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Thread: The Aramaic Period of the Nascent Christian Church

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    The Aramaic Period of the Nascent Christian Church, by Charles C. Torrey

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    Last edited by John Reece; 04-24-2014 at 08:54 AM.

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    The Aramaic Period of the Nascent Christian Church, by Charles C. Torrey

    A reference note by Charles C. Torrey in The Apocalypse of John prompted me to have my wife search the house for the long-lost article by Torrey titled "The Aramaic Period of the Nascent Christian Church" ― completed in 1952 and published in 1953 in the German theological journal Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft ― that the library of my alma mater, Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, had photocopied for me many years ago. Having retrieved said photocopied article, I would like to share a series of excerpts from it:

    In the present writer's "Documents of the Primitive Church", 1941 (now out of print), especial emphasis was laid on the earliest stage of Christian history, extending approximately from the year 30 to the year 80. It was the purpose to throw light on certain features of this most important period, features which in modern times have been neglected and now are generally ignored. Here, it is said, is a phase of early Church history which has remained almost completely unseen, a condition of far-reaching importance which has not been taken into account by those who have dealt with Christian origins.

    The reasons for this are not difficult to see. New evidence, long hidden, has been slowly coming to light, and has not been duly noticed. There has been, and continues to be, profound ignorance of the use of the Aramaic language, of the Old Testament teaching in regard to the Messiah, and the Jewish doctrine of inspired scripture (termed "prophecy").

    To be continued...
    Last edited by John Reece; 04-24-2014 at 06:07 PM.

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    Continued from last post above ↑

    Continuation of excerpts from The Aramaic Period of the Nascent Christian Church (ZNW, 44 [1952/53], 205-23), by Charles C. Torrey:

    The historical sketch here presented is called forth by the recent discovery of an ancient Christian document which may be called epoch-making. It is a formal record from the first century which shows that the Church in the first stage of its existence had an official language, that the language was Aramaic, and that some acquaintance with it was officially prescribed for the Greek churches. All this had been conjectured, and the substance of it demonstrated, some years ago, on the basis of evidence obtained from the New Testament writings. The formal corroboration is now very welcome, and is of the highest importance.

    A brief description of the document and an account of its discovery will be given presently. These matters have already been set forth in extenso and given excellent publication in German in the "Theologische Literaturzeitung", 1952, Nr. 4, 250-254, where a letter sent by the present writer to a few scholars announcing the discovery is translated, annotated, and supplemented by Professor Eissfeldt of the University of Halle. First, however, some features of the historical situation in which the Church began to take shape have need to be made plain or given emphasis.

    To be continued...

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    Continued from last post above ↑

    Continuation of excerpts from The Aramaic Period of the Nascent Christian Church (ZNW, 44 [1952/53], 205-23), by Charles C. Torrey:

    The Christian Church began in Palestine. In its first stage, which covered at least a full generation, it was thoroughly Palestinian. Its center was in Jerusalem, the city of David, the city chosen by Yahweh, promised to be the center and head of the entire religious world.

