Early Manuscripts Answer Modern Question about Sacred Names

Should we use the Greek name Jesus to refer to the Son of God?

A feature of the 20th century has been the rise of a movement known as the Sacred Name Movement (SNM). Adherents believe that the Hebrew divine names are the essential names of God, and that those names should be used and not translated into other languages. For instance, the English name Jesus is considered a pagan name that should only be used in its Hebrew form of Joshua or more correctly Yehoshua.

The past century has seen a bonanza of early texts become available through archaeology. Today we have the benefit of being able to read and analyze texts that were written before and shortly after the time of Jesus Christ. This provides us with a new window into this idea. What do these texts tell us about the question of sacred names?

P52 is a fragment of papyrus that records part of John 18 and 19, while P66 contains most of the Gospel of John. P52 is considered the oldest New Testament text known presently, but both manuscripts have been reliably dated to the early part of the 2nd century. The Gospel of John was not written until late in the first century, so P52 and P66 are very early copies--within 50 years of the original. They show that the Greek name ‘Jesus' was being used and treated with reverence.  

P66 John 1 
 John 1 in P66


Beginning in the period of the second temple, Jews did not utter the name of Yahweh, substituting the term Adonai in Hebrew or Kyrios in Greek. The name was apparently only used by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement. Greek texts of the Old Testament discovered as part of the Dead Sea Scrolls show how this sensitivity to the name was handled. The translators of the Scripture into the Greek language made a practice of writing the name YHWH, known as the Tetragrammaton, either by using Paleo-Hebrew characters or by abbreviating the title in Greek as IA- (Ja- or Ya-). The intention was to highlight to the reader that the name should not be pronounced. A third letter was added to provide the grammatical case--whether the Name was used as a subject or object in the sentence--thus maintaining the grammatical rules of construction.
That the likes of P52 and P66 are valid texts to consider is made clear by the way in which they continue to abbreviate the names of the Father, God and Jesus Christ. They are normally reduced to two or three letters in which the last letter changes according to the grammatical use--see above--and the name is highlighted with a line over the abbreviation. Jesus is abbreviated as Ιη-, (transliterated into English as Je- or Ye-).  Christ is abbreviated as Χρ- (literally Chr-). The word God is recorded as Θ- while Father is shown as Πρ- and Lord as Κ-. These abbreviations clearly derive from the Greek terms and not the Hebrew. All early manuscripts of the New Testament were written solely in upper case letters (uncials), so the abbreviations used above would have been capitalized. I have used upper and lower case for clarity as some Greek letters are easier to recognize in the lower case. Hence we can depend on the fact that the names of the divine Beings were recorded in Greek and not Hebrew. A reader of the text would read the Greek title and not the Hebrew. Conversely, the Aquila translation of the Scriptures in Greek, created and used by the Jews in the second century after Christ, continued to use the Tetragrammaton in Paleo-Hebrew characters.

The question should rightly be asked as to why the scribes abbreviated these names. Clearly the Jewish practice began to avoid the usage of the Tetragrammaton.  But we should note that they did not appear to handle the term Elohim in the same consistent manner. With the New Testament being recorded in the Greek language a problem arose that did not exist in Hebrew. Scribes writing in Hebrew differentiated between words as we do today by the use of spaces. Greek was not written with spaces between words. Spaces appeared only at the end of a sentence.  By abbreviating, there was less chance of misspelling the name and with over marking the names respect was shown as it would not be read as part of another word by mistake. As a result the reader would not take the name of God in vain.

This is clear documentary indication that the early followers of Jesus Christ did not place any importance on the Hebrew names as the Sacred Name Movement would claim, but translated the names into the language that was being used for the proclamation of the Gospel and the instruction of the Church. 

We can therefore conclude that the earliest available texts of New Testament writings deny the validity of the sacred name concept.

