Sunday Morning Greek Blog

June 9, 2013

εὐθύς in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 1:3, Isaiah 40:3)

Filed under: Isaiah,Mark Gospel of,New Testament,Septuagint — Scott Stocking @ 6:08 pm

In this post:

  • A personal note on my hiatus
  • Summary of the projects I’ve been working on
  • The prophetic quotes in Mark 1:2–3
  • Thematic use of εὐθύς

A Personal Note on My Hiatus

I’ve been on a hiatus from the blog because my schedule got bogged down last summer. I took on an assignment in addition to my full-time job to edit and comment on Greek-English lexicon/concordance that is in the works (I can’t say anything more than that at this point, at least not until there’s a release date publicized). The concordance part was actually built into the lexical entries, which made for time-consuming reading. The author would list all occurrences of a word, often without the context lines. Add to that the extra time it takes to read numbers relative to words of the same character length on the page. Consider the difference between the following:

A reference would appear like this:

Mt. 22:36–38

As I was editing, I would read:

Matthew twenty-two, thirty-six through thirty-eight

Now imagine 600+ pages filled with a couple hundred references like that on each page, and the reading time per page nearly triples! Needless to say, I had to take a break after almost every page just to maintain my sanity! Fortunately, it was not my job to check the accuracy of each reference (although I did find the occasional error there on familiar passages), otherwise, I’d still be at it. The other challenging part of the edit was that the author’s preferred texts for the English translations were the King James Version and Darby’s translation, which resulted in some interesting entries (I had never heard or seen the word “dropsical” until I saw this dictionary).

The other project that came up is a new study Bible (again, I can’t go into details about who at this point). It’s been challenging, rewarding, and even a little fun reviewing the notes, primarily for Old Testament books, and making suggestions and comments. I’m learning a great deal more about the OT and translation in general. I’m collaborating with a team of other reviewers; I even used one reviewer’s book on Bible study methods early in my teaching career. When that study Bible gets published, I’ll let you know.

I did finish reading through the Greek New Testament a second time in the process, but I’ve taken a break from a stringent schedule and had turned again to reading the Old Testament (in English, but still consulting the Hebrew) until I started participating in a men’s discipleship group. I set up a reading schedule for the guys that starts us in Mark’s Gospel. I also asked them to hold me accountable for getting back into the blogosphere, and rereading Mark 1 provided the perfect occasion for doing so.

Prophecy in Mark 1

As I started through Mark’s Gospel last week, looking at it in English and Greek, I noticed a few things worth mentioning. Mark opens his Gospel with a quotes from Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3. I want to put the Isaiah and Mark passages side by side in Table 1 so you can see some interesting but relatively benign punctuation differences. Keep in mind that punctuation is a much later addition to the biblical text. The ancients didn’t waste papyrus and parchment with commas, dashes, quotation marks, or spaces between words!

Table 1

Isaiah 40:3 (NIV) Mark 1:3 (NIV)

3 A voice of one calling:

“In the wilderness prepare

the way for the Lord;

make straight in the desert

a highway for our God.

“a voice of one calling
in the wilderness,

‘Prepare the way for the Lord,

make straight paths for him.'”

Notice, for example, that the Isaiah quote has the one calling saying, “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord,” while the editors of Mark obviously see a reference to John the Baptizer here: “a voice of one calling in the wilderness.” The punctuation in the Isaiah passage is consistent with the accenting and format of the printed BHS text, but again keep in mind that these are editorial decisions, not a part of the original text.

The Septuagint (LXX, Greek translation of OT which is the source of all OT quotes in the NT) has the quotation beginning at “Prepare,” but again, an editorial decision, since the beginning of a quotation in Greek is marked by a capital letter in the modern text, and the original Greek text was in all capital letters!

