Thursday, November 5, 2009

Viral Videos, Pseudo-Scholarship, and President Obama

I don't usually comment on these kinds of things, but I keep getting asked about this one. And so, instead of writing the same thing over and over again, I thought I'd post my response in a blog.

What I'm being asked about is a video that has apparently been making the rounds of late. Under the provocative title, "Did Jesus Reveal the Name of the Anti-Christ?" the unidentified author claims to present incontrovertible proof in the affirmative. The answer? Wait for it! President Barak Obama. You remember him, don't you? He was the first black person to be elected president of the United States. It was in all the papers.

Now, I'm not going to attempt to ascertain the motive(s) of the video's author; rather, I only intend to comment on the quality (or lack thereof) of his "scholarship."

The argument is essentially this. The author says that in Luke 10:18 Jesus said to his disciples "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven." True enough. He goes on to say that while Luke reports this saying in Greek, Jesus would have originally said this to his disciples in Aramaic. Again, true. Jesus was most likely trilingual (Aramaic, Greek, and Latin) but his first language would have been Aramaic. The author then states that Aramaic is the "oldest form of Hebrew." Nonsense. Aramaic is a dialect of Hebrew that was developed, best we can tell, when the Israelites were in Exile. It is essentially a blend of ancient Hebrew and Persian.

That brings us to the author's key claim; namely, that when you translate Luke's Greek of Luke 10:18 back into the original Aramaic, it produces a stunning revelation: that the one about whom Jesus was speaking in Luke 10:18 was none other than Barak Obama. This is how he gets there.

He builds his "case" by arguing that the biblical background and context for the Satan figure in the Bible comes from Isaiah and specifically Isaiah 14:12-19. Again, true enough. He argues, therefore, that if we work from the Hebrew text of Isaiah 14 and specifically Isaiah 14:14, which quotes Lucifer (Satan) as saying, "I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High," we should have a pretty close parallel in Hebrew to what Jesus would have originally said in Luke 10:18, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven." That's tenuous at best in that Aramaic, while a "relative" of biblical Hebrew, is not the same language.

What is even more troubling is that the author then builds his "case" not by working with the original Hebrew of Isaiah 14:14 (something which all real biblical scholars would do), but rather by using a Bible study tool called "Strong's Concordance" which is essentially a "crutch" for people who can't read the Bible in the original languages. Real scholars work directly with the biblical text in Greek and Hebrew, not Strong's.

Now, to the heart of his "argument." He says that the Hebrew word for "lightning," which Jesus would have used in Luke 10:18 when he says, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven," is baraq. Understanding that Jesus would have said this in Aramaic not Hebrew, but recognizing that Hebrew and Aramaic are "cousins," that's close enough. In the Hebrew Old Testament, baraq is used 17 times, each time "lightning" is an appropriate English translation. Hence, the author says that Jesus would have used the word baraq in Luke 10:18 when he said, "I saw Satan fall like lightning…."

Then, the author goes on to say that the Hebrew word for "heights" in Isaiah 14:14 (his "anchor text"), is bama. Again, that's true. But from that he extrapolates that Jesus, in Luke 10:18, would have used the word bama when he says that he saw "Satan fall like lightning from heaven." That's patently false. He is making the completely erroneous supposition (because he's working from Strong's and doesn't know Hebrew!) that the Hebrew word bama, which is translated "heights" in Isaiah 14:14, also means "heavens." It doesn't. The Hebrew word bama means "high place," as in a mountain top, or as in a place of worship, a high altar or sanctuary, all terrestrial not heavenly. The Hebrew word for "heaven" is shamayim (as in Gen. 1:1 - "In beginning God created the heavens...."), not bama.

Finally, he says that the waw (Hebrew conjunction), which he supposes was the word for "from" that Jesus would have used in Luke 10:18, was pronounced "O" or "U." From this he conjectures that Jesus' words in Luke 10:18, translated back into Aramaic would have been "I saw Satan fall as…lightning from heaven (baraq o bama)." Rubbish. The simple truth is that we don't know how ancient Hebrew was pronounced; the language was discontinued as a spoken language by Jews largely as a result of the Diaspora (the "scattering" of Jews around the world). It was picked up again and "revived" as a spoken language at the end of the 19th century and is today the official language of Israel; however, the Hebrew spoken in Israel today probably doesn't sound very much like the Hebrew spoken in Jesus' day. In any case, the Hebrew waw would not have been used by Jesus when saying, "I saw Satan fall as lighting from heaven." "From" in Hebrew is min, not waw.

I know that's technical, but the short version is that he's put together some things that don't belong together in order to prove his point. It's not scholarship; it's pseudo-scholarship.

And so, did Jesus name President Obama in Luke 10:18? Absolutely not. However, if you play the Beatles Abbey Road album backwards….

1 comment:

J. Travis Moger said...

Scholarship errors aside, you have to ask yourself, Why would God be so incredibly cryptic if he wanted to REVEAL the name of the man of lawlessness? I'm afraid all of the debunking in the world cannot not convince those whose minds are already made up. People generally believe what they want to believe. BTW, your post reminded me of a similar one written by Dr. Claude Mariottini in 2006 in which dispelled the myth of George W. Bush as the Antichrist: