2015 Lindsey Legacy Conference

Lindsey2015From May 29-June 2, 2015, the Narkis Street Congregation in Jerusalem held a conference that celebrated Robert Lindsey’s legacy as pastor, scholar and passionate disciple of Jesus. The title of the conference was “Entering the Kingdom of Heaven: The Legacy of Dr. Robert Lindsey at Narkis Street Congregation in Jerusalem.” Now we are pleased to share with you a selection of the lectures presented at the conference, so that anyone who was not able to attend can share the experience and everyone who was able to attend can go back over the wealth of knowledge that was shared by the lecturers.


Shabbat Morning Bible Study: Panel Discussion with David Bivin, Randall Buth, Brad Young, Steven Notley and Halvor Ronning on the Kingdom of Heaven


“The ‘Lindsey Bob’: Bob the Baptizer,” by Dr. Ray Pritz; “The Miracles of Jesus as Proclamation of the Kingdom,” by Dr. Brad Young


“The Gospel of Mark’s Exodus Play,” by Yoni Gerrish; “Why Lukan Priority,” by Halvor Ronning


“Personal Testimony,” by Dov Haiken; “Loving God with All Your Mind,” by Jordash Kiffiak


“Jesus’ Bold Messianic Claims,” by Dr. Lois Tverberg; “Biblical Languages and the Synoptic Problem,” by Dr. Randall Buth; “Iron Sharpens Iron: The Importance of Jewish and Christian Scholarly Collaboration,” by Dr. R. Steven Notley

Click here to see other sessions of the 2015 Lindsey conference.

Video Clip: Randall Buth on “A Hebraic Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus”

In this video, excerpted from his talk entitled “A Hebraic Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus” from the 2006 Jerusalem Perspective Conference, “Insights into Jesus of Nazareth: His Words, His Wisdom, His World,” Randall Buth discusses the Hebrew background to the resurrection narratives in the Synoptic Gospels.

The complete lecture, along with the rest of the presentations delivered at the 2006 Jerusalem Perspective conference, is available through the En-Gedi Resource Center. To purchase the lectures in audio MP3 format, or to purchase video recordings of the lectures included in an 8 DVD set, click here.














The Pope, the Prime Minister, and the Jerusalem School

During his recent tour of the Holy Land, Pope Francis shared his views on the language of Jesus with Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. In a friendly exchange the Prime Minister contended that Jesus spoke Hebrew, while the pontiff maintained that Jesus was an Aramaic speaker. Who was correct? In separate articles, Jerusalem School scholars Randall Buth and R. Steven Notley, weigh in on the debate:

Randall Buth writes:

It is no longer questioned nor considered a viable option that only Aramaic was a colloquial language in the land in the first century. Hebrew was also a colloquial language and a candidate for any teaching with Jewish audiences throughout the land, and may be the primary candidate for such teaching. (“Why Jesus really was a Hebrew speaker” Haaretz [June 2, 2014])

Likewise, R. Steven Notley writes:

By the first century C.E. Aramaic served as the lingua franca of the Near East, and there is little question that Jesus knew and spoke Aramaic. Hebrew, on the other hand, was in more limited use as the language of discourse among the Jewish people.

The New Testament presents Jesus knowledgeable of both written and spoken Hebrew. (“Your Holiness, Bibi was right–Jesus spoke Hebrew!” [The Times of Israel, May 28, 2014])

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu (left), and Pope Francis (right) met in May, 2014. Photo courtesy of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu (left), and Pope Francis (right) met in May, 2014. Photo courtesy of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel.

Follow the links in the quotations above to read the full articles.

In a sense the Pope and the Prime Minister were both right: Jesus would probably have spoken both Hebrew and Aramaic. What they got wrong was supposing that Jesus spoke one language to the exclusion of the other. Both languages were current in the Land of Israel in the first century, although a Hebrew background seems most likely for Jesus’ teachings.

Buth and Notley recently contributed to a collection of essays entitled The Language Environment of First Century Judaea (Brill, 2014).

“Treasure in Heaven”: Examining an Ancient Idiom for Charity

For my brother, Jeff, whose charity towards me was always done with a “good heart;” truly he has stored his “treasure in heaven.”


The growing value placed on charity in the first century C.E. cannot be overstated.[1] As a new sensitivity developed within Judaism that challenged the compensatory “blessings and curses” paradigm of the Hebrew Bible (cf. Deut. 28) as a basis to serve God, so there was a shifting emphasis towards altruistic love[2] embodied in the Levitical commandment, “…and you shall love your neighbor as yourself (וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ אֲנִי יי; Lev. 19:18).” This unique relationship between serving God without care of reward—that “the fear of heaven [God] be upon you” (m. Avot 1:3)—and loving your neighbor as yourself, that is, one who is like you[3] is reflected in contemporary linguistic-based exegesis that pairs Deut. 6:5 with Lev. 19:18.[4]

And you shall love the Lord with all you heart, soul, and might. וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת יי אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ וּבְכָל־מְאֹדֶךָ (Deut. 6:5)…. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ אֲנִי יי…. (Lev. 19:18)[5]

What comes to be known as the dual-commandment—which is preserved elsewhere in Second Temple Jewish literature (e.g., T. Iss 5:2)—is attested in the New Testament as part of Jesus’ reply to the question, “what is the greatest commandment” (e.g., Mark 12:18-35; Luke 10:25-28).[6] Along with these novel developments in the religious perspective of Judaism came parallel linguistic developments. In Hebrew, and Greek (when the Greek is a translation of a Hebrew base-text), the term “righteousness” (Hb. צְדָקָה [Jastrow 1903, 1063]; Gk. δικαιοσύνη [cf. Matt. 6:1]) begins to be utilized idiomatically as “charity” (e.g., Tob. 4:7, 14:2).[7] Among the changing semantic parameters of specific Hebrew and Greek terms, there was a developing conception, which eventually developed into another idiomatic expression for charity. Jewish authors in the generations preceding the life and ministry of Jesus began to utilize the idea of laying up treasure before God, or in heaven, to indicate the giving of alms. Eventually, this concept developed into the phrase “treasure in heaven,” which is attested five times in the New Testament, and is the focal point of this article.

Storing Treasure and the Language Charity in Jewish Literature

Before continuing, however, a contextualization of storing “treasure” in heaven (that is with God) is warranted. Anderson has suggested that the initial impetus for this expressions derives from a Second Temple understanding of Prov. 10:2, “Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness (וּצְדָקָה) delivers from death.”[8] As noted above, to the readers of Prov. in the Greco-Roman period, “righteousness” would have been understood to mean charity. This exegesis of Prov. is also attested in Tobit, a Jewish work written between the 3rd and 2nd century B.C.E.:

If you have many possessions, make your gift from them in proportion; if few, do not be afraid to give according to the little you have. So you will be laying up a good treasure (θησαυρίζεις) for yourself against the day of necessity. For charity (ἐλεημοσύνη) delivers from death and keeps you from entering the darkness (Tob. 4:9-10, emphasis added).[9]

One of the commandments, which Tobit stresses to his son Tobias, is the importance of providing for the poor.

Prayer is good when accompanied by fasting, almsgiving, and righteousness. A little with righteousness is better than much with wrongdoing. It is better to give alms than to treasure up gold (καλὸν ποιῆσαι ἐλεημοσύνην ἢ θησαυρίσαι χρυσίον; Tobit 12:8)

The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, a work that details Jacob’s final testimony to his twelve sons, juxtaposes charity with storing treasure: “Do charity (δικαιοσύνην; lit. righteousness), therefore, my children, upon the earth, that you find it in heaven (ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς; T. Levi 13:5).” 2 Enoch, a work that likely originates in the Second Temple period but attains the form as it is known now at a much later period, depicts the individual that is willing to spend gold or silver on behalf of his brother as storing treasure, “Whoever of you spends gold or silver for his brother’s sake, he will receive ample treasure in the world to come” (2 Enoch 50:5).[10] Ben Sira, a work originally written in Hebrew, is likely the inspiration for the expression “treasure in heaven”:[11]

Lay up your treasure according to the commandments of the Most High, and it will profit you more than gold. Store up almsgiving in your treasury (or storehouse), and it will rescue you from all affliction…(σύγκλεισον ἐλεημοσύνην[12] ἐν τοῖς ταμιείοις σου, καὶ αὕτη ἐξελεῖταί σε ἐκ πάσης κακώσεως). (Sir. 29:11-12)

Anderson notes regarding Tobit and Ben Sira,

the power of almsgiving to save the generous soul from any imaginable danger that might confront him in this world. The figure of Tobit followed a similar strategy. But rather than providing us with several different metaphors for rendering the ides of being ‘delivered from death,’ he gave us just one: almsgiving delivers from death and ‘keeps you from going into Darkness.[13]

The best exposition on this concept appears in the Tosefta, a Rabbinic supplement to Mishnah. During the first century C.E. there was a famine in Jerusalem; Monobazus,[14] the king of Adiabene, a convert to Judaism decided to open the royal coffers in order to feed the hungry. His family members immediately protested that he had given away their inheritance. To their protests, Monobazus responded:

My ancestors stored treasures for this lower [part], but I have stored up treasures above…my ancestors stored up treasures where [human] hand can reach, but I have stored up treasures where [human], hand cannot reach, as it says [in Scripture], Righteousness and justice[15] (צדקה ומשפט) are the foundation of your throne [Psalm 89:14]…. My ancestors stored up treasures in this world, but I have stored treasures in the world to come (אבותי גנזו אוצרות בעולם הזה ואני גנזתי לעולם הבא), as it says [in Scripture], And your righteousness (צדקך) shall go before you [Isa. 58:8]…. (t. Peah 4:18)[16]

The interpretation ascribed to Monobazus of Ps. 89:14 and Isa. 58:8 reflect the understanding of “righteousness” with charity. Although the connection between “righteousness” and caring for hungry and the afflicted can already be seen in Isa. 58, “…righteousness (צִדְקֶךָ) shall go before you…if you give yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted (וְתָפֵק לָרָעֵב נַפְשֶׁךָ וְנֶפֶשׁ נַעֲנָה תַּשְׂבִּיעַ), then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday…” The Tosefta is likely pointing the reader to the larger Isaianic context, which is perhaps even the inspiration for Tobit’s, “for charity…keeps you from entering the darkness (Tob. 4:10).”

The Gospels, Charity, and the Kingdom

There are five texts in the NT that preserve the idiom “treasure in heaven.”

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth (Μὴ θησαυρίζετε ὑμῖν θησαυροὺς ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς), where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven (θησαυρίζετε δὲ ὑμῖν θησαυροὺς ἐν οὐρανῷ),[17] where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matt. 6:19-20)

Matthew’s lack of explanation for what the expression “treasure in heaven” means assumes that his readers will naturally understand its idiomatic usage. The second text, which accounts for three attestations of “treasure in heaven(s),” is The pericope of the Rich Young Ruler:

And behold, one came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which?” And Jesus said, “You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have observed; what do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in [the] heaven (θησαυρὸν ἐν οὐρανοῖς[18] ); and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. (Matt. 19:16-22)

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth.” And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven (θησαυρὸν ἐν οὐρανῷ); and come, follow me.” At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:17-22)

And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said, “All these I have observed from my youth.” And when Jesus heard it, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in [the] heaven (θησαυρὸν ἐν [τοῖς] οὐρανοῖς); and come, follow me.” But when he heard this he became sad, for he was very rich. (Luke 18:18-23)

The final text is part of a extended Lukan teaching on charity.

Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail (θησαυρὸν ἀνέκλειπτον ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς), where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Luke 12:32-34)

The teaching begins in Luke 12:13, where Jesus is asked to weigh in on the question of a brother’s inheritance. Jesus responds in familiar style with a parable, specifically the “Parable of the Rich Fool” (Luke 12:16-21). Before the parable, Jesus issues a stern warning, “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (v 15). The moral of the parable is closely connected with focus of this study, “So is he [i.e. the fool] who lays up treasure for himself (οὕτως ὁ θησαυρίζων ἑαυτῷ), and is not rich toward God” (v 21, emphasis added). Luke 12:22-31 (=Matt. 6:25-34), the “Anxieties about Earthly Things” pericope, is the second part of this Lukan teaching on charity. The context of the passage in Luke is not simply about anxiety, but instead not concerning oneself with what one will drink, eat, or how one will clothe him/herself. The assumption of the Lukan (and Matthean) text is that the individual who lacks these vital items has given them to those who are in need. The support for this reading is punctuated by the final statement of the pericope, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness (=his charitableness towards you), and all these things shall be yours as well” (cf. 12:33). Further, the final portion of Luke 12 seems to support this reading as well,

for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens (Πωλήσατε τὰ ὑπάρχοντα ὑμῶν καὶ δότε ἐλεημοσύνην ποιήσατε ἑαυτοῖς βαλλάντια μὴ παλαιούμενα, θησαυρὸν ἀνέκλειπτον ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς, ὅπου κλέπτης οὐκ ἐγγίζει οὐδὲ σὴς διαφθείρει ὅπου γάρ ἐστιν ὁ θησαυρὸς ὑμῶν, ἐκεῖ καὶ ἡ καρδία ὑμῶν ἔσται). (Luke 12:32-34)

Here again, as in the Matthean parallel,[19] the kingdom and the storing of “treasure in heaven” (in Matt., “righteousness” [both of which mean charity]) are linked. The connection between the two will help us to shed light on the manner which Jesus employed the term “treasure in heaven” in his teaching and its meaning within his ministry. The “Kingdom of Heaven”[20] is a disputed topic among NT scholars. Suggestions as to the function of the kingdom have spanned the spectrum from political, ethical, to eschatological. Sanders who allows for the present reality of the kingdom, sides with the prevailing “primarily eschatological” function that now embodies modern NT research[21] Flusser contends,

…the kingdom of heaven is not only the eschatological rule of God that has dawned already, but a divinely willed movement that spreads among people throughout the earth. The Kingdom of Heaven is not simply a matter of God’s kingship, but also the domain of his rule, an expanding realm embracing ever more and more people, a realm where into which one may enter and find one’s inheritance, a realm where there are both great and small.[22]

Young, discussing the present reality of the kingdom, states that the Kingdom of God comes from God alone, it is a driving force in that it brings healing to suffering humanity.[23] To this it appears that “according to Jesus and the Rabbis, the kingdom of heaven emerges, indeed, out of the power of God, but it is realized upon earth by men.[24] While the kingdom—a thoroughly Rabbinic concept—might have an eschatological function in Jesus’ ministry, the vast majority of “kingdom” sayings have to do with the here and now (e.g., Luke 17:21), while others appear to deal with the contemporary hopes of redemption (cf. Luke 21:31). In fact, we have several texts that pair the kingdom of God with healing (e.g., Luke 9:2, 10:9) and the “preaching of good news” (e.g., Luke 8:1, 16:16; Acts 8:12), whose Greek verb, εὐαγγελίζω should draw our attention back to its Hebrew equivalent, מְבַשֵּׂר (“bringer of good tidings,” Isa. 41:27). These so-called good tidings appear to involve the establishment of justice (Isa. 42:1) and the healing of those afflicted (Isa. 7-8), among whom the poor and the needy are numbered (Isa. 41:17). That said, it appears the primary driving force of the Kingdom of God, which is realized by humanity, is to bring justice and healing to those afflicted. It is not surprising, then, that “righteousness” (=charity) is associated with the kingdom of heaven in the Gospels.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ (δικαιοσύνης) sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν; Matt. 5:10).[25] For I tell you, unless your righteousness (δικαιοσύνη) exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν; Matt. 5:20). But seek first his kingdom (τὴν δικαιοσύνην αὐτοῦ [Tisch]) and his righteousness (δικαιοσύνην), and all these things shall be yours as well (Matt. 6:33).

This appears to perhaps have its genesis in the redemptive/messianic speculation of Isaiah,

 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore (לְמַרְבֵּה הַמִּשְׂרָה וּלְשָׁלוֹם אֵין־קֵץ עַל־כִּסֵּא דָוִד וְעַל־מַמְלַכְתּוֹ לְהָכִין אֹתָהּ וּלְסַעֲדָהּ בְּמִשְׁפָּט וּבִצְדָקָה מֵעַתָּה וְעַד־עוֹלָם קִנְאַת יי צְבָאוֹת תַּעֲשֶׂה־זֹּאת׃ דָּבָר שָׁלַח אֲדֹנָי בְּיַעֲקֹב וְנָפַל בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל). (Isa. 9:6-7).[26]

It is in Luke 12 that we find a connection between the God’s willingness to give the kingdom and the selling of one’s possessions in order to distribute it amongst the poor, “for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves…” (Luke 12:32-33). By selling one’s possession and by giving alms, one can store up “a treasure in the heavens that does not fail” (v. 34). Thus, it appears that storing treasure in heaven, that is, giving alms, is crucial part of being given, and receiving, the kingdom. As an aside, it should also be noted that the statement, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34=Matt. 6:21), likely reflects contemporary ideas regarding the “good heart.” The “good heart” (לב טוב) is often understood to be that person, who gives mercifully to those in need,

Now I will declare to you what I did. I saw a person who was in distress in nakedness during winter, and had compassion upon him, and stole away clothing from my house, and gave it secretly to him who was in distress. Therefore you also, my children, from that which God provides you, with unwavering compassion show mercy to all, and provide for every person with a good heart (ἀδιακρίτως πάντας σπλαγχνιζόμενοι ἐλεᾶτε, καὶ παρέχετε παντὶ ἀνθρώπῳ ἐν ἀγαθῇ καρδίᾳ).” (T. Zeb 7:1-2)

To this we might add, “Therefore guard yourselves, my children, from all jealousy and envy, and walk in generosity of soul and in goodness of heart…” (TSim 4:5). Thus, the ending of the Lukan teaching on charity sheds partial light on Jesus’ use of the “treasure in heaven” and unique value into the growth of the kingdom of God on earth—a kingdom that is realized by what humanity does to their fellow.

Charity, the Hasid, and the Hasidim

Illustration by N. C. Wyeth from 1911 edition of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Illustration by N. C. Wyeth from 1911 edition of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

We should add that the larger context of Luke 12 appears to imply that selling one’s possession involves selling “all” and distributing it amongst the poor and needy, which accords with Jesus’ response to the rich young man in Luke 18, “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor.” Otherwise, had the almsgiver been expected to retain any possession in Luke 12 or Matt. 6, why would the reader be instructed to depend on God to cloth or feed him (v. 28)? In other words, the individual described in Luke 12:22-31 (and Matt. 6) depicts someone who has given all and must utterly depend on God. The same holds true for vv. 32-34. The individual who has given all in charity is he who has a “good heart” and has truly stored his treasure in heaven rather than on earth as the fool does “who lays up treasure for himself…” (cf. 16-21). Therefore, Jesus’ statement to “sell all (πάντα) that you have…” (Luke 18:22=Mark 10:21=Matt. 19:21) fits neatly within Jesus’ message regarding the kingdom of heaven. Still, the peculiarity of the demand to “sell all” is unique, since it goes beyond what becomes the normative Rabbinic prohibition against giving more than one-fifth of one’s possessions to charity—a requirement that appears to have its roots in the first century B.C.E. (cf. Tob. 4:8). Anderson, however, has related Jesus’ so-called radical command to “sell all” to both the Mishnaic statement regarding those things that have no measure (i.e. no limit; שֶׁאֵין לָהֶן שֵׁיעוּר) and the “heroic almsgiving” of later Christianity.[27] The Mishnaic statement in tractate Peah (4:19), which describes those things that have no measure: peah,[28] first fruits offering, pilgrim’s offering, acts of loving-kindness, and Torah study. The only item on the list that involves, in some sense, charity in the form of alms are “acts of loving-kindness” (גְמִילוּת חֶסֶד). These acts of loving-kindness (also גמילות חסדים ) appear to be an umbrella term for several things, among which charity (צְדָקָה) is included. Even still the Tosefta draws a line of distinction between charity and acts of loving-kindness,

Charity and acts of loving-kindness outweigh all other commandments that are in the Torah except that charity is for the living and acts of loving-kindness are for the living and the dead; charity is for the poor, [while] acts of loving-kindness are the for the poor and the rich; charity [helps] with one’s finances, [while] acts of loving-kindness [helps] one’s financial and physical needs (‏צדקה וגמילות חסדים שקולין כנגד כל מצות שבתורה אלא שהצדק’ בחיים גמילות חסדי’ בחיים ובמתים צדקה בעניים גמילות חסדים בעניים ובעשירים צדקה בממונו גמילות חסדים בממונו ובגופו׃). (t. Peah 4:19; author’s translation).

It is worth noting, that within the list of those things in the Mishnah that have no limit, charity is not specifically mentioned. In fact the toseftan passage indicates that charity served specific function and can be seen in distinction to acts of loving-kindness.[29] Furthermore, having “no measure” is not the same as “giving all.” Anderson is right to note that the demand to “give all” is part of demands of kingdom of heaven, as we have discussed,[30] but the Mishnaic statement provides little to no help to understand the radical nature of Jesus’ statement. So our search to understand Jesus peculiar demand moves us away from the Mishnaic statement, as argued by Anderson, but not from ancient Judaism. Rabbinic literature preserves narratives of individuals who go beyond the legal requirements regarding charity. In fact, Anderson himself, utilizes one such story to show that some went beyond the determined limits, but misses a key aspect to unlocking Jesus’ statement. The story involves R. Eliezer ben Bartota,

Whenever the collectors of charity caught sight of R. Eleazar b. Bartota they would hide themselves from him, because he was in the habit of giving away to them all that he had. One day he was going to the market to buy wedding garments for his daughter. When the collectors of charity caught sight of him they hid themselves from him. He ran after them and said to them: “I adjure you, [tell me] on what mission are you engaged?” And they replied: “[The marriage of] an orphaned pair.” He said to then: “I swear, they must take precedence over my daughter.” And he took all that he had and gave to them. He was left with one zuz and with this he bought wheat which he deposited in the granary. When his wife returned to the house she asked her daughter, “what did your father bring home?” She replied, “He has put in the granary all that he had bought.” She thereupon went to open the door of the granary and she found that it was so full of wheat that the wheat protruded through the hinges of the door-socket and the door would not open on account of this. The daughter then went to the Beth-Hamidrash and said to him [her father], “Come and see what your Friend has done for you.” Whereupon he said to her, “I swear, they shall be to you as devoted property, and you shall have no more right to share in them than any poor person in Israel” (b. Ta’an 24a).

Eliezer is so used to giving all he has that the charity collectors hide from him. When he confronts them and finds out why they are collecting, Eliezer is of the opinion that the two orphans who are in need of money to get married take precedence over his daughter who has a family. This is despite the fact that his purpose with going out that day was to buy his own daughter wedding garments. With the remaining one zuz—a very small amount of money—he buys what wheat he can afford only for it to be multiplied in abundance after he heads to study. When informed by his daughter about this blessing, he proclaims that even what he has been blessed with will go to the poor. Thus, Eliezer gives all that he has to charity. Elsewhere, a dictum attributed to him is generally interpreted to reflect a unique view of charity, “R. Eleazar of Bartota says, ‘Give him [God] what is his, for you and yours are his:’ ‘For so does it say about David, For all things come of you, and of your own have we given you’ (1 Chron. 29:14)” (m. Avot 3:7a). In other words, you should give all you have to charity (which is equal to giving to God, cf. Matt. 25:31-46) since all you have is God’s because all comes from him. In the same tractate, the individual who says, “What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is yours,” this is a truly pious man (m. Avot 5:10). In other words, the truly pious individual reserved nothing for himself but gives all. The Hebrew term used for “the pious one” here is חָסִיד. During the first century there was a group of Jewish pietists known as the Hasidim or anshei maaseh (men of action). They were known in particular as miracle workers, whose style of prayer found popularity amongst public (m. Ber. 5:1, 5:5). This group appeared to exist on the fringe of the houses of study (beth hamidrashim or beth midrashim) and some tension with the larger Rabbinic class existed—although some rabbis were themselves Hasidim.[31] One of the unique qualities of this group is their emphasis on living lives of poverty,

In Hasidic thought, penury (poverty) is considered the ideal state that leads to all the other positive and praiseworthy qualities of character. Moreover, the stories about Hasidim usually stress their poverty. Rabbinic sources, on the other hand, generally mention the poverty of sages only during especially difficult times economically…[32]

and contrastingly, “the pietists emphasize derekh eretz [i.e. proper behavior], that is, concern for societal needs and care of the needy.”[33] Utilizing the talmudic narrative of Eliezer b. Bartota, who was likely a Hasid—as defined by m. Avot 5:10—in order to shape a general picture of these Jewish pietists, whatever the Hasid receives, even if through divine blessing, is given back to poor as charity. Very little if anything is retained, and all is given, with the knowledge that God will provide for the needs of that Hasid, and perhaps even his disciples, a la Luke 12 and Matt. 6. If Jesus belonged to this group of pietists—as we and others suggest—then his demand that his followers give all of their possessions to charity is no longer peculiar but rather a reflection of a distinct stream of Jewish piety that flourished in the first century C.E.[34]


Returning to the focal point of our study, once again, Jesus’ teaching reflects the novel developments, which occurred within the landscape of Second Temple Jewish thought in the years prior to his birth; in particular, “that altruistic, social love achieved the highest value index by being considered the very essence of Judaism.”[35] Luke’s extended teaching on charity (c. 12) and the pericope of Rich Young Man (c. 18), when examined in light of Second Temple Judaism, provide a historical and cultural context for Jesus’ use of the term “treasure in heaven.” As noted above, in extra-biblical Jewish texts the concept of storing up treasure with God is clearly associated with almsgiving. In some cases this laying up of treasure appears to protect from death and perhaps even the Day of Judgment (Tob. 4). Almsgiving, however, takes on a special significance in Jesus’ ministry and such is partially described with idiomatic expression “treasure in heaven.” But this phraseology is not simply a monetary donation but, quite distinctly, involves the selling of all of one’s possessions and distributing it to the poor. Moreover, a comparison with other Hasidim reveals why Jesus told the Rich Young Man to sell “all” that he had. While this ran contrary to the limits set by the Rabbis, the “heroic almsgiving” was not unique to Jesus or what would later become Christianity, as contended by Anderson, but instead was part of the Hasidic stream of Jewish piety that chose a life of austerity and asceticism. This austere life of the Hasid appeared to emphasize caring for the poor, so much so that what one receives, even if miraculously given, is returned in full to those in need. Yet, for Jesus, storing “treasure in heaven” played one more important role in that it allows the kingdom of heaven on earth—God’s present rule that is intended to bring healing to the afflicted—to be realized by humanity through the practice of giving charity.

