Posts Tagged ‘Hebrew’

Islam Means Peace

June 19, 2015

I have been called a bigot twice in the past week. To be honest, I am not at all offended. Whatever the origin of the word “bigot” (from French meaning a religious hypocrite, perhaps originally from German “bei Gott” or by God), the contemporary meaning of the word is increasingly one who tells truths the left doesn’t want to hear.

The first time was I was called a bigot was over my insistence that Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner is still a man no matter how strongly he feels that he is a woman. To tell the truth, I am just about over that particular struggle against reality. In fact, I would have nothing to say about Mr. Jenner’s life choices were it not that it illustrates a distressing tendency among our intellectual and media elite to consider that feelings and words determine the nature of reality better than actual, empirical observations and facts.  But enough of that.

The second time, I was not personally called a bigot. A Facebook friend of a friend posted a link and video describing some recent atrocities committed by some practitioners of the Religion of Peace. Someone commented that these people were violent extremists and their actions in no way reflected the real beliefs of the vast majority of peaceful Moslims. After all, he asserted, Islam means peace. I, and several others, including the author of the post, responded by posting quotations from the Koran and pointed out that people in the Islamic State have been following the example of Mohammed. He responded in the usual logical fashion by calling the lot of us bigots. Naturally, I was intrigued by the question of the etymology of the word Islam so I did a little research.

Islam is an Arabic word, of course, and Arabic is a member of the Semitic family of languages along with Hebrew, Aramaic, Amharic, and many others. One thing that the Semitic languages have in common is that most words are formed from roots, usually of three consonants, with express basic concepts. The actual words are formed by adding vowels and affixes. The triconsonantal root that seems to be most often used as an example in textbooks and Wikipedia is K-T-B, which essentially means to write or something written. Some of the words in Arabic formed from the root K-T-B include kataba “he wrote”, yahtub “he writes”, kitab “book”, katib “writer”, maktab “desk” or “office” and many others. Hebrew also forms words from the K-T-B root, such as katabu “I wrote”. The word Islam is derived from the root S-L-M, which does mean peace, among other concepts. The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, is derived from the S-L-M root as is the Arabic for peace, salaam. Jerusalem and Solomon are names derived from S-L-M. So, etymologically, Islam is derived from the same root as peace.

But, there is more to the meaning of S-L-M than “peace” and the word peace itself often means more than simply the absence of conflict. The full meaning of S-L-M includes the concepts of being whole, safe, secure, in health. Shalom and salaam used as greetings mean more than simply wishing the person greeted to be at peace, but also include a wish that for the person to be in good health and to prosper. And, as we have seen from the words derived from K-T-B, a concept expressed by a triconsonantal root can cover a range of meanings. The more precise meaning of the word Islam is submission to the will of Allah, which brings peace and well being.

Most people in countries that have been attacked by Islamic terrorists believe that these terrorists are monsters, or cowardly extremists who have distorted the peaceful tenets of Islam. Surely, most the majority of Muslims want to live in peace. Only a bigoted Islamophobe would state that all Muslims are violent or that Islam encourages terrorism. This belief may be comforting to those who do not wish to face hard facts, but it is not useful because it is not true.  The terrorists have more support in the Islamic world than many in the West are willing to acknowledge. This does not mean that all Muslims are terrorists or killers, but a large number are on the side of the terrorists and we ought to try to understand why.

Few people fight wars just for the sake of fighting. In almost every case, those who go to war fight to make a peace more advantageous or more just for their side. The allies went to war against Nazi Germany in order to bring about a peace in which the Nazis were destroyed. If the Nazis had been victorious in World War II, there would have been peace, but not the peace that the allies would consider a just peace. When the Muslims say they follow a religion of peace, they are being completely honest. Extremists like the late Osama bin Ladin and the Islamic State do not fight and commit terrorist acts just for the sake of violence. They want peace as much as we do. The difference is that their idea of a just peace is one where the entire world is in proper submission to Allah and Islam is the the dominant, if not the only, religion. A peace in which Islam co-exists peaceably with other religions would not be not a just or honorable peace since it leaves large numbers of people still in rebellion against Allah.

We like to say that the terrorists are monsters and their acts are senseless, but they do not see themselves in that way. They believe that they are fighting for a better world and from their point of view, we in the West, are the aggressors. The West and particularly the United States plays a vastly disproportionate role in setting the cultural and political norms throughout the world and our values are often hostile to the values of many devout Muslims. We believe our values, like treating women like human beings, not stoning gays, democratic governments that protect freedom of religion, are universal value held by all people of good will. They find such such values to be alien and repugnant, an offense against the divine law. When Westerners state that Islam should modernize and become more tolerant, they interpret it as an invitation to return to the state of Jahiliyyah, the time of pre-Islamic ignorance. Imagine how you might feel if your faith and your cherished values were under attack in the books, movies, music, etc put out by a foreign culture that dominates the world of entertainment. (Well, actually if you are a conservative Christian you don’t have to imagine it.) Mark Steyn and others worry about the emergence of Eurabia. Many in the Islamic world worry about the seductions of Western culture.

