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#62 - Hebraisms in the New Testament
by Robert Nguyen Cramer
This BibleTexts website administrator has very much enjoyed questions and insights that have been emailed to him ever since this site was launched in September of 1996. On this page I share with BibleTexts browsers a few of the questions, insights, and responses, so that we all can further learn from and with each other.
By searching on Emanuel Tov, I found your information page on the net. I am very interested in getting an understanding of hebraisms in the New Testament, especially where this occurs in all the four gospels when the evangelists describe how the women came to the grave "early in the morning the first day of the week", or, as it is put in Greek: "en de te mia ton sabbaton".
Scholars almost unanimously take that "mia ton sabbaton" is a hebraism. I am not so sure. One scholar refers to the use of hebraisms in the LXX, quoting Genesis 1;5: "...and it became evening and morning the first day." "The first day" translated into Greek: "hemera mian".
I would be very grateful to get some help to understand how one can explain this expression as being a hebraism as the expression in Genesis 1;5 also can translate: "...and it became evening and morning day one".
You have a legitimate question, because I am unaware of any indication from any scholarly works with which I am familiar that Gen 1:5 is associated with the Semitic use of numbers in the account of the women coming to the grave "early in the morning the first day of the week."
Matthew Black (An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts, Third Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967, page 124, and see also pages 136-138) writes:
The use of cardinals for ordinals in dates has been frequently noted as a Gospel Semitism. The Semitism was queried by Moulton, but there is no need to ransack the papyri to explain the Hebrew or Aramaic phrase, Mk. xvi.2 te mia ton sabbaton, 'on the first day of the week'; the Semitism occurs in Mt. xxviii.1, Lk. xxiv. 1; Jn. xx. 1, 19; Acts xx 7; 1 Cor. xvi. 2. It is Jewish Greek.
As you very likely know, even today in homes where several languages are spoken, there are frequent mixtures of expressions in several languages -- even in the same sentence. (This is certainly the case in my own home.) Such expressions are almost never references to a sentence in some classical literature of one of those languages (such as Gen 1:5). They simply reflect the way that people use the languages available to them. Since Greek was the language of the Roman empire, it was natural for Jewish followers of Jesus to have their Greek speech and writing influenced by their Aramaic and Hebrew language thinking.
With this in mind, it is interesting to note, as pointed out on the Bibletexts.com webpage at http://www.bibletexts.com/versecom/joh21v15.htm,
Though all of the books of the New Testament ... were first written in Greek, Jesus primarily spoke in Aramaic, a colloquial Semitic language related to Hebrew and entirely different from Greek. (Having come from Nazareth, Jesus also certainly did know and speak Greek, as is obvious from his conversation with the Syrophenician woman in Mar 7:26 and other accounts.) With only a few exceptions, all of Jesus' dialogue in the Greek New Testament is a translation from Aramaic to Greek.
Copyright 1996-2002 Robert Nguyen Cramer