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Monthly Archives: December 2010

Not Pretty, but Truthful

What should a preacher sound like? Michael Ruffin suggests he or she might want to embrace Bob Dylan as a model.

Jews Were Still Using the Septuagint in Medieval Cairo

Professor Nicholas de Lange and other experts and Cambridge University have discovered evidence that the Jews of Cairo were familiar with the Septuagint, an ancient Greek translation of the Jewish Bible long thought to have fallen out of use among Jews, perhaps because it was the translation favored by early Christians.

Experts at Cambridge University have made a major discovery about the history of the Bible.

Researchers have been studying ancient biblical manuscripts in the University Library, and have found that a version of the Bible written in Greek was used by Jewish people for centuries longer than originally thought.

The documents, known as the Cairo Genizah manuscripts, were discovered in an old synagogue in Egypt and were brought to Cambridge at the end of the 19th century.

They have now been brought together digitally and posted online, enabling scholars worldwide to analyse them for the first time.

Prof Nicholas de Lange, professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at Cambridge University, has been leading a three-year study into the ancient fragments.

He said: “The translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek is said to be one of the most lasting achievements of the Jewish civilization – without it, Christianity might not have spread as quickly and as successfully as it did.

“It was thought that the Jews, for some reason, gave up using Greek translations and chose to use the original Hebrew for public reading in synagogue and for private study, until modern times when pressure to use the vernacular led to its introduction in many synagogues.”

Prof de Lange’s research has discovered that some of the manuscripts contain passages from the Bible in Greek, written in Hebrew letters. The fragments date from 1,000 years after the original translation into Greek – showing that use of the Greek text was still alive in Greek-speaking synagogues in the Byzantine Empire, the Greek-speaking eastern part of the Roman Empire.

Prof de Lange said the research offered a rare glimpse of Byzantine Jewish life and culture, and also illustrated the cross-fertilisation between Jewish and Christian biblical scholars in the Middle Ages.

He said: “This is a very exciting discovery for me because it confirms a hunch I had when studying Genizah fragments 30 years ago.” chris.elliott@cambridge-news.co.uk

(H/T: Jim Davila)

The Psalms for Personal Devotion

Chuck Huckaby discusses several resources for incorporating the Psalms into one’s daily devotions, with emphasis is on the metrical psalmody of the Genevan Psalter.

The Universe according to Genesis 1

Robin Parry summarizes three papers on Genesis 1 by Paul H. Seely appearing in the Westminster Theological Journal in the early 1990s. According to Parry,

Seely comes from a Reformed evangelical background but, in these articles, he is reacting against creation science attempts to read modern scientific cosmology from the Bible. He demonstrates convincingly that the biblical authors presupposed an ancient cosmology and not a modern one.

Very interesting. Thanks, Robin, for bringing these to our attention.

Armageddon and Near Eastern Chronology

A new archeological project is attempting to synchronize ancient chronology by relying on the twenty-nine destruction layers at Megiddo, which span the entire history of the region from 3000 to 300 BC.

Megiddo is the only place in the world with so many destruction layers — archaeological strata resulting from a calamity such as a fire, earthquake or conquest — that resulted from a specific event in history.

[Archeologist Israel] Finkelstein told AOL News that the site provides “a very dense, accurate and reliable ladder for the dating of the different monuments and the layers.”

“These destruction layers can serve as anchors for the entire system of dating,” Finkelstein said. “Megiddo is the only site which has 10 layers with radiocarbon results for the period 1300 to 800 B.C.E.”

Scientists hope that by analyzing the archaeological strata they can nail each layer to a specific year or decade, using the physical data from Megiddo to set the clocks of history and create a definitive timeline that can be used as a basis for accurately dating all archaeological sites.

The project will take samples from Megiddo and other sites where dates are fairly certain and subject them to a battery of four different scientific tests: 14C, archeo-magnetism, optical luminescence, and rehydroxilation.

Christ Is Born!

Glorify him!

About that X in “Xmas”

“Christ” comes from a Greek word meaning “Anointed.” In Greek letters, you spell it Χριστός (khrees-TOHS). The first Greek letter is a chi, corresponding to the ch in the Latin spelling we’re all accustomed to.

If you want to wish someone Merry Christmas in Greek, you say, “Καλά Χριστούγεννα” (kah-LAH khrees-TOO-yen-nah). Χριστούγεννα is the Greek word for Christmas. Notice that letter chi right at the beginning?

That letter looks an awful lot like an X, doesn’t it. It’s not. It’s the first letter in “Christ.” When people write “Xmas,” they’re using a Greek abbreviation. It’s the same as if we wrote “C-mas” in English.

This abbreviation isn’t a modern invention, nor does it necessarily imply disrespect. In fact, there are numerous abbreviations for God, Christ, and even the Virgin Mary that appear in ancient and medieval Greek biblical manuscripts as well as on Orthodox icons.

  • Χριστός is often abbreviated ΧΣ, using the first and last (capital) letters. In old-fashioned uncial Greek writing, it looks more like “XC.”
  • Ἰησοῦς, the word for Jesus, is similarly abbreviated by using the first and last letters: ΙΣ (“IC”).
  • The word for God, Θεός (“Theos”) is abbreviated to ΘΣ (“ΘC”).

There are several more (ΥΣ for Ὑιός, “Son”; ΠΝΑ for πνεῦμα, “Spirit,” etc.), but those are the most common. The technical term you can use to impress your friends is nomina sacra, “sacred names.” Almost all of them have been found in Greek manuscripts from third century or earlier. I guarantee you many of them can be found in the frantically scribbled notes of most seminary students!

In the Bible and on icons, nomina sacra are usually marked as abbreviations by putting a little line over them. For example, here is an icon of Jesus. If you didn’t know who it was, you could tell from the abbreviation IC XC: “Jesus Christ.”

And here is a sliver of a thirteenth-century manuscript (the opening words of the book of Romans) which uses the same abbreviation in the Greek genitive case: ΙΥ ΧΥ for Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, “of Jesus Christ.”So, the next time you are tempted to condemn someone for writing “Xmas” instead of “Christmas,” please take a moment to think about whether you’re also willing to condemn all those faithful copyists and icon writers who have used similar abbreviations almost since the beginning of Christianity.

Oh, and Καλά Χριστούγεννα!

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