At last, a more Jewish alternative Hebrew Bible translation in English

Earlier, as I moved from Everett Fox’s radical translation of the Five Books of Moses into the books of Joshua and Judges, I remarked how much I wanted something similar for the rest of the Hebrew Bible. Something that didn’t sound like the Bible was written in 16th century English.

I may have found something close in Robert Alter’s handsome three-volume translation of the Hebrew Bible. Or maybe I should say my wife has, in selecting it as her Christmas present to me. (No irony intended.)

Rather than going for a muscular, grainy, rough-hewn sense of Hebrew that Fox produced, Alter strives for contemporary English clarity and elegance while keeping fidelity to the original. Like Fox, he accompanies his choices with copious footnotes, but sticks closer to a text that still echoes the familiar King James. On the upside, this means I’m not having to refer to another translation to reconnect the names to the ones I understand. On the downside, I lose an awareness of the original designation.

Ephraim Moses Lilien diptych

 

The big gift was accompanied by Alter’s revelatory The Art of Biblical Poetry, a scholarly analysis that strips the thick varnish from the traditional views of the scriptures to reveal a lively, brightly colored, surprisingly contemporary rich poetics throughout the collected canon.

Here I was, thinking I was done with a straight read-through, that once was enough. But now Alter may be enough to prompt an encore campaign.

 

Why read the Bible?

If not in its entirety, which books?

I wish I had an easy answer. And, yes, it’s important. Reading itself — deep reading — is important, and the Bible is the biggest single influence on the English language itself and English literature. It also shapes our political and social values much more than we’re aware. If it’s important to read Shakespeare, the Bible is even more worthy.

Other reasons to read the Bible?

To counter bad theology and bad politics, for one thing. (Starting with right-wingers and fundamentalists, but then, as Jesus says about that mote in the eye, the spotlight soon swings to my own side of the table.)

To be more aware of the foundations of Western culture, including science — it’s one God, one Truth, an orderly creation rather than chaos or jealous deities. This universe is ruled by a Law or a Design. I’d say Plan, except I don’t want to invoke parties that want to limit the understanding.

To encourage spiritual experience. Meditating on a single verse can be a powerful mantra. Voicing one in Quaker Meeting deepens the worship.

To prompt some lively discussion. Focus on personal experience or insight, rather than creedal speculation. Take nothing at face value while looking for the big sweep of the action. As literature or factual? think of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, at times.

What would you add to this list?

~*~

Traversing the entire collection front to back — and it is a collection, an anthology, of many authors and visions — leaves me with a far less conventional interpretation of the text, yet far more admiration for its inventiveness, too. I’m more aware of its weaknesses and the places where our contemporary issues and learning can come to bear, too.

For me, this work is far from done. That’s not a bad reason for reading this magnum opus, is it?

A selected bibliography

Not all of these are mentioned in my posts on reading the Bible straight-through, but they are works I’ve found quite insightful and hold them out for your continued reading.

I should also acknowledge that the sheer volume of commentaries and interpretations of the ancient and seminal texts in the canon is well beyond any human’s ability to pursue in a single lifetime. They can, however, feed into our discussions and growing wisdom. Feel free to mention any in the comments section of this post, perhaps with a mention of why you’ve found them especially valuable.

Bill Moyers’ Genesis: A Living Conversation (edited by Betty Sue Flowers) (Doubleday, New York; 1996). Based on the Public Television Series that featured a panel of distinguished voices to reflect on selected stories in the opening book of the Bible, this transcript includes Jews, Christians of many varieties, Muslims, and others who delve into the startling implications beneath the surface of the text. Inspired by similar living-room conversations reflecting followers of all three “Peoples of the Book,” the animated dialogue demonstrates just how vital these ancient texts remain. You may also find videos from the broadcasts at your public library or online.

The Five Books of Moses: A New Translation with Introductions, Commentary, and Notes by Everett Fox (Schocken, New York; 1995). As a poet, I’m taken with his breathtaking presentation that allows these books, as one observer remarked, to sound as if they weren’t written directly in King James English. I wish we had the rest of the Hebrew Bible in such amazing and invigorating poetry.

Godwrestling, Arthur I. Waskow (Shocken Books, New York; 1978). This was the book that completely altered my way of reading the Bible. Based on a Jewish tradition of questioning and arguing with the text, and even allowing the possibility that God might be wrong in this situation, Waskow encourages an active engagement where faith can be revolutionary. It inspired the way I love to teach these stories with teenagers in our Quaker Meeting, for one thing.

