued from at least as far back as the Reformation that the rock is not Peter the person, but rather his statement that Yeshua is the Messiah and Son of the Living G-d (Matthew 16:16).  This position expands the institution beyond one particular denomination and identifies the “ἐκκλησία” as the Universal Body of Believers.

Biblicists have maintained that given the practice of the Septuagint (LXX) translators to render the Hebrew words קָהָל and קְהִלָּה with the Greek ἐκκλησία, a more faithful translation of the latter would be to anchor it to the historical understanding of the Hebrew terms as meaning “Israel,” i.e. an entity which had been in existence long before Matthew 16 was penned… centuries before.  As Koine Greek does not have verbal tense, the future tense does not need to be assumed in the verb, and it can properly be read as an ongoing action begun at some moment in the distant past.

Possibly giving weight to this understanding, besides the sheer linguistic sense that it makes, is the rabbinical midrash suggesting that Avraham had been told by HaShem:

“You are the rock upon which I will build the universe.”

Dwight Pryor conveyed the above statement at a conference of the Center for Jewish-Christian Studies in Jerusalem.  These positions all have their proponents and adherents… but today, another angle (new to me, but apparently in the air for over 20 years now) was pointed out to me.  Dr. Roy Blizzard posted the following statement with regard to Yeshua’s debated oracle:

“… you all need to keep on mind that this statement was made in HEBREW…NOT Greek. In Hebrew it is Kahal…or congregation, however…after the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls many scholars in Israel believe it was Edah, which means witnessing body. It could have been either but I tend to lean toward Edah…from lehaid, to witness or to tell.” (italics added)

Khabouris Matthew 16Upon reading this, I turned immediately to a codex reportedly copied from a manuscript dated to 165 CE, i.e. the Khabouris Codex.  What I found there aligns with Dr. Blizzard’s statement.  The word so often translated “church” is actually the Aramaic equivalent to עֵדָה (edah) — ܥܕܬܝ.  It is important to note that this word is also translated by the Greek ἐκκλησία in LXX.

The preceding verb, generally rendered “I will build…,” appears in a language which does not have verbal tense (it is verbal-aspect-intensive), so all it communicates is imperfectiveness (incomplete action, or even ongoing action).  Besides the futuristic rendering, other possible understandings of the imperfect aspect expressed in the form ܐܒܢܝܗ would be “I am building” or “I have been building.”  Given this insight, we might better translate Yeshua’s response:

“I also say to you that you are Kefa, and upon this rock[-solid statement], I have been building my Body of Witnesses….”

This shift does not move us a great distance from the Protestant reading, but it does remove the problematic word “church” (derived from the Latin “circus”).

The appeal of this rendering is that it is Gentile-inclusive without being anti-Semitic, maintaining the Bible’s incontrovertible Israel-centricity in affirming the same understanding of the Olive Tree held by the Apostle Sha’ul (Paul).  The confirmation found in the Peshitta (Khabouris Codex), an ancient witness, establishes that this view could not be deemed a wretched NDU (new doctrinal understanding).  It seems to dodge all the usual bullets and harmonize the text in view with the Whole Counsel of Scripture.  Baruch HaShem!