Wednesday, November 17, 2010

November Newsletter





On October 31, 2010 in Baghdad, Iraq, Muslims carried out a horrific massacre of Aramaic Christians. 58 were slaughtered while they were attending church services. Two suicide/homicide bombers detonated their suicide-vests. The walls of the church were covered with blood and bits of human flesh. Over 70 people who survived were seriously injured and lost limbs. This attack was a major incident and I will explore it further in the next edition of the "Aramaic Herald."



Hanukkah comes early this year. This year it comes on the first week of December. Remember my book "The Hammer of God: The Stories of Judah Maccabeus and Charles Martel." This book can be ordered through Also, I have three comic books on the Hanukkah story: The Hammer of God: Historical and Character Reference, The Hammer of God Mini-Comic and The Hammer of God Coloring Book. The comic books are available at


An Aramaic Jewish Hanukkah Tradition


It is a Hanukkah tradition to read a scroll during the celebration of Hanukkah. That scroll is written in Aramaic and is called the "Megillot Antiochus." It is also called the "Scroll of the Hasmoneans." It was probably composed during the 7th century BD. It is part of the liturgy of the Yemenites Jews. It is included in many Jewish prayer books (called "Siddurs"). It actually isn't a very accurate version of the Hanukkah story. It begins saying,


The Greek monarch Antiochus was a powerful leader. ..He subdued many provinces and might sovereigns; he destroyed their castles, burned their palaces and imprisoned their men…In the twenty-third year of his reign…Antiochus determined to march on Jerusalem. He said to his officers, "you are aware that the Jews of Jerusalem are in our midst…It is indeed a disgrace for the royal government to allow them to remain on the face of the earth. Come now, let us attack them and abolish the covenant made with them: Sabbath, new moon festivals and circumcision." Immediately king Antiochus dispatched his governor Nicanor with a large body of troops. He came to the Jewish city of Jerusalem and massacred many people; he set up a heathen altar in the Temple. In that very place he slaughtered a swine and brought its blood into the holy court.


It has some factual information but it has Jonathan leading the revolt at the beginning. This is an anachronism. Judah Maccabee, Jonathon's older brother led the revolt. Ironically, it is the Christians who have preserved accurately the history of the Hanukkah story in the books of First and Second Maccabees which are considered part of the Canon of Scripture in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.



Differences between Islam and Christianity


The idea of the Fatherhood of God is a distinctive Christian teaching. Islam totally rejects the idea of the Fatherhood of God. Mohammad in his Koran totally rejects the idea that God is our Father or that anyone is in any way a child of God. In Islam "Allah has 99 Names" but not one of these names is "Father." Since there is no doubt that the Jesus of history taught that God is "Abba, Father" this shows a tremendous error on the part of Mohammad and his religion.


Holy Languages


Man has long had the idea of a "Holy Language" or a "Language of the Gods." The ancient Babylonians kept the ancient Sumerian language alive as a liturgical centuries after it had died out as a living language.

Currently, some people look on Hebrew letters as holy. The script that the Holy Bible was originally written in is the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet. The modern Hebrew form is the Square Aramaic Alphabet. Ezra in Ezra 4:7 mentions the Square Aramaic Script. The Samaritans still use the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet. Some of the Dead Sea Scrolls are written in the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet. In the November/December 2010 edition of Biblical Archeology Review magazine in an article entitled "Texts from Ugarit Solve Biblical Puzzles" by Edward L. Greenstein it says, "Hebrew is a "language of Canaan," says the prophet (Isaiah 19:18), a conclusion amply confirmed by archeologically recovered inscriptions. In scholarly terms, Hebrew is a south Canaanite dialect. As with language, so with alphabet: From its earliest appearance until the Babylonian destruction, Hebrew was written in the Canaanite alphabet."

It has been proven that the Hebrew alphabet (and the English or Latin alphabet as well) evolved out of Egyptian Hieroglyphs. This is illustrated here in this chart from " How the Alphabet was born from Hieroglyphs." (From "Biblical Archeology Review" March/ April 2010.)

