There be dragons!

Monday, September 21, 2009

A bit of Isopsephia






The Tetragrammaton, YHVH, was the most powerful name of Almighty God to the Jews.

It occurs 5,410 times in the Bible, being divided among the books as follows: Genesis 153 times, Exodus 364, Leviticus 285, Numbers 387, Deuteronomy 230 (total in Torah 1,419); Joshua 170, Judges 158, Samuel 423, Kings 467, Isaiah 367, Jeremiah 555, Ezekiel 211, Minor Prophets 345 (total in Prophets 2,696); Psalms 645, Proverbs 87, Job 31, Ruth 16, Lamentations 32, Daniel 7, Ezra-Nehemiah 31, Chronicles 446 (total in Hagiographa 1,295).

So sacred was it that Jews would not utter it aloud after a certain era and substituted the name "Adonai" and "Jehovah" instead:
The true name of God was uttered only during worship in the Temple, in which the people were alone; and in the course of the services on the Day of Atonement the high priest pronounced the Sacred Name ten times.


A Jewish audience, familiar with that four letter formula would have recognized it when it showed up in literary isopsephia, the use of letters corresponding to numbers corresponding to concepts in religious literature.

Thus when the title of Christ, in three languages, shows up above the head of the crucified lord such an audience would immediately make the logical connection that this was the most powerful Elohim himself. In English the phrase above Christ's head is "Jesus the Nazarene King of the Jews" - in Latin "Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum" (INRI) - in Greek "ησος Ναζωραος Bασιλες τν ουδαίων" (HNBO) - in Hebrew "Yeshua` HaNotsri U'Melech HaYehudim" (YHUH, or YHVH). Certainly, if nothing else, the Evangelists wished their audience to recognize the allusion.

The question then arises, if by the time of the crucifixion the utterance of the tetragrammaton was forbidden, wouldn't the Jewish crowd have recognized it and been incensed (in a bad way)? Wouldn't they riot against the Romans for committing such a blasphemy?

Matthew records no response from the Jews:

And sitting down they watched him there; And set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS. Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left.

Nor does Mark:

And it was the third hour, and they crucified him. And the superscription of his accusation was written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS. And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left.

Nor does Luke:

And saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself. And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.

Only John, the Greek-inspired isopsephiaist, recounts any response from the crowd to this action:

Where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst. And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS. This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin. Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, "Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews." Pilate answered, "What I have written I have written."

The response of "take that down - you should not have written it" seems mild in comparison to the severity of the blasphemy. Additionally, John is a later writer, c. 90-100 and was writing for Greeks and lapsed Jews. So the response of his gospels was, probably, his own addition since it doesn't appear in the other three earlier works. Moreover, look at Pilate's response in this gospel; "What I have written I have written," in Greek "απεκριθη ο πιλατος ο γεγραφα γεγραφα"

A strange formula. Christ himself, though, was the LOGOS, the word made flesh. Does "written" here have another meaning? Written versus spoken word? Set down permanently on paper or wood like a man nailed to a cross? The living word of the LOGOS speech vs. the (soon to be) dead word of writing? (very Platonic that) We have to write it down if we are to remember it, right? But the minute we do don't we lose the power of life that is in the thought/word/speech? We have only a patient etherized upon a table not Lincoln in full force at Gettysburg. We have three lumps of stone in the morning sun and not three terrifying trolls. So is the whole of the crucifixion somethin of an injunction against mistaking the dead written word for the living reality?
"I have written that I have written." The formula reminds us immediately of another linguistic formula "I am that I am" or YHWH.

Interesting also to note in John that the INRI inscription appears at 19:19 "εγραψεν δε και τιτλον ο πιλατος και εθηκεν επι του σταυρου ην δε γεγραμμενον ιησους ο ναζωραιος ο βασιλευς των ιουδαιων". (emphasis mine - nota bene "grammenon" as in "tetragrammaton") That's no big deal, except it would have been a big deal to John and his audience b/c 19 is 18+1 or 6+6+6+1 or 6661. Again, no big deal until we realize that this "number of the beast" is part of a calculation involving 6 (the number of rational thought) elevated three times (the number of perfection) plus 1 (the number of unity and wholeness) which corresponds to the risen Lord.

My ability with this is very poor, but INRI connected to YHVH would have sparked in the mind's of John (and the other writers) and his audience a connection that was surely unavoidable. How they worked this connection into their writings is a remarkable bit of artistry.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting Abece, but I think the INRI was introduced Later than the Gospels in artistic rederings of the crucifiction as not to have to write it out and especially not in three languages.

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