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June 2014

The Language of Jesus, Why It Matters

By GARY ALLEY

Pope Francis recently traveled to Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Territories (May 24-26th).  Jerusalem, in particular, came to a standstill during his pilgrimage.  The papal visit was intensely watched around the world, especially by the media, for any sign of his political leanings regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  During one public exchange between the Pope and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, Bibi shared how Jesus had lived here in the land and had spoken Hebrew.  Francis quickly replied with a smile, “Aramaic.”  Bibi responded, yes, Jesus spoke Aramaic but Hebrew as well.  Video here.

The internet quickly exploded about what language Jesus really spoke.  The vast majority proclaimed Bibi wrong, declaring Jesus an Aramaic speaker, though possibly knowing some Hebrew for synagogue use.  JCF’s Randall Buth responded to the Jesus language debate in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, saying that Jesus, a Jewish sage living in the Land, would have spoken Hebrew just as much as he would have Aramaic.  After summarizing the linguistic data that points to the Galilee and Judea as a multilingual land (with Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek usage) in the time of Jesus, Randall ended with reasons why some have defended an Aramaic-only bias for so long.

“Why is there such an emphasis on an Aramaic-only Jesus? What is the sub-text that unifies many of those who suggest that Jesus taught in Aramaic? If Jewish teachers tended to use Hebrew in the first century, then a Jesus that teaches in Aramaic can be portrayed as “non-Jewish” or “less-Jewish.” Some will be comfortable with that. Historically, many Christians have wanted to emphasize a universal (and non-Jewish) orientation for the Church and an Aramaic-teaching Jesus fit that role model. Ironically, the same motive might have been comforting within a Jewish context: Jesus is not one of “our Jewish teachers” and incidentally, he did not even teach in our language. Both sides could miss the real Jesus.”

Throughout history, at times, many of us followers of Jesus may have missed the real Jesus, when we paint him with our own agendas and assumptions.  Misunderstanding and twisting Jesus' ethnic identity has even produced deadly results.[1]  To truly know Jesus, we should also know his people and their culture, and of course, that includes their languages.


[1] One need only look back in the 20th century to Adolf Hitler, who supported the Deutsche Christen church, a group of Nazi Protestants, which rejected the Hebrew origins of the Gospel and stated that Jesus was an Aryan and that later, Paul as a Jew, had twisted Jesus’ message.  In October 1941, when Hitler made the decision to begin exterminating the Jews, he repeated this false historical assumption of Jesus and the early church.  For more see Susannah Heschel’s The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany, Princeton University Press, 2008. pp 1-10.  

 

A Good Land

Israel’s Seven Species: Wheat

 By GARY ALLEY

Deuteronomy is a book of expectations. In this final book of the Pentateuch, God stokes the Israelites’ expectations concerning their entrance into the long-awaited “Promised Land,” while at the same time, He explains the rules that they are expected to follow.  One of these expectations is the agricultural bounty of the land of Canaan, often summed up by the so-called seven species.  During the time of Jesus, only these seven varieties[1] were presented in the Temple at Jerusalem as offerings of the first fruits festival (Ex 34:26).

“For the Lord your God is bringing you to a good land, a land of brooks, springs, and fountains flowing forth in valleys and hills, a land of wheat, barley, grapevines, figs, and pomegranates, of olive oil and honey (Dt 8:7-8).”


WHEAT is a cereal grain and the second of the seven species harvested after winter.  Like barley, wheat was an essential Israelite staple for making bread and porridge.[2]  In contrast to the more durable and coarser barley, wheat’s high maintenance made it more expensive and, oftentimes, food of the privileged.  Wheat was mostly grown in Israel on its Mediterranean coastal plain (which was often dominated by the Philistines), its depressed, warm Jordan Valley, and its fruitful valley of Jezreel.

With the beginning of the barley harvest (late April), Israel began counting the “omer” or sheaves of grain that were harvested from the field.  The Gezer Calendar, a three thousand year old tablet that lists the twelve months of Israel’s agricultural year, also speaks about measuring the wheat harvest.  This measuring of the grain harvest was crucial in dry food preparations for the coming year.  The counting of the barley harvest and then the wheat harvest would continue for fifty days, starting the day after Passover and finishing with the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot).  This completion of counting was commemorated by a presentation of two wheat loaves before the Lord as “first fruits” of the grain harvest (Lev 23:15-17). 

Grain’s prevalence throughout the Bible attests to its daily significance as food for the ancient world.  Bread was a symbol for subsistence and life—“Man shall not live by bread alone”...“Give us this day our daily bread.”[3]  The essence of life became defined by this cyclical pattern of grain’s cultivation.  It began every year with the sowing of seed in a plowed field which had been softened by rain.  The resulting harvest was cut down, threshed on a threshing floor, winnowed in the wind, and sifted by a sieve.  And ultimately, after its collection and storage, the grain was ground into flour by mill, mixed into dough, and baked into bread.  It is not surprising, therefore, that this life-sustaining work filled the Bible with lucid and meaningful metaphors for prophetic and parabolic communication.[4]


[1] Mishna Bikkurim 1,3

[2] Wheat was prolifically grown throughout Egypt and Mesopotamia and used in beer-making.  Little evidence of beer production has been found among the Israelites.  It would seem Israel’s rough, hilly landscape might best explain this lack of beer and, instead, its proliferation of grapevines and winemaking.

