Jesus the Poet
King David is "the sweet psalmist of Israel" in the Bible (2 Samuel 23:1) but rarely do we think of Jesus "the Son of David" as a poet. But when we examine his words against their Semitic background we see that he clearly was. Jesus has many titles in the Bible, Messiah or Christ, Son of God, Son of Man, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Many scholars are on a "quest for the historical Jesus" and there are many novel ideas of who Jesus was. Some theorize that he was a magician, a revolutionary or an Essene. Many of these sensational new ideas, such as Jesus being the husband of Mary Magdalene, are absurd. One thing that all of these authors have overlooked is Jesus as a poet of the Hebrew tradition. In his proclamations Jesus used Hebrew poetic structures that are found in the Sacred Scriptures and other ancient Hebrew and Aramaic literature. Many people have read the Bible all of their lives totally ignorant of the poetic structures of many of the texts (especially in the prophets and the psalms). Knowing the structures helps us to read and understand the Bible better. Once the poetic structures are learned it becomes amazing to the reader how often they are used in the text and how obvious they are. Every serious reader of the Bible needs to know how Hebrew poetry works. Everyone who wants to intelligently read the Bible needs to understand certain basic facts about how it is written. One of these basic facts is Hebrew poetry. It isn't only used in certain obscure passages in the Old Testament, it is often used by Jesus the Christ. These are the most important words ever spoken by the person who lived the most important life ever lived.
William Barclay in his translation of the New Testament notes that "Hebrew poetry does not rhyme; it is built up on a series of parallels, and often the series is quite elaborate. A good example is in Matthew 7:24-27, where each one of the first ten lines has its exact parallel in each of the second ten lines. A shorter example is in Matthew 5:45.
If you do that,
You will be like your Father in heaven,
For he makes his sun to rise,
On the bad and on the good alike,
And he sends the rain
On the saint and sinner.
The last four lines have the clear pattern a b a b." These words of Jesus that are given here are from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus use of such structures gives a link between the Old and New Testaments and places him in his Hebraic culture. Michael Fixler in The Mentor Bible notes that in "certain peculiar characteristics of the Hebrew imagination truth is most truthful when it is doubled or expressed in parallelisms. A Hebrew verse will consist of a phrase that is followed by a parallel, almost synonymous formulation of its meaning, a parallel that enlarges, enriches, completes or in some way modifies the sense by enhancement, and sometimes two such parallelisms will follow the first, of thematic, phrase." He also notes that "Parallelism probably made memorizing easier" which is probably one of the reasons it was employed by the Messiah and the prophets of the Old Testament.
Lost in Translation
Many of these poetic structures show through in English translation but some do not. LaSor notes in Old Testament Survey: the Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament,
In poetry, play on the sounds of language is particularly striking. With alliteration, words or syllables begin with the same or similar sounds. Assonance uses the same or similar sounds (usually vowels) within words. Paronomasia (pun) plays on words with the same or similar sounds but different meanings. Onomatopoeia is the use of words that sound similar to or suggest the activity they describe. Unfortunately, the devices can rarely be carried over in translation. For example, when God asks Amos: "What do you see?' and Amos answers: "A basket of summer fruit" (8:1), the Hebrew word for "summer fruit" sounds almost like that for "end" This similarity of words prepares Amos for God's statement, "Then end has come upon my people, Israel." But the pun is lost in translation.
Hebrew poets liked to use acrostics, especially the alphabet acrostic. Psalm 9 and 10 and Psalm 119 are alphabet acrostics. In Psalm 119 each stanza uses one letter of the Hebrew alphabet in each of its eight lines. The stanzas are in alphabetical order. Also, every line mentions the law in some form such as commandments, precepts and so on. We are familiar with the alphabet acrostic in English. Here is an example,
Although things are not perfect
Because of trial or pain
Continue in thanksgiving
Do not begin to blame
Even when the times are hard
Fierce winds bound to blow
God is forever able
Hold on to what you know
Imagine life without his love
Joy would cease to be
Keep thanking him for all the things
Love imparts to thee
Move out of "Camp Complaining"
No weapon that is known
On earth can yield the power
Praise can do alone
Quit looking at the future
Redeem the time at hand
Start every day with worship
To thank is his command
Until we see him coming
Victorious in the sky
Xalting God most high
Yea, there'll be good times and yes some will be bad, but
Zion waits in glory…where none are ever sad.
(Written by Cindy Blackmore, November 1994)
Notice that the alphabet is listed horizontally. This is how Psalm 119 works but there is no evidence of the acrostic in the teachings of Jesus. (Other alphabet acrostic psalms include Psalm 25, 34, 37, 111, 112 and 145. Each chapter but the final one in the Book of Lamentations is an alphabet acrostic.) Certain poetic forms can work in different languages; such as the Japanese Haiku. The Haiku consists of respectively 5, 7 and 5 syllables in the units. Here is an example.
The wind that blows-
Ask them, which leaf on the tree
Will be next to go
To me Haiku usually sounds like the old "Dick and Jane" stories but they are often reflections on nature. Often the poetic forms that Jesus uses can be seen in English translation from the Greek (which is itself a translation from the original Aramaic and Hebrew).
How Hebrew Poetry Works
Hebrew is a fusional language meaning it is built with prefixes and suffixes. English is an analytic language, in some ways like Greek. However, both Hebrew and Greek are fusional languages. Hebrew used accents in poems 3x2, 3x3 and 4x2. Hebrew also uses a lot of word play. It doesn't rhyme well but used accents, usually three. So we have rhythm with a number of accents. Some basic forms we see in Hebrew poetry are;
- Rhythm-A three stress line (with variation).
- Wordplay-Sometimes near homonym (such as hear and here). In Hebrew poetry wordplay is a powerful element.
- Parallelism-Each line intensifies a basic image in the preceding line, or goes from general to specific and vice versa.
- Chiasm-An example would be "Hear O People, O People hear!"
- Antithesis-This is the use of opposites such as "Hear O heaven and give ear O earth!"
