Monday, April 6, 2009

The Sabbath

Since I study the intersections of sacred space (Sanctuary) and sacred time (Sabbath) in ancient Jewish and Christian literature, I am often attracted to their invocations in modern literature as well. Paul Celan, for example, often talks about the Sabbath in his poetry. Here is a meditation by W.H. Auden:

The Sabbath

Waking on the Seventh Day of Creation,
They cautiously sniffed the air:
The most fastidious nostril among them admitted
That fellow was no longer there.

Herbivore, parasite, predator scouted,
Migrants flew fast and far--
Not a trace of his presence: holes in the earth,
Beaches covered with tar,

Ruins and metallic rubbish in plenty
Were all that was left of him
Whose birth on the Sixth had made of that day
An unnecessary interim.

Well, that fellow had never really smelled
Like a creature who would survive:
No grace, address or faculty like those
Born on the First Five.

Back, then, at last on a natural economy,
Now His Impudence was gone,
Looking exactly like what it was,
The Seventh Day went on,

Beautiful, happy, perfectly pointless....
A rifle's ringing crack
Split their Arcadia wide open, cut
Their Sabbath nonsense short.

For whom did they think they had been created?
That fellow was back,
More bloody-minded than they remembered,
More god-like than they thought.


Liam said...

Jared -- one of those questions. Jesus spoke Aramaic and the Gospels were written in Greek. At what point did the tradition change from an Aramaic to a Greek tradition.

By the way, we're having a get together Saturday after the Easter Vigil -- I'll send you an evite.

Jared Calaway said...

Here's the problem with the question: all of the earliest materials are in Greek, all of the earliest evidence.

There are people who think some of the gospels (sometimes Matthew and John) were originally Aramaic, but I am completely unconvinced. So, the transition is completely a mystery.

The earliest Christian author is Paul, and he writes in Greek. EArliest gospel is Matthew, and, again, Greek. There is about a forty year gap between Jesus' death and Mark. So, somewhere between 30 and 70.

But, there is not a simple, complete shift. There were Christians in Aramaic-speaking communities (Palestine and those who went eastward toward Babylonia rather than westward throughout the Mediterranean). One famous figure is Tatian, who wrote the Diatesseron, a conflation of the four gospels in Aramaic, but his Aramaic gospels are translations and conflations of the Greek gospels--so the Greek ones have chronological precedence.

And, of course, Aramaic (Syriac; Syriac is just a form of Aramaic) communities persisted and, in fact, continue to persist in some pockets to this very day. There are very beautiful Syriac liturgies, as well as other texts, but most of these emerge in late antiquity.

That is basically a long way to say that the answer to your question is unknowable. Some scholars attempt to get at it through reconstructions of "Q" and such, but they are all working without any real substantial evidence and very strained hypotheses.

It would be great to get together! Are you finishing this year? Are you defending soon?

Jared Calaway said...

Oops! I just realized I wrote the earliest Gospel was Matthew, and that is WRONG: it is Mark.

Liam said...

Yeah, I thought it would be one of those unknowable things. I went to a liturgy at the Syrian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem -- it was absolutely beautiful.

I'm finishing up -- I will distribute sometime next month and will most likely defend in the fall.