    The Church was founded on the Messianic faith, a noble conception* of religious history, but one of which the Gentiles knew nothing. It was based on the promise of a divine leader and restorer of the Jewish people. Those who first hailed Jesus of Nazareth as the long-promised Messiah, the Son of God as well as Son of David, were Hebrews of the holy land. The written records which make known the events and conditions out of which the Church came into being are also Palestinian. The atmosphere of the Gospels is utterly Semitic and Jewish; this is not merely in point of language**, but even more plainly in the mental attitude and the basic religious conceptions***. This is true also of the document (originally Aramaic, see Moore, Judaism [scroll down link to read review -JR], I, 189) which constitutes the first half of the book of Acts, namely 1:1―15:35; also of that most outspoken of mysteries, the Revelation of John, which was written and published in Aramaic in the year 68****.
    *Conceived and developed by Second Isaiah (c. 400 B. C.). "There was a definite time when a new picture of the future was drawn for Israel, a mighty portrayal which profoundly influenced all the subsequent literature, and was accepted by the people. Its central feature is the triumph and beneficent reign of a superhuman king, whose kindly authority will be world-wide. Here for the first time the national hope was given a definite religious content, universal application, and enduring literary form." ("Our Translated Gospels", Introduction, p. xxix.)
    **This matter of the original language or languages of the Gospel material will be given attention in the sequel.
    ***A noted British scholar, expert in Gospel criticism and also a Semitist, has characterized the Synoptic Gospels as follows: "So far as the thought and mental atmosphere of the subject matter are concerned, Greek influence is simply nonexistent. The main ideas all have their explanation and illustration from contemporary Judaism. . . . All these are Jewish ideas, utterly foreign to the native thought of the Graeco-Roman world." (F. C. Burkitt, Earliest Sources for the Life of Jesus, New York, 1922, p. 29f.)
    ****The date is provided by the book itself, in 17:10. The original language is demonstrated in my "Documents of the Primitive Church" (1941), Chapter V.

    To be continued...
    Last edited by John Reece; 04-26-2014 at 08:30 AM.

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    Continued from last post above ↑

    Continuation of excerpts from The Aramaic Period of the Nascent Christian Church (ZNW, 44 [1952/53], 205-23), by Charles C. Torrey:

    The followers of Jesus, known as the "Nazarenes"*, regarded themselves as the rightful heirs of the promises made to the children of Abraham and Israel. They had no thought of turning aside from the faith of their fathers, nor any intention of standing outside the Jewish fellowship; they were loyal Jews, and jealous of their right. They worshipped in the temple and in the synagogues like the others; they had no new Messianic doctrine, that which was new was the person. Moore, Judaism [read review at bottom of link -JR], I, 90, terms them "a conventicle within the synagogue rather than a sect."

    Up to the year 70, at least, the true home of the Church** was Palestine. There was but one chosen people, one sacred land, one supremely holy city. The center of the Church's authority was in Jerusalem, as is well illustrated in the fifteenth chapter of Acts. Its members were Jews, at least in name (see below). They felt sure of their ground, and doubted not that the multitudes of Israel, near and far, would soon be confounded by the return of the Nazarene Messiah in the clouds of heaven. The unbelieving ("orthodox") multitude, on the other hand, were not yet convinced that the prophet of Nazareth (Mt 21:46) was really the Messiah. They were content to take the advice of their leaders and wait for more cogent evidence.
    *So they called themselves, and this was the name regularly used; thus, in Acts 24:5 "the sect of the Nazarenes", ἡ τῶν Ναζωραίων αἵρεσις. The name "Christians," first given to them in Antioch (Acts 11:26). was "probably given them by outsiders who took Christos for a proper name"; Moore, Judaism, III, 69.
    **"Church" presumably ʿēdhā, ʿēdhtā, throughout this period of its history. This is the regular term in Syriac; suggested also by the use of the word in Hebrew, early and late.

    To be continued...
    Last edited by John Reece; 04-27-2014 at 08:44 AM.

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    Continued from last post above ↑

    Continuation of excerpts from The Aramaic Period of the Nascent Christian Church (ZNW, 44 [1952/53], 205-23), by Charles C. Torrey:

    Such evidence, indeed, was now due to appear, for there was a literary test which could not be long delayed. The appearance on earth of the Messiah signified the return of the Holy Spirit to the chosen people and the renewal of prophecy ― a phrase of deep meaning. It was the received doctrine that all the books of the Bible were written by prophets, that is, by men who had the holy spirit. "In Judaism the holy spirit is specifically the spirit of prophecy" (Moore [excellent review at bottom of page -JR], I, 237, 421); "The notion of inspired scripture thus grew naturally out of the nature of prophecy" (ibid., p. 238). Prophecy had ceased in the Persian period, but not forever*. The Nazarenes laid stress on this doctrine: even though the Spirit had departed from Israel many years ago, it had now come back, and it rested upon the prophets and apostles who proclaimed the Messiah (ibid., p. 244).
    *See I Macc 4:46; 9:27; 14:41; and Ps 74:9.