Tags: Dead Sea Scrolls, Greek, Hebrew, Tetragrammaton, Sacred Names, Early Papyrii, P66, P52

Monotheism or Monolatry

Conference held to locate origin of a "Jewish" idea
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"How is it that Israel, a small nation living in polytheistic environment, brought Monotheism to the world?" With that challenge, Frederick L. Simmons opened the symposium he had sponsored with the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, January 10, 2010. Simmons charged the participants that he was not prepared to accept an answer of “God willed it.” Rather he demanded a rational explanation for the origin.

Ziony Zevit, Professor of Biblical Literature and Semitic Languages at AJU-LA, had assembled a panel under the rubric of “A Day of Archaeological Insight: What Do We Mean When We Say Monotheism?” To address the subject, Zevit had brought together several notable archaeologists and biblical studies experts from the East Coast. Drs. Barry Gittlen from Towson University and Steven Fine of Yeshiva University, New York, discussed the archaeological evidence while Mark Smith from New York University and Jeffrey Tigay from the University of Pennsylvania discussed the biblical aspects. Some three hundred people assembled to hear their deliberations as part of the Whizin Center for Continuing Education program and AJU.

Professor Zevit made it abundantly clear from the outset that we were dealing with a difficult term and that the audience should expect some surprises. Tracing the usage of the term Monotheism as presented in the Oxford English Dictionary (the second most quoted source of the day after the Tanakh), he suggested that “atheists like the idea of Monotheism as it gives only one target to shoot at.”  But in a way, that almost provided a summary of the day. He continued by asking where one should go to find about polytheism, countering his own suggestion of the Hindu culture in India by showing that Hindu scholars see all the different emanations of Hinduism as simply different manifestations of the one Hindu deity. As a result they claim that Hinduism is also monotheistic.

Jewish Kabbalistic lore likewise has emanations of God not dissimilar to those of Hinduism. Thus, he concluded his introduction by suggesting that the terms we use are so problematic that they are almost meaningless.

Professor Gittlen provided an “Archaeological Introduction to Biblical Cult Places and Images,” graphically illustrated from his own field work in Israel and other sources. He appropriately described the prize of archaeology as coming to understand how and why people did things—understanding the context of their actions. Yet so much of the archaeological evidence is of practices that appear contrary to the instruction of Scripture. 

Professor Mark Smith was the only person to attempt to respond to Frederick Simmons's challenge. Accepting the limitation of the ideas of monotheism that Ziony Zevit had established at the beginning of the presentation, he still felt that monotheism had a place in Israel. After presenting a diachronic overview of worship in Israel, he posited that the idea of monotheism was developed as a response to the imperial powers of Assyria and Babylon that came to dominate Israel and Judah. However his own reasoning left holes in his argument. Noting that polemics are wars fought with words, and that polemics rightly help us appreciate the argument being combated, he failed to recognize that the rabbis some 1,000 years later were still involved in polemics against those who were seen as against their monotheistic ideas.  If the idea of monotheism had been developed in the 6th or 7th century BCE, why were the Rabbis still fighting to have it established as the ideal of Judaism a millennia later? This question was never considered in Smith's argument.

Professor Jeffrey H. Tigay's background in Deuteronomy equipped him to address the subject of “Monotheism in the Hebrew Bible.” He noted in opening that YHWH was a personal name and that the issue of monotheism is not that of "one god," but of "the only god." He opined that monotheism as commonly understood had no real part in Scripture. He showed that the Shema, contained in Deuteronomy 6:4 is not a monotheistic statement. Its claim to be a monotheistic statement was post-biblical. The scriptures normally used to support monotheism in the Hebrew Bible are not philosophical statements, but rather statements of historical reality to the authors and audience. To Professor Tigay, any solution to the quest of Fred Simmons lay outside the realm of Scripture.

