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A Tale of Two Priesthoods

It is often claimed that one insuperable difference between Protestants and Catholics is that Protestants, since Luther, believe in the priesthood of all believers, while Catholics believe Christians need a priest to bring them to God.  Today this is usually a Protestant accusation against Catholics, although in the sixteenth century Luther’s notion of the priesthood of all believers, including illiterate and semi-literate peasants, did come in for a certain amount of ridicule from some of the more educated members of the clergy.  Some of the wilder branches of Protestantism have gone further than Luther, even rejecting, on the claimed basis of the “priesthood of all believers,” any ordained clergy whatsoever (this includes the Plymouth Brethren and the Quakers), while many “Bible-believing” Protestants draw a sharp distinction between Roman Catholic priests and their own pastors or elders.  As with so many things, however, the disagreement between the denominations over the scope of the priesthood is based more on an argument over words than over the substance of what the Bible says.  There are substantive disagreements in Roman Catholic and various Protestant understandings of priesthood(s), but the “argument” over the priesthood or not of all believers can safely be put down to a deficiency of northern European languages like English, which have one word where Greek has two, and a desire on both sides of the argument to affirm the superiority of their group over those who disagree with them.

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Who Were the “Hebrews”?

Biblical scholars like something to argue about, because they are academics, and academics make their living by making arguments.  (I know; I am one.)  And since what is at stake in biblical scholars’ arguments is almost always the question whether the Bible can be trusted, for skeptics who wish not to believe as much as for believers who wish to do so, biblical scholars’ arguments often degenerate into battle lines.  Often, I feel, a little more careful attention to the text may shed some useful light on the subject.

One debate which has intrigued me in the past is the question of the (non-)relation between the Hebrew word “Hebrew” (ʿibri) and the word “Habiru” and its variants in Akkadian and Egyptian.  It seems that some conservatives have argued that Habiru = Hebrews = Israelites, and thus the Ancient Near Eastern texts which mention the Habiru corroborate the biblical accounts of the Israelites.  Against this, some skeptics have argued that the term Habiru is used in contexts where the biblical Hebrews cannot possibly be intended, and sometimes carry non-Semitic names, which these scholars take to indicate that the Habiru were a mixture of Semitic and non-Semitic.

Now, I am not an expert in the Ancient Near East, nor do I read Sumerian, Akkadian, Egyptian hieroglyphics, or any of the other languages, so I can only approach this question from the Hebrew side.  But it seems to me that what the Bible says about Hebrews is not what most people have presumed, and may open the door to a different solution to the relationship between the Hebrews and the Habiru. (more…)

Christ is risen!

It is customary in many churches, in many languages, for Christians to greet each other on Easter with the affirmation that Christ has risen from the dead.  Here are some of the languages used for the greeting; you can think of this as an Easter appendix to Omniglot with a phrase more useful than “my hovercraft is full of eels.”

Greek: Χριστὸς ἀνέστη!  (Christos anesti!)
Syriac: ܡܫܝܚܐ ܩܡ (mshiho qom/mshiha qam)
Latin: Christus surrexit!
Armenian: Քրիստոս յարեաւ! (K’ristos yareav/K’risdos hariav)
Arabic: المسيح قام (al-masih qom)
Hebrew: המשיח קם (hammashiah qam)
English: Christ is risen!
French: Le Christ est ressucité!
German : Christus ist auferstanden!
Italian: Cristo é risorto!
Russian: Христос Воскресе! (Hristos voskres)
Maltese: Il-Mulej qam!
Valley: Christ, like, is totally risen.

A navigable list of many more languages is here.

Of course, one’s ability to use this as a greeting (with its conventional response, “He is risen indeed!”) depends in part on being introduced to it.  This was alien to my upbringing, and the first time after my conversion that someone greeted me with “Christ is risen!” I responded, “Yeah, I know!  Pretty cool, ain’t it?”