I don’t really perceive a significant difference in the meaning of the text one way or the other. In the Isaiah version, “wilderness” is probably figurative for any place or person who needs to be revived by God. In the LXX/Mark version, “wilderness” is a literal reference to the place where John was preaching. The important part of this verse in my mind is the last half: “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

εὐθύς

In one of my earliest blog posts, I made a passing reference to the fact that Mark uses the Greek adverb εὐθύς 41 times in his Gospel (by contrast, the word is used only 17 times in the rest of the New Testament). [NOTE: Strong’s has the adverb form as εὐθέως from the textus receptus, but modern eclectic texts use εὐθυς.) The word means “immediately” or “at once” as an adverb. However, the word is also an adjective that means “straight,” which is found in Mark 1:3 and the LXX translation of Isaiah 40:3. The Hebrew word in Isaiah 40:3 (ישׁר) has the idea of no turning to the left or right, and perhaps even making something level (see Prov. 4:25–27; cf. Heb. 12:13).

So what’s the big deal? Here it is: Mark is using the adverb form as thematic connection to the prophecy with which he opens his Gospel. Many probably think John the Baptizer is the one “preparing the way of the Lord,” but Mark’s repeated use of εὐθύς suggests that he’s portraying Jesus as the one “making straight” the way of the Lord. In Mark’s Gospel, then, εὐθύς represents the urgency with which Jesus went about his ministry. Aside from Jesus’s miracles, the fact that he was clearing the way of the legalism and unreasonable rules of the religious elite shows that Jesus was making the path to God more direct; he was making “straight paths” in wilderness of Jewish legalism. That was ultimately symbolized when the veil of the temple was rent at Jesus’s crucifixion. Man no longer needed an intermediary to get to God because of what Jesus had accomplished on the cross.

Conclusion

Mark, in all its simplicity as the shortest Gospel, seems to have a singular focus on making “straight paths” for the Lord. Matthew has a definite emphasis on the broad view of prophecy in his Gospel, while Luke is concerned more with historical accuracy and detail. But Mark’s Gospel should not be ignored just because it is short or abridged. He shows a sophistication in style comparable to Matthew and Luke.

February 20, 2012

Judas’s Kiss (Matthew 26:48–49; Mark 14:45)

Introduction

Those of us who read the Scriptures with any regularity (and even with some irregularity) have noticed the phenomenon of selective attention. What I mean by this is, when you read a passage of Scripture you know you’ve read before, you notice something that speaks to your heart in such a way that you say, “Why didn’t I see that before.” That has happened to me quite often in reading the English translations of the Bible, even though English is my native tongue. You’d think I’d remember more than I do when I read Scripture. But now on my second time through the Greek New Testament (GNT), I am experiencing that same phenomenon. Of course, having that full year of experience has seasoned me to notice certain features of the text that the occasional reader of the GNT might not notice.

Matthew 26:48–49

The subject of this blog post is one such passage. Matthew 26:48–49 is part of the story of Judas betraying Jesus to the authorities. My discussion in this post centers around the nature of the “kiss” by which Judas identified Jesus to the authorities. Here is how the text reads in the NIV, with the Greek words translated “kiss” identified:

Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss [φιλήσω from φιλέω] is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed [κατεφίλησεν from καταφιλέω] him.

The “Kiss”

New Testament Usage

Some may think the different words used for “kiss” here represent merely a stylistic difference, but an examination of the second word, καταφιλέω, reveals an interesting nuance that is lost in translation but not in context. The word is used six times in the New Testament: once each by Matthew and Mark (14:45) in their respective betrayal pericopes; and four times by Luke—three in his Gospel (Luke 7:38, 45; 15:20) and once in Acts (20:37).

Luke mentions the φιλέω kiss in his passion story, but he never outright says that Judas kissed Jesus. But it is Luke’s use of καταφιλέω that reveals the important nuance in Matthew and Mark. Luke 7 is the story of the woman who washes Jesus feet with perfume, tears, and her hair. The kissing is portrayed as a repeated action that at the same time indicates a sort of “sorrowful joy.” She is both truly repentant and truly grateful for the forgiveness Jesus would proclaim to her. In vs. 45, Luke even contrasts the φιλέω kiss he should have received from Simon as a customary greeting with the woman’s repeated καταφιλέω kissing. So Luke was fully aware of the contrast between the two words, just as Matthew and Mark were.

In Luke 15, Jesus uses καταφιλέω of the father welcoming home the prodigal son. In Acts 20:37, Luke again uses the word to describe what happened when Paul departed from Miletus after saying farewell to the Ephesian elders. Paul is facing grave danger as he returns to Jerusalem, and many of his friends think they will never see him again. This is no peck on the cheek. Strong emotions always accompany this kind of “kiss.”

