Thursday, December 16, 2010

Seventh Annual Ralphies

Here we go ...

Best TV Show: First, I have to say a few words about Lost, which has won this award for several years. By the time the last minute of the show ticked off, the method of the creators had become clear: for five seasons, go as far out on a limb as you possibly can, and then, in the sixth season, cut the limb off. Then, as we watch you drop out of sight, call out "It's better to travel hopefully than it is to arriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiive!" Um, no, it's not. This was not a year for successful TV. Not only did Lost end with a whimper, but Flashforward and Rubicon, both great and fun shows, were cancelled after one season. However, Fringe had a great year, and has already succeeded where Lost, Heroes, and X-Files all failed. The Ralphie goes to Fringe, with enthusiasm.

Best Movie: Didn't see that many, just the biggest of the big, viz., Toy Story 3 and Inception. Neither one of these highly praised movies stuck in my mind for even 5 minutes after viewing, which is kind of a test I have for a good movie. The only movie that really did that for me was one I viewed on pay-per-view, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. It gets the Ralphie.

Best Record: A better year than last year, for sure. Although I didn't buy many records, thanks to YouTube, I heard a fair amount of new and good music. The Black Keys are great; the new Sufjan Stevens; a fictional group called Sex Bob-Omb (music by Beck) that was awesome. But the Ralphie goes to a song that, for 2 weeks this summer, I literally couldn't get out of my mind, namely Fireflies by Owl City. It was even there when I was dreaming, which just shows you that the music module of your brain is separate from the other modules. It took me a while before I finally figured out the song was actually about insomnia.

Best Non-Fiction Book: As you know, I read a truckload of linguistics books and articles; there's a lot of good stuff out there. I would have to put Steven Pinker's The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window Into Human Nature at the top because of its accessibility and generally jaunty style.

Best Fiction Book: The award goes to Lev Grossman's The Magicians. The book is a compulsively readable fantasy that attempts to undermine the worlds of both Harry Potter and Narnia. Me, I love Narnia, but The Magicians is a tremendously fun read on its own terms (unlike, say, the works of the King of Boredom, Philip Pullman).

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Now We Are Six

On November 30, 2004, the first post of this blog appeared. The first year or so was quite active, and coincided approximately with the birth of biblioblogging, of which this blog was one of the first. But "Ralph" has never sought, or received, any factitious badge of approval or value-ranking from the world of biblioblogging (now firmly part of the Establishment) and I now question whether my blog is a part of that increasingly self-conscious and contentious world.

The last few years have been less active, as other activities have crowded out daily, or even weekly, blogging. Most particularly, I consciously decided a while back to devote most of the time I had for writing to preparing scholarly books and articles; and, this, I think, was a wise choice.

Still, writing for "Ralph" is always one of my greatest pleasures. Looking back, I see plenty of ephemeral matter, but nothing that embarrasses me. Several of the posts have in the past developed into lectures, presentations, or articles, and some may still do so. And, as far as I know, "Ralph" is still the only blog ever to be cited in a scholarly footnote in Revue de Qumran.

This year especially has been quiet for "Ralph," although the most famous post in Ralph's history was cited in two books about Bob Dylan. One of them is Sean Wilentz's Bob Dylan in America (Doubleday, 2010), pp. 303ff. Wilentz, professor of American Studies at Princeton, cites "Ralph," without giving the URL (how rude!) or the author (how clueless!). Indeed, he appears to believe that the name "Ralph" is my pseudonym, apparently without noticing that my name and email appear (and have always appeared) right there on the blog.

The other citation is in Alessandro Carrera, "Oh, the Streets of Rome: Dylan in Italy," which appeared in Highway 61 Revisited: Bob Dylan's Road from Minnesota to the World (ed. C. J. Sheehy & T. Swiss; Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2009), where the author refers to me as "very puzzled." Sure, if by puzzled you mean outraged. I also was interviewed by phone by yet another author who is writing a book about Dylan. Not bad for a philologist whose expertise is in a wholly different area.

"Ralph" will continue, probably at the same slow pace. And yes, the Ralphies for 2010 will shortly appear. Watch this space.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Scenes and Observations from SBL Atlanta 2010

In no particular order ...

Two huge ballrooms were assigned to a session attended by about 15 people.

My room, thankfully, was in a tower (Hyatt) where I didn't have to go up in one of those glass elevators.

