Glossary

GLOSSARY

A-G

Anachronism

An anachronism is when we take modern meanings or understandings and we read them back into an ancient text, when given the historical and literary context, that meaning could not apply. For example, when someone equates biblical baptism with “sprinkling” that is an anachronism, because the ancient Greek word, baptisma, means “an act of dipping or immersion.” Another example is when we read the Hebrew word, satan–which means only accuser or adversary–in the OT, as the proper “name” of the supernatural opponent of Jesus/God as depicted in the NT.

Apocrypha

From Greek, apokryphos, meaning “hidden away, obscure, kept secret.” This is a collection of Jewish writings, composed in the mid to late Second Temple period, many of which were included in the Greek translation (the Septuagint) of the Hebrew/Aramaic Scriptures. Therefore, these were also included in the oldest Christian codices (sing = codex) of the Bible (4th to 5th century CE) and are still included in the Catholic and Orthodox Bibles.

BCE & CE

The abbreviations BCE (Before the Common Era) and CE (Common Era) have come to replace BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini – in the year of our Lord).

ca

circa, about, approximately

Canon (canonical)

From Greek, kanon (measuring rod), which is a loanword from the Hebrew, qaneh (reed). A canon is an official, often closed list of authoritative books of Scripture (Jewish and/or Christian).

Codex (plural = codices)

From Latin, codex (book, document). An ancient manuscript containing separate handwritten sheets that are bound along one edge, like a modern book. Early Christians used codices while Jews continued to write on scrolls. Examples of really important early codices are: Sinaiticus (4th c. CE), Vaticanus (4th c. CE) and Alexandrinus (5th c. CE).

Dead Sea Scrolls

This is the name given to the thousands of ancient Jewish manuscripts (mostly partial and often fragmentary) which were discovered in the 1940s and 1950s, mostly in caves near the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea. These manuscripts date from the 3rd c. BCE to the 1st c. CE. They include the oldest manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible, as well as many non-canonical texts. These texts provide invaluable insight into the period known as the Second Temple period (ca. 515 BCE – 70 CE).

Diaspora

From Greek, diaspora (scattering, dispersion). Starting predominately in the Second Temple period, many Jews chose to live, not in Palestine, but in communities of Jews throughout the known world. Two prominent communities existed in Alexandria, Egypt and in Babylon.

Eschatology

From Greek, eschatos (farthest). It is the teaching about last things and is concerned with the end of time and the events that Jews and/or Christians believe God has ordained to occur at the end of history including: the coming/return of the Messiah, the restoration of Israel, the judgment of the living and the dead, etc.

Essenes

A Jewish sect of ancient Israel that existed from the 2nd c. BCE to the 1st c. CE. Both Philo and Josephus wrote about this sect. They reported that Essenes living primarily in cities, were highly organized, obedient to their elders, practice celibacy and shared property. Many scholars believe that the community at Qumran—who are believed by most to be responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls collection—was comprised of Essenes.

Exegesis

From Greek, exegesis (explanation, interpretation). Literally, it means “to lead out of.” Thus, an exegesis is an explanation or critical interpretation of a text which takes the literary and historical context of that text fully into account.

First Temple Period

That period of time in the history of ancient Israel when the first temple (reputedly built under Solomon’s rule in the 10th c. BCE) stood in Jerusalem. That temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian forces in 586 BCE.

H-M

Hebrew Bible (HB)

What Protestant Christians refer to as the Old Testament, is equivalent in content to what Jews refer to as the Tanakh or what scholars often refer to as the Hebrew Bible. It is a bit of a misnomer, since small portions of the Tanakh were written in Aramaic, not Hebrew.

Jew

From the Greek word, Ioudaios (pl. Ioudaioi). Originally was an ethnic/geographic term for the inhabitants of Ioudaia (Judea).

Josephus

He lived ca. 37–100 CE and was a Jewish Hellenistic historian. He was a prolific author and our principal witness to Judean culture of the Roman Period. His two main writings are: Jewish Antiquities and Jewish War. Ancient Jews considered him a traitor, so the preservation of his writings, with some Christian embellishments, were the result of the work of Christian scribes.