  • [1] This paper was also presented during the ETS Northeast Regional Meeting (April 6th, 2013, Nyack, NY).
  • [2] David Flusser, “A New Senstivity in Judaism and the Christian Message” in Judaism and the Origins of Christianity (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1988), 469-489; repr. from HThR 61/2 (1968):107-127. Flusser draws a connection with this so-called new sensitivity and the statement of Antigonus of Sokho: “Do not be like servants who serve the master [God] on condition of receiving a reward, but [be] like servants who serve the master not on condition of receiving a reward, and let the awe [love] of Heaven be upon you (470).”
  • [3] It appears that the term כָּמוֹךָ could be understood as “one who is like yourself.” Notley has noted, “The definition is not, in fact, an external one, but a challenge for us to recognize that in each person we can find both good and bad—just like ourselves. We are to love even those we do not deem worthy, because we ourselves stand unworthily in need of God’s mercy (R. Steven Notley, Jesus Jewish Command to Love).”
  • [4] See R. Steven Notley and Jeffrey P. García, “Hebrew-Only Exegesis: A Philological Approach to Jesus’ Use of the Hebrew Bible” in The Language Environment of First Century Judaea: Jerusalem Studies in the Synoptic Studies (JCP 26; Leiden: Brill, 2014), 349-374.
  • [5] The first evidence of such a unique pairing occurs is in the book of Jubilees (36:7-8); See Flusser, “A New Sensitivity,” 474.
  • [6] A Talmudic tradition depicts Hillel the Elder responding to the desirous proselyte that Lev. 19:18 was the essence of the entire Torah (b. Shab. 31a)
  • [7] See, Jeffrey P. García, “Matt 19:20: ‘What Do I Still Lack?’ Jesus, Charity, and the Early Rabbis” (Presented at the Nyack College Graduate Program’s Inaugural Conference “The Gospels in First Century Judaea,” August 29th, 2013); Raphael Posner, “Charity” in Encyclopedia Judaica (ed. F. Skolnik and M. Birnbaum; 22 vols; 2nd ed.; Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA; Jerusalem: Keter Publishing Ltd.; 2007), 4:569-571; also, E.P. Sanders, “Charity and Love” in Judaism: Practice and Belief 63 B.C.E-66 C.E. (London: SCM Press; Philadelphia: Trinity International Press, 2005), 230-235. So important was charity that in Rabbinic Judaism it comes to be known as “the commandment (ha mitzvah);” see, Saul Lieberman, “Two Lexicographical Notes,” JBL 65/1 (Mar., 1946): 69-72; Gary Anderson, Charity: The Place of the Poor in the Biblical Tradition (Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2013).
  • [8] Gary Anderson, “A Treasury in Heaven: The Exegesis of Proverbs 10:2 in the Second Temple Period” in Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel 1/3 (2012): 351-367.
  • [9] The “day of necessity” (ἡμέραν ἀνάγκης) appears to have an apocalyptic character in 1 Enoch (cf. 1:1, 100:7).
  • [10] Several dates have been posited for this work, and while the entire texts is only extant in Slavonic, the overwhelming consensus is that it is both ancient and Jewish. The text quoted here fits well within the world of Second Temple Jewish thought and shares parallels with what appears in Tobit. See Michael Stone, “Apocalyptic Literature” in Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Literature (ed. M. Stone; Assen: Van Gorcum; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), 406; F. I. Andersen, “Enoch, Second Book of” in ABD (6 vols.; Doubleday: New York, 1992), 2:517.
  • [11] There is some thought that the phrase entered Judaism through Persian influence. See Almut Hintze, “Treasure in Heaven: A Theme in Comparative Religion” in Irano-Judaica VI: Studies Relating to Jewish Contacts with Persian Culture throughout the Ages (ed. S. Shaked and A. Netzer; Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi, 2008), 9-36. Hintze surveys Persian and Jewish literature that deal with heavenly account-keeping, which developed first from Zoroastrianism and then was borrowed by Judaism in the Persian period (11).
  • [12] In several texts where Tobit refers to almsgiving, ἐλεημοσύνη and δικαιοσύνη are juxtaposed. For example, Tob. 12:8, 9, for which a partial Qumran fragment exists (4Q200 f2:6-8), Prayer is good when accompanied by fasting, almsgiving, and righteousness. “A little with righteousness is better than much with wrongdoing. It is better to give alms than to store up gold” (ἀγαθὸν προσευχὴ μετὰ νηστείας καὶ ἐλεημοσύνης καὶ δικαιοσύνης·ἀγαθὸν τὸ ὀλίγον μετὰ δικαιοσύνης ἢ πολὺ μετὰ ἀδικίας· καλὸν ποιῆσαι ἐλεημοσύνην ἢ θησαυρίσαι χρυσίον.) and “For almsgiving delivers from death, and it will purge away every sin. Those who perform deeds of charity and of righteousness will have fullness of life…” (ἐλεημοσύνη γὰρ ἐκ θανάτου ῥύεται, καὶ αὐτὴ ἀποκαθαριεῖ πᾶσαν ἁμαρτίαν· οἱ ποιοῦντες ἐλεημοσύνας καὶ δικαιοσύνας πλησθήσονται ζωῆς·). The synonymous parallelism evident in Tobit is an indication that both Greek terms can function as “almsgiving” (cf. Sir. 44:10; perhaps also Sybl. 6:360); such is the case for δικαιοσύνη in Matt. 6:1. It should be noted, however, that in Greek thought δικαιοσύνη does not share precisely the same lexical range as צדקה; δικαιοσύνη in Classical Greek literature does not mean “charity” (δικαιοσύνη; LSJ, 429). Therefore, it perhaps might stand that the appearance of δικαιοσύνη with the meaning of “charity” reflects the translation of a Hebrew/Aramaic original, the direct influence of either language, or a text composed by an author whose native language was either.
  • [13] Anderson, “A Treasury in Heaven,” 366.
  • [14] In Josephus, the charitable deeds are credited to Queen Helena and not Monobazus; see, L.H. Schiffman, “The Conversion of the Royal House of Adiabene in Josephus and Rabbinic Sources” in Josephus, Judaism, and Christianity (ed. L. Feldman and G. Hata; Detroit: Wayne University Press, 1987), 293-312.
  • [15] Moshe Weinfeld, “‘Justice and Righteousness’—משפט וצדקה—the Expression and Its Meaning” in Justice and Righteousness: Biblical Themes and their Influence (ed. H.G. Reventlow and Y. Hoffman; JSOTSup 137; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1992), 245. See also, Lawrence H. Schiffman, “Foundations of Tzedek and Tzedakah: Righteousness and Charity in Jewish Tradition” (unpublished article).
  • [16] See also, Roger Brooks, “Peah” in The Tosefta: Translated from the Hebrew with a New Introduction (Massachusetts: Hendrickson Press, 2002), 1:74-75.
  • [17] The language of the Matthean passage, “do not treasure…treasure” is decidedly redundant and betrays a Semitic feel.
  • [18] David Bivin has noted here that the minor agreement in Matt. and Luke, utilizing the plural “heavens” is a Hebraism which reflects the Hebrew שמים. See David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton, “LOY 47: Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven,” Comment to L48-49. Cf. T. Levi 13:5, noted above
  • [19] It should be noted that the Matthean parallel does not explicitly teach on charity.
  • [20] The “kingdom of heaven” and the “kingdom of God” are synonymous; Heaven is a well-known circumlocution for God in this time period.
  • [21] E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1985), 154-156.
  • [22] David Flusser and R. Steven Notley, Jesus (3rd ed.; Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2001), 111; and, idem, The Sage from Galilee: Rediscovering Jesus’ Genius (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007).
  • [23] Brad Young, Jesus the Jewish Theologian (Michigan: Baker Academic Press, 1993), 108.
  • [24] Flusser and Notley, Jesus, 108, emphasis added.
  • [25] Lindsey suggests that one can read this passage “blest are the righteousness-driven,” in other words those who seek “righteousness” (=our definition, almsgiving) are blessed (Jesus, Rabbi, and Lord (Jerusalem Perspective), 123). See also, Randall Buth, “Pursuing Righteousness,” (Jerusalem Perspective) who suggests “although Lindsey’s proposal may reflect the intent of what Jesus originally said, it is a reconstruction that can only be adopted by a theologian or a historian. A translator of Matthew must translate what Matthew wrote, and it is most probable that he intended a passive idiom.”
  • [26] Steven Notley brought the collocation of “righteousness” and “kingdom” to my attention in a private correspondence.
  • [27] Gary Anderson, Sin: A History (Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2012), 180
  • [28] Peah is strictly the agricultural-based charity where the landowner would leave certain corners of his field so that the poor could glean from these corners. The biblical source of the laws of Peah appear in Lev. 19:19, 23:22. These laws as such appear to encompass more than the corners of the field; they include “gleanings” (לֶּקֶט), “forgotten sheaves” (הַשִּׁכְחָה), “immature clusters of grapes” (הָעוֹלֵלוֹת), “grapes that fall from their clusters” (פֶרֶט), and the tithe which is given to the poor מַעֲשֵׂר שֵׁינִי (cf. Lev. 19:10, 19, 23:22; Deut. 24:19, 24:21, 14:28-29, 26:12-13).
  • [29] NT readers will find that acts of loving-kindness are attested in the judgment scene of Matt. 25.
  • [30] Anderson, Sin, 180.
  • [31] Chana Safrai and Ze’ev Safrai, “Rabbinic Holy Men” in Saints and Role Models in Ancient Judaism and Christianity (ed. Marcius Poorthuis and Joshua Schwartz; JCP 7; Leiden: Brill, 2003), 60.
  • [32] Shmuel Safrai, “Jesus and Hasidim,” (Jerusalem Perspective)
  • [33] Safrai and Safrai, “Rabbinic Holy Men,” 62.
  • [34] Cf. also S. Safrai, “Jesus as a Hasid” in Proceedings of the Tenth World Congress of Jewish Studies, (Jerusalem: World Union of Jewish Studies, 1990), 1–7 [Hebrew]; idem, “Mishnat Hasidim in Tannaitic Literature” in Ve-Hinei Ein Yosef, A Collection in Memory of Yosef Amorai (Tel Aviv, 1973), 136-52 [Hebrew]; idem “The Pious and the Men of Deeds,” Zion 50 (1985): 133-54 [Hebrew]; idem, “The Term Derekh Erez,” Tarbiz 60 (1991): 147-62 [Hebrew].
  • [35] Flusser, “A New Sensitivity,” 474.

Hebraisms in the New Testament

“Hebraisms in the New Testament” was published in Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics (4 vols.; ed. Geoffrey Khan; Leiden: Brill, 2013), 2:198-201, and is used here with Brill’s permission.[1]

Revised: 31-October-2017

A ‘Hebraism’ is a typical feature of the Hebrew language found in another language. In this article, the term is used to refer to a Hebrew feature found in the Greek of the New Testament (NT).

The majority of today’s NT authorities assume that Aramaic lies behind the Semitisms of the NT, and that Jesus spoke Aramaic as his primary language. This is so much so, in fact, that the student who consults standard reference works is informed that the Greek words for ‘Hebrew’ and for ‘in the Hebrew language’ (not only in the NT, but in Josephus and other texts) refer to the Aramaic language (BDAG 270). Moreover, although Acts 22.2 specifically uses the expression τῇ Ἑβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ (tē hebraidi dialektō, ‘in the Hebrew language’) to refer to the language Paul is speaking at this point in the narrative, many English translations (e.g., NIV, NET) render these words as ‘in Aramaic’—even though the terms ‘Hebrew’ and ‘Aramaic’ are kept quite distinct in Greek texts from the period, such as the Septuagint (LXX) and the works of Josephus.

Since the discovery of the non-biblical Dead Sea Scrolls manuscripts, about eighty percent of which are written in Hebrew (Abegg 2000:461), the Hebrew Bar-Kokhba letters, and other epigraphic materials, a reassessment of the language situation in the Land of Israel in the 1st century C.E. has taken place. It now appears that Hebrew was alive and well as both a written and a spoken language (Bar-Asher 2006:568-569). Scholars have begun moving in the direction of a trilingual approach, with three primary languages, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, available for use (see, e.g., the ossuary inscriptions collected in Rahmani 1994). Hebrew served as the traditional language of the Jewish community; Aramaic served as the lingua franca of the Near East; and Greek served as the international lingua franca throughout the Mediterranean (Bar-Asher 2006:585). To be more specific, Aramaic was probably dominant in the Galilee,[2] Hebrew prevailed in Judea, and a multilingual situation characterized Jerusalem, Caesarea, and other large cities. The result of this multilingual situation, especially for the topic at hand, is a host of Semitisms (both Hebraisms and Aramaisms) in the NT (for listings, see Howard 1920:411-485; Fitzmyer 1981:113-125; Davies-Allison 1988:1 80-85).

There are ten references to the Hebrew language in the NT: τῇ Ἑβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ (tē hebraidi dialektō, ‘in the Hebrew language’; Acts 21.40; 22.2; 26.14); Ἑβραϊστί (hebraisti, ‘in Hebrew’; John 5.2; 19.13, 17, 20; 20.16; Rev. 9.11; 16.16). Paul speaks to a crowd in the Temple in Jerusalem “in the Hebrew language” (Acts 21.40; 22.2), and Jesus speaks to Paul “in the Hebrew language” (Acts 26.14). The author of John gives the Greek transliterations of three place names—Bethzatha, Gabbatha, Golgotha—and despite their Aramaic etymology, he accepts these proper nouns as part of the Hebrew language. This author also records that the notice Pilate placed on the cross of Jesus “was written in Hebrew [Ἑβραϊστί (hebraisti)], Greek and Latin”; and that Mary addressed the resurrected Jesus in Hebrew as ῥαββουνί (rabbouni, ‘my master’). The author of Revelation records two Hebrew names: Ἀβαδδών (Abaddōn, ‘the angel of the bottomless pit’ [Hebrew: אבדון ’aḇadōn, ‘destruction’]), and Ἁρμαγεδών (Harmagedōn, ‘mountain of Megiddo’ [Hebrew: הר מגידון har məḡiddōn]), a place name.

The Aramaic language is not mentioned in the NT, although it is referred to six times in the LXX (2 Kgs. 18.26; Ezra 4.7; 2 Macc. 15.36; Job 42.17b; Isa. 36.11; Dan. 2.4). The term Συριστί (Sūristi, ‘in the Aramaic language’) is the LXX’s translation of אֲרָמִית (arāmit); adjectival Συριακή (Sūriakē) in 2 Macc. 15.36; Job 42.17b.

It is often difficult to distinguish Hebrew from Aramaic in Greek transliteration. Most transliterated proper nouns, e.g., Γεθσημανεί (Gethsēmanei; Matt. 26.36; Mark 14.32) and Ταβειθά (Tabeitha; Acts 9.36, 40), may be Hebrew or Aramaic, and, regardless of their origin, could be used in either language (or any language, for that matter). Common nouns, such as μαμωνᾶς (mamōnas, ‘mammon,’ ‘wealth’; Matt. 6.24; Luke 16.9, 11, 13) and κορβᾶν (korban, ‘corban,’ a gift dedicated to the Temple’; Mark 7.11), are used in both languages. However, the form ραββουνι (rabbouni) deserves comment. The word appears twice in the NT: Mark 10.51 and John 20.16, in the latter of which it is correctly called “Hebrew”. Most scholars assume this word is Aramaic, but, as Kutscher demonstrated (1977:268-271) on the basis of the most reliable manuscript evidence of Rabbinic Hebrew, it is acceptable first-century C.E. western Hebrew; cf. the form רַבּוּנוֹ (rabūnō, ‘his master’; Mishna Ta’anit 3.8 [Codex Kaufmann]).

In addition to Hebrew items, a number of transliterated Aramaic words are found in the NT: ταλιθὰ κούμ (talitha koum, ‘little girl, get up’; Mark 5.41); ελωι ελωι λεμα σαβαχθανι (elōi elōi lema sabachthani, ‘my God, my God, why did you forsake me’; Mark 15.34); Ἁκελδαμάχ (Hakeldamach, ‘field of blood’; Acts 1.19); and μαρὰν ἀθά (maran atha, ‘our lord, come’; 1 Cor. 16.22). Regarding ἐφφαθά (ephphatha, ‘be opened’; Mark 7.34), Abegg (2000:462) observed that the Greek transcription “is ambiguous and by form more likely Hebrew than Aramaic.”

Like the language of the Bar Kokhba letters (where תשמים abbreviates את השמים), as well as all living languages (e.g., modern American English has, “Betcha could,” or “Don’t wanna go”), Modern Hebrew, too, abbreviates speech, as this Israeli weekly magazine cover illustrates. The upper line of the banner held by the children reads מנקים תעולם (“We are cleaning up the environment”), with an abbreviation sign (′) over the ת to show that it stands for -את ה. The abbreviated מְנַקִּים תַּעוֹלָם, i.e, מְנַקִּים אֶת הָעוֹלָם, could only occur in a living, spoken language.

Two registers of Hebrew existed side-by-side in the first century C.E.: a high language and a low language. The former was a continuation of Biblical Hebrew, especially Late Biblical Hebrew (LBH), and may be seen in many of the sectarian scrolls found at Qumran. The latter, a more colloquial variety, is illustrated by certain non-literary documents from the Judean Desert (cf., e.g., מעיד אני עלי תשמים [meʿid ʾani ʿalai taš-šamayim, ‘I call heaven as witness’; Murabbaʿat 43.3], with a reduced form of the nota accusativi [normally, את (ʾet)] affixed to the following noun), but primarily by Tannaitic literature. Hebraisms emanating from both registers are to be found in the NT, as illustrated below.

The aforementioned transcriptions of Hebrew lexemes are only the most obvious Hebraisms in the NT, but other influences may be seen as well. Most prominently, the Greek prose of the NT sometimes reflects an underlying Hebrew grammatical structure. Examples of such ‘literary Hebraisms’ are the structures [subjectless ἐγένετο (egeneto) + time phrase + finite verb] (Mark 2x; Matt. 5x; Luke 22x) and [subjectless ἐγένετο (egeneto) + time phrase + καί (kai) + finite verb] (Matt. 1x; Luke 11x). Both constructions are Septuagintal equivalents of the biblical ‏וַיְהִי (wa-yhī, ‘and it was’) structures. Both are non-Lukan in style since, although they occur frequently in Luke’s gospel (apparently copied by Luke from one or more sources), they do not occur in Acts (the exemplar of Luke’s own hand, especially Acts 16-28). A deceptively similar syntactical structure, [ἐγένετο (egeneto) + infinitive as the main verb], does appear in both Luke and Acts. However, this structure is idiomatic Greek, and not a syntactical feature of Hebrew, nor is it found in the LXX (Buth and Kvasnica 2006:73, 268-273).

Selected examples of low-register Hebraisms, which appear in quoted speech within the Synoptic Gospels, include the following:

(1) In Luke 15.18, 21 the prodigal son says to his father: ἥμαρτον εἰς τὸν οὐρανόν (hēmarton eis ton ouranon, ‘I have sinned against heaven’). The post-biblical idiom ‘Heaven’ as a euphemism for ‘God’ to avoid the tetragrammaton does not occur in the Bible, nor is it found in the LXX. “The use of the term ‘Heaven’ in Luke 15.18, 21 as a substitute for the Divine Name can hardly be a septuagintism” (Wilcox 1992:5:1082). However, the idiom also exists in Aramaic (see Sokoloff 2002:557).

