"Verily I say unto you. . . ."

Discussion of linked article by Pastor Darrell Sutton

I have discussed the linked article, Verily I say unto you. . . ,which should be read as preface to the following remarks, with Pastor Darrell Sutton who is an independent researcher and writer living in Red Cloud NE . He offered a number of comments which I feel are important and have asked permission to add to the above referenced paper. If I am approaching the text as a critical 'alien' examining an ancient document, he works at a much more cogent linguistic level in relation to biblical textuality.

All of your explanations in the article "Verily. . . ." for etymological uses are right on and in no need of change. But if I may, I will add a few 'amplifications' of meanings that can also be considered.

Of course the debate over the language in which Jesus' actually taught will never go away. For some reason or another Jerusalem scholars believe he must have taught in Hebrew because the Mishna is in Hebrew, but there is no way to confirm. Biblical Archaeology Review recently, published an article (supposedly) proving he spoke in Aramaic during teaching sessions. N. Turner believes it was in Greek.

All of our extant inscriptions from that period are divided into thirds. A third of them have been found with Hebrew writing, a third with Aramaic (which incidentally, was written with 1st century Hebrew characters) and a third in Greek characters. Myself, I think that Jesus was quite a cosmopolitan; speaking multiple languages & dialects. It fits the Galilean picture of the first century and is well connected with all of the archaeological items that I have seen first hand over in that area. But that's wholly subjective on my part.

It is interesting that the writers of the Gospel narratives chose to translate nearly all Hebraisms and then transliterate a few of them, among them AMEN. All the definitions of establishing and confirming are true. Edward Horowitz in his book 'How the Hebrew language grew" gives 18 or so examples of the meanings of AMEN (see page 25 of his book). The old Peshitta Syriac text {Hebrew script} also uses AMEN formally instead of another dialectal word. The same for the Syriac text-script, the oldest dated Hebrew of medieval days & modern Hebrew. Arabic retains this word in transliterated form. It is even used as an interjection in common Arabic usage today. These 'meanings' are also extant in Akkadian in multiple tablets excavated in recent times. It seems that when you reached into your form-critical toolbox you really went to work on this word.

But there is also another way to view the word Amen/Verily that is as factual and useful as the main consensus sense;

1. In one respect, it possesses a reflexive aspect. Not so much grammatically but idiomatically. Its first mention in Num. 5:22 shows a Amen response. In Semitic languages any double iteration is an emphatic. People still speak like this today throughout the Middle East.

2. By the time of Jesus, the writers, whether keeping notes during his sessions (as many rabbinical students did) or writing afterwards, have Jesus in each pericope, using AMEN in a fairly uncommon manner. Some do believe that Jesus is merely imitating the Rabbis of his day with his formulaic expressions. Having searched hundreds of pages of rabbinic material I can't find any place where Jesus' phrases are reproduced exactly as Verily, Verily I say unto you. David Flusser, a recently deceased Jewish classicist seemed to think otherwise. I think some sophisticated allusions are being made. Jesus had a habit of taking Old Testament phrases and refreshing them in his own exegetical ways.

3. If I could compare Jesus' sermons or speeches to a staircase I would say that everything stated after the word Verily is a 'next step' taking the listener higher in an understanding of Torah. Somewhat like "Here! (at this moment) is something I believe..! In this way he could reference a word, thought or action directed toward him. It is fully connected to the preceding thought and at the same time, calls attention to a greater truth(s) to be uttered. This is how I have often helped hearers to view these first century dialogues.

4. Mishnaic Hebraists tend to be dogmatic about the difficulties of re-entering a first century setting and retrieving genuine 'meanings' without a mastery of Talmudic materials but you have proven again with the 'alien conceptual theory' (and a lot of philological know-how) that Amen and the call to silence is deeply connected. I like the 'silence' angle, I had never thought of Verily as a method of silencing a multitude for further discourse, but that is an interesting possibility. All of us who continue to re-read these documents are going to find more and more trails to follow but it is always important to cut down some brush clearing the way for newer interpretations.


Pastor Sutton added a few more comments on the subject which we have been discussing, which I will append here.