Steve Fine moved the time scale forward to the archaeological evidences from the first centuries of the current era. With presentations providing visits to synagogues in Dura-Europos, and in the Galilee, Steve Fine raised questions about the Jewish rejection of representative art, either from the biblical record or the pagan world. Why was the synagogue in Dura-Europos decorated with art depicting biblical stories and accounts? The art was clearly presented to show that biblical and not pagan ideas were being presented. And why should synagogues in the Galilee from the same period have zodiacs so prominently displayed? They clearly were not for the purpose of a calendar as they mixed the signs of the zodiac and seasons from the normal order. What we accept as being normal has not always been the case. Such is true with our current ideas of monotheism.

Overall, the event presented a portrait to the audience that all was not as we would like to think it was. It created a challenge to the normally accepted and unquestioned views that underpin both Judaism and Christianity.

Upon reflection, the conclusion of the matter at the end of the day was that the original challenge of Frederick Simmons was not worded correctly. Rather than asking why Israel gave rise to Monotheism, he should have asked why Israel gave rise to Monolatry. Only Israel worshipped a single God. Monotheism as we use it today was a construct of the Greek philosophers—most likely Antithenes, a pupil of Socrates—and then of subsequent Christian church fathers as well as the Rabbis of the current era.

John J. Collins, Holmes Professor of Old Testament at Yale, summed up the situation described in the Dead Sea Scrolls at the start of the Christian era. This is a fitting description of the early followers of Jesus Christ as well.

[M]onotheism hardly seems the right word to describe the religion of the Dead Sea Scrolls. To be sure, the supremacy of the Most High is never in doubt. But this is not a God who dwells alone. He is surrounded by ’elim and ’elohim, holy ones and angels. Some of these angels (Michael, Melchizedek, and the Prince of Light) are exalted above their fellows (Religion in the Dead Sea Scrolls, 2000, 27).

Given that conclusion, the ideas of the timing of the rise of monotheism within Judaism by Professor Mark Smith seem patently misplaced.

Tags: Dead Sea Scrolls, Early Church, Monotheism, Deuteronomy, Monolatry, Shema, Tigay

Jordan requests that Canada seize the Dead Sea Scrolls!

Politics and Archaeology
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Details: Jordan requests that Canada seize the Dead Sea Scrolls!
Jordan and Dead Sea Scrolls

An exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, of the Dead Sea Scrolls, provided and sponsored by the Israeli Antiquities Authority is the subject of diplomatic moves by Jordan.  The Government of Jordan has requested that Canadian Government seize the scrolls presently in Toronto which “Jordan claims were illegally taken by Israel in 1967.”

At the heart of the issue is an international agreement signed in 1954.  Toronto’s Globe and Mail reports:

Summoning the Canadian chargé d'affaires in Amman two weeks ago, Jordan cited the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, to which both Jordan and Canada are signatories, in asking Canada to take custody of the scrolls.

Jordan claims Israel acted illegally in 1967 when it took the scrolls from a museum in east Jerusalem, which Israel seized from Jordan during the Six-Day War and subsequently occupied. The Hague Convention, which is concerned with safeguarding cultural property during wartime, requires each signatory “to take into its custody cultural property imported into its territory either directly or indirectly from any occupied territory. This shall either be effected automatically upon the importation of the property or, failing this, at the request of the authorities of that territory.”

This means Canada must act, says Jordan. “The Government of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan would be grateful if the Government of Canada would confirm … whether it is prepared to assume its international legal responsibility, and the means by which it intends to do so,” it wrote.

Canada has not responded positively to the request, but the action by the Jordanians probably spells the end of any traveling exhibits from Israel, without some prior guarantee that the objects will be safely returned to the IAA.

The action by Jordan is not a denial of the Jewish character of the Scrolls, but rather who really owns the material.

H/T James Davila, PaleoJudaica

Tags: Jordan, Dead Sea Scrolls, israel, Jews

Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?

Geza Vermes reflects on a life with the Scrolls

Geza Vermes has a unique view on the Dead Sea Scrolls. His entire academic life has literally been devoted to their study, almost from the time of their discovery. No other living academic can claim such an association. As a result, it's possible that no one has read them as carefully as he.  Capping a long and full academic career, Geza Vermes acts as editor of the Journal of Jewish Studies.