Best meal: Atlanta Grill, with Marty Abegg and James Bowley. We planned the next volume of the Dead Sea Scrolls Concordance.

I bought two books: The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism by Adele Berlin and the Cambridge Companion to C. S. Lewis.

The good people at Accordance updated me and fixed me up with a ton of awesome software.

The most crowded session I attended was the one on Biblioblogging. I listened to Jim Davila's and Chris Brady's excellent papers on the state of the art, then had to go to another session. Chris suggested (as you can read here) that there be an SBL committee to provide peer-review insight on the tenure-relevant research found in online sources. I agree if the sources are research resources, but not if they are blogs. Blogs should resist "sivilizin'".

Jim Davila is still watching Lost.

Against all probability, the guy I sat next to at the Bloggers lunch lives only a few blocks away from me.

John Hobbins is really tall.

The HUC grad school survives.

I enjoyed discussing syntax with fellow UCLA alums Kirk Lowery and Randy Buth.

There will never be a time when most people know how to deliver a paper at SBL.

I met a man who had taken Hebrew from me over 20 years ago.

I enjoyed talking about Amazon's Kindle with Dean Forbes.

The number of religious books being published every year is inversely proportional to the number of actual Christians.

I worked on my paper the night before I gave it. At least I didn't write my paper the night before I gave it.

Air Tran advertises free Wi-Fi in their terminal. It's only free if you want to check your flight information. For anything else, you have to pay.

I enjoyed seeing some of my students at their first SBL.

The memorial service for Hanan Eshel was moving, with most major Qumran scholars in attendance.

MARTA is better than Metro. Cheaper, too.

The Brill reception was awesome, and the view from the 49th floor of the Peachtree Tower was spectacular.

The Fuller breakfast was great, but it's a little sobering to realize that I am now among the oldest attendees.

I'll add more as I recall more....

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Old Dog, New Trees

Summers, for academics, are empty vessels waiting to be filled; not like the academic year, whose content is largely determined by others. During summer, to a certain extent, free will returns; and therefore each summer takes on a character of its own.

This summer for me was the summer of trees, in two senses. The first is the literal sense of our vegetable friends and neighbors. It was inevitable that trees should attract my attention, since the DC area has one of the largest tree canopies in the nation. Sooner or later I had to take some account of them. Probably it was on walks with the dachshund, whose interest in trees is of long standing, that I first said to myself "What about these trees?" I don't remember the moment, but there must have been one in which trees presented themselves to me as objects of worthy curiosity, and I found myself getting some books about trees, and how to identify them, and what was the nature of their leaves, bark, flowers, overall shape, and usefulness. I started taking note, and the diversity amazed me. In our neighborhood are many lindens (or basswoods) planted for shade, as well as many varieties of that handsome genus Acer, the maple. Silver, red, striped, goosefoot, the delicate little Japanese maple. Very common is the Eastern white pine, and kinds of spruce and fir that I have not yet gotten to. The great elms. The mighty oak — best of all. Near us the common type is the pin oak, but near the Capitol you can find the awesomely large Northern Red Oak. The cherry trees — of course! Lots of those. Two dogwoods in our back yard. The gorgeous and immense yellow poplar, with its tulip-shaped leaves. From the Metro you can see the catalpa, or indian bean, with huge leaves and long seed pods. On the CUA campus are many other varieties, including a cedar of Lebanon. Sycamores, ash, willow — where have you been all my life?

I don't have any desire to be an arborologist and my interest in the industrial use of trees is nil. I am only a watcher of trees, and this summer I have learned to take in my surroundings with more discernment. That's one feature of the summer of 2010.

The other kind of trees is the figurative, linguistic type. Originally I planned to do a not very intensive review of Greek, and duly began working through some grammars. It was not long, though, before I began to be distracted by the unsatisfactory way in which the grammars (which shall remain nameless) approached syntax — even in some cases, using the old grammar-school sentence diagrams. I gradually found myself searching for a better approach and abandoned Greek for technical linguistics, in fact, the severe formalities of the Chomskyan generative school. I devoured a good many textbooks of this approach, even reading Chomsky himself, and had the sensation of a keen intellectual pleasure as I delved into the system, which is powerful and elegant (although not perfect, which is the topic for another post). I filled many sheets of paper with trees, i.e., tree diagrams — and not your dull flat structures either, but the beautiful binary structures of the X-bar theory and its various epicycles. If I can, I will keep up this exploration into the fall, as time permits. But even with just a few short weeks of study, I feel braced by the austere rigor of the system. That's the second benefit of Summer 2010.