Prof. Harris: Your re-edited article is another stand alone piece. It demonstrates what careful and thorough research can bring to light when one is patient with a text. You exhibit great care in not pressing the facts beyond their measure. Reading through each page the words flow well and the new material really adds some color to the image of Jesus, the teacher. If I may, I'll try and add a thought or two to a few of your sentences which might shine a light on other paths which lead to the same destination. My comments follow:

RE: A lost Aramaic text or a series of text. . .

Having read a number of volumes on the origins of our Gospels, few of them satisfy my understanding of the beginnings of the early disciples of Jesus. I doubt that the majority of them have added much to our knowledge of first century scribal culture & life. A lot of the redaction theories have provided more discrepancies than solutions. But in setting forth my own "schema interpretativum" I would say that whether one takes a Markan or Lukan priority view, these narratives have long ancient lines of tradition around the world. Somewhere amid these legends & lore are some shreds that link us to a mythic past. (I use the word mythic in the sense of tradition and not as a synonym for fictitious). These are reasons for my fascination with biblical backgrounds. It has always been supposed that the Gospels were written in ONE language and later translated into receptor tongues. However, I have an idea that is common-sensical as well as, historical. In fact, one that I'm sold on. Namely:

1. The sayings and deeds of Jesus were being recorded in this rabbinic age at its earliest stages. Students of rabbis were known for keeping the teachings of the instructors (in various forms). {Birger Gerhardsson has done some excellent work in connecting the dots between Rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity.

2. The disciples of Jesus were multi-lingual as is obvious from a casual reading of the texts. From this vantage point we may ask why couldn't there have been multiple narratives written by the same person(s) in Hebrew, Aramaic, and/or Greek? They would eventually have had to coalesce. In the Lukan proem {Luke 1:1-4} we see evidence for this.

3. Seeing that few persons (of Christian background) were scattered in the early days who used Aramaic or Hebrew this easily explains why so few mss have been preserved. (There are none from the first or seconds centuries). There was no need to multiply what was not in great demand since so few people needed them. But Greek, on the other hand, was a language spoken all over the empire and the Christian movement flourished in areas where synagogues existed. A scanning of the book of Acts proves this. These Christian texts were copied and multiplied throughout antiquity. Which explains why we have 5800 Greek MSS extant. This is a brief and really over simplified statement that needs more elucidation but it does satisfy me in two ways. First of all:

a. Those who believe in inspiration & preservation can continue to see 'the divine hand' in the protection of the words of God in the Greek stream of textual transmission.
b. Those who do not view them as supernaturally derived can still employ 'critical analyses' by comparing the various lingual traditions. Nowadays, few would advert to these facts lest they seem to undermine popular & in-credible notions of bi-lingual disciples in speech who were monolingual in scribal matters. It would certainly upset the current apple cart of textual criticism but I've given serious thought to these ideas and they answer more questions (for me) than they foster. I think the varying lingual traces in the pericopae prove a greater relationship of the disciples to their world than many would like to affirm. But then again the problem may lay in the lack of emphasis and/or interest in philological method.

RE: That Jesus was completely illiterate in Greek seems unlikely.

In the years preceding the birth of Jesus, the rabbis were divided over what to do with the Greco-Romanism of the day. Some forbade Jewish people from learning Greek and other rabbis wholeheartedly encouraged the language. That it was in use by laymen and rabbis is seen by the proverbs extant {in Greek} recorded during that time. It seems plausible to me that Jesus understood basic Greek. In the Mishna Avot 5:21 it says that at the age of 5 one is ready for the {study of} the written torah, at ten the study of the oral torah {traditions of the elders} ..at 13 for bar mitzvah, at fifteen for the study of halakah (rabbinic legal decrees).. It seems presumptuous to assume that Jesus instruction in the law would have only included the Hebrew torah when the Greek torah was already in usage. Galilean sages were conservative by nature but ready to imbibe the air of Hellenism blowing vehemently at the time. Whether Jesus ever quoted the LXX or not has fueled many fiery discussions. We do know that in the synagogue it was mandatory that a Hebrew scroll be present for readings, as it still is today.

