Wednesday, December 28, 2011

People of Writing

Writing was an exquisite skill that required years of studies. Egyptian, Syrian and Mesopotamian scribes were highly trained professionals who had to know more than ten thousand signs to be able to read and write effectively. Often they were also artisans, skilled in art and making jewellery.

Moses the Stupido?
And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house and on thy gates.
Deut  6:9

I mean, what is wrong with that guy?

The mezuzah command requires that you know to write.

And now this ex-shepherd goes and tells common people to write something to their houses and gates they build once settled in the Holy Land?

Does Mr xxx-mss not know that writing is a rare skill demanding academic training?
(mss is Egyptian for "giving birth" usually combined with some divinity, Ra-mss, Tut-mss that is missing from his name, moshe).

Of course, you can command a ram to fly but it does not necessarily obey you even if it wanted to - and kicking it off the cliff does not help either.

Impossible command from Moses the Stupido in Late Bronze world?

Not so fast!
Well, the Jews are often called People of the Book - for several very good reasons.

But not everyone knows that they are also People of the Writing!

They invented writing with letters.

For using an alphabet to write only the consonants (and some vowels) greatly simplifies writing. (Greatly is an understatement)

Instead of thousands of symbols that are difficult to remember or to write on some special material like papyrus or clay you only need to know less than thirty easy symbols you can easily scratch on your door with something sharp.


Why alpha and bet?

Greek alfa and beta... okay


Why Greek alfa and beta?

Hebrew/Phoenician aleph bet.


The People of God invented alphabet in Sinai (Proto-Sinaitic script, simplified Egyptian) and were able to read and write long before other people (except for the simplified Ugarit of the Canaanites).

These letters in English alphabet you are reading derive from that invention and so does Greek and Arabic and Cyrillic.

Are you serious?


A specimen of Proto-Sinaitic script containing a phrase which may mean 'to Ba'alat'. 
The line running from the upper left to lower right may read mt l bclt. 


Early Semitic alphabets

The first pure alphabets (properly, "abjads", mapping single symbols to single phonemes, but not necessarily each phoneme to a symbol) emerged around 1800 BC in Ancient Egypt, as a representation of language developed by Semitic workers in Egypt, but by then alphabetic principles had a slight possibility of being inculcated into Egyptian hieroglyphs for upwards of a millennium. These early abjads remained of marginal importance for several centuries, and it is only towards the end of the Bronze Age that the Proto-Sinaitic script splits into the Proto-Canaanite alphabet (ca. 1400 BC) Byblos syllabary and the South Arabian alphabet (ca. 1200 BC). The Proto-Canaanite was probably somehow influenced by the undeciphered Byblos syllabary and in turn inspired the Ugaritic alphabet (ca. 1300 BC).


"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.

And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

And these words which I command thee this day shall be in thine heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down and when thou risest up.

And thou shalt bind them as a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.

And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house and on thy gates."
Deut 6:4-9

"And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto my commandments which I command you this day, to love the LORD your God and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul,
that `I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn and thy wine and thine oil. And I will send grass in thy fields for thy cattle, that thou mayest eat and be full.'
Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; and then the LORD'S wrath be kindled against you, and He shut up the heaven, that there be no rain and that the land yield not her fruit, and lest ye perish quickly from off the good land which the LORD giveth you.
"Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes. And ye shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down and when thou risest up.
And thou shalt write them upon the doorposts of thine house and upon thy gates, that your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in the land which the LORD swore unto your fathers to give them, as the days of heaven upon the earth."
Deut 11:13-21 KJ21

Invention of writing

For quite long time no human living on this planet knew how to write.

Traditions, cultural heritage, stories were oral passed from generation to generation by telling, teaching, showing and everything relied on remembering things. We can guess that the elderly with good memory has and had much respect in the society before the invention of writing and archived data banks. They were the walking and talking libraries!