Judaism

From Greek, Ioudaismos (Judaism). This term first occurs in 2 Maccabees 2:21; 8:1; 14:38. Originally, the term identified the ethnic group who inhabited Judea (Ioudaia). However, it later came to include others who lived outside of Judea (i.e., the Jewish people).

Judah/Judea

From Hebrew, Yehuda. A geographical region in southern Palestine. Often referred to, in the divided kingdom period, as the southern kingdom.

Ketuvim

From Hebrew, meaning “writings.” It is the third part of the Jewish Scriptures or Tanakh which contains the poetic books and other remaining canonical books of the Jewish Scriptures not included in the Torah or the Nevi’im.

LXX = Septuagint

Macabees

A family of priests also referred to as the Hasmoneans. They led the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid (Greek) rule of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who had desecrated the Jerusalem temple. They recaptured the temple (celebrated by the festival of Hanukkah) and ruled over Judea for about 100 years, until the Roman capture of Jerusalem in 63 BCE. The books of 1 and 2 Maccabees tell the story, as does the Jewish historian Josephus.

Masoretic Text (MT)

It is the scholarly designation for the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. It is named after the Masoretes, Jewish scribes from the seventh to the eleventh century, who copied and preserved the biblical text and are credited with adding the vowel points to the earlier consonant-only text. Thus, words like ירושלם (yrvslm) became (with vowel pointing) יְרוּשָׁלַםִ (yerûšâlami), that is, Jerusalem.

Messiah/Christ

From Hebrew, mashiach/Greek, christos. Both mean “anointed.” In the Old Testament three groups of officials were anointed when they were appointed to their office: kings, priests, and prophets. During the Second Temple period, this term came to refer to an eschatological (end times) figure who would bring about the restoration of Israel and inaugurate the kingdom of God on earth.

Mishah

From Hebrew, shanah (repeat). It is the first major rabbinic document, edited ca. 200 CE. It is a compilation of oral traditions that are organized by themes. It is the basis for the Jerusalem/Palestinian Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud.

N-R

Nevi’im

From Hebrew meaning “prophets.” It is the second major section of the Tanakh, between the Torah and the Ketuvim. The list of prophetic books is not completely identical to those books considered prophetic in the Christian Old Testament.

NIV

New International Version of the Bible. One of the most popular versions among Protestant Christians.

NRSV

New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. Most accepted version by academics.

NT = New Testament

OT = Old Testament

Passover

From Hebrew, pasach. The major Jewish spring festival which commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, lasting seven or eight days, starting on the 15th day of Nisan. Passover 2021 begins March 27 and ends on April 4.

Pentateuch

From Greek, pentateuchos (five scrolls). The scholarly name of the first five books of the Bible, which is equivalent to the Torah in the Tanakh: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

Persian Period

The period that the Persian empire ruled the ancient Near East, including Palestine, from 539 BCE, when they defeated Babylon, to 333 BCE, when the Greeks defeated them.

Pharisees

Possibly from Hebrew, parash (separate). One of the three major sects of Second Temple period Judaism. They were concerned with the strict interpretation and application of Jewish law. After the destruction of the temple in 70 CE, their teachings proved foundational to the formation of rabbinic Judaism.

Philo

A Jewish Hellenistic philosopher from Alexandria, Egypt. He lived from 20 BCE to 50 CE. He was a prolific author who is best known for his allegorical interpretation of the Jewish scriptures, through which he attempted to integrate his ancestral traditions with Hellenistic philosophy.

Pseudepigrapha

From Greek, pseudepigraphos (false writing). This encompasses the diverse Jewish and Christian books that are not part of the Old Testament, the Septuagint or the New Testament. Most are attributed to ancient figures of the biblical past, thus are considered “falsely attributed writings.”

Qumram

Qumran is the Arabic name for an ancient site located on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, the home of a Jewish sect (possibly Essenes) that left us the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Rabbi

Aramaic meaning “my great one” or “my teacher.” Rabbinic Judaism did not exist until the end of the 2nd c. CE, so a rabbi in the 1st c. CE, had no official standing.

