What Language Did Jesus Speak?

Alex Foreman has a very interesting Facebook post summed up by the title, and I wanted to rescue the first (and for me the more interesting) part from the memory pit of FB:

There are really two questions in this single one. What language might the Jesus of the Gospels speak, and what language might the historical Jesus have spoken.

A strong argument can be made that the Jesus of the Gospels — given all the linguistic behavior he engages in, and all the non-supernatural things he does — would have to be trilingual in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.

In the time of Jesus, Hebrew was actively spoken and written, alongside Aramaic, by many Palestinian Jews — both as a learned language and as an L1. The view that Hebrew was, at this period, a dead language in any sense is out of date. Generally nowadays people posit the final death of L1-Hebrew in the 2nd or 3rd century CE. Perhaps later still among Samaritans. The Qumran texts are formulated mostly in Hebrew not because the writers wanted to imitate the Bible, but because Hebrew was the community’s language (and their dialect was clearly quite unlike Biblical Hebrew — a fact which is obvious even when they are consciously modeling their writing on Biblical precedents).
Biblical Hebrew had indeed become a language that needed to be learned but post-biblical Hebrew dialects were widely spoken.

Jesus would probably have used Hebrew in his discussion with the Pharisees on the washing of hands, for example (Mark 7:1-25). Only Hebrew was regularly used at this period in discussions touching on Jewish law. But he would have spoken Aramaic to the non-Jewish Syrophoenician woman whose daughter was possessed.

And anyone in Judea able to communicate with a guy like Pontius Pilate, would have known either Greek or Latin. Someone like Jesus would be unlikely to have learned Latin, but could easily have picked up Greek. Contrary to what Mel Gibson would have us believe, it was not normal for high-ranking soldiers to learn anything other than Greek when stationed in the east. In fact, we have very little evidence of anyone learning any other language other than Greek and Latin in the Roman Army, apart from one account in Apollonius Sidonius (describing Syagrius’ learning to speak Germanic) which suggests that such an activity was weird and unusual among cultivated Romans.

So the Jesus of the Gospels appears to be trilingual.

The post ends “The Lord’s prayer though, I think could not possibly have been produced outside of a Jewish milieu and is one of a number of places in the Gospels where an Aramaic linguistic background is pretty palpable”; I confess I don’t understand that part.

Comments

  1. J.W. Brewer says:

    Can’t see your link; I get an error message “The link you followed may have expired, or the page may only be visible to an audience you’re not in.” Perhaps Foreman’s privacy settings are set to tolerate you but not me?

    The notion of a “historical Jesus” that can be separated out from the Jesus of the Gospels is largely incoherent, but at a minimum the trilingualism posited does not seem to presuppose anything supernatural or even extraordinarily empirically implausible for the particular time and place, so I don’t know why the putative distinction is even being raised, although maybe I would if I could see Foreman’s entire post for context.

  2. January First-of-May says:

    Can’t see your link; I get an error message “The link you followed may have expired, or the page may only be visible to an audience you’re not in.” Perhaps Foreman’s privacy settings are set to tolerate you but not me?

    Ditto, and I had to log in to even see that much.

  3. Sorry about that! Here’s the second half of the post:

    The connection of the Gospel Jesus to the historical Jesus — in linguistic behavior or anything else — is not clear. The Gospels apparently went through a stage where they were transmitted by people who had no personal familiarity with early 1st century Judea. The interpretation of Isaiah 7:14 given in the New Testament could simply never have occurred to anyone who was familiar with the Tanakh in the original language. Some parts at least must go back to the early Church.

    Whether the reported interactions with Pilate (which imply either knowledge of Greek or the use of an unsung interpreter) are to be credited to the historical Jesus is hard to say and probably undecidable. Just about all that can be said is that Pontius Pilate was indeed the governor of Judea at the appropriate time (this is clear from a lot of other sources, including surviving coins that he minted and a surviving inscription he commissioned). I do wonder why an actual Roman provincial governor would bother at all with a lengthy one-on-one with someone accused of minor sedition (in which he was driven to epistemological musings like “what is truth?”) rather than just order him killed right away. I also cannot suspend my disbelief at the idea that the Jewish locals were the ones to suggest so Roman a punishment as crucifixion. To me personally, that whole part of the narrative — to different degrees in the different gospels — has a strong whiff of having been altered to shift blame for Jesus’ death onto the Jews rather than the Roman state.

    We also don’t know that the later redactors had detailed knowledge about the sociolinguistic makeup of Roman Judea. In all likelihood they did not, given that they seem to get even basic facts of Palestinian geography wrong (Mark is especially peculiar on this).

    The Lord’s prayer though, I think could not possibly have been produced outside of a Jewish milieu and is one of a number of places in the Gospels where an Aramaic linguistic background is pretty palpable.

    at a minimum the trilingualism posited does not seem to presuppose anything supernatural or even extraordinarily empirically implausible for the particular time and place

    Of course not; the point is not the trilingualism but the reasoning.

  4. I cut a bunch of cruft off the URL for the FB post; I don’t know if it will make any difference, but you can give it another try.

  5. David Eddyshaw says:

    One of a number of reasons I dislike the New International Version of the Bible is that it simply translates עַלְמָה in Isaiah 7:14 as “virgin”, without so much as a footnote. That is (to say the least) pretty disingenuous. Not Good Enough, NIV. Must Try Harder.

    Trilingualism doesn’t seem remotely implausible in first-century Judea.

    (In D H Lawrence’s The Man Who Died, Jesus is represented as not being able to speak Greek, but only “vulgar Syrian”, IIRC; but I don’t think DHL was going for the historical verisimilitude thing particularly.)

  6. John the Baptizer ran a school with a multitude of disciples, located in Peraea along a wonderfully impressive pilgrim route. If from an early age Jesus was trained as a disciple of John, he’d have learned to read scripture and therefore understand Biblical Hebrew, if less well than his homely Aramaic.

    Do you think a day-laboring carpenter would keep a kid not his own around, if family connections could ease Jesus off to somewhere with prospects?

    Greek could have been a pickup, given that Galilee and the Decapolis had Greek speakers, My inadequate knowledge of Spanish, Swedish, Esperanto, and German is enough to coin nicknames like El Sombrero or Sprachhut.

    I don’t credit the idea that Jesus and Pilate conversed in Greek, or conversed at all.

    The coast of the Sea of Galilee was being developed like coastal Florida before and during Jesus’s ministry, to attract people with money, likely to know Greek, so Greek had panache. Greek had panache three centuries before and three centuries afterward. Greek still has panache. I just don’t know how to say ‘Language Hat’ in demotic Greek.

    Jesus played with logic and morality in his parables. A guy like that would play with language. In the end most disciples of John chose not to follow his branch movement. They thought he was too tricksy. They became Mandaeans.

  7. David Eddyshaw says:

    homely Aramaic

    Aramaic was in fact itself a prestige language, of course; very much so (whatever the Romans and D H Lawrence may have thought.)

    Though admittedly probably not so much if spoken with a Galilean burr.

  8. I don’t think I have ever encountered somebody interested in the historical Jesus who took the purported encounter with Pilate as anything other than a (basically pro-Roman) fiction, produced long after the fact.

  9. David Eddyshaw says:

    It is obvious that our social spheres have been widely different.

    https://www.allgreatquotes.com/when-i-see-a-spade-i-call-it-a-spade/

    It rather turns on what one means by “historical.” In fact, I agree with JWB that ‘the notion of a “historical Jesus” that can be separated out from the Jesus of the Gospels is largely incoherent.’ If you start from the premise that the Gospels are not historical (and they are assuredly not intended as histories – they belong to a quite different genre) there is precious little to go on, and all of it as least as much parti pris as the Gospels themselves.

  10. I confess I don’t understand that part

    Gospels are written in Greek, but at least 3 evangelists were L1 Aramaic speakers. There was presumably also a list of direct quotations from Jesus, either recorded in Aramaic or in Greek translation. Mark and Matthew supposedly were personal witnesses of Jesus’s ministry and might have remembered some of the happenings in Aramaic. Which of the three types of “Aramaic background[s]” (preserved direct quotations, personal memory, or on the fly translation) Mr. Foreman can palpate I obviously don’t know. But I am sure the scholarly literature is full of guesses.

  11. Richard Hershberger says:

    Pro-Roman editing: This interpretation is not uncommon in those circles committed to imagining they read the scriptures “literally.” I would go so far as to say it is obviously true on its face. My theological interpretation is that the early Christian church started out with a collection of scandalous doctrines and practices. Most were soon abandoned for pragmatic purposes, especially as the church spread beyond Judea. These include a communist social structure (explicitly described in Acts 2), the embarrassingly prominent role of women (strewn throughout the Gospels and the letters of Paul, if you know to look), and yes, the anti-Roman roots of the church. They kept as essential doctrine that the Messiah was crucified as a criminal, often known today as “the scandal of the cross.” This looks to me like a case of picking your battles.

  12. David Marjanović says:

    We also don’t know that the later redactors had detailed knowledge about the sociolinguistic makeup of Roman Judea. In all likelihood they did not, given that they seem to get even basic facts of Palestinian geography wrong (Mark is especially peculiar on this).

    I would guess Mark got his geography from Homer, and quite deliberately so.

  13. John Cowan says:

    I don’t credit the idea that Jesus and Pilate conversed in Greek, or conversed at all.

    Well, if they did, it was certainly in Greek. Jesus preached in the Decapolis, and surely he did so in Greek; that was also where he drove the devils into the swine, to the great loss of the Greek pig-owner (no Jew would keep pigs).

  14. Steven Lubman says:

    It’s Sidonius Apollinaris, not “Apollonius Sidonius”. The letter to Syiagrius is interesting in and of itself as it offers a rare glimpse at an elite member of a previously dominant culture adopting the new conquering one.
    “V.

    To his friend Syagrius
    (No indication of date)

    [1] THOUGH you descend in the male line from an ancestor who was not only consul—-that is immaterial—-but also (and here is the real point) a poet, from one whose literary achievement would certainly have gained him the honour of a statue, had it not been secured for him already by his official honours,—-witness the finished verse that he has left us; and though on this side of his activity his descendants have proved themselves no wise degenerate, yet here we find you picking up a knowledge of the German tongue with the greatest of ease; the feat fills me with indescribable amazement.

    [2] I can recall the thoroughness of your education |54 in liberal studies; I know with what a fervid eloquence you used to declaim before the rhetor. With such a training, how have you so quickly mastered the accent of a foreign speech, that after having your Virgil caned into you, and absorbing into your very system the opulent and flowing style of the varicose orator of Arpinum,1 you soar out like a young falcon from the ancient eyrie 2?

    [3] You can hardly conceive how amused we all are to hear that, when you are by, not a barbarian but fears to perpetrate a barbarism in his own language. Old Germans bowed with age are said to stand astounded when they see you interpreting their German letters; they actually choose you for arbiter and mediator in their disputes. You are a new Solon in the elucidation of Burgundian law; like a new Amphion you attune a new lyre, an instrument of but three strings. You are popular on all sides; you are sought after; your society gives universal pleasure. You are chosen as adviser and judge; as soon as you utter a decision it is received with respect. In body and mind alike these people are as stiff as stocks and very hard to form; yet they delight to find in you, and equally delight to learn, a Burgundian eloquence and a Roman spirit.

    [4] Let me end with a single caution to the cleverest of men. Do not allow these talents of yours to prevent you from devoting whatever time you can spare to reading. Let your critical taste determine you to preserve a balance between the two languages, holding fast to the one to prevent us making fun of you, and practising the other that you may have the laugh of us. Farewell.”

  15. A great quote!

  16. he’d have learned to read scripture

    Jesus reading Hebrew scripture is specifically mentioned in the Bible;

    17 And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written,
    18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,
    19 To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
    20 And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him.
    21 And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.
    Luke 4

    Second, Jews simply wouldn’t follow someone who was illiterate in Hebrew and call him Rabbi.

    7th century Arabs might, but not 1st century Jews.

  17. >> Jesus reading Hebrew scripture is specifically mentioned in the Bible;

    Could he have read from the Septuagint? It was considered equivalent in holiness to the Hebrew.

  18. Second, Jews simply wouldn’t follow someone who was illiterate in Hebrew and call him Rabbi.

    why do you say so? i don’t have the specific knowledge of roman palestine to argue against it on a historical basis, but i’m skeptical.

    first because these aren’t contemporaneous texts, so anything they might tell us about judaeans (which i’m taking as what you mean by “jews”, which wasn’t a category at the time the texts describe) isn’t exactly historical evidence.

    second because i’m very uncertain about the semantics of “rabbi” before rabbinic judaism was even invented.

    third because what the text says (assuming we can trust this translation) is not that he read from it, but that he found the place where a particular text was written – which seems to me a perfect description of how a person who has memorized an important body of text, but does not read it, engages with the holy object that is its written form.

    fourth, because we’re talking about adherents to a small scismatic group using a term of honor for their ideological leader, and that generally doesn’t track with the general implications of such terms (think about how well most u.s. figures called “guru” can handle gurmukhi or devanagari texts, or how much latin the saints of münster had…).

    i think i have a full PaRDeS here (out of order; more like ReDaPA, i suppose), but that’s by accident…

  19. Re: Septuaguint

    Jews of Palestine possibly possessed some knowledge of spoken Greek due to widespread presence of Greek-speaking population, but my impression is hardly any of them could read Greek.

    For example, Josephus finishes his “Antiquities of the Jews” with:

    And I am so bold as to say, now I have so completely perfected the work I proposed to myself to do, that no other person, whether he were a Jew or foreigner, had he ever so great an inclination to it, could so accurately deliver these accounts to the Greeks as is done in these books. For those of my own nation freely acknowledge that I far exceed them in the learning belonging to Jews; I have also taken a great deal of pains to obtain the learning of the Greeks, and understand the elements of the Greek language, although I have so long accustomed myself to speak our own tongue, that I cannot pronounce Greek with sufficient exactness; for our nation does not encourage those that learn the languages of many nations, and so adorn their discourses with the smoothness of their periods; because they look upon this sort of accomplishment as common, not only to all sorts of free-men, but to as many of the servants as please to learn them. But they give him the testimony of being a wise man who is fully acquainted with our laws, and is able to interpret their meaning; on which account, as there have been many who have done their endeavors with great patience to obtain this learning, there have yet hardly been so many as two or three that have succeeded therein, who were immediately well rewarded for their pains.

  20. Owlmirror says:

    The post ends “The Lord’s prayer though, I think could not possibly have been produced outside of a Jewish milieu and is one of a number of places in the Gospels where an Aramaic linguistic background is pretty palpable”; I confess I don’t understand that part.

    Steve Caruso has been blogging about Galilean Aramaic for some time now, pointing out what he sees as an underlying Galilean Aramaic substrate underlying some of the Greek of the NT. For example:

    One of the trickiest problems of translating the Lord’s Prayer into Aramaic is finding out what επιούσιος (epiousios; usually translated as “daily”) originally intended. It is a unique word in Greek, only appearing twice in the whole of Greek literature: Once in the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew, and the other time in the Lord’s Prayer in Luke.

    This raises some curious questions that have baffled scholars. Why would Jesus have used a singular, unique Greek word? In more recent times, the bafflement has turned to a different solution. Jesus, someone known to have spoken Aramaic in a prayer that was originally recited in Aramaic, would not have used επιούσιος, originally at all, so the question has evolved to “What Aramaic word was επιούσιος supposed to represent?” It would have to be something unique or difficult enough that whoever translated it into Greek needed to coin a word to express or preserve some meaning that they thought was important, or something that they couldn’t quite wrap the Greek language around.

  21. AJP Crown says:

    LH can’t be all things to all men. Or perhaps it is, but I still want to say that it took me ages to get rid of my Facebook account – assuming for a moment that I succeeded, which I doubt – and the last thing I want to do now is open a new one in order to read a Facebook link to Jesus, who in any case spoke 17C English (well-known fact) because he was God.

  22. Lars Mathiesen says:

    I don’t know how to falsify a claim that my old Facebook account still shambles on behind the curtain, but the process was pretty streamlined when I did it a few months back. I guess I could ask someone who I used to be friends with if they still see me on there.

  23. David Eddyshaw says:

    who in any case spoke 17C English (well-known fact) because he was God.

    Glad to see someone round here is orthodox, at least.
    Strict accuracy compels me, however, to remind everyone that God in fact speaks Welsh.

  24. David Eddyshaw says:

    I have never set up a Facebook account in the first place. I gather, however, that even this is not a completely foolproof method of avoiding having a Facebook account.

  25. David Marjanović says:

    Syagrius, the Last of the Romans.

    Old Germans bowed with age are said to stand astounded when they see you interpreting their German letters; they actually choose you for arbiter and mediator in their disputes.

    …Wait. Letters? Is that metaphorical?

  26. AJP Crown says:

    God in fact speaks Welsh
    I’m sure He does. ‘Polyglot’ is to me slightly rude-sounding – a term for choking on a parrot, maybe – but if anyone’s a polyglot it’s God. 16-17C English is merely His L1.

  27. I agree with rozele about the rabbi business, and I’m astounded about the επιούσιος problem — I had no idea it occurred only there. Weird!

    the last thing I want to do now is open a new one in order to read a Facebook link to Jesus

    No need; I quoted the entire thing.

  28. …Wait. Letters? Is that metaphorical?
    I assume that it means he was able to interpret runes and maybe even perform divination with them.

  29. J.W. Brewer says:

    If and when the Historical Jesus visited the environs of Glastonbury along with the Historical Joseph of Arimathea, presumably at least one of them would have needed to be able to converse with the locals in, if not exactly Welsh, something pre-Welsh (“Common Brittanic,” sez wikipedia), innit? Or was there some sort of non-Celtic lingua franca the locals habitually used when selling their tin to merchants from the outside world that might have sufficed?

  30. This reminds me of something odd-sounding in the Blogicarian’s “Six Degrees of Deuteronomy,” which i think has been discussed here. Of 250 AD he says: “Hebrew has ceased being anybody’s native language, though pretty recently. There are many people who can remember remember hearing Hebrew spoken by their grandparents.” Surely the third century is much too late for this situation?

  31. And surely there’s nothing odd about any Jew, let alone an Aramaic-speaking one, being able to read Hebrew phonetically and render it in their own language?

  32. Alex Foreman wrote: “The Qumran texts are formulated mostly in Hebrew not because the writers wanted to imitate the Bible, but because Hebrew was the community’s language (and their dialect was clearly quite unlike Biblical Hebrew — a fact which is obvious even when they are consciously modeling their writing on Biblical precedents).”

    I think Qumranites did also want to imitate the Bible. The “consciously modeling their writing” wording suggests an inner contradiction in the above quote. Some Qumran texts and people were Essene. In my opinion the word origin is in a Hebrew Qumran mss self-designation, the self-described true observers of Torah, ‘osey hatorah, as suggested here:
    http://people.duke.edu/~goranson/Essenes_&_Others.pdf

  33. I imagine nothing could have prevented Jews in the 1st century do what Jews in the 20th century did – just start speaking Hebrew with each other consciously striving to create Hebrew-speaking community (for religious, for example, reasons).

    After all, even though the language stopped being L1, it was still well known and passed from generation to generation via books and religious schools.

    A group like the Qumranites could have done this, they fit the type.

  34. J.W. Brewer says:

    According to the internet, the early Slavonic MSS of the Lord’s Prayer did not all agree on how to render επιούσιος, and it took some time before it stabilized as насѫщьиыи.

    But who are these “scholars” who were until recently baffled by επιούσιος on the assumption that it was the actual word that came out of the historical Jesus’ actual mouth in Greek, rather than a very early translation by the evangelists or one of their sources? That feels a bit straw-mannish to me. That it’s not immediately obvious what known-from-other-sources Aramaic word επιούσιος might have been a plausible Greek translation of strikes me as a so-what. Why do we need to know? “Philip saith unto him, Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us.” And Jesus replied (rendered more loosely) “Dude, you really haven’t been paying attention to what you’ve already seen, have you?”

  35. Lars Mathiesen says:

    At least if somebody else sets you up an F B account, The Mark will be spying on their phone and not yours.

  36. David Eddyshaw says:

    The view that Hebrew was, at this period, a dead language in any sense is out of date. Generally nowadays people posit the final death of L1-Hebrew in the 2nd or 3rd century CE

    This was what I had understood, based indeed on the Qumran texts being in a form of Hebrew which seems dialectically different from Biblical Hebrew, leading to the conclusion that it is not a learned revival language.

    I was surprised, however, to find in Holger Gzella’s Cultural History of Aramaic from 2015 (p225f)

    A major demographic change between the Neo-Babylonian and the Achaemenid period resulted in a complete shift from Hebrew to Aramaic as the dominant language in Palestine by the fourth century b.c.e. (see Section 4.3.2). This new situation is clearly reflected in the written evidence, for the substantial epigraphic record demonstrates that all economic and legal documents, including those from rural areas, were composed in Aramaic and not in Hebrew after the fifth century b.c.e.: first in the Achaemenid Official idiom and subsequently, from the second century b.c.e., in the regional forms of Aramaic. As a corollary of the linguistic shift, square script, being the local offshoot of the Achaemenid ductus, replaced the indigenous “Palaeo-Hebrew” letter forms and became the Jewish script par excellence until today. It is obviously more difficult to trace the spread of Aramaic as a vernacular in Palestine. Indirect reflexes in pre-Achaemenid Hebrew texts are still extremely limited and ambiguous (as has been discussed in Section 2.4.2). Regional varieties of Aramaic begin to appear unmistakably in the written evidence of the Hellenistic and Roman periods; since they anticipate already some distinctive traits of the Western Aramaic branch that manifests itself more clearly in the different Palestinian literary traditions of the subsequent Byzantine era, they form part of a common regional dialect matrix. The extent and nature of Aramaic influence on Hebrew, especially general vocabulary and subconscious syntactic interference, also suggests that Aramaic was now the normal means of everyday communication. Hebrew, by contrast, became confined to the production of classicizing religious literature patterned after older, pre-exilic, models, such as the biblical Books of Daniel (the final redaction of which took place around 165 b.c.e.), Nehemiah, and Chronicles. Presumably, it also served as the language of the cult and as a medium for highly technical oral discussions relating to matters of religious law, custom, and exegesis, which eventually crystallized into the Mishna some time in the third century c.e., and other Rabbinic compositions. There is, however, no evidence that it still acted as anybody’s first language, or that it enjoyed any significant popularity as a colloquial. Like the other indigenous languages of Palestine and Transjordan, none of which is known to have survived into the Hellenistic and Roman periods, it was replaced by Aramaic and Greek, at least according to a weighted and unbiased assessment of the total direct and indirect evidence currently available.

    And (p290)

    The dominant languages of later Roman Palestine until the breakthrough of Islam were thus Aramaic in its various forms and, obviously, Greek. […] Hebrew, by contrast, which had been the local language in the region from time immemorial, survived only as a medium of literary expression after the demographic changes of the Achaemenid period. The only attested exception to this is its employ, on a small scale, for everyday purposes by nationalist movements in the first two centuries c.e. While it has often been maintained during the past decades, though unconvincingly and despite much good evidence to the contrary, that Hebrew still served as a spoken language in Palestine until the second century c.e. (see Section 5.2.1), it is, at any rate, almost universally agreed now that this was no longer the case by the fourth century c.e. At that point, Jerusalem, founded afresh by Hadrian as Aelia Capitolina after the Bar-Kosiba revolt from 132 to 135 c.e., had long ceased to act as a centre of Jewish culture and religion and was soon to become a largely Christian city.

  37. I never sign in to FB on my phone, only on my computer.

  38. Lars Mathiesen says:

    I more or less did the same, before I deleted it. I’m not sure the default security is much better, but there are more tools to sandbox it.

  39. The only attested exception to this is its employ, on a small scale, for everyday purposes by nationalist movements in the first two centuries c.e.

    So Qumranite Hebrew of 1st century BC was exact counterpart to Israeli Hebrew of 20th century – language revival attempt with nationalistic motivation.

  40. I rarely sign in to FB, but do receive email teasers, and it wigs me out that shortly after speaking on the phone with someone I haven’t spoke to in a long time, I’ll often get a FB teaser for something that person has posted.

    Is FB monitoring the phone numbers I receive calls from?

  41. David Eddyshaw says:

    Disappointingly, Gzella doesn’t address the argument that Qumran and Mishnaic Hebrew supposedly differ in dialect from Biblical Hebrew, and therefore cannot be simply learned revivals of it; I think this is a major part of the reasons usually adduced for a comparatively late loss of L1 Hebrew. I just dug out my copy of Elisha Qimron’s The Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but contrary to what I dimly remembered, it doesn’t have much to say about that specifically. I must have imbibed the idea from somewhere else.

    There will be Hatters Who Know.

    Simon bar Kokhba, at least, seems to have specifically attempted to restore Hebrew as the official language of his state; referenced here:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mishnaic_Hebrew

  42. Lars Mathiesen says:

    FB has asked you for permission for a lot of innocent sounding things that in Apple’s and Google’s permissions models also allow them to monitor almost everything you do on the phone. (“Let’s group everything into 5-6 permissions bundles so users don’t get bored by the 47 permissions FB would otherwise need…”)

    I removed the FB app from my phone when it ‘helpfully’ suggested that it could assist me in using the virtual VIsa card app I had just installed. I am fully able to spend my own money without assistance, even too well able some might say.

  43. Horrifying. I’m glad my innate distrust kept me from trying it on my phone.

  44. David Marjanović says:

    Firefox now has a “Facebook Container”.

    I’ve read before that Mishnaic Hebrew was spoken natively, so that Hebrew died out in the 5th century like Gaulish, but no evidence was given.

  45. @David Eddyshaw: While the existence of a separate spoken dialect of Qumran Hebrew may suggest that it was a vernacular, rather than learned, language, it is hardly unequivocal proof. After all, nineteenth-century spoken Hebrew formed a dialect quite distinct from the Biblical version, in spite of being nobody’s L1. This is true not just in terms of pronunciation, which would be expected to drift over a two thousand year period, but also vocabulary. Of course, the Qumran speakers had only a few hundred years since the sharp decline in the the native use of Hebrew around the fourth century B.C.E., so you would not expect the Qumran dialect, learned or native, to be as divergent as modern Hebrew is from the Biblical standard.

    I doubt that we are likely to ever know for sure when the last pockets of native Hebrew finally died out. In rural areas, dying languages could sometimes hold on for a long time, even when there is quite a bit of commerce. We know that Etruscan survived into the first century C.E., because Claudius learned it from native speakers. However, he is the last documented speaker of the language, and we don’t really know how much longer it persisted in the Tuscan villages.

  46. I still wonder about Isaurian.

  47. The letters of Bar Kochba were unquestionably vernacular. They were urgent missives sent around in wartime among Hebrew speakers.

  48. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Brett:

    Sure: I’ve no axe to grind at all in this matter, and from first principles I can myself easily think of explanations other than continuity as a spoken L1 to account for any divergences between Biblical Hebrew and the language of Qumran and the Mishna. However, I’ve only the vaguest of memories about what the evidence for supposed dialect divergences actually was, so I’d be arguing in a bit of a vacuum. There must surely be Hatters out there who know more about this, though.

    It does occur to me that our way of conceptualising L1 vs L2 is itself rather culture-bound and peculiar, especially for the anglophones among us. It links to the issue we were discussing elsewhere, about authors eminent in a L2, when West Africa came up: in West Africa it’s perfectly coherent to think of English as both naturalised, yet hardly anyone’s actual L1. People from the right social strata are exposed to English at least as soon as they start school, and never learn it in the way that the hapless monoglot Brits attempt to learn French, say: they grow up speaking it. The L1/L2 division is not really absolute. (I suspect there is a whole scholarly literature about this already.) Hebrew in first-century Palestine might easily have fallen into this grey zone.

    The letters of Bar Kochba were unquestionably vernacular. They were urgent missives sent around in wartime among Hebrew speakers.

    I don’t think that follows, necessarily. Many an army uses a working language which is not the L1 of most of the troops. In fact, a number of languages have been spread that way …

  49. Hebrew was never dead in that sense then.

    Traditionally Jewish boys in Eastern Europe were exposed to Hebrew as soon as they started religious school. Not sure if it can be said that they grew up speaking Hebrew, but they certainly knew it since the entire education was based around reading original texts in Hebrew.

    An Israeli I know claimed that in his family knowledge of Hebrew was never interrupted – he and his father learned it after immigrating to Israel, his grandfather had a few years of Hebrew in Jewish religious school in Romania before Bessarabia was annexed to the USSR, his great-grandfather was a Rabbi and was fluent in Hebrew and so were all his known male ancestors before that.

  50. Owlmirror says:

    Some theological history to επιούσιος (epiousios). No conclusions reached, just referencing scholarly/ecclesiastical thought on the topic, and asking for comments. A Chaldean Rite Catholic says that the term used in that rite is “needy” bread (perhaps better expressed in English as “needful”), which is one of the options Steve Caruso raises after the paragraphs I cited above.

    Another commenter references another link:

    The interpretation of Theophylact, one of the best of the Greek fathers, has ever appeared to me to be the most correct, Αρτος επι τη ουσιᾳ και συστασει ημων αυταρκης, Bread, sufficient for our substance and support, i.e. That quantity of food which is necessary to support our health and strength, by being changed into the substance of our bodies. Its composition is of επι and ουσια, proper or sufficient for support. Mr. Wakefield thinks it probable, that the word was originally written επι ουσιαν, which coalesced by degrees, till they became the επιουσιον of the MSS.

  51. David Eddyshaw says:

    @SFReader:

    This shades into the thorny question of creoles, and what is “normal” language transmission (the idea being that you can’t properly talk about a language being a creole without evidence of disruption of normal transmission.)

    I suppose so-called “normal” transmission of language is, in reality, just one of a whole spectrum of modes of transmission that have always occurred naturally in the wild (as it were); our idea that only one mode is really authentic is probably part of the ideological reification of “language” and the complex of modern ideas that has given us our modern “nation”-based states, in which language, “race” and the political state must all be brought into alignment (by force, if necessary, and if economics won’t do the trick.)

  52. Some theological history to επιούσιος (epiousios).

    Thanks, that was an interesting read.

  53. Owlmirror says:

    I recently found an article by Alexander Beider on the missing centuries of Hebrew, explaining the archaeological/textual negative evidence on which this assessment is made:

    The Mishnah, the first portion of the oral Torah, is mainly written in Hebrew. Its compilation ended at the beginning of the 3rd century CE. After that, for several centuries, we also lose traces of Hebrew, even as a written language. In the Middle East, which included the Land of Israel and Babylonia, Aramaic, the language of the non-Jewish majority, became not only the main everyday language for Jews, but also the language in which the Gemara, the second component of the Oral tradition, was written.