In parallelism the sacred authors often use was is called a merismus, this is a contrast of opposite extremes. An example would be contrasting the heavens and the earth as we see in Deuteronomy 32:1 ("Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; let the earth hear the words of my mouth."). Often in Hebrew poetry numbers have special significance. This is seen in Proverbs 6:16 which says "there are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him…" Other examples are Psalm 62:11, Micah 5:5.Amos 1:3 says, "For three transgressions of Damascus and for four I will not revoke the punishment…" It isn't necessary to compute the transgressions the importance of these numbers is their poetic significance. (This is also seen in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew. "14' is the numerical value of the name David, since in Hebrew and Aramaic letters can signify numbers.)
A structural device called a chiasm commonly appears in Hebrew poetry. In a chiasm, the parallel stitch reverses the order of units found in the initial stitch. If connected the parallel members form an X (in Greek the x-shaped letter is called a chi, hence "chiasm"). Two Old Testament examples include Psalm 2:9
Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron;
Like a vessel of a potter Thou shalt crush them
This is also seen in Isaiah 40:3 (This serves an example to show that Hebrew poetry is not confined to the book of Psalms.)
(A) In the wilderness (B) prepare (C) the way (D) of Yahweh
(B) Make straight (A) in the desert (C) a highway (D) for our God.
A Chiasm is found in the introduction of the Gospel of John (John 1:1-18)
A. The Word with God (1.2)
B. His role in Creation (3)
C. Gift to Man (4,5)
D. The Witness of John the Baptist (6-8)
E. The Word enters the World (9-11)
F. The Children of God (12,13)
E. The Incarnation (14)
D. The Witness of John the Baptist (15)
C. Gift to Man (16)
B. His Role in re-creation (17)
A. The Son with the Father (18)
John Chapter One is probably an ancient Christian hymn, perhaps the one mentioned by the ancient Roman Pliny. He said that believers gathered before dawn on a "certain day" and sang a hymn anti-phonetically to Christ as a god. Other hymns are found embedded in the text of the New Testament (Colossians 1: 15-20, 1 Timothy 3: 16, 2 Timothy 2:11-13. In Philippians 2: 6-11 and Ephesians 5: 14 Paul probably quotes ancient Christian hymns that he did not compose.)
LaSor, Hubbard and Bush in their book Old Testament Survey: the Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament devote an entire chapter to Hebrew poetry. They state that Hebrew poetry "appeals more to human imagination and emotion than to reason." In this Semitic approach, "Poetic imagery compares the Unseen to something the readers have already soon helping them to know God better. Ultimately God is known in the incarnate image, the Son. Without denying the value of philosophy, we can say that the biblical approach is superior in many ways to the philosophical. People learn far more through the senses than through speculation." Jesus use of Hebrew poetic structures puts him in his Semitic context. Certain so-called Bible scholars (such as John Dominic Crosson) are trying to divorce Jesus from his Jewish identity and recast him as a pagan philosopher. These people try to paint Jesus as student of Greek thought. He tries to argue that Jesus was a Cynic (from where we get the word 'cynical'). Jesus modes of thinking and speaking are Hebrew not Greek. Greek philosophy has certain false ideas (especially coming from Plato) such as reality isn't real, only the imaginary world of ideas is real. (The ancient Greeks were great thinkers but many of the ideas of Plato are bizarre and disturbing. An educated and well rounded person will be familiar with Greek thought and the contributions that the ancient Greeks made toward human progress.) The importance of the real world to Jesus and not lofty speculation will be dealt with below.
Bishop Lowth was the first to categorize Hebrew poetry. He did this in a commentary on the book of Isaiah in 1778. (He was informed by Rabbinic sources.) Adam Potkay defines the structure of Hebrew poetry in the following manner.
- The main structural element of Hebrew poetry is parallelism: that is, the juxtaposition of two or more clauses that are related in meaning. The two most common clauses are relations between the clauses that are "synonymy" and "anti-thesis". But a third can also be found, "synthetic" parallelism.
- Synonymous parallelism is the most common type in Hebrew poetry. The two clauses are different in form, but roughly identical in meaning. For example in Psalm 38:1 "O Lord, rebuke me not in thy wrath: neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure." Or from Psalm 148:1:" Praise ye the LORD. Praise ye the LORD from the heavens: praise him in the heights."
- Antithetic parallelism occurs when the two clauses show an opposition or contrast of ideas. For example, from Psalm 20: 8: [The ungodly] are brought down and are fallen; but we are risen, and stand upright. Or in Psalm 1:6 For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
- Synthetic parallelism occurs when the second clause completes the idea begun in the first clause (e.g., "as x, so y"). For example in Psalm 3:4: "I cried unto the LORD with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill. Selah."
- There is also cause and effect synthetic parallelism. For example in Psalm 126: 3: "The LORD hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad!"
- And finally, in synthetic parallelism there is analogous parallelism. For example in Psalm 125:2 "As the mountains are found about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people."
- There is also cause and effect synthetic parallelism. For example in Psalm 126: 3: "The LORD hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad!"
Aramaic language but Hebrew Poetic Structure
In 1924 Rev. C. F. Burney, a professor at Oxford, wrote The Poetry of Our Lord: An Examination of the Formal Elements of Hebrew Poetry in the Discourses of Jesus Christ. In this book he carefully describes how Hebrew poetry works and gives examples from the Old Testament and Jewish literature. Later he demonstrates that many of the sayings of Jesus are poetry of the Hebrew structure. In this book he reconstructs the words of Jesus in the Aramaic language and shows that not only does Jesus use Hebrew poetic structures but when his words are translated back into the original Aramaic they have both rhyme and rhyme. Aramaic is a Semitic language that is closely related to Hebrew. It is the language of Ezra and Daniel as well as the language of important Jewish prayers and the language that parts of the Talmud are written in. So the poetic forms are Hebrew but the words spoken by Jesus are almost always Aramaic. Why is this? The reason for this was explained in Gustov Dalman's Words of Jesus.
Aramaic as the Language of the Jews
- Jews translated the Old Testament into Aramaic paraphrases called the Targums. Most of the Targums we have- although they represent an older oral tradition- they were confined to writing after the time of Jesus. However Targums were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.
- Aramaic is used in titles for classes of people and feasts in the New Testament and extra-biblical literature. Pharisee is from the Aramaic for "separate ones", Essene is from an Aramaic word. In the New Testament Passover is called "Pascha" from the Aramaic.
