Circling Back to the Text

In the previous posts In the Same Boat and Who Reveals Whom?, the issue of David’s treatment of Uriah the Hittite came up. One of the points made there was that Uriah, as a Hittite, was a foreigner, and so the horrible abuse David meted out to him should be seen in that light as well.

In listening to some of the recent Tarazi Tuesday podcasts at the Ephesus School Network, I learned something that puts David mistreatment of Uriah in a new light. Uriah is actually not a foreigner; he is living on his people’s (as we would say today, ancestral) land. This new lesson just reinforces that reading and re-reading the Bible without preconceptions brings out important nuances we would otherwise miss if we do not keep reading.

Uriah, as Father Paul reminds us, is a Hittite. The introduction of the Hittites does not appear with the story of David, but much earlier, with Abraham. In Genesis 23, we are told of Sarah’s death. Abraham, as a sojourner trusting God to provide, has no place to bury his wife. So he approaches the Hittites and asks from them a burial place. They offer him the choicest place, gratis. Abraham does not want to take advantage of their generosity, and for a nominal price offers Ephron of Zohar some money. Ephron eventually agrees, and the cave and surrounding land in Machpelah become Abraham’s land to bury his wife.

Abraham receives hospitality and generosity from the Hittites who long inhabited the land. He was a stranger in the land where they lived for generations. He had nothing, not even a plot for his wife and they graciously gave him one. But later, his descendant David would abuse one of the survivors of those people still living on that land, Uriah, and treat him as expendable.

The inclusion of the Hittites in the Bible is thus a powerful indictment of human arrogance, power, and ingratitude.

Sounding out the Readings

We are currently in a cycle of readings centered on the Gospel of Matthew. Textually, none of the four Gospels are actually titled by the authors. The idea that people with the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were the authors is, at a quick glance, more of a product of ecclesiastical tradition and such.

But, then again, maybe not.

It has been a basic thesis of this blog that reading (actually, hearing) the Bible in the original languages is the way to go. The original languages provide the field of vision that makes the story come alive fully. This is because we have a play on words in those languages, or repetition, or parallel poetic structures, and so on, that are authored this way.

It helps to appreciate this, otherwise you might have a hard time understanding why Matthew is called Matthew.

In Greek, Matthew is written as Ματθαῖος. Nothing extraordinary here, so far at least.

Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, however, the word μαθητης is repeated. This is the Greek word that means disciple.

If one compares the name of the Gospel author with the message of the book, then one notices the following:

Ματθαῖος and μαθητης sound similar in Greek. Even though they are spelled differently, the message is clear. The Gospel according to Ματθαῖος is the book of how to become a disciple (μαθητης) of Jesus.

You won’t get that in English.