In the world, past and present, there are
two major types of cultures: the Hebrew (or eastern) culture and the Greek
(or western) culture. Both of these cultures view their surroundings,
lives, and purpose in ways which would seem foreign to the other. With the
exception of a few Bedouin
tribes living in the Near East today, the ancient Hebrew culture has
What happened to this ancient Hebrew
thought and culture? Around 800 BCE*, a new culture arose
to the north. This new culture began to view the world very much
differently than the Hebrews. This culture was the Greeks.
Around 200 BCE
the Greeks began to move south causing a coming together of the Greek and
Hebrew culture. This was a very turbulent time as the two vastly different
cultures collided. Over the following 400 years the battle raged until
finally the Greek culture won and virtually eliminated all trace of the
ancient Hebrew culture.
The Greek culture then in turn influenced all
following cultures including the Roman and European cultures, our own
American culture and even the modern Hebrew culture in Israel today.
As 21st Century Americans with a strong
Greek thought influence we read the Hebrew Bible as if a 21st Century
American had written it. In order to understand the ancient Hebrew culture
in which the Tanakh* was written in, we must examine some
of the differences between Hebrew and Greek thought.
Tanakh is simply another way of saying Old Testament.
The word Tanakh is actually an acronym for the
three divisions of the Hebrew Old Testament. The three sections are
the Torah (Pentateuch or
Books of Moses), Nevi'im
(Prophets) & Ketuvim (Writings).
*B.C.E. stands for "Before the
common era." It is expected to replace
means "Before Christ." (Don't stop! Keep
reading!) B.C. and B.C.E. are also identical in value. Most theologians and
religious historians believe that the approximate birth date of Yeshua of
Nazareth (Jesus) was in the fall, sometime between 4 and 7 B.C.E.
CE stands for "Common Era." It is a
new term that is eventually expected to replace
an acronym for "Anno Domini" in Latin or
year of the Lord" in English. (Keep reading!) A.D. refers to
the approximate birth year of Yeshua ben Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ).
C.E. and A.D. have the same definition and value. 2000 C.E. = 2000 A.D.
The term "common"
simply means that this is the most frequently used calendar system:
the Gregorian Calendar. There are many
in existence, but each of these are normally in use in only a small
geographic area of the world -- typically by followers of a single
(*note: I put this information in just to say...."Our world is
changing...be aware of what is going on around you!")
Groups in favor of
The Ethic of Reciprocity (the Golden Rule) suggests that one should not
intentionally cause pain to other humans. We should treat others as we
would wish to be treated. Since only one out of every three humans on earth
is a Christian, some theologians felt that non-religious, neutral terms
like C.E. and B.C.E .would be less offensive to the non-Christian majority.
Forcing a Hindu, for example, to use A.D. and B.C. might be seen by some as
coercing them to acknowledge the supremacy of the Christian God and of
Although C.E. and B.C.E. were originally used mainly within
theological writings, the terms are gradually receiving greater usage in
secular writing, the media, and in the culture generally. This is another
way of saying that we/they are being "politically correct"
-- we want to communicate ideas while being civil and considerate to people
of all religious traditions.
However, there is nothing to
prevent a person from defining C.E. and B.C.E as "Christian Era" and
"Before the Christian Era" if they wish. (The
Dictionary does exactly this.) Now, back to Ancient
Abstract vs. Concrete Thought
is abstract art! It is a picture of Calvary...Three crosses and what
appears to be men on the crosses! I wanted you to get the mind-set of the
difference between the two cultures!
Abstract vs. Concrete
Greek thought views the world through the
mind (abstract thought). Ancient Hebrew thought views the world through the
senses (concrete thought).
Concrete thought is the expression of
concepts and ideas in ways that can be seen, touched, smelled, tasted
and/or heard. All
of the senses are used when speaking, hearing, writing, and reading the
Hebrew language. An example of this can be found in Psalms 1:3, “He is like
streams of water,
which yields its fruit
in season, and whose
leaf does not
wither." In this
passage we have concrete words expressing abstract thoughts,
such as a tree
(one who is upright, righteous), streams of water (grace), fruit (good
character) and a unwithered leaf (prosperity).
Abstract thought is the expression of
concepts and ideas in ways that can not be seen, touched, smelled, tasted,
or heard. Hebrew never uses abstract thought as English does. Examples of
abstract thought can be found in Psalms 103:8, “The LORD is
gracious, Slow to
anger, abounding in
As you noticed I said that Hebrew uses concrete and not abstract thoughts,
but here we have such abstract concepts such as compassionate, gracious,
anger, and love in a Hebrew passage. Actually these are abstract English
words that translated the original Hebrew concrete words. The translators
often translate this way because the original Hebrew makes no sense when
literally translated into English.
Let us take one of the abstract words above
to demonstrate how this works. Anger, an abstract word, is actually the
/a.p/awph which literally means “nose,” a concrete word.
When one is very angry, he begins to breath hard and the nostrils begin to
flare. A Hebrew sees anger as “the flaring of the nose (nostrils).”
If the translator literally translated the above passage “slow to
nose,” it would make no sense to the English reader, so
," a nose, is translated to “anger” in this passage.
Greek thought describes objects in
relation to its appearance. Hebrew thought describes objects in relation to
A deer and an oak are two very different
objects and we would never describe them in the same way with our Greek
form of descriptions. The Hebrew word for both of these objects is
because the functional description of these two objects are identical to
the ancient Hebrews. Therefore, the same Hebrew word is used for
both. The Hebraic definition of
is "a strong leader."
A deer stag is one of the most powerful
animals of the forest and is seen as "a strong leader" among the other
animals of the forest. Also the oak tree's wood is very hard compared to
other trees such as the pine which is soft and is seen as a "strong leader"
among the trees of the forest.
Notice the two different translations of
the Hebrew word
in Psalms 29.9. The NASB and KJV translate it as, "The voice of the LORD
makes the deer
to calve," while the NIV translates
it as, "The voice of the LORD twists the
literal translation of this verse in Hebrew thought would be, "The
voice of the LORD makes the strong leaders turn."
When translating the Hebrew into English,
the translator must give a Greek description to this word which is why we
have two different ways of translating this verse. This same word is also
translated as a "ruler" in 2 Kings 24:15, a man who is a strong leader.
Another example of Greek thought would be
the following description of a common pencil, "It is yellow and
about 8 inches long." A Hebrew description of the pencil would be
related to its function such as, "I write words with it."
Notice that the Hebrew description uses the verb "write"
while the Greek description uses the adjectives "yellow"
and "long." Because of Hebrew's form of functional
descriptions, verbs are used much more frequently than adjectives.