(2) In Matt. 12.42 (= Luke 11.31) Jesus uses the expression βασίλισσα νότου (basilissa notou, ‘queen of south’). This expression is apparently a literal Greek translation of מלכת תימן (malkat teman, ‘queen of Teman’), a post-biblical equivalent for biblical מַלְכַּת שְׁבָא (malkat shevā’,  ‘queen of Sheba’; 1 Kgs. 10.1, etc.; always [8x] βασίλισσα Σαβα [basilissa Saba] in the LXX). “Neither in Greek nor in Aramaic could the term for ‘south’ be used as an equivalent of Sheba” (Grintz 1960:39). Notice also that βασίλισσα νότου (basilissa notou) has no article, likely as a result of its being the translation of Hebrew construct state.

(3) Jesus said to Peter, σὰρξ καὶ αἷμα οὐκ ἀπεκάλυψέν σοι (sarx kai aima ouk apekalūpsen soi, ‘flesh and blood did not reveal [this] to you’; Matt. 16.17), something that would have been unclear to a Greek-speaker outside a Jewish environment. The expression בשר ודם (basar vadam, ‘flesh and blood,’ i.e., a mortal human being) is a post-biblical idiom (cf. Mishna Nazir 9.5; Mishna Sota 8.1). The expression is not found in the LXX, nor is it an Aramaism (Grintz 1960:36).

(4) The theological concept העולם הבא (ha-ʿolam hab-baʾ, ‘the world to come,’  lit. ‘the coming world’) is coupled by Jesus in Luke 18.30 with חיי עולם (ḥayye ʿōlām, ‘eternal life,’ lit. ‘life of eternity’), a LBH expression, in a wordplay based on the dual meaning of Hebrew עולם as ‘eternity’ and ‘world’ in Second Temple Hebrew, καὶ ἐν τῷ αἰῶνι τῷ ἐρχομένῳ ζωὴν αἰώνιον (kai en tō aiōni tō erchomenō zōēn aiōnion [conjectured Heb.: ובעולם הבא חיי עולם (u-ḇa-ʿolam hab-baʾ ḥayye ʿolam, lit., ‘and in the coming world life of eternity’]). For this same wordplay, see Mishna Avot 2.7 (Codex Kaufmann). The expression העולם הבא (ha-ʿolam hab-baʾ) does not appear in the Bible or the LXX, but it is found often in rabbinic literature, e.g., 15x in the Mishnah; while חיי עולם (ḥayye ʿōlām) appears once in the Bible (Dan. 12.2). The wordplay is also possible in Aramaic.

(5) The wordplay ‘forgive a sinner’s sins’ / ‘forgive (i.e., cancel) a debtor’s debts’, found in Luke 7.36-50 and Matt. 18.23-35, is possible because of two senses of the Hebrew (and Aramaic) verb מחל (maḥal, ‘to forgive’) In post-biblical Hebrew, מחל (maḥal) replaced the BH סָלַח (sālaḥ, ‘to forgive someone,’ ‘forgive sins’ [but in BH never ‘to forgive a debt’!]). Apparently, the two senses of מחל (maḥal) are also behind the request, ‘Forgive us our debts’ in the sense of ‘Forgive us our sins’, in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6.12). The equation ‘sinners’ = ‘debtors is found in a case of synonymous parallelism in Luke 13.2, 4. In early rabbinic sources there are numerous examples of the expressions ‘forgive wrongs or sins’ and ‘forgive debts’ with the verb מחל (maḥal), e.g., ‘he is not forgiven until he seeks [forgiveness] from [the plaintiff]’ (Mishna Bava Qamma 8.7); ‘[if the victim] forgave him the value of the principal” (Mishna Bava Qamma 9.6); ‘forgive me this morsel’ (Tosefta Bava Batra 5.8); and ‘[sins] against God you are forgiven’ (מוחלים לך [mōḥalim lecha]; Sifra, Aḥare Mot 8 [to Lev. 16.30]). The exact expression ‘forgive sin or debt’ with the verb מחל (maḥal) has not turned up in the more meager Second Temple Hebrew and Aramaic literary remains (מחל [maḥal] is found only 5x, in the non-biblical DSS). However, the nouns חוב (ḥōv) and חובה (ḥōvah), connoting both ‘sin, guilt’ and ‘debt’, along with the verbal root חו″ב (ḥ-v-b) ‘sin, be guilty of’ and ‘be indebted,’ are attested. In Hebrew texts, we find, e.g., כלנו חייבים (kullanū ḥayyavim, ‘[Remember that] we all are guilty’; Sir. 8.5; cf. Sir. 11.18; CD 3.10). In Aramaic texts, one finds, e.g., ‘your sins…your wrongs’ (4Q537 f6.1), where the plural of חוב (ḥōv, ‘sin,’ ‘debt’) is parallel to the plural of its synonym חטא (ḥeṭʾ, ‘sin’).

In sum, the text of the NT contains many Semitic elements, some of which are Hebraisms and some of which are Aramaisms. The Hebrew language is mentioned ten times in the NT: Jesus, Paul, and Mary speak “in the Hebrew language”; three toponyms bear ‘Hebrew’ names; even an angel has a ‘Hebrew’ name. The notice Pilate had placed on Jesus’ cross was written ‘in Hebrew,’ as well as in Greek and Latin. The Synoptic Gospels show evidence for the existence of two registers of Hebrew: a high, literary register and a low, spoken one. Translations of Hebrew syntactic structures and literary phrases are found in the narrative framework of these gospels; while direct speech exhibits wordplays and idioms that are typical of post-biblical, spoken Hebrew.

Enlargement of an ossuary fragment discovered in Jerusalem bearing a Hebrew “Corban” inscription. Translation: “Any man who [intends to use] it [should regard] it as Corban [i.e., dedicated to the Temple].” Photo: Boaz Zissu. Courtesy of Boaz Zissu.


  • Abegg, Martin G., Jr. 2000. “Hebrew language”. Dictionary of New Testament background, ed. by Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter, 459-463. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity.
  • Bar-Asher, Moshe. 2006. “Mishnaic Hebrew: An introductory survey”. The literature of the sages: Second part, ed. by Shmuel Safrai, Zeev Safrai, Joshua Schwartz, and Peter J. Tomson, 567-595. Assen: Royal Van Gorcum and Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
  • BDAG = Bauer, Walter, Frederick W. Danker, William Arndt, and Felix W. Gingrich. 2000. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. 3rd edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Buth, Randall. 1990. “Edayin/Tote—Anatomy of a Semitism in Jewish Greek”. Maarav 5-6:33-48.
  • Buth, Randall and Kvasnica, Brian. 2006. “Temple authorities and tithe evasion: The linguistic background and impact of the parable of ‘the vineyard, the tenants and the son'”. Jesus’ last week: Jerusalem studies in the synoptic gospels, ed. by R. Steven Notley, Marc Turnage, and Brian Becker, 53-80, 259-317. Leiden: Brill.
  • Davies, William David and Dale C. Allison, Jr. 1988. A critical and exegetical commentary on the gospel according to Saint Matthew (International Critical Commentary). Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.
  • Eshel, Hanan. 2006. “On the use of the Hebrew language in economic documents from the Judean Desert”. Jesus’ last week: Jerusalem studies in the synoptic gospels, ed. by R. Steven Notley, Marc Turnage, and Brian Becker, 245-258. Leiden: Brill.
  • Fitzmyer, Joseph A. 1981. The gospel according to Luke (Anchor Bible Commentary). Garden City, New York: Doubleday.
  • Grintz, Jehoshua M. 1960. “Hebrew as the spoken and written language in the last days of the Second Temple”. Journal of Biblical Literature 79:32-47.
  • Howard, Wilbert Francis. 1920. “Semitisms in the New Testament”. A grammar of New Testament Greek, ed. by James Hope Moulton, Wilbert Francis Howard, and Nigel Turner, vol. 2, 411-485. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.
  • Joosten, Jan. 2004. “Aramaic or Hebrew behind the gospels?” Analecta Bruxellensia 9:88-101.
  • ____. 2005. “The ingredients of New Testament Greek”. Analecta Bruxellensia 10:56-69.
  • Joosten, Jan and Menahem Kister. 2010. “The New Testament and Rabbinic Hebrew”. The New Testament and rabbinic literature (Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism 136), ed. by Reimund Bieringer, Florentino García Martínez, Didier Pollefeyt, and Peter J. Tomson, 335-350. Leiden: Brill.
  • Kutscher, Eduard Yechezkel. 1977. Hebrew and Aramaic studies (Hebrew, and English). Jerusalem: Magnes.
  • ____. 1982. A history of the Hebrew language. Jerusalem: Magnes and Leiden: Brill.
  • Rahmani, Levi Yitshak. 1994. A catalogue of Jewish ossuaries in the collections of the State of Israel. Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority and Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.
  • Safrai, Shmuel. 2006. “Spoken and literary languages in the time of Jesus”. Jesus’ last week: Jerusalem studies in the synoptic gospels, ed. by R. Steven Notley, Marc Turnage, and Brian Becker, 225-244. Leiden: Brill.
  • Sokoloff, Michael. 2002. A dictionary of Jewish Palestinian Aramaic of the Byzantine Period. Ramat-Gan: Bar Ilan University Press.
  • Wilcox, Max. 1992. “Semiticisms in the New Testament”. Anchor Bible Dictionary vol. 5, 1081-1086.
  • Zissu, Boaz and Amir Ganor. 2007. “A new ‘qorban’ inscription on an ossuary from Jerusalem” (in Hebrew). Cathedra 123:5-12, 193.

The Numbers Game: Bible Codes (Numerology and Gematria)

Double question received from Ted Hesser (Copper Center, Alaska, U.S.A.) that was published in the “Readers’ Perspective” column of Jerusalem Perspective 55 (Apr.-Jun. 1999): 8.

I have two questions, the first of which concerns the genealogy in Matthew. Dr. Lindsey said that Matthew’s genealogy is quite Hebraic, and that much of the Gospels was taken from material translated from the Hebrew. I am convinced, but wonder how Matthew 1:1–11 was written in Greek with such perfect mathematical symmetry. In these eleven verses, there are seven substantive nouns, 35 (7 x 5) names, seven other words, and a total of 49 (7 x 7) words in the vocabulary. In the 35 names there are 196 (14 x 14) letters, and in the three women’s names there is a total of fourteen letters. And of course, I will add that the evangelist built into his genealogy a pattern based on fourteen generations. Could that have resulted from a translation from the Hebrew? Or was it divinely or humanly altered to create such a pattern, and if so, for what reason?

The second question relates to The New Testament in the Original Greek by Westcott and Hort (1881). Gail A. Riplinger in her book New Age Bible Versions gives information concerning Westcott and Hort which casts doubt on the authenticity of their work. The omissions, based on the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament and the United Bible Societies’ text (3rd ed.), found in the margin of my NKJV do seem to show a pattern that could reflect a theological bias. Moreover, these omissions seem to conflict with the abundance of mathematical patterns in the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament. Note particularly the numerical patterns in Genesis 1:1—seven words, 28 letters, and the addition of the gematria of various words yielding 777, 888 and 999. The patterns in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are also remarkable.

Randall Buth responds:

Biblical writers infrequently consciously used numerical patterns or codes in their compositions. As you mention, Matthew himself structured his genealogy around a repeating pattern of 14 generations. Gematria—playing with the numerical value of words in Hebrew or Greek—is, however, distracting at best. The prophets communicated their message in a manner which they expected their audiences to understand. Men of old penned the books of the Bible so that their contents would be understood.

In the past, many have tried to use gematria as proof of the Bible’s perfection. In our day, newcomers repeat the efforts of others despite the fact that such an exercise runs up against serious objections. First of all, number patterns like the ones identified in your letter are selected with a certain subjectivity. For example, assigning a numerical value to each letter of each word in Genesis 1:1 and, then, totaling the numerical value of each word yields the following series: 913, 203, 86, 401, 395, 407 and 296. I do not see a divine message in these numbers. Ah, but the content! “In the beginning God created heaven and earth.”

The Matthean example also serves well for showing how selective subjectivity is at work to “produce” a pattern. Why were the verbs not counted in your selection? There are 27 (3 x 9). Why was verse 11’s “Babylon” chosen as a break? A more natural break in Matthew’s list is verse 1:6b: “…fathered David the king.” For comparison, the statistics for verses 1–6 are: 90 words (that is 2 x 3 x 3 x 5, and the factors add up to 13!), 6 substantive nouns, 34 names (2 x 17), 21 different names, excluding repeated names (3 x 7), 15 conjunctions (3 x 5), 19 articles, 3 prepositions, and so on. Within any section of text, one may define and find a multitude of things. By necessity, assigning numerical values will produce numbers, and by necessity, numbers will frequently be multiples of 3, 7, etc. A person only needs to keep counting different subsets until a pattern of sevens, or another auspicious number, emerges. Once it does, the “decoder” then moves on to another text and repeats the procedure.

Wescott & HortRegarding Westcott and Hort, a gentle warning to be careful of ad hominem arguments is in order. What is an ad hominem argument? For example, theory A is associated with person B. Person B is alleged to be a bad person by person C. Therefore, theory A is suspect, or worse. A better question would be: Is theory A sound? If so, fine.

Today’s published New Testament Greek texts are based on a sifting of manuscript evidence. They happen to line up closely with Westcott and Hort’s text produced in the last century. This may be taken as a compliment to Westcott and Hort’s critical acumen. They had to make textual decisions based on less evidence than is available today, yet they were able to reach many of the same conclusions that twentieth-century textual critics have reached.

For more on Bible codes, see Jack Poirier, “ Does God Play Scrabble?“—JP

Why Learn to Speak a Dead Language?

You might inquire, “Now that you’re a pensioner, what, for Heaven’s sake, do you do with all your spare time?” Well, other than playing with my four grandsons, ages 7, 5 and 3 (twins), I don’t have much to do. ☺

Of course, I do have to spend a few dozen hours a week maintaining the website, and a few dozen more researching and writing articles. In addition, at my age, one shouldn’t forget that regular aerobic and strength conditioning is important. With so little to occupy my time (smile), I decided to devote several hours a week to learning to speak Koine Greek, the Greek that was spoken in the Mediterranean world at the time Jesus lived.

Following the lead of my colleague, fellow Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research member and JerusalemPerspective.com author, Randall Buth, I began trying to internalize ancient Greek by speaking it and hearing it spoken, rather than just passively reading the text of the New Testament.

Why would anyone want to do that?! Why would anyone in his or her right mind want to speak a “dead” language, a language that no one speaks? (Modern Greek speakers cannot understand their ancient tongue.) The answer: Because only by speaking a language does one internalize it, and it was high time, Randall and I felt, having tasted fluency in Hebrew, that we should gain an active knowledge of Koine Greek.

When we started this endeavor, Randall and I had been studying and reading Greek for approximately thirty years; however, we still didn’t have the active command of the language that a New Testament scholar should be expected to have, so that if someone were to have asked us to tell in Greek what we were doing last week we wouldn’t have been able to do it. That situation, although not uncommon among New Testament scholars, is intolerable. (See my blog, “My Knowledge of Greek: An Embarrassment for Too Long!“)

Randall explains all this on his website, BiblicalLanguageCenter.com. See his article there that explains how he determined the Greek pronunciation used in the first century (which we would later use as our pronunciation). He’s created textbooks (the series is titled Living Biblical Greek) and recordings. View a sample lesson from his Koine Greek course. His Biblical Language Center offers summer and spring-break Greek programs here in Israel.

