Salted with fire, or scattered by fire? (Mk 9:49)


#1

Poking around through the contents of Raphael Lataster’s Was the New Testament Really Written in Greek? (which supposedly can be found, though apparently with some difficulty, freely distributed from this website, www.aramaicpeshitta.com, but which one of our commenters, JeffA, has made more easily available for download at his own site here), I noticed an entry in one early chapter, on “semi-split” words, that supposedly recovers the original meaning of Mark 9:49. (As an aside, I am not sure how this case would count as an example of a “semi-split” word; but possibly this is explained at the beginning of the chapter.)

Since this is one of the few entries so far that seems to address a scriptural text regarding universalism, I thought I’d page ahead to find and report on the author’s (or compiler’s) rationale for the variant translation.

In the vast majority of Unical Greek manuscripts, as well as the Greek miniscules (plus Syrian-s and Coptic-sa), the verse reads {pas gar puri halisthe_setai} with an additional {kai pasa thusia hali halisthe_setai} in many Unical and many miniscule families of those manuscripts. In one Unical (D) and five Old Latin scripts, the verse only has the latter phrase.

The translation of either phrase into English is not much in debate: “for all shall be salted with fire”; “and/yet/but every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.” Minor phrasing variants could be used instead, with no significant difference. (As is also the case in some Greek manuscripts.)

One Unical features the phrase “for all will be consumed with fire” instead; one Unical features “for every sacrifice will be consumed with fire” instead; one miniscule features “for all will be tested by fire” instead; and Old Latin k appears to witness to an otherwise unknown Greek manuscript reading “and all substance shall be consumed with fire”.

The author’s hypothesis is that the Aramaic root word behind the Greek means both “salted” and “scattered”. The author thus concludes that “obviously” Jesus meant “scattered” in the first phrase (i.e. destroyed), and “salted” in the second phrase.

The first problem with this theory is that a substantial number of older Greek manuscripts (and older manuscripts in other languages, notably Syriac, Coptic, Armenian and Georgian) only contain the first, problematic phrase; and very few manuscripts of any language or date indicate destruction instead of salting in this phrase. (And then the term, at least in Greek and its subsequent translation into other languages, is not “scattered” but “consumed”–a different kind of destruction metaphor.) The author doesn’t bother giving or reporting even a hypothetical explanation for how an easily understood pun on words was first mistranslated into a phrase that continued to give subsequent generations great interpretive difficulties, and then largely lost in its second much-less-difficult to understand phrase. (A circumstance equally difficult to explain assuming the textual priority of the longer Greek phrasing as well.)

Notably, the author doesn’t bother addressing the spread of phrases in the manuscript tradition (Greek and otherwise) at all. He only reports that the King James Version and its underlying Greek source (i.e. the Textus Receptus, a compilation notorious for being based on few and late Greek manuscripts despite its successful marketing during its initial publication) have the full double phrase. He simply concludes, without explaining the rationale for its superiority, that the proper translation must be, “For everything will be destroyed with fire, and every sacrifice will be salted with salt.”

This leads to the next problem: the first phrase doesn’t really make sense in connection with the next phrase or its following material. On a superficial level it seems to protect the idea that Gehenna involves hopeless punishment, but the blunt “everything” was clearly troubling enough in its scope to suggest modification by some late scribes: everything may be “tested” (but not destroyed) by fire, or their essences (i.e. those in Gehenna, but not “all”) will be consumed by fire. This “beautiful wordplay”, as the author describes it, is a jump from an absolute nihilism to a denial of absolute nihilism (or at least to a claim that has to implicitly deny the absolute nihilism of the first phrase.)

Nor is there any obvious thematic connection between his two phrases. A scribe, trying to make a guess about what the first phrase could mean (while keeping the hopelessness of the punishment) might fetch up on the idea that all Temple sacrifices must be salted before being consumed in the holocaust, and so reference Leviticus 2:13 (which the second phrase seems to be doing, as the author himself agrees). The explanatory gloss is seized upon as a phrase accidentally omitted and the copy-process proceeds from there. But what scribe, seeing both phrases (even in Greek, much less in Aramaic) would suppose that the first phrase should be kept (and as “salting” no less, if the Aramaic contained both phrases and a word that might mean either idea) and the second phrase abandoned? (The known history of the Greek manuscript transmission for this verse demonstrates that if anything the opposite would happen!–one family of later texts very understandably omits the difficult-to-understand phrase.) Furthermore, the reconstruction by the author omits any point of contact between the two ideas by eliminating the idea of “salting” (which is ideal, and leads to peace in our hearts).