The Hebrew scrolls in Israel were in need of translation then, which is why Aramaic interpretations (commonly called targums) were employed. So, the Hebrews & proselytes of the diaspora would have certainly needed the Septuagint for understanding also. No where in the Roman Empire was Hebrew language acquisition being encouraged outside of Palestine (at least not to my knowledge). When the Jews of the diaspora arrived in Jerusalem for the various feast several times a year Aramaic/Hebrew/Greek would have been spoken everywhere (and even Latin to some degree Luke 23:38). Jesus, having been raised in the cultural milieu of Galilee certainly was knowledgeable of Greek things. It is recorded in Matthew:

1. Jesus said "After all these things the gentiles seek.." (Mat 6:32) How would he know what the gentiles are up to unless he read the gentile newspapers of the day and listen to the gentile radio? The classical texts of Homer & Vergil reveal much of what people sought and believed about life in the shadow of their gods; The poets and dramatists entertained the masses all the time, scuttlebutt abounded. Even now, there are stadium and theatre remains all over the Galilean area. As a result, Hellenism was being fully processed in Jesus day. Of course, Jesus knew what they (the gentiles) were seeking. He was immersed in assorted cultures every day: On a recent trip to Israel we visited a Caesarean (Phillippi) location that had an old temple dedicated to the God 'Pan.' Orgies and priestly abominations happened there. Archaeologists speak of the underground spring that flowed from a hidden source and that the locals called it the gate of Hades (hell). Surely Jesus knew of this place and more likely than not, made reference to it obliquely in his Mat 16:18 reference.

2. He asked his disciples about the image on a coin (Mat 22:20). Why ask unless you have some degree of knowledge of the politic and the personage of Caesar. Caesar's character and ways would have been revealed from every direction through various writings, letters, edicts, and couriers from afar. A slow detailed reading of Saul Lieberman's classic Greek in Jewish Palestine and Hellenism in Jewish Palestine would put this entire topic to rest forever. He ransacks rabbinic materials giving detailed annotation from the Palestinian Talmud, the Tosefta and the Gemara, showing how these cultures were interwoven.

A great deal of work will be involved in this kind of language study. This type of research allows us modern day readers to interface with Jesus and his disciples in ways that are impossible apart from some language science that utilizes sound principles of linguistics.

Our Gospel narratives reveal a Semitic vorlage for good reasons. William Moran, in his 1950 dissertation on the Syntactical study of the dialect of Byblos, links 1400BC Accadian to its related languages in Canaan. The connections to Hebrew are astounding (but why wouldn't they be?). Look at all of the recent grammatical studies appearing on Greek and Hebrew conjunctive similarity. Scholars say that the Greeks adapted their alphabet from the Phoenicians. That being the case, they must have adopted 'other things' along with their adaptation of letters. If we fast forward to the first century we pass over hundreds of years of walled villages, isolated towns and multifarious clay tablets with cuneiform scripts. By the first century the early scripts had passed through transformations which have resulted in the types of scripts which we now possess. Nevertheless, with the rise of the Roman Empire, these Semitic peoples had preserved (to one degree or another) their idioms, histories, and syntax. As Greek ascended and came to be the literary standard of the empire, many throughout the Empire found themselves writings of local events using Greek language (This certainly happened with the Messiah movement of Jesus).

Naturally, the Greek dress could be lifted at times so that what was under it could be seen. This is where your analytical observations are helping people to re-imagine settings laid out in scripture. Who else could have recognized the Homeric Greek in Jesus' conversation except one with an acquaintance with the verbal strata in the 'classics'. These factors occasioned my research into classical languages and literature in the first place, because aside form the Semitic form under the Greek dress there are numerous roots & stem-types that betray how the people of Jesus' day used ancient sources. Factoring in the trunk loads of ostraca, bullae, and inscriptions, we are able to read backwards into the past by means of remains, which have accumulated over two millennia and from where I sit our rear-view vision is in need of revision.

The world of the Gospels is a scholarly gold mine and their texts contain mass collections of raw minerals. A trained eye is definitely needed to perceive the differences and to prevent the discardment of the valuable. That article on Verily=Amen shook the pan well, when you lifted this one from the murky stream of the unknown, because gold has been found in these Homeric allusions you cite as well as that possible syro-(tyro)phoenician name.

Pastor Darrell Sutton, is an independent researcher and writer living in Red Cloud NE

On the site of: William Harris
Prof. Em. Middlebury College