- In Rabbinic literature it is stated that Aramaic as well as Hebrew was used in the Temple.
- Certain official documents were written in Aramaic.
- The language of public documents, such as marriage decrees, were in Aramaic.
- The adoption of the Old Square Aramaic alphabet as the Hebrew alphabet which replaced the original "Paleo-Hebrew". Certain of the Dead Sea Scrolls are written in Paleo-Hebrew. The Samaritans still use the original Hebrew alphabet.
- The Syntax and the vocabulary of the Hebrew of the Mishna prove themselves to be the creation of Jews who though in Aramaic.(I.E. the language we call Aramaic Josephus and the writers called Hebrew. However, sometimes Hebrew is meant, like in the book of Revelation.)
- The custom of calling Aramaic "Hebrew" in both the New Testament and Josephus.
(I have presented the historic evidence that Jesus was an Aramaic-speaker in my book Aramaic: The Language of Jesus of Nazareth. That Jesus was an Aramaic speaker is an established historical fact and is a teaching of the New Testament.) Although Jesus used Aramaic he also at times also spoke in Hebrew. In the Gospel of Luke it clearly shows that Jesus could read Hebrew when he preached at the synagogue in Nazareth. Recent archeological discoveries show that while Aramaic was the common language, Hebrew was also spoken especially among very devout and literate Jews. In Aramaic Sources of Mark's Gospel Maurice Casey views all of the historical and archeological evidence about the uses of different languages in Palestine of the first century and comes to this conclusion, "There is no doubt that scribes wrote in Hebrew: they did not have reason to use Aramaic unless it was a popular tongue…In a sense, the prestige language was Hebrew, since this was the language of the Torah…instruction in the halakha [declarations of Jewish religious practice] was given to most Jews in Aramaic, into which the Torah was translated…In our period the Hebrew Bible was completed and most of the Dead Sea scrolls were written, in Hebrew in Aramaic, because these were the sacred tongue and lingua franca [common language] of the vast majority of Jews in Israel." (To re-construct the words of Jesus in Aramaic Burney used the Palestinian Talmud and the Targums. Maurice Casey is using only the Aramaic from the Dead Sea Scrolls.) The Poetry of Our Lord includes several pages of the words of Jesus reconstructed in Aramaic.
According to Burney, "This is a correspondence in idea between the two lines of a couplet, the second line reinforcing and as it were echoing the sense of the first in equivalent though different, terms." There are two good examples from the Old Testament. The first is Psalm 114:
When Israel came out of Egypt,
The house of Jacob from a strange people,
Judah became His sanctuary,
Israel His dominion.
The sea beheld and fled,
The Jordan turned backward.
The mountain skipped like rams,
The hills like the young of the flock.
What aileth thee, O thou sea, that thou fleest?
Thou Jordan, that thou turnest backward?
Ye mountains, that ye skip like rams?
Ye hills, like the young of the flock?
Tremble, thou earth, at the presence of the Lord,
At the presence of the God of Jacob;
Who turneth the rock into a pool of water,
The flint into a springing well.
This is also seen in Psalm 19
The heavens declare the glory of God,
And the firmament declareth his handy-work.
Day unto day uttereth speech,
And night unto night sheweth knowledge.
Synonymous Parallelism is also used in the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32. Jesus used this poetic form very often. There are too many examples for me to list here.
Mary used synonymous parallelism in the Magnificant in saying, "My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit is joyful in God my savior…"(Luke 1:46-47).
Here are some examples from the teachings of Jesus:
Suffer the little children,
And forbid them not to come unto me.
(Mark 10:14, Matthew 24:7, Luke 21:10)
The sun shall be darkened,
And the moon shall not give her light,
And the stars shall fall from heaven,
And the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.
Love your enemies,
So good to your haters,
Bless your cursers,
Pray for your persecutors.
(Luke 6: 27-28)
To whomsoever much is given,
Of him shall much be required;
And to whom they commit much,
Of him will they ask the more.
Do not judge and you will not be judged.
Do not condemn and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give and you will be given.
A good measure of wheat shaken, packed down
And overflowing will be placed in your lap,
Since the measure of your measure
Will be the measure of your return. (Luke 6:37-38)
These verses I quote here are from Gospel of Luke 6: 37-38 from The New Covenant: Commonly Called the New Testament, Newly Translated from the Greek and Informed by Semitic Sources by Willis Barnstone. In his introduction to his translation he notes that he has Yeshua [Yeshus is the Aramaic form of the name "Jesus"] speaking in verse. He states,
With respect to their prosodic form, the sayings [of Yeshua, which means 'Jesus'], like Psalms, Song of Songs, and most of the words of Isaiah and Jeremiah in the Hebrew Bible, may be read and lineated as poetry, even though the monumentally poetic King James Version cast them in prose…Here in this version, Yeshua's words are lineated as poetry, just as most of Yeshua's words, especially in John, are lineated in the French and English editions of the…Jerusalem Bible (1990). To most of us it is a secret that Yeshua's speech takes the form of poems. This translation will introduce the Jewish messiah… as the great poet of the first century…, who heretofore has been our invisible poet.
In English it is valued to be succinct and to the point, especially in term papers. One editor commented that she felt that the Bible needed to be edited and that it could easily be pared down. The person is failing to see two things, first the Bible was transmitted orally and much of it is meant to be read aloud and also she fails to see the poetry.
Semitic people look on their languages as art forms. Today among Arabs and Assyrians poetry is valued as it was in biblical times. God spoke through the prophets (including Jesus, although Jesus is much more than just a prophet) in the tradition of ancient Semitic oral poetry. Burney argued that the Gospel of John was originally written in Aramaic partly because of the large amount of Hebraic poetry found in that Gospel.
Joachim Jeremias notes that "in the synoptic gospels, antithetic parallelism occurs well over a hundred times in the sayings of Jesus." He continues, "the evidence shows that the large number of cases of antithetic parallelism in the sayings of Jesus cannot be attributed to the process of redaction…we have to derive the frequency of this usage from Jesus himself." What Jeremias is saying is that there is so much use of the Hebraic Antithetic Parallelism poetic form in the words of Jesus it must have been the way that he actually spoke and not just the way it was written down in the Bible. A good example of antithetic parallelism in the Old Testament is Proverbs 10:1
A wise son makes a glad father,
But a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother.