This is even more peculiar, as the author waxes rhaphsodically about the beautiful double-meaning of the term–without bothering to see whether (or at least without explaining why) the double-meaning wouldn’t be applied to the first phrase. In that scenario, Jesus would be taking an expected understanding (Gehenna fire is only for those people over there, and hopelessly destroys), and instructing His disciples on the true purpose of Gehenna by means of the double-meaning pun: you expect Gehenna to mean the scattering of those sinners-over-there; but it really means the salting of everyone. And salting is ideal, etc. Notice that in this case, the commonly testified second phrase is no longer needed, being at best redundant. (Unsurprisingly, the author doesn’t bother trying to address verse 50; possibly because the huge topical gap he has proposed utterly isolates it from any topical relation to the material of 49a–the only connection now being a venial pun.)

If Jesus is understood to be speaking Aramaic to His disciples in this scene (as the scene’s narrative details would lead us to expect), then the double-meaning of the proposed underlying Aramaic root does help explain the manuscript difficulties as they actually exist; but not quite in the fashion that our author presents. (And quite regardless of the question of whether GosMark originally existed for transmission in written Aramaic.)


#2

I knew once you got your teeth into it you’d provide some great reading for us here Jason. I only wish I was qualified to comment on it myself (but my knowledge of Welsh is no help here at all :mrgreen: ).


#3

Except to be awesome. :laughing: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :laughing:

I want to clarify, by the way, that I don’t want people to think from my critique above that the whole book is worthless, or the chapter this section is found in, or even this section. There’s useful information in the portion I looked at and commented on, even if I think the author didn’t put it together as fully (or at least as clearly) as he might have done. And aside from some of the introductory pages, I haven’t gotten around to reading any of the other parts yet. They might all be quite fine.

(Next on my list of things to look at, though, when I can get around to it, is his specific entry on the cry from the cross. I saw one presentation of the argument in the site’s forum, and wasn’t impressed with it; but the actual entry in his book might be better. After that, I expect I’ll read the whole thing through, bit by bit, in order.)


#4

Diolch yn fawr iawn (thank you very much).

I am interested in your thoughts as and when time permits you to comment Jason. For myself, I find reading that kind of material fascinating but because I have no ability to truly evaluate the linguistic claims I have a tendancy to find them all utterly plausible whereas when I then read your analysis I think “Hang about! why didn’t that occur to me?”.

So carry on MacDuff!


#5

Another thing I would have liked for the author to address, is why there’s a clear cognate difference between the two uses of “scattered/salted” in his proposed reconstruction. What exactly does this reflect? Is it only a difference between, for example, singular and plural forms of a verb? Is it a timing difference in the two uses of the verb?

The suspicious side of my mind can’t help but wonder if the difference is that between “scattering” and “salting”, though! :laughing: If so, that would increase the problems with his theory, since there would be one more reason for why someone translating from Aramaic to Greek wouldn’t use a single Greek word for both occurrences.

(My critique obviously doesn’t hinge on this; but it is another example of how the author could have improved his presentation.)

Anyway. I have an admittedly apologetic interest in attempts at sussing out underlying Aramaicisms behind the texts (as this tends to lend weight to historical reliability, although the weight is asymmetrical: lack of underlying Aramaic roots, while not decisive, tends to weigh less against historical reliability than their occurrence would weigh in favor of it.) But precisely because it may lend weight in favor of something I’m already, on other grounds, in favor of, I’m going to be ultra-picky about the rationales involved (even if I don’t have the referent skill to be picky about some of the data itself.)

Also, I ought to poke around on the site and try to find an email link to let the author know, for fairness’ sake, that I critted this section of that chapter. {mental note to myself}


#6

And also ,maybe, to ask why it’s now not easy to find the free download.


#7

Yeah, I looked around the site pretty thoroughly. I suspect they’ve changed their mind (not unreasonably) and forgot they had already promised to allow the file to be freely distributable.


#8

I’m pretty lost. Do you think you can break this down for the layman? As well as relating the importance of why it would say this or that, and what the meanings of the different phrases would imply.

I always thought it was “everyone will be salted with fire” and just meant that everyone would be purified by the consuming fire of God.


