Saturday, 7 April 2018

Yahweh's STUFF!

It's been a "wee while" since I posted, but little by little, my private research into the "divine Name" in the Bible has been picking up some momentum. What is this Name? In the Old Testament, the Israelites made sharp distinctions between their god, Yahweh, and the gods of the surrounding nations with whom they were in regular dispute. One of the major distinctions was that Yahweh was not just a god or their god (although he certainly was that), he was a whole level above: god of gods


For Yahweh your god is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.                    Deuteronomy 10:17

These Israelites spoke Hebrew, and the name of the Israelite deity, Yahweh, was written and spoken in Hebrew (יְהוָ֣ה).

Like any being, divine or mortal, Yahweh had...stuff! 



What am I talking about? In the Hebrew bible, from a linguistic point of view, Yahweh owns: Yahweh's face, Yahweh's glory, Yahweh's house (or temple), Yahweh's hand, Yahweh's Angel, Yahweh's words, Yahweh's anger, Yahweh's love, his Spirit, and of course, a Name (... and still a lot more besides!) In addition to these "lexical units", there are some other units that I want to track, combining a few common prepositions like from Yahweh. But what am I tracking exactly?

A couple of years ago it came to my attention that something special happened between the Old Testament and New Testament regarding Yahweh's name, about which I hadn't the foggiest before that time. I already knew that the Hebrew bible (a somewhat loose canon) had been translated into Greek. I'm not sure if I realised that the reason behind this translation was that the Israelites had been invaded and deported into surrounding nations, where they progressively adopted the local language as their primary language, thus rendering their sacred scripture pretty incomprehensible to many. One very important such community of diaspora Israelites was located in Alexandria, Egypt. I'm certain I didn't know that initially, the translation was of the first five books only - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. That's still a very big translation project!

I was clueless that this translation bears some interesting hallmarks of theological understanding and religious practice and discourse, sometimes with clear influence of the Alexandrian context. So, for instance, there are Egyptian loan-words (like "reed" and "basket"), understanding of divine beings as angels had developed and was emphasised. By far my best and clearest scholar on influences on this translation (along with the other books comprising the Hebrew Bible translation into Greek), is Jan Joosten, a faculty member of the University of Oxford, who has over 80 peer-reviewed papers available on the academia.org website here, and the best of these on Egyptian influences is this one. Honestly, the guy's a linguistic genius, basically, and super interesting to read! Some of his conclusions may appear strong, however, and should be read from within a linguistic sepcialist's perspective, e.g. "Although the Greek version was derived from a Hebrew source, it is essentially a text distinct from the Hebrew Bible, with its very own historical, cultural and religious context." (The Library of Alexandria: A Cultural Crossroads of the Ancient World)

Anyway, one of the most interesting and conspicuous shifts was the diaspora Jews' super-exaltation of the name of Yahweh itself. From various sources, we learn that this name itself became as sacred as its referent, such that the translation in Leviticus 24:16 from Hebrew to Greek. This underwent the following modifications:

[A]nyone who blasphemes the name of Yahweh is to be put to death. The entire assembly must stone them. Whether foreigner or native-born, when they blaspheme the Name they are to be put to death.

Septuagint Greek translation:

Whoever names the name of [the] Lord - by death let him be put to death; let the whole congregation of Israel stone him with stones. Whether a guest or a native, when he names the name, let him die.


Let's be honest and clear. The Jews could have transliterated Yahweh into Greek letters to reflect the precious name in the much-needed language of Alexandrian Greek. But the name was soooo precious, God's intervention soooo hoped for, and his potential extended offense and wrath waaaaay to dear a price to pay, that an alternative was sought. Someone came up with a novel idea: what about "Lord" (in Greek, Kyrios)? But, in order to make it clear who we are talking about here, and that this is indeed a name let's delete the article before "Lord", so it reads like a name? Great idea! And so it was implemented with considerable consistency across those initial five books we know today as the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy).

Consistency was necessary because in the Hebrew Bible, there were over 7000 occurrences of this Name, but the choice is of infinite importance for those interested in Christian theology, since we know that Jesus is understood as Lord too - exalted and enthroned into divine lordship over heaven and Earth. That's my "hook", I think. I already demonstrated via my publication here, however, that current exponents of explicit deity ascription to Jesus by the first century Christian authors via this Septuagint novelty (Lord, minus the article) cannot be used among their arsenal.

My longer-term project is to potentially challenge the assumption by current leading specialists on the Septuagint (such as Albert Pietersma) that Yahweh did not receive a different treatment to another Hebrew word/title (Adonai) translated by the same Greek word Kyrios. It is also more generally to provide as yet unchartered data for the slippage of this special translation deletion of the article preceding "Lord" once we venture beyond the Pentateuch. I have published some examples of this here: Kyrios (aka the LORD) in the Psalms: Results.

As I have proceeded, it occurred to me that there are certain lexical units that can affect things too. They might well provide a more robust preservation against this slippage in centuries between the two Testaments represented in the Christian Bible (300-0 BCE), and even help us in some of the more ambiguous usages of Kyrios in the New Testament. 

My basic thrust here is this: ambiguity, where not intended, should be avoided. I want to know what folk meant by Lord. I often do not not know what people mean by Lord today, especially in anglosaxon Christian communities, where a centuries-long tradition of accepting the KJV importation of the Septuagint's Lord, has been sustained via capitalisation (LORD).

Another spinoff piece of research is to map out how the divine Name is rendered by the various Bible societies translation teams in languages spoken and written today.

Related posts:

Kyrios (aka the LORD) in the Psalms: Results
Is Jesus' Other Name "Yahweh" for the first century church? Part 1: The Data
Why This Research Matters

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