Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tracking God's Name

In the beginning ...

The original generic Semitic word for God is just "El", or more accurately just the letter "L", since the vowels weren't written.  Hebrew made El plural, "gods", by adding a masculine plural ending, "im"giving Elohim.  Other important words:

ADoN = Lord, ADoNay = My Lord.

Baal (two syllables, Ba-al) = Husband.  (Name given to Canaanite gods.)

YHWH = God's proper name in Hebrew.  Actually this should be YHVH, but thanks to the Germans pronouncing W as a V, we are stuck with the transcription of YHWH.

The Canaanites had a God ("L"), whose proper name was also El, which caused a lot of confusion.  The Bible prefers Elohim, which is usually translated as a singular "Lord".  Most likely this apparent plural is just a device to maintain a distinction, but there is plenty of room for confusion.  Scooting over to Arabic, the definite article ("the") is "al", so "the god" became "al La", or Allah.  

YHWH is linguistically related to the Hebrew verb for "to be".  Thus, in Exodus 3:14 God explains His name to Moses:  "God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM". And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, "I AM has sent me to you."  God's unique, self-existent status is the focus of this name.

Thus, the Hebrew Bible was using YHWH ("I am"?), Elohim ("God") and Adonay ("Lord") for God at different points, interleaved throughout the Old Testament.  When the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible was made, these three names were usually reduced to the Greek word for Lord, "Kurios", or God, "Theos".  (Note:  I have not fully traced all the translations!)

Moving to Latin, the preferred translation seems to have been the Latin word for God, "Deus".  

This overly simplistic and unsophisticated situation was clearly not acceptable as we advanced to the modern era, so a German scholar decided to help deduce a name for God derived from the Hebrew, YHWH.  Keep in mind that Germans pronounce "J" as an English "Y", so YHWH was changed into JHWH.  We also need some vowels, so the vowels from ADoNay (Lord) were chosen and merged with YHWH ("I am") which gave something like JaHoWaH.  This was then transmorgified back into English resulting in the linguistic gem, Jehovah.  The German scholar who did this was probably named Frankenstein, but admittedly I haven't gotten around to verifying his real name.

I do hope that God does not take offense at the way even the well meaning folk manage to abuse His name.

My understanding is that we usually take YHWH to be God the father, although from Deuteronomy 6:4, the orthodox might argue that this is the Trinity, since YHWH is used in that verse:

"Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one."

Lord = YHWH, God = Elohim, thus, the plural is "one".


I should mention the latest attempts to pronounce YHWH (i.e. Jehovah) correctly.  The most common pronunciation in the academic circles is Yahweh, with an accent on the first syllable.  As noted above, this reflects an anglicized pronunciation of a German spelling.  Using the Masoretic vowel markings, the pronunciation for Deuteronomy 6:4 would be more like Yeh-vah, with an accent on the second syllable.  The "e" in the first syllable is short, so that the first syllable is pronounced quickly while the second is held longer.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Nighttime Swims

I lost two months of swimming over the summer.  This was due to travel and sickness.  Over the last week, I have been able to get going again.  This time of year, however, it is dark at 6am when we start the swim.  The water temperature has dropped into the mid-60's and we finish up a bit chilled.  Sadly, there is only next week to navigate by the stars while swimming across the lake.  The time change occurs on November 1, and the park opening changes to one hour later.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Manilius: "the vault of the heavens"

Some things just keep getting stranger and stranger.  Manilius (1st century AD) was a Latin writer who lived during the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius.  That is, he lived in the period of time covered by the Earthly life of Jesus.  He wrote a book on Astronomy and Astrology, which he decided to present to his readers as poetry.  Yikes!  In the interest of completeness, I decided to spend a little time to go through the writings of the classical astrologers and mathematicians to see what I could learn.  As always, there is much that startles and reminds me that we truly live in an age of ignorance.

Let me highlight an example:

"The sky, according to some, extended overhead like an immense iron ceiling, and according to others, like a huge shallow vault.  As it could not remain suspended in space without some support, they imagined it to be held in place by four immense props or pillars.  The floor of the temple naturally represented the earth.  The columns, and if needful the four corners of the chambers, stood for the pillars." - Maspero, Manual of Egyptian Archaeology, 1895.

