aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

An insight from John Wycliffe

I enjoy reading the Bible in different languages and dialects. You'd think I'd like The Message. Unfortunately, paraphrases tend to obscure meaning, rather than illuminate it. You see, a sentence doesn't just mean one thing; it has echoes and allusions and uses words that have been used before. It fits together with other things you already know. But a paraphrase, with its strain to be original, or contemporary, is like a polarizing filter. It reduces the range of meaning to the one that seemed most important to the person making the paraphrase.

Reading actual translations in different languages and dialects, though, brings out more of the meaning. For instance, I like to read in John Wycliffe's Middle English Bible. And I was just dipping into it and found myself in Ezekiel Chapter 9, where I read of a vision of judgment.
And he criede in myn eeris with greet vois, and seide, The visityngis of the citee han neiyed, and ech man hath in his hond an instrument of sleyng. And lo! sixe men camen fro the weie of the hiyere yate, that biholdith to the north, and the instrument of deth of ech man was in his hond; also o man in the myddis of hem was clothid with lynnun clothis, and a pennere of a writere at hise reynes; and thei entriden, and stoden bisidis the brasun auter. And the glorie of the Lord of Israel was takun vp fro cherub, which glorie was on it, to the threisfold of the hous; and the Lord clepide the man that was clothid with lynun clothis, and hadde a pennere of a writere in hise leendis. And the Lord seide to hym, Passe thou bi the myddis of the citee, in the myddis of Jerusalem, and marke thou Thau on the forhedis of men weilynge and sorewynge on alle abhomynaciouns that ben doon in the myddis therof. And he seide to hem in myn heryng, Go ye thorouy the citee, and sue ye hym, and smytte ye; youre iye spare not, nether do ye merci. Sle ye til to deth, an eld man, a yong man, and a virgyn, a litil child, and wymmen; but sle ye not ony man, on whom ye seen Thau; and bigynne ye at my seyntuarie. Therfore thei bigunnen at the eldere men, that weren bifore the face of the hous. (Ezekiel 9:3-6, emphasis added)

I was startled to read of the man clothed in linen clothes with a writing instrument sent out to mark the foreheads of those who wailed and sorrowed over the abominations done in the city. He was to mark them with a Taw. That doesn't show up in the RSV I usually read. There, it says, merely, "put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations . . ." (The Message says the same, "put a mark.") I don't have a Hebrew Bible or even a Septuagint; but in any case, Wycliffe would have been translating from the Latin Vulgate, which reads, "et signa thau super frontes virorum . . ."

Here's the deal: Taw is cognate with Greek Tau, which we would call the letter T. Unlike in the Greek and Roman alphabets, though, Taw is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It stands for endings, like Greek Omega or Roman Z. It particularly stands for the end of all things -- death and the judgment -- and the hope that lies on the other side of death and the judgment. It became, in fact, a symbol of the hope of resurrection. In Ezekiel's day and for many centuries thereafter, the Taw was written not as a Greek Tau, as an upright cross, but as a sideways cross, like we would make an X. This X, which stands for the last things and the resurrection beyond them, is a frequent symbol of "That Day," and was commonly used to mark Jewish graves.

To be marked by the Taw is thus about more than just moral judgment. The people so marked are not merely the good people left who are shocked by the immorality of others. The people marked with a Taw are those who will be saved out of the judgment, those who belong to God and who keep the hope of his deliverance -- not only temporally, but eternally. When we place ashes on the forehead on Ash Wednesday, and when we anoint the forehead with oil in confirmation (those of us that do that), we mark with a cross -- Taw -- those who come repenting of their sins, those who are surrendering their lives to the crucified Savior who is the Resurrection and the Life.

Anyway, I find it interesting that to get the full flavor of that, I found a clearer translation in Wycliffe's Middle English than in the RSV.

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