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

Albert & Julia Haig albert_and_julia at yahoo.com.au
Tue Apr 4 08:34:53 EDT 2006

> [PK]But I would dispute the relevance of the Peshitta (4th-5th century CE Syriac version of the New Testament) here. I know that some people like to claim that the Peshitta is at least to a large extent an original Aramaic NT of which the Greek NT is a translation. But the scholarly consensus is that the Peshitta is basically a translation of the Greek NT.

Yes, but it is obviously helpful as a source on the meaning of Aramaic terms, whether it is a translation or not. Indeed, if it is a translation, that may make it more useful for these purposes.

> [PK]An additional indication of this is the variation of the wording in the four different places where this formula is quoted in the NT: Matthew 22:37 (3 words: "heart", "soul", "mind" (DIANOIA)); Mark 12:30 (4 words: "heart", "soul", "mind" (DIANOIA), "strength"); Mark 12:33 (3 words: "heart", "understanding" (SUNESIS), "strength") Luke 10:27 (4 words: "heart", "soul", "strength", "mind" (DIANOIA)). It would seem that those who rendered Jesus' words into Greek used varying strategies to translate Hebrew LEBAB and ME'OD, or its Aramaic equivalents.

This is most readily explicable by Markan priority.

> [KP]Is it being assumed that in the encounter narrated in Mark 12:28-34 Jesus was speaking Aramaic rather than Hebrew?

No. It could be Hebrew or Aramaic. However, if Aramaic had a distinct and specific word for "mind" at this time which had no Hebrew analogue [which - note everyone please - is the main point that I am trying to determine], that would slightly favour Aramaic over Hebrew. Even if this passage represents some sort of midrashic development, why add "mind" when "lev" was always understood to include it in Hebrew anyway?

> [BJW III] In fact, evil, grief, conscience, bravery, wishdown, understanding, though functions, the seat of the will, etc., all are used of labab and leb.

That's my point exactly. Why add an additional term when lev covers it? What would the additional term have been, if it was Hebrew? What about Aramaic?

> [BJW III] In particular, the widely-held distinction between mind as the seat of thing and heart as seat of feeling (esp.tender feeling) is alien from the meaning these terms carry in the Bible.

Half-true - it's alien from the meaning these terms carry in the Old Testament. In New Testament Greek, there was some distinction, although it was much less pronounced than in classical Greek thought, due to the Hebraic influence on the former. It is questionable whether, for instance, nous and kardia are always used synonymously in the NT (sometimes they are, not always). That again gets to the point. Where does Aramaic stand in this regard?

> [BJW III] Harder makes it quite clear that dianoia, nous, etc. are not used that often in the LXX,

But they are so used in the NT, and this supports my comments above.

> [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.

I've read such arguments, and I remain completely unconvinced. The idea that Greek was spoken by Palestinian Jews in anything but exceptional cases is extremely hard to believe, and the idea that the LXX would be employed by people such as John the Baptist and Jesus in discussions with Pharisees even in circumstances where it contradicts every Hebrew and Aramaic text that we have, is far-fetched. From the earliest record of Christian-Jewish interactions, at least since Justin Martyr, when Christians cited the LXX in cases where it contradicted the Hebrew, the Jews would immediately respond by gleefully pointing out this defect. Why would the Pharisees not similarly respond to John the Baptist or Jesus? As anybody who has tried knows, the ability to be fluently bilingual (excepting closely related languages such as Hebrew and Aramaic) or trilingual is difficult, and in a society which had a high rate of illiteracy and little formal education, there are good reasons to
 express scepticism about this. Furthermore, the ability to retain fluency in a second language depends in all but exceptional cases upon one's having continuing contact with people who speak that language as their mother-tongue. But even if you remain convinced that Jesus sometimes spoke Greek to the Pharisees, for the sake of the present argument, since arguing the issue would be way off forum, let's assume that he was speaking in Aramaic or Hebrew, and see if there is a possible solution.

> [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.

This is what I'm trying to get at. Although Jesus had challenged people to use their minds, that doesn't tell us whether he could have distinguished mind and heart in Aramaic. In Hebrew usage, "lev" would have done perfectly to mean mental sharpness of the mind. But I'm not sure about Aramaic.

> [YL] Please define what you mean by "mind" in English, and then we'll see if there is a Hebrew word, biblcial or otherwise, that has more or less the same meaning. Does "mind" mean "brain", "sense" or "thought"? Or did you have something else in mind. Would you mind elaborating, so as to put our minds at ease? Or should we just mind our own business?

No, I don't mind :) Really, though, it doesn't matter too much what I mean by mind, but what the author of Mark meant when he used it (dianoia) and distinguished it from kardia. My question can be phrased like this: was there a word in 1st century Aramaic that clearly meant the mind as let's say the "organ of thought" as opposed to the more inclusive term heart.

Thanks, everyone.

All the best,

Albert Haig.

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