Are There Really “Keys” to Understanding the New Testament? (Charbonnel continued)

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by Neil Godfrey

By the time I finished reading Nanine Charbonnel’s penultimate chapter of Jésus-Christ, sublime figure de papier a queasy sense of déjà vu dragged my mind back decades to a time when I believed that the Bible was a coded book that needed “keys” to open up its true meaning to modern readers. Before Michael Drosnin‘s The Bible Code made its appearance I had memorized all “seven keys” that one particular cult said were required for “understanding the Bible” (according to that cult’s own doctrines, of course). So after I finished reading Nanine Charbonnel’s quite different approach to understanding the nature and origins of the gospels in which she does indeed raise the spectre of authors writing narratives whose meanings are hidden, I had to pause. Had I in one sense come full circle after all these years? What is the difference between Drosnin and Armstrong on the one hand and what Charbonnel [NC] was proposing on the other? Read on and see.

The Key of Creative Multilingualism

One man’s fish is another man’s poisson captures in a humorous way what much of midrash is about: word games, double entendres, mixtures of languages. (By the way, that link is to Mal Webb’s page of his recording of the song that I first heard him sing at a Woodford Folk Festival.) The wordplay in gospel midrash is more serious, of course, with its ambiguities in the names and events making up the gospel narratives and their doctrinal themes and innovations.

NC earlier pointed out the multiple layers meaning in the inscription on the cross written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. Similarly, the stories are told at multiple levels. (Another example: We read of Greeks making their appearance at the final feast of Jesus and are led to recall the prophecy that testifies of the hour the Son of Man is to be glorified — John 12:19-23.) To focus on one passage . . . .

Eli, eli . . .

We are familiar with the last words of Jesus on the cross where he quotes the first line of Psalm 22:

Matthew 27:46-67

About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” 

Mark 15:34

And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

But scratch the surface and interesting questions appear . . . .


Two divergent religious traditions can be identified by the slight change of rhythm arising from where one places a single accent in one word translated from a Psalm spoken by Jesus on the cross: Depending on where one places the accent of lama (in lama lama sabachthani) we have either the Christian “Why [asking for God’s motivation] have you forsaken me?” spoken by Jesus on the cross or the Jewish “To what end [asking what will be the outcome] have you forsaken me (or exiled us)? The explanatory details of this difference are added at the end of this post.


2 “So what does the word sabachthani used in the Gospels mean? It means: You have praised me, You have glorified me! For it must be linked to the Hebrew and Aramaic root sabath, meaning: to praise, to glorify, and not to the Aramaic root sabaq, meaning to leave. Therefore, the Word spoken by Christ would not be: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? But: ‘My God, My God, why have You glorified me?’ or, better still: ‘My God, My God, how much You have glorified me'”. (various encyclopaedias). — NC, footnote p. 434

There is something more serious: the meaning of the verb. One might be surprised that the phrase transcribed in Matthew’s Greek is “lama sabachtani” and not the Hebrew of the psalm text, i.e. “lama azavtani“? This is because the psalm is in Hebrew, and Matthew’s phrase in Aramaic. But there would be an error of translation, already made by the Septuagint2.

One can think that in the original midrash there was a play on words on this root, allowing the word to be read as meaning either “abandoned” or “glorified”, and that the translator of the Gospel, inspired by the Septuagint, did not see the play on words, and took up the translation of the Septuagint, giving exclusively to “AZaVtaNi” the meaning of “abandoned”.

(Translated from page 434 of Jésus-Christ, sublime figure de papier)


The authors of Matthew and Mark directly draw our attention to possible misunderstandings arising from similar-sounding words heard in the last words of Jesus on the cross. Jesus speaks the words of the “messiah David” but bystanders mishear him and think he is calling for the prophet Elijah. The author is drawing our attention to confusions arising from languages.


NC adds another pun that is indirect but perhaps meaningful: Is not Levi-Matthew the changer, the changer of language? If Matthew is the same as Levi in the Gospel of Mark we find there that he is identified as son of Alphaeus, a name meaning “change” — see one of the Vridar posts on puns in Mark. Here NC takes a glance (in a footnote) at another suggestion by Maurice Mergui:

Immediately after the healing of the paralytic, Jesus-Joshua called on Levi-Matthew.

Mk 2:14 – As he passed by, he saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the customs office, and said to him, “Follow me. And he got up and followed him.

