Friday, 9 August 2013

Profane Language

 As you might know, I am a huge geek, and was delighted to be given details of books to get and read, so as to get a bit of a head start before semester one begins.
So I am learning Hebrew.  (It's really fun!!!)
I've made several attempts over the years to gain a reading knowledge of Hebrew.  I've always had a penchant for Old Testament stuff, and I think that a knowledge of Hebrew will be a great help in the future for the teaching role within ministry.
Plus it's really fun!  (See?  Geek.)
Two Sundays ago, I preached on the Lord's Prayer from Luke 11, and as part of my preparation I read some of Kenneth Bailey's masterpiece, 'Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes'.  It's a great book for seeing familiar passages afresh and a-challenging.
Bailey reminds us that Jesus didn't go about talking Hebrew.  The educated Jew understood Hebrew, yes, and used it as the language of the synagogue.  And your average Joe would've known some passages of scripture and prayers in Hebrew.
But the language people spoke in the marketplace, in the street, the language Jesus would have taught in, was in fact Aramaic. 
Hebrew was the sacred language of a sacred culture - Israel.  Aramaic was everybody's language precisely because it was no ethnic group in particular's language. 
And when Jesus' disciples asked 'Lord, teach us to pray', WOW he said Abba, the Aramaic word for (Our) Father!
Not, in Hebrew, Oh Lord God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac, Jacob ... but he made us all brothers and sisters, Jew and Gentile, by teaching us to call God Abba.
Bailey talked me through each line of the Lord's Prayer, with loads of illuminating pointers from cultural and linguistic studies.  But it was the use of an everyday, earthy lingua franca for prayer that struck a chord in me. 
I'll keep battering away at the Hebrew, because it's the language most of the Bible is written in, and when I preach and teach I don't want to get confused with different translations.
(And it's really fun!)
But Jesus' use of a non-sacred, non-ethnically partisan language challenges me to take great care as I approach ministerial training.  I won't be there to learn to speak Churchese.  Rather, I need to learn the ideas of the Bible and, crucially, how to translate them into the culture, the language, of ordinary people.

That's what I took from the day's gospel reading.  Even harder, perhaps, than mastering those elusive Hebrew verb patterns.  But - I predict - also fun.

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