This is why many Muslims who are good people who do want to live in peace feel sympathy for terrorists and Jihadists. They want a world at peace and in its proper place under submission to Allah and His law. That is also why drawing a connection between Islam and terrorism is not ignorant bigotry but an understanding why many Muslims believe we are an enemy that they must fight. Pretending a problem does not really exist does not make it go away and ignorance is seldom bliss.

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Jehovah

October 22, 2012

This has got to be one of my favorite scenes from Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

Actually, I am positive that no one was actually stoned in ancient Judea for saying “Jehovah“. How can I be so sure? Because you could dance down the streets of first century Jerusalem shouting “Jehovah” at the top of your voice and no one would have a clue what you were saying.

The word Jehovah is actually a mispronunciation.

There are several words used to identify the deity in the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible, but God’s personal name is revealed to be a word made up of the Hebrew letters: י(yodh),  ה(he), ך (waw), ה (he), which, converted to our Roman alphabet, is rendered YHWH, or YHVH. The name YHWH seems to be derived from a root word in Hebrew which means something like “that which is” or “ that which is eternally existent.

13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.[c] This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord,[d] the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

“This is my name forever,
the name you shall call me
from generation to generation. (Exodus 3:13-15)

Centuries later, Jesus identified himself as I AM seven times in the Gospel of John.

58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.(John

To the Jews in the crowd, Jesus was clearly claiming to be divine. Either he was blaspheming or insane. Either way, it seemed like it might be a good idea to stone him.

You probably have noticed that the Divine Name consists of four consonants and no vowels. This is because the Hebrew alphabet has 22 consonants and no vowels. This is not as great a handicap in Hebrew as it would be in English because Hebrew, being a Semitic language, has a vocabulary based largely on root words of three consonants. The basic meaning of a word depends on the root consonants with vowels and additional consonants providing nuances of meaning, such as verb forms, cases, etc. In most cases, only the consonants are really needed to understand at least the basic meaning of a written work. Most scholars believe that YHVN is pronounced Yahweh.

So, how did Yahweh become Jehovah? The Jews believed, and still believe, that God’s personal name was too sacred to be pronounced aloud. When reading from the Hebrew Bible, either in liturgical or other uses, they developed the custom of saying the word “Adonai”, meaning “The Lord”.

Hebrew had ceased to be a spoken language by the time of Jesus. That made understanding the Hebrew Bible a little more difficult, so sometime in the later half of the first millennium, the Hebrew scribes, known as Masorotes, developed a system for writing vowels. They didn’t introduce any new letters but created a system of diacritical marks called Niqqud. The Jewish scribes did not want anyone to accidentally pronounce the Name so they combined YHVH with the vowel marks for Adonai, resulting in something like YaHoVaH, or Jehovah.

During the Middle Ages, the only Bible known by Christians in western Europe was the Latin Vulgate. Knowledge of the Greek language of the New Testament and classical writers was all but unknown in the West. Starting from the fourteenth century, however, as the Byzantine Empire  fell to the Turks, Greek speaking scholars fled to the West, bringing knowledge of the Greek language and ancient Greek manuscripts, including the Bible. Renaissance scholars eagerly learned Greek from them and used this knowledge to produce new and better translations of the Greek manuscripts into Latin and the various vernacular languages. Among the works of translation was the New Testament. But the Renaissance scholars also wanted to translate the Old Testament from the original Hebrew, so they learned Hebrew as well.

The first person known to have used the word Jehovah seems to be Galantinus, who learned Hebrew and Aramaic with the intent of using the Jew’s own scriptures and doctrines,including  the Hebrew Bible and the Cabbala, to refute them. He, and others were unaware of the pronunciation of YHWH and assumed the the diacritical marks were the correct ones. Most early printed editions of the Bible, including Tyndale’s English translation, used Jehovah, though others used “The Lord” where YHVH is in the text, including later editions of the King James Bible.

Modern editions of the Bible, including the New International Version, generally print “The Lord” in small capital letters. There are still editions of the Bible that say Jehovah, though fewer than before and it seems the use of Jehovah for the name of God is dying out, at least in English language translations. I have only seen one translation that uses “Yahweh”, the World English Bible.

So, the next time any Jehovah’s Witnesses show up at your door, you can tell them that they have their name all wrong. They should be calling themselves “Yahweh’s Witnesses”.


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