    A significant feature of the new age, then, would be its literature; inspired writings, in which the voice of the spirit of prophecy would again be heard in Israel. The nature of this literature none could foresee, beyond the essentials: homage to the Anointed One, and rehearsal of the promises made to the fathers. The language of the new scriptures must be one or both of the two sacred tongues, Hebrew and Aramaic; no other could be thought of in Jewish Palestine.

    To be continued...

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    Continued from last post above ↑

    Continuation of excerpts from The Aramaic Period of the Nascent Christian Church (ZNW, 44 [1952/53], 205-23), by Charles C. Torrey:

    The literary output of the Nazarenes ― their announcement of the new era, the presentation of the Messiah, the triumphant appeal to the prophets ― all this was in the vernacular Aramaic. It could not possibly be otherwise. They had the imperative duty of persuading their own people, and above all, of making the truth clear to the common multitude. The language to be used could only be that of Jewish Palestine; not a dialect (cf. Moore, Judaism [excellent review at bottom of link -JR], I, 184, note 3), though traces of dialects (Judean, Galilean) appear here and there, but the same literary language which for centuries had been familiar in much of western Asia.

    At the time when the followers of the Galilean Messiah were putting forth these documents of the day which had already dawned, the Jewish authorities were perfecting a most important new variety of Hebrew, a scholastic idiom which henceforth held an undisputed place in all the Jewish religious literature. It is characterized admirably and concisely by Moore, in his treatment of the Tannaitic literature, see Judaism I, 99f. It so happened, then, that the Christians and their writings, in which rabbinical Hebrew had no place, were associated in thought with the diction and idioms of religious Aramaic; a language which the teachers had now discarded in their own religious writings, employing it only for popular anecdotes and the like.

    To be continued...

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    Continued from last post above ↑

    Continuation of excerpts from The Aramaic Period of the Nascent Christian Church (ZNW, 44 [1952/53], 205-23), by Charles C. Torrey:

    However accidental the association of literary Aramaic with the Christian party may originally have been, it evidently was recognized as a familiar fact. Moreover, the early Christian writings aimed to imitate the language of the Hebrew Bible, thus lessening the gap between the old scriptures and the new. In the Aramaic-Greek of the Gospels there appear constantly idioms, borrowed from the Hebrew Bible, such as would never appear either in the Targums or in rabbinical Hebrew*. The Jewish authorities, on the contrary, sought to keep the Biblical diction unique, thus making the gap as wide as possible between the divine oracles and all later writings. The contrast is striking and very significant. The Aramaic of the Nazarenes was not in favor of the Jewish doctors**.
    *See "Our Translated Gospels", pp. 68-70, where this matter is discussed and examples of the idioms are given.
    **What connections, if any, this may have had with the late-appearing doctrine that the angels "know no Aramaic" (in spite of Dan 4:10ff.) is a matter for conjecture. On this subject see Moore [see excellent review at bottom of page], III, Notes 83, 84, and 178.

    The Nazarenes claimed inspiration for their Scriptures Moore, Judaism, I, 244), which must then have been either Hebrew or Aramaic. Moore recognizes as originally Aramaic "the primitive Gospel and the first part* of Acts" (I, 189). In these documents, at least, the Spirit would be speaking again to Israel. They are definitely Messianic literature, and this fact also would rank them as "prophecy" (see above). Whatever Moore's phrase "primitive Gospel" may have been intended to mean, the fact is assured that four Greek Gospels, as they stand, are close renderings of Aramaic originals**. No one of these documents, be it noted, makes formal claim to rank as "prophecy", nor shows any consciousness of belonging to sacred literature.
    *That is, Acts 1:1-15:35. See my "Composition and Date of Acts", 1916).
    **The Four Gospels, 267-269; id., second (revised) edition, ix f.; "Our Translated Gospels", liv-lx, 159-162; Jewish Quarterly Review, Vol, XLII, 237-250; etc. Detailed proof, far beyond requirement, has been furnished for each of the Four Gospels.

