Saturday, February 13, 2010

Welcome, religious solicitors!

I'm regretting a conversation I had last week. I got a knock at the front door, and Zeke started barking. (What a vicious little dog. What does he really think he's gonna do?) I picked him up and opened to the door to find a young Jehovah's Witness looking for someone to talk to.

I have a policy about this. If somebody comes to my door and wants to talk about knowing God, I'm in. The last time it happened, it was an older lady, and a roommate and I (This was a few years ago) invited her in. She opened her Bible to Exodus 3:14 and showed us that God had actually revealed his name to be Jehovah.

Jehovah's Witnesses have a slightly different Bible from the one you might have (unless, of course, you're a Jehovah's Witness). Most biblical translation is done with the intention of faithfully translating the plain meaning of the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic texts. The Jehovah's Witnesses also rely on direct revelation through their prophets, as God tells them how the Bible should really be translated. So theirs reads a little differently sometimes.

I grabbed my own Bible and pointed out the distinction. She really wasn't interested. I shared a theory about the origin of the name Jehovah that I'll share with you as well.

In Hebrew, that text in Exodus 3:14 says God's name is YHWH. We transliterate that as Yahweh sometimes, but that's just a guess at the pronunciation. It's difficult to translate it in English. Most often we translate it as "I Am," but it says more than that. It's "I Am Who I Am," or "I Will Be Who I Will Be." But if you're reading Hebrew, you'll see something funny there. See, the Hebrew language didn't have vowels. But in later years, rabbis added in vowels underneath the text, so you'd know how to pronounce the words. This was an exception.

The true name of God, as revealed in Exodus 3:14 was spoken only once a year, by the High Priest. And there hasn't been one of those for about 2,000 years. So now we really have no idea how to pronounce YHWH. If you look at the word in the ancient Masoretic text, YHWH has the vowels "AOA" below it. That's short for "Adonai," which is what Jews will say instead of uttering God's true name, which they would deem sacrilegious.

Now watch this...

If for whatever reason, no one ever told you that, and you just tried to read the Masoretic text with no knowledge of all that, you might read it as "Yahowah," unless, of course, you were German. So much theological work was done in Germany over the past 1,000 years that German is now a required language for Ph.D. students in theology. You don't really have to know Hebrew or Greek, but you do have to know German (and probably French).

If you're German, and you see before you the word "Yahowah," you're gonna read the Y as a J and the W as a V, cause that's what you do in German. And all of a sudden, bam. There you are with "Jahovah" (or "Jehovah?"). It's just a theory, but do you think that might possibly be where that came from?

Back to my story...

So there I was, with a barking dog in my hands, looking at a young Jehovah's Witness through a screen door, and I just wasn't feeling up to the conversation. I said something like, "I'd be glad to talk to you, but I don't think you're gonna want to talk to me. I've had some training in theology, and usually you guys don't like to hear me out. I appreciate you coming by though."

I was nice, but the kid left. Fine. I've tried to justify it, but really I was just being lazy, as is so often the problem. So let me try and make up for it by saying that if there are any JW's out there reading this blog, or Mormons, or...I don't know...atheists, agnostics, whatever, let me just say I'd be glad to talk. And for everybody else, I hope you at least appreciated the etymology lesson.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Waiting, waiting

I realize it's been a while since I've made an update, but there's just been nothing to tell lately. The main thing I'm doing in life right now is waiting for the phone to ring or an e-mail or letter to come through telling me I'm accepted into a Ph.D./Th.D. program. (Incidentally, did you know that Chicago/Turabian style specifies spelling e-mail with a dash? Small price to pay for entry into the ranks of the grammatically elite.)

I'm at the point where every time the phone rings I take a deep breath before looking at the screen and answering. I have the ringer at maximum volume, and I have my email set to make a loud noise whenever something new comes in. Once a day Julie and I go to the mailbox together hoping to see a big manila envelope and dreading a little white one. I could hear something today, or it might not be until mid-March.

Rest assured, friends, that you'll know as soon as I do.