    In Mediterranean Europe and various Greek colonies in Africa, Greek and later Latin became vernacular languages of local Jews. In these areas, Greek was used as the main cultural language. For example, of 534 Jewish inscriptions found in catacombs of Rome and its neighborhood, dating mainly from the 3rd- and 4th centuries CE, 76 percent are written in Greek and 23 percent in Latin. Just three inscriptions are written in Hebrew and one in Aramaic, and two are bilingual: one is written in Greek-Latin and one in Aramaic-Greek.

    Most crucially, some of the inscriptions contain direct quotes from the Greek translations of the Bible, meaning that at this time, Hebrew wasn’t even used for the regular recitation of Scripture or worship in synagogue. Similarly, Jewish tombstone inscriptions from before the 9th century in the territories of Spain, France, and Hungary are either Greek or Latin.

    Since Beider is a scholar of Jewish onomastics, he naturally points out something interesting about Jewish names as well:

    In fact, the tradition of having a Hebrew name seems to have been established only during the last centuries of the first millennium. During the first centuries CE we find very few examples of Jews having two names. Some rabbis from the 3rd-5th centuries mentioned in the Talmud bear names that are either Greek (Antigonos, Dositheos, Hyrkanos, Petros, Philippos, Theodoros, and Tryphon) or Latin (Agrippa, Drusus, Julianus, Justus, Rufus, and Titus).

    During the same period, numerous biblical names were “restored.” For example, Elijah is unknown in antiquity. No mention of the names Abraham, Asher, Dan, David, Gabriel, Gad, Isaiah, Israel, Joel, Raphael, Samson and Solomon appear in the Talmud, and only a few bearers of the names Aaron and Moses. Yet during the first centuries of the second millennium CE, many names from the above list were among the most frequently used Jewish names in the Middle East, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain.

  54. Fascinating!

  55. Steven Lubman says:

    @David Marjanović

    I wonder if it’s the same Syagrius, the king of the rump Roman state of Soissons, ultimus Romanorum, or a different one.

  56. J.W. Brewer says:

    The “give us this day our ??? bread” line is often said to echo or allude to the end of Prov. 30:8, which comes out in recent English translations from the Hebrew MT as anything from “daily bread” to “my allotted portion of bread” to “the food that is needful for me” to “enough food for each day” and many other variant wordings; there’s one first-order split between “food” and “bread” (I assume the Hebrew lexeme has both a broader sense and a narrower sense) and then second-order variation about how that food/bread is characterized. Here’s a largeish collection:
    https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Proverbs%2030:8

    So it seems like knowing how the LXX characterized the food/bread in Greek might be very useful, right? Except as it turns out the LXX, presumably because it was working from a differently-worded version of the Hebrew, doesn’t specifically mention either food or bread, but is rather more abstract: “σύνταξον δέ μοι τὰ δέοντα καὶ τὰ αὐτάρκη.” Brenton has that as “but appoint me what is needful and sufficient” and NETS as “but order what is necessary and sufficient for me.” So there’s no illumination from that quarter.

  57. “_the_ historical Jesus” — that’s a big assumption there, assuming that Jesus is based on a historical person. I like speculation about which languages he might have spoken, but it’s also dependent on what kind of historical Jesus you reconstruct. I’m more partial to the “not based in any relevant way on an historical person” theory, but I like to speculate none the less about what a person with a certain reconstructed life story might have sopken.

  58. J.W. Brewer says:

    Of course if we’re going to speculate, there’s no reason to stop at trilingual. There must be other languages that at least a few Judeans of Jesus’ time and assumed social-class/occupational niche spoke beyond Hebrew/Aramaic/Greek w/o any need for supernatural or highly improbable reasons. Even leaving Latin (and Old Brittanic) aside, there were other Semitic languages spoken comparatively nearby that a given individual might plausibly have picked up in some sort of travel or work context – Phoenician was not yet completely extinct in the Levant; e.g. the Nabataeans are thought to have spoken some version of Arabic even if they mostly wrote their inscriptions in Aramaic. Slightly further afield in Afro-Asiatic terms, one can certainly accept the possibility of the Historical Jesus having spent some of his boyhood in Egypt even w/o an angelic instruction to flee there, which would have afforded some opportunity to pick up some Old Coptic, which might or might not have been retained in adulthood. Etc.

    Obviously Historical Jesus doesn’t *need* fluency in any of these additional languages in order to satisfactorily account for anything Historical-Jesus fans will likely feel needs to be accounted for, but that’s the thing. Most ordinary human beings are more complex and many-faceted than whatever absolute bare minimum set of things about them would need to be true to plausibly account for whatever particular significant (and somehow determined to be historical rather than mythologized) incidents about them someone feels driven to try to account for.

  59. John Cowan says:

    Or was there some sort of non-Celtic lingua franca the locals habitually used when selling their tin to merchants from the outside world that might have sufficed?

    British Vulgar Latin, surely. The Latin substrate in Welsh establishes that it was an L1 for many.

    IIRC, Jewish males began to be taught Hebrew starting at age three, which puts it well within the upper limit of L1 acquisition.

  60. J.W. Brewer says:

    JC, but would BritVulgLat have already been a thing for trading purposes even before the Roman conquest during the reign of Claudius, which is some decades after Jesus’ posited youthful visit to Glastonbury? The trading routes connecting Cornwall to the Holy Land substantially predated even the suckling of Romulus/Remus by that she-wolf, although no doubt the ethnicity and language of those handling the Atlantic part of the route shifted over the centuries.

    https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/19/uk/cornwall-tin-israel-intl-scli-gbr/index.html

  61. @David:
    but would his father’s welsh would’ve been useful after he moved to provence?
    or were the celts already acculturated enough that he’d’ve needed to pick up some early kind of romance (or basque?) there?

    Αρτος επι τη ουσιᾳ και συστασει ημων αυταρκης, Bread, sufficient for our substance and support, i.e. That quantity of food which is necessary to support our health and strength

    this sounds like the word should be equivalent to “shiur” – the minimum required quantity for ritual validity, which is used to indicate measurements of food (e.g. how much matzo fulfills the commandment to eat matzo on passover). which would be exactly the kind of elaborate punning reference that a heterodox communist teacher would make…

    @SFReader / David / Owlmirror:

    i’m excited to read that article by beider – he’s usually quite solid (though i do trust manaster ramer & other non-weinreichians’ critiques of his conclusions about the origins of yiddish).

    but the important point is this, i think: it’s not that there was a moment when the use of some form of hebrew completely disappeared in all jewish communities. but what varieties of hebrew were used, what they were used for, and what communities used them all changed hugely over time. enough so that the big category of ‘hebrew’ really isn’t useful for anything.

    biblical hebrew, mishnaic hebrew, medieval hebrew, 19thC literary hebrew, and contemporary israeli are all very different things, with different histories, geographies, and uses within those histories and geographies. they have enough temporal overlap of use that they can’t be easily considered as stages of one language (on the anagenetic evolutionary model of old -> middle -> modern english). and they are discontinuous enough that the one empirical test i’ve read about (zuckermann’s biblical hebrew comprehension test on israeli-speakers) basically disproves the notion of ‘revival’ as a useful framework for talking about their relationships.

  62. I’m sure Jesus spoke proto-Basque-Yeniseyan.

  63. Doubts about historicity of Jesus essentially require conspiracy theory.

    For example, that Paul the Apostle invented Jesus. Everything. Including even existence of Jesus. It’s all a deliberate fabrication. A prank.

    Such conspiracy theory would be hard to refute – after all Paul and his disciples were the main source of information about Christ for diaspora (competing Jewish Christians conveniently disappeared during the Great Revolt).

    Absent that, if we do accept that Paul was not deliberately lying (I hope you don’t have doubts about historicity of Paul) then it is difficult to understand how Jesus myth could have arisen.

    After all, first letters of Paul are dated around 50 AD and his personal involvement in Christianity starts from 33 AD, only days after Jesus’ death and resurrection. He is very close to being an eyewitness.

    So, it’s very simple – either Jesus was invented wholesale by Paul or he was a historic person. There is simply no time for a myth to arise naturally.

  64. Paul does not, in his letters, refer to Jesus as a historical person, only as a deity. Can we keep it to what languages that hypothetical person might have spoken?

  65. David Eddyshaw says:

    Paul does not, in his letters, refer to Jesus as a historical person

    He does, unless you also think “crucifixion” is some sort of metaphor. (1 Cor 2:8.)

  66. David Eddishaw: it mentions crucifixion? You think that has something to do with Christianity? Wow, are you not fucking entitled. Took me ten minutes which you could have saved me with a simple link.Tip: I was not raised with the same branch of Christianity that you were.

    I don’t mean to be confrontational, but you’re doing your best to piss me off; I assume unintentionally.

  67. David Marjanović says:

    He does, unless you also think “crucifixion” is some sort of metaphor. (1 Cor 2:8.)

    He insists on having learned about all of this only through revelation, neither by witnessing it nor by being told about it.

  68. David Eddyshaw says:

    @DM:

    Sure; in fact he makes quite a thing of not being an eye-witness, at least (as he puts it himself) in the normal sense.

    I’m not indulging in apologetics here; all I meant was that his reference to crucifixion surely implies a historical person. Only people get crucified. He might, of course, have been mistaken: but that’s a different issue.

  69. Mr Eddishaw is well known for doing his best, always unintentionally.

  70. David Eddyshaw says:

    Video meliora, proboque; deteriora sequor.

    This Eddishaw cove is entirely blameless, and I wouldn’t want him to get caught in the fallout. I expect his branch of the family changed the spelling for a reason.

  71. Paul also refers to the brother of the lord, which people have spent millennia doing contortions to avoid reading as written. (The issue there was obviously not whether Jesus was a bodily human, but it is amusing that one of Paul’s other references to Jesus, the man, has been found objectionable for other reasons.)

  72. David Eddyshaw says:

    Good point. I’d forgotten that one.

  73. Owlmirror says:

    Doubts about historicity of Jesus essentially require conspiracy theory.

    Not necessarily.

    One of the things that makes me at least grant the plausibility of Jesus mythicism is the presence of Messianism in Judaism dating back centuries before Jesus, and among those who were influenced by Judaism (Gnostics and similar mystics). While the narrow sense of “messiah” is the anointed son of a particular monarchical line, the broader sense of “messiah” is that person (or persons) whom God will send to repair or end the problems of the world, or as part of repairing or ending the problems of the world (or as part of ending the world).

    There is no explicit, specific dogma of a Messiah (other than that a messiah will come or be sent by God), which is why Sabbatai Zevi and the Lubavacher Rebbi could be claimed to be the messiah, each in their respective times. Closer to the time of Jesus, there is the book of Daniel, which combines a messiah-figure with lots of other eschatological imagery and prophecy. So the idea that various ideas about a messiah who was a sacrificial figure had already been propagated to other communities before the first century, and Paul was addressing people who already knew about some of these ideas, and trying to convince them that he had had a spiritual encounter with this messiah and should therefore be accepted as an authority, doesn’t seem too nonsensical. I’m not 100% certain that it makes sense, but I’m more ambivalent than either accepting or rejecting the idea.

    A book that was useful to me to make explicit the multiplicity of ideas about the messiah(s) was “Judaisms and their Messiahs”, edited by Jacob Neusner

    Oh, and I also think it’s at least possible that even if Jesus were mythical, the proponents of this Messianic myth (or some of the aspects thereof) that went into the Gospels could have been Galilean, so why not talk about the Galilean Aramaic of Jesus (or “Jesus”, as the case may be)?

  74. Paul also refers to the brother of the lord, which people have spent millennia doing contortions to avoid reading as written.

    Wait … Same mother? same father? (then who?)

    Or not co-sanguine brother but merely in the sense of comrade/fellow?

    (This is being a fascinating thread. It’s generating too much ‘homework’ for me to keep up.)

  75. David Marjanović says:

    Only people get crucified.

    …Yes, but that’s people in more like the Star Trek sense.

    There’s the old, old tale of Osiris being murdered by his brother Seth, who hacks him to pieces and scatters them all over Egypt. His sister-and-wife Isis finds all the pieces, puts them back together, *ahem* sits down on Osiris, gets pregnant (that’s Horus), and then resurrects him. And that’s why Osiris rules over the underworld, why he’s in charge of the circle of life (to the point of being green) and so on.

    By Hellenistic times, that was too simple for more Gnostically-minded people, who came up with a more spiritual-mystical version: Osiris is continually being sacrificed and resurrected, not in Egypt, but in a place that conforms to Greek philosophy by being a compromise between the spheres of the celestial bodies, where material bodies cannot exist and cannot be hacked to pieces, and the too lowly matter of the Earth – so, high up in the air somewhere.

    What if the preexisting Son of God was thought to be incarnated, crucified and resurrected in such a way before Mark used him as the ideal hero in his anti-Homeric anti-epic?

  76. Doubts about historicity of Jesus essentially require conspiracy theory.

    For example, that Paul the Apostle invented Jesus.

    If it was Paul alone, then there’s no conspiracy: all his own work. Or are you hypothesising that after Paul made it up, he then conspired with others, who all knew it was made up, to promulgate the myth?

    I see nothing in this thread, nor in previous threads over the same ground, against an explanation that Paul and the gospel-writers gathered together various stories/myths to suit their propaganda purposes. Then historicity is preserved in that there were many ‘Jesuses’; perhaps some of them were even named ‘Jesus’.

    And it still makes sense to ask what languages these Jesuses spoke. Indeed if there were many people, that would rather neatly explain how much of a polyglot they were. [Trying that sentence out for acceptability in a strongly-marked context.]

  77. What surprises me in mysticists theorists the most is the question why. It is so much easier for there to be a charismatic leader of a group of believers who died young, but the followers carried on and became the Christian church. This is way, way easier than Mark inventing some mesh up of Osiris, Dionysus, and Odysseus and everyone just saying “yay!”

  78. Glancing at the early non-Christian sources mentioning Jesus, I find it hard to deny that not only was he historical, but that he was also fairly unique, since no other Judean religious rabble-rousers from that time are recorded as much as him.

    I think that a historical explanation is straightforward and plausible. An invention by Paul is neither.

  79. AntC: Wait … Same mother? same father? (then who?)

    Those questions are precisely why there have been two thousands of years of contortions to attempt to avoid the obvious reading.

  80. who died young, but the followers carried on and became the Christian church.

    Normally, after such inglorious death of their leader they should scatter and movement would die in infancy.

    It didn’t happen.

    The answer lies, of course, in Resurrection.

    A few days after crucifixion, something happened which made Jesus followers true believers willing to die for their beliefs and able to persuade everyone who listened that they indeed were witnesses to something highly unusual.

    The most materialistic explanation I’ve read was very early (after few hours) clinical death of Jesus during crucifixion followed by recovery when he was being prepared for burial.