Jeremias notes that, "in cases of antithetic parallelism in the Old Testament, the second member serves…to illuminate and deepen the first by an opposed statement…in the sayings of Jesus exactly the opposite is the case; there the stress is almost always on the second half."
Every good tree bringeth forth good fruits,
But the corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruits.
If you forgive men their trespasses,
Your heavenly Father also shall forgive you,
But if you forgive not men their trespasses.
Neither shall your Father forgive your trespasses.
He that findeth his life shall lose it;
And he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.
Whosoever exalteth himself shall be humbled;
And whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.
Joachim Jeremias was an expert on the Aramaic background and the Jewish cultural background of the Gospels and the New Testament. He noted that,
When C.F. Burney translated the sayings of Jesus back into Aramaic, he was struck by the degree to which they had a rhythmic shape, like so many of the prophetic sayings in the Old Testament. He found three rhythms (four-beat, three beat, and the kina metre); I should like to add forth, the two beat rhythm. Each of these four rhythms expresses to a special degree, if not exclusively, a different mood, and therefore finds its place in a particular area of thought.
Jeremias also notes the significance of this unique feature in the words of Jesus and demonstrates how translating his words back into the original Aramaic places him in his native Semitic setting. (Although Hebrew poetry doesn't usually rhyme it does have rhythm. In English poetry rhymes and has rhythm as well, usually what is called the Iambic Pentameter. Good poetry will have a certain number of stresses and rhyme and not only rhyme.)
It may be affirmed that the accumulation of the rhythms in the sayings of Jesus allow us to draw the conclusion that we have to do with a distinct characterization of his. In addition, they indicate a Semitic background and provide an important pointer towards the antiquity of the tradition. A comparison of the parallel traditions shows that much of this rhythmic language was lost when the sayings were translated into Greek, and while they were being handed on into a Greek milieu.
Jesus often uses the four-beat rhythm. Jeremias comments, "the repose which characterizes the four-beat…make it appropriate for conveying didactic themes. It is hardly a coincidence that many saying with four-beat lines are addresses to the inner circle of followers and the messengers, for the most part giving instructions but also bringing consolation. The four-beat line is pre-eminently the rhythm for the instruction of disciples." (Here the sayings of Jesus are reconstructed in His Aramaic language. Although Jesus used Hebrew poetry forms he spoke and taught in Aramaic.)
Kil man deit leh yityeheb leh
Wa kolman delet up ma diet leh
For whoever has, to him will be given,
But whoever does not have.
Even what he has will be taken from him.
Let talmid lel min rabi
Wa let abda lel min mareh
Missat le talmida dihe kerabbeh
Wa abda kemareh
A disciple is not above his teacher,
Nor a servant above his master.
It is enough for a disciple to be like his teacher,
And a servant like his master.
The Beatitudes use the three-beat rhythm. Jeremias explains, "Even in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, the three beat line is used by preference for conveying wisdom; it is also used very often in the psalms. It is the most frequent rhythm used in the sayings of Jesus; it serves to drive home important sayings and maxims." I will use some "animal verses" to illustrate.
Le talayya-it lehon horin
Wa Barnasha let leh
Han deyarken reysha
The foxes have holes,
And the birds of the heavens have nests,
But the Son of Man has no
Place to lay his head.
La tihabun qaddisha le kalbayya
Wa la tirmn margeliyyatkon be appe Khazirayya.
Do not give what is holy to dogs
And do not cast your pearls before the swine.
In this type in the second line of the couplet the sense of the first line flows continuously.
I came to cast fire upon the earth;
And what will I, if it be already kindled?
But I have a baptism wherewith to be baptized,
And how am I straitened till it be accomplished!
Think ye that I came to give peace on the earth?
Nay, I tell you, but rather division.
(Luke 12: 49-50)
The Kina Rhythm
The Kina rhythm is a tradition dirge, a song of mourning, usually for the dead. Jochim Jeremias describes it in the following manner, "the kina metre has the most individual rhythm. 3=2 with occasional variations of 2=2 and 4=2. It derives from the lament for the dead (this lament is called "kina"), in which the singer who leads the lament utters a long cry (three-beat) to which the lamenting woman make answer with a shorter echo (two beat)". Jeremias states that, "The kina metre serves above all to express strong inner emotion. It covers a wide span, including laments, warnings, threats, admonitions and summons as well as beatitudes and messages of salvation."
Burney listed Old Testament examples of the Kina meter. Note that the indented line is the response.
She is fallen, no more shall she rise,
The virgin of Israel;
Forsaken on her soil.
None to upraise her.
Yahweh is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
Yahweh is the stronghold of my life,
Whom shall I dread.
Give ear to my words, Yahweh;
Detect my whisper;
Attend to the sound of my cry,
My king and my God.
Qaisa rattiba abdin hek be yabbisa ma nihwe?
If they do this when the tree is green, what shall they do when it is dry?
Zemaran lekon wa la raqqedtun élan wa la arqedtun
We piped for you and you did not dance, we sang a dirge and you did not weep.
This is significant because in Aramaic in this short poem we find word-play (raaqqedtun/arqedtun) and rhyme (-nan, -tun).
(To illustrate the Kina-dirge in the utterances of Jesus Burney first translates the words of Jesus into biblical Hebrew and then into Aramaic on page 138-139 of The Poetry of Our Lord.)
The Beatitudes and the Lord's Prayer
The Beatitudes have both rhyme and rhythm when they are translated back into Aramaic. The Lord's Prayer also has a beat (and rhymes) as well. Jeremias notes that, "only with the petitions in the first person plural does to Lord's Prayer go over to four-beat rhythm, to return abruptly to a two-beat line in the closing petition." Both the Lord's Prayer and the Beatitudes prove that Jesus used Hebraic poetic formulas in his utterances. (I have separate teachings on the Lord's Prayer and the Beatitudes in Aramaic along with their Hebrew background in my other books.)