    To be continued...
    Last edited by John Reece; 05-01-2014 at 07:43 AM.

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    Continued from last post above ↑

    Continuation of excerpts from The Aramaic Period of the Nascent Christian Church (ZNW, 44 [1952/53], 205-23), by Charles C. Torrey:

    In only one Christian writing of the Aramaic period, known to us, is the claim of divine inspiration formally made. This is the New Testament Apocalypse, the Revelation of John; and in the writing itself the claim is definitely and repeatedly presented. The Holy Spirit, the writer insists, has returned to Israel. It has now brought a revelation for all the Christians, telling them what is soon to take place; also special messages to seven* of the Greek churches of Asia, where encouragement is especially needed (see below).

    John is a prophet; he and his brothers of the new era** continue the line which began with Moses and was broken off with Malachi. See Rev 19:10; 22:8, 9. The special mode of inspiration pictured in Hes 2:8―3:3 is effective also in Rev 10:8-11. The testimony to Jesus (1:2, 9) is "the spirit of prophecy" (19:10; 22:6). This book is expressly called prophecy (προφητεία, translating נְבוּאָה), both at the beginning (1:3) and at the end (22:7, 10, 18, 19), where the phrase "the words of the prophecy of this book" is repeatedly employed. There are still other indications, subtile but effective, tending to support the claim of divine relevance.***

    *The sacred number, which plays an extraordinary role all through this book of Revelation. These seven are chosen as representative.
    **It cannot be held as certain that the phrase 'who hold the testimony of Jesus' (19:10) had in mind the Nazarene writings (were not the Hebrew prophets believed to have testified to Jesus?, but it is the most natural supposition.
    ***See my "Documents", page 150.

    To be continued...

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    Continued from last post above ↑

    Continuation of excerpts from The Aramaic Period of the Nascent Christian Church (ZNW, 44 [1952/53], 205-23), by Charles C. Torrey:

    The Apocalypse, indeed, is a document of unique importance for the history of the earliest period ― the Aramaic period ― of the Christian Church. It is still the Palestinian Church, with its center in Jerusalem. We know the date, the year 68, for the book itself tells us that it was written in the reign of the sixth Roman emperor, Galba*; see chapter 17, verse 10. The original language of the book, Aramaic, is mirrored in the most extraordinary Greek that was ever written. The mutual relations of Jews and Gentiles in a common faith and a common ecclesiastical organization, shortly before the catastrophe of the year 70, are here shown in a distinct framework which could hardly have been conjectured.

    This is a record of the time, postulated by Moore [scroll down to see reviews] (see above), when the Nazarenes were "a conventicle within the synagogue rather than a sect". They were loyal Jews, eager to maintain the traditions of Judaism, and holding fast to the Hebrew Bible, the God-given books. Like their brethren who did not accept the Nazarene Messiah, they were intensely conscious of race and religion. There was one God only, the Lord of all the world; he was the God of Israel and of no other people**. The Gentiles were accepted, and welcomed, as converts to the Israelite faith. So it had always been.

    The Christian Church is here shown as definitely Jewish throughout. It nucleus is made up from the twelve tribes of Israel (7:3-8). Its membership includes only those who by birth or adoption belong to God's people Israel***; while in 2:9 and 3:9 the churches in Smyrna and Philadelphia are warned against certain pretenders who claim to be Jews but are not.

    *According to the calculation attested elsewhere in the book. For full details regarding the questions of language and date, see my "Documents", pages 165ff., 225ff., 239ff.
    **See especially Moore, Judaism, Vol III, N 108.
    ***"Adoption" including both those who were proselytes in the fullest sense and also the multitude for whom provision is made in the fifteenth chapter of Acts.

    To be continued...

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