Why is this Levi the son of Alphaeus (from the Hebrew root meaning to change, to switch, to convert money). Son of a money-changer, that should remind us of something. Money changers were among the merchants in the temple. Jesus drove the money changers out of the Temple. He drives their sons, the Levi, out of the Temple. This is (again and again) the leitmotif of the eschatological reversal (The first shall be last) that hides under the guise of an innocuous verse.

As he passed by he saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the customs office

“Passing by” here also means “forgiving” (Hebrew meaning of ‘avar). This is a repeat of the midrash quoted above: the proselytes will marry kohanim and be inside, while the Levites will be outside. At the end of time (but this clause is still absent and the verbs in the present tense) the election will be reversed. The Gentiles will “come in” and you Jews will be out.

(translated from Le Centurion indigne)

The Key of Gospel Emphasis on True Meaning

Plays on the above multilingual ambiguities are readily grasped once we have our attention drawn to them. There are other forms of multiple meanings with special attention directed to the lack of comprehension of outsiders. We find this theme stressed most bluntly in the Gospel of John.

The Gospel of John: staged misunderstandings

The evangelist relishes making the confusion public:

  • John 2:19-21 — Exchange with the Jews: Temple is the Body and Rebuilding is the Resurrection (though what happens in the mind of a reader who recalls the metaphor of the people of God being the Temple?)
  • John 3:3-4 — Exchange with Nicodemus: Born again is confused with Born from above
  • John 4:10 — Exchange with Samaritan woman: running water and living water
  • John 4:31 — Exchange with disciples: Food is Doing God’s will
  • John 8:33-35 — Exchange with accusers of the adulterous woman: Slavery is subjection to sin
  • John 11:11-13 — Exchange with friends of Lazarus: sleep is death

The Key of Narrative Interpretation

In contrast to the absence of subtlety in the Gospel of John, we find “consummate art” in the Synoptics. Notice Luke 4:21

Now he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your ears’

Here Jesus (whose name means “God saves”) is presented as reading the very prophet (Isaiah, the name likewise means “God is salvation”) who is the source of Luke’s less obvious agenda. That agenda is to proclaim that the time of the prophets and the accomplishment of the end-time on earth is being taught on this sabbath by the prophet Isaiah through Jesus, “Yahweh saves”. The passage being read is specifically addressing the place of gentiles among God’s people who have been suffering because of their sins, the time when all must be brought together under God. That being the beginning of Jesus’ preaching, the author of the Gospel of Luke draws it all to a fitting closure: Luke 24:27

And beginning with Moses and going through all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures what concerned him.

Matthew 16:19, NC proposes, makes the same nod to readers:

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and what you bind on earth…

There is no doubt that the keys in this passage refer to the rabbinic power of permitting and forbidding, but they also suggest the rabbinic power to open the texts so they enable hearers to make sense of their situation. We see this in the narration, as in Matthew 9:13 when Jesus is made to instruct his hearers to “go and learn” what the text of Hosea 6:6 means:

Go, then, and learn what it means ‘I want mercy, not sacrifice’
— see  verses 9-12 for the context: Jesus has acted out his meaning of the saying by his acceptance of Matthew.

Peter thus receives the power to bind and unbind that characterises the rabbi of a community, which means to allow and forbid. The keys of the Kingdom likewise designate the rabbinic power to open the texts, to interpret them so that the divine word deposited in them makes sense for the situation from which the master questions them. And this is the first function that Matthew recognises in Jesus: “to save his people from their sins” (1:21) by pointing out to them the many rules and expressions of the Law, so that they avoid evil. The second function is that of the “son of DaWiD”, or “King of the Jews” (2,2), anointed (Christ) to make him recognised by all, or “ruler” (2,6) and “shepherd of my people YiSRa’eL” (2,6). Hence, the first and second chapters of Matthew’s Gospel speak of Jesus only in relation to Israel and the Jewish people. — Abécassis, “En vérité je vous le dis”, p. 239 (translated)

In the words (translated) of Pierre Bonnard,

The first part of Matthew’s own verse is characteristic of his method; Jesus ironically invites his opponents to study the Scriptures; the verb manthanein, in the aorist imperative, takes on its Matthaean meaning here (cf. 11:29 and 24:32); it does not describe an objective study of the Torah, as found among the rabbis and the Essenes, but a discovery of the true meaning of these Scriptures thanks to the activity of Jesus […] ; the meaning is not, therefore : study once more the meaning of Hosea 6:6, but: understand this meaning by seeing my behavior with sinners.

