A FEW THOUGHTS CONCERNING AN OPEN LETTER FROM J. T.
JT from Texas has written an open letter in which he takes umbrage at the conclusions reached in the web book, The Original Language of the New Testament was Greek. Not only did JT take offense at the information presented and promoted in the book, he personally attacked me as a promoter of false and misleading information. In his impudence he insists that I do what he calls “…the right thing and remove this false and misleading paper from…” the web site.
This sort of occurrence is not unusual. Both mail and email are received that attack the essays in a greater or lesser degree than JT’s attack. Assailments of “idiot,” “liar,” “false teacher,” "deceiver," “you know you are not telling the truth,” "God says, 'Don't mess with me or my people! You will not go unpunished!' " and other such invectives are just normal fare served up by sacred name people.
These verbal assaults are generally short and to the point. Many of these, like JT, are hoping I will remove some one essay or another and perhaps the whole web site from the Internet.
It seems obvious that some of the people involved in these offensives are motivated by sincerity. Others seem only to be goaded on by anger and other base emotions. If you have read the personal story of what my family went through to stand for the truth when we rejected the sacred name doctrine, you realize that we found out something of what anger and hate can cause religious people to do.
However, JT’s letter was unusual in some respects. First, JT is more verbose than other respondents. His email letter came in two installments, one of twelve pages, the other fourteen pages long. It was the longest single letter we have ever received. Besides which, it was an open letter that JT had posted on numerous Internet forums. It would appear that JT owns and/or is a member of a number of such forums. To add to the interest awakened by this letter, it has been made know to us that JT claims to possess a Doctorate in Semitic Studies. Further still, JT says he is the translator a New Testament.
On top of this, in apparent result of his posting this open letter on various Internet forums, a couple of JT’s followers have written, excoriating me for not dealing with his attack. One of them wonders why a scholar of JT’s standing is stooping so low as to deal with my book that according to her exhibits such a shallow level of scholarship. The other wonders why I have not dealt with his letter and when I am going to do so. Both display a there-we-got-you and an our-guy-is-better -than- your-guy attitude commonly seen in people who believe the sacred name teaching.
I had no reason to doubt JT’s scholarship or his claim to a degree. That is not until, as JT’s letter recommended, I went to his web site that promotes and sells his New Testament translation.
On that web site, JT promotes his translation in this way: “Unlike previous Messianic translations the [JT’s book] is translated from ancient Hebrew and Aramaic New Testament manuscripts rather than the Greek.”
For JT to state that there even exists “…ancient Hebrew… New Testament manuscripts…” and to further claim his New Testament is translated from these, is a red flag calling attention to his scholarship or perhaps the lack thereof. Certainly it calls in question his objectivity and truthfulness. Making a statement of this kind causes doubt to arise as to his scholarly ability. It also initiates due consideration of his scholarship in view of any religious biases he might have.
JT is president of a Jewish Messianic organization that promotes Old Testament Judaism and the First Century Jewishness of Christianity. Though, I do not think JT would claim to himself the name Christian.
In general it may be said that such groups as the one JT heads are attempting the restoration of Judaism to Christianity. In performing this so-called restoration, the Judaism restored usually overshadows the Christianity and the groups often become merely Old Covenant law keeping Jewish wannabees.
The group JT heads is not exceptional in this regard. They believe in keeping Torah, all 613 laws. I am sure JT would not agree with my assessment of his group when I say that in my opinion, they believe Jesus established just another sect of Judaism.
JT promotes circumcision as a means of conversion, but not of salvation. This would seem to institute circumcision as a means of conversion to Judaism. Would such a teaching not put circumcision as conversion to Judaism before one can be saved? If so, this issue was settled by the apostles long ago in the council at Jerusalem.
Then too, JT is a Cabalist. He believes the Cabbala as it exists today can be divorced from its association with and participation in the occult practices of both Jewish secular magic and mystical worship. He thinks the Cabbala can be used to great spiritual advantage. Because of his cabalistic leanings JT manifests a belief in both the Fatherhood and Motherhood of God.
Then to complicate matters still further, JT teaches that "...the anti-Messiah, the 'Jesus Christ' of Christendom teaches against Torah." JT thinks Jesus whom I serve is the antichrist of which John wrote.
With these few of his religious preconceptions in mind, we can move on to examine JT’s scholarship with respect to his attack on the book, The Original Language of the New Testament was Greek. At least we are able to proceed knowing the launch pad from which his missiles of attack were hurled at us.
