Thursday, April 13, 2006

Hath Not a Judean Eyes?

As we reflect on this Maundy Thursday on the faithful act of obedience of Saint Judas, I was skimming The Complete Gospels which is a book containing a new translation of the canonicals plus all the other "gospels" yet discovered (except the new Judas), i.e. the gnostic and false gospels. You may already know of this; it's called the Scholars Version. Because it's a project of the Jesus Seminar we may grimace at some of their translation choices which cast aside are traditional doctrine words (I mean, the "Scholars" Version sounds pretty presumptuous, as to distinguish themselves from those whacko evangelical pseudo-scholars). For instance, "kingdom" is changed to "imperial rule", and the "Word" in John's prologue is "the divine word and wisdom", which tries to capture the full implication of the Greek Logos. I personally think that's a good move.
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One thing I'm not too sure of is the rest of John 1:1: "In the beginning there was the divine word and wisdom. The divine word and wisdom was there with God, and it was what God was." That sounds like it's trying to pick a fight with an ancient church council...
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But what is very interesting is it's choice of words for what we commonly refer to as the Jews. It is very annoying when people talk about the Old Testament practices as "Judaism" and "Jewish". Not even secular scholars say that, and the SV doesn't either. You won't find the word Jew in here. They actually have included a short essay on nomenclature for Israel-ish people. They may have a different agenda in their reasoning, but I believe the divisions are true. They distinguish between three periods of history:

  1. Israel, Israelites and Israelite religion: first temple (ca. 950-560 B.C.)
  2. Judea, Judeans and Judean religion: second temple (ca. 520 B.C.-AD 70)
  3. Jews and Judaism: religion of the rabbis, talmud, and synagogue (ca. 90-continuing)

So then, the placard on the cross reads: "King of the Judeans," and Jesus' opponents in John's gospel are "the Judeans."
This is interesting and, I believe, a necessary distinction, because so many Christians today think that Jesus was disconnected from Israel and the Old Testament system because he was always criticizing it. But he was not. He was critical of the Judeans and their variation of true Israelite religion. Remember, he was never against the Pharisees because they were faithful to the Torah. He only rebuked their hypocrisy in this regard. Therefore, Jesus and John the Baptist were not liberal rebels, but only conservative Israelite puritans. Think about it. When Jesus gave the parable of God's vineyard and the tenants in Matthew 21:33ff, the vineyard is the temple, and the tenants beat and killed God's true servants and son. Then, "When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them." Jesus was condemning the tenants of God's vineyard, not God's vinting business itself.

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The Scholars Version makes the case for these terms, saying, "The failure to observe crucial transitions in the history of Judaism has contributed to the tragic history of anti-semitism among Christians, which the new terminology will help put to an end. Further, it will set the historical record straight" (p195). I don't know about their former reason, but the latter is good enough. I'm not endorsing this translation as superior to Christian translations, but it's a good reference. Sometimes secular linguists and historians give fresh air to our sometimes stuffy artificial traditions.