(Bonnard, L’Évangile selon saint Matthieu, p. 131 quoted by NC, p. 439)

And why was Nathanael said to be “under the fig tree” when Jesus “saw” him:

while you were under the fig tree, I saw you (John 1:48)

Jesus is here calling for a correct interpretation of scriptures by observing his own narrated actions:

The ancient traditional Jewish literature was often concerned with saying what the Scripture was like. The ‘method’ here is not to define (this is that…) but to teach by means of the parable (this is like that). […] A comparison […] uses the image of the fig tree: why is Scripture compared to a fig tree? It is because all fruit trees produce their fruit in their time and only in their time. The fig tree, on the other hand, gives its ripe fruit to the person who picks it by chance, to the passer-by who takes the trouble to look for it and pick it when the fig is ripe. In the same way, Scripture always gives meaning to those who study it. To some this day, to others that day. And he who returns to it, months or years later, will still find the fruit sought. And what is not found in an hour will be found in a day, and what is not found in a day will be found in a year. And if, throughout life, all the years are different, so will be the readings. On the other hand, the shade of the fig tree with its large leaves is conducive to rest and study during the heat of the day. In the ancient tradition, the fig tree is not just any place: it is the place for the study of the sacred texts.

(Chopineau, Sous le figuier, quoted by NC p. 439 – translated)

Another metaphor pointing readers in the same direction appears in Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman. The message is not only about reconciliation with the Samaritan people nor even the desired fulfillment of an eschatological marriage, but it is also about interpretation. The oral Torah is itself compared with digging or drawing out from a pit or a well.

Thus the meaning overflows from its words [of the written Torah] and open up to the Oral Torah, to interpretation. Thus its textuality is woven with metaphors, which transport the text beyond itself and immerse it in a permanent overflow. . . . To comment on and interpret the text is not to fill it up or saturate it. It is quite the opposite. Explanation… proceeds like the digging of a well…. The written text must be dug out, hollowed out, so that the source, the oral Torah, can flow.

(Trigano, Le judaïsme et l’esprit du monde, quoted by NC p. 440 – translated)

NC does not cite the Gospel of Mark here though I think it lends itself as much to the point as John, Luke and Matthew, with even more nuance:

He did not say anything to them without using a parable . . . (Mark 4:34)

Many scholarly articles have been written pointing out that throughout the entire gospel of Mark the disciples remain uncomprehending of all that Jesus both says and does. We are entitled, in the light of Mark 4:34, to read the entire Gospel as a parable.

Parables are meant to teach us how to interpret the Gospels

The text of the Gospels has no other aim than to advocate the correct interpretation of the events of history (…experienced by the Jewish people no doubt after the catastrophe of 70). But it does so by putting into the present tense, and this in the lives of characters, a future fulfillment of the words of YHWH pronounced in the older writings. Therefore, everything that is said in this text about interpretation must be understood in this perspective of …history.

(NC, p. 440 — translated)

The gospels contain parables but the actions and speeches of all characters are a story, a fiction, with a message. We read the ethical parables put in the mouth of a figure we generally believe to have been historical but the primary message of those parables may well be that we need to read all of the acts and words in the gospels in a similar way: was the author instructing readers in the meaning of their time (their lived history) by means of story?

Note how many of the situations in the gospels testify for readers that they are living in the “end-time”: the miraculous birth, flight into Egypt, overcome tests and trials, — the personified people of Israel are found in the life of Jesus. Other stories speak of banquets, both in story (parable of the wedding of the Son) and in narrative ‘history’ (the wedding at Cana), and through both levels of narrative they contain hidden messages for readers. Different stories teach different aspects of the Law: e.g. the multiplication of the loaves illustrates the distribution of small precepts of the Law to many; the change from water to wine at the wedding of Cana picture the transformation of the law from the stone pots into the joyfulness represented by wine. The storms that instill fear into the disciples are seen by readers to teach confidence in the presence of Yahweh. You get the picture and there is no need for me to list all of the examples spelled out by NC.

Midstream warning that the meaning is hidden

Ancient authors commonly placed the most important points they wanted audiences to grasp at the centre or apex of their work. So we need to take special notice of the central chapter passage in the Gospel of Matthew — the chapter of parables. And in the centre of that passage, we read Matthew 13:13-14,

This is why I speak to them in parables: because they see without seeing and hear without hearing or understanding. Thus is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: you will hear much and more, but you will not understand; you will look hard and see nothing.