From the very beginning the Egyptians viewed Hieroglyphs as divine-as writings of the gods. However, given mystical interpretations to the letters-which were phonetic actually prevented ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs from being deciphered for centuries. Supposed "experts" claimed the letters had spiritual or mystical meanings. Scholars believed these dubious "experts" who were incorrect and since scholars assumed these people had accurate information-they were unable to break the code until the idea of the "mystical meanings" of the letters was abandoned in the 1800s. This is discussed in the book "The Hieroglyphs of Ancient Egypt" by Aidan Dodson,


General knowledge of the hieroglyphic script contracted rapidly during Roman times. Its use was effectively limited to the walls of temples, and so the restricted world of the priesthood. In these circumstances, the existing belief held by Greek and Roman writers that hieroglyphs were somehow something more mysterious than simple letters gained further support…Classical scholars conceived hieroglyphics as symbolic, not "expressing the intended concept by means of syllables joined one to another, but by means of significance of the objects which have been copied, and by its figurative meaning that has been impressed on the memory by practice." This view was expressed by the Roman historian Diodorus Siculus, writing in the middle of the first century BC, at a time when temples were still being constructed and covered with texts in hieroglyphs. Over subsequent centuries, there was no change in this generally held view…Another hindrance was the survival of a work by Horapollo, an Egyptian, probably written around the fourth century and known as the Hieroglyphica. It has 179 chapters, each dealing with a single hieroglyph or concept, and often contains a frustrating mixture of half-truth and non-Egyptian metaphysical speculation. For example, according to Horapollo, the vulture and the goose are said to mean "mother" and "son" respectively. This is quite true, but for purely phonetic reasons, not because "male vultures do not exist," or "geese love their offspring more than any other!" There are a fair number of similar examples where a sign's usage is correctly identified, albeit for unlikely reasons, but there are also examples of imaginary signs or completely wrong headed interpretations. It is clear that Horapolloo has access to something akin to contact with those who still understood hieroglyphs, but lacked that understanding himself. His work was a classic example of the kind of account produced by someone with a passing acquaintance with a subject but without the insight to understand his limitations. Horapollo's work was lost from the end of antiquity down to its rediscovery in the fifteenth century, but it was subsequently printed and regarded by almost all scholars as the only "authentic" account of the hieroglyphs.


This illustrates the danger of poor scholarship. It can actually prevent the advancement of knowledge. Now, lets go back and consider the nature of human language. Some people believe that one's "world-view" is formed by the language he or she speaks. Is this true? A new book has come out entitled "Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages" by Guy Deutscher. This is from a review from "The Week" magazine from September 3-10, 2010.


"Which cane first," asked Sam Leith in London Sunday Times, "the chicken" or "the chicken"?" Guy Beutscher's "bizarre and fascinating" new book asks whether we can think of something for which we have no word. Through the Language Glass opens in the 1850s, when William Gladstone, future British prime minister, noticed the peculiar use of color words in Homer's Iliad. Objects are usually described as either black or white, which other color terms seem misused. Chloros (green) is applied to faces and honey, while the sea is "wine-dark," not blue. Gladstone thought the ancient Greeks were color-blind; actually, they simply had no word for blue. So did they see the same thing as we do when we look at the sea? Deutscher's ultimate, surprising answer is a qualified "no," said Christian Kenneally in New Scientist. …The argument over "interactions between language, culture, and thought" has taken some odd turns over time, said Clive Cookson in the Financial Times. Gladston conclused that humans only evolved color vision after Homer-and he thought this explained the "lack of color words in many 'primitive' languages." Such racists ideas were later rejected, in favor of Noam Chomsky's contention that language differences are superficial. More recent research suggest that things aren't quite so simple: The brains of Russian speakers, who use different words for dark and light blue, react differently to those shades that English speaker' brains do. They are quite literally-not seeing-or saying-the same thing.


Well, color words are in the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament. Words for colors are used in the Bible. So, the ancient did see colors. I mean- look at the artwork they have left in Egypt. Why do we recognize colors in ancient Egyptians, Babylonian and Greek art if they didn't see colors or didn't see colors the same way we do? So, what makes Gladstone and authority anyway? And besides that apparently the Greeks recognized Homer's odd use of color-according to Greek legend Homer was blind! Perhaps Homer used words for dramatic effect or because of rhythm or rhyme. Maybe, the ancient Greeks used color words for moods or metaphorically-like we do when we say that someone is "green with envy." In reality the person isn't green-it's a figure of speech. On this issue I agree with Noam Chomsky-although the man is a notorious liberal. Another interesting note about language: Professor John McWhorter has a presentation entitled "The Story of Human Language."


I have never met a person who is not interested in language…There are good reasons that language fascinates us so. It not only defines humans as a species, placing us head and shoulders above even the most proficient animal communicators, but it also beguiles us with its endless mysteries. For example:


How did different languages come to be?