    According to Wiki people with near-death-experiences report the following:
    A sense/awareness of being dead.[4]
    A sense of peace, well-being and painlessness. Positive emotions. A sense of removal from the world.[4]
    An out-of-body experience. A perception of one’s body from an outside position, sometimes observing medical professionals performing resuscitation efforts.[4][17]
    A “tunnel experience” or entering a darkness. A sense of moving up, or through, a passageway or staircase.[4][17]
    A rapid movement toward and/or sudden immersion in a powerful light (or “Being of Light”) which communicates with the person.[18]
    An intense feeling of unconditional love and acceptance.[19]
    Encountering “Beings of Light”, “Beings dressed in white”, or similar. Also, the possibility of being reunited with deceased loved ones.[4][17]
    Receiving a life review, commonly referred to as “seeing one’s life flash before one’s eyes”.[4]
    Approaching a border or a decision by oneself or others to return to one’s body, often accompanied by a reluctance to return.[4][17]
    Suddenly finding oneself back inside one’s body.[20]
    Connection to the cultural beliefs held by the individual, which seem to dictate some of the phenomena experienced in the NDE and particularly the later interpretation thereof.[15]

    This is what Jesus was like when he talked to astonished disciples after resurrection.

    No wonder they became true believers.

    Obviously Jesus didn’t fully recover and died from his wounds some days after resurrection which was interpreted by the Church as Ascension. In reality, I think he was buried somewhere outside of Jerusalem.

    Maybe some Indiana Jones will find Jesus tomb one day.

  81. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    The L1/L2 division is not really absolute.

    I find the terms artificial difficult to apply to individual cases. My L1 is clearly English, and my wife’s L1 is equally clearly Spanish. What about our daughter however? She spent her first months in a mainly English environment, but she heard Spanish every day, not only from her birth but even before, as my wife talked to her a lot when she was still in utero. Then she spent 15 months in Chile and heard mainly Spanish. When she came back to England at the age of 3 she was speaking Spanish, but she switched to English in a matter of weeks. When she was 3 1/2 we spent two days driving across France, at time when both my French and my wife’s were pretty basic. During that trip she said something to my wife in Spanish and then said exactly the same to me in English, making it clear that she already understood, without being told, which language belonged to which parent. After that we continued to use English and Spanish at home, but she was more and more exposed to French, and had all her education in French. She now speaks all three effortlessly, but French is what she uses the most. So which is her L1?

  82. I’m referring to non-Christian sources. If there were other prominent rabble-rousers, Josephus/Suetonius/Tacitus/the Mishna would have mentioned them as prominently.

  83. [That’s weird: my comment below seems to have disappeared, so I’m reposting. Hat please delete if there’s a double-up. I think Y’s latest comment is replying to it.]

    since no other Judean religious rabble-rousers from that time are recorded as much as him.

    The lack of record is easily explained, going by the ‘What if’ that David M links to: There were no contemporaneous records of any specific rabble-rousers, neither identifiably Jesus nor identifiably not-Jesus. After all, Jesus and his immediate followers were illiterate; Paul never met ‘him’. After the death of whichever person/people the Jesus myths got attached to (although Doherty argues there was none such, and Carrier can’t disagree with him), the Pauline sectarians ruthlessly suppressed all other sects.

    Now the suppression we do have record of, so we know those contrary narratives existed even if we don’t know what they said:

    From very early on Christianity was wracked with bitter ideological disputes and competing sects with conflicting claims. Even the letters of Paul are full of references to his opponents and the desperate struggles he had with them to maintain control of his own congregations.

    Every Patristic historian remarks on how regularly the surviving (“orthodox”) literature of the second and third centuries slanders opponents with exaggerated or even false charges, how they employed shunning and other acts of social intimidation rather than open debate, and how routinely complaints are heard of forged texts and other tools of deception in the ranks. Numerous extant orthodox works have been proven to be forgeries, and even many canonical texts are universally agreed to be dubious. There is also an endless record of persistent ideological doctoring of the canonical texts from the earliest dates …

    So it might have been that the true records got branded as forgeries, and suppressed; whereas it’s the surviving “orthodoxies” that are the forgeries — and that would explain why the “orthodox” is so full of contradictions: it’s difficult to persist with a lie.

    Carrier introduces these observations with Most analogies break down due to the unusual nature of early Christian history. The tactic seems not at all unusual to me: the Bolsheviks suppressing the Mensheviks (even those two names are lies: the Bolsheviks were never the majority until they killed off the opposition); Stalin suppressing opposition and recasting Lenin’s legacy; having Trotsky killed.

    Another remark from Carrier seems applicable: Devout Christians have the most reason to be alarmed at this [politicking/suppression]: a church that engages in murder, slander, deceit, compulsion, and intimidation could not plausibly be inspired by the Holy Spirit.

    Murder, slander, deceit, compulsion, intimidation seems a pretty accurate description of most of the history of Organised Christianity.

    A propos this thread, I think the original question becomes something more like: what languages did Paul speak?; or at least what languages/cultures/doctrines/mythologies was he aware of, that he could work into his “orthodoxy”?

  84. @Y I’m referring to non-Christian sources.

    Sorry Y, but those are Roman sources, all dated to after Paul’s politicking was well under way. Indeed they’re all dated after the Great Fire of Rome 64 AD. We know there were already Christians in Rome by that time, because Nero (falsely) accused them of starting the fire — as scapegoats.

    I believe I’m right in saying all those sources have been discredited as derivative and not independently verified by non-Christians. (What would have helped there would be Roman administrative records either of the census that forced Joseph & Mary to Bethlehem; or of Pilate’s dealings with a trouble-maker. But the whole crucifixion story is so nakedly politicking to shift blame from the Romans to the Jews — that is, if it was ever one of the Jesuses that got crucified.)

    I wish I could cite references to that discrediting, but (full disclosure) I got it from Hitchens.

  85. Athel,
    Likewise my daughter, only Norwegian instead of Spanish and no French, sadly. She spent her first three months in New York and then she was in Norway and first went to England at three, I think. But she picked up both languages (her mother and I spoke to each other in English) at roughly the same rate. I don’t believe she has one L1, though aged 27 she’s more at home in Norway than in England where she’s studied for 7 yrs & the US; she can do American accents.

  86. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    her mother and I spoke to each other in English

    Yes, I should have made that point. When I first met my wife she could speak English and I couldn’t speak Spanish, so, of course, we spoke to each other in English; most of the time we still do. After we came to France our daughter expanded her vocabulary very fast, simultaneously in the three languages.

  87. David Eddyshaw says:

    Those questions are precisely why there have been two thousands of years of contortions to attempt to avoid the obvious reading

    It’s actually only a problem if you are committed to the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary; this is Catholic doctrine (and does seem to have been established by the fifth century) but it is not part of most Protestant beliefs, for the exact reason that it does indeed seem to be clearly contradicted by the obvious reading of the New Testament.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perpetual_virginity_of_Mary

  88. David Eddyshaw says:

    I believe I’m right in saying all those sources have been discredited as derivative and not independently verified by non-Christians

    Tacitus’ reference to the Crucifixion, and his references to Christianity in general, have been asserted to be later Christian interpolations to beef up the the verisimilitude of the deception, though without any actual evidence, just on first principles: they would have to be.

    I can’t see the point of arguing that the passages are forgeries, myself, given that T would presumably have to have been relying (seventy years later) on sources which ultimately relied on Christian materials anyhow. It seems unnecessarily complicated.

    If they’re forgeries they’re very well done. Read ’em and see.

    Incidentally, I note from Wikipedia that there have been serious efforts to maintain that all of Tacitus is a forgery. Radical, man.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annals_(Tacitus)#Provenance_and_authenticity

  89. Those questions [of Jesus’ brothers] are precisely why there have been two thousands of years of contortions to attempt to avoid the obvious reading

    It’s actually only a problem if you are committed to the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary;

    There’s a variety of explanations here, which don’t necessarily impugn Mary’s perpetual virginity.

    Joseph had been married before and had many children by that marriage.

    The word translated into Koine Greek thence to English as ‘brother’ could equally mean ‘cousin’ or ‘half-brother’ — that is, in Aramaic.

    OTOH the whole topic got mired in C 2nd/3rd politicking, I’m like who gives a fuck? Mary (or rather whoever were the women that gave birth to the Jesuses, if any) weren’t virgins anyway.

    My earlier surprise was really: how could I, the winner of so many Scripture Knowledge awards never have been told Jesus had brothers?

  90. PlasticPaddy says:

    @AntC
    What are the arguments for the (common) assertion that a historical Jesus must have been illiterate? Could the same arguments be used to “prove” Socrates (or Buddha or even Mohammed) was illiterate?

  91. David Eddyshaw says:

    Muhammad himself claimed to be illiterate (as an argument in favour of the divine inspiration of the Qur’aan.)
    Can’t say fairer than that.

    The matter is (however) not altogether straightforward, as the unequivocal statements are Hadith, rather than in the Qur’aan itself:

    https://wikiislam.net/wiki/Muhammad_and_illiteracy

  92. In my view, the fact that there were already Christians in Rome in 64 AD, and Tacitus mentioning Jesus and his crucifixion, are good reasons to assume that there is a historical person behind the beliefs; a charismatic leader who made bold claims and was executed for making trouble. Now, Tacitus’s source were probably Christians or protocols of interrogation of Christians, so he isn’t an independent source, but it shows that core teachings about Jesus’s life were established already about 30 years after the date usually given for his death, which means during a time when many original witnesses were still alive. I find it highly unlikely that such a story about a totally made up person would have been successful; distortion of and invention of facts and quotes, yes, merging of things other religious figures said and did into his biography, yes, adding miracles and a resurrection, yes, but I don’t think it very likely that all this happened without at least the core of a historical person to accrue around.

  93. What are the arguments for the (common) assertion that a historical Jesus must have been illiterate?

    From the ‘What if’ that DavidM linked to:

    Certainly, there is a General AfS [Argument from Silence] to be made regarding Jesus. For many other famous men who walked the earth we know at least the titles of books that were written by and about them while they were still alive or very shortly after their deaths. Philosophers like Socrates, Epicurus, Chrysippus, or Musonius Rufus, leaders like Pericles, Ptolemy, Augustus, or Herod the Great, even holy men like Empedocles or Apollonius. All had things written about them in their own day, and wrote things themselves.

    One could say that Jesus was an insignificant, illiterate, itinerant preacher with a tiny following, who went wholly unnoticed by any literate person in Judaea….

    So I’m just repeating a common assertion. Does anything turn on it, in the case of Jesus? The thread is about what he spoke.

    The thing with Buddha or Confucius or Lao-Tze or Mazu or nearly any (semi-)divines outside of the religions of the God of Abraham is that the figurehead is a cipher or a source for inspiration. No followers really assert the figure existed or didn’t exist; therefore the question of their particular earthly attributes doesn’t arise.

    Doherty’s ‘Argument to Ahistoricity’ is that Paul’s epistles (the earliest documents of Christianity) also talked of Jesus as a cipher, existing somewhere between heaven and earth/God and man. It’s the Gospels (written much later) that started nailing Jesus to corporeal existence, and to crucifixions, as part of the politicking of a Religion now needing to assert its power in a Roman world.

  94. My earlier surprise was really: how could I, the winner of so many Scripture Knowledge awards never have been told Jesus had brothers?

    Seems like very inefficient way of learning.

    Isn’t it easier just read the Gospels?

    They are not that long and this information is there, in black and white, in several places even, so you wouldn’t miss.

  95. David Marjanović says:

    What surprises me in mysticists theorists the most is the question why. It is so much easier for there to be a charismatic leader of a group of believers who died young, but the followers carried on and became the Christian church. This is way, way easier than Mark inventing some mesh up of Osiris, Dionysus, and Odysseus and everyone just saying “yay!”

    It doesn’t seem to be – based on what is known about the whole period and what is and isn’t in the oldest Christian documents (Mark is not particularly early among them).

    The developments of this issue since 2002 (the date of the book review I cited) fills several books and a whole blog. Notably, it has been possible to come up with scenarios that require very, very little actual forgery – just people writing down what they actually believed, based on their understanding and misunderstanding of earlier sources & events.

    So which is her L1?

    She’s got two. She’s reelio-trulio bilingual.

    We know there were already Christians in Rome by that time, because Nero (falsely) accused them of starting the fire — as scapegoats.

    Technically we don’t know if the accusation was false; some have speculated that some sort of Christians may have tried to help the Apocalypse along (a widespread pastime among American fundamentalists today, except they go after geopolitics instead of torching a single city).

    But the simplest explanation remains of course a simple accident.

  96. Isn’t it easier just read the Gospels?

    No. I was at a tender age in Baptist Sunday School. We don’t want young minds getting befuddled by reading original sources.

    They might start asking awkward questions about (for example) virgin births. And we don’t want to explain what a virgin is: that’s sex education, not Sunday School.

    And we don’t want to have to explain the age difference between Joseph and Mary. And we don’t want to go into Joseph being previously married, because marriage is lifelong commitment. And Mary is to be preserved pristine, with no carnal relations.

    Could I have read the Gospels after reaching an age of seniority? By then I’d had a guts-full of lies and hypocrisy. And there was a whole wonderful world of literature.

  97. AC-B: most of the time we still do.
    When it’s just the two of us I use English and my wife replies in Norwegian. Despite her English vocabulary being huge and her grammar & accent nearly perfect, she sometimes gets tired of speaking in English whereas my daughter of course never does.

  98. David Marjanović says:

    the fact that there were already Christians in Rome in 64 AD, and Tacitus mentioning Jesus and his crucifixion, are good reasons to assume that there is a historical person behind the beliefs

    That much is equally compatible with Doherty-style mysticism: the crucified Son of God had long been predicted from Scripture and had recently become known through visions to Paul.

    No followers really assert the figure existed or didn’t exist

    Except for Confucius, who has a large number of (for what that’s worth) universally agreed living descendants, including many in the direct male line.

  99. the (common) assertion that a historical Jesus must have been illiterate
    What I want to know is what sort of carpentry he did, was he any good and did he have views on art and architecture? I suppose he might have been able to foresee and explain the causes of Modernism but no one would have understood the point of it (one or two Romans might have).

  100. AntC, your Baptist Sunday school was very different from mine. I was even taught who (according to the text at least) wrote the Epistle of James. What were you taught about that, for heaven’s sake? I certainly begin to understand why you detest religion so much.

    As for the historicity of Jesus, Ernst Bloch (never a Baptist) suggested this experiment: Read the Gospels in the reverse order of what’s usually regarded as their order of composition: John, Luke, Matthew, Mark. You seem to get closer and closer to a real human being. If Jesus were a myth from the get-go, why would this pattern exist?

  101. From the ‘What if’ that DavidM linked to

    So the argument is that if he didn’t write any books he must have been illiterate? Then there have been very few literate people indeed throughout all times and lands, including today.

  102. I find it highly unlikely that such a story about a totally made up person would have been successful;

    Would you prefer totally made up stories involving real persons? From the ‘What if’ review

    Jim Jones amassed over a thousand followers (and convinced them all to kill themselves), and Rastafarianism and Mormonism grew to the thousands with adherents in dozens of cities around the world, each in less than a decade.

    And that was all post-Enlightenment. I find nothing ‘highly unlikely’ about the credulousness of some religious adherents.

    Anyhoo, we don’t need to resolve the question whether Jesus was a cipher or a flesh-and-blood historical figure to consider what language(s) somebody in that milieu would have spoken — or would need to have spoken to communicate in the ways required by the New Testament stories. We don’t need to resolve whether literate, because there’s no claim of literacy, nor any claims of extant writings.

    Or are we to credit ‘Jesus writing on the ground’ in the case of the Woman taken in Adultery? What language would that have been in?