Randall, I and a few other similarly “mad” students meet each week to read and discuss Koine Greek texts. Over the last eight months we’ve read The Shepherd of Hermas (a work of the Church Fathers) and we’ve just completed (end of May) reading The Testament of Abraham, a book belonging to the Pseudepigrapha.

Since January, the Biblical Language Center has held three- and four-day retreats every five to six weeks at Beit Bracha in Migdal, overlooking the Sea of Galilee. During these mini-retreats we allow ourselves to communicate only in Koine Greek. Last summer, Randall, I and three other students spent two weeks on the Greek island of Cos (see Acts 21:1) listening to and speaking only ancient Greek.

We make slower progress than we would were we learning to speak a modern language, because, for one thing, we lack native informants. We have no one to ask, “How do you say this or that word in Greek?” but, thanks be to our Heavenly Father, we’re slowly becoming στωμύλοι (stomyloi, fluent). In fact, our improving ability to “read between the lines” of the New Testament is very exciting! Almost every week we notice points in the text that had escaped our attention during previous years of study.

For example, when Paul arrives back in Jerusalem (Acts 21:17) at the end of his third evangelistic journey, the very next morning he reports on his work among the Gentiles to James (the brother of Jesus) and the other elders (Acts 21:18-19). According to the NIV, the Jerusalem elders say to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law.” However, the Greek text doesn’t read “thousands [χίλιοι],” but “tens of thousands [μυριάδες]”—Greek, like Hebrew, has a special word for “10,000.” The NIV is not alone in rendering μυριάδες as “thousands.” Most English versions of the New Testament, including KJV, ASV, RSV, NLT, NRSV, NAB, NASB, REB, TEV, AMP, ESP, GWORD and NET, translate “tens of thousands” as “thousands.” The NKJV and YNG translate with the word “myriads,” while the MESSAGE renders “thousands upon thousands.” Only CEV and CJB render μυριάδες literally as “tens of thousands.” While μυριάδες, like the English “myriads,” can sometimes be rendered “innumerable,” the English reader is unaware that the Greek text literally reads “tens of thousands.” (Notice that translators render μυριάδες literally in Acts 19:19: “five tens of thousands.”)

Suffice it to say, there’s a great difference between 7,000-8,000 and 70,000-80,000 Jewish believers in an estimated mid-first-century Jerusalem population of 250,000! Could one out of every four or five people on the streets of first-century Jerusalem have been a follower of Jesus? Translators of the New Testament have decided for us that Greek myriads couldn’t possibly be understood literally—there couldn’t have been that many Jewish followers of Jesus at that time. Without a note from the translators indicating they’re not translating the literal meaning of the word, the English-speaking reader is oblivious to other translation possibilities. (See my four-minute video, “How Many Jews Followed Jesus: ‘Many Thousands’ or ‘Many Tens of Thousands’? (Acts 21:20).”)

Is learning to speak Koine Greek worth it? Yes! For someone of my age? Yes! Τοῦ θεοῦ θέλοντος (Lord willing), my improved understanding of the Greek text of the New Testament will be apparent in my interpretations of the living words of Yeshua.

Hebrew as a Spoken Language in First-century Israel

An extremely interesting discussion is now taking place on the Bible Translation Discussion List (Bible-Translation@lists.kastanet.org). Jack Kilmon has stated (13Nov08), “Jesus/Yeshua’s native language was Aramaic. That is no longer disputed in serious scholarship,” and (15Nov08), “There is no evidence whatsoever that ordinary people spoke Hebrew in the late 2nd temple period.”

Contra Kilmon: Hebrew was a living language in first-century Israel, part of a multilingual environment (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek). Jewish teachers of that period (first-century tannaim from both Galilee and Judea) ordinarily passed on their teachings in Hebrew. For example, parables were preserved in Hebrew. Shmuel Safrai writes,

The parable was one of the most common tools of rabbinic instruction from the second century B.C.E. until the close of the amoraic period at the end of the fifth century C.E. Thousands of parables have been preserved in complete or fragmentary form, and are found in all types of literary compositions of the rabbinic period, both halachic and aggadic, early and late. All of the parables are in Hebrew. Amoraic literature often contains stories in Aramaic, and a parable may be woven into the story; however the parable itself is always in Hebrew (b. Baba Qam. 60b; or b. Sotah 40a). There are instances of popular sayings in Aramaic, but every single parable is in Hebrew” (“Spoken and Literary Languages in the Time of Jesus,” in Jesus’ Last Week: Jerusalem Studies in the Synoptic Gospels, Vol. 1 [ed. R. S. Notley, M. Turnage and B. Becker; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2005], 238; see also Randall Buth and Brian Kvasnica, “Temple Authorities and Tithe Evasion: The Linguistic Background and Impact of the Parable of the Vineyard, the Tenants and the Son,” in Jesus’ Last Week, 58, n. 17).

Hebrew also was typically chosen for written accounts of Jewish religious significance, as evidenced by post-biblical writings such as Ben Sira, 1 Maccabees (according to consensus), by the Qumran texts and tannaic Hebrew texts. On the significant lack of Aramaic targum at Qumran, see Randall Buth, “Where Is the Aramaic Bible at Qumran? Scripture Use in the Land of Israel.”

The Second Temple period epigraphical material is more frequently Hebrew than Aramaic. Just last month Israeli archaeologists unearthed part of a first-century limestone sarcophagus cover with the Hebrew inscription בן הכהן הגדול (ben hacohen hagadol, son of the High Priest).

If it is likely that the literary language of Jews in the time of Jesus was Hebrew, and the ordinary language of teaching was Hebrew, what was the primary spoken language of the Jewish residents of the Land? It appears that it, too, was Hebrew.

Randall Buth has pointed out to me a fascinating indication that Hebrew was the spoken language in the first century. The Jewish historian Josephus describes an incident that took place during the siege of Jerusalem (War 5:269-272). Josephus relates that watchmen were posted on the towers of the city walls to warn residents of incoming stones fired from Roman ballistae. Whenever a stone was on its way, the spotters would shout “in their native tongue, ‘The son is coming!’” (War 5:272). The meaning the watchmen communicated to the people was: האבן באה (ha-even ba’ah, the stone is coming). However, because of the urgency of the situation, these words were clipped, being abbreviated to בן בא (ben ba, son comes). (This well-known Hebrew wordplay is attested in the New Testament: “God is able from these avanim [stones] to raise up banim [sons] to Abraham” [Matt. 3:9 = Luke 3:8].)

The wordplay (and pun) that Josephus preserves is unambiguously Hebrew. This wordplay does not work in Aramaic: kefa ate (the stone is coming), or the more literary, avna ata, when spoken rapidly, do not sound like bara ate (the son is coming). Another Aramaic word for “stone,” aven, which is related to Hebrew, changes the gender of the verb and, in any case, does not work with “son.”

Certainly, a warning about an incoming missile needs to be as brief as possible (and, of course, shouted in the language of speech). How many words would an English-speaking soldier use to warn his unit of an incoming artillery shell? The Hebrew-speaking spotters on the walls of the besieged city of Jerusalem needed only two, and these they abbreviated to one syllable each.

Remembering Robert L. Lindsey

Revised: 6-Dec-2012

I would like to thank Brian Kvasnica (who organized the lectures), Ken and Lenore Mullican (who funded the lectures) and the Narkis Street Congregation (that hosted the lectures) for making the “2008 Lindsey Lectures” (the third in a series) a reality.

Let me briefly report on what has been done since 1985 to keep alive Lindsey’s memory, and to contribute to his legacy:

The late Robert L. Lindsey, the late Professor David Flusser, and their colleague, the late Professor Shmuel Safrai collaborated to birth a new school of synoptic research. In 1985 the “Jerusalem School” became a legal entity (an Amutah) in Israel, and has now joined the Oxford School, the Tübingen School, and others, as a center of synoptic research.

In 1987 Jerusalem Perspective magazine was launched, becoming a repository of articles written by Lindsey, Flusser, Safrai, and their students. In 1993 and 1994, a reconstruction and commentary on the “Rich Young Ruler” pericope was published across five issues of Jerusalem Perspective magazine (Issues 38, 39, 42, 43 and 44). This commentary was the product of seventeen seminars led by Lindsey, Flusser and Safrai in 1986 and 1987.

After Lindsey’s death in 1995, the October-December 1995 issue of Jerusalem Perspective memorialized Lindsey and contained personal tributes to Lindsey written by David Flusser, Halvor Ronning, Steven Notley, Brad Young, Joseph Frankovic, Ken Mullican, Dwight Pryor and David Bivin. In this issue are also many rare photos of Lindsey and Flusser working together and, even, for instance, a photo of Lindsey with Zalman Shazar, Israel’s third president.

In 1990 Lindsey’s Jesus Rabbi & Lord appeared. Unfortunately, the book has now been out of print for eight years. Happily, in the next few weeks this book will be published in electronic format by JerusalemPerspective.com, and will again be available. [The emended and updated second edition, Jesus, Rabbi and Lord: A Lifetime’s Search for the Meaning of Jesus’ Words, is now available in electronic format. – DB]

Since Lindsey’s death Jerusalem School scholars have presented more than one hundred scholarly papers at meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature. Additional papers have already been accepted for this fall’s meeting in Boston.

Between 1997 and 2001 three editions of Flusser’s Jesus were published by Magnes Press. Now, thanks to Flusser’s disciple Steven Notley, the fourth edition has been published in paperback under the title The Sage from Galilee: Rediscovering Jesus’ Genius. In the next few weeks, at the initiative of Serge Ruzer, Flusser’s student, Magnes Press will bring out a Hebrew translation of Flusser’s biography of Jesus. [Now published as Yeshu. – DB]

In 2005, Lindsey’s biography appeared. Written by Loren Turnage and Ken Mullican (Lindsey’s son-in-lawand published by HaKesher (Tulsa, OK), One Foot in Heaven: The Story of Bob Lindsey in Jerusalem is a book you won’t be able to put down. [The book, now out of print, has been republished as an eBook. – DB]

In June 2006 a conference celebrating the memory of Lindsey, Flusser and Safrai took place in Jerusalem. Organized by Jerusalem Perspective, fifteen lectures were presented by students of these three scholarly giants.

Later in 2006 Jerusalem Studies in the Synoptic Gospels: Jesus’ Last Week (edited by Steven Notley, Marc Turnage and Brian Becker) was published by Brill in Leiden, The Netherlands. (Brill is one of the world’s most prestigious academic publishers.) This is the first volume of a four-volume series of studies by Jerusalem School scholars under contract with Brill.

Hebrew University scholar and Jerusalem School member Serge Ruzer edited a collection of Flusser’s Hebrew articles. This collection was published in two volumes by Magnes Press in 2002. Later, readers of JerusalemPerspective.com donated the money to have these essays translated to English. In November, the first English volume, Judaism of the Second Temple Period: Qumran and Apocalypticism, was co-published by Eerdmans, Jerusalem Perspective and Magnes Press.  [The two volumes of Judaism of the Second Temple Period, Qumran and Apocalypticism and Sages and Literature, are now available as eBooks. – DB]

With the help of Linda Pattillo, other unpublished Lindsey articles and books are being prepared for online publication by Jerusalem Perspective.

This is only some of what has been done and is being done to perpetuate the memory of Robert Lindsey, and, of course, the memory of his close co-workers in synoptic research, David Flusser and Shmuel Safrai.

The Program for the 2008 Lindsey Lectures (written by Brian Kvasnica)

We will pay tribute to the life of Rev. Robert L. Lindsey, Ph.D. (Aug. 16, 1917- May 31, 1995) with the following lectures and discussions that demonstrate academic rigor connected to Second Temple Judaism or the study of Jesus, coupled with lives of faith that apply their learning in life.

This year, the third year of the “Lindsey Lectures,” we will congregate around the above two themes, “The Spiritual Life of the Ancient Israelite” and “Postmissionary Messianic Judaism,” the latter a theme close to many of Lindsey’s own publications, such as his Ph.D. dissertation entitled Israel in Christendom: The Problem of Jewish Identity and his 1972 article, “Salvation and the Jews,” International Review of Mission (1972): 20-37.

We hope that these two lectures and extended discussions will honor the memory of Bob Lindsey and will stimulate Christian and Jew alike to further study and deeds of loving-kindness.

Monday, 30 June 7:30-9:30 p.m.

Welcome and Greetings: Rev. Charles Kopp (Senior Pastor, Narkis Street Congregation)

Remembering Lindsey: David Bivin, (JerusalemPerspective.com)

Prof. Jacob Milgrom, “The Spiritual Life of the Ancient Israelite: Dealing with Sin and Guilt”

Response and Discussion: Niek Arentsen (Christ Church), Dr. Stephen and Claire Pfann (University of the Holy Land) and the Narkis Parashah Fellowship

Tuesday 1 July 7:30-9:30 p.m.

Welcome and Greetings: Rev. David Pileggi (Rector, Christ Church)

Remembering Lindsey: Dr. Halvor Ronning (Home for Bible Translators)

Dr. Mark Kinzer, “Postmissionary Messianic Judaism Three Years Later: Reflections on a Conversation Just Begun”

Responses: Dr. Randall Buth (Biblical Language Center), “Reflections on a Long-Awaited Book”

Dr. Gershon Nerel (Jerusalem Bible Academy), “Between Two Concepts: ‘Postmission’ and ‘Messianic Judaism’: Semantics and Reality”

Discussion Panel including: Seth Ben-Haim (Nashuvah), Dr. Akiva Cohen and David Stern

“They Didn’t Dare” (Matt 22:46; Mark 12:34; Luke 20:40): A Window on the Literary and Redactional Methods of the Synoptic Gospel Writers

Revised: 08-Jul-2013

Mark’s placement of Jesus’ “no longer dared” comment is very awkward: first, because the comment comes in the middle of a lovefest between Jesus and a scribe; and second, because the comment immediately follows Jesus’ appreciation of the scribe’s wisdom: “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

The Texts

Here are the three “no longer dared” texts in Greek and in literal English translation, from the shortest to the longest:

Luke 20:40: οὐκέτι γὰρ ἐτόλμων ἐπερωτᾶν αὐτὸν οὐδέν (ouketi gar etolmon eperotan auton ouden; For no longer were they daring to keep questioning him anything).

Mark 12:34c: καὶ οὐδεὶς οὐκέτι ἐτόλμα αὐτὸν ἐπερωτῆσαι (kai oudeis ouketi etolma auton eperotesai; And no one no longer was daring him to question).

Matt 22:46: καὶ οὐδεὶς ἐδύνατο ἀποκριθῆναι αὐτῷ λόγον οὐδὲ ἐτόλμησέν τις ἀπ᾽ ἐκείνης τῆς ἡμέρας ἐπερωτῆσαι αὐτὸν οὐκέτι (kai oudeis edynato apokrithevai auto logon oude etolmesen tis ap’ ekeines tes hemeras eperotesai auton ouketi; And no one was able to answer him a word nor dared anyone from that day to question him any longer).