Hebrew and Aramaic Word-plays
In Matthew 11:17 (parallel Luke 7:32) we found an Aramaic word-play and rhyme. There are other Hebrew and Aramaic word-plays that are discovered with the words are translated back into the original Aramaic and Hebrew. In Mark 13:28 Jesus uses the same word-play found in Amos; Qatis (summer fruit) and getz (end). This also works in the Aramaic and is found in the Old Syriac version of Matthew at Matthew 24: 32-33. This illustrates the fact that Hebrew and Aramaic are so alike that sometimes the word-plays often work in both languages.
Matthew 1:21 Yeshua (Jesus) and yosia, Salvation. (This works in Hebrew but not Aramaic._
Matthew 3:9 "sons" Banim and "stones" Abnim.
Matthew 22: 37, 38 and 46
Yrao "honor/fear" and bishrayo "saw"
Old Syriac Word-play (Old Syriac is an Aramaic version of the Gospels).
Matthew 8:2 "one man" gabra and "leper" garba
Both the Hebrew and Old Syriac have a word-play at Matthew 27:6
"Price" Shdmy "blood" dam in Hebrew and dmya and dama in Syriac.
In Matthew 11:7 Hugh Schonfield believed he found word-play, with the Hebrew word qaneh, for a cane or reed and the Aramaic word Qana, a Zealot.
Also in the Old Syriac there is a word-play in John 8:34, "Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin." In Aramaic it is Abed/Ahbdah ("doer/slave").
Christ's Poetic Inspiration
Edward Norman in Secularization: Sacred Values in a Godless World commented that Jesus did not address the aesthetic sense of his followers. (Aesthetics is the philosophical search for what is beautiful.) Norman states, "He did not ruminate on the beauty of the Galilean scenery." This isn't true; not only did Jesus did ruminate on nature, he asks his disciples to do so as well. "Consider the Lilies of the Field" (Matthew 6:28). Hugh Schonfield commented on Jesus' ruminations of the Galilean scenery.
He became a keen student of life and human character. The man we meet in the Gospels is one who knows the countryside of Galilee intimately, its flowers and trees, fields and orchards, the activities of the people in work and worship, in their social, political and economic affairs. The things he teaches and the realistic tales he tells to illustrate his teaching are proof of how much he has absorbed. Such a store of information could only have been the outcome of prolonged and acute observation. There had been nothing somnambulistic in his walks abroad. He had deemed it vital to his equipment that he should have firsthand knowledge of the ways of the world.
Jesus was inspired by the beauty of the world around him. Jesus found beauty and inspiration in the real world and daily life. This isn't only true in his poetry and his teachings but also his parables. Jeremais also brings this point out although his context is the parables and not the poems of Jesus, "We find no fables on the lips of Jesus,; fig tree and vine do not speak in his sayings. Also, in Ethiopian Enoch we read an outline of the history of Israel in the form of a long-winded allegory involving various animals. Jesus indeed regularly uses familiar metaphors, mostly drawn from the Old Testament and familiar to everyone at that time, but he does not construct allegories. His parables take us, rather, into the midst of throbbing, everyday life. Their nearness to life, their simplicity and clarity, the masterly brevity with which they are told, the seriousness of their appeal to the conscience, their loving understanding of the outcasts of religion-all this is without analogy. If we want to find anything comparable we have to go back a long way: the parable of Nathan (II Sam. 12:1-7), the Song of the Vineyard (Isa. 5:1-7)."
The word "inspire" means 'to breath into'. Jesus was inspired of course by the Holy Spirit. (In Aramaic 'Christ" is Meshika which means anointed with oil. The oil is symbolic of consecration to God and represents the Holy Spirit.) The Jews at the time of Jesus put the Bible in Aramaic so they could understand it. These Aramaic versions of the Bible were called the Targums. In Mesopotamia the Messianic or Christian Jews called their Targum the Peshitta. This version of the Bible is the official version of the Aramaic churches. In Genesis Chapter one in the Peshitta it says and God saw what he had made and said that it was, not "tawa", good, but" shapira"; beautiful. Jesus used beautiful words. In the movie "Dead Poets Society" Robin Williams played a poetry teacher. He began his class by telling them to rip out and discard a chapter on how to construct a poem. He taught his class to "carpe diem"- "seize the day". We do need to be inspired. Great movements usually produce great music (music is poetry). But, structures can make words "aesthetically pleasing". We need to seize the day and be inspired, but we need to use the structures so we can communicate effectively. Jesus understood this and he spoke (and still speaks) in beauty and power. One reason his words have endured is the manner in which he spoke them; as Hebraic poetry. We have an inner sense of what is beautiful, put there by God. Poetry that is sloppy, no matter how sincere, will not appeal to others or endure and will fail in its purpose to move and inspire others.
A note about Hebraic Music
Although the book of Psalms is a hymn book it didn't have musical notation. So we no longer know what the melodies of these songs sounded like. What we usually think of as Jewish music isn't Biblical music, but is actually Eastern European music and melodies. If we could get into a time machine and went back and listened to music sung in the temple, it would sound totally different from what we think of as Hebraic music. Actually Middle Eastern and Arabic music is probably much closer to Biblical melodies than what passes as "Messianic" music (or the 'Jewish' music from "The Fiddler on the Roof"). Certain attempts have been made to reconstruct the music of the Bible. The most notable was by Suzanne Haik-Vantoura. In 1976 she published "The Music of the Bible Revealed". Her attempts at reconstructing the melodies of the Bible are based on her hypothesis that she has deciphered notations in an ancient Hebrew manuscript of the Tiberian Masoretic text. She believes that certain notations are symbols for hand gestures that represent musical scales. She has made recordings of what she believes is the original music of the book of Psalms. Many scholars are skeptical of her efforts.
The Israelites of the biblical era were not vastly different from their neighbors so it is a safe assumption that music from neighboring cultures would be very similar to the music of the Psalms. (Especially since Psalm 104 seems to be an altered version of the Hymn to Aten, where the name of the Lord is substituted for that of Aton. Psalm 29 is believed to have been based on a hymn lauding the Canaanite storm god and it was changed to give praise to the Lord.) The most scientific attempt to reconstruct music from Bible times was based on archeological evidence. A 14th Century BC song with musical notations has been deciphered by archeologist. The archeologist reconstructed replicas of ancient lyres and made a recording that is entitled "Sounds from Silence". This effort also dates from 1976. Scholars believe that this recording is the closest approximatization to the music of the book of Psalms. Other such attempts to recreate biblical era music have been made. (It should also be noted that ancient Semitic poetry discovered in Ugaritic, Canaanites and Aramaic, are very similar to the Hebrew poetry found in the Old Testament.)