  103. the Epistle of James. What were you taught about that, for heaven’s sake?

    I guess I’d ‘dropped out’ before then: it seemed such a waste of a big chunk of the weekend.

    I certainly begin to understand why you detest religion so much.

    Specifically, it’s the religions of the God of Abraham I detest. I can’t bring myself to submit to Buddhism (for example), but I don’t detest it. Hinduism seems to be a great deal of fun with all those funky gods.

    And wrt Christianity to begin with, it was from lack of inspiration that I drifted away. Only much later with the uncovering of systematic abuse entailed in Organised Christianity, and through personal contacts with those abused did I grow to detest it, and reflect that Sunday School had been along the same continuum. A kind of slow anti-Christian revelation.

  104. Anyhoo, we don’t need to resolve the question whether Jesus was a cipher or a flesh-and-blood historical figure to consider what language(s) somebody in that milieu would have spoken — or would need to have spoken to communicate in the ways required by the New Testament stories.

    That’s exactly why I originally skipped the second part of the FB post.

  105. Or are we to credit ‘Jesus writing on the ground’ in the case of the Woman taken in Adultery? What language would that have been in?

    That’s a wandering story found in various places (or not at all) in various MSS. But it does indicate somebody thought he could write. As for the question, I don’t know.

  106. David Eddyshaw says:

    The absence of the episode in the oldest MSS has been a useful pretext for some “Bible-believing” Christians who would rather not take on board the relevant lesson. They develop a sudden fondness for textual criticism at that point.

  107. That much is equally compatible with Doherty-style mysticism: the crucified Son of God had long been predicted from Scripture and had recently become known through visions to Paul.
    Individual points can be made compatible with anything. The question is how the whole story hangs together. The story told in Acts makes sense – there was a small cult in Jerusalem and the neighboring region, in which Paul inserted himself and which he took over to a big degree and made it into an organisation that became a world-spanning religion. If he totally made up the cult founder and the existence of the cult before his time, why tell a story about him persecuting it and then converting? One might find reasons for that as well, but for me that looks very much like arguing things away, because it’s important to the arguer fit some reason that no historical core to the figure of Jesus ever existed.

  108. And that was all post-Enlightenment. I find nothing ‘highly unlikely’ about the credulousness of some religious adherents
    Me neither. But it’s easier to make people believe in mystical stuff, or in things that happened long ago or far away, or in prophecies. But I find it much easier to believe that Paul latched on to an existing small cult venerating an executed leader than that he made up the existence of that cult and that leader.

  109. Elisha Qimron’s The Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls was mentioned above; I assume that was the 1986 edition (which I don’t have at hand), as his revised 2018 volume is A Grammar of the Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls. From page 35 of the revised ed. : “It has been claimed that DSS Hebrew occasionally uses archaistic features [footnote: For instance, Kutscher, Isaiah, p. 327] Some archaistic features are also sporadically used in one scroll or another. But when such features are used exclusively in most of the DSS, this should be viewed as reflecting the spoken language rather than an archaistic usage….”

  110. when such features are used exclusively in most of the DSS, this should be viewed as reflecting the spoken language rather than an archaistic usage

    Why, for heaven’s sake? Sounds to me like a stylistic choice made to make a written language sound impressive.

  111. If it’s consistent, it’s likely to reflect the spoken language, since it’s impossible to maintain consistency if you’re just sprinkling in archaic forms when they occur to you. (This is one of the ways we know the Lay of the Host of Igor is authentic rather than a late forgery.)

  112. J.W. Brewer says:

    Don’t lots of languages have a special “formal-religious-stuff” register which is full of archaisms compared to the default register and have some speakers (esp those who are unusually pious or in positions of religious readership) who are fluent enough in it to code-switch into it and be internally consistent, even though they speak otherwise when in informal/secular contexts? Why couldn’t that have been the case in the community that generated the DSS?

  113. David Eddyshaw says:

    I have indeed only got the 1986 version, which is basically just Qimron’s PhD thesis.

    Does the new version actually give examples of consistently archaistic features?

    It’s difficult to see how a consistent archaism is evidence of a persistent contemporary spoken language, unless you are in fact assuming that the “archaism” in fact only perished in the old High Language, but survived in a different dialect, which is what contemporaries were speaking. In fact, too call these “archaisms” is then completely misleading: they are features of the contemporary language which have been wrongly introduced by scribes into their version of the High Language. (I think that is in fact what Qimron is saying.)

    To be completely confident that that was in fact what was happening, the “archaisms” would need to be wrongly used.

    An analogy might be Yorkshiremen, the last surviving speakers of English (it may yet happen) projecting 2sg “tha” into their religious works under the guise of “thou/thee.” This would be evidence of a contemporary Yorkshire spoken English if they got it wrong, for example by writing “thee goes” instead of “thou goest.” If they only ever wrote “thou goest”, it might only mean that they were good scholars of the Authorised Version, and would have no bearing on whether English was extinct or not. Similarly, if they only wrote “you go”, it would reflect only their sectarian allegiance to the school which canonised the Revised New English Bible. Only mistakes would be relevant evidence. Consistent forms prove nothing at all about the speech of the scribes.

  114. The question is how the whole story hangs together.

    You’ll have to go and read the Doherty book for yourself. And the later books and blogs.

    “makes sense” and “much easier to believe” might be persuasive for somebody who already believes. My expectation when it comes to religious belief is that “makes sense” is counter-productive: they want you to swallow impossible things, the bigger and impossibler the better, until all critical faculties have deserted you.

    I’m pretty ‘meh’ as to whether there was one or several or no historical figures. It pales into insignificance compared to the volume of forgeries and propaganda for which there’s far more concrete evidence.

    And we can still ask what language(s) such figure(s) spoke/needed to speak, whether the figure was fact or fiction or something in between.

  115. >But I find it much easier to believe that Paul latched on to an existing small cult venerating an executed leader than that he made up the existence of that cult and that leader.

    Paul was so good he managed to be a charismatic cult leader across the Mediterranean, via letters! He has to be classed as the most charismatic writer in the history of humanity, tapping into his zeitgeist as no other, a zeitgeist that was oddly drab, drawn initially to bureaucratic missives. Paul conjured congregations in multiple cities into existence with the written word. And he did it all in a way that was appealing across the identity boundaries of his day. He either recruited contemporary disciples local to the area where “Jesus” had not lived because there was none, and taught them to speak of a real Jesus convincingly, and fan out across the Mediterranean; or he invented the idea of disciples and wrote about them, leaving the people in the churches they “founded” to wonder why they’d never met.

    In fact, I’d posit that Paul was godlike, perhaps even god himself, or the son of god, or made god by that blinding light on the roadway, and that he crafted this other character Jesus, lest people get lost in worship of Paul and lose the message. Even the scale of Paul’s humility, in creating a god-figure at a time when others were simply self-proclaiming as god, is an attribute of god, and proof of his true identity.

    It would be enough to make me a Paulian.

    Except that I have another theory. What languages did the historical Paul speak? Meh! There was no such figure. He was invented by the church as a way of pulling people away from the teachings of the historical Jesus.

  116. David Eddyshaw says:

    [Paul] was invented by the church as a way of pulling people away from the teachings of the historical Jesus

    A view which (more or less) has appealed to many over the years …
    An early proponent of pretty much that very use of Paul was

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcion_of_Sinope

  117. @AntC: Maybe I’ll read Doherty if I find the time.
    Just to avoid any misunderstandings, I don’t believe in god (or in Jesus being his son and the savior). But I have good friends who do and I have been engaged in discussions like this about the historicity of events in the Bible for a long time. What arguments I have seen and read up to now on Jesus having no historical core seem to me based on an approach “some things in the scriptures are clearly factually wrong, so everything in there must be factually wrong”. For some people it’s not enough that Jesus just was a mortal preacher who was neither god’s son nor the savior, it’s necessary that he didn’t exist at all. The arguments supporting such an opinion I have seen up to now didn’t convince me; often they remind me more of modern conspiracy theorists than anything else.

  118. David Marjanović says:

    As for the historicity of Jesus, Ernst Bloch (never a Baptist) suggested this experiment: Read the Gospels in the reverse order of what’s usually regarded as their order of composition: John, Luke, Matthew, Mark. You seem to get closer and closer to a real human being. If Jesus were a myth from the get-go, why would this pattern exist?

    Is that so? I’d rather place Peak Human in Luke, the best-told story. In Matthew, Jesus is explicitly stated again and again to be doing all sorts of random insignificant shit just to fulfill randomly picked half-sentences of Scripture; very distracting. Mark’s Jesus is the one with the most human flaws, but he’s also the one most firmly squeezed into the mold of Odysseus…

    Hinduism seems to be a great deal of fun with all those funky gods.

    Somebody once subscribed me to a mailing list of Vedānta creationists. They’re no fun at all, every bit as dour as the less flashy American fundies.

    The story told in Acts makes sense –

    Acts is amazingly similar to the novels of the time – I’ll try to find my long-forgotten source for this, but a few novels from the time are preserved, and they have all the same story elements as Acts. The story clearly has an ax to grind in the conflict between Peter and Paul.

    If he totally made up the cult founder and the existence of the cult before his time, why tell a story about him persecuting it and then converting?

    Sorry for the misunderstanding. To the best of my knowledge, nobody (at least of the more recent mythicists) has claimed that Paul invented Jesus. Instead, the claim is that a preexisting Son of God cum Messiah, sacrificed and resurrected, had long been predicted from hermeneutic readings of Scripture (as was fashionable at the time) and was a tradition with Essene roots; the “Church in Jerusalem” around Peter had visions of that guy; and then Paul had visions of him, too. Only after Paul and after the destruction of Jerusalem did “Mark” use this celestial Jesus to show how to do Homer right, and then people began to misunderstand his anti-epic as history.

    At no point in this need anyone knowingly have made anything up. Whatever Paul’s visions were, he really believed them; Mark’s epic-done-right needed the best possible hero, and he believed that could only be Jesus even though the story was set on Earth.

    Paul conjured congregations in multiple cities into existence with the written word.

    They’re burning bright, your strawmen.

    Maybe I’ll read Doherty if I find the time.

    The field has grown a lot since 2002, so I’d rather read whatever is latest, probably a book by Carrier.

    (…But I’d try to get it from a library or something, because Carrier isn’t currently using his money for good. He has a completely unrelated lawsuit going on where he’s pretty clearly in the wrong.)

  119. David Marjanović says:

    Acts is amazingly similar to the novels of the time

    This is not quite what I had in mind, but it gives a taste. It also shows that the two main sources for individual story elements in Acts are the same as for Mark: the Septuagint and Homer, this time with Paul in the Odysseus role.

  120. >>[Paul] was invented by the church as a way of pulling people away from the teachings of the historical Jesus

    There was some kind of medieval Jewish book (I want to say it was Sefer Toledot Yeshu, but it doesn’t sound right) that said that Paul was secretly deputized by the Rabbis to make Christianity so different from Judaism that Jews would look at it as a different (unappealing) religion instead of the supercessionary evolution to the next stage of Judaism.

  121. A terrific idea that could give rise to all sorts of theories: Stalin secretly deputized Trotsky to make communism so different that all the fools and renegades would follow him and get out of Stalin’s hair…

  122. David Marjanović says:

    …but Stalin didn’t want people to get out of his hair. He wanted them dead or at least in Siberia!

  123. We’re talking historical fantasy here.

  124. @DM: Thanks for pointing out Carrier and for the link. The blog entry leaves me with objections and questions, so maybe I’ll have a look at the book.

  125. That theory was abroad vis a vis Alexey Navalny until the poisoning convinced all but the most fervent conspiracists that he’s straight.

  126. would BritVulgLat have already been a thing for trading purposes even before the Roman conquest during the reign of Claudius, which is some decades after Jesus’ posited youthful visit to Glastonbury?

    Fair enough. Gaulish Vulgar Latin, then.

    I concede that I was wrong about the 24C meaning of human.

    So it boils down to two sources: Josephus, with some evidence of an interpolation, and Tacitus, where we don’t really know who he’s talking about (Chrestus was a common slave name).

  127. @John Cowan: Suetonius mentions a “Chrestus” stirring up trouble among the Jews of Rome, during the reign of Claudius. This is normally interpreted as Suetonius (in his typical style) repeating whatever folklore and rumors he has heard about the period, and mistaking a reference to the early Christians for the slave name Chrestus. However, Suetonius also mentioned punishment (probably execution) of Christians in Rome during Nero’s time.

  128. For some people it’s not enough that Jesus just was a mortal preacher who was neither god’s son nor the savior, it’s necessary that he didn’t exist at all.

    Which of course is how Master and Margherita opens. That’s the Berlioz faction.

  129. Acts is amazingly similar to the novels of the time

    Well, there are four novels (or romances) in the other testament (or two for Protestants): Daniel, Esther, Judith and Tobit. To say nothing of the romance of Joseph, which i enjoy teaching every year.

  130. it was not normal for high-ranking soldiers to learn anything other than Greek when stationed in the east. In fact, we have very little evidence of anyone learning any other language other than Greek and Latin in the Roman Army

    I am a bit surprised by this statement since it seems to go so much against modern experience. Soldiers from one part of the empire stationed in another part will generally do their best, time permitting, to learn as much of the local language as possible; to gain local intelligence, in the case of the more conscientious ones, or to chat up girls in the case of the others.
    The letter to Syagrius seems to be evidence that it was rare for a Roman soldier to learn German to such a high degree of fluency, but that’s not to say that it would be rare for one to learn any German at all. I’d be amazed to find a US army captain who had learned Arabic to the point of being able to argue cases under sharia law; I wouldn’t be amazed to find one who had learned it well enough to conduct a basic conversation.

  131. it was not normal for high-ranking soldiers to learn anything other than Greek

    Bolded for emphasis. We’re not talking about privates who want to chat up girls. The women the generals hung out with knew the imperial language.

  132. Might this be the place to recommend the (you should pardon the expression) Wikipedia article about the biologist Philip Henry Gosse, 1810-1888? Hattically, Gosse is responsible for inventing not just the word aquarium (and the thing that goes with it) but the word diachronic.

    The OED’s current sense 2 of diachronic is the one from linguistics, with a first citation referring in 1927 to Saussure. But sense 1 is the only one in the first edition, where it’s labeled nonce-wd. — and that’s the sense that was created by Gosse by way of an attempt to reconcile science (the science he practiced as a colleague of Darwin, whom he deeply respected) with religion (the religion of his sect, the Plymouth Brethren). The attempt took the form of a book titled Omphalos, which answered the ancient theological question, “Did Adam have one?” with a resounding “Yes — and the trees in the Garden of Eden had growth rings, and the rocks in the Garden of Eden had fossils in them. It’s quite simple: the world was indubitably called into being at the instant of creation, less than 6000 years ago, but the present world thus created holds in itself what looks like a past.”

    As narrated by Gosse’s son Edmund in his Father and Son: A Study of Two Temperaments, what happened after that was tragic. Father and Son is available in many editions from Amazon, and I think it’s deeply moving.

  133. Interesting, thanks! I’ve seen the Gosse (fils) book recommended more than once, and I should really get around to it.

