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Literacy in the Time of Jesus - Could His Words Have Been Recorded in His Lifetime?
Biblical Archaeology Society ^ | Jul/Aug 2003 | Alan Millard

Posted on 02/07/2006 10:41:13 AM PST by Between the Lines

Literacy in the Time of Jesus
Could His Words Have Been Recorded in His Lifetime?

How likely is it that someone would have written down and collected Jesus’ sayings into a book in Jesus’ lifetime? Several lines of evidence converge to suggest it is quite probable.

The first factor to consider is how prevalent literacy was in Jesus’ time. Full literacy means being able to read and write proficiently, but degrees of literacy vary; people who can read, for example, may not be able to write. A common view is that of W.H. Kelber, who claims that, in first-century A.D. Palestine, “writing was in the hands of an élite of trained specialists, and reading required an advanced education available only to a few.” It is often asserted that writing was restricted to government and religious circles and would have had no place among the peasantry of Galilee, where Jesus did much of his teaching. If this statement were true, there would be more validity to the widely-held opinion that knowledge of Jesus’ words and deeds depended on oral tradition—people passed on what they saw and heard by word of mouth—until about 70 A.D., when the earliest of the Gospels, the Gospel of Mark, was composed.

However, the evidence showing that reading and writing were widely practiced in Jesus’ age grows with every discovery of a new inscription. Much of this evidence comes from religious and governmental circles, but a great deal of it does not.

The library of Qumran—otherwise known as the Dead Sea Scrolls—includes mostly religious texts, to be sure, but significantly, these represent both the continued copying of the sacred scripture and other religious books, and the creation of new ones. Members of the Jewish sect based at Qumran—commonly thought to be Essenes—must have been expected to read the Law regularly, since they produced so many copies of religious texts.

During the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome, led by Simon Bar-Kokhba in 132–135 A.D., refugees from the invading Roman army fled to remote caves near the Dead Sea, south of the Qumran area where the scrolls were discovered. Some fragments of Biblical scrolls were found in these caves, but also an array of letters and legal deeds. A number of the letters are from Bar-Kokhba himself, or were addressed to him. One archive, belonging to a woman named Babatha, had been packed in an old wineskin and included deeds written in Greek and Aramaic; they concern ownership of property, debts, and marriage and divorce settlements. Some of them date from the middle of the first century A.D., or just after, so they exemplify the sort of legal documents that were being written in the Gospel period. One deed of divorce is similar in many ways to the traditional Jewish kethubah (marriage contract) and also to a particular deed of divorce between two Idumaeans drafted on a potsherd in the second century B.C., which was found at Marisa.

A deed of debt, dated 55–56 A.D., was discovered among the Second Revolt documents and may be an example of the debt notes Jesus referred to in the parable of the Shrewd Manager; in the parable, the manager instructs his master’s debtor, “Take your bill, sit down quickly and write half the amount” (). It is taken for granted that an ordinary man would be able to write out a numerical sum.

Papyrus and leather documents have not survived from most of Palestine, only from very arid regions such as the area around the Dead Sea. These materials rot in damp soil. The fact that they have not been discovered does not mean, therefore, that they did not exist. The first-century A.D. Jewish historian Josephus reports that, when the First Jewish Revolt against Rome broke out in 66 A.D., one of the rebels’ primary targets was an archive building in Jerusalem that housed debt records they wanted to burn. They knew the power these records could have over them. The second-century A.D. legal papyri from the Bar-Kokhba caves include several that are signed by the scribe and also by witnesses. Some witnesses signed in flowing, easy script, others with laboriously written letters, and still others not at all: In the case of those who were illiterate, the scribe signed on their behalf. Whatever their level of skill, all were aware of writing.

Every year, hundreds of small bronze coins minted by Jewish kings in the first century B.C. come to light in Israel. Those struck for Alexander Jannaeus (103–76 B.C.) bear his name and titles in Hebrew and Greek or in Hebrew and Aramaic. The coins of Herod the Great and his sons have only Greek legends. The same is true for the coins of the Roman governors of Judea. Every dutiful Jew paid the annual half-shekel Temple Tax (see ), which the Temple authorities demanded be paid in the silver coins of Tyre (these also bore Greek words). However, when the First Revolt broke out, the rebel leaders put anachronistic, pre-Exilic Hebrew characters on the coins they minted.