 

Congregation: Contemporary Writers Read the Jewish Bible (edited by David Rosenberg) (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York; 1987). I found my copy in a bookstore discount bin far more years ago than I care to admit, but I’ve since found it to be an startling companion in my reflections on the pages of the Hebrew Bible. In many ways, each of the authors contributing essays has become like the panelists on the Genesis discussions or the thinking in Godwrestling, companions in this engagement with these stories. Many of them have, in effect, welcomed me into their homes and even their childhoods, while introducing me to a range of rabbinical scholarship. My, how I wish I could invite them over for dinner.

Technicians of the Sacred: A Range of Poetries from Africa, America, Asia, and Oceana (edited by Jerome Rothenberg) (Doubleday, New York; 1968). This collection, from back in my hippie years, is one that opened my awareness to the range of spiritual awareness in so-called primitive societies. I feel this awareness is helpful in engaging the oldest parts of the Hebrew Bible.

New Jerusalem Bible (Reader’s Edition, Doubleday, New York, 1990). As I explained earlier, this Roman Catholic translation has been praised for its accuracy, free from much of the King James tradition. I’m still open, though, to a more radical translation in line with Everett Fox’s work.

The Parthenon Code: Mankind’s History in Marble, Robert Bowie Johnson Jr. (Solving Light, Annapolis, Maryland; 2004). I have no idea how this sweep of Greek art and thought sits with more scholarly authorities, but I remain intrigued by Johnson’s interpretation and reconstruction of the friezes on the great temple in Athens. He sees them as validating and challenging the events of Genesis — the Hebrews, for their part, being people of language, while the Greeks were essentially visual. In effect, the two cultures were in conflict and arguing with each other. For me, this adds depth to the chronological progression of thought in the Jewish Scriptures.

The Four Gospels and the Revelation: Newly Translated from the Greek by Richmond Lattimore (Pocket Books, New York; 1979). It’s a fresh take, though I’m wondering what else might lurk beneath the surface.

The Original Aramaic New Testament in Plain English with Psalm and Provers by Glenn David Bauscher (Lulu, South Wales, Australia; 2013). I obtained my copy as a print-on-demand edition via Amazon. For anyone interested in the nuances of interpreting from ancients script, his notes can be fascinating. For hints at possibilities, look at thearamaicscriptures.com/ or wit-resources.s3.amazonaws.com/Peshittant.pdf.

James the Brother of Jesus: The Key to Unlocking the Secrets of Early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls, Robert Eisenman (Penguin, New York; 1997). As the Friend who suggested this book to me said, with a twinkle, Eisenman has an ax to grind. I assume this book is taken from his lecture notes — it could be easily cut by a third, if it were more tightly organized — but he does offer an alternative to what’s come down through Paul of Tarsus and his followers for our understanding of the early church.

When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity During the Last Days of Rome, Richard E. Rubenstein (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York; 1999). For me, an unsettling account of the too often physical confrontations between the differing camps of Christians in churches leading up to the Nicene Council.

Three Quaker Bible Studies: John, Mark, First Corinthians, Charles Fager (Kimo Press, Falls Church, Virginia; 1979). A lively, brief engagement with three books in the Godwrestling mode. His questions remain lively and useful.

The unending mystery and a dash of Utopia

Of course, I’m not done. Not with these reflections.

One realization is how revolutionary much of the Bible really is.

For example, the critical portrayal of public figures and governments is something we take for granted today, at least in democratic societies. In ancient times, however, are there any other critical reports of a people’s heroes and rulers? Before David, that is? He’s presented as a flawed human, and yet becomes all the more impressive because of those failings. I suspect this candor alone would make the collection ground-breaking, as does the assumption that the monarchy is accountable to a higher authority, itself a consequence of the Covenant.

The glories of Egypt’s pyramids and the Greek statues and Rome’s social order came at an oppressive price to the common person. Where else in antiquity do we find such an awareness of the people who carry that burden as we find in the Bible?

Jesus, meanwhile, can be seen as a living koan, to borrow from Zen Buddhism. It’s not just his parables, either, but rather the unending upside to his example of living true to this faith.

Think, too, of the paradox of viewing him as Messiah — a king without a country, an army, a royal court, wealth. The very possibility points to a radically different kind of society. And, yes, I believe Scripture keeps pointing to a vision of Utopia as well as the daily nitty-gritty tribulations arising in basic living that would be part of it.

 

Related to Utopian hope is a sense of some golden age in the past.