#9

Just reposting the link to the download of the book in case people are missing it back up in Jason’s post

Was the New Testament Really Written in Greek?


#10

I already examined it pretty thoroughly; but that might be the problem! I’ll try a quick summary. (Hindsight note: um… it’s a really complex issue, so there may be no such thing as a quick summary… sorry. :wink: )

If the phrase was intended to mean:

“for everyone” (or, more literally, all)

“will be salted” (a great saving thing, leading to peace between people per verse 50)

“by fire” (i.e. the everlasting fire of Gehenna which Jesus was just previously talking about as punishment, and which is connected to this verse by the clear use of “for”)

…then this statement is just about as clear as one could want, concerning God’s intentions for everyone. An intention that will even be carried out in Gehenna. God will keep acting to save people from sin and reconcile us to one another, even in hell (if that’s what we insist on.) But the fire isn’t restricted to Gehenna: it, and the peace with one another that it brings, are for everyone.

Obviously, this statement cannot actually read this, however, if Jesus was supposed to be teaching hopeless damnation (whether eternal conscious torment or annihilation) to be true. Except, it does. :mrgreen:

The author of the book Jeff is referring to, is trying to argue that the Aramaic phrase behind the Greek really means “scattered by” not “salted with”. Hey, there’s the hopeless destruction!–woot, my faith in God is saved! (I’m being slightly facetious; the author’s stated intention is to help save faiths by helping reconcile ‘contradictions’ in the scriptures–a process I admire in principle. I just think he’s failing to reconcile here. Also, the author is marshaling this as evidence of a written Aramaic source behind GosMark; but I pointed out that there is no need for that hypothesis to explain the data here.)

My rebuttal is that the author’s attempt, if hypothetically granted for sake of argument (i.e. that Jesus meant ‘scattered by fire’), makes a hash of the surrounding contexts and also makes a hash of explaining the actual variations that eventually showed up in ancient copies of GosMark here. Whereas “for everyone is salted with fire” connects perfectly well with both the preceding verses (as a further explanation of what’s happening) and with verse 50 (which the author basically ignores); and its early understanding and translation into Greek as such (incidentally lending weight to primitive Greek authorship) explains the spread of actual variations in ancient copies of GosMark quite well.

Another way of looking at the possibilities (granting that the Aramaic phrase could mean either way, and that Jesus could be expected to have originally said this in Aramaic):

1.) Jesus meant hopeless punishment, making a constrasting pun (through a clumsy transition phrase referring to sacrifices being salted before being (hopelessly?) burned) between being scattered (hopelessly) by fire and salting being a good thing; the original author of GosMark understood this as hopeless punishment; the church afterward taught hopeless punishment authoritatively; all early (and practically all later) existent Greek manuscripts of GosMark have “salted” with fire instead of “scattered” (including all known language groups of the text other than Greek, including at least some Syrian-Aramaic texts), and about half of the early copies eliminate the phrase that originally kind-of (but not really) connected the hopeless scattering with the hopeful salting (with the other half and practically all later copies retaining that phrase but still having “salted” instead of “scattered” in the first phrase); a few later manuscripts eliminate the hopeful salting-by-fire phrase altogether; and all known manuscripts keep verse 50 (with the results of the hopeful salting being peace between men, and a warning about diluting the salt making it only worthy to be trampled on by men.) A few Greek copies try to muff the extent of the salting by fire or replace the salting with some term other than scattered. (It should be noted that practically no one considers this last set of attempts to be representations of the original.)

This is how the author’s theory works out.

2.) Jesus meant hopeless punishment, making a contrasting pun (without even a clumsy transition phrase) with salting being a good thing; all early (and practically all later) existent Greek manuscripts of GosMark have “salted” with fire instead of “scattered”, and about half of the early copies add a phrase (retained by all later copies) that connects the hopeful salting (of the Greek mistranslation of the Aramaic, also mistranslated in all other known textual languages including Syriac-Aramaic) with the hopeful salting (of verse 50) by referring to a Temple sacrifice being salted before being (hopelessly?) burned in fire (uh… why??!); a few later manuscripts eliminate the hopeful salting phrase altogether; etc. (This assumes the clumsy transition phrase was added in later by Greek and other copyists as a gloss, quoting Leviticus as though this helped to understand the transition.)