The prevalence of the Greek language in the first century A.D. is also apparent from Greek public notices set up in Jerusalem. Most notable are the stones warning non-Jews not to enter the sacred courts of Herod’s Temple. One had to be able to read to know what the signs said.

Let us turn from religion and governmental inscriptions to more personal ones. In first-century A.D. Jerusalem it was customary to leave the body of a deceased relative in the family cave tomb for a year, then collect the bones and put them into a box, or ossuary (now a familiar term, following the publication in this magazine of the ossuary inscribed “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”). Some ossuaries were wooden and have decayed, but many were made of stone and survive. On stone ossuaries the names of the dead were often scratched with something pointed, perhaps a nail, or they were scribbled in charcoal. The way the names are written makes it clear these notices were, for the most part, not the work of professional scribes, but of family members wishing to identify their relatives for posterity.

These ossuary inscriptions, especially the so-called graffiti inscriptions that were scrawled by non-professionals, testify to a higher level of literacy in Jesus’ Israel than is sometimes supposed. Even those people who had difficulty writing plainly and clearly knew how to read and were prepared to make a stab at writing, even on something as important as the ossuary of a family member.

While most materials that were written on—leather, papyrus and ossuaries—were expensive, one writing material was free and readily available: the potsherd. Ancient crockery was usually simple earthenware (terracotta), which broke easily. Pieces lay scattered in the streets and courtyards of towns and villages—free scrap paper. You could scribble a note on a suitable sherd, then throw it away once you were finished. A Hebrew alphabet found on a potsherd at Qumran is a good specimen of a pupil’s attempt at learning his letters.

Many inscribed potsherds, called ostraca, were found in the excavations at Masada and were left by the Jewish rebels who held out against the Romans until 73 A.D., three years after the Romans destroyed the Jerusalem Temple. Excavators at Masada found notes in Greek about supplies of barley and notes in Hebrew about deliveries of bread. The people mentioned include “the Gadarenes” and “Bar-Jesus” [son of Jesus]. Many small sherds bear a single name and one letter of the Hebrew alphabet, while dozens have only one Hebrew letter (both the pre- and post-Exilic forms were used) or a Greek letter. These were probably coupons for a rationing system used during the Roman siege. That is the most likely explanation, too, for the sherds bearing a single name, which chief excavator Yigael Yadin surmised might be the lots the last defenders of Masada drew to decide who should kill the last of them in their mass suicide.

Therefore, among Masada’s stalwart defenders, many of whom were ordinary people, there were some who could read three different scripts and at least two languages.

Before the rebels occupied Masada during the First Jewish Revolt, the site had served as one of Herod’s magnificent palace-fortresses. In the ruins of Herod’s palace were found pieces of pottery jars with notes of their contents written in ink. These were not written in Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek, but in Latin. Many of the wine jars (amphoras) were prepared in Italy for Herod’s cellar. They were marked with the date and the vineyard, followed by the Latin phrase “for Herod king of Judaea.” Another jar was marked garum, the salt-fish paste so beloved of the Romans. One jar might bear the word “apples.” Evidently some kitchen staff in Herod’s court could read enough Latin to select the right wine, savory or dessert. So by Jesus’ lifetime, Latin was already current in Judea’s royal pantries.

True, all these examples come from Judea, rather than Galilee, but this is largely because sites in Galilee continued to be inhabited; later remains in these towns destroyed or covered earlier ones, as at Capernaum. Only at Gamla, in the Golan, has a first-century A.D. town been extensively explored. Moreover, two of Galilee’s cities, Sepphoris and Tiberias, were founded in the first century A.D. With such large-scale construction, a lot of writing must have been going on. In addition to instructions for builders, accounts of payments made and lists of supplies for the royal palaces and villas of the nobles, there would have been the normal records of the tax collectors and customs officials, such as Levi (; ). So far archaeologists have cleared only small areas of first-century occupation in these towns. Even though writing was used extensively in daily life, ostraca with ancient writing are not commonly found at the sites. Large caches usually come to light only when ancient rubbish pits—where the ostraca were dumped—are excavated.

This brings us back to Jesus’ words. It is sometimes said that, for example, “it is incontrovertible that in the earliest period there was only an oral record of the narrative and sayings of Jesus.” The evidence we have just adduced, however, suggests that many ordinary people knew how to read and probably also to write.