On Monday classes begin, and free will has to be put on a leash again. I don't really mind. The trees, all of them, will continue to be there, summer's gift, as duty returns.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Bob Dylan, Carl Sandburg, and the "Borrowing" Problem

One of the oddest things (among many odd things) in Bob Dylan's memoir Chronicles is his narration of a conversation with poet and playwright Archibald MacLeish, who had commissioned him to write some music for a play. According to Dylan, MacLeish said that he, MacLeish, had been a classmate of Douglas Macarthur at West Point (Chronicles, p. 112). In fact, MacLeish, although he served in the Army, never went to West Point. So how did this misinformation get into Dylan's book?

It has already been established that Dylan incorporated expressions, phrases and entire sentences from other authors in the book. A little research reveals that the same practice underlies parts of the MacLeish conversation and is responsible for the misattribution of certain statements to MacLeish. In this case, the source is the preliminary material to the Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg, (2002). This book has an introduction by Archibald MacLeish, and a preface (called "Notes for a Preface") by Sandburg himself. The remark about West Point comes in the Sandburg preface, not the MacLeish introduction:
Sandburg, p. xxx:
"At twenty-one I [Sandburg] went to West Point, being a classmate of Douglas MacArthur and Ulysses S. Grant III ..."

Chronicles, p. 112:
"MacLeish had been a classmate of Douglas MacArthur at West Point ..."

Confirmation of Dylan's borrowing comes from elsewhere in Sandburg's preface, such as this remark:
Sandburg, p. xxx:
"A few masterpieces last across the years. ... Perhaps no wrong is done and no temple of human justice violated in pointing out that each authentic poet makes a style of his own. ... I have forgotten the meaning of twenty or thirty of my poems written thirty or forty years ago."

Chronicles, p. 113:
"He said that he'd forgotten the meaning of a lot of his earlier poems and that an authentic poet makes a style of his own, a few masterpieces last across the years."

Sandburg (Preface, p. xxviii) also alludes to "Michelangelo saying in 1509, 'I have no friends of any kind and I do not want any,' and forty years later writing, 'I am always alone and I speak to no one.' " This too is picked up in Chronicles: "He also talked about Michelangelo, said that Michelangelo had no friends of any kind and didn't want any, spoke to no one" (p. 112).

Another possible allusion lies on p. xxvii of Sandburg's preface, where he says (italics added): "A well done world history of poetry would tell us of the beginnings and the continuing tradition of blank verse, rhymed verse, ballads, ballades, sonnets, triolets, rondeaus, villanelles, the sestina, the pantoum, the hokku; also odes, elegiacs, idylls, lyrics, hymns, quatrains, couplets, ditties, limericks, and all the other forms," and Dylan quotes MacLeish to the same effect: "Archie spoke about blank verse, rhyme verse, elegiacs, ballads, limericks and sonnets" (Chronicles, p. 112).

One final parallel: Sandburg writes of Stephen VIncent Benet (p. xxvi): "He knew the distinction between pure art and propaganda in the written or spoken word." Dylan says of MacLeish: "He also told me that there's a difference between art and propaganda and he told me the difference between the effects" (p. 112).

However, Dylan also attributes to MacLeish some expressions found in MacLeish's introduction to Sandburg, such as on p. xx, where the poet alludes to "... the comparative dimensions of ... Sappho and Sophocles, of Dante and Donne," which Dylan turns into this: "He asked me if I had read Sappho or Socrates. I said, nope, that I hadn't, and then he asked me the same about Dante and Donne." (Note the miscopying of "Socrates" for "Sophocles.") (I owe this observation to Scott Warmuth.)

It is now apparent what happened. Dylan, in the course of concocting (or reconstructing) a conversation with MacLeish, pulled from his shelves a copy of Sandburg's Complete Poems, Introduction by Archibald MacLeish, to get some ideas. However, he confused MacLeish's short introduction with Sandburg's long preface, and as a result wound up making MacLeish say a number of things that actually were said by Sandburg.

