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An old hymn to Christ

Theologians have struggled too much and the most important thing is charity and love among brothers and sisters, represented in the epistle of today by the CROSS. Here it is, like a personal humble tribute to victims of wars and terrorism, my translation from Syriac into English of Philippians 2, 6-11:

He (Jesus) was of the God’s clan (the corresponding Syriac word is a derivative from the Semitic root “dm” which has connotations related to “blood”; this term is also present in Gn 1,26).  It was no abuse to have considered this: becoming equal to God.

On the contrary, he renounced to himself by taking the condition (here again the term that remits to “blood”) of a serf. He was of human nature (again that term) and he looked like a man in his appearance.

And now, if the hymn has a structure of chiasmus, then this is the central and most important verse:

He made himself humble and obedient until his death: his death in the CROSS.

That is why God multiplied his attributes of greatness and gave Him a fame (literally a “NAME”) which is over all of the honors (of any of those attributes).

In this previous verse, employing the term “NAME” is rather impressive for traditional ears because “NAME” is a respectful way of citing YHWH (the forbidden name of God) in Old Testament and Targumim writings.

Then, in the name of Jesus, every knee (or benediction, as there may be a polysemy game at this point) is bowing (or will bow; the imperfect aspect in Semitic languages may mean both present and future tenses), let it be in the heaven as also on and under the earth. (This enumeration of three cosmic dimensions is a reminder of the common cosmology for the Ancient Near East).

Every tongue confesses (or will confess) that the Lord is Jesus, the Messiah, by the splendor of His Father.

This confession means a firm nexus between YHWH and Jesus Christ.  In New Testament context “the Lord” implies God Himself.

May we have a peaceful Holy Week and lets us pray for our sisters and brothers who are suffering in today`s Near East!

Cloud that can shine and cast a shadow.

The interactions between the gospel of today and the traditions of the Exodus afford us to find suggestions in order to get the key about some enigmatic metaphors. For exemple, in verse Mt 17:5 a bright cloud overshadowed them … What kind of brightness can cast a shadow? The key is perhaps in Sinai. There too were strange “clouds”.

So, in Ex 19:16 the translations usually swallow an interesting description that is still kept by the masoretic text:  ענן כבד. I do really think that a rather poor translation is to say  just “thick cloud”, specially knowing about the emotions related to כבד, KaBoD, that theologically almost”technical” term which is related to the perceptible dimensions of the inmanent power of God. Remember Isaiah 6:3, please. Very few would have translated:

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;

the whole earth is full of his weight (or fat).”

The metaphorical connection between “glory of God” (kabod) and “cloud” is still clearer at the end of Exodus, in verse 4o:34.

Consequently in Mt 17 (Transfiguration text),the cloud of light is also “weighty”, it is to say, this cloud is the Kabod! …Or a symbol of it. So this cloud is able of everything, even of turning the light into shadow, building a protective umbrella over Jesus… later, taking him out of the “house of death” (the tomb).

As a matter of fact, reading the Syriac version of Mt 17:4, Peter wants to build three “roofs”, ܡܛܠܝܢ, word derived from the semantic root  ܛܠ (shadow). But at the end of the day, without human hands, it is the “cloud” that ܐܛܠܬ  (verbal form derived also from ܛܠ), expression that could be translated like “cast a shadow”… Possibly more effectively than Peter!

Combat of biblical experts.

In the gospel of this 1st Sunday in Lent could we look at a sort of combat between two biblical experts? Jesus mentions 3 texts (from Torah)-his challenger 1 (from psalm 91). And this only point is not clear because the suggested exegese is null.

And, however, the psalm 91 is nice indeed:

The one who lives in Elyon’s refuge, takes advantage of Shaddai’s shadow.

The masoretic Hebrew text keeps with love these two alternative names of YHWH, corresponding to respective traditions that outcrop here and there all along the Scripture. Beautiful words are those ones of the Bible but that some ones manipulate to persuade us in order to become members of sects. They ask for strange behaviours: “Throw yourself down”.