Luke tells us that he sought out the most reliable sources when compiling his Gospel—sources that “were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” (). We may assume that he could read notes made by eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ministry. It is true that none of these sources survive, but the common currency of writing makes the assumption plausible. The shared content of the three Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke) could well derive from a very early written text (the hypothetical document scholars call Q, to account for this shared material.)
The letters of Paul and others preserved in the New Testament prove writing was current in the early decades of the Church’s existence, and the importance of written texts in the Church is evident from the number of papyrus fragments from the mid-second century A.D. onward found in Middle Egypt. There is no reason to believe the Egyptian Church was unique in having these written texts; their survival in Egypt is purely accidental. Other texts would have circulated across the Roman Empire and farther east.

It is not hard to imagine someone in first-century Israel coming home one day and writing out the memorable words he had just heard: “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted” () or “I and the Father are one” ().
Jesus himself almost certainly knew how to read and write. He read from the scroll of Isaiah in the Nazareth synagogue, according to Luke (). He also quoted widely from the Jewish holy books. Yet he would rarely have needed to write. In fact, the only instance in the Gospels of Jesus writing occurs in the case of the woman caught in adultery; when she is brought before him, he writes some mysterious words on the ground with his finger ().

It is sometimes said that a rabbinic rule forbade writing down a teacher’s words or anything with religious content, apart from the Scriptures, lest other compositions be confused with the sacred texts. In fact, rabbinic sources did allow for written notes of a teacher’s words to be kept on tablets. Now, a remarkable document from among the Dead Sea Scrolls, known as (“Some Teachings of the Law”) upsets this supposed rule. is written in the first person and contains the rulings of some unnamed authority. These rulings are said to contradict the tenets of another sect, a sect that can be identified with those who later became the dominant rabbis in Judaism. The attitude reflected in is similar to the attitude of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard it was said…but I say to you” (). A leading Dead Sea Scroll scholar does not doubt that the document was written at the time the rulings were made. Clearly some devout Jews in the first century were happy to keep their teachers’ words in writing. Actually, six copies of existed at Qumran, showing it was a widely read book. Nor was Qumran the only place where the Essenes lived, read and wrote; Josephus says they were settled in large numbers in every town, so they were likely to have some of the Scriptures and their own writings with them in places all around Israel.

Some scholars contend, with Stephen Patterson, that “very few people could read or write [in Jesus’ day].” But such statements are no longer supported by the evidence. Not everyone could read and write. And some who could read were not necessarily able to write. But archaeological discoveries and other lines of evidence now show that writing and reading were widely practiced in the Palestine of Jesus’ day. And if that is true, there is no reason to doubt that there were some eyewitness records of what Jesus said and did.


Sidebar to: Literacy in the Time of Jesus

The normal writing material used throughout the Roman Empire was the wooden writing tablet. A shallow recess was cut in a wooden board, leaving a border like a picture frame. The recess was filled with wax on which you could write with a sharp pointed stylus. Examples have been dug up in different parts of the Roman world, including London, where unusual soil conditions have prevented the wood from rotting.

Over the past 30 years another type of wooden tablet has come to light. This is a very thin slat, like a piece of veneer; letters were incised on it with a sharp point and the slat folded in half, vertically. Then it was secured by a cord running through a v-shaped slot at each edge and tied. Scores of these slats, dating from about 100 A.D., have been unearthed at Vindolanda, a fort on the frontier between Britain and Scotland where Hadrian’s Wall was later erected. All ranks in the army wrote on the slats, from the garrison commander to infantrymen and slaves.

Perhaps the most famous letter found at Vindolanda is a birthday invitation from Claudia Severa, the wife of the commander of Briga, a nearby fort, to Sulpicia Lepidina, wife of Vindolanda’s commander. Claudia Severa’s warm, informal tone, and the personal nature of her message, lend support to the theory that writing was part of everyday life:

Claudia Severa to her Lepidina, greetings. On the third day before the Ides of September, sister, for the day of the celebration of my birthday, I give you a warm invitation to make sure that you come to us, to make the day more enjoyable for me by your arrival…Give my greetings to your Cerialis. My Aelius and my little son send him(?) their greetings. I shall expect you, sister. Farewell, sister, my dearest soul, as I hope to prosper, and hail.