3.) Jesus just goes straight to the Leviticus reference (“all sacrifices must be salted with salt”) without any stated connection to the fire of Gehenna; other details the same. (This assumes the few late Greek copies from some known late Latin manuscripts actually preserve the original Aramaic setup; with the “salted by fire” added in centuries earlier for some unknown reason and subsequently included in all other known Greek manuscripts.)

3a.) Same theory as (3), but the reason for the early addition of “salted by fire” was that a universalist put that in as an explanatory gloss (punning “scattered” and “salted” in the Aramaic either accidentally or on purpose), which managed to survive forever afterward (except in a few late Latin and subsequent Greek copies) despite hopeless punishment being authoritatively taught across all Christendom for centuries.

3b.) Same theory as (3a), but the gloss survived forever afterward (except in a few late Latin and subsequent Greek copies) because the hopefulness of Gehenna was being authoritatively taught across all Christendom for centuries.

Note that (a) and (b) might also provide theoretical variants of (1) or (2). Or not. :mrgreen:

4.) Jesus meant hopeful punishment, making a clever Aramaic pun (in good rabbinic style) out of His disciples’ expectations that the fire would only result in scattering, and emphasizing the scope of the fire (if not Gehenna itself per se but including the operation of the fire in Gehenna) to be everyone; He goes straight from this to a challenging statement about salting being ideal, warns them poetically that removing the idea of salting from the doctrine of Gehenna will make that doctrine worth only being trampled on by men, and concludes with an exhortation that they should have salt in themselves and so be at peace with one another. The original author of GosMark understood this as hopeful punishment (or even if he didn’t, he faithfully kept the salting-by-fire phrase without adding anything); the church sometime afterward taught hopeless punishment authoritatively instead (as the disciples had been originally expecting Jesus to teach); all early existent Greek manuscripts of GosMark have “salted” with fire instead of “scattered” (as do all known language groups of the text, including at least some Syrian-Aramaic copies), and about half of the early copies (and practically all the later ones) contain a phrase that would kind-of connect the salting of the fire with the (hopeless?) salting of the holocaust sacrifice before being burned; a few later manuscripts eliminate the salting-with-fire phrase altogether; and all known manuscripts keep verse 50 (with the results of the hopeful salting being peace between men, and a warning about diluting the salt making it only worthy to be trampled on by men.) A few Greek copies try to muff the extent of the salting or replace the salting with some term other than scattered.

This is how my theory works out.

5.) Jesus makes His clever unexpected Aramaic pun, reversing expectations to hopefulness instead of hopelessness, and then adds the phrase from Leviticus about all Temple sacrifices being salted before being (hopelessly?) consumed in the holocaust (and then does those other things). The original GosMark author records them both originally; the church sometime afterward taught hopeless punishment authoritatively instead (as the disciples had been originally expecting Jesus to teach); all early (and practically all later) existent Greek manuscripts of GosMark have “salted” with fire instead of “scattered” (including all known language groups of the text other than Greek, including at least some Syrian-Aramaic texts), and about half of the early copies eliminate the phrase that originally kind-of (but not really) connected the hopeful salting with the hopeful salting (with the other half and practically all later copies retaining that phrase but still having “salted” instead of “scattered” in the first phrase); etc. (This theory involves some early copyists eliminating the confusing reference to a sacrifice being salted before being apparently hopelessly burned, but then later copyists universally retaining that phrase anyway, whatever alterations they might otherwise make to the hopeful fire-salting phrase. Which most of them don’t alter either.)

4a or 5a.) Same as either theory, except that the church was authoritatively teaching a hopeful Gehenna instead for centuries across Christendom.

In my opinion, theory 4 makes the best explanation of the local contexts in GosMark, and synchs better with the historical and textual data afterward. The unexpected revelation of doctrine about the good hopefulness of the fire is too unexpected, but the phrase is faithfully translated in Greek and other languages for the most part; an early Greek copyist or (more likely) authoritative commentator, trying to find anything to make the phrase look more hopeless, latches onto the Leviticus phrase as an explanatory gloss; this becomes highly popular very quickly and is soon incorporated into all copies where it remains entrenched forever afterward. The offending original phrase gets a few direct swipes at it, too, although due to the conservatism of the transmission process this isn’t at all popular. The most successful attempt (relatively) at doing anything about the original offending phrase is simply to omit it in a few Latin copies long after the new Leviticus phrase has become entrenched, of which a few retranslations back into Greek retain this omission.

This theory also happens to be the most popular one among textual critics who are just assessing the text-transmission likelihoods without regard to promoting one or another doctrine.