[b-hebrew] "Mind" in Hebrew and Aramaic

Harold R. Holmyard III hholmyard at ont.com
Mon Apr 3 14:13:42 EDT 2006

Dear Albert,

>  > Hebrew words for mind include (without taking time for a search):
>>  yetser maHshavot ('organ for thoughts' 1or2Chronicles)
>>  Heshbon ('calculation', 'ability to think' DIALOGISMOS BenSira 9,15,
>    I happen to have a copies at hand at the moment)
>>  da`at ('knowing', especially in contexts refering to the
>    ability to know, Qumran serex ha-YaHad column 1. Cf. madda`,
>    modern for 'science'.)
>>  hon (see Even Shoshan milon/DICTIONARY [not Bible concordance] for
>    rabbinic uses)
>>  tvuna, bina ('understanding, discernement',
>    again, in contexts where the ability is in focus rather than the
>    results or quality, e.g. BenSira 15:15, 44:3)
>>  ra`yonot ('thoughts')
>>  maHshavot ('thoughts')
>>  and of course,
>    lev//levav 'heart' in contexts of thinking.
>>  sexel 'understanding', in contexts where the ability to think is in
>    focus, led to a medieval development of a technical term that is
>    'mind, mental' today in modern Hebrew. 
>OK. So there are more words that can mean mind in Hebrew than just 
>lev. But it seems to me that (a) none of these words reference the 
>mind very specifically and (b) the overwhelming predominance of 
>references in the OT to the mind per se use lev. However, in Greek, 
>there are a number of words that much more directly refer to the 
>mind than does kardia (i.e. nous, dianoia, psuche). Hence, a Greek 
>speaker might not see so clearly, if they read "heart, soul, and 
>might", that the mind was involved; whereas to a Hebrew speaker it 
>would be more obvious. My explanation for the addition to Mark 
>12:30, therefore, is that it represents an attempt to clarify the 
>text for Greek speakers.
>But this is all complicated by the fact that 1st century Palestinian 
>Jews were probably speaking Aramaic. An examination of OT Aramaic 
>certainly leaves one with the impression that the word lev was used 
>to mean "mind" most, if not all, of the time. But, as has been 
>pointed out, OT Aramaic only represents a very small subset of 
>Aramaic. Furthermore, the Peshitta of Mark 12:30 distinguisheds 
>heart from mind, and I am informed that the word for mind there is 
>ra`yon, "thought", as in the list above. So the question becomes, 
>was this kind of development of the shema` in which "heart" and 
>"mind" were distinguished something that was (or might have been) 
>already present in Rabbinic discussions about this verse, or is it 
>more likely a concession on the part of Mark to his Greek-speaking 
>audience? Any further suggestions?

HH: Someone has pointed out that Palestine was a multi-lingual 
context. Isaiah centuries earlier had spoken of "Galilee of the 
Gentiles," and the Seleucid rulers had striven to inculcate the love 
of things Greek. The NT is Greek. I see no difficulty in assuming 
that Jesus knew Greek and was familiar with the LXX. Nor do I have 
difficulty imagining that he spoke in more than one language and may 
have preached in Greek at times.

HH: The LXX command not to hate the neighbor with the mind (DIANOIA) 
replaces the Hebrew LBB ("heart") (Lev. 19:17). The LXX uses DIANOIA 
about fundamental issues of loyalty to Yahweh (Deut 29:17), again 
replacing LBB. It even uses DIANOIA to replace LBB when speaking of 
the commands to love the Lord  and serve Him with all one's mind (LBB 
in Hebrew) and all one's soul (Josh 22:5). So anyone familiar with 
the LXX might use DIANOIA of love towards the Lord.

HH: Even if Jesus were speaking Aramaic on this occasion, he might 
conceivably have been motivated to insert this idea of mind into a 
citation of Deut 6:5. Jesus had been challenging his hearers with 
parables that required them to use their minds (Ml 12:1-12). Then His 
enemies tried to catch him in his words (Mk 12:13) with a theological 
challenge (Ml 12:14-17) and puzzle (Mk 12:18-26). They were asking 
deep questions in this very incident (Mk 12:28-34). Next Jesus gave a 
theological brain-teaser of his own (Mk 12:35-37). So in the context 
Jesus may have added the word "mind" to Deut 6:5 in Mk 12:30 to 
clarify the need for mental sharpness as one strove to love the Lord.

Harold Holmyard

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