At other sites in Europe, additional examples of writing slats have been found, so it seems they were as common as the wooden tablets. They are so thin and fragile that archaeologists may not always have recognized them. One such slat was found with the Bar-Kokhba manuscripts. Therefore we may assume that they were in use in Palestine in Jesus’ lifetime.

To learn more about writing in the ancient world, see A.K. Bowman, Life and Letters on the Roman Frontier: Vindolanda and Its People (London: British Museum Press, 1994).


Sidebar to: Literacy in the Time of Jesus

Today, all that remains of the once-sizable Egyptian town of Oxyrhynchus (its Greek name, pronounced “ox-ee-RIN-kus” and meaning “sharp-nosed,” refers to a species of fish in the Nile) is a lone column surrounded by drifting sands, the only relic not carted off and reused by modern builders. In its Roman and Byzantine heyday, however, Oxyrhynchus—located about 200 miles south of Alexandria in Middle Egypt—was an impressive and prosperous place, with colonnaded streets and a theater seating 11,000. The architectural glories of Oxyrhynchus may have been lost forever, but the site has yielded what must be a far more valuable treasure: the richest cache of papyri ever found in Egypt, preserved in the ancient garbage dumps just outside the city.

In 1897, two young British archaeologists, Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt, assembled a team of local diggers and began to probe the 30-foot-deep rubbish mounds. Soon they had found more papyri than they had ever imagined—and not just official documents, but the kind of everyday papers that are rarely preserved, such as personal letters, shopping lists and tax returns. Excavations at Oxyrhynchus continued through 1934, bringing to light about 50,000 documents in all.

Like the Vindolanda writing tablets from Roman Britain, the Oxyrhynchus papyri offer a fascinating glimpse into the daily life of an ancient town. We learn of a woman named Sabina, who hit another woman, Syra, with a key, injuring her so badly that she stayed in bed for four days; a gift of 1,000 roses and 4,000 narcissi made by a certain Apollonius and Sarapias for the wedding of a friend’s son; and the astrological advice a man named Elis gave to his friend (or client) Carpus in the following letter:

Elis to his most esteemed Carpus, very many greetings. Don’t forget about the order for the three plates, two big ones and [one line missing here]…Meet your friend when the Moon is in Sagittarius, at the fourth hour; it arrives there on 12th Thoth; it is there again also on the 13th and 14th until the seventh hour. At these times meet your friend. Farewell.

Because Oxyrhynchus was a Greek-speaking enclave, most of the papyri found there—including fragments of the New and Old Testaments and literary works by the poets Callimachus and Sappho—are written in Greek, though other ancient languages are represented. To date, scholars have filled 67 volumes in the Oxyrhynchus Papyri series, published by the Egypt Exploration Society with transcriptions, translations and notes. Many more volumes will be needed to catalogue in full this historical treasure trove.

Further information about Oxyrhynchus can be found on the Web site of the Center for the Study of Ancient Documents, Oxford University (http://www.csad.ox.ac.uk/Poxy/).


TOPICS: General Discusssion; History
KEYWORDS: epigraphy; epigraphyandlanguage; godsgravesglyphs; hadrianswall; language; ossuary; oxyrhynthus; romanempire; unitedkingdom; vindolanda; vindolandatablets

1 posted on 02/07/2006 10:41:15 AM PST by Between the Lines
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To: Between the Lines

Terrific post. Thanks!


2 posted on 02/07/2006 10:54:39 AM PST by Hetty_Fauxvert (Kelo must GO!! ..... http://sonoma-moderate.blogspot.com/)
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To: Hetty_Fauxvert

MArk, the earlies gospel, was written in 70 AD?

Oh pleeeeeassee... the German skeptics who asserted that were discredited decades ago.

An Aramaic version of Matthew existed in AD 50, and probably served as a source document for Luke. But this version was heavily altered, so we'll let it slide that this wasn't counted.

Acts ends abruptly, with no mention of very significant events which happened just after the actions described in Acts, about 64 AD. The natural inclination, then, is to suppose that those events hadn't happened yet. And since they quite possibly include the execution of the author, his failure to record them is for obvious reasons.

Acts is the sequel to the gospel of Luke, so Luke probably was written a few years before 64 AD. The reason the German Skeptics favored a later date is that Jesus knew of the destruction of the Temple, which took place in 64 AD. Not only is this a presumption that Jesus couldn't foretell a future event, given the goings-on at the time, Jesus' suggestion would hardly have been an outlandish guess.