  134. @Jonathan Morse: I started reading Omphalos once, but I found that, while it was well written, and the author was clearly conscientious about the subject matter, there seemed to be no arguments there that would convince anyone who was not predisposed to want to believe in a form of young-Earth Biblical creationism. One thing I do remember strongly is that part of Gosse’s thesis is that it is actually a testament to the majesty of God that he could create a world that appeared to have had a long past. This is very much unlike the anti-science fundamentalists who claim that fossils were placed in the ground by the devil, to tempt people astray.

    I wonder whether Terry Pratchett’s third novel, Strata, which delves into some of the logistical challenges of creating a world with a complete but fictional natural history, was influenced by Gosse. In any case, I think Pratchett’s version of the Omphalos theory probably makes more sense than Gosse’s.

  135. J.W. Brewer says:

    “[L]ess than 6000 years ago”? That’s a very provincial point of view, although I don’t doubt that Gosse was himself provincial enough to believe it. But when Gosse was born in the spring of 1810 (per the calendar used in the time and place of his birth) it was already the 7318th year from the creation of the Cosmos according to the consensus reckoning agreed upon by the best scholars in Constantinople almost a dozen centuries previously.

  136. Note that diachronic is contrasted with prochronic (Law of Prochronism in Creation).

    Those unreal developments whose apparent results are seen in the organism at the moment of its creation, I will call prochronic, because time was not an element in them; while those which have subsisted since creation, and which have had actual existence, I will distinguish as diachronic, as occurring during time.

    I don’t recall Gosse expressing a specific date of 6000 years; I think he was just promoting a potential YEC scenario without specifying exactly how young the world was. I also recall, early in the book, that he acknowledges that the idea was not originated by himself; he mentions reading about the basic idea in certain pamphlets or something before he started work on his very detailed book.

    Gosse was obviously very knowledgeable on the topics of animal and plant biology, and read a great deal on geology, and and was reasonably intelligent, and it seemed strange and sad that he used his profound knowledge of biology to argue for a stunningly anti-intellectual idea.

    [NB to David Marjanović: If you ever read it, brace yourself. Gosse, going by then-current paleontological thought, states that Pterodactyles are carnivorous lizards with the bodies and wings of bats, and indeed may be “marsupial bats”. Other facepalm-worthy moments probably occur, but that leapt out even at me.]

  137. David wrote:

    > your straw man is burning

    and also

    >Sorry for the misunderstanding. To the best of my knowledge, nobody (at least of the more recent mythicists) has claimed that Paul invented Jesus. Instead …

    Thanks for putting out the fire on my straw man!

  138. Gosse actually brings up the possibility of God having created organisms that lack signs of growth and change over time:

    It may be objected, that, to assume the world to have been created with fossil skeletons in its crust, —skeletons of animals that never really existed,—is to charge the Creator with forming objects whose sole purpose was to deceive us. The reply is obvious. Were the concentric timber-rings of a created tree formed merely to deceive? Were the growth lines of a created shell intended to deceive? Was the navel of the created Man intended to deceive him into the persuasion that he had had a parent?

    These peculiarities of structure were inseparable from the adult stage of these creatures respectively, without which they would not have been what they were.

    [. . .]

    The Man would not have been a Man without a navel.

    To the physiologist this is obvious; but some unscientific reader may say, Could not God have created plants and animals without these retrospective marks? I distinctly reply, No! not so as to preserve their specific identity with those with which we are familiar. A Tree-fern without scars on the trunk! A Palm without leaf-bases! A Bean without a hilum! A Tortoise without laminæ on its plates! A Carp without concentric lines on its scales! [etc]

    I suspect that most people would actually not agree that organisms require the physical remnants of having developed and grown as part of their “specific identity”, but perhaps other creationists might have similarly essentialist ideas.

    Ted Chiang (very much not a creationist) in his recent short story, also titled “Omphalos”, posits the opposite scenario: A world, otherwise much like ours, whose inhabitants know that they were recently created because there exist organisms that are adults without signs of having grown — primordial mollusc shells and trees that have no growth rings; primordial adult humans whose skulls are smooth vaults without sutures, and in the Atacama desert, mummies of humans with no navels. This world does not have distant galaxies; indeed, there seem to be no stars further away than a few thousand light-years.

  139. Brett: Pratchett’s revelation at the very end of Strata, about the nature of that world, came abruptly to me. I think he was still finding his writing style. Or maybe I was too young. In retrospect, it seems a bit of a pastiche/parody of Niven’s Ringworld, also. EDIT: the Wikipedia article on Strata supports that hunch, although I read Strata before Ringworld, and definitely liked Strata better than Ringworld.

  140. Gosse on the number of years:

    I am not about to assume that the moment in question was six thousand years ago, and no more; I will not rule the actual date at all; you, my geological friend, shall settle the chronology just as you please, or, if you like it better, we will leave the chronological date out of the inquiry, as an element not relevant to it. It may have been six hundred years ago, or six thousand, or sixty times six millions; let it for the present remain an indeterminate quantity.

  141. J.W. Brewer says:

    Happy to have the record corrected re Gosse and timing of creation – he may well have believed the <6K years claim, which was probably common in some of the circles he moved in, but was smart enough to recognize that he didn't need to insist on it when arguing his broader points to an audience that might include many who were dubious about it.

  142. David Marjanović says:

    This is very much unlike the anti-science fundamentalists who claim that fossils were placed in the ground by the devil, to tempt people astray.

    There are other anti-science fundamentalists who claim that fossils were placed in the ground by God, to tempt people astray as a test of their faith.

    Yet others hold that fossils are but rocks carved by mad scientists.

    “marsupial bats”

    Ooh! That was published as a serious hypothesis in 1843, a year after the name Dinosauria.

    according to the consensus reckoning agreed upon by the best scholars in Constantinople almost a dozen centuries previously

    Obviously superseded by James Ussher, who pinpointed the moment of Creation around 6 pm on 22 October 4004 BC (proleptic Julian calendar).

  143. People mock Ussher’s date now, but in actually doing the calculation he took a perfectly fine scientific approach to the data at hand. It’s the data that was superseded later. In fact, calculating dates from genealogies is a technique still in use, when no other data can be had and when the problems in genealogies are acknowledged and watched against.

  144. J.W. Brewer says:

    Ussher used a materially different dataset than the one that had been previously used by the Byzantine scholars, and those differences were the largest factor driving the divergent result of his calculations from theirs, but it is not particularly self-evident that his data was more likely to be accurate than theirs.

    One methodological problem with deriving chronology from genealogies is that there’s a certain fuzziness given that ages in the sources are usually expressed imprecisely. If I tell you my older son is X years old right now without further detail, it conventionally means that he has not yet reached his (X+1)th birthday – today could be his Xth birthday, or tomorrow could be his (X+1)th birthday, meaning you can’t even be sure which calendar year (reckoned AD-wise) he was born in. And if I add another link by telling you that I was Y years old when I begat him, you’ve got the same fuzziness again, and that fuzziness then cumulates generation by generation. So if Ussher has gone back Z generations of genealogy from the point at which he’s calibrated his chronology against some independent source, there will be approximately Z years’ worth of plus-or-minus uncertainty surrounding whatever date he tells you. You could assume it all sort of statistically averages out over enough generations, but that’s just a convenient simplifying assumption which among other things assumes counterfactually an absence of seasonality in human births.

    In any event, the greater-than-usual imprecision of Luke 3:23 (“Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age”) should perhaps be taken as a warning against the risk of hubris in any such data analysis.

  145. J.W. Brewer says:

    Perhaps relatedly, it turns out that Gosse (pere not fils) at a later point in his career published a shortish (<30 pp.) paper titled "The High Numbers of the Pentateuch: Are They Trustworthy?" (Spoiler: he argues for "yes.") It has some rather fascinating epistemological arguments, using skeptical moves to chisel away at the certainty of those who are confidently skeptical about the veracity of the scriptural text. I like, for example, this bit: "We are constantly meeting such a statement as this: — 'Such and such could not have been without a miracle; but we must not bring in miraculous intervention needlessly.' Granted most fully: but is there no _via media_; nothing between the ordinary experience of occidental Gentile life in the nineteenth century, and a suspension of the 'laws of nature?'" (Also check out his thought experiment about the fellow who travels from Siam to England and whose report is then disbelieved by skeptics back home because he reports on seeing orchids in England which they "know" is impossible given the climate necessary to sustain orchids.)

    https://www.brethrenarchive.org/media/361452/the_high_numbers_of_the_pentateuch_are_t.pdf

  146. That link doesn’t get you to the Gosse High Numbers paper, which wouldn’t download for me, but anyway: https://www.first-nature.com/flowers/~wildorchids.php

  147. Bolded for emphasis. We’re not talking about privates who want to chat up girls.

    Yes, but I would expect the same to be true for soldiers of all ranks. In later imperial armies, knowing the local language was often a precondition of promotion.

  148. From what I know of generals, they don’t tend to bother learning much that doesn’t directly affect them and their chances of advancement. If you have a source for “knowing the local language was often a precondition of promotion,” I’d love to see it, but even if in some circumstances you had to exhibit some basic knowledge of the local patois to rise in the ranks, I’ll bet you anything most officers forgot it as quickly as they could.

  149. David Eddyshaw says:

    This was the case at least with British colonial adminstrators and military officers in West Africa. Lugard was keen for his British officers to learn Hausa (a highly unpopular move with most of the officers in question, who held the normal British attitude to such matters.)

    https://org.uib.no/smi/sa/15/15Philips.pdf

  150. PlasticPaddy says:

    @hat, ajay
    My impression (from reading only) of British army culture was that knowledge of native language often came with a stigma of “going native”, and the officer had to be very much beyond reproach in behaviour and family (and behaviour of family) to avoid this stigma. Richard Burton was an extreme example of both language acquisition and unsuitable behaviour. I would suppose this not to have been the case in the colonial civil service , but would not be surprised if a similar social pressure had operated at the upper levels.

  151. In Russian imperial army, knowledge of foreign languages was one of the requirements for acceptance to the General Staff Academy and graduates of the Academy definitely enjoyed much better chances for promotion.

    However, foreign languages in question were main European languages – French and German mostly, not local languages of the Russian periphery.

    For an average officer (ie, not from nobility), foreign languages requirement was usually the biggest hurdle.

    If they passed the entrance exams (including foreign language exams), their career would advance and they could have a chance to retire as colonels or generals.

    If they failed, they would spend their lives in remote Siberian garrisons, poor as church mice.

    Kuprin’s “The Duel” describes the fate of one such officer.

  152. However, foreign languages in question were main European languages – French and German mostly, not local languages of the Russian periphery.

    Yes, exactly. I would expect a Roman general to have had some knowledge of Greek as a matter of course, but Aramaic or Germanic? Ineptiae!

  153. David Eddyshaw says:

    The sort of locals that a Roman general actually needed to converse with would have been perfectly happy to speak Greek. As for the rest, well, you don’t need much in the way of language skills for raping and pillaging.

    Somewhere in Gibbon, he cites a pathetic story about a Roman envoy to the Huns, who is accosted by a man dressed like a Hun who turns out to be a Roman who fled the Empire because of oppressive taxation; the envoy realises the refugee is a Roman when the refugee addresses him in Greek.

  154. I learned about Omphalos long ago from a Martin Gardner column. Not mentioned by him (or, I think, by anyone here yet) is the real reason I found the idea so unsatisfactory: namely, that it makes young-earth creationism totally superfluous except as a matter of loyalty to (not “Scripture” but) a certain theory of textual meaning. It admits that evolution is the normal way nature operates, except it didn’t, so there.

  155. (Following up on myself)

    I suspect that most people would actually not agree that organisms require the physical remnants of having developed and grown as part of their “specific identity”, but perhaps other creationists might have similarly essentialist ideas.

    And of course, Gosse’s protestations that God isn’t being deceptive fall apart when it comes to actual fossils, geological configuration, and astronomy (he mentions the early work of discovering extremely distant stellar objects). No part of the Earth has a “specific identity” requiring certain fossils to be found therein. Geological strata have no “specific identity” that requires them to have a particular configuration demonstrating slow change over time. The astronomical universe does not have a “specific identity” that requires stars to be tens or hundreds of thousands of light-years away. (This also goes for radiometric dating, but while of course Gosse could not have known about that, the same arguments hold.) But Gosse’s closing paragraphs have a desperate air suggesting he had thought of that, or others had pointed it out to him, and he was doing his best to argue for a distinction without a difference, or to avoid the issue.

    Still later, many persons have been inclined to take refuge from the conclusions of geology in the absolute sovereignty of God, asking,—“Could not the Omnipotent Creator make the fossils in the strata, just as they now appear?”

    It has always been felt to be a sufficient answer to such a demand, that no reason could be adduced for such an exercise of mere power; and that it would be unworthy of the Allwise God.

    But this is a totally different thing from that for which I am contending. I am endeavouring to show that a grand law exists, by which, in two great departments of nature at least, the analogues of the fossil skeletons were formed without pre-existence. An arbitrary acting, and an acting on fixed and general laws, have nothing in common with each other.

    It’s arbitrary for God to put in fake fossils demonstrating fake time, but it’s totally not arbitrary for God to have a Law of Prochronism that totally forces God put in fake fossils demonstrating fake time!

    Rodger C:

    it makes young-earth creationism totally superfluous except as a matter of loyalty to (not “Scripture” but) a certain theory of textual meaning. It admits that evolution is the normal way nature operates, except it didn’t, so there.

    I am pretty sure that YEC is exactly that; a psychological commitment to be loyal to a certain scriptural exegesis. It’s not an explicit argument like Gosse makes, but it is implicit in everything YECs claim about the world and epistemology. If you have the “proper” biblical worldview, you will totally agree with them about what they claim the bible says about the world.

    Of course, YECs do like to make all of those claims (such as those rebutted at talkorigins) about things that are technically empirical, but I’m pretty sure that’s all a smokescreen. Even if shown to be wrong, they reject the disproof. The statement of faith that most creationists commit to demonstrates that. The (creationist interpretation of the) bible is right because the (creationist interpretation of the) bible is right, therefore, the (creationist interpretation of the) bible is right.

    If the scientific consensus disagrees with the (creationist interpretation of the) bible, the scientific consensus must be wrong. If the scientific consensus is based on the clear evidence of the world, then the clear evidence of the world must, itself, be false.

    Although, I suspect that most creationists would reject Gosse, even if they read his work, because as best I can recall, Gosse avoids applying his Law of Prochronism to a global flood. He mentions the flood earlier in the book, when trying to describe the attempts of others to reconcile the bible with actual science, but drops it after that.

    As seen in item 3 of that statement of faith, that’s not pure enough for them. The bible says that there has to have been a relatively recent creation week and a global flood.

  156. @V: I am definitely far in the minority among fans of Pratchett, in that I much prefer his earliest works (such as Strata and The Colour of Magic) where he takes parodies of other science fiction and fantasy works as jumping off points for his clever and humorous stories. Most of the later Discworld novels are just as funny, but I simply do not care for his plots, nor most of his recurring characters.

    Where Strata really shines, in my opinion, is the way it sets up the idea of constructed planets and how everyone who works on them tries to sneak in anachronisms (a tyrannosaurus with a wristwatch, a pair of boots in a coal seam, antinuclear dinosaurs). And before humans, there were other races. The Great Spindle Kings died of psychic shock when they discovered a Wheeler strata machine and found out that they weren’t first race to have molded the universe; but the thesis of Kin Arad’s book, Continuous Creation, is that the universe has always been this way, with every civilization living on the strata laid down by the previous ones. It’s a fascinating idea, although a very, very clever reader might make the logical leap to understand what Kin Arad learns at the end of the book—that it’s all strata, the Spindles and the Wheelers and the Paleotechs and everything. There are a few clues in the book (“Reme wasn’t build in a day, ” might easily be overlooked as a typo), which become more explicit over the course of narrative, but I found the final revelation to be totally unexpected, yet, in the context of the book’s cosmogony, total natural—and thus a real literary triumph.