No doubt many Dylan-worshippers will now argue that this confusion is a sign of Dylan's genius. I think Bob just got his sources mixed up. It happens, especially when you're "borrowing" a lot from other writers.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


When translating the Damascus Document for the Dead Sea Scrolls book I co-authored with MIke Wise and Martin Abegg, I took some pains not simply to translate mechanically the Hebrew words of the text, but to make explicit the nuances of certain enigmatic expressions that were important for a better understanding. One of these expressions is "Shoddy-Wall-Builders," which occurs four times in the Damascus Document (4:19; 8:12, 18; 19:31), and which is a rendition of Hebrew בוני החיץ.

Peter Flint and James VanderKam make generous use of our translation in their popular textbook The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls (2002). Nevertheless, in their discussion of Qumran history, they refer to this translation of mine as "curious," and they prefer to translate the phrase as "Builders of the Wall." I now want to make explicit the reasoning behind the choice of words I used, and suggest that it is not curious at all, but demanded by the context.

The persons designated as "builders of the wall" in the Document are portrayed as followers of a false teacher and a false law, and as such have earned the displeasure of God. But why are they called "builders of the wall"? It is agreed by all that the phrase is taken from Ezekiel 13:10: "Because, yes, because they have misled my people, saying, Peace, when there is no peace; and because, when one builds a wall (בנה חיץ), they smear whitewash on it." In the original context, the prophet is denouncing false prophets who give as a divine message something out of their own imaginations. Their message is false and unreliable.

The metaphor the prophet uses is of someone who builds a wall, which is then covered with white paint to hide its imperfections. For the metaphor to function properly, in fact, it is necessary that the wall be understood as one that is not solid or well-built. Otherwise, what would be wrong with whitewashing a wall? Note that the JPS translates this part of the verse as "daubing with plaster the flimsy wall which the people were building."

The word used for "wall" reinforces this interpretation. The word חיץ is not the ordinary Hebrew word for a city wall (חומה) or a building wall (קיר) or a fence (גדר). It only appears here in the Hebrew Bible, and in post-Biblical Hebrew, it seems to refer to a light temporary partition. Jastrow defines it as "a pile of loose and uneven material, a rough extemporised embankment, opp[osed] to earth-covered and finished." To build such a wall and then to paint it as if it were a dependable finished structure would be highly irresponsible.

The authors of the Damascus Document knew perfectly well the implications of the phrase. Their opponents were in every way comparable to the false prophets of Ezekiel's time; like them they built up an unreliable body of teaching – a "shoddy wall" – and like them they hid its imperfections (in 8:12 the same group is called "Whitewashers"). They were not "builders of the wall" – an expression that conveys little – but they were "Shoddy-Wall Builders."

BIBLIOGRAPHY: VanderKam, James C., and Peter W. Flint. The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Their Significance for Understanding the Bible, Judaism, Jesus, and Christianity. San Francisco, Calif: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002.

Wise, Michael Owen, Martin G. Abegg, and Edward M. Cook. The Dead Sea scrolls: a new translation. San Francisco: Harper, 1996, rev. ed. 2005.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Olive Pits and Alef-Bets: Notes on the Qeiyafa Ostracon

There seems to be a general feeling that there is something about the Qeiyafa Ostracon that counts against a strong minimalist understanding of the history of the Israelite monarchy. I personally think that a strong minimalist position is highly unlikely even without the evidence of the ostracon, so evidence of this kind would not surprise me. Nevertheless it might be interesting, now that the ostracon has been officially published, to give it a brief assessment of its nature and significance.

One of the key tenets of a minimalist stance is that there is little evidence of a strong state in Israel from the 10th century BCE, the period when the United Monarchy is usually placed. Since Khirbet Qeiyafa is dated to the early 10th century BCE (based on the evidence of pottery and carbon-14 dating of olive pits at the site), this causes any finds from the site to have some bearing on the question of the situation in Judah at the time. Even without the ostracon, the fact that there was a strongly fortified town within the borders of ancient Judah at the time evinces some degree of organized building activity, suggestive of political unity. This is a point that the excavators themselves make.

Another trait of state centralization often said to be lacking during the crucial 10th century is literacy, or at least the evidence of a writing tradition in epigraphic artifacts. Here is where the ostracon comes in. The more the ostracon can be taken as evidence of literacy at some level, or as the product of a scribal culture, the more the idea of a centralized state and its educational system becomes probable. Can it be taken in this way?