The Terrain

Let’s look at the terrain in which these three texts are found: “The Question about the Resurrection” (Aland pericope no. 281); “The Great Commandment” (Aland 282); and “The Question about David’s Son” (Aland 283). Here are the observable details:

Luke, Mark and Matthew conclude successive pericopae with similar words, “No one dared to question him [that is, Jesus] any longer” (Matt 22:46; Mark 12:34; Luke 20:40). Luke places the phrase at the conclusion of the “Question about the Resurrection” (Luke 20:27-40). Mark positions the phrase at the end of the discussion of the “Great Commandment” (Mark 12:28-34), and Matthew uses it to conclude the “Question about David’s Son” (Matt 22:41-46). Not only does the “no longer dared” statement appear in a certain sequence, but it is always one gospel writer who has the statement against the other two, who do not have it. All three gospels agree in placing the statement during the events of Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem, and each of the Evangelists places the statement at the conclusion of a series of dispute episodes between Jesus and the religious leaders in Jerusalem.

A major difference between the three synoptic writers in this series of stories (Aland 281-283) is that Luke drops out of order with Matthew and Mark by giving the “Great Commandment” pericope in his chapter 10. Matthew matches Mark’s placement of the “Great Commandment” pericope, yet he drops Mark’s expansion (Mark 12:32-34), creating an agreement (in omission) with Luke. In addition, there are several Matthean-Lukan “minor agreements” against Mark, the most obvious being νομικός (nomikos, lawyer; Luke 10:25; Matt 22:35), against Mark’s εἷς τῶν γραμματέων (heis ton grammateon, one of the scribes; Mark 12:28). Jesus is addressed as διδάσκαλε (didaskale, teacher; Luke 10:25; Matt 22:36), against Mark’s absence of an epithet. Furthermore, Luke and Matthew agree on ἐν τῷ νόμῳ (en to nomo, in the law; Luke 10:26; Matt 22:36) against Mark’s πάντων (panton, [first] of all; Mark 12:28).

The most dramatic difference between the three versions of the “Great Commandment” story is that in the Lukan account it is not Jesus who responds to the lawyer’s question, but, following a counterquestion from Jesus, the lawyer answers his own question! If, historically, it was the lawyer who linked the two וְאָהַבְתָּ (ve-‘ahavta, and you shall love) scriptures—and we know that this linking was already part of first-century Judaism[1] then, the “Great Commandment” story is inherently non-confrontational! Luke has preserved an original form of the story since it is implausible that Luke would place “innovative teaching” of Jesus in the mouth of a bystander unless that was what Luke found in his source.

The “Two-gospel” View

The “Two-gospel” solution to the synoptic problem assumes that Matthew was copied by Luke, who was in turn copied by Mark. Mark also used Matthew in creating his account.[2] However, if Mark saw Matthew’s account of these three stories (Aland 281-283), why did Mark not leave the “no one dared to question” comment in Matthew’s more logical and rhetorically forceful location? Why did Mark transfer this comment from the “David’s Son” story to the “Great Commandment” story? Why would Mark (in the “David’s Son” story) omit Jesus’ challenge to the Pharisees, which caused them to be afraid to question Jesus further? Finally, if Mark was looking at the texts of Matthew and Luke when he wrote the “Great Commandment” story (Aland 282), why did he drop the reference to “lawyer” (vomikos) and to “to test (him)” found in Matt 22:35 (πειράζων, peirazon) and Luke 10:25 (ἐκπειράζων, ekpeirazon).

The “Two-source” View

The Two-source Hypothesis is today’s most widely accepted solution to the synoptic problem.[3] Proponents of this view assume that Luke 20:40 is “a modified form of Mark 12:34” (so Joseph A. Fitzmyer).[4] “For this verse Luke draws on Mark 12:34b” (so John Nolland).[5]

In copying Mark, Luke drops the “Great Commandment” story from its original location (Aland 282). Matthew follows Mark in pericope order, yet produces minor agreements with Luke’s version of the “Great Commandment” story (located in Luke 10), and Matthew, like Luke, eliminates the scribe’s praise of Jesus (Mark 12:32-34), creating with Luke a major agreement in omission. If the author of Matthew does not know Luke’s Gospel, how does Matthew in copying Mark reach such agreement with Luke?

Compared to Matthew and Luke’s accounts of the “Great Commandment,” Mark’s account is expansive. A Markan priorist must say that at this point in the synoptic tradition (Aland 282), Luke is a reductionist, and explain Luke’s reason for dropping the “Great Commandment.” Two-Source adherents also must explain why Matthew drops and replaces Markan words, creating agreements with Luke, whom, by definition, Matthew has not seen.

Markan priorists acknowledge the difficulties this synoptic situation poses for the Two-source Hypothesis. R. T. France remarks about Mark 12:34: “After such an encouraging comment [France refers to Jesus’ words to the scribe, ‘You are not far from the Kingdom of God’] it is surprising to read that no one dared ask any more questions.”[6] Craig Evans comments: “The most difficult question facing interpreters concerns the relationship of Mark 12:28-34 to Matt 22:34-40 and Luke 10:25-29. Matthean and Lukan dependence upon Mark cannot account for Luke’s very different form and context of the tradition, for in Luke the question is ‘What shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ and it is the one who asks the question, not Jesus, who articulates the famous double commandment to love God and one’s neighbor….”[7]

A New View

Let us assume that Mark is the middle term, but that the order of writing of the synoptic gospels is linear, and that this order is Luke-Mark-Matthew. Let us also assume that Luke has before him two extracanonical sources, the first of which is the source he shares with Matthew—call it Q if you wish—and the second source, an abridgment of the first. Let us further assume, like Two-Source adherents, that Matthew and Luke did not see each other’s gospels.

Assuming such an hypothesis, then Luke has copied from one of his two sources (or both) the “no longer dared” statement, which constitutes the conclusion of the “Question about the Resurrection” pericope. Mark notices Luke’s string of “Jesus in conflict with the Temple authorities” stories. Remembering Jesus’ encounter with a lawyer ten chapters earlier in Luke’s account, Mark moves his heavily redacted version of the story to a position following the “Question about the Resurrection” story. Matthew follows Mark in making this move.

In reality, Mark does not add his version of the “Great Commandment” story after the “Question about the Resurrection” story, but rather he inserts it before the “no longer dared” comment. That is, Mark interjects his “Great Commandment” story between Luke 20:39 and 20:40, between “And some of the scribes, answering, said: ‘Teacher, you have spoken well'” and “For they no longer dared to ask him anything.” Notice that the first verse of Mark’s “Great Commandment” story contains γραμματέων (grammateon, scribes) and καλῶς (kalos, well), while Mark’s long expansion (Mark 12:32-34) begins with γραμματεύς (grammateus, scribe), διδάσκαλε (didaskale, teacher) and καλῶς (kalos, well). These words Mark brings over from Luke 20:39 (or Luke’s source for 20:39). In effect, Mark expands on Luke 20:39 with its grammateondidaskale, and kalos. Mark simply postpones the “no longer dared” comment until the end of his “Great Commandment” insertion. Mark agrees with Luke that the “no longer dared” statement comes after Jesus had disposed of the Sadducees and after the scribes’ compliment, except that Mark has expanded the scribe’s compliment and repeated it. In Luke 20:39, the scribes (probably Pharisees) are pleased with Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees. By his “Great Commandment” insertion, Mark continues the joy of one of these scribes (Mark 12:28), even extending it by creating an expansion (Mark 12:32-34). Mark takes a story without the tension and hostility of the previous story and places it at the rhetorical pinnacle. He lengthens the confrontation, but also exposes his editorial insertion. Apparently, Matthew wanted to have Jesus demolish the Pharisees, as well as the Sadducees and the scribes; therefore, he postponed the “no longer dared” statement until the end of his next pericope (Aland 283), in which Matthew alone identifies Jesus’ hearers—these are “the Pharisees.” Because there is only one Pharisee in the “Great Commandment” story—one scribe in Mark’s account, and one Pharisaic lawyer in Matthew’s account—Matthew needs an additional dispute (Aland 283) before he can sum up by using the “no longer dared” comment. Matthew has Jesus first defeat the Sadducees (Aland 281), then one Pharisee (Aland 282), and finally, many Pharisees (Aland 283).[8]

How can a synoptic theory of Lukan priority account for the “minor agreements” in the “Great Commandment” story? After all, Aland 281-283 are Triple Tradition stories, and according to most Markan priorists, Q is a sayings source. In this new hypothesis, these Matthean-Lukan agreements can be accounted for by the assumption of a shared source like Q that contained narrative as well as sayings material.

The Jewish-Semitic Element in Aland 282-283

According to Luke’s account, a lawyer puts a question to Jesus “to test him” (Luke: ekpeirazon auton; Matt: peirazon auton) (in Jewish parlance, to test his orthodoxy; perhaps the Mishnaic Hebrew לבדוק אותו [livdok ‘oto]). Instead of providing an answer (as in Mark and Matthew’s accounts), Jesus, the master teacher, in traditional Jewish style, responds to the lawyer’s question with a question, eliciting the correct answer from the lawyer. Jesus asks, “What is written in the Torah? How do you read?” (Luke 10:26), a significant Semitic doublet, probably reflecting, מה כתוב בתורה כיצד אתה קורא (Mah katuv ba-torah? Ketsad ’atah kore’?). The lawyer responds with the “And you shall love…and you shall love” (ve-‘ahavtave-‘ahavta) midrash (Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18), and all that remains for Jesus to do is to pat the lawyer on the back. There is no conflict, rather, a rare glimpse of the harmony of beliefs that existed between Jesus and the Pharisees.

The “David’s Son” story, too, is Jewish and Semitic. Jesus opens with a question, a common way for a Jewish sage to begin a lesson (This pedagogic technique culminated in a collection of midrash known as Tanhuma Yelammedenu.) Moreover, in Luke’s account only, Jesus’ opening contains a probable Semitism: πῶς λέγουσιν (pos legousin, “How can they say…” that is, “How can one say…?” or “How can it be said…?”), the 3rd person of the plural form of the verb used idiomatically in an impersonal sense.[9]

We might retrovert Jesus’ question found in Luke 20:41 to Hebrew as, כֵּיצַד אוֹמְרִים שֶׁהַמָּשִׁיחַ בֶּן דָּוִד (ketsad ‘omrim she-ha-mashi’ah ben David? How can they say that the Messiah is the son of David?). In Luke’s account there is not necessarily conflict or animosity. However, Mark specifies the subject, “How can the scribes say…?” altering his source from impersonal to personal. Matthew turns the story into a dispute between Jesus and the Pharisees.

The Semitic Element in the “No longer dared” Comment

Although penned later than Luke, the Matthean version of the “no longer dared” statement preserves Semitic elements absent in Luke. These Semitisms point to an earlier form of the text. Whereas Luke adds the postpositive γάρ (gar), and gives the verbs τολμᾶν (tolman) and ἐπερωτᾶν (eperotan) in the continuative tense (that is, “were daring” and “to keep questioning”), Matthew prefaces the statement with καί (kai, and), and preserves both verbs (ἐτόλμησεν [etolmesen]; ἐπερωτῆσαι [eperotesai]) in the aorist tense, features which better fit a Semitic narrative. Matthew also exhibits verb-first word order in his second clause. In addition, and perhaps most strikingly, in Matthew’s version, the sentence is in the form of a parallelism (“nobody could answer…nobody dared ask”), a classic feature of Hebrew. Matthew’s version of the sentence is much longer, but it is closer to an original Semitized Greek source. Although Luke has the more original placement of the “no longer dared” saying, Matthew has better preserved its wording.

Mark’s editorial hand is evident in his version of the “no one dared” sentence. Mark fronted two items, οὐδεὶς οὐκέτι (oudeis ouketi, no one no longer), changed the order of ἐπερωτῆσαι (eperotesai, to ask) and αὐτόν (auton, him), and gave the verb τολμᾶν (tolman) in the imperfect (i.e., “was daring”). Vincent Taylor wrote: “As in [12:]28, so in 34b Mark’s hand is to be seen in the concluding statement…. For the double negative v. the note on 1.44; ἐπερωτάω v. 9. τολμάω, xv. 43.”[10]


It is unlikely that Luke got his “no longer dared” comment from Matthew or Mark since the comment makes sense contextually only in Luke’s “Question about the Resurrection” story. Only in Luke does the comment find its context within a true dispute. Matthew follows Mark’s story order as well as Mark’s text, but his agreements with Luke and his omissions of Markan material show that he is also copying from the source he shares with Luke. While it is true that Luke, or the second extracanonical source he was copying, has redacted the “no longer dared” comment, Luke’s version of the comment is not dependent on Matthew or Mark. The “no longer dared” statement has been relocated by Mark and Matthew, or their source(s), even though Matthew has retained more of the statement’s hypothetical Semitic undertext.

This study illustrates the importance of a correct and full methodology for interpreting the synoptic gospels. Although necessary, a correct synoptic hypothesis is not enough! Without sensitivity to the Semitic elements embedded in the text, one might assume, based on the “no longer dared” comment’s correct placement by Luke, that Luke preserves the earliest form of the text. However, by paying close attention to Semitisms in the text, one can correct first impressions, illustrating the added value of a Semitic approach to the synoptic gospels.

  • [1] See David Flusser, “The Ten Commandments and the New Testament,” in The Ten Commandments in History and Tradition (ed. Ben-Zion Segal; Jerusalem: Magnes, 1990), 229-30.
  • [2] The Griesbach Hypothesis was revived in 1964 by William R. Farmer (see Farmer, The Synoptic Problem: A Critical Analysis [2nd ed.; Dillsboro, NC: Western North Carolina Press, 1976]). This solution to the synoptic problem posits that the Gospel of Matthew was written first, that Matthew was used by Luke in writing his Gospel, and that Mark’s Gospel was a conflation of Matthew and Luke.
  • [3] The Two-source hypothesis assumes that the authors of Matthew and Luke independently copied from the Gospel of Mark and a non-canonical collection of sayings of Jesus known as “Q.”
  • [4] Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke (AB 28A; Garden City: Doubleday, 1981), 1307.
  • [5] John Nolland, Luke (WBC 35C; Dallas: Word Books, 1993), 968.
  • [6] R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 482.
  • [7] Craig A. Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20 (WBC 34B; Dallas: Word Books, 2001), 262.
  • [8] For the analysis of Mark’s redactive activity described in this paragraph, I am indebted to Randall Buth.
  • [9] For a discussion of the use of impersonal plural in the New Testament, see Matthew Black, An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts (3d ed.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967), 126-28.
  • [10] Vincent Taylor, The Gospel According to St. Mark (2d ed.; London: Macmillan, 1966), 490.

The Qumran Targum of Job as a Window into Second Temple Judaism: A Response to Randall Buth’s “Where Is the Aramaic Bible at Qumran? Scripture Use in the Land of Israel”

Having recently studied the Qumran Targum of Job, I was especially interested in Randall Buth’s recent article on the relative lack of targums at Qumran. I would like to thank Buth for bringing this important topic to the website. Finding myself at odds with his conclusions, however, I feel a response is in order. I would like to suggest a different reading of the evidence of Qumran and its implications for the language of the larger Palestinian Jewish reading public. My own conclusions are very different from Buth’s, and I think that it is the question of a starting point that makes the difference.

Before drawing conclusions from the relative lack of targums at Qumran, one needs to appreciate the special circumstances represented by Qumran’s outlook on Hebrew and Aramaic. If the Qumran community was as averse to clothing its religiosity in Aramaic as recent scholarship has argued, then it would be wrong to draw a negative conclusion about the use of Aramaic beyond Qumran based on what we find (and do not find) at Qumran.[1] In other words, asking “Where is the Aramaic Bible at Qumran?” might be like asking “Where is the lunch meat in a vegetarian’s refrigerator?” The fact that a number of Aramaic texts were found at Qumran does not substantially alter this picture, except that we are then forced to say that the Qumranites did not look upon Aramaic as religiously evil per se, but only as an inadequacy for true piety and communion with God.