Luke is based on Mark, so Mark was probably written shortly before Luke.

John attests that it was written by the beloved disciple. Linguistic reasons for doubting that were disproven by the discover of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which revealed that the Essene sect to which John belonged were in fact incredibly devoted to the preservation of scriptures and the literary art of Greek. Scholars had said that John, being a mere fisherman, would have bene intellectually incapable of creating such a literary masterwork; turns out he probably was referred to Jesus by the Baptist because he was a literary master. But John was quite young at the time, and could very well have lived until AD 90. The gospel was apparently written by John himself. Perhaps it existed as several separate papyri which were collected together shortly after his death.


3 posted on 02/07/2006 12:04:11 PM PST by dangus
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To: Between the Lines

>> (now a familiar term, following the publication in this magazine of the ossuary inscribed “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”) <<

I'm surprised their willing to admit that. That story was an absolute disgrace. And the mistranslation was ridiculous.

(The actual inscription read James, of Joseph, of Jesus, and would normally be taken to mean James, son of Joseph, SON of Jesus. To claim it read "brother of" is so baseless, it borders on outright deception.)


4 posted on 02/07/2006 12:08:24 PM PST by dangus
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To: dangus
(The actual inscription read James, of Joseph, of Jesus, and would normally be taken to mean James, son of Joseph, SON of Jesus. To claim it read "brother of" is so baseless, it borders on outright deception.)

More importantly, the Ossurary of James has been proved to be a fraud... the extended inscriptions having been added within the last ten years.

5 posted on 02/08/2006 12:08:45 AM PST by Swordmaker (Beware of Geeks bearing GIFs.)
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Just adding this to the GGG catalog, not sending a general distribution.

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6 posted on 06/08/2006 11:49:19 AM PDT by SunkenCiv (All Moslems everywhere advocate murder, including mass murder, and they do it all the time.)
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Just updating the GGG info, not sending a general distribution.

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7 posted on 02/23/2010 2:22:17 PM PST by SunkenCiv (Happy New Year! Freedom is Priceless.)
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To: dangus

Incorrect on both accounts, see: http://ingermanson.com/mad_science/james_ossuary

1) It does say Jesus, son of Joseph, BROTHER of James
2) The trial came back with a verdict in 2012 of not guilty of forgery.


8 posted on 08/13/2013 9:40:21 AM PDT by agapetos (Dangus needs to stop uninformed factless propaganda)
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To: agapetos

1) No. Jesus was assumed into Heaven, bodily. No-one alleges the bones to be Jesus’. However, I did misunderstand the criticism of the translation, but the original criticism is still valid. The ossuary says, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” The article leads people to suppose what is meant is “James, [who is the] son of Joseph, [and who also is] brother of Jesus.” However, what would have been understood in the original would be “James, [who is the] son of Joseph, [who in turn is the] brother of Jesus.” If the former was meant, it would have read, “James, brother of Jesus *and* son of Joseph.”

2) The trial in no way vindicated the assertion that the scratchings were authentic. The jury couldn’t possibly know whether the scratchings were made by Golan or some previous con man. The judge explicitly asserted that this acquittal “does not mean that the inscription on the ossuary is authentic or that it was written 2,000 years ago.” Since the article is written, the finding that the ossuary is a forgery has been challenged by some non-crackpots, such as Dr. Wolfgang Krumbein, but the weight of scholarly opinion remains that it is a forgery. However, again, even if it is not a forgery, it is hardly proof that James is the brother of Jesus, as pointed out in objection #1. Even if it did, you should be aware that Eastern Christianity holds that Mary was perpetually virgin, but that Joseph had other sons by a previous wife (in which case, one could plausibly read it to guess that Joseph was the brother of Jesus, and James was thus the nephew of Jesus; among Jesus’ “brothers” in the bible is a “Joses.”)


9 posted on 08/13/2013 10:39:46 AM PDT by dangus (Poverty cannot be eradicated as long as the poor remain dependent on the state - Pope Francis)
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To: agapetos

1) No. Jesus was assumed into Heaven, bodily. No-one alleges the bones to be Jesus’. However, I did misunderstand the criticism of the translation, but the original criticism is still valid. The ossuary says, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” The article leads people to suppose what is meant is “James, [who is the] son of Joseph, [and who also is] brother of Jesus.” However, what would have been understood in the original would be “James, [who is the] son of Joseph, [who in turn is the] brother of Jesus.” If the former was meant, it would have read, “James, brother of Jesus *and* son of Joseph.”

