A Hebrew text in Greek dress : a comparison and contrast between Jewish and Hellenistic thought




McDonald, William Valentine

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Almost fifty-five years following the findings of the Dead Sea Scrolls, academic studies are now being published in large numbers that address the new knowledge about early Christianity. Thus, allowing us to view the Gospels through the lens of their original language. This dissertation rests on the assumptions that Hebrew was the spoken language of Jesus' day, not Greek or Aramaic, and that through the years recounted in the New Testament, strong Hebraic traditions continued to influence Christianity's development within the Hellenized culture of the Roman Empire. In view of late historical evidence, there is no doubt that the language and culture before, during, and after Jesus' day were Hebraic or Mishnaic, and that there was a parallel Hebraic culture existing side by side with that of the Hellenistic culture, strong enough to influence those who translated and compiled the canonized text of our Gospels. In this dissertation, I pursue how these parallel cultures influenced the subsequent adaptations of the Gospels, as scholars were at pains to divorce the record of Jesus' early teaching from his Jewish roots and context, and to establish early Christian culture within the cultural and political imperatives of the Roman Empire. First, I pursue a concept well known in Christian literature, "The Kingdom of Heaven," to show how the historical setting unlocks fresh new meanings of the texts in which it appears. Hellenized readings of the passage stress future promises and theology, while in the context of Jewish learning this concept referred mainly to community and political concerns of the day. Thereafter, I follow how this concept helps to open a familiar set of passages from the Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter Five --the Beatitudes. Here, I contrast a reading informed by knowledge of the early Common Era's Jewish cultures with those offered by modem commentators who retain a Hellenistic vision of the era. The conclusion returns to the methodological process in which translations are used to carefully reflect specific translators or commentators' ideologies.




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