One way to reconstruct biblical era music is to use instruments from the time of the scriptures. Interesting attempts we made in the soundtrack to The Gospel of John film that was narrated by Christopher Plummer. SAVAE (San Antonio Vocal Arts Ensemble) has put out an album entitled Ancient Echoes in which they used only Middle Eastern musical instruments from the time of Jesus. All the vocals in this album are Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. The lyrics are from the Gospels, the Old Testament, the Dead Sea Scrolls and ancient inscriptions. I strongly recommend this album although I disagree with some of the commentary on the Beatitudes and the Lord's Prayer they have included in the jacket. The album is just Jesus' poems and other ancient words put to music. Other recent attempts at more authentic music from the Gospels include Peter Gabriel's Passion and Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ (which includes Aramaic songs).
Also, the Ancient Assyrian Church of the East have preserved Aramaic chants and melodies in their worship services that probably go back to the apostolic era.
A note about genres in the Psalms
Herrmann Gunkel developed what is called Form Criticism. He divided the Psalms into different categories. These include hymns (Calls to Worship, Psalm 105, Victory Psalms, Psalm 68, Processional Songs for Pilgrims, Psalm 87, Psalms Extolling Zion (Psalm 46), and "Enthronement of Yahweh" psalms (Psalm 47). There are also Songs of Complaint or Lamentation (Psalm 22 is an example. In this genre it begins with a cry unto God and continues with a description of the crisis, an affirmation of trust, a series of petitions, an argument, a vow of praise and concludes with a statement of faith.), Thanksgiving Psalms (Psalm 116), Royal Songs (including wedding songs such as Psalm 45 and Coronation Songs such as Psalm 2, and Battle Hymns such as Psalm 20), and Wisdom Psalms (such as Psalm 1). H. Kraus further identified that certain Psalms were used on the feast of Tabernacles and Passover. Kraus organized these psalms as "festival songs".
Songs of Ascent
Psalm 120-134 are entitled "Songs of Ascents" or "Songs of Degrees". They are so called because they were sang by pilgrims as they ascended up the gates of Jerusalem to worship in the temple. An early Jewish Christian book was based on this theme and it was entitled "the Ascents of James the Just" referring to Jacob the Brother of Jesus. Recently Eugene Peterson wrote a commentary on our wayward society composed as a meditation of the Psalms of Ascents that was entitled "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction".
Jesus Sang the Psalms
Mark 14: 26 states that when the Passover dinner was finished, "After singing the Psalm they went to the Mount of Olives". These hymns specifically were the Hallel; Psalms 113 & 114 and 115-118. In conclusion they sang "All thy works shall praise the, Yahweh, our God…From everlasting to everlasting Thou are God, and beside thee, we have no King, Redeemer or Savior". Jesus participated in worship in the Temple of Jerusalem and there the psalms were sung in Hebrew. While Joachim Jeremias contends that Jesus spoke in Aramaic in his Eucharistic Words of Jesus he concedes that Jesus spoke in Hebrew during the Last Supper.
In these Psalms the psalmist calls down judgment on the enemies of God and on his own persecutors and tormentors. An example is Psalm 137. Some of these Psalms are found to be offensive to modern sensitivities by some people. The Psalms deal with the whole of the human experience (including anger, pain, and deep distress) and that is why they are so powerful. Suffering, sorrow and pain are a part of life and these realities are dealt with in the Psalms. We need to read these Psalms in their context. Certain people today don't want to deal with the reality or death and pain. They want to anesthetize way all hurt. We are born in pain and many of us will die in pain. Pain helps us to grow and to learn. These men spoke from the depths of their souls. Imprectory psalms also are effective in "spiritual warfare". Believers need to pray against wickedness in the world and the powers behind evil if we truly are children of the light.
The best authority on Aramaic as the language of Jesus was Joachim Jeremias. Joachim (pronounced in German as "yo-ah-KEEM") Jeremias, theologian, born 9/20/1900 in Dresden, died 9/6/1979 in Tübingen. Jeremias spent large parts of his youth (1910-1915) in Jerusalem, where his father served as Provost of the Protestant Lutheran congregation at the Savior Church. An exten-sive knowledge of Palestine is strongly throughout his later scientific work. He pursued further study of theology and the Oriental languages in Tübingen and Leipzig in the years of 1922 and 1923, with attainment of the Ph.D. and Th. D. degrees. In 1922 he became a private tutor at the theological seminar in Herrnhut, and in 1924 he became an instructor at the Herder Institute in Riga. He qualified to teach at the university level in 1925 in Leipzig for the academic field of New Testament, and in 1928 became a presiding (senior) professor and director of the Institutum Judaicum in Berlin. In 1929 he became professor at Greifswald, and finally he taught at Göttingen from 1935 until his retirement as professor emeritus in 1968. He was a member of the confessing church. After the Second World War, he received numerous distinctions: He was made an honorary doctor at the University of Leipzig, at St. Andrews (Scotland), at Uppsala, and at Oxford; he received the Burkitt Medal of the British Academy of London for biblical studies; became was admitted as a member of the Academy of the Sciences at Göttingen, where from 1956 on he was a member of the Septuaginta Commission, as well as a member of the Royal Dutch Academy of the sciences and of the British Academy of London.His scientific work touches almost all areas of the New Testament research, including those of archaeology and historic geographies. His particular and concerted emphasis, however, was on the reconstruction of the announcement and appearance of Jesus against the background of the contemporary Judaism, which he implicitly trusted like few scientists of his time, and whose language he handled very competently. His chief works -- "Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus", "The Allegories of Jesus", "The Holy Communion Words of Jesus", "New Testament Theology, First Part, The Announcement of Jesus" -- were translated into numerous European languages (and also into Japanese, Korean, and Chinese), and attained ecumenical importance and recognition.
The Aramaic word studies written by Joachim Jeremias that are in English include New Testament Theology, The Central Message of the New Testament, and The Prayers of Jesus.