  157. Here you are: Edmund Gosse’s history of the reception of Omphalos.

    https://archive.org/details/fatherson00gossiala/page/116/mode/2up

    And on page 118: “It was now that, I fancy, he began, in his depression, to be angry with God.”

  158. In looking at the brethrenarchive site, one of the things that caught my eye was the “Tunbridge-Wells Schism”. I don’t feel like looking into what it was. I just want to type: The Plymouth Brethren had a Tunbridge-Wells Schism.

    For some reason, Tunbridge-Wells sounds familiar, and I can’t quite figure out why. Maybe in the context of geology?

    WikiP:

    The Tunbridge Wells Sand Formation is a geological unit which forms part of the Wealden Group and the uppermost and youngest part of the unofficial Hastings Beds. These geological units make up the core of the geology of the Weald in the English counties of West Sussex, East Sussex and Kent.
    […]
    The sediments of the Weald, including the Tunbridge Wells Sand Formation, were deposited during the Early Cretaceous Period, which lasted for approximately 40 million years from 140 to 100 million years ago. The Tunbridge Wells Sands are of Late Valanginian age.
    […]
    The Tunbridge Wells Sand Formation comprises complex cyclic sequences of siltstones with sandstones and clays, typically fining upwards, and is lithologically similar to the older Ashdown Formation. It has a total thickness typically in the region of about 75 m. However, near Haywards Heath borehole data has proven the formation to be up to 150m thick.

    (and so on and so forth)

  159. John Cowan says:

    The rise, decline, and fall of the Reman Empire; as I said later on, Reme didn’t actually fall, it spun off too many subsidiaries.

  160. Tunbridge-Wells sounds familiar

    It is traditionally where retired Colonels live, who send peevish Letters to the Editor of the Daily Telegraph, or other right-wing organs, bewailing the decline of Civilisation and Spelling As We Know It.

    And that tradition is observed more in satire (Private Eye magazine) than actuality, I suspect.

  161. The Riemann hypothesis didn’t actually fail. it spun off to many imaginaries and not enough non-trivial zeroes.

  162. From AntC’s Wikipedia link:

    The BBC radio show Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh, first broadcast in 1944, is sometimes stated in newspaper reports to have popularised the term Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells for correspondence to newspapers. There were also suggestions that the use of Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells came from one regular contributor of letters to The Times in the early 20th century, who would use a particular style of writing to oppose people and organisations who came to his attention. Despite being described as the “quintessential Englishman” because of his writing style and having his letters regularly published, his identity was never known because he would only identify himself as “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells”. […] According to the Royal Tunbridge Wells historian and former newspaper editor Frank Chapman, the phrase has a different origin, starting in the 1950s with the staff of the former Tunbridge Wells Advertiser.

    Surely in this day and age it is possible to decide between at least the latter two hypotheses (The Times in the early 20th century vs. the Tunbridge Wells Advertiser in the 1950s).

  163. It was what Hollywood likes to call a “cute meet,” out in the neat 18th-century heart of downtown Tunbridge Wells, Roger motoring in the vintage Jaguar up to London, Jessica at the roadside struggling prettily with a busted bicycle, murky wool ATS skirt hiked up on a handle bar, most nonregulation black slip and clear pearl thighs above the khaki stockings, well—

    You might conceivably know of Tunbridge Wells from reading Gravity’s Rainbow too. For anyone who knows the place the expression “downtown Tunbridge Wells” is a jarring but delightful cultural clash, as he must have been aware.

  164. (“he” being Pynchon, not Roger.)

  165. PlasticPaddy says:

    @ajp, hat
    ” Keith Young as Puffem. the King’s Chancellor, assumed the nasal tones of the well-known radio character of Take it from Here—Mr. Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells with remarkable aptitude…”
    Published: Saturday 23 January 1954
    Newspaper: Middlesex County Times
    County: London, England
    Source: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/

  166. Thanks! So what needs to be done is to somehow verify or eliminate the Times hypothesis. I presume anyone at the paper with access to their archives could do so in a few seconds, assuming it’s all been digitized, which is surely a safe assumption by now.

  167. PlasticPaddy says:

    @hat
    I found an earlier cite, which appears to be a letter from “a disgusted townsman”:
    Published: Friday 16 September 1921
    Newspaper: Kent & Sussex Courier
    County: Kent, England
    So maybe the radio character was based on a letter writer (who claimed to be) from the town.

  168. Paddy, According to this, Disgusted is way older than Take It From Here and the Tunbridge Wells connection goes back at least to Dec. 1914:

    I have found only two letters from Tunbridge Wells under the signature Disgusted: one published on 18th December 1914, the other on 2nd June 1933, both in the Kent & Sussex Courier.

    I can’t open the 18 Dec 1914 issue but it’s some reference to a fund for WW1 Belgian refugees in T.W.
    Predating that is Disgusted of Merthyr Tydfil,1868:

    A DISGRACEFUL SCENE ON THE PLYMOUTH ROAD.

    Sir,—On Tuesday evening last the Plymouth Road, close to the Plymouth House, was the scene of the most disgusting and disgraceful public outrage ever witnessed in a country which boasts of civilization. There were no fewer than ten lads of from 14 to 17 years old running races on the high road “stark naked,” and these lads were prompted to it by men of 30 and 40 years of age. But sir, this is not the first or only time, but ever since the long evenings have set in it is impossible to take a quiet walk up this road, without meeting with a similar outrage. Why is this? in a land of education and religion too. What are we coming to? Where are our policemen? They surely cannot be ignorant of these disgusting proceedings. How long then are respectable females feelings to be thus outraged? Let stringent measures be at once adopted to stay such scandalous immorality.—Your obedient servant,
    Disgusted.

  169. Excellent finds!

  170. Ah, yes, I’m pretty sure that it is Disgusted of Tunbridge-Wells that was being faintly remembered. I have never yet read Gravity’s Rainbow.

    It was what Hollywood likes to call a “cute meet,”

    Hm! I always thought it was “meet cute”.

    Pray to Google:

    “cute meet”: About 198,000 results

    “meet cute”: About 1,510,000 results

    Was “cute meet” ever more used?

    Google ngrams says “no”, but “Cute Meet” was the actual title of an article describing the phenomenon, in Newsweek from 1964: “The lady and the psychiatrist meet at the complaint department of the department store, because his couch was sent to her and her couch was sent to him. Or the guy in the limousine splashes mud all over the girl, and it turns out he’s a dry-cleaning king.

    Heh. One of the early hits on “cute meet” was an OCR-goof for “Institute meet-ing”; another was “cuts meet”.

    All of the hits on “meet cute” seem to be in the rom-com sense, from later material with cleaner prints and scans.

  171. I started reading a bit further in Edmund Gosse’s “Father and Son”, which described his father’s attitudes toward Christmas:

    On the subject of all feasts of the Church he held views of an almost grotesque peculiarity. He looked upon each of them as nugatory and worthless, but the keeping of Christmas appeared to him by far the most hateful, and nothing less than an act of idolatry. ”The very word is Popish,” he used to exclaim, “Christ’s Mass!” pursing up his lips with the gesture of one who tastes assafoetida by accident. Then he would adduce the antiquity of the so-called feast, adapted from horrible heathen rites, and itself a soiled relic of the abominable Yule-Tide. He would denounce the horrors of Christmas until it almost made me blush to look at a holly-berry.

    […the servants, not sharing this view, do some discreet Christmas celebration, including baking a treat, which one of them thinks to share with young Edmund …]

    I ate a slice of plum-pudding. Shortly I began to feel that pain inside which in my frail state was inevitable, and my conscience smote me violently. At length I could bear my spiritual anguish no longer, and bursting into the study I called out: “Oh! Papa, Papa, I have eaten of flesh offered to idols!” It took some time, between my sobs, to explain what had happened. Then my Father sternly said: “Where is the accursed thing?” I explained that as much as was left of it was still on the kitchen table. He took me by the hand, and ran with me into the midst of the startled servants, seized what remained of the pudding, and with the plate in one hand and me still tight in the other, ran till we reached the dust-heap, when he flung the idolatrous confectionery on to the middle of the ashes, and then raked it deep down into the mass. The suddenness, the violence, the velocity of this extraordinary act made an impression on my memory which nothing will ever efface.

    Well!

  172. Excellent finds!

    All thanks to this guy, Pascal Tréguer, who has taken the job of “expos[ing] the falseness of many etymologies flourishing in books and on the Internet.”

  173. Thanks for cute meet, meet cute, Owlmirror. I hadn’t heard the expression; it seems to have had a relatively short life.

  174. Had to look up “Asafoetida”

    Wikipedia says “Asafoetida has a pungent smell, lending it the trivial name of stinking gum, but in cooked dishes it delivers a smooth flavour reminiscent of leeks or other onion relatives. The odor dissipates upon cooking. Asafoetida is also known variously as “food of the devils”, “devil’s dung”, javoneh-i badian, hengu, hiltis חילתית in Aramaic[3], hing, inguva, kayam, and ting.[4]”

    I assume the transliteration of the Aramaic with the Ashkenazi pronounciation of the final Tav is incorrect? I see from the footnote it comes from: ben Jehiel, Nathan (1553). ספר הערוך [Sefer he-ʻArukh] (in Hebrew). Venice

  175. I don’t understand why WP calls it Aramaic. ħiltīt is Hebrew, not Aramaic, and is mentioned in the Mishna.

  176. David Marjanović says:

    Disgusted of Merthyr Tydfil,1868

    The disgusting inventor of quotes for “emphasis”!

    I don’t understand why WP calls it Aramaic.

    Fix it, and write “I don’t understand why it was called Aramaic” on the talk page.

  177. Fixed!

  178. Arabic, too. The Arukh, a remarkable work in itself, quotes the appearances of the word in the Mishna, and adds, “its interpretation is, in the gentile tongue asa fetida and in the tongue of the Ishmaelites ḥiltīt.”

  179. The disgusting inventor of quotes for “emphasis”!

    Disgusted wrote “stark naked” because he didn’t want people thinking he was the kind of man who used emotive expressions like stark naked. This was someone else’s “stark naked”; perhaps one of the 30 and 40 year olds whom he’d overheard and was now merely quoting.

  180. “Let stringent measures be at once adopted to stay such scandalous immorality” was presumably kept permanently set in type, ready to be added to all such letters as needed.

  181. Had to look up “Asafoetida”

    I first came across it in Indian Cookery evening class. The instructor was most insistent it wasn’t possible to produce the authentic dish without it. It is very pungent, so you need only a tiny amount. But the Indian grocers (more used to supplying restaurants in industrial quantities, but I suspect having an ‘arrangement’ with the instructor) sold it only in amounts suitable to stink out the whole house for weeks.

    So buying Asafoetida was a rigmarole: it was kept in the shop in a special airtight box; it was taken out of the shop to be opened and spooned into a ziplock bag in the fresh air; you drove it home with the car windows open; you swaddled it in plastic and kept it in the toolshed; and still it stunk out everywhere.

  182. David Marjanović says:

    This was someone else’s “stark naked”; perhaps one of the 30 and 40 year olds whom he’d overheard and was now merely quoting.

    I sit corrected!

  183. I sit corrected!
    Please remain seated, but I could be quite wrong. It’s just a guess.

  184. The disgusting inventor of quotes for “emphasis”!

    I doubt it. Indeed, I suspect that Disgusted underlined the phrase in his handwritten letter, and the editor (who almost certainly had no italic typeface at his command) substituted quotation marks himself. Indeed, the AP Stylebook to this day does not use italics for anything: not titles, not foreign words, not for emphasis, nothing. This directly reflects the fact that you couldn’t send italics through the newswires.

    One of the newspapers of my youth, the weekly Glen Ridge Paper, had the disgusting habit of printing every other paragraph in boldface. Other newspapers avoided bold weights too, because of the danger of print-through, where the ink is visible on the wrong side of the page. Newspaper fonts are highly constrained because of the need to be legible at small point sizes and the low quality of the paper used.

    (Boy, is it a relief to be back in medium weight.)

  185. I suspect that Disgusted underlined the phrase in his handwritten letter
    Yes, that make sense, that’s how people wrote in 19C Britain. Queen Victoria’s letters to Disraeli have four or five underlinings in places, something that’s hard to represent in book form.

  186. David Marjanović says:

    I haven’t read On the HIstoricity of Jesus, but here is the author’s long reply to a review of it. It summarizes a lot of the arguments in the book. Carrier actually thinks the wording “brother of the Lord” is the best evidence for historicity, and counts it as evidence for historicity in his attempt to estimate the probability of historicity, but concludes that, when all the evidence is put together, it most likely means “Christian”, and in context “not an apostle”. The part on that argument is a bit over 1/3 halfway down the page.

  187. Sound Changes in the (Pre-)Masoretic Reading Tradition and the Original Pronunciation of Biblical Aramaic

    https://journal.fi/store/article/view/74104

  188. Getting back to Galilean Aramaic (regardless of whether it would have been used by a putative Jesus, or a putative messianic group that contributed to the creation of the myth of Jesus), Steve Caruso has an interesting post about a point of confusion in the Gospels that he thinks has a resolution by invoking Galilean Aramaic: The Sermon on the Mount/Plain ¹ :

    Another interesting potential quirk of the Aramaic language, specifically the Galilean dialect, may clear up a small source of confusion that presents itself between two of the Gospel accounts: The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6).

    Scholars have spilled much ink over comparing these accounts, finding parallels between the teachings found in these portions, even when some of the sayings don’t quite fall into the same places.
    [ . . . ]

    However, despite all of these parallels and similarities, one thing has always been puzzling and a matter of great contradiction: Why does Matthew say that the sermon was shared on a mountain (ὄρος = /oros/), where Luke says Jesus descended a mountain and shared his preaching on a plain (πεδινός = /pedinos/)? Aren’t those two things rather opposite, glaring details?

    The answer may rest within the Aramaic word טורא ṭaurāʾ which in Galilean is usually spelled טוורה ṭaurāh . Where in most Aramaic dialects, it means “mountain” in Galilean it can mean either “mountain” or “field.”

      •   טור בית מקדשה   ṭōr bēṯ maqdašāh = “Temple Mount”
      •   טור תלגה   ṭōr talgāh = “Snowy Mountain” (a title)
      •   עכברה דטוורה   ʿaḵbarāh dᵉṭauwrāh = “field mouse”
      •   פעליא הוו בטורא   paʿlaiāʾ hwū bᵉṭaurāʾ = “The workers were in the field”

    As the early oral traditions circulated and were re-told many times before they were written down in the Gospels, this kind of confusion could have happened readily. Galilean Aramaic speakers (who were among the first of Jesus’ followers) might not have caught the distinction without context, and once the story was translated into another dialect of Aramaic, or even another language such as Koine Greek (which is what the New Testament was compiled in) the sense in that telling was codified.

    Note: טור ṭōr is the construct form of טוורה ṭaurāh which is used in certain compounds.

