RE: In the beginning midrash/bilingualism

From: Pete Phillips (
Date: Wed Feb 23 2000 - 09:11:00 EST

Randall is quite right to mention the intended interplay between Greek and Jewish/Hebrew ideas and vocabulary in the Prologue - see for example Craig Evans' Word and Glory. I am not sure that it is midrash as such - but then I am no expert as evidently Randall is. Midrash-like structures and midrash-like usage of the Hebrew scriptures can be found throughout Paul and the Gospels and so it should come as no surprise that something similar appears in John. But why? Is it because his audience (people always seem to need to use John to arrive at his community as though that was/is more important than the message he is getting across) is mixed Jewish/Hellenistic or because he is using Hebraeo-Greek thought forms in order to diversify the appeal of his text. Notice that if you think that John's Gospel is Kosher because of verse 1-5 you might think otherwise by the time you get to verse 14 and will have mindblowing doubts by the end of 18!!! He hooks you by using devices like this bilingual pun and then pulls
 the carpet out from under you (sorry about the mixed metaphor) by telling you who the Messiah really is - compare Jesus methodology with the Samaritan woman. Is that realy midrash?

Pete Phillips

-----Original Message-----
From: yochanan bitan []
Sent: 23 February 2000 13:10
To: Biblical Greek
Cc: b-greek
Subject: In the beginning midrash/bilingualism

shalom Greek list--I am a little surprised that in an ancient Jewish
you do not raise the question of midrash and what seems to me
quite obvious, skillful wordplay. [update: I just saw that Larry Swain has
at least mentioned targum and Carl Conrad brought in Jewish 'wisdom'
connections. The following still holds.]

John is written in Greek, no question for me.
But he is very conscious of BOTH Jewish and Hellenistic background, writing
in Greek and very aware of Jewish background.
For example, in verses 1.2-4 the gospel appropriates and builds
on the ancient Jewish "all-purpose" blessing:
"that everything has come into being through his word"
she-hakol nihya bidvaro (See Mishna Beraxot)
(this is somewhat distinctive Hebrew, which makes it hard to miss, even in
Of course, John relates this terminology to the Messiah as a Hidush

Now the targums are a post-70 phenomenon, as Qumran's silence testifies
(except for the prolific Job targum, of course. Cf. LXX Job 42.17, Qumran
11 and 4, Gamaliel story.).
But the targums are a window back into the world of midrash and that world
was pre-Christian.
(Cf. Paul's reference to the "following" rock, or the joining of "and you
shall love God" with "and you shall love your friend" Luke 10.27, or
'Jannes and Jambres', etc.)
The targums testify to an old practice of midrashic development and
circumlocutions using 'word', 'presence' and 'glory', among others, for
'Word' in turn goes back to a midrashic connection between Proverbs 8,
"wisdom and beginning" with Genesis 1 "speaking [cf. 'and he said'] and
This rabbinic link itself between wisdom, speaking and creation was
probably enhanced during Hellenistic times because of the Greek discussions
about logos (cf. Philo for the Jewish connection).

John has very obviously tapped-in on a complex web of relationships that
have strong ties to both Hellenistic and Jewish terminology.
His skill becomes clear at 1.14 where 'word', 'glory' and shexina/presence
are mirrored in his Greek words, even a bilingual "homonym" eschenesen

A bilingual wordplay, now that's skill. He did it phonetically at 1.14, but
conceptually, he did it throughout 1.1-18.

An aside for translation: wordplays, in translation theory, are
acknowledged to be untranslatable. You pick the piece(s) you want and live
with it. (Actually, that is true for all translation, but I won't belabor
the point.)
If you want full communication then you are committed to 'study bibles'.
Welcome aboard.

Maybe the day will come when the Church rediscovers a Synagogue practice:
relationship between source and translation is never forgotten or
obliterated. For example, in the English world a synagogue will probably
provide worshippers with a bi-lingual Hebrew-English edition of the tora
that includes study notes in English, too. [The synagogue practice presents
a middle-road between 'translation-only' (the Church) and 'source only'
I would be happy with bilingual Greek-XXX(e.g.English) study Bibles (NT)
and Hebrew-XXX (e.g.English) study Bibles (OT). For precedents, see the
Socino Hebrew-English readers, or the miqraot gedolot (rabbinic bibles,
maybe too heavy on commentary).

Randall Buth

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