And so we were taught - with US taxpayer funds - that the symbolism of the heavens as a temple proved that earlier people believed that the Earth was flat.  With Manilius, I have finally encountered a writer from this era who actually used the poetic language regarding the heavens.  Actually, he wrote five books of pure poetic language on the subject of the heavens.  So let's look at the words of Manilius:

"If the Earth were flat, you [the moon] would rise for the whole world only once and the failure of your light would be lamented by every land at the same time.  But since the shape of the Earth follows a smooth curve, the Moon appears to these lands first, and then to those, ..." - Astronomica, I.225

The above passage is much longer and more detailed.  It is specifically intended to refute any flat earth beliefs.  Simultaneously, this book is intended as a rebuke to the Epicureans via Lucretius, along with their atheistic beliefs in a universe that happened by chance.  Most of the following examples are also repeated several times in various forms.

"This fabric which forms the body of the boundless universe, ... " - Astronomica, I.247

This is similar language to Psalm 104:2, which Washington Irving cited.

"Next has heaven a temple of its own, where, its rites now paid, the Altar gleams, ..." - Astronimica, I.410

"These then are the constellations which decorate the sky with even spread, their fires panelling the ceiling of heaven with various designs." - Astronomica, I.532

"How great is the space occupied by the vault of the heavens, ..." - Astronomica, I.539

"But since the Earth is suspended in the middle of space ..." - Astronomica, I.550

"...where heaven's lowest edges and Earth's uppermost rim meet" - Astronomica, I.646

This last one is a poetic description of the horizon.

At this point it appears that most of the figurative language regarding the heavens comes from the astrologers, who not only believed the Earth to be spherical and suspended in space, but could cite evidence to support their opinions quite easily.  I am not so sure regarding modernist professors.

A final note for the confused:  For an astrologer to predict the fate of a person, he needed to know the exact positions of the constellations when a person was born, and there was no such thing as GMT and atomic clocks.  Time was generally measured based on when the sun rose or set, which in turn depended on the latitude and longitude where the birth took place.  Everything was founded on a spherical earth notion.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Future Directions 3

The Tea Party's attempt to stand in the way of history was an embarrassing and inevitable failure.  The classical Greeks, however, told us in many writings that this would happen.  Here is one example:

"But as soon as a new generation has succeeded and the democracy falls into the hands of the grandchildren of its founders, they have become by this time so accustomed to equality and freedom of speech that they cease to value them and seek to raise themselves above their fellow-citizens, and it is noticeable that the people most liable to this temptation are the rich. So when they begin to hanker after office, and find that they cannot achieve it through their own efforts or on their merits, they begin to seduce and corrupt the people in every possible way, and thus ruin their estates. The result is that through their senseless craving for prominence they stimulate among the masses both an appetite for bribes and the habit of receiving them, and then the rule of democracy is transformed into government by violence and strongarm methods. By this time the people have become accustomed to feed at the expense of others, and their prospects of winning a livelihood depend upon the property of their neighbours; then as soon as they find a leader who is sufficiently ambitious and daring, but is excluded from the honours of office because of his poverty, they will introduce a regime based on violence. After this they unite their forces, and proceed to massacre, banish and despoil their opponents, and finally degenerate into a state of bestiality, after which they once more find a master and a despot." - Polybius, Rise of the Roman Republic

This says that populism gets tied in with the filthy rich, which is exactly what the US is experiencing.   Economic and moral suicide would be so set in people minds as something "good" that people would be offended by anything sane. The difference now is that unlimited debt can be foisted onto others.  Then there is our greatly expanded ability to wreck havoc when we seek revenge against others who were not responsible for the pains we intentionally inflicted on ourselves.

For me, the only question mark is what happens after the collapse.  The Greeks say it is a cycle that will simply repeat itself.  The Christians say that this is a necessary precursor to the Apocalypse, which precedes the return of Christ.  In either case, there is little reason to lament the inevitable.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


Gotta go back to work tomorrow.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Future Directions part 2

If the shutdown continues a few more days, my category will switch to "non-essential", and I will be able to keep up with the blogging!  Yeah!  

I could use about two or three weeks of furlough to catch up on my classes.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Future Directions

The pig is an animal that eats anything and swallows with minimum chewing.  Elsewhere in the Bible, we see that this is a type of person who has no judgment, accepts ideas indiscriminately and his thinking becomes unclean.  The cow, however, is picky about what it eats and takes his time to chew, which symbolizes the pondering of a decent person on good lessons.  With that in mind, it should be clear why I think that the following passage is a good description of where the US is likely headed:

"And when he [Jesus] came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes,two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters." - Matthew 8:28-30