    Interestingly, another Aramaic word which probably exists in Galilean is תּוֹרָא or תַּוְורָא • (tōrā or tawrā) (spelled with a tav rather than a teth). The Sermon on the Ox/Bull?

    And of course, another word, in Hebrew rather than Aramaic, but pronounced very similarly, and surely known to all Galileans, would be תּוֹרָה , torah. The Sermon on the Torah/Law?

    As can be seen, we have here the meaning, its opposite, something to do with camels horses cattle, and a Name the Word of God.

    I have wondered if some of the references to mountains in the Gospels were deliberate invocations of the Temple Mount. For example, “moving” a mountain with faith the size of a mustard seed, had the hidden interpretation that one could “move” the temple into oneself; one could address and experience God without making sacrifices in the Temple. Something along those lines.

    And now I wonder if there was also meant a punning reference to the Torah as well.

    But I’m not sure where the ox fits. Maybe in the sky? Something to do with the constellation of Taurus? The festival of Passover does somewhat correlate with Taurus, although, to be fair, it also correlates approximately with Aries. On the other hand, ein mazal l’yisrael, “there is no constellation/luck for Israel”.

    =______________________________________________________________________________________________
    1: I am linking to a web archive version of the page because Steve used some sort of text-to-image generator, which worked beautifully in the past, but failed in more recent times, leaving broken image glyphs instead of rendered text. I am taking it upon myself to type in the text which is rendered, in the hopes of making the whole thing more legible.

  189. Dang. Akismet decided it didn’t like me putting in spaces between the Aramaic words and their transliterations.
    “You can no longer edit this comment”

  190. I rescued it. (Damn you, Akismet!) Also, that’s fascinating stuff; thanks for sharing it.

  191. And now I wonder if there was also meant a punning reference to the Torah as well.

    “interesting potential quirk”? This seems like the slippery slope of soundalikes into semantic porridge. You’ve a bunch of triliterals t-r-h (in English transliteration). They’ve various spellings in Hebrew/Aramaic/Galilean: the pronunciations for tav and teth are now collapsed together — would they have been soundalikes at the time in question? Same question for endings in alef vs. he.

    I am in general deeply sceptical about arguments from (anachronistic) soundalikes. Edo Nyland was just an amateur Kabbalist.

  192. David Eddyshaw says:

    AFAIK there is no evidence that Galilean Aramaic confused teth and tav. (It does seem to have confused several of the laryngeal consonants with one another.)

  193. PlasticPaddy says:

    @de
    It seems that ת is transliterated as theta and ט as tau. So was the difference one of aspiration?

  194. David Eddyshaw says:

    That would be how the Greeks heard it, and that is indeed how the sounds are consistently transliterated in the LXX; similarly with kaph and qoph. The difference was probably, at this point, that ט was glottalised; the pharyngeal realisation characteristic of Arabic seems to have spread to other Semitic languages somewhat later.

    The fricativisation of ת after vowels (the famous bkadkpat phenomenon) was an Aramaic thing that spread to Hebrew; at this point any difference would still have been allophonic, and the post-vocalic allophones may not yet have become fricatives. It doesn’t affect the Greek transcriptions at all (though as DM pointed out in this connexion previously, the Greek of this period had precisely two fricatives, /s/ and /z/, so it wouldn’t have been easy for Greeks to represent bkadkpat fricativisation even if it was already present, and they would probably just have gone with their aspirated stop symbols anyway.)

  195. If Jesus wasn’t a real person on Earth, but originally believed to be an angel in Heaven (as Carrier posits), we can at least be sure that he didn’t speak Aramaic. 😉

  196. But are we sure he didn’t speak Kusaal?

  197. David Eddyshaw says:

    He’s clearly portrayed as speaking Kusaal in Wina’am Gbauŋ, the definitive source. Good enough for me …

  198. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    There is proof that angels in heaven don’t speak Aramiac?

  199. J.W. Brewer says:

    Angels do get referred to in the section of Daniel that has come down to us in Aramaic rather than Hebrew although they aren’t actually given any speaking lines, so I’m not sure how much evidence that is in either direction.

  200. There are discussions in the Talmud about whether angels speak Aramaic

    https://www.oztorah.com/2012/04/do-the-angels-understand-aramaic/#.X2D4aPi6Nts

  201. Edo Nyland?

    Could it be that the peoples along the Atlantic coast of Europe had belonged to the same migration and that all these had spoken the same Neolithic language we now call Basque? To test this idea Nyland tried the Basque dictionary on “Laistrygonian” and very quickly there appeared “lai-istri-goni-an”. Using the full Basque words: laino-istripu-gonbidatu-aniztasun, meaning: fog-accidents-invites-many, or “fog invites many accidents”. Indeed the excellent geographical details provided in the epic, and the entrance problems hinted at in the name perfectly fitted only one place on the west coast of Ireland: Killary Harbour in northern Conamara. The linguistic adventure was off to a good start.

    W?!T?!F?! . . . ?!?!?!?!?!‽‽‽‽‽‽

  202. In my defense, two points:

    1) Caruso’s comments on Galilean Aramaic Phonology

    First is Galilean’s phonology, or how they pronounced words. The Eastern Aramaic speakers who were prominent in Judea prided themselves on articulate speech and viewed Galileans “loose” pronunciation with contempt. Where they would pronounce what are known as the Emphatic Consonants and Gutterals with exactness, such sounds were softened in Galilean. Several consonants that were distinct in Eastern Aramaic were blurred or interposed by Galileans and unstressed vowels tended to reduce to simple shwas (like the vowel in “up”). Vowels also tended to be different in places than a Judean would expect. For example, where the Sabbath was classically referred to as šaḇta, in Galilean they pronounced it šuḇta.

    2) “Confusion” of sounds does not need to occur for wordplay. In “the shortest distance between two puns is a straight line”, “pun” is only sounding slightly like “point”, but the pun still works.

  203. David Marjanović says:

    Yup, that’s the legendary Edo Nyland.

    Lysenko : Marr :: Ray : Nyland

    Clicking on “Nyland Websites” and then on “Home”, which is not the same “Home” accessible from other pages, leads to a page that ends in a “NOTE: […] Constructivecriticisms of theories are included in an effort to extend the arguments in a worldwide forum. The materialincluded is not part of the formal Archeology curriculum in The University of California.”

  204. J.W. Brewer says:

    I enjoyed and was edified by the rabbinical learning about angelic comprehension (vel non) of Aramaic, and am indebted to e-k for posting the link.

  205. Yes, very interesting. An excerpt:

    Is it true, however, that the angels do not know Aramaic?

    Note that the text does not say yod’im, “know”, but makkirim, “have a high regard for”, as in Ruth 2:19, yehi makkirech baruch.

    The second issue is Aramaic itself. It was not that the angels could not learn the language, but if it were allowed in heaven there were fears that it would displace Hebrew on earth (Neh. 13:24), so people were told to pray in the language of the Bible.

    Major prayers like the Amidah, which in theory could be said in any language (Sotah 33a), were so well known that there was little temptation to say them in Aramaic, but life-cycle events like serious illness were less common, and those who prayed for sick people were anxious to use the most effective possible words.

    Hence it was ruled that “a person may pray in any language he chooses when he prays with the congregation, but if he prays alone he should do so in Hebrew.” An individual needed the help of the angels, who preferred Hebrew: but the prayers of the congregation went direct to God and needed no angelic support.

  206. but makkirim, “have a high regard for”

    The actual text is makkirin.

    In Modern Hebrew, “makir” means “recognize”, more or less. And “recognize”, itself, has the meaning that I think could correspond to the idea of knowing something, but not wanting to say so: (OED 3a): “To acknowledge the existence or truth of; to admit knowledge or awareness of“.

    “The ministerial angels do not recognize the Aramaic tongue”. And then the text clarifies the distinction between “knowing” and “acknowledging”.

    The text of the article says “except for Gabriel, who was a linguist”. I wondered what the Talmudic term for “linguist” was, but alas, as is so often the case, this is a loose paraphrase of the text of the Talmud, which actually says “Gabriel taught seventy languages”. The angel is a linguist by implication.

    English translation of Sotah 33

  207. The original text of Sotah refers to a “גסקלגס”, a collection of letters I didn’t recognize, and couldn’t parse. On my own, I would have probably attempted to transliterate it as “gaskilgas”, but the translation says that it is actually referring to Gaius ¹ Caligula (Caligulus?). I have to wonder why it wasn’t “גאיוס קאליגולוס”, with at least an attempt to transliterate the vowels.

    Another translation of Sotah 33

    =________________________________________________________-
    1: written there as “Caius”

  208. Rashi commentary on Sotah 33a says:

    גסקלגס – שם מלך יון:

    Gaskalgas – name of a Greek king.

    Seems odd that Rashi would make him a Greek and not a Roman.

  209. I read גסקלגס as gaskalgas. It’s a neat fit with Caligula (lit. ‘little boot’) , if you read it as a mocking nicknane, גַּס קַלְגַּס gas kalgas ‘big of boot’. kalgas ‘boot’ first appears in the Mishna (also Sotah), and derives from the Latin caliga as well.

    However, the name gaskalgas is supposed to be a Greek king, in a story involving Simon the Just, some 300 years before Caligula. To fix this, it’s been surmised that two Simons got mixed up, and that the story was about Simon Cantheras, who became High Priest shortly after Caligula’s death. Or that the villains got conflated, with Caligula’s setting his image in the Temple placed in the Hashmonean era.

  210. Note that the text does not say yod’im, “know”, but makkirim, “have a high regard for”, as in Ruth 2:19, yehi makkirech baruch.

    I’m afraid the worthy Rabbi is wrong. The word is מַכִּירִים makkīrīm from the root nkr ‘recognize, be acquainted with, acknowledge’. In Ruth it appears several times with that meaning. I think Rabbi Apple might have been thinking of מוֹקִירִים mōqīrīm, which indeed means ‘to highly value’, from יָקָר yāqār ‘valuable’.

    The Sotah reference might parallel the use of makkīrīm in Nehemiah 13:24, “and half their sons speak the language of Ashdod, and do not know (makkīrīm) to speak the language of Judah, but the languages of every nation.”

    makkīrīn has the Aramaic plural suffix for the Hebrew one.

  211. The article by Rabbi Apple is illustrated with a rectangle of text, which can be easily discovered to be the text of Exodus 12:27-28, in Hebrew with each verse followed by the Targum Onkelos for that verse. The first word, for example, is the last word of the Hebrew Ex 12:27, followed immediately by the Aramaic verse of Ex 12:27. Oh, and I see that it was cropped from Wikimedia:Targum

    However, when I looked at the Targum as scribed, I noticed some odd differences between that text and what is on various websites as the Targum. Are these just known scribal abbreviations, or are they actual variants, or even mistakes?

    Most obviously, “קו ייי” instead of “קדם יי”, but also “במצר” for “במצרים”. And “מצרא”, for “מִצְרָאֵי”, has an odd final aleph missing the left “leg”. I know of the aleph-lamed ligature “ﭏ” — is this something like that?

  212. Near the bottom of that column there’s even “בני יש” for “בני ישראל”. It has a truncated shin, as does משה in the next line.

  213. FWIW, a bit more on Gaskalgas:

    A more detailed version of the story in our Gemara is found in Megilas Ta’anis, chapter 11, which is consistent with the opinion that Gaskalgas was Gaius Caligula, although it mentions Shimon ha’Tzadik. Other Girsa’os include Kaskalas (Codex Munich), Gaius Gulikas (Yerushalmi Sotah 9:13) and Gaiuslokin (Shir ha’Shirim Rabah 8:3).

  214. Above, I cited Elisha Qimron’s view that Qumranite written Hebrew reflected their speech. There are other views. An abstract of a paper to be given later this year at the Society of Biblical Literature virtual annual meeting mentions alternate views. (Unfortunately, the paper presentations will be accessed only by paid members.) “The Varieties of DSS Hebrew as Reflected in Syntax, and the Sociolinguistic Situation Underlying Qumran Hebrew Variety, ” by Maria Maddalena Colasuonno of Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg.
    The abstract begins:
    “Hebraists unanimously agree that the Hebrew language of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) includes Late Biblical, Samaritan and Tannaitic Hebrew features as well as Aramaic traits, even though there is no consensus concerning the nature of the language of the DSS so far. Morag, Ben-Ḥayyim, and Qimron allege that the DSS reflect a spoken variety; in contrast, Kutscher and Blau state that DSS Hebrew is a literary variety with interferences from spoken Hebrew and Aramaic. Furthermore Tov, Dimant, and Schniedewind suggest that one-third of the scrolls displays hallmarks of a sectarian or an anti-language. All these hypotheses require further qualifications. DSS Hebrew does not reflect a single variety, but at least three distinct dialects that differ typologically. Morag identifies three varieties: General Qumran Hebrew (GQH), to which the majority of the scrolls belongs; Qumran Mishnaic, the variety attested in Miqṣat Maʿaśe ha-Torah (4QMMT); and the Hebrew idiolect of the Copper Scroll (3Q15). My contribution aims to challenge the GQH label,….

    If interested in the whole abstract, enter the author last name here:
    https://www.sbl-site.org/meetings/Congresses_ProgramBook.aspx?MeetingId=37

  215. David Marjanović says:

    …or just go straight here.

  216. Queen Victoria’s letters to Disraeli have four or five underlinings in places, something that’s hard to represent in book form.

    Even today, copy editors working on paper underline once for italics, twice for SMALL CAPS (imagine that ensmallened[*]), three times for CAPS, and a wavy underline for bold. However, small caps and bold are now mostly used by format designers for particular components of a page rather than by authors and editors, so those marks are not as well known.

    [*] WordPress is dropping the <small> and <u> tags, and Chrome at least does not respect nested <u> tags anyway.

    [I get to ensmallen things as the Hattic Deity, so I have done so. –LH]

  217. I’d been wondering about that. Thanks for explaining the system, John. I noticed the other day Language used a smaller point size for a sentence somewhere. I think it was in a comment rather that a post. I assumed it was a) beyond my capabilities and b) he’d learned the technique off you. And now I can’t find it.

  218. Oh, I knew the technique long before the days of JC — “small” is a pretty easy tag to learn and remember.

  219. David Marjanović says:

    To wavy-underline (unterwellieren) is what I was taught to do to represent italics for taxonomic names in handwriting.

    But that was in a university course, by which time I had long represented italics in handwriting at face value, writing tilted letters. That works because my handwriting isn’t tilted otherwise.

  220. I suppose you’re going to say it’s merely “small” in v-shaped brackets. Ok: small.

  221. No. It must be “tiny letters”.

  222. It won’t work for you, peasant. Only for me.

  223. Can we peasants at least <abbr> and <del>?

  224. >Oh, I knew the technique long before the days of JC

    Oh, you didn’t mean THE JC… 🙂

  225. Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste. I’ve been around for a long, long year…

  226. January First-of-May says:

    SMALL CAPS (imagine that ensmallened)

    One common solution I’ve seen is using the Unicode symbols: sᴍᴀʟʟ ᴄᴀᴘs.

    The problem with this is that the Unicode small caps have been added piecemeal over a large sequence of exotic additions and extensions (mostly as obscure phonetic symbols), so many fonts support only part of the set (the F equivalent, ꜰ, is a particularly common problem; the S equivalent is another, but the regular small letter s is conveniently almost identical).
    In fact the X is still missing (though, again, the small letter can substitute), and the Q had only been added in 2018.

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