His doctrinal predisposition is for the New Testament and the religion it establishes to be as Jewish as he can make it. For JT, such a stance demands that the New Testament have been originally written in either Hebrew or Aramaic or both, but not any of it in Greek. Therefore, the conflict with our web book.
JT spends a great deal time declaring that the Jews of first century Israel "did not know Greek." That part of his presentation glides to its conclusion ignoring most of the basic facts of history concerning this matter. If JT is saying that no Jews in Israel in the First Century knew Greek, both the historical facts and I certainly take issue with him.
However, his disregard of the scriptures will not be passed over here without notice. By making the sophistical claim that "the Jews of Israel in the 1st century did not know Greek," JT entirely sidesteps the real issue. By so doing, he happily gives no attention to the fact that the web book he is criticizing does not focus on "the Jews of Israel" but on a few Jews from Galilee, one Jew of the Diaspora, and one non Jew.
[JT's objection, of course, is nothing but a debater's trick. If one cannot answer or simply does not want to answer the point raised, he simple answers a slightly different point in the hope that no one will notice. All of which is just filler for his fans and brings no substantive focus to the issue at hand.]
JT disdains to deal with the commonly accepted phrase for Galilee during these times. It was called "Galilee of the Gentiles." Showing that the area wasn't so Jewish as JT would have us believe. He neglects to notice the biblical information of ten Greek towns on the east of the Sea of Galilee and the Roman city of Tiberius, built and named in honor of the emperor, on the west. He ignores the historical facts that the area of Galilee had been under Greek domination and influence for more than three centuries by the time Jesus was born. Perhaps JT's stance would be that the Gentile people in this area where Jesus and his apostles grew up and earned a living also "knew no Greek"?
Luke being a non Jew has JT perturbed. He is only able to resort to what has become an almost standard sacred-name-advocate action. He pulls out his anti-Semitic piston and shoots me with it. He calls me "anti-Semitic" for agreeing with the scriptural information that Luke was not a Jew. He labels me anti-Semitic because Luke wrote his books in the Greek language. I didn't have Luke write his books in Greek. God did that. I only pointed it out as a fact.
It was Paul in the Colossian letter who excluded Luke's name from his list of those of "the circumcision." Perhaps JT thinks Paul was anti-Semitic? Luke was obviously educated in the Greek language. His are some of the best writings, secular or sacred, ever written in that language. Both of his books are written in the Greek style to a man with a Greek name whom he addresses with a Greek title.
In the eyes of JT, my stating these facts somehow makes me anti-Semitic. Of course, this accusation is only a silly ploy. JT is playing to his gallery. Such tactics are meant to appeal to JT's associates and/or converts, not to me or to any other person unbiased by the sacred name movement's doctrinal proclivities.
Taken together, JT's antics cause me to speculate that this open letter was not written to me at all, but to his own people. It seems likely JT is having trouble keeping them convinced that his original Aramaic and Hebrew New Testament theory is the truth. I can see how difficult it would be.
JT unsuccessfully makes labored effort to obscure the fact that Saul of Tarsus spoke Greek. This he does in the face of a bit of scriptural information stating that Paul did indeed speak Greek.
JT gives a further demonstration of how his doctrinal biases override any scholarly objectivity he may posses. Knowing that Paul calls himself "the Apostle to the Gentiles," JT still is able to claim that Paul would have written to core groups of Jewish converts in the congregations he established. JT then proffers that since Paul's epistles were sent to these core groups of Jews they were therefore written in Hebrew.
JT's brand of sloppy logic, his convoluted thinking, and his healthy disregard for facts have all come about as the result of his preconceived needs. While it is certain that his needs in the direction of his doctrines are great, the resulting morass is unworthy of any scholar or of someone else who claims unto himself the title Doctor - i.e. teacher.
JT quotes a Catholic historian or two saying Paul wrote the epistle to the Hebrews in the Hebrew language. This is somehow supposed to convince us that Paul wrote to the Gentile churches in Hebrew.
It is going to be difficult for JT to convince history that the Jews of the Diaspora spoke Hebrew. Many of them didn't even speak Aramaic. Many of them spoke Greek as a first or second language. The diversity of languages among them is noted by Luke in Acts chapter two. [Please read the excerpt from Hans Leitzmann's work.]