We could start with Eden, though it’s really too confining if you look more closely. Or the age of Solomon. Or the early church. Or, for Quakers, the turbulent time when the movement burst forth in the British Isles. For some of us, it might even be in fond memories of the hippie experience.

Always, though, also tinged with a sense of loss.

Yet, without such a vision, how do we press onward for progress? Social justice, especially? The values at the core of the Biblical message?

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Yes, there’s trouble in these troubling pages

I was left troubled. The misogyny, militarism, and nationalism were more pronounced and inescapable than I had encountered in tackling the books individually, in no particular order.

My new awareness of different authorships and the late date of much of the composition, with J only one of the masters, casts doubt on many of the details of the earlier books of the Bible — especially those about Moses. Hearing more than one scholar question the very existence of Moses demands a response.

The Five Books of (or about) Moses and the poem about Job, especially, flow from the deepest recesses of antiquity and are rooted in the most central problems of humanity.

Rather than turn away from the Biblical trove, blaming it for the tribulations of modern humanity, I have a renewed conviction that answers and cures are found in soulfully addressing the pages of the perplexing anthology we know as the Bible, when we open ourselves honestly.

My approach, I repeat, is not that of the fundamentalist who reads it as if preparing for a courtroom decision. Mine is more like a theatrical production. In that regard, the figure of Moses is real, in a ways that render the question of whether he actually ever walked on the face of the earth is irrelevant. Ditto for Job. They’re more real than mere mortals, actually, and we need them. Think of Hamlet, if you must, or King Lear.

I’m a poet, among other things, and my reading of these books in sequence has enhanced my appreciation for them as poetry and in-the-gut stories — expressions of experience encompassed in metaphors, which can never, ever, be turned into neat dictionary entries or legal precedents or moralizing tales.

 

I keep returning to the image of two Jews sitting on facing seats in a railway car in Europe after World War II. The event, as related by a Quaker observer, as I recall, had them vociferously arguing over a text open on the small table between them. Slowly, he realized that one was speaking in one language while the other was doing so in a second, but they understood each other with no need of translation. More remarkable, though, was that they were squabbling over a page in yet a third language. And here he was, retelling this in his own native language, a fourth.

To me, in other words, these texts are not simply about some distant time and peoples. They are about us, now, if we sweep away all the contemporary clutter that clouds our vision. At their best, they speak the language of the heart.

To me, then, the way out of our own misogyny, militarism, nationalism, environmental disaster, and so on can be found in wrestling with these pages. The book of Revelation itself points to the miraculous Tree of Healing at the very conclusion, found flourishing next to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that opened all the travails that are reported in the Bible. We have to go back to the scene of the crime, as it were, if we want to solve the case that is us, guilty or innocent.

~*~

The Bible is not the only ancient expression of our ancient roots. I’m indebted to the Zen Buddhist American poet Gary Snyder for his insights along these lines, especially in his books Earth House Hold and The Old Ways, and to Jerome Rothenberg’s anthology Technicians of the Sacred, with its many pieces from “primitives” around the world. Snyder, in fact, has said that a poet needs to be conversant in at least one form of arcane knowledge. We in civilized societies lose much in our bargain with the Devil, and we need to remember how much of our comfort and ease come at a cost to the psyche. Maybe you and I will discuss that in the future. Me? I’m not yet ready to give up my computer.

~*~

Charles Fager’s Three Quaker Bible Studies: John, Mark, First Corinthians takes an unconventional tact, “to think of the Bible not as a book of answers but rather one of questions.” As he explains, “I will be looking not so much for doctrines and precepts as for challenges and queries. Or as early Friends would put it, I will be seeking … for the words of God, rather than some final, dogmatic Word.”

For him, passages that outwardly conflict – say on an issue like divorce – allow for deeper investigation and reflection.

 

Whose book is it, anyway?

So here’s the experience of reading it all in a page-to-page, book-to-next-book sequence. Front to back. Whew!

When I set forth, I had no clue there could be three different routes (or more) in going straight through what I knew as the Old Testament.

That, in itself, raises many questions about what’s considered important and how one part relates to the others.

I had chanced upon references to Sophia, or Wisdom, as having attributes similar to those of Christ, but I had no idea how many of her descriptions come largely in the Apocrypha, those strange books that aren’t included in the Hebrew or Protestant Bibles. In tracing her fuller dimensions, I find them helpful in comprehending the concepts of both Christ and the Holy Spirit, and of infusing a feminine sensibility into our perception of the Divine.