Writing in Standpoint.online, Geza Vermes adds to the debate begun by Rachel Elior over the possible fabrication of the Essenes by Philo and Josephus and the suggestion that the scrolls were written by the Sadducees.

Of course in this day of instant response, Elior is able to proffer a response online as well as to generate other dialogues on her views.

The give-and-take in this area is intriguing. But more than that, it is refining and enhances our ability to appreciate the environment in which these scrolls were written, which was also the cradle in which Jesus Christ and the early church lived and worked.

H/T to James Davila of PaleoJudaica for the links.


Tags: Dead Sea Scrolls, Geza Vermes, Essenes, Priests, Rachel Elior, Sadducees

Israel Knohl discusses the impact of Gabriel's Revelation

Video interview made available on line

Israel Knohl, a professor at Hebrew University and Senior Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, discusses the importance, to both Judaism and the followers of Christ, of the recent discovery of a stone since known asGabriel's Revelation.

The idea of a suffering Messiah has long been held by Christian scholarship to be an after-the-event concept added by the apostles to justify the death of Jesus Christ.  Knohl shows how this concept predated the birth of Jesus and explores the way this is shown in Gabriel's Revelation.


Tags: Dead Sea Scrolls, Herod, Jesus Christ, Israel Knohl, Roman Empire, Suffering Messiahs, Gabriel's Revelation

What Languages Were Spoken in First Century Judaea and Galilee?

Archaeology helps put the record straight

A concept put forward in older dictionaries and commentaries is that Hebrew was not spoken or used in the time of Jesus Christ and the apostles in Judaea and Galilee. Rather the language spoken was Aramaic. This idea was so pervasive that references by Eusebius that the Gospel of Matthew was written in the Hebrew language were footnoted to read Aramaic. During the last 60 years, however, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other archaeological remains show that Hebrew was alive and well as a language, even under the Roman occupation of the land.

A recent article by Jerusalem Perspective sets out to analyse the languages based on a large part of the epigraphic record of inscriptions and coins from the Second Temple Period. It establishes that Hebrew was an actively used language in the land, existing alongside Aramaic and Greek.

Tags: Dead Sea Scrolls, Greek, Hebrew, Archaeology, Aramaic, epigraphy, Jerusalem Perspective, languages, Second Temple Period

Gabriel's Revelation on Display in Houston

First public showing of stone

Gabriel's Revelation, a piece of stone with ink writing dating to the time of Herod's Temple, is on display in Houston as part of a new exhibition "The Birth of Christianity: A Jewish Story" presently showing at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. 

The Houston Chronicle's Barbara Karkabi introduces the exhibition in the Chronicle's Houston Belief with the question:

Did Christianity begin with the birth of Jesus and his death on the cross 33 years later? Or were its roots buried deeply in ancient Judaism?

In raising that question, Karkabi takes the whole issue of the roots of Christianity out of its perceived origins and invites the reader and viewer to consider Christianity in its Jewish milieu. In doing so, the question of celebrations on December 25 is called into question.

Tags: Dead Sea Scrolls, Archaeology, birth of Jesus Christ, Christian origins, Christmas, Gabriel's Revelation

ASOR gets off to a traditional start

Opening evening shows how traditional approaches of archaeology still defy postmodern theory
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Details: ASOR gets off to a traditional start

The opening event of the annual gathering of members of theAmerican School of Oriental Research (ASOR) got underway in San Diego this evening. Scholars and archaeologists from many parts of the world gathered to hear the opening comments and lectures.

What was evident was an organization that was fighting back against the tides of post modernism that influences so much in academia today. In his opening remarks, president Eric Meyers of Duke University harked back to a discussion with Yigal Yadin who had anticipated a divide in the academic sphere. Yadin’s solution was to establish endowed chairs in biblical archaeology in at least 10 American universities. As a start toward raising the necessary funds, he had offered his draw as a speaker.  Sadly, Yadin left for Israel after that meeting and died the next day without being able to start on the challenge. In his place, Norma Kershaw rose to the challenge and with her husband endowed two chairs in Southern California.