As in the Gospel of Mark, the Parable of the Sower is key. It is the failures, we read here, that consist of the sign of the Kingdom of God. Quoting Bonnard,

Just as the (Palestinian) sower does his work through many difficulties, most often victorious, the Kingdom of God inaugurated by Jesus will only be established through many impressive failures. And this is precisely what neither the Pharisees nor the crowds could ‘understand’. The main emphasis is therefore not on the brilliant final victory in spite of the present failures, as if these failures were of little importance (Jeremias, G. Dehn, etc.), but rather on the final victory of the Church. ), nor on the exhortation to receive the Word well, i.e. to believe (Leenhardt), nor on the way in which each one must ”ensure by his good will the result of the good news” (Lagrange), nor on the idea that ”the effectiveness of the words of Jesus depends on the dispositions of those who listen to them” (Masson), but on the fact that Jesus and the kingdom “had to be snuffed out” (v. 7b) before the end-time victory.

(Bonnard, quoted by NC pp. 441-442 – translated)

What is evident is that in this incomprehension we see the judgment of God upon those who falsely believed they enjoyed God’s favour. But NC suggests we can go yet further: that the gospels were written as midrash (incomprehensible to outsiders) precisely in order to bring about that judgment.

And still further yet…

Nous proposerions alors une hypothèse à approfondir : plus le midrash mettait en scène un personnage de fiction dont le sens était à déchiffrer (par exemple dans sa finalité de réponse socio-théologique à la destruction du Temple de Jérusalem), plus il renforçait chez d’autres lecteurs des mêmes textes de la religion juive, la croyance selon laquelle il décrivait la réalité du Messie, puisque la non-compréhension du sens apparent est censée être la clé de la réalité du sens messianique profond.

La non-saisie du véritable sens serait auto-incluse par le texte comme condition de possibilité de la réussite du texte même. — NC, p. 442

We would then propose a hypothesis to be explored further: the more the midrash featured a fictional character whose meaning had to be deciphered (for example, in its purpose as a socio-theological response to the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem), the more it reinforced in other readers of the same texts of the Jewish religion the belief that it described the reality of the Messiah, since the failure to understand the apparent meaning is supposed to be the key to the reality of the deep messianic meaning.

The failure to grasp the true meaning would be self-included by the text as a condition of possibility for the success of the text itself.

(NC, p. 442 – translated)

That indeed is a bold hypothesis: does the belief in the central character as a historical person fall into the same category as belief that the healing of the blind is about restoring physical, biological sight? in the same category as believing that the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves is about nutritional nourishment of the crowds? If so, I do wonder if the author of the Gospel of John is perhaps the “least spiritual” of the canonical gospels to the extent that its figure of the “Beloved Disciple” would appear to be used to verify the historical truth of Jesus. Or am I misreading even that Gospel? If Judas and Jairus and the Twelve, and the diverse blind and lame, are symbolic figures. . . . ?

“Delivered up”: intentional identity of signified and signifier?

Translations generally speak of Jesus being “betrayed” but the Greek word used means to deliver or deliver up. But when we read the word in Galatians 2:20 we can see more easily how another meaning can be applied:

I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and delivered himself up for me.

And so NC points out the “surprising reading” of Christian philosopher Jean-Luc Marion who identifies the “delivery-to-death” gift of God with the delivery of the Scriptures to their readers:

[Among the delivered up gifts] of the Logos . . . it is necessary to place the Scriptures — logia delivered as really as the Logos has actually “delivered himself” (Galatians 2:20). Would the last … gift, which renders immediate mediation possible, and is therefore inscribed within the hierarchy as in its unique place, be revelation, recorded in the words of scripture, after having been designated in the flesh of the Word? . . .

In delivering itself, the Logos delivers the logia. We translate by “Scriptures,” but it would be better to understand them as “dicts” that include before all else the deeds and the gestures, the res gestae of the Logos.

