Language code switching in Daniel

Charles David Isbell cisbell at
Mon Dec 31 09:55:21 EST 2001

Peter's point about switching languages in mid sentence resonates with me.
My own parents do this frequently without being aware that they are doing
it.  But since they know both French and English equally well, when a
particular idea can be carried better by a specific idiom or phrase, they
simply use the more appropriate language.  It seems to me that this implies
strongly that books like Daniel and Ezra might have had a pre-literate
existence that grew to be widely used in the community before becoming
important enough to warrant the effort of setting them down in writing.
Naturally, the writing editor would simply use the language in which the
stories were best known to him/her.  And I think it is worth repeating that
writing in ancient times was done far more often to preserve than to create.
That is, a series of prophetic teachings or sermons, or stories, etc., would
surely have had to achieve a broad consensus among the community first, by
answering a basic question that helped the community define itself.  Who is
God?  Who are we?  What is the nature of our relationship with God?  What is
or should be the nature of our relationship with each other?  What is or
should be the nature of our relationship with those who are outside our
community?  Stories and sermons that answered such questions so as to
express the community's own self understanding, that spoke for the community
in some authentic way, would have come to be viewed as authoritative because
they spoke to and for the community first.  Only then would they be deemed
worthy of preservation via writing.
On another issue, how can one possibly erect a theory of inerrancy for the
LXX based upon a quotation of Jesus in the NT?  All the direct quotations of
his words are in Aramaic, non?  So does that imply that the Targumim were
inerrant?  Is it not far simpler to note that the final editors of the
gospels, for example, chose to publish their work in a language that was
widely known and read [Greek], and not limited to Jews or to Judea.  They
obviously did not think it terrible important to attempt to reproduce the
ipsissima verba of Jesus, or they would have used Aramaic.  In fact, such an
idea of a god speaking exact words that a prophet hears and repeats word for
word and syllable for syllable is far more Islamic than it is "biblical."
Over and over, whenever a single incident is reported in more than one
source, it is clear that there is no science of exact quotation of the words
of God spoken in the seventh heavens.  We are confronted rather by the same
story with emphases made differently by people with differing personalities,
backgrounds, language skills, etc.  This is exactly what we would expect
even today if four people witnessed an automobile accident from four
different corners of an intersection.  If they all four gave the same
account word for word, I would smell a rat and suspect some form of
collusion.  But from a study of all four of their individual versions of the
one incident, we should be able to determine fairly well the basic facts
that occurred.  For me, the individual differences in biblical stories are a
warrant of authenticity indicating that the writers of Scripture did not
collude.  The variety of perspectives lends a richness and texture to the
Bible that would be totally lacking if the persons who did the writing were
simply mindless channels through whose pens the "word of God" flowed

In this connection, I would like to ask how one might know that a particular
manuscript is an autograph?  Would it be signed?  It seems to me that the
theory of an inerrant autograph is little more than the final refuge of the
truly desperate.  That is, first a doctrine of inerrancy is postulated.  But
then little errors of copying and larger errors of historicity must be
acknowledged as staring us in the face.  Presto chango!  Well of course it
is only the autographs that were inerrant.  But the theory must not be
abandoned, apparently in the face of any evidence whatsoever.  This is a
classic example of claiming a high view of Scripture while actually setting
one's personal theory on a prior and far higher pedestal.  In fact, the
theory comes first, and then the facts must be jammed into the box of the
theory, for in the final analysis, no matter what the text may say, the
autograph MUST be inerrant.  Why?  What is so evil about admitting that we
have in biblical texts the highest and noblest expressions of which
individual authors or editors were capable at a particular juncture in
history?  The facts are that the texts we possess are not free from error.
The facile assumption of inerrancy must be recognized for what it is--a
THEORY that can never be proven or disproved.  But arguing about texts that
we do NOT possess seems pointless in light of all the work we still need to
do to understand the texts that we DO possess.
I wish all a wonderful 5762, 2002, 1422.
Charles David Isbell

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