Why isn't there just one language:

How does a language change, and when it does, is that change indicative of decay or growth.

How does a language become extinct?

Professor McWhorter shows how a single tongue spoken 150,000 years agoa has evolved into the estimated 6,000 languages used around the world today.


In discovering how linguists think, you will begin to see language in an entirely new way. You will learn that everything about a language is eternally and inherently changeable, from its word order and grammar to the very sound and meaning of basic words. That's why Professor McWhorter describes language "like one of those lava lamps from the 1970s. It's not marching toward an ideal, and it's not slowly going to the dots. Its always just variations of the same thing-endless morphings."


Hebrew evolved out of Proto-Semitic, its evolution can be seen through the text of the Old Testament. Modern Israeli Hebrew is continuing to evolve. Arabs view their language as a "holy language." Now, Arabic has evolved to such an extent that your average Arab cannot understand the Koran-and an Arab from Morocco and a Arab from Kuwait cannot understand each others vastly different form of Arabic. In reality Arabic has evolved into diverse Arabic languages that are only held to be dialects because Arabs want to see themselves as a unified people.




We should never use an etymology to define a word. Originally, the word "sinister" meant "left-handed." If I said, "He was being followed by a sinister man" this shouldn't be taken to mean that the man doing the following was left-handed! Also, the word "arena" originally meant "sand." This is because sand was put in the arenas of Greek and Roman stadiums. Charlton Heston wrote a book entitled "In the Arena." He wasn't talking about his being in a sand-pit. As always context is what we must use to define a word.


Samaritans and Aramaic


In "Bells, Pendants, Snakes and Stones: A Samaritan Temple to the Lord on Mt. Gerizim" by Yitzhak Magen (BAR November/December 2010) it mentions inscriptions that archeologists have discovered while excavating the Samaritan holy area. The article says, "The excavations at Mt. Gerizim exposed more than 400 inscriptions, some of which contain telling phrases indicating the existence of a Samaritan temple. Mostly written in Aramaic or Greek, some, however, were carved in Hebrew and in the paleo-Hebrew script of the First Temple period that was usually reserved in later periods for inscriptions of special holiness." In the ruins of the Samaritan temple they actually discovered one of the golden bells that decorated the hem of the high priest ephod (Exodus 28:33-35) and a brass snake like the one made by Moses (Numbers 24:4-9).


New Books on Aramaic


"Christianity in India" by Robert Eric Frykenberg tells the story of the Church of India-which was founded by Aramaic Christians. We also have "The Gospels: Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture" which includes comments from Greek, Syriac and Latin writers in antiquity. Also we have "Targum and Testament Revisited: Aramaic paraphrases of the Hebrew Bible" by Martin McNamara. This is based on five decades of research. What Martin McNamara does is use the Aramaic Targums to gain insight into the "Jewish Roots" of Christianity. Since Hebrew was replaced by Aramaic as the common spoken language of the Jewish people-it was necessary to have the Old Testament translated into Aramaic-the language of the people. These Aramaic translations-called Targums-were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and are quoted from in the New Testament.




  1. "The Arabs' Worst enemy: Themselves" by Walter Rodgers. He states "Bernard Lewis, the renown Princeton scholar of Islam, has called attention to the Arab tendency to play the "blame game." He notes Arabs traditionally blamed the Mongols, the Ottoman Turks, the colonial powers, and now the Jews and the Americans for everything that has gone awry in their once proud and accomplished history. When I question Arabs about this, I find they generally hide behind the mantra, "If only we were better Muslims and followed the Quran, we would do better, "But that becomes a self-set mental trap, excusing any original thought about the need to determine their own destiny." I believe the Koran is the cause of their backwardness and fundamentally ALL of their problems.
  2. This month's edition of the Barnabas Fund magazine has an excellent article on the church of Iran. The article states, "Christians in Iran suffer discrimination in many areas of life, and at local, provincial and national levels. With respect to employment, they are disqualified from serving in senior positions in the government or public sector, as regular officers in the armed services, and in any role in the judiciary or security services.


New Books by Stephen


I am trying to put out new books. "The Ascents of James: A Lost Acts of the Apostles" and "The Second Adam and the Restoration of All Things" are available now. I am working with my brother Tod to have a comic book version of "Christ the Man." I have recently made a "Kindle" book entitled, "The Language of Jesus: Introducing Aramaic."



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