The ostracon itself is hard to read because of the faded letters, and even the letters that are clear do not yield a connected text or even hint at a possible genre, at least in the readings contained in the official publication. (The interpretation of Gershon Galil, so far available only in a press release, seems to depend on restoring crucial letters or filling in key lacunae in a way that does not carry conviction.) Although the reading of Misgav and his associates agrees in several points with the alternate reading provided by Ada Yardeni, the two readings also diverge from each other in important ways, and neither reading is conducive to meaningful consecutive translation.

So what do we have?

(1) A text written from left-to-right. Although some may choose to withhold judgment at this point, the fact that the second line swerves upward at the right side of the ostracon confirms the general impression of left-to-right direction: a writer swerves upward when he runs out of room at the end of a line.

(2) A text written in the Old Canaanite form of the alphabet, the form that the letters took before (but more about this later) the evolution of national scripts. The closest analogue among previous discoveries is the Izbet Sartah Ostracon, also written left-to-right. But several of the Qeiyafa letters are still unidentified, and for others there are different opinions about their values. Even for those where there is agreement, there are some violent changes of letter stance within the text, which is more typical of earlier forms of this script but not of later (e.g. Izbet Sartah does not have the same variations in stance). My impression is that this would count against rather than for the idea that there was a widespread scribal culture: surely a guild of national scribes would regularize the letter shapes and stances?

(3) A text whose language, although North-West Semitic, is still undetermined. The key sequence of letters is the first five letters: אלתעש. This has plausibly been interpreted as Hebrew אל תעש, "do not do!" Among the NW Semitic languages, the verbal root עשה 'to do' is diagnostic of Hebrew (and its congeners, such as Moabite). Although HALOT gives a few other languages where the root may appear, in this location at this date, only Hebrew is a viable candidate, if the interpretation is correct.

However, the sequence may be interpreted otherwise, and I will come back to it. Other sequences that have been plausibly read are שפט, line 2, עבד, line 1, בעל, line 3, נקם, line 4, מלך, line 4, and possibly חרם, line 5. The roots give us no help for language identification, since all of them are attested throughout North-West Semitic (although נקם and שפט are less common in Aramaic). The lack of a clear text is a handicap, needless to say.

One key sequence is found at the end of line 4. Misgav et al. read the last few letters as יסד מלך גת, "YSD king of Gath," although the last letter is restored. Yardeni, however, reads it differently. Leaving the yod aside, the last five letters she reads as בדמלך. The letter she reads as bet Misgav et al. take as either samekh or ḥet. But the letter in question, although it does not look like the other bets of the text, does look like the bets of some other Old Canaanite texts. If Yardeni is correct, then this sequence is crucial, because בדמלך is a Phoenician name, Bōd-Milk, and the name element "Bod-" ("in the hand of") is not found in Hebrew.

If this is a Phoenician name, then we might explore, heuristically, whether the other readable sequences also suggest names. In line 1, we can take עבדא as Abda, a name attested in several Phoenician inscriptions (Benz 148), as is Bodmilk (Benz 75). The first three letters of line 2 are שפט and this can be taken as Shaphat, an extremely common Phoenician name (Benz 182-184). In Yardeni's reading, the sequence beginning line 3 is גרבעל which could be "Gerbaal," an attested Phoenician name (Benz 103). The letters נקמי in line 4, while not attested, could be a hypocoristic (shortened) form of a name with the verbal form naqam, "to avenge."

Finally, we may reconsider the form אלתעש in this light. The verbal root עוש has been identified in a number of Semitic names (including Biblical Yeush, Gen 36:5 and elsewhere). If the root does occur in the present sequence of letters, then we might take the letters אלת as the goddess Ilat; the name would mean "Ilat helps" or "Ilat, help!" Ilat is a component of some Phoenician names.

If the names are Phoenician, this might mean that the text is Phoenician, but it doesn't prove it. Phoenician names could be mentioned in a text of another language. But the text as a whole would have to be understood in a convincing way before this could be argued. Unfortunately, we are still far from understanding what kind of text the ostracon is overall.