Old Testament Usage

The use of this word in the Septuagint (LXX) is no different. It describes the affection Laban showed his grandchildren when Jacob departed (Genesis 31:28, 32:1). It also describes Joseph’s reunion with his brothers in Egypt (Genesis 45:15). Naomi parted with Orpah with this kind of kiss, and the bond was so strong that Ruth insisted on returning to Bethlehem with Naomi (Ruth 1:9, 14). The word describes David’s friendship with Jonathan as well (1 Samuel 20:41). But lest I be misunderstood or misinterpreted, there is absolutely no sexual connotation in these farewell “kisses.” They reveal the very deep bond of friendship that the people experienced.

Judas’s Kiss: What It Means

So what does this all mean for Judas’s kiss? The fact that Matthew and Mark use καταφιλέω to describe Judas’s betrayal kiss reveals a couple things in my mind. First, Judas seems to have genuinely loved Jesus. I don’t think it’s fair to suggest he wasn’t genuine about the show of affection, especially given the desperation of his remorse after the fact. Second, because of that love, I have to wonder if Judas was trying to force Jesus’s hand by having him arrested. Judas wanted as much as anyone to throw off Roman rule, but Judas apparently didn’t like where things were headed. I think it is within the realm of reason to suggest that Judas thought by having Jesus arrested, Jesus’s followers would rise up rebellion against Rome. Or perhaps he even thought that Jesus would make a mighty show of divine power to overthrow Rome.

His actions do not strike me as those of a man who had a traitorous heart from the beginning. Rather they seem to be desperate measures by a disillusioned man who was trying to make one last attempt to have things go his way. When he failed miserably and realized he had condemned his friend to death rather initiating a new world order, he killed himself in an ultimate act of desperation.

Conclusion

How many times do you and I get disillusioned about the way God is working in our lives? I know I have done my share of complaining to God that he’s not doing things the way I think he should be doing them. Then in desperation, I do something in an attempt to force God’s hand and realize after the fact how foolish I really was. I need to work on developing that deep and abiding trust in God that makes me want to melt into his καταφιλέω affection for me, just as the prodigal experienced when he returned home.

Peace!

Scott Stocking

January 24, 2012

Old Testament Timeline

Filed under: 1 Chronicles,Chronology,Genesis,Old Testament,Septuagint — Scott Stocking @ 6:29 am

(Note: The first part of this was originally posted as Genesis Timeline.)

The Evidence from Genesis

Table 1 is a work in progress. As I was reading through Genesis, I took note of all the ages of the patriarchs and the timing of the significant events in their lives, when known. In some places, I had to make an educated guess (e.g., the birth of Jacob’s 12 sons, and especially of Joseph and of his sons), but I’m fairly confident I got close. I did not check this against anyone else’s chronology, but I’m open to comments or input on any data I may have missed. Years are given a.c., after creation, and I assume the years are literal and that there are no gaps, although I’m sure some would argue that point with me. At some point, I intend to do the backward chronology and put in the b.c. years, but I want to do a little more study on that first. I hope you find the chart useful.

I ordered the columns by year of death, year of birth, and year of birth of descendant so I could use Excel’s “high-low-close” graph feature to create a timeline (Figure 1). You will easily see that after the flood, age spans decrease dramatically. This is because the flood was a result, in part, of the protective vapor canopy around the earth condensing. That canopy allowed the new earth to flourish and blocked the harmful radiation of the sun, thus allowing longer life (and bigger dinosaurs). But more about that in a future post!

Table 1: Genesis Timeline: Years of birth, death, and significant events in the lives of the Patriarchs.

 

Year of Death (a.c.)

Year of Birth (a.c.)

Child Born (a.c.)

Age @ child’s birth

Age @ death

Comments

Adam

930

0

130

130

930

 

Seth

1042

130

235

105

912

 

Enosh

1140

235

325

90

905

 

Kenan

1235

325

395

70

910

 

Mahalalel

1290

395

460

65

895

 

Jared

1422

460

622

162

962

 

Enoch

987

622

687

65

365

 

Methuselah

1656

687

874

187

969

 

Lamech

1651

874

1056

182

777

 

Noah

2006

1056

1556

500

950

Date of the flood: 1656 a.c.