Rabbinic Judaism

After the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 CE, a form of Judaism gradually developed that focused on daily prayer, Torah study, and services in the synagogue. The rabbis eventually produced several texts that are foundational to this day, most notably, the Mishnah and the Talmud.

Roman Period

This period began in 63 BCE when the Roman general Pompey captured Jerusalem.

S-Z

Sabbath

From Hebrew, shabbat (cease, rest). The Sabbath day begins at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday.

Sadducees

Possibly from Hebrew, zaddiq (righteousness). A Jewish sect that existed from the 2nd c. BCE to the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. According to Josephus, the Sadducees came from the upper social class of Judean society. They rejected the Pharisees’ belief in the resurrection.

Samaria/Samaritans

These are the descendants of the population of Samaria in northern Israel after the Assyrian invasion and capture of the region in 722 BCE. The Assyrians deported many of the inhabitants and transplanted a significant Gentile population. Upon return from the exile, the Judeans regarded the inhabitants of Samaria as foreigners. The Samaritans worshiped on Mount Gerezim and accepted only the Torah as God’s authoritative word.

Satan

From Hebrew, satan (adversary, accuser). In the OT, a heavenly figure subordinate to God. By the time of the NT, this figure had become a supernatural being opposed to God.

Scripture

From Latin, scriptura (a writing). A biblical passage or a book that is considered to be inspired and, thus, authoritative. It is anachronistic to speak of a Bible during biblical times. The Jews of the 2nd Temple period (including Jesus and his apostles) did not have a “Bible” but rather held the books of the Torah, the Prophets and some of the Writings as Scripture.

Second Temple Period

The second temple was completed in 515 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. This was a period in which Judaism evolved significant as is evidenced by the Jewish writings of the period and the formation of various sects, such as the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, etc.

Septuagint

From Latin, septuaginta (seventy). Also referred to as LXX (Roman numeral = 70). It is comprised of the earliest Greek translations of the Jewish Scriptures which began in the 3rd c. BCE. It contains some books not included in the Tanakh or Protestant OT which are known as the Apocrypha. The LXX was “the Bible” of the early Christians.

Shema

From Hebrew, shema (hear!). It is the name of a prayer that faithful Jews are instructed to recite twice daily. The prayer consists of Deuteronomy 6:4–9, 11:13–24 and Numbers 15:37–41.

Son of Man

From Hebrew, ben adam (literally “son of man” meaning mortal or human). In Psalm 8 and the book of Ezekiel, the reference is to a human being. However, in Daniel 7:13–14, the equivalent Aramaic phrase, bar enosh, refers to a heavenly being. In the NT, the term was used as a messianic title.

Synagogue

From Greek, synagoge (a bringing together, assembly). The term us used in the NT to refer to a building dedicated to the assembly of Jews for prayer and Torah study. As well, synagogue refers to the community of Jews in a geographic community who meet together.

Synoptic Gospels

From Greek, synopsis (seeing together). Matthew, Mark and Luke are known as the Synoptic Gospels or simply the Synoptics because they tell many of the same stories about Jesus, often in the same order and in almost identical wording. The Gospel of John, however, stands in contrast to the Synoptics.

Talmud

From Hebrew, lamad (study, learning). There are two Talmuds. The earlier one is known as the Palestinian Talmud (ca. 400 CE) and the later, as the Babylonian Talmud (ca. 500 CE). They both include comments on, and additions to, the Mishnah (ca. 200 CE). 

Tetragrammaton (YHWH)

From Greek, tetragrammaton (four letters). The name of God in the OT, consisting of four Hebrew letters: yod, heh, vav, heh), and is most often rendered as “the LORD” in English translations. Observant Jews do not pronounce the name. The etymology of the Hebrew word is unknown but is closest to a form of the Hebrew verb which means “to be, to exist, to come to pass.”

Torah

From Hebrew, torah (instruction, teaching). It refers broadly to any instruction, teaching (as in Proverbs 1:8) or to legal rulings (as in Deuteronomy 17:11). However, more commonly it refers to the first division of the Tanakh, also called the Pentateuch.

YHWH = Yahweh

sometimes translated as “Jehovah” but mostly as “the LORD” in English translations.