Thursday, October 5, 2017

A mini-teaching of the first day of Sukkot readings

A mini-teaching on one of today's Sukkot readings:

1 John 1: 1. We announce to you that which was from the beginning which we have heard and have seen with our eyes, looked upon, and handled with our hands, that which is the Word of Life. 2. And the life was manifested, and we have seen and do testify and announce to you the life which is eternal; which was with the Father and was revealed to us. 3. And what we have seen and heard, we make known to you also that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Y’shua the Mashiyach.[1] 4.  And these things we write to you, that our joy in you may be complete.[2]

5. And this is the announcement which we have heard from him and declare to you, that Elohim is light and no darkness at all is in him. 6. And if we say that we have fellowship with him and we walk in the darkness, we are liars and walk not in the truth. 7. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other and the blood of Y’shua his Son cleanses us from all our sins. 8. And if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9. But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all our iniquity. 10. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not with us. (AENT)

FOOTNOTES:

[1] As in The Good News According to John, Yochanan bar Zawdee (Shaliach/Apostle John) writes with a poetic flair that breaks grammatical conventions and marks his texts as both an Aramaic original and as a unique creation that could only come from his pen.

The first sentence in the Good News begins with four words that “break all the rules” in order to make a spiritual point about all divine attributes resting on and in Mashiyach, which we will briefly review here for easy comparison with his First Epistle: Breshit aytohi hwa Miltha:-- In the Beginning was the Miltha. Once again, we have the unusual and unprecedented mating of two male terms (there, was) with one female noun miltha, (word).

This usage is so unique as to constitute a literary fingerprint for John’s style, as it appears nowhere else in either the Renewed Covenant or any known Aramaic/Syriac literature, with the exception of those works that draw directly on John. Paul never breaks this grammatical rule, and the same can be said of Peter, James and Yehuda. However, in the first line of his letter here, John makes it clear that he is returning to teach:

“He who was with us from the beginning, the one whom we have heard and have seen with our own eyes, have looked upon and have touched with our hands, we declare to you is the Word of life.” 1 John 1:1 (Lamsa). Just as the opening words from the Good News, John again packs an amazing degree of spiritual depth into very few words. The first aspect is the exact poetic construction; only it is one male verb and female noun which has essentially the same effect (aytohi miltha).

The parallels continue with the word B’resheet (in the beginning), which dovetails with the first lines of both his Good News as well as that of Genesis. In fact, if we compact this text we still have the phrase, “from the beginning there was the Word.” Perhaps the greatest comparison is with the foundational statement of Torah itself: Shema Yisrael YHWH Eloheinu, YHWH echad. Hear O Israel, YHWH is our Elohim, YHWH is one.

If we examine various translations of this text, an interesting pattern emerges. Some translate this as “that which we have heard and seen,” as opposed to Lamsa’s “The One whom we have heard and seen”. Why? The answer is that this phrase in the first line of John’s Good News (eykhadaya) is implied in Aramaic. Choosing a literal translation, using the word what here gives a reading that could refer to the truth, a precept, teaching, and so on.

Lamsa takes a different view, perceptively pointing out that there is only one “Who” that has been from the very beginning, and that same Individual is the Word of Life. The “Word” then is neither a concept nor a teaching, but an all-powerful Being. However, what is not entirely wrong; English has two ways of expressing “who” but Aramaic only has one.

It is just as correct to say, for example, “the man who was good to me” as it is to say “the man that was good to me.” I favor the Lamsa rendering, Elohim is a Who rather than a That and, of course, He is the only One who existed before creation. Further, it is in this uniqueness where we find the idea of “The One” (eykhadaya) staring back at us by subtle inference.

These details showcase, conceptually, the linkage between Aramaic 1 John, and the Shema declaration of Deuteronomy 6:4. In the Shema, Israel is being asked to hear; in 1 John members of Israel respond to what they have heard. Similarly, the Shema proclaims that Elohim is ONE (echad). Aramaic in 1 John reflects this with implied “eykhadaya.” In fact, “the One whom we have heard” strongly and clearly reflects the Aramaic mindset of John. It is simply a connection indicative of a Semitic mindset, in much the way Isaiah’s (26:3) use of the phrase shalom shalom (perfect peace) is.

[2] Perhaps the most beautiful pattern in 1 John has to do with another incredible implied wordplay. As shown in the section on cognate accusatives in the publication Ruach Qadim, where the multiple meaning of an Aramaic root is exploited two or more times in a phrase. A statement by Ben Franklin was used to highlight this concept where he stated, “Gentlemen we must all hang together or most assuredly we shall hang separately.” But what if, instead of a direct exploitation of hang’s dual meanings, Franklin referred to one meaning of the word while indirectly referencing its other use.

In other words, what if he had instead said: “Gentlemen, we must all hang together or most assuredly they will string us up with rope separately.” Granted while not nearly as graceful as the first foray, it would nevertheless be clever. The joke then would rely on a slight delay mechanism, since it may take a few seconds for the hearer to rationalize, “Right, string up with rope is hang too, I get it.”

The same thing is happening in these two passages from 1 John: And these things we write to you that our joy in you may be complete. 1 John 1:4 (Lamsa). There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear because fear is tormenting. He who fears is not made in perfect love. 1 John 4:18 (Lamsa).

The key to this bit of genius is found when looking at what is described as opposed to what is being stated. Put simply, if perfect love casts out fear, or complete joy fills you up, what else can the result be other than shalom (peace)? And so, once again, we see a direct root relationship between perfection/completion (mshamliya) and peace (shlama), and the meaning of the first occurrence is clearly describing the end product of the second!

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