Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Exegesis on The Paralytic Story

I find this stuff fascinating. Your mileage may vary.


...when the Lord calls the reluctant prophet Jonah, he says to him, "Qum, lek," meaning, more or less, "Rise, go" -- with the word "go" doing double duty as "walk," as in going on foot. That's the archaic meaning of English "go," too, preserved in such words as "gangway" and "gangplank," meaning a way or a plank you walk along.

Bet you didn't know that. Neither did I. But there's more.

...when the friends of the paralytic lowered the man on the pallet through the thatch of somebody else's roof, because the crowds around the house prevented them from taking him to Jesus by a more usual means of locomotion. Jesus, we recall, looked at the man with pity and told him that his sins were forgiven. That of course was unthinkable -- I can't forgive you a debt you owe to the Universal Bank, unless I am myself the director of the Universal Bank. "Only God can forgive sins!" the Jews within the house say to themselves, eyeing Jesus askance. Jesus reads their thoughts, and immediately engages in a strange argument a fortiori. "Which is it easier to say," he says -- and note that he does not therefore say that it is an easier thing to do, or the lesser miracle to perform -- "your sins are forgiven you, or rise and walk?"

And right here I'll bet anything we have a defiant echo of the Hebrew scriptures, lurking behind the Greek. Hebrew would not connect the imperatives with an "and." It is too terse for that. "Which is it easier to say," I imagine Jesus asking, "your-sins forgiven, or Qum, lek?" A powerful moment. In one part of the sentence he is claiming as proper to himself the power to forgive sins. In the other part of the sentence he is echoing the very words of God's commissions, to Jonah, to Elijah, to Joshua, to Jacob, and others. His audience, I suspect, would have understood, though the allusion is lost in Greek and English. They wait in tense and perhaps horrified expectation. "That you may know that Ben-Adam has power on earth to forgive sins," says Jesus, not bothering to finish the question -- "Take up your pallet, and walk."

The back-story makes that parable all the more fascinating, no?

HT: AmSpec/Lawler

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