Tag Archives: Text Criticism

The Mysterious Disappearance of Wisdom 18:9b

Image: Wikipedia

I was studying this Sunday’s first reading, Wisdom 18:6-9 while working on my weekly column and noticed something rather odd: The second half of Wisdom 18:9 is simply missing from the text. The full verse in the NAB is:

For in secret the holy children of the good were offering sacrifice
and carried out with one mind the divine institution,
So that your holy ones should share alike the same blessings and dangers,
once they had sung the ancestral hymns of praise.

Yet the English Lectionary only includes:

For in secret the holy children of the good were offering sacrifice
and carried out with one mind the divine institution,

Now, often the Lectionary will include partial verses, but they are always indicated by a letter, so you might have Gen 18:1-10a, for example. But in this case, there is no letter indicated by the verse reference. I thought this mystery might call for a little Catholic Bible Student investigation, so I dug up a copy of the Ordo Lectionum Missio, editio typica altera from 1981. This is the official Latin listing of the Lectionary readings. And sure enough for Lectionary #117, Wisdom 18:6-9 are listed not 18:6-9a.


The abbreviation “Sap” is for “Sapientia,” Wisdom. After seeing this, I thought that the difference might be in the versification of the Nova Vulgata, on which the 1981 Lectionary is based. But no, the verse appears in full in the Nova Vulgata:

Absconse enim sacrificabant iusti pueri bonorum
et divinitatis legem in concordia disposuerunt;
similiter et bona et pericula recepturos sanctos
patrum iam ante decantantes laudes. (Wisdom 18:9)

You’ll also notice that the Ordo Lectionum also gives an “incipit” (Nox liberationis…) that clarifies the subject of the first line by adding a single word and omitting the first word of verse 6.

But in the end, we’re left with a puzzle. Why would Wisdom 18:9b be omitted from the reading in the English translation? Here are possible theories: (a) the Latin Lectionary actually omits the lines and the English translators followed suit, (b) the English translators made a mistake by omitting them, (c) the lines struck the English translators as problematic, so they deliberately omitted them. If we go with Theory C here, I still don’t understand why the lines would be problematic–perhaps because they mention the fact that the saints will share in dangers as well as good things?

Yet many other parts of Scripture talk about us sharing in suffering, so I can’t think that’s the issue here. In fact, the lines are included in the Spanish edition of this reading. I’d be curious to look at Lectionaries in other languages to see if these lines are present or omitted, but for now we’ll have to chalk this one up as a mystery!


Owl image credit: By Athene_noctua_(portrait).jpg: Trebol-a derivative work:Stemonitis (Athene_noctua_(portrait).jpg) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 


Akeldama – Aramaic in the New Testament (Post #6)

Over time, I’ve been doing a little series of posts on Aramaic in the New Testament. This is the sixth post.

This week, I came across an Aramaic term that I just couldn’t pass up. In Acts 1, we get a rather gruesome description of Judas’ suicide after his betrayal of Jesus. We’re told that the horrific hanging happened in a particular places called “Akeldama.” Here’s the passage:

18 (Now this man bought a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.
19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) (Act 1:18-19 RSV)

Note on the Location

You can go look up the location, but basically it was and is a field of red clay dirt that was used by artisans in antiquity as a natural resource for making clay pots. In Matthew 27, 7, 10, the place is referred to as the “Potter’s Field” (Greek: τὸν ἀγρὸν τοῦ κεραμέως), hence the notion that the clay dirt was used for making clay pots. When it is called “field of blood” in Acts 1, the origin of the term might not be Judas’ suicide, but rather the red color of the dirt. The other thing to say is that Matthew and Acts differ on who purchased the field. In Acts, Judas bought the field, but in Matthew 27:7, the priests who paid Judas to betray Jesus bought the field to bury him. Either way, the location is still around and orthodox Christians have built a monastery on the place creatively nicknamed “Aceldama Monastery.” The field has also been used as a burial place.

Note on the Aramaic Word “Akeldama”

Simply, the word Akeldama transliterates the Greek “Ἁκελδαμάχ” (transliterated more precisely, Hakeldamach, note the appropriate rough breathing) which transliterates a combination of two Aramaic words: חֲקָל דְּמָא (chaqal dema). Some Greek manuscripts have a better spelling: Ἁκελδαμά (Act 1:19). Oddly, the English eliminates the Greek rough breathing which aims to transliterate the consonant chet. The word, dema or dma, means “blood” and appears many times in various combinations in Aramaic texts, as listed in the online Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon. Here is the entry from Jastrow’s dictionary:



So the word, dam or dema, normally means blood, but can also refer to other fluids. The other word is chaqal, which means field. Again, CAL has a great listing and here’s Jastrow:


The word “Akeldama” represents then, the construct chain חֲקָל דְּמָא (chaqal dema). In which the first word, chaqal  is masculine singular construct and dema is masculine singular emphatic. The construct chain is definite since it is a proper noun–like “the king of Persia” in Ezra 4:24–hence “the Field of (the) Blood” is the best translation. Note that Luke refers to “their own dialect” (ta idia dialekto auton), which indicates both he and his intended reader, Theophilus, are not part of the group of native Aramaic speakers, but native Greek speakers.