Given the pivotal role of targumic practice within the argument against a Hebrew vernacular, it is not surprising that the Qumran Targum of Job has become a storm center in the debate over the principal language(s) of Jewish Palestine. Scholars who believe that Hebrew was the vernacular language typically object to the use of this particular targum as evidence for the linguistic situation in Palestine. They emphasize that the targum of Job is just one targum, representing only one book of the Bible. “Where are all the other targums?” they ask. This tactic effectively turns the Targum of Job’s role in the argument for an early targumic corpus on its head: rather than try to explain the existence of this targum, scholars are now forced to explain the sparseness of the Qumran targumic library. Although this is an argument from silence, one cannot simply say that, for that reason, it fails to be probative: for a corpus of writings as large as that found at Qumran, a properly constructed argument from silence can indeed be probative to some extent.

How then does one explain the sparseness of the Qumran targumic corpus? J. T. Milik suggested that “such translations were little needed in the highly educated milieu of the Essene Community.”[2] The plausibility of Milik’s suggestion increases with every new study of Qumran’s language ideology (see note 1): the use of Hebrew appears to have been a house rule at Qumran. But we are still left to explain the existence of two copies of the Targum of Job. Scholars have offered a couple of answers. Perhaps the Hebrew text of Job presented special difficulties (a suggestion made by Abraham Berliner in 1884 and recently echoed by Philip R. Davies).[3] Unfortunately, this explanation can be pushed to support two different views of the targumic situation beyond Qumran: viz., it can explain why Job and no other books (except Leviticus) were found at Qumran, or it can explain why Job and no other books (except Leviticus) have been found in first-century Palestine in general.

An alternative suggestion takes note of the fact that a copy of biblical Job written in paleo-Hebrew script was found at Qumran. The fact that this script was usually reserved for books of Moses suggests that the Qumranites may have held to Mosaic authorship for the book of Job, a minority view attested in rabbinic sources. A belief in Mosaic authorship would certainly raise the value of a Targum of Job.[4] Unfortunately, this argument is similarly equivocal: it does not tell us whether the paucity of targumic texts at Qumran reflects a paucity of targumic texts beyond Qumran. Mosaic authorship of Job can explain why the Qumranites would have singled out this targum as one deserving of their care and attention, but it can also suggest that this targum might have been produced years ahead of other targums. The question of how to dispose of translated texts was a matter of debate among the Tannaim, and we do not know what criteriology the Qumranites might have accepted. Despite the fact that the Targum of Job was written in Aramaic (manifestly a substandard language at Qumran), the conceit of Mosaic authorship may have guaranteed the Targum of Job a permanent place in the Qumran holdings, while other targums (brought in by new recruits or donations) were summarily destroyed. We have no indication that the Qumran aversion to Aramaic moved them to destroy Aramaic texts, but the rabbinic proscriptions against written targums show that a disdain for the religious use of Aramaic could extend to the disapproval of Aramaic texts. How one deals with these texts would then be dependent upon one’s view of which texts retain their sanctity after being translated.

The hebraeophone camp well recognizes that the existence of one or two targums at Qumran could be more damaging to the thesis argued here than the existence of no targums at Qumran would be. But whether it ultimately is more damaging will depend on the relationship between Qumran ideology and the Qumranic targum of Job. The liberation of the Qumran library has brought about a renewed appreciation for the fact that most of the material found at Qumran was not penned there, and so it cannot be used to provide specifics about Qumran ideology. With the notable exception of E. W. Tuinstra,[5] scholars are convinced (for good reasons) that the Qumran Targum of Job was not the product of the Qumran scriptorium. The more we understand the language ideology of Qumran, the more difficult it becomes to imagine that the Qumranites wrote the Targum of Job. And the fact that the Qumran Targum of Job is based on a Hebrew Vorlage differing from the Hebrew text of Job found at Qumran (cf. esp. the reading of Job 33:28-30 in 2Q15) supports this verdict in a big way.[6] (These are all facts with which Buth apparently agrees.)

The well known account of Rabban Gamliel disposing of a copy of a targum of Job by ordering it to be immured within a wall (Tosefta, Shabbat 13:2-3; Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbat 15c; Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 115a) certainly sheds light on the issue:[7]

Rab Huna said [would say?] to you, “It is Tannaitic, for it was taught: if they were written in targum [viz., Aramaic] or in any language, they may be saved from a fire.” R. Jose said, “They may not be saved from a fire.” Said R. Jose, “It happened that Abba Halafta went to Rabban Gamliel Berabbi at Tiberias and found him sitting at the table of Yochanan ha-Nazuf, and in his hands was a targum of the book of Job and he was reading it. He said to him, ‘I remember Rabban Gamliel your grandfather, that he was standing in an elevated place on the Temple Mount, and there was brought before him a targum of the book of Job, and he said to the builder, “Bury it under the bricks.”‘ Then he [viz., Gamliel Berabbi] ordered them and they hid it.” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 115a)

The context of this passage is a halachic debate concerning the disposal of targums, but the story may provide clues to the earlier Gamliel’s theological/halachic assessment of this particular targum as well. Since the rabbinic tradition says nothing about the condition of this copy (if damaged or soiled, it would have needed retiring), Gamliel’s verdict presumably reflects his disapproval of this targum. Scholars have frequently noted that the tannaitic Rabbis often disapproved of targums, and assumed that this explains Gamliel’s negative judgment. But this disapproval probably had nothing to do with a general rabbinic aversion to Aramaic holy texts, for otherwise it would have been unnecessary for the Talmud to identify the offending targum as that of a particular book of the Bible.[8] (It thus seems somewhat hypocritical for Joseph A. Fitzmyer to dismiss Tuinstra’s explanation for Gamliel’s actions because there is “not a shred of evidence for this speculative reason,” when in fact the view that he propounds has precisely the same dearth of evidence for its support.)[9] It remains, therefore, to suggest that there was something unacceptable about this targum, something that was different from other targums. Perhaps, in spite of its non-Qumranic origination, it represented sectarian associations for the Rabbis. If that is the case, its presence at Qumran can be more readily understood in the context of the absence of other contemporary targums. We must remember that “Essene” represents a wide set, of which “Qumranic” is merely a subset, and that many who aligned themselves with general Essenic piety and thinking probably did not accept the linguistic learning curve imposed by Qumran. The offending targum may well have represented this wider group, which undoubtedly comprised a very large segment of ancient Palestinian Judaism. To a large degree, this segment represented the generality (viz., am ha’aretz) against which rabbinic self-definition was hammered out.

This explanation for Gamliel’s reaction has been challenged by those who oppose an early date for targums of biblical books in general: they often point out that the Qumran Targum of Job is devoid of the sort of sectarian additions that would have annoyed Gamliel, or point to linguistic signs of that targum’s foreign origin.[10] But while the Qumran Targum of Job does not contain any clear sectarian additions, and although its minor departures from the canonical text happen to include exegetical principles shared by the Rabbis (cf. at 21:20; 39:23; 41:14 [permutation of consonants] and at 29:7 [‘al tiqre]),[11] it does possess one characteristic that troubled the Rabbis a great deal: it failed to neutralize the biblical anthropomorphisms (see esp. 11QtgJob 25.5; cf. Job 34:49), a celebrated concern of the later targums (and one that the later rabbinic Targum of Job would heed).[12] The troubling nature of any translation policy that did not neutralize the biblical anthropomorphisms (as the later [non-Qumranic] targum of Job would do) probably lies behind R. Judah bar Ilai’s famous censure of the one who translates literally: “The one who translates a verse according to its form is a liar, and the one who adds (to it) is a blasphemer” (Tosefta, Megillah 4:41).[13]

In other words, the Rabbis might have regarded the Targum of Job found at Qumran as an essentially Essene product, although, being Aramaic, it does not reflect the more narrow linguistic ideology of the Qumran branch of Essenism. I am not suggesting that this targum was composed by the Essenes—there are real problems with that view.[14] Muraoka’s argument that its dialect points to a Babylonian origin may well be correct.[15] An Eastern origin fits well with the patterns of anthropomorphic views of God that we find in some Eastern strains of Judaism (especially as later reflected in the Karaites), as well as in Eastern strains of Christianity. This targum may not be Essene in origin, but it conforms more to Essene views than to protorabbinic views, most notably in issues that were of paramount concern to the Rabbis. Of course, all this hardly counts as an argument that targumic texts proliferated in the Second Temple period, but it does show that as an argument from silence, the evidence of Qumran does not work in the other direction either.

It should be noted that the hebraeophone view’s argument from the sparseness of the Qumran targumic corpus is more a smokescreen than a reasoned response to the argument from the existence of the Targum of Job. Once the smoke is cleared away, the latter argument can be seen still standing. As Maurice Casey writes, the existence of such a literal translation “is pointless unless there were Jews who wanted to know what the book of Job said, and who could understand an Aramaic translation but not the Hebrew text.”[16] Muraoka’s argument for an eastern origin may weaken the argument somewhat as it appears in this specific form, but we are still left with a need to explain the fact that at least two copies of this work circulated in Palestine.

Finally, mention should be made of the early date that scholars have assigned to the fragments of a Palestinian targum in the Cairo genizah. This targum appears to be earlier than any of the better known extant targums. But if neither this targum nor any other outside of Qumran goes back to the Second Temple period (which is presently unknown), that would not mean that the practice of translating the Scripture into Aramaic within the synagogue service is not a Second Temple practice. The rabbinic proscriptions against reading the translation from a written text at least show that this was an ideal, and the incorporation of prepared Aramaic texts into the study regimen of those preparing for the weekly service was surely gradual rather than immediate.

There are other aspects of Buth’s article on which we disagree—for example, I strongly disagree with his high view of institutionalized education in the Second Temple period[17] —but I only want to note here that there is more than one way to interpret the evidence of Qumran as it pertains to the existence of targums.

Click here to read Randall Buth’s response to Jack Poirier.

  • [1] See Emile Puech, “Du Bilinguisme a Qumran?,” in Mosaique de Langues, Mosaique Culturelle: Le Bilinguisme dans le Proche-Orient Ancient: Actes de la Table-Ronde du 18 novembre 1995 organisee par l’URA 1062 “Etudes Semitiques” (ed. Francoise Briquel-Chatonnet; Antiquites Semitiques 1; Paris: Jean Maisonneuve, 1996), 171-189; Stanislav Segert, “Hebrew Essenes-Aramaic Christians,” in Mogilany 1995: Papers on the Dead Sea Scrolls Offered in Memory of Aleksy Klawek (ed. Zdzislaw J. Kapera; Krakow: Enigma, 1998), 169-184; William M. Schniedewind, “Qumran Hebrew as an Antilanguage,” JBL 118 (1999): 235-252; Steven Weitzman, “Why Did the Qumran Community Write in Hebrew?,” JAOS 119 (1999): 35-45; John C. Poirier, “4Q464: Not Eschatological,” RevQ 20/4 (2002): 583-587.
  • [2] Ten Years of Discovery in the Wilderness of Judaea (SBT 26; London: SCM, 1959), 31.
  • [3] Abraham Berliner, Targum Onkelos: Einleitung in das Targum (Berlin: Gorzelanczyk, 1884), 90; Philip R. Davies, Scribes and Schools: The Canonization of the Hebrew Scriptures (Library of Ancient Israel; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1998), 154. As Joseph A. Fitzmyer writes, “[W]as the Hebrew text of Job so difficult even for this community of Jews that it had to have recourse to it in an Aramaic verison [sic]? Such a question is not easily answered. It is further complicated by the issue raised by Stanislav Segert, who thinks that the Aramaic texts found at Qumran were really non-Essene compositions, produced elsewhere and brought into the community, in which they were merely read or used by members who otherwise spoke and wrote in Hebrew” (“Some Observations on the Targum of Job from Qumran Cave 11,” CBQ 36 [1974]: 503-524, esp. 511). See Stanislav Segert, “Sprachliche Bemerkungen zu einigen aramaischen Texten von Qumran,” Archiv Orientalni 33 (1965): 190-206.
  • [4] Roger Le Deaut writes, in response to Berliner, “[I]t should not be forgotten that there is a tradition attributing the composition of the book to Moses himself (b. Bath. 14b). The esteem accorded to this book might thus have contributed to the production of the Aramaic version” (“The Targumim,” in The Cambridge History of Judaism, vol. 2: The Hellenistic Age [eds. W. D. Davies and Louis Finkelstein; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990], 563-590, 571). See J. P. M. van der Ploeg, A. S. van der Woude, and B. Jongeling (eds.), Le Targum de Job de la Grotte 11 de Qumran (Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen; Leiden: Brill, 1971), 6.
  • [5] See E. W. Tuinstra, Hermeneutische Aspecten van de Targum van Job uit Grot XI van Qumran (Th.D. dissertation, Rijksuniversiteit te Groningen, 1970), 69-70. Fitzmyer writes, “The evidence cited in support of [Tuinstra’s reasoning] is so slight that it is not convincing” (“Some Observations on the Targum of Job from Qumran Cave 11,” 512).
  • [6] See Fitzmyer, “Some Observations on the Targum of Job from Qumran Cave 11,” 523-524.
  • [7] See Roger Le Deaut, Introduction a la Litterature Targumique (Rome: Insittut Biblique Pontifical, 1966), 68-70.
  • [8] Fitzmyer writes that Gamliel’s reaction against the Job Targum “probably should…be explained as part of the general early prohibition of ‘writing down’ what was normally transmitted by oral tradition” (“Some Observations on the Targum of Job from Qumran Cave 11,” 515 n. 49).
  • [9] “Some Observations on the Targum of Job from Qumran Cave 11,” 516.
  • [10] See Philip S. Alexander’s discussion of literal versus paraphrastic targums (“The Targumim and the Rabbinic Rules for the Delivery of the Targum,” in Congress Volume: Salamanca 1983 [VTSup 36; ed. J.A. Emerson; Leiden: Brill, 1985], 14-28, esp. 14-15).
  • [11] See Le Deaut, “The Targumim,” 588.
  • [12] See Fitzmyer, “Some Observations on the Targum of Job from Qumran Cave 11,” 517-518, 522. As Alexander writes, “It is…possible that [the targums’] extremely reverential tone and elaborate anti-anthropomorphism reflect their liturgical setting, and spring from a desire to avoid expressions that could be misunderstood by the uninstructed. The frequent and often startling anthropomorphisms of the Talmud stand in striking contrast” (“The Targumim and the Rabbinic Rules for the Delivery of the Targum,” 27). Depending on where one places Targum Onkelos, these talmudic anthropomorphisms do not necessarily represent the academy’s lower criteriology of discourse: rather, they may reflect a new openness toward mystical speculation in Babylonia. J. Courtenay James, writing long before the Qumranic targums were known, correctly notes that the avoidance of anthropomorphisms in Targum Onkelos cannot be used as a basis for dating the writing (The Language of Palestine and Adjacent Regions [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1920], 251). On the targums’ avoidance of anthropomorphisms and other challenges to God’s transcendence, see Le Deaut, “The Targumim,” 586-587. Andre Paul writes, “La traduction des textes sacres a toujours ete une question grave pour les juifs, surtout les juifs anciens. Traduire est de soi une impiete: c’est en effet toucher, en surface comme en profondeur, au texte divin et donc risquer de le transformer, souiller et profaner. Les juifs de l’Antiquite repugnaient volontiers a traduire l’Ecriture tout comme ils s’interdisaient toute representation divine, plastique mais aussi linguistique: le nom de Yahve, on le sait, n’etait ni ecrit ni meme prononce” (“La Bible grecque d’Aquila et l’ideologie du judaisme ancien,” ANRW 2.20.1 [1987]: 221-245, esp. 230-231).
  • [13] After first offering an unconvincing explanation for Gamliel’s action (viz., that “it was not part of the lectionary cycle and therefore would cause people in their private reading of it to neglect the house of study”), Steven Fraade “alternatively” suggests that Gamliel “might have had it removed since it was a defective or unapproved translation” (“Rabbinic Views on the Practice of Targum and Multilingualism in the Jewish Galilee of the Third-Sixth Centuries,” in The Galilee in Late Antiquity [ed. Lee I. Levine; New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1992], 253- 286, esp. 256). See Alexander, “The Targumim and the Rabbinic Rules for the Delivery of the Targum,” 25-26. Alexander writes, “Normally,…censure appears to have been in the hands of the congregation” (ibid, 26).
  • [14] There is a possible ideological contact between the Job targum and the Qumran community in the use of “plantation” in 11QtgJob 35.10. As van der Ploeg, van der Woude, and Jongeling note, however, the source of the term in 11QtgJob is probably the biblical Psalms (Le Targum de Job de la Grotte XI de Qumran, 6).
  • [15] Takamitsu Muraoka, “The Aramaic of the Old Targum of Job from Qumran Cave XI,” JJS 25 (1974): 425-443; idem, “Notes on the Old Targum of Job from Qumran Cave XI,” RevQ 9 (1977): 117-125. But cf. Kutscher’s explanation for the presence of “eastern” vocabulary in the Genesis Apocryphon: “The centre of the Persian empire being in the east, including the territory that was to become the domain of the (later) Eastern Aramaic, it was only natural that especially in the lexical field the ‘Reichsaramaisch’ should be coloured by the eastern dialects” (“The Language of the ‘Genesis Apocryphon,'” 14). “Reichsaramaisch” is the designation most scholars use for the language of the Qumran Targum of Job. See A. Diez Macho, El Targum: Introduccion a las traducciones aramaicas de la Biblia (Barcelona: Consejo superior de investigaciones cientificas, 1972), 41-42.
  • [16] Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel (SNTSMS 102; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 33-34.
  • [17] The reader who is interested in this issue owes it to himself/herself to read Catherine Hezser’s persuasive revisionist account in Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine (TSAJ 81; Tubingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2001).