Watch out! The Bible in hands of self designated close students of the Word, supposed “experts”, may harm.


New educational content

The Advent 2016 starts and with it we have the opportunity to read, to taste and to reflect on the book of Isaiah, a fountain of poetry that has inspired to so many artists: for example, the libretto of Handel’s “Messiah”.

As my gift to you in this 1st Sunday in Advent, as a modest alternative to most of versions that are usually translated from Hebrew, Latin or Greek, here you have this one from Syriac Peshitta, just as  I have found it  in and with the inappreciable  help of its related dictionnaries.

Statement about what Isaiah, son of Amos, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In the last days it will happen that the mountain of the house of the Lord will stay on the mountain that leads the mountains (literally, the “president of the mountains”), the highest one of them. All the peoples will look for it.

Many peoples will go and say: “Come. We will go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. We will learn (a verb with the same root ylp for the Syriac vocative “malpana”, i.e. “teacher”, devoted to Jesús in the Peshitta Gospels) His ways. We will walk on His paths because the Law comes out of Zion and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”

 The ensemble (literally “the house”) of the peoples will judge. (The Lord) will admonish the numerous peoples from distant (countries) that will break their swords to (change them  into) blades of plows and their spears into sickles. No human group will harm another one with the sword. They will not learn (root ylp, again) the fighting anymore.

To the people of Jacob: “Come! We will go with the light of God.”

So, one original nuance that we can remark in this Syriac version may be that we shoud learn other contents: no force and more light. This emphasis on new things to learn is still more developed in the corresponding Aramaic targum. If you can read Spanish, please, check it in this page

Magnificat sive magnificata ?

The question came to my mind when remembering the first sentence of the Psalm of Mary in Luke’s Gospel -Luke 1, 46- while meditating the verse 2 (or 3, according to some editions) of the other Psalm 33 (34) that we have read on the 30th Sunday in ordinary time. In my last entry,

I have translated the first half of that verse this way:

IN (or with or by) the LORD my soul renews like the moon

Let us put aside for a minute the poetical evocation of the moon and pay attention to the fact that the semantical agent is “the Lord”. In the contrary, according to the Latin Vulgata and the Greek versions, the agent is our Lady -the Virgin Mary- in Luke 1,46. And so, for example, the old KJV translates:

And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,

At a first glance it does not seem very humble from the part of the humblest servant of God. That didn´t matter to other translations which more freely say:

My soul praises the greatness of the Lord!” (International Standard Version)

That did not matter to some wise, old commentators either. Origen, the great theologian master from Alexandria in the Antiquity,  exposed brilliantly in his commentary to this verse of Luke, how spiritual greatness of the creature interacts heavily with the greatness of the Creator and contributes to make Him even greater.

But, anyway, this delicate reasoning does not match the Old Testament Psalm: It may be very possible that what Mary and/or the evangelist had in mind was Psalm 33(34). And this point of view does correspond with an alternative translation from a Semitic source, i.e. Peshitta.

As a matter of fact,ܡܘܪܒܐ  may be either an active or a passive participle and the preposition “lam” may also be used -as I think this is the case- to introduce the agent in a passive voice sentence, so my proposed version is:

And Mary said, My soul is magnified by the Lord,

The consequence for musicians and composers of sacred music would not be extremeley severe: Instead of “Magnificat anima mea Dominum”, please, sing “Magnificata anima mea Domino“.

Take your prize, Mr. Dylan

Please, don’t be shy. It is not only that you deserve it:

It is also because you represent the ensemble of songwriters-singers from other places and other times who have been able to make us taste the flavour of beauty and art and live unforgettable emotions: Homer, the anonymous medieval wandering singers, Joan Manuel Serrat, Víctor Jara …

For example, several millennia ago there were already talented songwriters-singers, psalmists, whose songs are still song but with a different melody and, sometimes, also with some changes in the original meaning of its lyrics. In order to recreate the emotions of those ancient creations -that are both past and ageless- I would like to do a little piece of restoration from a text to be read on this 30th Sunday in ordinary time: Psalm 33(or 34 in some traditions), verse 2 (or  3 according to editions that count the introduction itself as verse 1). My starting point are the consonants of the masoretic text and according to them, here it is my proposal:

IN (or with or by) the LORD my soul renews like the moon.

