[b-hebrew] Re: setting and reading

Harold R. Holmyard III hholmyard at ont.com
Mon Jan 10 20:41:45 EST 2005

Dear Jim,

This is a little long, but interesting.

>>>Indeed- in the NT story of the healing of the man in the house- 
>>>his friends dig a hole in the roof in one account and they remove 
>>>the tiles in the other- evidence that the gospel writers adapted 
>>>the story to the circumstances to their hearers.
>>HH:  It could be two ways of telling the same story. You can dig a 
>>hole in the roof by removing the tiles.
>I agree completely with the first sentence.  The second, I dont. 
>One normally doesn't dig through tiles.  Your solution is 
>conflationary.  Yet the gospel writers themselves never offer such a 
>conflation (for neither account combines the digging and the tiles).

HH: A conflated reading seems possible. The Greek word EXORUSSW in 
Mark 2:4 can be translated "dig out," but it can also be translated 
as "tear out" (BAGD), "break up" (Accordance), or "open" (Newman's 
UBS dictionary), words very appropriate for tiles.

HH: The NET Bible presents your theory, Jim:

There is a translational problem at this point in the text. The term 
Luke uses is kevramo" (keramo"). It can in certain contexts mean 
"clay," but usually this is in reference to pottery (see BDAG 540 
s.v. 1). The most natural definition in this instance is "roof tile" 
(used in the translation above). However, tiles were generally not 
found in Galilee. Recent archaeological research has suggested that 
this house, which would have probably been typical for the area, 
could not have supported "a second story, nor could the original roof 
have been masonry; no doubt it was made from beams and branches of 
trees covered with a mixture of earth and straw" (J. F. Strange and 
H. Shanks, "Has the House Where Jesus Stayed in Capernaum Been 
Found?" BAR 8, no. 6 [Nov/Dec 1982]: 34). Luke may simply have spoken 
of building materials that would be familiar to his readers.

HH: Here is another presentation  of the same theory:

Nitpicky critics will complain that "tiling" is an error because 
roofs in Palestine did not have tiles -- only Greek and Roman houses 
did. Therefore they assume Luke is erroneously anachronizing. They 
assume right on the latter, but have been mixed up on the former. If 
intent means that one has not committed error, then such cites as 
these simply cannot be called errors. In this case, we see Luke 
intentionally anachronizing for the purpose of making the story more 
intelligible to a more sophisticated audience. Today we would do no 
such thing -- we would say that the roof was made of wood or straw, 
or whatever, and then include explanatory footnotes like this:

In Palestine, roofs are made of wood or straw, unlike roofs in Greek 
and Roman areas which are made of tile.

In this era before footnotes and limited office supplies, Luke had no 
room for such diversions. It would therefore behoove him rather to 
make the account easily intelligible, rather than distract the reader 
with the question, "How is it they have a roof not made of tiles?" 
Keener [6]in his Matthean commentary observes that Josephus (as well 
as Philo) "as frequently as possible...translates native Jewish ideas 
into broader hellenistic categories to make them more intelligible 
(and acceptable to his milieu)." (Josephus was writing to an audience 
of educated Romans.) Keener therefore advises keeping a wider frame 
of reference when consulting ancient texts, and it is in the same 
light that we should read verses like Luke 5:19.

HH: Another possibility is that the word KERAMOS in Luke 5:19, which 
can mean potter's earth or clay (LSJ), in this story refers to the 
clay material of the roof (BAGD). So instead of two different roof 
types (tile and earth), both the Mark and Luke stories would concern 

HH: Other sources can support this idea, here Architecture of Ancient 
Israel. Eds. Aharon Kempinski and Ronny Reich. Israel Exploration 
Society and Authors: Jerusalem, 1992.

However, roofs were commonly made with timber bearing the width 
across the room's ceiling. Side by side they lay as they became 
covered in clay and flattened with a roller.[26]
Mark 2:4 When the four man lower a paralytic man into the house where 
Jesus was teaching it says that the men "removed the roof above him; 
and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the 
paralytic lay."

HH: The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia also presents this 

Roof (gagh; stege).--(snip) To get over the difficulty of the larger 
spans, a common practice was to introduce a main beam (qurah) carried 
on the walls and strengthened by one or more intermediate posts let 
into stone sockets laid on the floor. Smaller timbers as joists 
("rafters," rahiT) were spaced out and covered in turn with 
brushwood; the final covering, being of mud mixed with chopped straw, 
was beaten and rolled. A tiny stone roller is found on every modern 
native roof, and is used to roll the mud into greater solidity every 
year on the advent of the first rains. Similar rollers have been 
found among the ancient remains throughout the country; see 
Excavations of Gezer, I, 190; PEFS, Warren's letters, 46. "They let 
him down through the tiles (keramos) with his couch into the midst 
before Jesus" (Luke 5:19) refers to the breaking through of a roof 
similar to this.

HH: Yet the plural term KERAMWN in Luke 5:19 certainly looks like 
"tiles." Given what Keener says, it is possible you are right, Jim, 
although the idea of cultural adaptation does not seem required. 
Someone writes:

1) We could go to many third-world countries today where the houses 
are mostly one-room with thatched roofs. But we will always find some 
more wealthy people who can afford to imitate the western style 
houses. We would certainly expect to find wealthy people in 
first-century Palestine having Roman or Greek-style houses. When our 
Savior was healing and teaching great crowds, where would it make 
sense to go, to a one-room hut or someone who had a large Roman-style 
house? We have examples of our Savior asking for facilities when he 
needed them (Luke 19:5).

HH: In a description of the Jerusalem temple apparently taken 
ultimately from Josephus' _The Jewish War_, the roofs of the temple 
colonnades had tiles:

The temple was the centre of an enormous complex. It was surrounded 
by walls and towers (E); to the north-west of it was a castle (A) 
which Herod called Antonia in honour of his Roman friend Anthony. 
Between the castle and the temple was a subterranean passage. Around 
all this, a gigantic double colonnade was built. The colonnades had 
sloping roofs with roof tiles, on which the Roman soldiers found it 
difficult to walk with their hobnailed boots when they had to fight 
with the rebels.

HH: So there are several possibilities: 1) that all accounts speak of 
clay roofs, 2) that all accounts speak of tile roofs, and 3) that an 
author might adapt the story according to his audience, as was a 
practice of the time. At this point I don't know which idea is right.

				Harold Holmyard

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