Shem

2156

1556

1656

100

600

Gen 10:21: “Whose older brother was Japheth” makes him the youngest, presumably.

Arphaxad

2094

1656

1691

35

438

 

Shelah

2124

1691

1721

30

433

 

Eber

2185

1721

1755

34

464

 

Peleg

1994

1755

1785

30

239

Gen 10:25: Peleg = “divided”: “because in his time, the earth was divided”. A reference to the Tower of Babel?

Reu

2024

1785

1817

32

239

 

Serug

2047

1817

1847

30

230

 

Nahor

1995

1847

1876

29

148

 

Terah

2081

1876

1946

70

205

 

Abra(ha)m

2121

1946

2046

100

175

 

Isaac

2226

2046

2106

60

180

No firm date given for birth of Jacob/Esau, but Esau is 40 when he marries and before Jacob takes his birthright.

Jacob/Esau

2253

2106

2166

60

147

Genesis 45:6: Two years into the famine when Joseph reveals himself. If Jacob was 60 when Joseph was born (he was in Paddan Aram for 20 years), this would make Joseph 70 years old when he revealed himself to his brothers. Genesis 47:9: Jacob was 130 when he went to Egypt.

Joseph

2276

2166

2231

65

110

Genesis 37:2: Joseph is 17 when he has his dreams (2183 a.c.). Genesis 41:46: Joseph is 30 years old (2196 a.c.) when he enters Pharaoh’s service. In 41:50: Joseph’s two sons were born “before the years of famine,” so he is roughly 65(?) when his sons are born.

Moses

2706

2586

   

120

Exodus 12:40: Israelites leave Egypt after 430 years; Jacob came to Egypt in 2236 a.c., so the Exodus happens in 2666 a.c. That would put Moses’s birth at 2586 a.c., death at 2706 a.c.

 

Figure 1: Genesis Timeline Chart

Figure notes: The y-axis represents years after creation. The bottom number with the red mark indicates the year of birth of the descendant to the right. The top number indicates the year of death of the father to the left.

[Added 1/27/2012]

The Evidence from Exodus and Beyond

I said this was a work in progress, so I’m going to keep adding to it. It shouldn’t surprise me that right after I post this, I run across something that throws a wrench in the works. I realize that patriarchal genealogies may not be comprehensive (usually only the sons are listed), but I have trouble believing that there are gaps, because the point was to show an unbroken line of descent. So what am I talking about here?

I was reading in Exodus 6 this morning (6:16–20 is what caught my attention) where the ages of Levi and his descendants are given. Levi lived 137 years, his son Kohath lived 133 years (LXX has 130), and Kohath’s son Amram, Moses’s father, lived 137 years (LXX has 132). The genealogy at 1 Chronicles 6 agrees with Exodus 6:16–20 with no additions. We don’t know the ages of the fathers when their sons were born, but working from the assumption that they were 60ish (since that seemed to be the pattern toward the end of the Genesis timeline above) when their respective key descendants were born, and assuming Levi was born about 10 years before Joseph (ca. 2156 a.c.), there’s no way you can stretch out the chronology in 6:16–20 to fill the 430 years of Exodus 12:40! Table 2 is a proposed addition to the Excel sheet above.

Table 2: From Levi to Moses (hypothetical; revised in Table 3)

 

Year of Death (a.c.)

Year of Birth (a.c.)

Child Born (a.c.)

Age @ child’s birth

Age @ death

Levi

2293

2156

2216

60

137

Kohath

2349

2216

2276

60

133

Amram

2413

2276

2336

60

137

Moses

2456

2336

2396

60

120

Gershon

2396

2396

2396

   

 

Notice that this hypothetical data puts Moses’s birth at 2336, a full 250 years before my proposed date above! What is going on here?