~*~

Yes, there is an evolution in the definition of the Holy One over the centuries, though in the Biblical narrative it’s far less systematic than I had hoped.

The war-god undeniably reigns over the Israelite history up to the Babylonian exile, and the imagery is largely male, despite assertions to the contrary, and somewhat confined to a place, as in accompanying the troops or residing in the Tabernacle, the Ark, or the Temple.

What happens during that captivity transforms the descendants of Jacob into Jews — that is, the people of Judah — and does so far more profoundly than I had suspected. For starters, God is liberated from a specific place and becomes accessible to its chosen people everywhere. Some of the most powerful thinking in the Bible, in fact, arises in this upheaval — during the tragic buildup to the defeat, during the captivity, and then in resettlement in what had been the southern kingdom.

 

What my straight-through reading has given me is an awareness of proportion. I no longer view the Hebrew Bible — the part I’ve known as the Old Testament, even without the Apocrypha — as the “old half” of the Bible. It’s the bulk of the Bible. The New Testament sits atop it, like the visible part of an iceberg, merely a fifth of its volume.

Listening to the Jewish authors in Congregation reflect on its books, I sense how differently they relate to these stories than do we Gentiles. Few Christians live out these dramas, nor are they essential to our identity. No, for most, it’s all “back then” in antiquity.

Gordon Lish’s essay is the one I found least helpful. His diatribe starts off quibbling with his daughter, even before he launches into a defense of himself as a Jew who stopped attending services right after his bar mitzvah.

Here I am, sensing how much I’m an outsider, a visitor, appreciating the wonders of this culture and its legacy, which has nonetheless shaped my own. But then Lish throws it all back in my face.

“The bible, Jewish or otherwise, is all Christian to me — an alien object, uncongenial to me, pestilential at its worst. It is the Christians who own all of the parts of this book, from whichever sources its gorgeous sentences may have once issued. Try this sentence of mine: The Christians owned the bible owned the bible even before there were Christians.”

Nothing like stereotyping, is there? But it gets worse.

“Don’t you know that the Christians have title to all the objects of the world?

“They even own, as they could any instant prove, my body and probably yours.”

Is he trying to pick a fight? This could be dirty.

Lish then launches into a rant against the Word and those who examine it legalistically, a charge that now turns on “the side-curled whose scholarship totemizes a text” and thereby Christianizes it, which he sees as being as far from Jewish as you can get.

It took me a while to realize who the side-curled are.

I am curious about how he’d react to the line of thinking that emerges from viewing the Word as Logos, affiliated with the Holy Spirit and Sophia, and I have been deeply offended by his bigoted smear (substitute one word and we’d rightly hear the howl of anti-Semitism), yet now suddenly he’s throwing the Chassidic in with me.

It’s a troubling essay from a troubled man, and frankly I’d rather hear from his daughter Jenny.

But he also forces me to admit that my approach to these books is largely unconventional. Though raised in a mainstream Protestant household, I came to Quaker faith as an adult, and see it very much as an alternative Christianity.

 

Lish fails to recognize that for many nominal Christians, the Bible is a distant echo. Many Catholics openly admit to knowing little of it. For Protestants, it’s essential, the center of the sermons that are at the center of the worship, even when many today keep the book at arm’s-length. It sits unopened on a dusty shelf or at bedside, like the Gideon Bible in the motel drawer.

One point where Lish could build an argument, at least in the English-speaking world, comes in the weight of the King James translation on our perspective. Other authors in Congregation deal with its impact and the ways it colors and distorts the content, even for Jews conversant in Hebrew.

Even in the Greek Orthodox services, where the English passages are chanted in contemporary translations, the Lord’s Prayer is congregationally recited in its King James richness, addressing who art in heaven, thy kingdom come, thy will be done. Ahem.

The twist I hadn’t recognized until now is how much the shadow of my grandfather has stood over this project. He, with his eighth-grade education, though I hadn’t known that part until the past decade, claimed to have read the Bible end-to-end five times. What I do know is how much our interpretations would diverge. His were, I know, highly dogmatic and conventional, as Uncle John, with his degree from Yale Divinity School, tells me, A copy of the painting of Jesus knocking at the door, invoking Revelation 3:20, was the most prominent visual piece displayed in their house, in all of its hollow religiosity.

Our own house was more timid in its expressions of faith. We had a watercolor of a farm scene over the mantel instead, one by a respected cousin. Dreary, as in a snowless winter, all the same, with not a person in sight, not even Jesus knocking at the door.