Norma Kershaw was part of the welcoming committee this evening, as was David Noel Freedman of the University of San Diego. In his remarks Freedman followed Meyers lead in discussing a ring found on a female skeleton at Meggido 75 years ago in a controlled dig supervised by a licensed archaeologist. The inscription on the ring has challenged epigraphers ever since. Freedman offered his interpretation. In his opinion, the inscription lines up with a woman mentioned in Judges 5:28the mother of Sisera, a warrior who battled against the Israelite forces under the leadership of Deborah and Barak. To Freedman, the inscription on the ring is cause for accepting that the Bible contains historical information relating to the beginning of Israel.

The focus of the evening was a lecture by Jodi Magness, a religious studies professor of at the University of North CarolinaChapel Hill, titled “The Current State of Qumran Archaeology.”  Magness tied the confusion on the subject to those who wished to separate the archaeology from the textual evidence associated with the site. For Magness, this is characteristic of the post-modern approach to archaeology. Magness went on to show that by the use of both archaeological and textual evidence an understanding of the intimate purity regulations of the Essenes could be understood.

Eric Meyers, in a brief discussion during the reception following the meeting spoke to the vitality of the traditional approach to archaeology. According to Meyers, the difficulty is that younger members are too interested in anthropology by itself and won’t consider the textual evidence that needs to be brought into the discussion.

So the first evening ended on a high note with a reception.

Tags: Dead Sea Scrolls, Archaeology, Essenes, Qumran, ASOR, Eric Meyers, Jodi Magness, Norma Kershaw, post-modernism, Yagel Yadin

Virtual Qumran Creator Interviewed

Qumran and Dead Sea Scrolls links explained

Robert Cargill, a doctoral student at UCLA is interviewed on Biblioblogs.  Links are provided to his project of creating a three dimensional model of Qumran.  In the interview, Robert outlines how his interest in both Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls developed. Robert provides a succinct outline of the personalities that have driven the research in the area, including Norman Golb Not too much info on how he came to produce the model. For more on that see his blog http://virtualqumran.blogspot.com/.

Tags: Dead Sea Scrolls, Archaeology, Qumran, Golb, Robert Cargill

Dead Sea Scrolls Again

San Diego exhibition draws more comment

Norman Golb of the University of Chicago has some definite ideas about the origins of the Dead Sea Scrolls. To this end he has written a number of papers critiquing the current presentation in San Diego. While Professor Golb’s ideas have been rejected by most involved in the study of the Scrolls, his views have had an impact and accordingly have altered this area of study. No longer does any serious scholar accept the original idea that they were all written by the community living in Qumran. Now it is generally accepted that the scrolls were principally written elsewheremost likely in Jerusalemand then brought to Qumran.

However, Golb’s thesis that all the Scrolls were removed from Jerusalem immediately prior to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem has also been overtaken by subsequent study. Scholars at the Hebrew UniversityJerusalem, are now positing what could be categorized as older cavescaves with scrolls deposited at an earlier time, as well as later caveswhere the scrolls were clearly deposited immediately prior to the fall of Jerusalem. Carbon dating of the linen shrouds in which some of the scrolls were wrapped prior to placing in the earthen ware jars have been used to help establish these dates.

In my view, Golb’s latest paper highlights how difficult it is to take a complex issue such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and produce something that will be of genuine interest to the public. Despite the shortcomings that Professor Golb sees in the catalogue, the San Diego Natural History Museum bookstore, conveniently located at the end of the display, is replete with books on the subject. These include Golb’s own book, Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls? The Search for the Secret of Qumran, and others which present arguments that don’t always support the approach taken in the catalogue and display.

Tags: jerusalem, Dead Sea Scrolls, Archaeology, Golb, de Vaux

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