More on the Absence of an Aramaic Bible at Qumran: A Response to Jack Poirier’s “The Qumran Targum of Job as a Window into Second Temple Judaism: A Response to Randall Buth”

I appreciate this opportunity to return to some issues concerning the Targum of Job that I raised in “Where Is the Aramaic Bible at Qumran? Scripture Use in the Land of Israel” and to evaluate Jack Poirier’s response entitled, “The Qumran Targum of Job as a Window into Second Temple Judaism: A Response to Randall Buth.”

I will summarize briefly the main points in my original article:

An Aramaic Targum of Job was widely known in Jewish circles during the Second Temple period—there are two different copies at Qumran, two rabbinic stories connected with the Gamaliel family that mention a Targum of Job, and a bibliographic reference to an Aramaic account at the end of the old Greek translation of Job. That is remarkably wide attestation. Just as remarkable, there is no evidence, other than these copies of the Targum of Job, that an Aramaic Bible was in use before A.D. 70. I suggested several possible explanations for this paradox, and concluded that an Aramaic Bible, if it existed at all, was most probably not in general use in the land of Israel during the Second Temple period. Lacking an Aramaic Bible, it appears that the Hebrew Bible was the Bible in use for the majority of persons in the land during the first century.

Poirier’s response was definite, yet curiously indirect. “Finding myself at odds with his [Buth’s] conclusions…I would like to suggest a different reading of the evidence….” However, identifying his reading is difficult. Poirier’s main argument would appear to rest on his statement, “I only want to note that there is more than one way to interpret the evidence.” We agree on this; however, the question is not whether or not there exists a plurality of interpretations of the evidence, but which reading best corresponds to the evidence.

Apparently, Poirier argued that Qumran should not be expected to have an Aramaic Bible:

If the Qumran community was as averse to clothing its religiosity in Aramaic as recent scholarship has argued, then it would be wrong to draw a negative conclusion about the use of Aramaic beyond Qumran based on what we find (and do not find) at Qumran…. The fact that a number of Aramaic texts were found at Qumran does not substantially alter this picture, except that we are then forced to say that the Qumranites did not look upon Aramaic as religiously evil per se, but only as an inadequacy for true piety and communion with God.

This is a strange argument. First of all, besides assuming an anti-Aramaic campaign at Qumran, it slides over hard evidence. Qumran, in fact, has two targums to Job, found in Caves 4 and 11. The covenanters at Qumran were hardly boycotting Aramaic texts, and certainly not something as close to being canonical as the Targum of Job. The evidence would argue the opposite, that if a member brought in an Aramaic Bible text, the community would have respected and preserved it. Even more curious is the fact that fragments from Greek Bibles were found at Qumran. Poirier did not include this wider picture in his interpretation. The fact that the Qumran community collected and preserved Greek Bible texts shows that they were able to preserve biblical writings that they themselves did not compose. This, in turn, points to the irrelevancy of Qumran’s in-house language preferences. The issue about the choice of language for their own writings, be it countercultural or not,[1] did not prevent them from gathering and using writings in other languages. (Poirier stated, and I agree, that Qumranians preferred Hebrew for their own bylaws and compositions.) The important issue, then, is that they did use scriptures and translations produced by others. Exclusivity and a boycott of Aramaic scriptures is thus an implausible explanation for the missing Aramaic Bible. Most anything is possible, but that does not make it probable.

Poirier wrote, “Asking ‘Where is the Aramaic Bible at Qumran?’ might be like asking ‘Where is the lunch meat in a vegetarian’s refrigerator?'” Well, his metaphorical refrigerator is filled with meat: four copies of Aramaic Tobit, six copies of Aramaic Enoch, Aramaic Genesis Apocryphon, two copies of Aramaic Job, a piece of Aramaic Leviticus 16, not to mention all the Greek meat dishes! The Qumran sectarians were not “vegetarians” and yet they do not seem to have had access to an Aramaic Bible.

Other possible explanations were raised by Poirier:

  1. (quoting Milik) “Such [Aramaic] translations were little needed in the highly educated milieu of the Essene Community.” Agreed. Members of the community did not need Aramaic translations; but again, that hardly explains their absence. They little needed Greek, either; nevertheless, they had some Greek Bible texts.[2]
  2. “The Qumranites may have held to Mosaic authorship for the book of Job…. A belief in Mosaic authorship would certainly raise the value of a Targum of Job.” Possibly, but notice that there is no Aramaic Genesis, Exodus, Numbers or Deuteronomy at Qumran, and, quite possibly, no Leviticus as a book.
  3. “The conceit of Mosaic authorship may have guaranteed the Targum of Job a permanent place in the Qumran holdings, while other targums (brought in by new recruits or donations) were summarily destroyed. We have no indication that the Qumran aversion to Aramaic moved them to destroy Aramaic texts.” To his credit, Poirier distances himself from such a conspiracy theory—there is no evidence. It is one thing to recognize the Qumran community’s preference for Hebrew, but it would be irresponsible to suggest that there was a hateful, destructive war against Aramaic. This is contradicted by Qumran’s own holdings, and is a historical impossibility.

Poirier’s discussion of the rejections of an Aramaic Job by Rabban Gamaliel the elder and Rabban Gamaliel of Yavneh is helpful, but irrelevant to the question of Qumran acceptance of targums. If other targumim existed that the rabbis did not like, where are they? By all appearances, Qumran would have accepted them with open arms, at least they did so for two copies of Job.

Another puzzling comment is Poirier’s statement, “The hebraeophone view’s argument from the sparseness of the Qumran targumic corpus is more a smokescreen than a reasoned response.” First, I can only guess at what a hebraeophone’s view is. Surely, it cannot be my view that three languages, Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, were in common use in the land of Israel. Each of these languages has left behind a considerable number of writings. Secondly, if the alternative to a hebraeophone’s view is thinking that only Greek and Aramaic were available for popular first-century writings, then Poirier may be guilty of circular argumentation. He may be reflecting a two-language attitude and then criticizing me for not forcing the data into that viewpoint.

Many scholars still write as though only two languages, Aramaic and Greek, were being used in first-century Israel, only giving passing mention to Hebrew, if at all. This “two-language” viewpoint is particularly noticeable in secondary literature that deals with possible written Semitic sources within the early Christian movement.[3] The point of my article was to urge the return to the primary data in dealing with the limited question of Bible versions in use in Israel. The “two-language” view predicted a commonly used Aramaic Bible. That Bible has not been found even though some write as though it had. The targum of Job is not such a Bible.

In evaluating the evidence and potential explanations of the paradoxical missing targum, probability requires us to move in the directions outlined in my article and this response. Those directions fit nicely with what specialists in Mishnaic Hebrew and Second Temple linguistics have written. M. H. Segal, E. Y. Kutscher and Abba Bendavid, Moshe Bar-Asher, Elisha Qimron and Michael Sokoloff do not have a problem with seeing three languages in common use in the late Second Temple period. In such a milieu, if a targum were also in use, fine, and if not in use (as it appears), fine. However, a problem arises if one assumes that a targum must have been in use, or assumes that the discovery of the Qumran Job targum is that targum. (Qumran’s two copies of Job add to our knowledge of a Second Temple-period targum of Job, but the existence of a Job targum was already known from the Septuagint and rabbinic literature.)

Incidentally, the existence and use of a Job targum makes excellent sociolinguistic sense. It appears to have been imported from the East and copied at Qumran. I would expect—although this remains an unsupported assumption—that the Aramaic-speaking Diaspora in eastern lands would want to produce an Aramaic Bible just as the Greek-speaking Jews in Egypt produced a Greek Bible, the Septuagint. Someday we may find a Second Temple-period Aramaic Bible in, or from, the East. Meanwhile, we should note that the Hebrew dialect of Job is strange. At any period, a translation of the book might have been highly desirable. Notice that the Greek translators of Job mentioned their having made reference to an Aramaic work (Job 42:17 LXX). Apparently, these third to second-century B.C. Greek translators were at home with the Hebrew Bible everywhere but in Job.

I would like to thank Poirier for his reference to Catherine Hezser’s work, Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine.[4] It is a helpful and substantial work, although I am surprised that Poirier calls it “persuasive.” Hezser’s breadth of secondary literature is impressive. However, on details, her view of literacy has been overly influenced by Meir Bar-Ilan’s work, including his misapplication of rabbinic evidence on the scarcity of public readers in synagogues of the Talmudic period.[5] Likewise, Hezser’s handling of primary language evidence is weak. She refers to, and rejects, a few of the conclusions of scholars like Chaim Rabin and E. Y. Kutscher,[6] but she does not interact with the data discussed by them, nor by the following generation of Israeli scholars—Moshe Bar-Asher, Avi Hurvitz, Elisha Qimron, Michael Sokoloff, Steven Fassberg, and others—what might be termed the most active and detailed school of Second Temple and Mishnaic Hebrew studies in the world.

In summary, what Bible or version did Jews use in the first century in the land of Israel? The Targum of Job does not represent the norm. That should be clear. The multiplicity of documents at Qumran, the diversity of Greek Bible texts, the attested openness of the sect to collecting texts from beyond their community, and the Aramaic non-biblical texts all point to the Hebrew Bible being the biblical version in common use both at Qumran and in the rest of the land.[7]

  • [1] The choice of Hebrew as a written language does not appear to set the Qumran community apart from other streams of Jewish society. However, the style and kind of Hebrew at Qumran appears to be different. The scribes of Qumran wrote in a natural continuation of Late Biblical Hebrew (Second Temple Biblical Hebrew), but in a dialect that appears to be consciously cleansed from Greek loanwords. Notice that in their desire to write in a high style, they did not return to a First Temple Hebrew style. The Pharisees apparently chose a colloquial dialect of Hebrew for their oral law and the practice was continued when this oral law was collected and written down in the Mishnah, about A.D. 220. Mishnaic Hebrew was noticeably distinct from the “high” literary dialect. If Ben Sira is representative of the Sadducees, then even they were using a literary Hebrew for some of their writings. The Sadducees were also the probable recipients of a “proto-Mishnaic Hebrew” letter, 4QMMT. Even within the Jewish-Christian movement, the evidence for Semitisms in the Gospels points to narrative document(s) in Hebrew rather than Aramaic. (See note 3 below.)
  • [2] Discussion of the vernacular languages is not relevant here. My article does not deal with the complex question of the vernacular languages in use in the land of Israel in the Second Temple period.
  • [3] Please note, I am not suggesting that any of the four Gospels were written in a Semitic language. In all probability, they were written in Greek, and their immediate sources were Greek. On the other hand, because of internal linguistic evidence, I cannot attribute the highly Hebraic narrative style in Mark and Luke to some kind of artificial, holy style. The muted Hebraisms interspersed into the Gospel of Luke’s uneven Greek are not its author’s. Luke was partially smoothing out Hebraisms, not adding them. See my forthcoming article with Brian Kvasnica, “The Parable of the Vineyard, the Tenants and the Son” [JP—now published as Randall Buth and Brian Kvasnica, “Temple Authorities and Tithe-Evasion: The Linguistic Background and Impact of the Parable of the Vineyard, the Tenants and the Son,” in Jesus’ Last Week: Jerusalem Studies in the Synoptic Gospels Volume 1 (eds. R. Steven Notley, Marc Turnage, and Brian Becker; Leiden: Brill, 2006), 53-80.] A blatant element in translation Greek that separates Hebrew narrative style from Second Temple-period Aramaic narrative style is outlined in my article, “Edayin-tote, Anatomy of a Semitism in Jewish Greek,” Maarav 5-6 (1990): 33-48. For a popular presentation of the article, see my, “Matthew’s Aramaic Glue,” Jerusalem Perspective 28 (Sept./Oct. 1990): 10-12.
  • [4] Catherine Hezser, Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine (TSAJ 81; Tubingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2001).
  • [5] One of Bar-Ilan’s works is available on the web: “Illiteracy in the Land of Israel in the First Centuries C.E.” Certainly there was only a small minority of reliable public readers of the Hebrew Bible in the first-century synagogue, but reading the Hebrew Scriptures in public is a skill far beyond basic literacy. It requires a knowledge of pre-Masoretic Hebrew traditions.
  • [6] Hezser even attributes Rabin and Kutscher’s views to a “majority,” a majority view that does not yet seem to have penetrated New Testament scholarship. Both Rabin and Kutscher viewed the Judean villages as the natural home of spoken Hebrew. The Second Temple use of written Hebrew dialects is another matter, and should be beyond controversy. However, even at the beginning of the twenty-first century, it appears that many writers still assume only two languages, Aramaic and Greek, were available to members of the first-century, Jewish-Christian movement.
  • [7] This conclusion accords with what we find in tannaic and amoraic sources. Early rabbinic midrashim, for example, Mechilta, are almost wholly Hebrew and based on the Hebrew Bible. Later midrashim, such as Genesis Rabbah, begin to insert Aramaic stories into the Hebrew base text and commentary. The Aramaic Bible became a storehouse for exegetical traditions and attained a place of special mention.