Friday, February 24, 2017

Fact-Checking the Torah -- tying the threads

This week I’m going to gather some threads into something I expected to hear back when I was talking about the “four horsemen” but didn’t.
I said that dictionaries can only record words that are attested in the surviving material.
I said that how an individual uses words does not equate to meaning, if that’s the only person using the word that way.
What I expected somebody to say was that Talmud specifically refers to somebody named yeshu.
Dictionaries of ancient languages constantly run into a problem called hapax legomena. It’s a lexical unit that appears only once in the body of literature. There is only one example to use in trying to determine its meaning.
What lexicographers do then is take a guess. They have the context surrounding that word, and they may realize it resembles other words that do show up in multiple examples. So they document a definition based on what they know – and sometimes they create a weak analogy because they don’t know enough.
The problem is, as you should now realize, that what they know depends on the historical context of when they are creating the dictionary. If archaeology turns up more texts, they may provide more verbal context showing that the old lexicon is wrong.
Each lexicographer tends to use prior dictionaries as sources. So things that were incorrect in the first dictionary of an ancient language may get copied into later dictionaries. If there has been insufficient or no peer review of the early work(s), the later ones may be invalid from the start. If knowledge in the field has moved on since the early work(s), the later ones that copy from them are inaccurate.
Modern dictionaries of the Bible that have an entry for Ohozath, are based on an invalid translation in Septuagint. If they claim to be lexicons of Hebrew, they are mis-labeled because they incorporate material from a translation which is based on bad grammar.
What’s the problem with the word I referred to above?
That exact word appears in three places in Talmud. In two of them, it is part of a phrase, not stand-alone: yeshu ha-notsri. Focusing on one word out of a phrase is called quoting out of context and it’s a fallacy I slammed long ago.
In these two contexts, the evidence shows that the person meant lived in the time of R. Shimon ben Shetach, around 80 BCE. The historical context is decades out of whack for the claim associated with the word.
The third context offers no other information, simply the name set into a narrative. That name is in the 1324 Munich manuscript. But some editions of Talmud eliminate it in favor of a phrase meaning “the [obstinate] sinners among Israel”. The fact that no edition of Talmud supports any other identification of yeshu except yeshu ha-notsri means that interpreting yeshu in the third context in any other way does not hold water. The same as interpretingachuzat” as “Ohozath”, a personal name, in one context, cannot be right because the word is used in a different way in other contexts.
These contexts are in separate tractates of Talmud.  If you have read this blog from the start, you saw that I used contexts spread all over Torah in discussing the various legal urban legends, so you shouldn’t be surprised that I insist you use all of Talmud to support any claims you make about references to Jesus in it.  The rest of you now know you have a higher mountain to climb than you could have dreamed of when I challenged you to give the evidence for your claim.

Back to Brenton for a moment.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

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