The key may lie in a closer look at the textual history of Exodus 12:40. The Hebrew text says that the Israelites were in Egypt 430 years. But the LXX and the Samaritan Pentateuch say they lived in Egypt and Canaan 430 years. Could it be that the mention of living in Egypt symbolized the fact that the Israelites did not yet have a permanent home anywhere, and so in Moses’s mind, that included the years from Abram’s settlement in Canaan to Jacob’s move to Egypt? If this is intended to imply 430 years from the time Abram settled in Canaan, where does that leave us? Here’s the math: Genesis 12:4 says Abram was 75 years old when set out from Harran. If Abram was born in 1946 a.c., 1946 + 75 = 2021. Add 430 to that, and you get 2451 a.c. for the date of the exodus, when Moses is 80 years old. Are you following me so far? Subtract 80 from that, and you get Moses’s birth year in 2371 a.c. So if I make Moses’s ancestors slightly older when they have their kids, I can make the chronology work a little better. Table 3 shows the revision.

Table 3: From Levi to Moses: final

 

Year of Death (a.c.)

Year of Birth (a.c.)

Child Born (a.c.)

Age @ child’s birth

Age @ death

Levi

2293

2156

2226

70

137

Kohath

2359

2226

2301

75

133

Amram

2438

2301

2371

70

137

Moses

2491

2371

2431

60

120

Gershon

2431

2431

2431

   

 

At this point, I may as well bring in the other major chronological statement from the Old Testament and try to put everything into the more familiar B.C. years. Solomon began building the temple in the fourth year of his reign, 480 years (LXX has 440) after the Israelites came out of Egypt. Solomon’s reign is dated circa 971–931 B.C. (working from the chronology in William LaSor, David Hubbard, & Frederic Bush, Old Testament Survey [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972] p. 293), so Solomon began building the temple roughly 967 B.C. Adding 480 years to that puts the Exodus at 1447 B.C. So 1447 B.C. = 2451 a.c. That would put creation at 3898 B.C., give or take about 100 years depending on how you deal with the unknowns.

However, LaSor et al. suggest (p. 127) that the 480 years is a rounding, of sorts: 12 generations times 40 years/generation. But they significantly shorten that number, almost cutting it in half, and suggest that the exodus happened in the early thirteenth century B.C. rather than the mid fifteenth century B.C. I will have to save that debate for another time, though.

Conclusion

The puzzle of biblical chronolgy is fascinating, if only because I love to play with numbers. I realize I’ve made some “educated guesses” here, but as for the genealogies, I would have a difficult time believing there are any gaps in such detailed records. If you compare Matthew’s genealogy with the corresponding text in 1 Chronicles, it is clear that Matthew does leave out a few generations toward the end, but he’s certainly given enough information to connect us to his primary source material.

I believe in a recent creation, but I’m not so sure the earth itself is that new. After all, Genesis 1:1 says something was here before God made something out of it (“the earth was without form and void” doesn’t mean it didn’t exist at the time).

Peace

Scott Stocking

June 5, 2011

The “I Am” Statements of Jesus

These last two weeks have been challenging to say the least. I have moved into an apartment, and my body is stiff and sore from carrying my stuff up two flights of stairs several times a day. I went to Illinois last weekend to see my kids—we had a great time in Chicago attending a damp but entertaining Kane County Cougars baseball game (single A team for the Royals), then waited two hours in a thunderstorm to get into Shedd Aquarium the next morning. We were wetter than the aquatic creatures by the time we got in there. I am also in the process of switching second jobs, which has taken considerably more time than I anticipated. And as I have come to the heart of John’s gospel with the seven “I am” statements of Jesus, Satan has ramped up his attacks on me, and some days, I have been too tired to think spiritually enough to resist. But I praise God that he has strengthened me in the past few days, and I’m feeling a renewed vigor and resolve to press forward.