(Marion, The Idol and the Distance, pp. 179-180 – NC refers to French title, L’idole et la distance)

We move closer here to grasping the semantic leap that accompanies the delivery of Messiah-Israel to his enemies:

The verb to deliver (paradidonai), applied to Jesus, appears often in Matt. (10:4; 26:15, 16:23, etc.; 27:2); Paul also used it in this sense (Rom. 4:25; 8:32; 1 Cor. 11:23; Gal. 2:20; cf. Eph. 5:2); it belongs, therefore, to the theological terminology of the Passion from its most archaic formulations (cf. Acts 3:13); it is extremely frequent in the Septuagint in formulas which directly announce this one: God delivers someone into the hands of someone else (Ex. 21:13), he delivers Israel into the hands of his enemies (Lev. 26:25, almost always the Hebrew נָתַ֥ן/NaThaN), etc.

(Bonnard, p. 263, quoted by NC p. 443 – translated)

To follow on from the argument we have been reading up till now, we can see that the “one” who is being delivered up in the person of the “Son of YHWH” is the people of Israel — in the events of the year 70. The midrashic narrative of the gospels brings the message that YHWH is still present with his people in spite of all that loss. Now notice that the word for “delivered up or over to” so often found in the Septuagint has different applications.  Continuing the above paragraph from Bonnard,

Compare the words “delivered to you” with “delivered up” in 1 Corinthians 11:32. . . . . As Albert Baumgarten has perspicaciously noted, “the terms paradosis [transmission] and paralambanein [reception] are counterparts depicting the process of transmission from two different perspectives. The terms discussed thus far are from Greek sources, but the Semitic originals behind the Greek translations are readily recovered. Paradosis must reflect a form of the root msr [transmit], paralambanein of the root qbl [receive]… (Boyarin, Borderlines, p. 82)

In the New Testament, this same verb will designate the transmission or tradition of the apostolic deposit; here, it takes on two crucial nuances: it is God who will preside over this “abandonment” of Jesus into the hands of men, but on the other hand, he will constantly remain the master of what will happen. The idea is not that Jesus will no longer benefit from divine protection […], but that God will be present and active in a new way in his destiny.

Given Christianity’s emergence from Judaism, NC asks if the invention of Christianity itself consists in just this double meaning of the word “deliver”.

I will conclude notes on this chapter in the next post.


Eli, Eli…. Two additional instances of multilingual meaning variations:

Original extracts from NC, p. 434

and Meschonnic, p. 30

Translation of NC Independent discussion of Meschonnic’s same point, by Inacio Abdulkader: noting the two historical conditions of Judaism (Babylonian exile) and Christianity
A. Henri Meschonnic affirme qu’une erreur d’accent tonique a fait comprendre lama par ‘’pourquoi ?’’, alors qu’il s’agit de ‘’à quoi’’. Du coup, l’enjeu serait :

« de ne plus confondre le sens messianique juif de ce texte avec son exploitation néo-testamentaire. Le rapport au divin n’est pas le même. Ce n’est pas la même eschatologie. Et ce changement aussi capital que peu aperçu repose sur un pivot minimal : un déplacement d’accent d’une syllabe, sur un petit mot, mais c’est tout le passage du judaïsme au christianisme. »1

Des malentendus dans le déchiffrage de la langue d’origine ont pu sans cesse avoir lieu.

1 Henri Meschonnic, Gloires, Paris : Desclée De Brouwer, 2001, note sur le Ps 22, verset 2, page 390.


From another publication in which Meschonnic addresses the same point:

Il est clair qu’au verset 2, toutes les traductions, y compris la littéralisante de Chouraqui, ont la même traduction, celle du «pourquoi». Traduction ancienne, traduction-tradition, depuis la Septante (hinati…), Jérôme (quare dereliquisti me), Luther (1545: warumb), la King James Version (1611: why), Le Maistre de Sacy (1672, pourquoi), et l’italienne de Dario Disegni (perch è), l’espagnole (por que…), Buber et Rosenzweig (warum). Seul dans son commentaire, au XIX” siècle, Samson Raphaël Hirsch avait observe que l’accent du mot lama était sur la seconde syllabe la’ma, non sur la première, ‘lama qui alors lui donne le sens interrogatif de pourquoi. J’ai traduit à quoi. C’est sur un point de rythme que tout bascule, dans le sens même du verset. Le rythme est pivotai. Pour une différence minime, une transformation extrême —le christianisme d’un côté: une eschatologie, le judaïsme de
l’autre côté: l’exil.

A. Henri Meschonnic states that a tonic accent error has caused lama to be understood as ”why”, whereas it is ”to what end”. As a result, the challenge would be:

“to no longer confuse the Jewish messianic meaning of this text with its New Testament exploitation. The relationship to the divine is not the same. It is not the same eschatology. And this change, as capital as it is little seen, rests on a minimal pivot: a shift of accent of one syllable, on a small word, but it is the whole passage from Judaism to Christianity. “1

Misunderstandings in the deciphering of the original language may have occurred over and over again.