Professor Hans Leitzmann notes the ruins of a synagogue in Corinth having an inscription of the congregation's name, "Synagogue of the Hebrews." It complicates JT's problem that the inscription was in neither Aramaic nor Hebrew. It was in Greek. It was a Greek speaking assembly.
Then, to make matters even worse for JT's position, archeologists have dug up the remains of a synagogue in Israel which has a nice long inscription. This inscription also is written in Greek.
Realizing he is drowning in the difficulty of these waters, JT promises to go deeper into these matters "in future installments" of this letter. [In actuality JT has sent me portions of and excerpts from something he has written in the past, probably to his constituents. From these he has cut and pasted together a tirade and sent it out as an open letter to me. He has carelessly overlooked the part about "future installments" and failed to clip it out. He also carelessly duplicated a quotation or two in his letter, another sign of a cut and paste job.]
The crux of the matter is this. The Bible says Paul could speak Greek. I have chosen to believe what that Book says. JT and all who follow him may chose to reject its message and hold to their doctrinal inclinations. However, JT is telling us one certain thing; he is no scholar, biblical or otherwise.
In his zeal to restore Jewishness to the New Testament, JT has become overzealous and claims the book was originally written in Hebrew and/or Aramaic. He thus assigns the book more Jewishness than it ever had. This over abundance of zeal is manifested in his hyperbole [read, "lie"] about “ancient” Hebrew manuscripts of the New Testament.
When examination is made of the manuscripts JT says he used in his translation efforts, it will immediately appear that he used no ancient Hebrew manuscripts of the New Testament. In truth there are no ancient Hebrew manuscripts of the New Testament.
The “ancient” Hebrew manuscripts JT used for his New Testament translation are late medieval manuscripts of only [with emphasis on ONLY] the Gospel of Matthew. These are just some Sixteenth Century manuscripts. They are hardly older that the King James Version of the Bible.
One of these “ancient” manuscripts is incorporated within the work of a Jewish rabbi who was using it in an attempt to denounce and defame Christianity. JT does not even hint at the possibility, likelihood even, that this rabbi changed the manuscript for his own ends. Its text has been manipulated and corrupted by someone. Surely it was the rabbi himself who corrupted it with his biased handling.
No scholar who is free to investigate without his religious preconceptions clouding his conclusions would think of this manuscript of Matthew as carrying any authority, much less speak of it in the same sentence with the words “ancient” or "original." Quite well known is the fact that it is a translation from Latin.
The manuscript is a product of its time. There are a number of such texts of New Testament books in a variety of languages dating from the later Middle Ages. JT, in his zeal to put Jewishness where it never was, has grabbed two or three Hebrew manuscripts of Matthew and claimed for them the heritage of the “original” New Testament which he has managed to convince himself was written in Hebrew. The whole she-bang is driven by his doctrinal need, his imagination, and his lack of any kind of scholarly ethics.
JT's nonsense has no credibility at all except in the imaginings of those who have his doctrinal distortions and need a scholar of "his stature" to quote. He impresses upon himself the idea that these manuscripts are much older than they are. He then tells the world, by way of the Internet, that they are “ancient” Hebrew manuscripts. He wants it to be so; therefore his desire has overridden his ability to view facts as facts. He also wants to sell copies of his NT translation. Pardon me, but a sixteenth century manuscript is not an ancient manuscript.
For his translation, JT claims to have used other "ancient" manuscripts. He says he made use of the Peshitta, an Aramaic version of the scriptures.
While JT says the Peshitta is very old, we are left to wonder what text of the Peshitta he used. There are a number of Aramaic texts of various dates which exist here and there in the world, but does not bother to divulge which of these if any, he may have used in his translation. Perhaps he thought it a minor detail? A real translator would not have overlooked a detail of such importance. It is certain JT did not overlook it.
A common and readily available Aramaic text is published by The Way International. The founder of The Way International, Paul Wierwelle, had close connections with George Lamsa. Lamsa translated his Bible from such a text. Perhaps JT used this Aramaic interlinear as the basis for his book. It is likely he did.
In case he did, it should be clearly stated that this Aramaic text of the Bible is written neither in the Aramaic script usually called square Hebrew nor in the Paleo-Hebrew script. It is not written in the Aramaic script used in first century Galilee or Israel.
Not a single one of the apostles of our Lord could have read a word from this Peshitta version of the New Testament. It is written in the Estrangelo script. The Jews of first century Israel knew no Estrangelo Aramaic. This could not possibly be a copy of anything the apostles might have written.