Overview of “I Am” Statements in John

Some of you may already know that Jesus makes seven key “I am” statements about himself in John’s gospel. They usually take the form “Ἐγω εἰμι [predicate nominative case definite article and noun] [(genitive case definite article and noun translated “of X”) or (predicate nominative case definite article with adjective) or, in the absence of the latter two, (one or more additional nominative case noun descriptions]. (Nominative case is the “subject” case in Greek; predicate nominative means it comes after the “to be” verb; genitive case implies possession or source.) In some cases, the “I am” statements are repeated in various forms. Jesus makes other “I am” or “I am not” statements in John’s gospel that I will address below, but to begin, here are the seven main “I am” statements of Jesus, giving the first occurrence of each if there are multiple similar statements (taken from Nestle-Aland Greek NT, 27th edition, with McReynold’s Interlinear):

John 6:35

Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ἄρτος τῆς ζωῆς

egō eimi ho artos tēs zōēs

I am the bread of the life

(see also 6:41, 48, 51)

John 8:12

Ἐγώ εἰμι τὸ φῶς τοῦ κόσμου

egō eimi to phōs tou kosmou

I am the light of the world

John 10:7

Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ θύρα τῶν προβάτων

egō eimi hē thyra tōn probatōn

I am the door of the sheep

(see also 10:9)

John 10:11

Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλός

Egō eimi ho poimēn ho kalos

I am the shepherd the good (= “the good shepherd”)

(see also John 10:14)

John 11:25

Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ἀνάστασις καὶ ἡ ζωή

egō eimi hē anastasis kai hē zōē

I am the standing up (= “resurrection”) and the life

John 14:6

ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ὁδὸς καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια καὶ ἡ ζωή

egō eimi hē hodos kai hē alētheia kai hē zōē

I am the way and the truth and the life

John 15:1

Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ἄμπελος ἡ ἀληθινὴ

Egō eimi hē ampelos hē alēthinē

I am the vine the true (= “the true vine”)

(see also John 15:5).

Background

I need to mention one bit of grammatical background here: Greek verbs are “parsed” (that is, their spelling changes) depending on the “person” and “number” of the subject of the verb. As such, if the subject of the verb is a simple pronoun (first person: I, we; second person: you, y’all; third person: he, she, it, they), then Greek does not typically require an actual pronoun to accompany the verb. The subject is implied by the way the verb is spelled. So if I wanted to say “I am a sinner” in Greek, I would render it Εἰμί ἁμάρτωλος. When a pronoun is used as the subject of the verb, then it is considered emphatic. So if I said Ἐγώ εἰμί ἁμάρτωλος, I would be saying in effect, “I myself am a sinner.” So the fact that Jesus uses ἐγώ here means that he is calling attention to himself in a special way. He is not just saying, “I am hungry” or “I am thirsty.” He is making people sit up and take notice about who he really is.

The most obvious significance of Jesus making these “I am” statements is the direct connection to Exodus 3:14, where God reveals his name to Moses. In Hebrew, that name is usually rendered יְהוָ֞ה (yəh WAH, or commonly rendered in English as Yahweh /YAH way/, with the vowels corresponding to the Hebrew word for Lord, adonai, which Jews often spoke in its place because speaking the actual name Yahweh is considered taboo to them; NOTE: “Jehovah” is not a proper Hebrew or English rendering of this word). The Septuagint (LXX = Koine Greek translation of the OT) uses Ἐγω εἰμι to translate the Hebrew in Exodus 3:14, but whenever the Tetragrammaton (fancy name for the four Hebrew letters of Yahweh) appears in Hebrew, the LXX usually translates it κύριος (kyrios /KOO ree oss/ ‘lord’). In English texts, the name is printed with an initial full capital and small caps: LORD. All this background is necessary to understand that when Jesus says “I am” in these contexts, he is making theological truth claims about his very nature.

The Other “I Am” Statements

John’s gospel has ten “I am” statements apart from the ones mentioned above that usually serve as identifiers (“I am he”) in response to a question (e.g., 4:26) or that say something about his purpose or person (e.g., 13:19). The most significant of these, and one that could arguably be added to the seven statements above, is John 8:58: “Before Abraham was, I am.

John also records six “Where I am” statements of Jesus. They either say something to the effect that “Where I am, you cannot come” (7:34), but later change to a promise (14:3; “That where I am you may also be”) and a prayer (17:24). Four additional times, Jesus indicates where he is and is not from: “I am from above, I am not of this world” (8:23). He repeats the last half of that in 17:14, 16.