BOOKS By Stephen Andrew Missick
(The books listed below can be ordered through Amazon.com or Barnes and Nobles On-line or can be ordered through their publisher.)
The Words of Jesus in the Original Aramaic: Discovering the Semitic Roots of Christianity (Xulon Press, 2006)
Although Bible scholars have called Aramaic "the Language of Jesus" most Christians have never heard of Aramaic. However, anyone who has read the Bible has been exposed to Aramaic whether he or she knows it or not. "Abba, Father" is Aramaic. Golgotha, the place where Jesus was crucified is Aramaic for "Skull-Place". Names such as Thomas, Barnabas, Martha, and Magdalene are all Aramaic names. "Maranatha" is a short Aramaic prayer that is left un-translated in the New Testament. Translated from the Aramaic it means, "Our Lord, Come!" After the release of Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of the Christ", which was filmed mostly in Aramaic, more people have been exposed to the Aramaic language than ever before. Aramaic is an important but often over-looked tool in discovering the mind of Christ. This book is an introduction to Aramaic biblical studies and to the last Christians who still speak the ancient Aramaic language, the Assyrians of Mesopotamia. This book also explores the Aramaic behind Christ's words, such as in the title Christ used for himself, the Son of Man, which is Barnasha in Aramaic, and looks at important people in early Aramaic Christianity, such as James the Just and Mary of Magdala.
Mary of Magdala: Magdalene, the Forgotten Aramaic Prophetess of Christianity (Xlibris, 2006)
According to the Biblical account Mary of Magdala was the first witness of the resurrection. The early fathers of the church called Mary Magdalene the "Apostle of the Apostles". She played an important, but until recently, largely ignored role in the early church. Aramaic was the language of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Her name "Magdalene" is an Aramaic name meaning "the Tower". St. Jerome, who was fluent in Aramaic, believed she was called "the Tower" due to her ardent faith. This book explores Mary of Magdala through the Aramaic language and ancient Aramaic sources and traditions.
Treasures of the Language of Jesus: The Aramaic Source of Christ's Teaching (Xlibris, 2006)
Treasures of the Language of Jesus: The Aramaic Source of Christ's Teachings explores Jesus in the light of his language, culture and times. Bible scholars have determined that Aramaic was the language that was spoken by Jesus Christ. This book examines the meanings of Aramaic words and Aramaic figures of speech that are found in the New Testament. Treasures of the Language of Jesus is an introduction to Aramaic biblical studies and to the last surviving native speakers of the Aramaic language, the Assyrians and Chaldeans of Mesopotamia.
Aramaic: The Language of Jesus of Nazareth (Xlibris, 2008)
Aramaic: The Language of Jesus of Nazareth is a brief introduction to the Aramaic language. Bible scholars have determined that Aramaic was the language spoken by Jesus Christ. This book lists the evidence from the Bible, archeology and other ancient records that have led them to this conclusion. Examining the words of Jesus in his native language gives us a deeper understanding of the Messiah and his message. Aramaic: The Language of Jesus of Nazareth serves an important introduction to Aramaic biblical studies and to the last surviving native speakers of the Aramaic language, the Assyrian Christians of Mesopotamia.
Christ the Man (Xulon Press)
Immerse yourself in the life of John the Baptizer and Jesus the Christ as they preach God's New Covenant with the beasts of the field, with the birds of the air, and with all the living things of the earth (Hosea 2:18). John and Jesus' radical new message of forgiveness and hope provokes opposition from the authorities. After John is arrested, Jesus decides to confront the religious establishment in the very courts of the Temple of Jerusalem! Jesus rescues the animals from sacrifice, evicts the all the merchants and their customers from the Temple and then boldly proclaims, "My Father's House shall be a house of prayer for all nationalities!" Rediscover the beginnings of the Good News of Christ the Man. Gain fresh insights on the historical background of the life of Christ supplemented with twenty illustrations from the "Christ the Man" graphic novel.
The Hammer of God: The Stories of Judah Maccabee and Charles Martel (Xulon Press, 2010)
According to the Gospel of John, Jesus Christ celebrated the Festival of Hanukkah (John 10:22). Hanukkah celebrates the heroic exploits of Judas Maccabeus and his battle for religious freedom. These events occurred during the four-hundred silent years between the Old and New Testaments. The Seleucid Greeks that ruled over the Jewish people made observing Judaism a capital offense and ordered all copies of the Bible to be collected and burned. In the year 167 Before Christ, Judas Maccabaeus led the Jewish people into battle to preserve the Holy Bible and to establish religious liberty. Judas was called Maccabeus which means "the Hammer" in Aramaic. Centuries later, in the year 732 A.D, Charles Martel, known as "Charles the Hammer," fought to defend the religious liberties of the Christians and Jews in Europe when an army of Islamic terrorists threatened to eradicate Christianity in France. In The Hammer of God learn about the history of the battle for religious freedom, a battle that continues today.
The Ascents of James: A Lost Acts of the Apostles (Create Space 2010)
The Ascents of James is an ancient account of the life of James the Just, the brother of Jesus, that was composed by the Ebionites, an ancient sect of Jewish Christians, at a time close to the end of the first century. In this ancient Jewish Christian book, James and the Twelve Apostles explain their beliefs in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah and answer questions from their opponents on the steps of the Temple of Jerusalem. The main argument made in The Ascents of James is that Jesus is the Prophet like Moses prophesied in Deuteronomy 18: 15-22. The Ascents of James provides us with a rare perspective into an extinct and very ancient form of Jewish Christianity.
The Second Adam and the Restoration of All Things (Create Space 2010)
According to the Book of Genesis in the Holy Bible, God created Adam and Eve in a state of harmony with Nature. Adam and Eve disobeyed God and were expulsed from the Garden of Eden. In the New Testament, Jesus is described as the Second Adam who brings a restoration of all things (Acts 3:21). Describing the New Testament, Hosea says, "In that day I will make a New Covenant for them with the beasts of the field, with the birds of the air, and with the creeping things of the ground. Bow and sword of battle I will shatter from the earth, to make them lie down safely" (Hosea 2:18). According to the Gospel of Mark, the Good News is Good News for all creatures or all creation (Mark 16:15). The Bible states that in God's New Kingdom, "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea." (Isaiah 11:9).
