Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism


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The birth of Jesus according to the Qur’an

In Islam, Jesus (‘Isa عيسى) is an honoured prophet. Qur’an 19 — Suratu Maryam سورة مريم, the Chapter of Mary — begins with the story of Zechariah (Zakariyya زكريا) being promised that he and his barren wife will have a son, to be called John (Yahya يحيى), and he is struck dumb for three nights as a sign of the promise. Although Zechariah is not described as a Jewish priest, it said that he comes out of the sanctuary (mihrab محراب) after his prayer.Mary (Maryam مريم) is introduced in verse 16, where we are told nothing of her apart from that she leaves her family and goes to an ‘eastern place’ away from them. God sends an angel to her, popularly understood to be Gabriel (Jibra’il جبرائيل), although the Qur’an describes him simply as ‘Our Spirit’ (Ruhana روحنا). Mary is a virgin, and the Qur’an agrees with the Gospels that she conceived miraculously by the power of God. The child she is to bear is fortold to be a sign for humanity and a mercy from God (ayatun lin-nasi wa-rahmatun minna اية للناس ورحمة منا).When Mary went into labour she went out into a remote place, and clung to the trunk of a palm tree (an-nakhlah النخلة). The Qur’an records her as crying out in pain that she would rather had died and been forgotten at that moment, giving birth all alone. Then God, out of mercy, made a spring to bubble up beside her and urged her to shake the dates from the tree so that she could be refreshed by them. Continue reading


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Glory to God in the highest!

The angels sing to shepherds to tell them of the Messiah’s birth. Luke 2.14records the multitude of heaven’s army in Greek as:

Angels and shepherds from Cambodia

Angels and shepherds from Cambodia

δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ
καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη
ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας.

There has been a little trickle from Jim West’s blog via clayboy about how best to translate the song. Continue reading


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Maranatha!

'Maranatha' in Greek, Aramaic square-script with Tiberian vowel points and Syriac, in its two divisions.Advent is well come nigh! A truth calendrical and etymological. So, I thought I might delve into one obscure word in this season’s vocabulary. 

The word ‘Maranatha‘ appears in I Corinthians 16.22 and Didache 10.6. Respectively:

εἴ τις οὐ φιλεῖ τὸν κύριον, ἤτω ἀνάθεμα. μαράνα θά.

If anyone does not love the Lord, let them be anathema. Marana tha.

ἐλθέτω χάρις καὶ παρελθέτω ὁ κόσμος οὗτος. Ὡσαννὰ τῷ θεῷ Δαυείδ. εἴ τις ἅγιός ἐστιν, ἐρχέσθω· εἴ τις οὐκ ἔστι, μετανοείτω· μαρὰν ἀθά· ἀμήν.

May grace come and this world pass away. Hosanna to the God of David. If anyone is holy, let them come; if anyone is not, let them repent; maran atha; amen.

It is an Aramaic phrase (although Luther tried to twist it into a totally different Hebrew phrase — מָחֳרַם מָוְתָה māḥăram mothâ, ‘devoted to death’). It was once thought to be a curse word, associated to its preceding anathema in the I Corinthians verse, but is clear that the ancient authors who promoted this interpretation had a rather hazy understanding of the phrase. However, that verse is part of Paul’s concluding prayer for the Corinthians, and forms a rather disjointed collection of prayed aphorisms:

  • All the brethren send greetings.
  • Greet one another with a holy kiss.
  • I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand.
  • If anyone does not love the Lord, let them be anathema.
  • Maranatha.
  • The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.
  • My love be with all of you in Christ Jesus. Continue reading


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Islam’s victory over Christianity

Today is Eid Mubahila (Feast of the Cursing Contest), a Shia Islamic festival. It commemorates a meeting between the Prophet Muhammad and a delegation of Christians from Najran in southern Arabia (today’s Yemen).The meeting took place on the ninth year of Hijra. The Prophet had sent embassies to various part of Arabia bidding its inhabitants to become Muslim. The city of Najran had an extremely obstinate Christian population who refused to convert. Muhammad sent a letter to Najran to invite them to convert or pay jizya (tax for nonbelievers), and they sent a delegation headed by Abbot Abdul-Massih Aqib, Bishop Abdul-Harith ibn Al-Qama and Monk Sa’id to Medina. The account says that they changed into silk robes and gold rings before meeting the Prophet, and that he would not meet with them until they changed back into their humble clothes. Continue reading


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The name, fame and shame of Bartimaeus

Yesterday’s Gospel was Mark’s pericope of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar of Jericho (Mk 10.46–52; synoptic parallels Mt 9.27–31, 20.29–34, Lk 18.35–43). It struck me that passing characters in the gospels, especially recipients of healing, are anonymous (Luke’s version does not name the blind man, and Matthew makes him two anonymous men). Most of us treat ‘Bartimaeus’ as a straightforward name, but I think it’s unusual for a couple of reasons.

He is introduced as “Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus” (ὁ υἱὸς Τιμαίου Βαρτιμαῖος, ho huiòs Timaíou Bartimaîos). This is often read as if Bartimaeus is his name, and his father is Timaeus. However, the simple fact that ‘bar’ is the Aramaic for ‘son of’ suggests that ‘son of Timaeus’ is the partial translation of ‘Bartimaeus’. It’s always interesting to see what the Syriac Peshitta does with such translations of Aramaic, seeing as there is usually no need for a gloss on Aramaic (Syriac being a variety of Aramaic). The Peshitta translates the name as ܛܝܡܝ ܒܪ ܛܝܡܝ (Ṭimai bar Ṭimai). Although this suggests once again a proper name ‘Timai bar Timai’, this still does not make a great deal of sense.

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