Saturday, February 28, 2015

kebar enash

Mark 8:31-38 Common English Bible (CEB)

31 Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: “The Human One [or Son of Man] must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead.” 32 He said this plainly. But Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him. 33 Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, then sternly corrected Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”
34 After calling the crowd together with his disciples, Jesus said to them, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. 35  All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them. 36  Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? 37  What will people give in exchange for their lives? 38  Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this unfaithful and sinful generation, the Human One [or Son of Man] will be ashamed of that person when he comes in the Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

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That’s the gospel reading for tomorrow, the Second Sunday in Lent, the Common English Bible. A scholarly translation, the CEB was published in 2011 as a comfortable Bible for most English readers, and General Convention 2012 authorized it for liturgical use in the Episcopal Church. Because among other things Lent is a season for learning something, we are using the CEB during Lent this year, with the people invited to notice and tell how they feel about it. There is a common, I think unfortunate, sense that the Bible must “sound holy” like the King James Version did to our 20th century ears because it was in English that sounded and was ancient, quaint, out of date. We may like to think the more mysteriouser and the more elusiver the more holier; but like the CEB today, when published in 1611 the King James Bible was the contemporary, everyday spoken English of the realm.

At any event, there’s Mark's term τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου (LXX υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου, which may help or hinder understanding of the source) that CEB renders “Human One” or alternately “son of man” that Jesus uses often, what’s it mean? In my mind it calls up a figure Daniel saw in his dream, or “night vision.” It’s at Daniel chapter 7, quite vivid, a dream that Revelation John may have had in mind in describing his own apocalyptic vision. In fact, I think Revelation John had just read Daniel 7 before going to bed, and had nightmares about it all night long, thus our book The Revelation of John. In Daniel's dream, he first sees “the ancient one” or the “ancient of days,” whom we are to recognize as God, the One God. Next steps forward a figure whom Daniel calls “kebar enash.” (LXX υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου)The footnote says it’s an Aramaic idiom literally “like a son of man” that actually means -- as all idioms mean something at least slightly different from the literal words to those who understand the expression because they are native to the language -- means “like a human being.” For some reason, the expression fascinates me such that it always takes me off on a tangent, which is my terrible habit whether writing or talking, I just cannot stay on subject. 

Why would an Aramaic idiom be used at Daniel 7:13 but Hebrew “ben adam” commonly used in other instances, including by Daniel? How did Jesus understand the term? Did he mean it to refer to that mysterious figure whom God in Daniel 7 sent forth empowered for eternity? And if so, did Jesus have himself in mind as that figure? Or was it a common idiom that those around him, who also spoke Aramaic natively, would understand as “man” or “human” without having to have this discussion every time? Or was the idiom commonly used, by the folks of that region whose native language of the day was Aramaic, to refer subtly, modestly or obliquely to oneself, or just to mean "people"? Have we made it something mysterious that was never intended? That Jesus never intended, or more specifically that Mark never intended? Or was it intended? Remembering that it’s Mark Evangelist’s story just as the words and thoughts and meanings of Tom Sawyer conversation are Mark Twain’s story. That, my thought process, is not irreverent or trivializing, it’s an intellectual aid for exploring the story: how did Mark intend for me to understand what he quotes Jesus saying? Or the other Mark and the other Tom.

In this case, I think Mark, who in my view -- if not the most eloquent with his Greek starting almost every sentence with "and" and in practically every thought rushing me forward with "immediately" -- was the most clever of writers, Mark means me to stir the Son of God with the Son of Man and come out inevitably and inescapably with Jesus.

Here's the Daniel 7 passage:

Daniel 7:13-14 Common English Bible (CEB)

13 As I continued to watch this night vision of mine, I suddenly saw one like a human being[Aramaic kebar enash (like a son of man) is an idiom that means like a human being]
    coming with the heavenly clouds.
He came to the ancient one
    and was presented before him.
Rule, glory, and kingship were given to him;
    all peoples, nations, and languages will serve him.
His rule is an everlasting one—
    it will never pass away!—

        his kingship is indestructible.

Over the years, I've diverted the attention of many, many Bible study classes to this topic, and it still fascinates me.


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