Revelation and the devastation facing our own era

The New Testament — and thus, for Christians, the entire Bible — swirls to a tempestuous conclusion with the book of Revelation. Singular, not plural.

Attributed to John, often presumed to be the one who’s source of the book of gospel as well, it’s a volcanic eruption of apocalyptic utterance that brings to mind the psychedelic imaginings of Ezekiel, the promised new land of Deuteronomy, the justice of Isaiah, the tribulations of the Babylonian exile, the trials of Daniel, and a harmonious New Eden with its tree of healing and pure waters.

While many commentators over the years have imposed literalistic, even legalistic, interpretations on the text, pegging it to specific historical events in Biblical times or their own, and reducing each image-metaphor to a mere symbol of some particular episode or figure, I prefer to approach this is a vast symphony, one as overwhelming as the outburst Job receives from voice in the whirlwind. The text addresses our own time as much as the fires leading up to the destruction of the Second Temple or the Holocaust.

Think of Star Wars, nuclear annihilation, or climatic upheaval with its melting ice caps and great disastrous flooding, if you must. Ask, too, just where you stand in this text.

Revelation is the promise of the triumph of goodness and passionate fidelity over the futility evil, and of holy victory over the Dragon and the Ancient Serpent, “which is Satan and the Devil.”

Yes, there are those who try to interpret this as the Rapture, but I think they fall way short in their vision. Revelation is far more about holding to the promise and Covenant now, despite all appearances, rather than some cataclysmic future.

Psalm after psalm call on the faithful to praise the Lord. Many even mention instruments of orchestration. In Revelation, I’d add a large chorus. Of angels, like the one accompanying this story.

And that’s what I hear as I read this.

Tree of Life

 

Some give the date of composition as 68 CE during the Great Revolt, or even earlier, in 55 CE. Others place it as 95 CE.

James, Peter, John, and Jude weigh in

At this point, my straight-through reading of the Bible was beginning a dash toward the end. Just seven short letters by authors other than Paul and then into Revelation and then I’d be done.

~*~

 

First is the letter to the brethren from James, who emphasizes the importance of faithful actions in all things.

As Robert Eisenman details, James was highly regarded as a religious figure, possibly even as a leader of the pietistic Essenes but certainly at the head of the church in Jerusalem. The only surviving contemporaneous historical reference to existence of Jesus come, in fact, when Josephus writes of him as the brother of James.

I’ve heard one friend say the prose of James flows naturally in Greek, and a Jewish colleague of my friend noted that apart from the passages about Jesus as Messiah, the text is solidly Jewish in its teaching, continuing largely in the Wisdom stream of the Hebrew Bible.

Some date of composition at 50 CE, making it the earliest book in the New Testament. Others place it as 65-85 CE, raising questions of its authorship.

~*~

 

The first letter attributed to Peter is addressed to Christians suffering persecution, while the second — possibly the newest New Testament text — looks to the Day of the Lord, or Second Coming, and quotes freely from the letter of Jude.

First Peter is given the dates of 67-68 CE by some, while others place it at 75-90 CE. Its high standard of Greek points to Peter’s secretary Silvanus as the author.

Second Peter is believed to have been written in 68 CE or at late as 110 CE.

~*~

 

The three letters of John warn against false teachers and emphasize the necessity for love among the believers.

Their composition is often dated at 85 CE, although others place them at 90-110 CE.

~*~

Jude, meanwhile, is attributed to another brother of Jesus.

The tangles of Paul’s epistles

Only Jesus occupies more of the New Testament than Paul, who crucially redirects and recasts the Christian movement for gentile followers.

Moreover, his letters are unlike anything that’s previously appeared in the Bible. Each one is a stewpot of prophetic utterance, administrative decrees, definitions of what’s permitted and then also forbidden among the believers, personal encouragement, admonition, organizational minutia, qualifications of leadership, and insistence on the role of communities of faith — the church as a body of believers rather than a hierarchy.

 

The big mystery begins with the man himself. Who is Paul?

Some scholars have perceived two hands at work here — one boldly challenging societal norms, the other backpedaling to avoid arousing its wrath.

Other researchers question the authorship of some of the letters, even placing their composition to decades later than Paul.

Robert Eisenman, in James the Brother of Jesus, examines the history recorded by Josephus and notes in the events building up to the Great Revolt in 66 CE “the intermediary between this more accommodating ‘Peace’ coalition within the city and the Roman troops outside it was a mysterious Herodian (‘a relative of Agrippa’), whom Josephus identifies as ‘Saul’ or ‘Saulus.’ We have met this ‘Saulus’ before in his works, because in the Antiquities, after the stoning of James, Josephus pictures Saulus, his brother Costobarus, and another relative, Antipas, as leading a riot in Jerusalem.”