(4) The most significant fact about the ostracon, in my view, is the date. If the dating of the level it was found in is correct – late 11th/early 10th century BCE – then the use of this Old Canaanite script is surprising. Within a century or less of the ostracon's writing, another inscription would be made in ancient Israel of a very different sort. I refer to the Tell Zayit abecedary, which dates at the latest to the late 10th century BCE. But unlike the Qeiyafa ostracon, the Tell Zayit text is written from right-to-left and already has many of the distinctive letter shapes that would characterize Hebrew inscriptions after that time. It is on the way to becoming the Hebrew national script. If any text by itself indicates the presence of a literate culture or scribal guild, it is not Qeiyafa, but Tell Zayit. The chronological gap between the two epigraphs is not very large, but the contrast is dramatic, and may indicate a correspondingly rapid dramatic change in the cultural situation in 10th century Judah. Was this change caused by the monarchy? That's too big a conclusion from this limited data, but the possibility is tantalizing.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Misgav, H., Garfinkel, Y. and Ganor, S., "The Ostracon." In Garfinkel, Y. and Ganor, S., Khirbet Qeiyafa Vol. 1. Excavation Report 2007-2008 (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 2009), pp. 243-257; Yardeni, A. 2009. "Further Observations on the Ostracon." In Garfinkel, Y. and Ganor, S. Khirbet Qeiyafa Vol. 1. Excavation Report 2007-2008, pp. 259-260; Franz Benz, Personal Names in the Phoenician and Punic Inscriptions (Rome, 1972).

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Is Sin in Aramaic a Commercial Term?

I have not yet read Gary Anderson's Sin: A History, but Bruce Marshall, in discussing the book, attributes the following view to Anderson:
Before the Babylonian exile ... sin was sometimes described as a defiling stain but mainly as a burden to be borne. . . . Part of the reason all this changed after the Babylonian exile was linguistic. Aramaic became the primary tongue of the Persian Empire in which the Jewish people lived during the Second Temple period, and in Aramaic the language for religious transgression comes directly from the world of commerce. The word for a debt owed to a lender is the same as the word for a sin.

The Aramaic word that Anderson (or Marshall) refers to is ḥōb, which can indeed mean in many Aramaic dialects either a debt owed to a lender or a sin. However, this does not mean that Israel's view of sin changed because the nation adopted the Aramaic language.

1. The earliest occurrences of ḥōb in Aramaic sources – in this case, the Elephantine papyri – refer exclusively to commercial debt. The verbal/nominal root for "religious transgression" in the earliest sources is ḥṭʾ, as in Hebrew.

2. The single occurrence of ḥōb in the Hebrew Bible, in Ezek 18:7, also refers to commercial debt (apparently; the text is in some disorder). The post-exilic texts that Anderson (or Marshall) cite (Second Isaiah, Daniel) don't use the term (except Dan 1, which uses the verbal root metaphorically for "making something forfeit"). Therefore the Exile is not the key phase linguistically.

3. The use of the verbal root at Qumran does refer to religious transgression, but is not used very often either in Hebrew (CD 3:10, 4Q266, 4Q276 [?]) or in Aramaic (4Q534, 4Q537, 4Q550, 11QtgJob [2 or 3x]). (Note also the related word ḥōbā in 4Q162 [Hebrew] and 4Q534/4Q536, 4Q542 [Aramaic], which means guilt or obligation). The primary word in both languages is still ḥṭʾ (Hebrew and Aramaic), ʿwn (Hebrew), or pšʿ (Hebrew).

4. The great increase in the attested uses of ḥōb for "religious transgression" happens after the Second Temple period in both Hebrew (see the Mishnah) and in Aramaic (see Targum Onkelos). It is also used in these sources to refer to non-religious obligations or duties.

I infer from these facts that the Babylonian exiles did not encounter a form of Aramaic that used a commercial term for religious transgression, leading to a change in the concept of sin. Instead, the change in the concept of sin occurred first and then the commercial term was gradually adopted to express it. This may have happened to some degree in Second Temple Judaism, but the sources don't suggest a big terminological change at this time.

In fact, the idea of debt and sin are necessarily related, whether terms from commerce are used or not. Sin is necessarily understood as something prohibited; and, if it occurs, there is an obligation to seek a remedy (forgiveness or expiation) if one is available or undergo punishment if not. In any case, something is owed. The semantics of religious obligation are thus very close to the semantics of commercial debt; in both cases, a duty exists to make up for a lack that one is responsible for. It is not surprising or wrong that eventually the language of financial debt should eventually be adopted to express religious or moral obligation. But the idea that Aramaic facilitated this process is incorrect.

I'm not sure that the other conclusions Anderson (via Marshall) draws from this are warranted, but my concern in this post is to establish the philological facts.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Bruce D. Marshall, "Treasures in Heaven," First Things (January 2010, no. 199), pp. 23-26.