I suppose there’s no rocket science involved in explaining Akeldama. I think the only thing to say is that the English could do a better job transliterating it – perhaps as Halkeldema. The word simply means what Luke says it means “field of blood.”


Maranatha – Aramaic in the New Testament (Post #4)

A while back I started a series of posts on Aramaic in the New Testament–an odd topic that is tough to find much about on the Internet. I’m taking the Aramaic words and phrases in the New Testament on a case by case basis, breaking down the details and explaining what’s going on.

In this post, I want to examine a word you have probably heard before: Maranatha. This word/phrase only occurs once in the New Testament: in 1 Cor 16:22. In the Greek, it looks like this: μαράνα θά, but this actually has no meaning in Greek itself. It is a transliteration of the Aramaic, marana tha (מָרָנָא תָּה) or marana atha (מָרָנָא אֲתָה). The Greek manuscripts disagree about how to spell this transliteration. Some have maran atha, others maranatha (you can see how these two match the second version of the Aramaic above) and the one I’ve chosen which is the text in the Nestle-Aland 27th critical edition.

This phrase even in Aramaic is a little grammatically confusing. It basically means “Our Lord, come!” so we have to point out three different elements:

1. The noun for “Lord” is mar. (As in Mar Ephrem, the great saint of Syriac/Aramaic Christianity.)

2. The suffix -na means “our.” Hence, “marana” is “our Lord.”

3. The verb tha (Come!) is the Peal Imperative 2nd masculine singular of the the verb atha. Atha means “he comes” and shows up in the alternate forms of maranatha. It is simply the 3rd masculine singular perfect form, the dictionary form for this word.

So maranatha can be translated either as “Our Lord, come!” or as “Our Lord comes/will come.” It could be a plea or a statement of fact. Many translators prefer the “plea form” since it is supported by the brief prayer in Revelation 22:20, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

This word only appears once in the New Testament, but it reappears in a very early Christian document, the Didache. Gareth Hughes wrote a little study on comparing the two uses of the word here.

There’s a little taste of Aramaic to begin your new year!

EDIT: I wanted to add a chart of the possibilities here for clarity’s sake.

Words Translation Parsing for Verb in bold
marana tha Our Lord, come! Peal Imperative 2nd masc singular (Older Imperial Aramaic)
maran atha Our Lord comes/will come Peal Perfect 3rd masc singular
maran atha Our Lord, come! Peal Imperative 2nd masc singular (Later 1st century Aramaic)

Here’s a very old article on Maranatha by Nathaniel Schmidt (1894).


Missing Bible Verses

P46You might be surprised when you’re reading the New Testament and a verse disappears into thin air. For example, if you are reading Acts 8:36, you would expect Acts 8:37 to follow, but oddly, 8:38 is the next verse. What happened to Acts 8:37?

Or try to look up Romans 16:24. Or Matthew 17:21.

In fact, there’s a whole list of Bible verses that have been, er, excised from modern editions. Why?

The versification system that we use in English is based on the King James Bible (and some precursors) that relied on the Greek “Textus Receptus” (relying for the NT mainly on Erasmus’ edition) while modern translations are based on more recent text-critical work. The Textus Receptus  represents a Byzantine text type, but the newer critical editions are based on an Alexandrian text type. The Alexandrian text is now generally regarded as more accurate.

So our versification system is based on the King James, which is based on the Byzantine text, but our translations are based on the Alexandrian text. This means we’re using a verse system that does not line up with our text and it creates, well, holes. Even the Nova Vulgata, the Catholic Church’s official edition omits the verses.

Then are these omitted verses Scripture? Well, not exactly, but they were regarded as Scripture by many Christians for ages. Fortunately, most of them are not crucial verses.

Just a little piece of Bible-reader knowledge that will prevent you from calling the publisher in outrage when you find that a verse is missing from your Bible!


Introduction to Text Criticism Online Book

I just found a great resource for anyone who wants a brief introduction to text criticism of the Bible. Apparently, Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts by Sir Frederic Kenyon used to be a common textbook for textual criticism. I found it to be a very helpful summary of the important points. It can help you make sense of the text-critical apparatus in the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament or Rahlfs’ Septuagint, even the Hebrew Bible–but the book was published in 1939, seven years before the discovery of the caves at Qumran. Hence the reason it is no longer a standard.

Kenyon’s book has been superceded by a few other books: Bruce Metzger’s Textual Commentary on the New Testament (2005) and his Text of the New Testament (co-authored with Bart Ehrman, 2005), Kurt and Barbara Aland’s Text of the New Testament (1995)and Emmanuel Tov’s Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (2001).