Eisenman examines how in the generations after the Maccabee victories many of its members married into the Herodian family, and for Paul to be among their descendants would explain his Roman citizenship, which would be hard for a Jew to obtain.

An interesting theory, though it’s hard to dovetail into the conventional timeline that places Paul’s birth in Tarsus, in Turkey, around 6 CE and his conversion experience on the way to Damascus around 33 to 36 CE. His visit to Jerusalem, with the famine relief offering, would come around 46 CE, and his confrontation with the council in Jerusalem at 49 CE.

He is identified as a Pharisee, but other than his view of Jesus as messiah, did that really change when he became a self-styled apostle?

Even though his letters occupy the second largest part of the New Testament — more than a fourth, with the gospels taking up more than two-fifths, and Acts, letters by other apostles, and Revelation filling less than a third of the remainder — Paul himself remains an enigma.

We can even point to his ambiguous sexuality, especially considering his preoccupation in opposing circumcision, which contrasts sharply to his out-and-out opposition to long hair on men, even before getting to the appearance of women. How do his views align with the ingrained Jewish male fertility cult, for that matter?

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Acts, from Jerusalem and the resurrect Jesus to Paul in captivity in Rome

The book known as the Acts of the Apostles was originally the second half of the gospel of Luke, and the text continues in the same viscerally charged vein.

My straight-through reading left me puzzled by the standard ordering of the gospels and what follows.

Richmond Lattimore rationally opens his translation with Mark, followed by Matthew. Doing so does diminish the transition in the Jewish viewpoint of Matthew, but does nod toward Mark’s more compact overview of the life of Jesus as a better introduction to all that will follow.

Moving John into the third spot would come at the cost of breaking the synoptic repetition, but it would allow Luke’s account to unfold more seamlessly, especially in the transition from the extraordinary events after the resurrection and leading to the introduction of Saul/Paul, who becomes the central figure in the remainder of the narrative.

Indeed, the title of the book is misleading, as others have noted. It’s essentially an argument that Saul/Paul, who never met Jesus is the flesh, is entitled to be considered one of the apostles — those sent forth as the emissaries of Jesus.

 

Acts also demotes the authority of Peter and James and the church council in Jerusalem, which insisted on observing Jewish practices of circumcision, kosher diet, and the like. The mantle is instead handed over to Paul, who had been their persecutor, and his Hellenic (uncircumcised, pork-eating) churches.

In the absence of an account of these events from sources in the church at Jerusalem — and the events following the destruction of the city in 70 CE — we’re left with a one-sided heroic portrayal of Paul and his companions.

We’re also left with a drastic turn in the emerging path of Christianity.

~*~

The text is full of action, murder and martyrdom, daring escapes, perilous storms at sea, and the road to Rome as it follows the resurrected Jesus to the Ascension and gift of Pentecost before shifting authority to Paul and the Gentiles.

~*~

One thing that jumped out at me in David Bauscher’s translation from Aramaic is the emphasis on the Holy Spirit, or Spirit of Holiness, in his terminology — especially its power dwelling within believers. This experience, rather than faith, legalistic practices, or custom — is the defining characteristic of Christianity in Paul’s churches.

I am intrigued by mention in 6:1-2, of the Hellenist disciples complaining “that their widows were disregarded in the daily ministry” of teaching and evangelizing, saying “It is not acceptable for us to forsake the word of God and to serve tables.” There is no clear statement of the outcome of this debate, but the implication is clear that women were, in some circles of the early church, clearly ministers.

There’s also a description, in chapter 10, of angels as men clothed in white, no mention of wings.

 

Despite Bauscher’s ongoing argument that Jews would strictly avoid anything Greek, he glides over one phrase in 27:14, “the wind of a hurricane … called ‘Typhoniqos Euroqlydon.'” Here’s something that’s clearly not Aramaic. Euroclydon is comprised of two Greek words, one meaning wave and the other southeast wind. In his extensive and often arcane notes, Bauscher makes no mention of its usage. To me, however, its appearance seriously undermines his contention of the purity of the Aramaic New Testament from outside influences.

The text ends with Paul living for two years, at his own expense, under house arrest in Rome.

~*~

Some give the date of composition as 64 CE, before Paul’s execution in Rome. Others place it as 95-100 CE.