They listen humbly and rejoice.

Is this version more poetic than that one of your bibles? As a comparison, here it is KJV:

I will boast in the LORD; the humble will hear and be glad.

At least, my version is less “boasting”. But where on earth does the moon come from? I can see it into the Semitic root הלל which is related to the semantic field of the “new moon”. We can also find the verb  تهلل in modern Arabic today. It means “being very happy” and it has the very same Semitic root, linked to the concept of “new moon”.

Concerning the “humble“, the term is in the original Hebrew in plural masculine without article or any other mark that can make it a grammatical subject of the sentence. So, my option has been to consider that word with an adverbial function and to suppose an omitted subject, they, derived from the conjugation of the verb “to listen”.

By the way, what is not easy to translate is the phonetic parallelism between “to listen” שמע and “to rejoice”שמח .

The beginnig of the verse is marked by the preposition ב, simple and humble, which is also found just at the beginning of the Bible as a whole:

In the beginning”, or “for beginning”, or even “Let’s begin: God created”, bla, bla …

It is a very typical Semitic preposition and extremely employed in Aramaic, Syriac, Arabic and even in classical Ethyopic (Ge’ez):

The word “b” is all over identic but the writing of the letter, of course, changes. For example, if you want to write it in Arabic, please, look at:

Questions about so many questions.

When looking at the translations of Peshitta by  John Wesley Etheridge and his illustrious colleagues I feel the deep respect that must be due to these pioneers but I sometimes ask myself: “Why on earth have they employed so many interrogation marks?”. These signs did not exist in ancient, original manuscripts. So, my personal translation politics is not to use the interrogative meaning but exceptionally , when there is a clear grammatical trace pointing to a manifest question.

For example, let us look at the last two verses of the gospel for this 29th Sunday in ordinary time. I can translate Luke 18, 7 and 8 without questions and find new nuances:

God satisfies -it is not strange- the demands of his chosen ones that are calling Him by day and night. God will be generous of spirit with them. I tell you: He will care for what they are asking for and quickly, but the Son of Man is coming and I wish that he could find over the earth (people that have) trust.

Some explanations about this translation of mine: “generous of spirit” is an attempt to keep something of the original Semitic idiom that actually means “to be patient“. On the other hand, I have supposed that the particle ܟܝ gives an optative mode to the verb “to find“.

Last but not least, I should remind that the expression related to “trust” is usually translated as “faith” but, as a matter of fact, it is a mixed concept that also contains hope, readiness and more things: Please look at one of the dictionaries of our favourite website:

 ܗܝܡܢܘܬܐhas indeed the same root of this international word: AMEN!

From mules to aliens

There are biblical subjects that we can not understand because they became obsolete. For example, on technological grounds, animal means of transport are not usual nowadays and so we have not any more the same degree biodiversity  among domestic animals than in ancient times. I intend to show now an instance of misunderstandings that translators try to dissimulate with defective expressions that sometimes look like enigmatic but that, in fact, are no more than mistranslations.

Let us look at our first text to read on this 28th Sunday on ordinary time. In 2Kings 5,17 … What on earth does Na’aman want to do with the earth? Nothing! The translation should be:

Not a single load of two mules (mules for working the earth) has been delivered by your servant, so your servant will not now make offerings or sacrifices to other gods but to the Lord (YHWH)”

Some keys for this translation from the Hebrew masoretic text:

-the sequence of nouns “load-couple-mules-earth” indicate that “earth” is a semantic determinant for “mules”, the substantive which is just before and has not to do with “load”, which is rather far in the ordered sequence of nouns;

-Na’aman shows himself very humble: not only he speaks of himself as a “servant” of the “man of God” -i.e. the prophet Elisha- but he employs an expression in the passive voice where he is the agent.