2) The trial in no way vindicated the assertion that the scratchings were authentic. The jury couldn’t possibly know whether the scratchings were made by Golan or some previous con man. The judge explicitly asserted that this acquittal “does not mean that the inscription on the ossuary is authentic or that it was written 2,000 years ago.” Since the article is written, the finding that the ossuary is a forgery has been challenged by some non-crackpots, such as Dr. Wolfgang Krumbein, but the weight of scholarly opinion remains that it is a forgery. However, again, even if it is not a forgery, it is hardly proof that James is the brother of Jesus, as pointed out in objection #1. Even if it did, you should be aware that Eastern Christianity holds that Mary was perpetually virgin, but that Joseph had other sons by a previous wife (in which case, one could plausibly read it to guess that Joseph was the brother of Jesus, and James was thus the nephew of Jesus; among Jesus’ “brothers” in the bible is a “Joses.”)


10 posted on 08/13/2013 10:39:47 AM PDT by dangus (Poverty cannot be eradicated as long as the poor remain dependent on the state - Pope Francis)
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To: dangus

... and of course, the bible DOES say “James, the brother of Jesus.” Western Catholics have insisted for many centuries that “brother” refers more generally to kinfolk, including cousins.

Greek Catholics and the Orthodox argue for the perfection of the Greek and insist that if the Greek says, “adelphos,” the original text must have meant “brothers,” even though there was no Hebrew word for “cousin.” The translators, they insist, would have known to use Xathelphos, even though they could not know that solely from any Hebrew text. IN fact, the Greek versions of the birth of Mary supposes Joseph to be an elderly widower. The tradition of Joseph as elderly survives in some Western tradition, even though it would be strange for him to be marrying for the first time at an old age.


11 posted on 08/13/2013 10:58:19 AM PDT by dangus (Poverty cannot be eradicated as long as the poor remain dependent on the state - Pope Francis)
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To: dangus
Elderly St. Joseph in art:

by Giovanni Baptista Gaulli

An obviously anachronistic one:


12 posted on 08/13/2013 11:08:27 AM PDT by dangus (Poverty cannot be eradicated as long as the poor remain dependent on the state - Pope Francis)
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To: dangus

Documentation please.


13 posted on 01/15/2015 5:14:09 AM PST by CynicalBear (For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus)
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To: dangus; agapetos
>>Western Catholics have insisted<<

Catholics insist on a lot of things that are not true. The Greek word for cousin is ἀνεψιὸς (anepsios) as used in Colossians 4.

Colossians 4:10 My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas.

The Greek word for brother used in Matthew 12:46 and other places referring to Jesus siblings is ἀδελφοὶ (adelphoi). It's also used here.

Mark 12:20 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children.

Do you seriously think that when the Holy Spirit inspired the writing of scripture that He was unaware of the difference in the two words? The Holy Spirit chose the Greek for a purpose. Simply repeating the Catholic Church attempts to justify the perpetual virginity of Mary only make people to appear cultish.

14 posted on 01/15/2015 5:50:35 AM PST by CynicalBear (For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus)
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To: CynicalBear

The Catholic church is repeating the testimony of the Church fathers that the Blessed Virgin remained ever-virgin. THAT’S the Catholic doctrine.

Anepsios is a Greek word with no Aramaic equivalent. Colossians was written in Greek, by someone who spoke Greek, writing to Greeks. Mark is quoting Jesus, who spoke Aramaic.

Greek Orthodox doesn’t like the notion that there could be any distinction between the gospels’ translations into Greek and native Greek. Therefore, they resolve the notion that Mary was ever-Virgin and Jesus had “adelphoi” by insisting that Joseph was a remarried widower; therefore Jesus would have older half-brothers. Catholics find no historical basis for this, so it’s not their preferred way of resolving this, but they do not regard the Greek notion as heretical. They do regard the notion that Jesus had younger brothers as contrary to the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary.


15 posted on 01/15/2015 6:41:53 AM PST by dangus
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To: CynicalBear

You’ll notice, in fact, that many of these Catholic painters retain the notion that Joseph was elderly, in deference to the Greek notion that he was a widower.