Conclusion and a Promise

As is usually the case, time has passed by quickly here and I am not able to start unpacking the “I am” statements this morning. However, in the days and weeks to come, I will dedicate subsequent posts to unpacking each of these “I am” statements as time allows. These statements are so crucial to John’s Christology, and they always come at the appropriate point in the text to make the greatest impact on the conscientious reader. Have a great Sunday morning in worship, and have a great week to come. Rest in the promise of Jesus from Matthew 28:20: “I am with you always.”

Peace!

Scott Stocking

This post was updated 11/8/2011 to add hyperlinks to the “I Am” Scriptures for the respective blog posts on those Scriptures.

April 18, 2011

Unicorns in the Bible? (Dedicated to my son, Alec)

Filed under: Biblical Animals,Biblical Studies,Greek,Septuagint — Scott Stocking @ 6:40 am

My son and youngest daughter went to the Creation Museum in Kentucky a couple weeks ago. We had gone a few years ago, and although the Noah’s Ark displays were impressive, I was very disappointed in the overall presentation. I was hoping for something a little more scientific and a little less “preachy.” That aside, I still believe in creationism; the diversity of God’s creation always floors me whenever I learn something new and unique about it. But I digress. On the eve of his trip, my son texted me a question about whether unicorns were mentioned in the Bible. Since I had missed a blog post a couple weeks ago while I was visiting my kids, I thought I’d make it up here by honoring my son’s biblical curiosity with a blog post about what I discovered.

I had just read through the entire Bible last year (Today’s New International Version, TNIV), but didn’t remember any mention of unicorns. However, when I commissioned Logos to the task, I found that the King James Version has the word “unicorn” nine times. The English word is found in the following passages, all from the Old Testament (no New Testament or Revelation references) of the Authorized (King James) Version published in 1769 (the 1873 and 1900 versions also have the word):

Num 23:22    God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.

Num 24:8    God brought him forth out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn: he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows.

Deut 33:17    His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth: and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh.

Job 39:9    Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib?

Job 39:10    Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee?

Ps 22:21    Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.

Ps 29:6    He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn.

Ps 92:10    But my horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn: I shall be anointed with fresh oil.

Isa 34:7    And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness.

The Hebrew word in these passages is רְאֵם (reʾēm, /r’ AIM/ Bos primigenius bojanus). Many modern translations render this “wild ox,” which was probably the


aurochs, now presumed extinct. (I say “presumed,” because how many times of late have scientists found creatures or plants thought to have been extinct for thousands

 of years?) The reason the word “unicorn” entered the text is most likely because of the unfortunate Septuagint (LXX) Greek translation of the word, μονόκερως (monokerōs /mo NO kehr rohss/ ‘one-horned’). One need only look up pictures of livestock to find pictures of animals to whom the ancients would have ascribed a name meaning “having one horn.” The most obvious living animal in my mind is the rhinoceros (in modern Greek, ρινόκερος rinokeros—note the similarity; see also Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon and Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew for this possibility as well). Many other animals appear to have “one” horn, because the points from which the horns originate appear to be a horny (kerototic) mass in the middle of the head, or they come from a pair of originating points as close together as our human nostrils, much like the modern-day musk ox. Whatever this animal was, it is thought to be a clean animal, so that would rule out any horselike creatures such as unicorns and Pegasus.

The Bible authors mention numerous creatures about which we have no modern knowledge. For example, if you look at the list of clean and unclean animals in Leviticus 11, you will most likely see a footnote stating that the identification of many of the animals (especially birds) is uncertain. Job certainly is speaking of dinosaurs when he speaks of the behemoth: “Its tail sways like a cedar; the sinews of its thighs are close-knit. Its bones are tubes of bronze, its limbs like rods of iron” (Job 40:17–18; also see Isaiah 48:4 for a similar description of stubborn Israel). If you’ve ever seen the stringy tail of an elephant or the virtually nonexistent tail of the hippopotamus (see NIV footnote on Job 40:15), I don’t see how you could say it “sways like a cedar.”

So as much of a fan of fantasy literature (and the Irish Rovers) as I am, I would have to conclude that, although there may have been a truly one-horned animal similar to the unicorn, the modern conception of it most likely never existed (not even before the flood; sorry Irish Rovers). It is truly a mythological creature, but one that has sparked the creative imagination of many.

Peace

Blog at WordPress.com.