February 2011
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What Did Jesus Say?

With all the passion surrounding Jesus's teachings and their impact on our views of the Middle East - let's explore the "real" meaning behind Jesus's words. 

Jesus and his disciples spoke in the ancient Aramaic language.  His words were later written down in Greek and Aramaic (see the Bible used by the Assyrian Aramaic & Syrian Orthodox Christians today).

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According to the scholar Neil Douglas-Klotz, our view of Jesus's teachings - and Middle Eastern Spirituality in general- have been distorted by the differences in the meaning derived from translating these very different languages. 

In other words, there's a big difference between the meaning of Jesus's words spoken (and written) in Aramaic and the meaning we get from the Greek translations.   And, these distorted meanings underlie the literally-based understanding of Jesus's teachings used by many Christians today.

According to Douglas-Klotz, the Greek language "likes to create neat, separate categories for everything" while the Aramaic language is a "much more open, fluid language."  It expresses a 3-dimensional quality that adds "poetry and ambiguity" to Jesus's words.  

Rich in "sound-meaning," Jesus's teachings were meant to resonate on an intellectual, metaphorical, and universal level.  Aramaic offers a wholistic view of reality.  There's no need to differentiate between "mind, body, and spirit."

Unlike the Greek language, Aramaic does not drawn sharp lines between means and ends, or between "inner" or "outer" actions.  When Jesus talks about the "kingdom of heaven" - it is always both "within" and "among" us.  "Neighbor" is both "inside" and "outside" of us.


Continued,   next column




Imagine the impact of the following translations:

From the Greek:

From the Aramaic:

"Good" versus "Evil."

"Ripe" versus "Unripe."
"This is my blood." Blood can mean "blood," "wine", "juice", or "distilled essence of the cosmos."
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." "Blessed are the gentle." Or it can be "blessed are those who have softened the rigidity within."

The words of Jesus - and the other prophets of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - are meant to challenge the listener/reader to understand their meaning in terms of their own life experiences.   The goal is to cultivate inner resources and continue to honor the spiritual nature that's unfolding.   

Perhaps you won't find the concrete, definitive meaning that our western mind demands - but, hopefully you'll be guided on a journey that deepens your experience of what it means to be human.


"Prayers of the Cosmos", Neil Douglas-Klotz. HarperCollins, San Francisco, 1994 

Article:  "Desert Wisdom and the New Cosmology," Neil Douglas-Klotz, 1999, download here.

Learn more about Native Middle Eastern Spirituality at www.abwoon.com.





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