16 posted on 01/15/2015 6:43:32 AM PST by dangus
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To: agapetos

Not guilty of forgery means that they could not ascertain that the accused was the forger:

Authenticity of the inscription has been challenged. The Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) determined in 2003 that the inscriptions were forged at a much later date.[5][6] In December 2004, Oded Golan was charged with 44 counts of forgery, fraud and deception, including forgery of the Ossuary inscription.[7]

The trial lasted seven years before Judge Aharon Farkash came to a verdict. On March 14, 2012, Golan was acquitted of the forgery charges but convicted of illegal trading in antiquities.[8] The judge said this acquittal “does not mean that the inscription on the ossuary is authentic or that it was written 2,000 years ago”.[9]


17 posted on 01/15/2015 6:47:43 AM PST by dangus
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To: dangus
You mean like this?

“James the Lord’s brother.” (Eusebius, Book 2, Chapter 1:3)

or this?

“Jude…the Lord’s brother according to the flesh.” (Eusebius, Book 3, Chapter 20:1)

Then we even have secular historians.

“James, the brother of Jesus called the Christ” (Josephus, Antiquities XX, 200)

>>Therefore, they resolve the notion that Mary was ever-Virgin and Jesus had “adelphoi” by insisting that Joseph was a remarried widower<<

Oh?

Against this doctrine (Mary’s lifetime virginity) the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus. The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact James and Joseph, "brothers of Jesus", are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls "the other Mary". They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression. (¶500, Page 126, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994)

Wait,,,,,,what??? So now Joseph was married to two Mary's at the same time? Or did he divorce the "other Mary"? Or was this "other Mary" of Matthew ......wait, are you sensing what I'm sensing here? Oh what a tangled web they weave.

>>They do regard the notion that Jesus had younger brothers as contrary to the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary.<<

I'll bet they do!! And they don't even care what scripture has to say on the subject.

18 posted on 01/15/2015 8:12:05 AM PST by CynicalBear (For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus)
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To: CynicalBear

>> Wait,,,,,,what??? So now Joseph was married to two Mary’s at the same time? Or did he divorce the “other Mary”? Or was this “other Mary” of Matthew ......wait, are you sensing what I’m sensing here? Oh what a tangled web they weave. <<

You throw in that bit about divorce or bigamy and purposely mix the Greek and Roman views to make it seem like I’m holding an absurd position, but I already explained that the Greek notion is that he was a widower, not a divorcee, not a bigamist.

However, what you point out is one reason why Catholics tend to reject the notion that James was Jesus’ half-brother: the bible clearly lays out that the James, Jude, Joses and a fourth (I forget right now what his name was) were, in fact, sons of a different woman named Mary, who in fact, seems to have been married to (or possibly from) Alphaeus. The fact that four of Jesus’ followers (and, in fact, two of his closest) were brothers and would have the same names as his four brothers and their mother would have the same name as his mother seems a little far-fetched. (Although, because a non-bibilical prophesy that the Messiah would be born of a woman named “Mary,” a crazy proportion of Jesus’ mother’s contemporaries are named, “Mary,” so that part isn’t as unlikely as it may seem.)

Moreover, this other Mary seems to be Joseph’s sister-in-law, which would entirely validate the notion that they were cousins of Jesus.


19 posted on 01/15/2015 8:37:02 AM PST by dangus
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To: dangus
>>Moreover, this other Mary seems to be Joseph’s sister-in-law, which would entirely validate the notion that they were cousins of Jesus.<<

Only if you purport that the Holy Spirit didn't know what He was talking about when He called them Jesus brothers rather than cousins.

20 posted on 01/15/2015 8:55:11 AM PST by CynicalBear (For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus)
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To: CynicalBear

The Holy Spirit didn’t speak English.


21 posted on 01/15/2015 9:00:18 AM PST by dangus
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To: dangus
>>The Holy Spirit didn’t speak English.<<

Wow! You know which languages the Holy Spirit understands and restrict Him from speaking English? Just wow! He did inspire the New Testament to be written in Koine Greek which has two distinctly different words for cousin and brother. He didn't use the one for cousin when He meant brother. Second guess the Holy Spirit if you wish but it's dangerous and probably deadly.