JT claims the Peshitta dates from the earliest times, as early even as the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. But the oldest extant manuscripts of this work date only from the Fifth Century. This is not quite as early as the date of the Ryland Fragment [p52] of John’s Gospel that is dated from early in the Second Century. It is in Greek. The nearly four hundred intervening years allowed time for the Peshitta to be translated from the Greek New Testament. This is exactly what the Peshitta is – a translation from the Greek into Aramaic.
JT confirms the existence of The Old Syriac Gospels. These were discovered by William Cureton in the mid Nineteenth Century. He quotes Cureton as saying the Old Syriac Gospel of Matthew is "...built upon the original Aramaic text which was the work of the Apostle himself."
JT has forgotten that only a few paragraphs earlier he has given quotes of scholars proving (?) the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew to have been the original work of the apostle and the Greek to have been based upon it?
He can't have it both ways. He needs to adopt a little consistency. Did Matthew originally write in Aramaic or in Hebrew? He should make up his mind. Hebrew is not Aramaic. Aramaic is not Hebrew. A doctor of Semitic Studies knows this. So, is this another debater's trick? If so, it is not a very clever one. First he proves that Matthew wrote in Hebrew. Then he offers proof that Matthew wrote in Aramaic. He has, therefore, contradicted himself and proven nothing at all. It seems likely that JT is simply relying on the fact that his constituents will fail to make any distinction between Hebrew and Aramaic.
Over the past two centuries, a number of scholars have searched and researched the possibility of the New Testament having been originally written in Aramaic. [None of them have even imagined it might have been originally written in Hebrew.] They have, one and all, returned from this quest empty handed.
Dr. Charles C. Torrey was the leader of a charge toward such an end in the first half of the Twentieth Century. His professorship of Semitic Languages at Yale University speaks to his ample qualification and background for such an attempt. Yet Professor Torrey was not willing to claim the complete New Testament was originally written in Aramaic. His theory, long ago debunked by Dr. Edgar J. Goodspeed, could only advance that some parts of the New Testament were originally written in Aramaic. Torrey believed most New Testament books were written in Greek.
The extreme positions JT takes calls in question his scholarship. The web site used to promote his New Testament translation informs us that he is qualified for the duties of translator in that his doctorate is in the area of “Semitic Studies” and his degree is from “St. John Chrysostom Theologcal (sic) Seminary.”
Perhaps it is just the nagging suspicion of a skeptic, but as I scratch the back of my neck I wonder about this seminary. Where is its campus? When did JT attend classes there? Let me state for the record: I do not believe there exists a St. John Chrysostom Theological Seminary campus any where in the world. If such a place exists, in light of his attack upon my work I insist that JT tell us where its campus is located. I also insist that he tell us what years he attended classes there.
It has long been our contention that the scholarship manifesting itself at the vanguard of the sacred name movement is not real scholarship at all, but only pseudo scholarship. In other words, it is bogus.
Within the last few years, JT has surfaced as the patron saint of scholarship for many within the movement. Now he too has shown himself to be just another pseudo scholar and no real scholar at all. So has the movement's scholars been in the past, so are they in the present, and so shall they be in the future.
In summary, JT’s attack failed to overthrow the fact of the original Greek New Testament. It also came up far short of showing an original Hebrew or Aramaic New Testament. Do not misunderstand; I would be quite overjoyed if the original New Testament were written in Hebrew. But such is just not the case.
The collection of books and letters we call the New Testament was written in Greek by the authors. The evidence, both external and internal, overwhelmingly proves an original Greek New Testament. We investigate much of the internal evidence in the web book JT doesn't like.
Should I follow JT's example and suggest that he remove his "false and misleading" translation of the New Testament from the market?
Endnotes1. NOTE: Neither JT's name nor the name of his bible translation have been used in this response. JT widely promotes his translation of the New Testament on the internet. Every post of his on any forum we have visited has some promotion of his book or of the web site where the book can be purchased. This book would seem to be a major source of his income. It is not our desire to aid him in such promotion. It is our belief that the sole reason he sent on open letter to this web site and posted it on numerous forums was to stir up controversy and thereby increase book sales.
2. NOTE: After making numerous attempts to send a copy of this open response to JT and having each attempt returned undeliverable because the email address on his letters to Sacred Name Movement Errors web site was invalid, we finally were able to obtain a different email address for JT and a copy of this response delivered. After many months, JT has not followed up by responding to our answer to his open letter.