This translation has also the virtue of underlining clearly both the generosity of the prophet (he does not accept any gift , “benediction” says verbatim the Hebrew text) and the firm purpose of the stranger in order to change his cultic habits.

Conversely, now let us go into the Luke gospel, a text to read also on this Sunday, where the other prophet, Jesus, is throwing us towards an ideal future world where we will see how foreigners are included into our same people. At least if we take Luke 17:18 of Syriac Peshitta as the departure text. My proposed translation would be:

No one of them came to praise God but this one of the people; he, a foreigner.”

So according to this other prophet, the “foreigner” is not completely a foreigner, as he is one of the “people”, of עם or of ܥܡ, if you prefer the Syriac typing, word that in every case means “the group of people that is related to YHWH” if we pay attention to the use of this term in the Pentateuch, specially in Exodus.

My proposed moral: the Bible may be seen also as a time machine; we can find in it either extinguished varieties of animals or utopic futures with better integration among varieties of human beings.

OVS of the Bible

The aim of this blog is “ruminating” the Bible according to its original version in Semitic languages: Hebrew, Syriac, Aramaic …

New technological tools (hypertext, language learning methodologies, automatic grammatical analysis) help us to taste the flavour of  the biblical texts in original languages. In 15th century there was a change of paradigm in biblical readings. Something analogous is to come due to nowadays supports and software of information.

The result of that biblical tasting will bring happiness to the believer because she/he will find reasons to thank God for having received surprisingly undeserved gifts, but the unbeliever will bring too at any case the award of having enjoyed good literature. Remember, please, professor Frye:

And as the movement is demonstrated by walking, let’s go into the first reading of this 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time: prophet Amos. As a matter of fact, in a certain way, Amos sounds like “Laudato sì”. However our experts in liturgy have cut, abruptly, in verse 7 just when a thrilling apocalypse begins.

I guess the reason for not including the verse 8 in our Sunday reading is that there are some “scars” suffered by the text of this verse during its long, ancient transmission to us. One of these “scars” is that one related with the appearance of a “light” on the standard Masoretic text which became a “river” in other authoritative versions (Greek LXX, Syriac Peshitta and others). Another possible scar is a verb that is not understandable because perhaps it was a very old copyist error, so old that the Jewish sages have not considered reverent to correct it. So, they inserted in the margin a MASORETIC note (Qere, reading) in order to keep the traditional -possibly wrong- way of writing, but indicating the understandable way to read the word.

However, the problem I find is related to modern translations of verse 7. This verse can be translated not like as we have in our bibles, but in a quite another way if the Hebrew connector  אִם is taken  like an “if” (conditional) or a “but”. It’s just the way followed by our old  medieval Castilian masters on translation. Please, take the pleasure of visiting the glorious internet pages of corpus “Biblia Medieval”

No problem if you are not fluent in old Castilian. Here you have my own version:

7 The Lord has sworn by the glory of Jacob:

“If I would forget forever all of their misdeeds …

And with the truncation, the sentence remains suspended. We should better continue

will the earth then not rise against that,

leaving in mourning all of its inhabitants? “.

The whole of it will rise like a lightning

becoming dragged and flooded

as if it were the Nile of Egypt!

9 In that day it shall come to happen the things that YHWH the Lord announced …

(And a series of God caused apocalyptic cataclysms follows with the narrative)

All of this makes me remind strongly this Jesus’ wording: “I tell you that if they remain silent, then the stones will cry” (Lk 19:40). I think that Amos’ text has a kind of rethoric in which, if God and / or humans would remain inactive against injustice, then the Creation itself could react. It looks like as if creatures, even without conscience or reason, would have its own code.

I hope you may have enjoyed this very first entry of my blog. Let me tell you that if you can read Spanish, the “brother” blog of this site is freely  offered to you in

 I do wait for your corrections and comments. Have a happy autumn!