22 posted on 01/15/2015 9:52:29 AM PST by CynicalBear (For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus)
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To: CynicalBear

>> Wow! You know which languages the Holy Spirit understands and restrict Him from speaking English? <<

Once again, you accuse me of saying something which would be nonsensical in context. I never said that the Holy Spirit can’t speak English. I said, in the context of inspiring the bible, that it didn’t, since English wasn’t around. And if you look at the history of the King James Bible, you can be quite certain that the Holy Spirit was NOT guiding the translators from error. Take for example, the first printing, called the Devil’s Bible, which omitted the “nots” from the Ten commandments, so that the people were told that they shall commit adultery, they shall murder, etc.

However, the Greek Church DOES maintain that the Holy Spirit DOES inspire people with perfect Koine Greek, so even though Jesus couldn’t’ve distinguished between cousin and brother, Mark must’ve meant “cousin” and not “brother.” That’s why they hold to the notion that James was Jesus’ half-brother, in spite of the highly unlikely coincidences and awkward situations that implies. (One awkward situation is that at the crucifixion Jesus told Mary of John, “Behold the son of yours,” which would have been an odd if Mary had a step-son — or especially another son of her own blood!)

But AGAIN: the Orthodox position is not regarded as heterodox. While Catholics regard it as unlikely, many faithful Catholics reflect it in their art. What is truly unbelievable is that Joseph would name all his sons after their older cousins, name a younger son after himself (Joses = Joseph), AND that Jesus’ YOUNGER brother would be referred to constantly by the early church as James the Elder.)


23 posted on 01/15/2015 10:42:57 AM PST by dangus
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To: dangus

Clarification:

However, the Greek Church DOES maintain that the Holy Spirit DOES inspire people with perfect Koine Greek.*

*I’ve never seen this cited as doctrine; I only mean that it is an apparent presumption by Greek authors I have read.


24 posted on 01/15/2015 10:44:30 AM PST by dangus
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To: dangus
IN fact, the Greek versions of the birth of Mary supposes Joseph to be an elderly widower.

The problem is that this would be a major departure from Jewish tradition that held that you were to find your daughter a husband that was of her youth rather then marrying her off to one of your old cronies.

It was considered a shameful thing to marry a young virgin to an elderly man.

25 posted on 01/15/2015 10:56:13 AM PST by Harmless Teddy Bear (Proud Infidel, Gun Nut, Religious Fanatic and Freedom Fiend)
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To: Harmless Teddy Bear

>> It was considered a shameful thing to marry a young virgin to an elderly man. <<

Actually, that notion is included in the Greek stories about the marriage of Mary to Joseph. Here, I’m citing the most common elements of the stories, which have some variations among versions:

They say Mary’s parents had conceived of her in their old age, much like Elizabeth and Zecharias. When she became pregnant as her father had prophecied, everyone presumed that a great prophet was to be born, and her parents, expecting a boy, pledged that the child shall be raised in the Temple. When a girl was born, they devised a test that they were certain she would fail: she would choose between her parents or the Temple.

For several years, she was allowed to stay in Temple, but when she came of age to menstruate, Jewish law forbid her from being in the Temple. (Anna was allowed because she was passed the age of menstruation.) Against her desires to remain ever-virgin, the Temple elders assembled all the eligible youth and released a dove; whoever the dove chose would be her husband. The dove left the area, and instead landed upon Joseph. The Temple elders were aghast, but the staff Joseph held in his hand bloomed as foretold of the staff of Jesse’s stem.

This, then, is the particular shame why the bible had Joseph plotting to send Mary off in secret, whereas “jumping the gun” while already betrothed would’ve been socially tolerated by many: He was an old man married to a young virgin! The shame of not being able to keep it in his pants (er, tunic?) was unbearable!

But also note that when Mary returned to the Temple, Simon and Anna at the Temple knew immediately that Mary’s child represented the fulfillment of the prophesy that a Virgin would give birth: they knew she was a Virgin! Yes, their correct interpretation of this was a prophecy inspired by the Holy Spirit, but no, prophesy isn’t fortune-telling; it’s correctly interpreting what is unbelievable to those unaided by grace.


26 posted on 01/15/2015 11:10:20 AM PST by dangus
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To: dangus
>>And if you look at the history of the King James Bible<<

Please don't try that Catholic with me. Here is my original comment.

>>The Greek word for cousin is ἀνεψιὸς (anepsios) as used in Colossians 4.<<

Do you see me referencing the King James as authoritative in that?

27 posted on 01/15/2015 11:25:04 AM PST by CynicalBear (For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus)
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