It is clear that in verse 2, all translations, including the literalist one of Chouraqui, have the same translation, that of “why”. Ancient translation, translation-tradition, from the Septuagint (hinati…), Jerome (quare dereliquisti me), Luther (1545: warumb), the King James Version (1611: why), Le Maistre de Sacy (1672, pourquoi), and the Italian of Dario Disegni (perch è), the Spanish (por que…), Buber and Rosenzweig (warum). Alone in his commentary, in the 19th century, Samson Raphael Hirsch observed that the accent of the word lama was on the second syllable la’ma, not on the first, ‘lama which then gives it the interrogative meaning of why. I have translated to what. It is on a point of rhythm that everything changes, in the very meaning of the verse. The rhythm is pivotal. For a minimal difference, an extreme transformation – Christianity on the one hand: an eschatology, Judaism on the other: exile.

The verse in Aramean Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani, already a translation from the Hebrew Eli, Eli, lama azavtani, and already part of traditional Christian Passion narratives in the second half of the Ist century, is brought to the Gospel text by the redactor of Mathew, who then translates it into the Greek he is writing in: “that is, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”.

As Meschonnic points out, ever since Mathew—and, surprisingly, even a bit before him, in the Septuagint—this why has been kept in translations of Psalm 22 for over two millennia. He mentions some ten such translations, including Buber-Rosenzweig’s (Meschonnic, 1999: 132-134). All of them, however, says Meschonnic, have wrongly kept this why as in the Gospel according to Saint Matthew:

[L]a place de l’accent en hébreu […] porte sur la seconde syllabe. S’il portait sur la première: ’lama, le mot signifierait « pourquoi ». Accentué la’ma, il ne demande plus « pour quelle raison » […], mais « pour quel résultat » ou intention. […] C’est pourquoi j’ai traduit : « Mon Dieu, mon Dieu, à quoi m’as tu abandonné ? » (ibid.: 134)

Meschonnic’s point is his usual one, here, once more, brilliantly put:

L’historicité c’est le rythme. […] [Cette] traduction ancienne, traduction-tradition.[…] Cette chorale a une voix si unie, elle est si occupée à s’écouter et s’imiter elle-même, qu’elle n’a entendu ni permis d’entendre le rythme. Le sens est ici le silence du rythme. (Ibid.: 131-134)

Yet the point to be made, prompted by this superb observation by Meschonnic that “L’historicité c’est le rythme” is that, as a matter of fact, two historicities are involved here. Most importantly, they are lived-in-language, in the intensiveness of language. And they indeed hinge on a tiny difference in rhythm―on whether lama is oxytone orparoxytone.

There were no accentuation marks in the written Hebrew of the Ist century, therefore, one should decide on the run where to place the tonic. On the run, but carrying within oneself the whole history of one’s tradition, and thus living, almost unconsciously perhaps, the life-in-language experience of placing the tonic accent on the “correct” syllable. In one case, the Christian reader was (and is still today) redeemed by the central event of the cross. In the other, the Jew reader was (and is still today) departing to an exile in Babylon.

Abécassis, Armand. “En vérité je vous le dis”: Une lecture juive des évangiles. Paris: NUMERO UN, 1999.

Bonnard, Pierre. L’évangile selon saint Matthieu. Neuchâtel: Delachaux & Niestlé, 1963. http://archive.org/details/lvangileselonsai0000bonn.

Boyarin, Daniel. Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity. Philadelphia, Pa.: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.

Charbonnel, Nanine. Jésus-Christ, sublime figure de papier. Paris: Berg International, 2017.

Chopineau, Jacques. “Sous Le Figuier.” In Lire La Bible, 50–51. Lillois: de l’Alliance, 1993. https://prolib.net/pierre_bailleux/bible/217.118.llb.chop.htm.

Marion, Jean-Luc. The Idol and Distance: Five Studies. Fordham University Press, 2001.

Mergui, Maurice. “Le Centurion Indigne.” Le Champ du Midrash – Extraits d’ouvrages, March 6, 2012. https://web.archive.org/web/20120306214838/http://www.lechampdumidrash.net/articles.php?lng=fr&pg=86.

Trigano, Schmuel. Le judaïsme et l’esprit du monde. Paris: Grasset & Fasquelle, 2011.