[3] Dt 8:3 (Mt 4:4; Lk 4:4); Mt 6:11

[4] Judg 14:18; Lk 8:5-8; Mt 13:24-30; Jer 51:33; Lk 3:17; Lk 22:31; Job 31:10; Mt 13:33; Ezk 4:9-13

 

Charity Report:Your Gifts Helped these Individuals, Families, and Ministries during April-May 2014

JCF contributed $260 to a Messianic Jewish Ethiopian family struggling to make ends meet. 

JCF gave $230 towards a children’s Pesach program of the Beit El Messianic Ethiopian Congregation in Jerusalem.

Billie is a Palestinian Christian living in Jericho who JCF helped by paying for next year's school tuition for her children ($800).            

JCF also supplemented university tuition fees for Alice, a Palestinian Christian from Bethlehem ($290).

Todd, an Eritrean refugee, cleans at a monastery in Jerusalem. When he tried to renew his status in the country in order to work, his request was denied. After much suffering, he has recently hired a human rights lawyer who is trying to get him a refugee visa.  JCF contributed to his visa appeal ($593).

Nikki is an Israeli mother of three children.  Recently her husband left her, and she has also had two operations and has not able to work.  JCF subsidized some of her bills ($298).

Cilia is a Christian Arab who lives in the Old City of Jerusalem.  She has found a lump in her mouth which has made it hard for her to swallow. The national medical insurance has not helped solve her problem, and she now needs to see a private doctor which she cannot afford.  JCF helped pay for the visit ($148).

Secluded Individuals Club is an Israeli group made up of ten people with medical problems who have no support from family, friends or the community. They meet twice a week. JCF contributed $800 toward craft materials and four outings to the local coffee shop. This is an example of the group’s rare opportunities to take part in “normal life.” 

Diana is a 27 year old Israeli mother who separated from her husband three months ago. She has two young children. She recently found employment again after being fired, but has not received a salary yet. At the time she went to social services for help, she had not eaten for two days, preferring to save the food she buys for her children. Her husband has been skimping on his child support payments.  JCF covered some of Diana's basic needs until her salary is paid ($445).

 

News in Israel

  • The Feast of Weeks was celebrated last week.  It is known as Shavuot in Hebrew or Pentecost in Greek.  Jonathan Miles of Shevet Achim gave a meaningful message at Narkis Street Congregation on Shavuot’s connection to the Holy Spirit.  Listen here.
  • This week, the Old City of Jerusalem will celebrate a Festival of Light with beautiful light displays decorating its environs.  For more, here.
  • Two weeks ago, Jerusalem Day, was celebrated, marking the reuniting of Jerusalem after the 1967 Six Day War.  Jerusalem's population now stands at 815,300.  For the latest on Jerusalem's census, here.
  • During the past year, there has been a rise in Christian Arab recruits into the Israeli army.  For more, here, here, here.
  • Christ Church of Jerusalem recently hosted its "At the Crossroads Conference" which brings together Muslim background believers in Jesus, Messianic Jews and internationals working in the region to further the work of the Kingdom of God in the Middle East as reflected by Isaiah 19:23-25--"In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing[a] on the earth. The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.

 

Why Join a JCF Israel Study Tour?

"If you are thinking about a trip to Israel then I highly recommend JCF Study ToursI just completed my 7th trip to Israel (Spring 2014) and I have led five of them.  As a pastor interested in learning the land of the Bible, the JCF Study Tour has been invaluable in my own studies and understanding of the scriptures.  The first three trips I led to Israel were with organizations focused on the standard tour of visiting the “traditional” sites.  When we switched to a JCF Study Tour, it changed everything.  With JCF Study Tours we visited sites that we never did on my previous tours.  These new sites, like hiking through the Negev Wilderness, sleeping in a Bedouin tent, and visiting biblical Jericho, had a profound impact on my understanding of the scriptures.

Our guide, Yoni Gerrish, definitely has the gift of teaching.  I have been to seminary and have pastored for 16 years teaching the Bible on a weekly basis, but Yoni has incredible insights into God’s Word that I have never heard before—talk about having my eyes opened!!!  Yoni’s knowledge of, and passion for, the Bible fueled a great hunger in the hearts of my group for learning more.  After our first tour with JCF we had people return again for a second tour.  I thank God for JCF Study Tours, and for Yoni Gerrish who made the Bible come alive and made it applicable for our daily living.  That's why, when our church brings our next group to the Holy Land, we will only use JCF Study Tours."

Walter Collace, Senior Pastor of Christ Community Church of El Centro, California

 

Join a JCF Israel Study Tour this Fall 2014

  • Nov 15-26 - In the Footsteps of Jesus

  • Nov 29–Dec 10 - Wilderness with Petra

For more information, here.

 

Prayer Requests and Praise Reports

  • JCF Chairman Chuck Kopp is in Los Angeles as his father, E. Paul Kopp's health is failing.  E. Paul, 97 years old, has ministered in over 70 countries since the 1940’s.  For more on his work within the history of JCF, here.
  • Last week, Danny Kopp was in a bicycle accident that severely bruised his back.  He is functioning, though in pain.
  • Randall and Margret Buth will be in North Carolina helping lead the Biblical Language Center's biblical language courses at Mid-Atlantic University. They will return to Israel before the end of July.
  • Yoni Gerrish and family will be in the U.S. from June 26-Aug 30.