Saint Thaddeus and the King of Assyria: The Aramaic Origins of Christianity (Create Space 2010)
According to ancient manuscripts written in the Aramaic language, Saint Thaddeus, one of the Apostles of Jesus Christ, traveled to Mesopotamia and preached the Good News of the Kingdom of God to the Assyrians and preached in Chaldea and Babylonian as well. The Assyrian people received the Gospel and became fervent Christians. The Assyrian Church of the East produced many great theologians and scholars. Assyrian missionaries planted churches in India, China, Mongolia and Socotra all before the year 700 A.D. Under the pagan Persians and then later under the Moslems, the Assyrians endured horrific persecution because of their Christian faith. The Assyrian Christians still endure persecution and still live in Iran and Iraq and have survived as a dynamic living testimony to the saving power of Jesus Christ.
The Secret of Jabez
Discover an astonishing truth that has been concealed for centuries and is now unveiled at last! This book tells the story of the first people known to history to have worshiped Yahweh (Jehovah) as the one God, a tribe of Kenite Arabs called the Rechabites. Recent archeological evidence has convinced historians and Bible scholars that it was these Kenites, an Arab tribe that pre-dates Abraham and Ishmael, who were the first to call upon God by the name of "Yahweh," or Jehovah, and to worship him as the one true God. It was they who introduced the Israelites to the worship of Yahweh God. Jabez, who has been popularized through his short prayer found in the book of Chronicles in the Holy Bible, has a unique connection with these Rechabites. Jeremiah called the Rechabites a people blessed by God, and used the example of the faithfulness of this gentile (meaning non-Jewish) people to condemn the great lack of faith in God found among the Israelites. These Rechabites are still wandering the deserts of the Middle East to this very day. They are still devoted to Yahweh and bear on their bodies the emblem of their tribe. This symbol they have bore since their beginning as a people. Like Paul they bear on their bodies "the marks of the Lord Jesus" (Galatians 6:17). They have worn this stigma from time immemorial. Now let us unravel the secrets of the Prayer of Jabez, decode its hidden meaning and unlock the mystery of the lost and forgotten identity of Jabez and reveal the true purpose of his prayer.
(These books are also available in hard copies.)
The Language of Jesus: Introducing Aramaic (2010)
"The Language of Jesus: Introducing Aramaic" is a brief introduction to general facts about the Aramaic language. Bible scholars have determined that Aramaic was the language spoken by Jesus Christ. This book lists the evidence from the Bible, archeology and other ancient records that have led them to this conclusion. Examining the words of Jesus in his native language gives us a deeper understanding of the Messiah and his message. "The Language of Jesus: Introducing Aramaic" serves an important introduction to Aramaic biblical studies and to the last surviving native speakers of the Aramaic language, the Assyrian Christians of Mesopotamia.
Judas Maccabeus: The Hammer of God (2010)
The Story of Judah Maccabee is a timeless inspirational story of great faith and courage against seemingly impossible odds. It is also a timely story about the collision of traditional religion and modernity. Hanukkah celebrates the heroic exploits of Judas Maccabeus and his battle for religious freedom. These events occurred during the four-hundred silent years between the Old and New Testaments. The Seleucid Greeks that ruled over the Jewish people made observing Judaism a capital offense and ordered all copies of the Bible to be collected and burned. In the year 167 Before Christ, Judas Maccabaeus led the Jewish people into battle to preserve the Holy Bible and to establish religious liberty. Judas was called Maccabeus which means "the Hammer" in Aramaic. In Judas Maccabeus: The Hammer of God learn about the history of the battle for religious freedom, a battle that continues today.
(Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies www.jaas.org)
The Assyrian Church in the Mongol Empire, Mar Thoma: The Apostolic Foundation of the Assyrian Church in India, and Socotra: The Mysterious Island of the Church of the East which were published in the Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies (Volume XIII, No. 2, 1999, Volume XIV, No. 2, 2000 and Volume XVI No. 1, 2002).
(Crossover Videos: www.thecrossoverproject.org)
Iraq's Christians in Crisis
The Armenian Genocide
The Assyrians: The Oldest Christian People
Chronicles: Facts from the Bible
The Hammer of God: Character and Historical Reference
The Hammer of God Coloring Book
The Hammer of God Mini-Comic
The Hammer of God: The Battle for Religious Freedom
Reverend Stephen Andrew Missick is the author of The Assyrian Church in the Mongol Empire, Mar Thoma: The Apostolic Foundation of the Assyrian Church in India, and Socotra: The Mysterious Island of the Church of the East which were published in the Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies (Volume XIII, No. 2, 1999, Volume XIV, No. 2, 2000 and Volume XVI No. 1, 2002). He is the author of The Words of Jesus in the Original Aramaic: Discovering the Semitic Roots of Christianity, Mary of Magdala: Magdalene, the Forgotten Aramaic Prophetess of Christianity, Treasures of the Language of Jesus: The Aramaic Source of Christ's Teaching, Aramaic: The Language of Jesus of Nazareth and Christ the Man. He is an ordained minister of the gospel. He graduated from Sam Houston State University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Rev. Missick has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East and has lived among the Coptic Christians in Egypt and Aramaic Christians in Syria. He also served as a soldier in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and 2004. While serving as a soldier in Iraq he learned Aramaic from native Aramaic-speaking Iraqi Assyrian Christians. Rev. Missick is the writer and illustrator of the comic book "The Assyrians: The Oldest Christian People," the comic strip Chronicles: Facts from the Bible and the comic book series The Hammer of God which are available from www.comixpress.com. The Hammer of God comic book series dramatizes the stories of Judah Maccabee and Charles Martel. He has also served as a chaplain in the Army National Guard in Iraq during his second deployment in 2009 and 2010.
Contact Stephen A. Missick at PO Box 882 Shepherd TX 77371 A monthly newsletter, The Aramaic Herald, is available free of charge. DVDs and Gospel tracts with an Aramaic focus are also available from the above address. Rev. Missick has several short video teachings and presentations at www.youtube.com/aramaic12 and a blog at www.aramaicherald.blogspot.com.