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9 thoughts on “Are There Really “Keys” to Understanding the New Testament? (Charbonnel continued)”

  1. Since posting the above I’ve added my own thoughts on a key point beneath the subsection Midstream warning that the meaning is hidden. I may add more in the same place even after this notice.

  2. L’invention du christianisme ne consiste-elle pas dans ce double sens accordé à la livraison ? (Nanine Charbonnel)

    This point has interesting implications also about the role of Pilate in the early Gospels.

    Pilate is the person who delivers Jesus to death, hence Pilate is the necessary agent who realizes the prophecy about Jesus being delivered to gentiles.

    Now, historically, Pilate was the same guy who in a precise circonstance, during his trial in Rome to defend himself from the accusation of having shown too much cruelty against the Samaritan false prophet, had spoken very probably the Latin term Christus to explain who the Samaritan false prophet claimed to be.

    Hence, Pilate is part and parcel of this process of transmission/delivery of the Logos Christ to the gentiles, having been Pilate the first to talk about a Christus in Rome.

    By the mouth of Pilate, it was the Logos who was going to be given to gentiles in Rome. Which makes virtually Pilate the first apostle of Christ in Rome. This is a good reason to christianize Pilate and introduce him in Mark.

    1. The Pontius Pilatus narrative you are referring to, is a later Christian legend.

      Pilatus was recalled by Lucius Vitellius to Rome, in 36 CE. Tiberius died before he arrived in Rome. There is no record of what happened to him.

      He also was NEVER a senatorial procurator. He was an equestrian praefectus, a strictly military rank, under the Governor of Syria.

      The gospels are historical fiction. There were no Roman procurators, King Herod, or centurions, at anytime during biblical Jesus’ lifetime. Nor was Joseph ben Caiaphus EVER the Nasi of the Great Sanhedrin (he was the Av Beit Din, under Gamaliel the Elder).

  3. The only keys to understanding the gospels, is understanding the Roman-Jewish wars.

    All the literary characters are from this time period, not the 20s-30s.

    The use of Pontius Pilatus, Joseph ben Caiaphus, & “King Herod” (with historically fictitious titles of biblical Jesus’ time) has thrown the narratives to the wrong time period.

  4. Given the Aramaic puns and word play that don’t show up in the Greek I’ve always had a hard time believing the Greek text is the original in all cases.

    Was the New Testament Really Written in Greek? A Concise Compendium of the Many Internal and External Evidences of Aramaic Peshitta Primacy

    Some have argued that the Aramaic gospels are older than the Greek gospels, and that the Aramaic NT wasn’t derived from the Greek NT. William Norton commented in 1889: Persons familiar with the Peshito admit the truth of Faust Nairon’s remark, that the Peshito does really sometimes “make clear, things difficult or doubtful in the Greek.”

    1. It’s a fascinating question. In the above post I referred to Maurice Mergui: more of his work is found at https://www.lechampdumidrash.net/ — and with GoogleTranslate, DeepL and now ChatGPT as free online translators the language should not be a barrier.

      I find it hard to accept the entire NT was originally in Hebrew, but I certainly wonder about the Gospel of Mark — and am inclined to think there were two versions from the start: a Hebrew original that was then rendered to Greek. (Following Gmirkin’s thoughts on the Pentateuch, I suppose.)

    2. The NT is entirely based in the First Jewish War (66-73 CE). It’s a theological retelling of the Zealot movement, of the 1st & 2nd centuries.

      Anyone who reads Josephus’ works, for the years 64-75 CE, can readily identify all of the NT characters.

      Jesus ben Sapphias & the Zealots didn’t predict the destruction of the Temple, they instigated it. They were hardly pious “proto-Christians”.

      1. Which temple priest was the father of well connected Josephus? When telling the story of the great Jewish revolt in ‘Antiquities’, Josephus mentions high priest Matthias ben Theophilus but not his father. When telling the story of the great Jewish revolt in ‘Jewish Wars’, Josephus mentions his father but not high priest Matthias ben Theophilus.

        Make a person wonder if those two were ever once seen together in the same place at the same time. A discrepancy a lawyer pointed out to me once in conversation.

        1. “Titus Flavius Josephus” may very well be a pseudonym.

          Ironically, Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny the Elder, & the Younger, never mentioned him… even though they all served in the same Flavian court.

          It’s a “history mystery”. ✌🏻

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