[b-hebrew] Genesis 3:15 and order of ideas

Heard, Christopher Christopher.Heard at pepperdine.edu
Wed Dec 22 13:54:39 EST 2004

Dear Harold,

On 12/22/04 7:56 AM, "Harold R. Holmyard III" <hholmyard at ont.com> wrote:
> HH: Why not? I am quoting from a letter to the Hebrews. The letter is
> presumed to have a Jewish person for its author. You speak as though
> Jewish culture did not transcend language barriers. The other day I
> had the oil changed in my car. As I left I wanted to give the man who
> did the work a Christmas tract (pamphlet). I asked whether he
> preferred one in Spanish or English. He said, "It does not matter.
> They're the same." Obviously he was a person who read both languages,
> but he implied that the message was essentially the same, whatever
> the language. I am supposing that the case was comparable in the
> ancient world. It may be that Jews used Greek in one context, Aramaic
> in another, and Hebrew in another, but the culture itself would be
> much the same. And the ideas expressed in one language would have
> their counterparts in another language. If the Hebrews spoke of
> Abraham sowing seed in Sarah in Greek, they might speak and think
> similarly in any other language they happened to use.

Your analogy is, to be blunt, flawed. Your tracts are presumably written in
21st-century English and 21st-century Spanish; perhaps one is even a
translation of the other. Even so, the syntax of the Spanish tract would not
be a good guide to understanding the syntax of the English tract. Perhaps
your tracts discussed Christmas dinner, with the Spanish tract reading "Yo
tengo hambre" ("I have hunger") and the English one "I am hungry." Clearly
the Spanish syntax for indicating hunger (using a possessive verb and a
noun) differs noticeably from the English syntax for indicating hunger
(using a stative verb and an adjective). If your auto mechanic can use
Spanish and English with equal facility despite these syntactic differences,
then perhaps you would be justified in assuming that a first-century Jew
might could use Aramaic and Greek with equal facility. But that does not
make Koine Greek syntax a good guide to 1st-century CE Aramaic syntax, and
it _certainly_ does not make Koine Greek syntax a good guide to the Hebrew
syntax of the centuries-earlier Torah!

(Never mind the various difficulties with the presumptions listed in your
opening sentences.)


R. Christopher Heard
Assistant Professor of Religion
Armstrong Fellow in Religion
Pepperdine University

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