With the traditional knowledge came probably also other aspects of respect to those who were in the know and remembered and had been given the important things to keep and remember and teach. Wise men and women, those who know the laws of old and those who were able to tell about the past wars and victories and birth of gods and things.

Neolithic Tokens
Apparently the need to keep count of things was crucial in the earliest stage of humanity learning to write. This process is best known from the Near East Neolithic were the people began to use tokens to make it easier to remember the number of sheep that belongs to this family or that tribe or this shepherd.

Invention of writing
The honour for being the first people to write things up on this earth currently goes to the Sumerians.

Second price goes to pre-dynastic Egyptians.

Whether early cuneiform and early hieroglyphs are related is a matter for discussion. Some claim that they came from Persian Gulf in those boats around the Arabian Peninsula and reached Nile at Qoptos walking along that long wadi in Upper Egypt.(qupt, Copt, Pharaonic Egyptian).

Both the cuneiform system of Sumerian/Akkadian/Babylonian and the Egyptian hieroglyphs, earliest known writing systems, are based on a combination of symbol types - there are symbols for sounds, syllables and things, numbers and concepts.

Cuneiform symbols were pressed by sharp stylus on clay and once the clay tablet was burned in the oven it became eternal document, literally written in stone. The symbols are highly abstract but may have originally depicted things. The symbolism is not easy to understand, however, and the distance from realistic pictures somewhat resembles oriental systems of writing such as, for example, Chinese.

Hieroglyphs were so called by the Greeks who saw them as sacred (hieros) images (glyphs). And images they are, lovely, highly detailed miniature art of life in the Nile Valley during the Pharaonic period. Since such art is slow it was simplified to more symbolic hieratic that only hinted at those images and finally degenerated to demotic in the late period.

The other writing systems, for example Chinese or Indian, are independent invention not related to the ancient Near Eastern systems.

Writing systems were preceded by proto-writing, systems of ideographic and/or early mnemonic symbols.

The best known examples are:
  • Near Eastern Neolithic tokens, ca. 7000 BC
  • Jiahu symbols, carved on tortoise shells in Jiahu, ca. 6600 BC 
  • Vinča signs (Tărtăria tablets), ca. 5300 BC 
  • Early Indus script, ca. 3500 BC 
The invention of the first writing systems is roughly contemporary with the beginning of the Bronze Age of the late 4th millennium BC.

The Sumerian archaic cuneiform script and the Egyptian hieroglyphs are generally considered the earliest writing systems, both emerging out of their ancestral proto-literate symbol systems from 3400–3200 BC with earliest coherent texts from about 2600 BC.

It is generally agreed that Sumerian writing was an independent invention; however, it is debated whether Egyptian writing was developed completely independently of Sumerian, or was a case of cultural diffusion.

A similar debate exists for the Chinese script, which developed around 1200 BC.

The pre-Columbian Mesoamerican writing systems (including among others Olmec and Maya scripts) are generally believed to have had independent origins.

wikipedia (quote edited by me)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Amazing Fnnish dynamic vocabulary

The Finnish language is in many ways quite unique among the thousands of human languages. For one, it gives the speaker the unusual ability to invent entirely new words! Other Finnish speakers recognize the word and understand it even-though they have never heard the word before.

This dynamic ability to create new vocabulary must be located in some sort of "correct language" module in the language section of the Finnish brain. The "module" - or whatever it is - makes for the speaker and listener the crucial distinction between right and wrong usage also in cases where both the consonants and vowels are very similar and the structures would look grammatically exactly similar to some computer algorithm.


My wild guess was that nobody really knows.

But then again, the American linguist Avram Noam Chomsky (born 1928) might be offended by such ignorance about his revolutionary work with deep linguistics. Or with recent advances in Cognitive linguistics.

Special language identification module in brains?
The ability to create new valid words and to distinguish between incorrect and correct usages is definitely not a simple logical process that can be easily explained by some brain wiring and hormones. No, it is a mysterious and highly complicated linguistic instinct that is beyond the knowledge of modern sciences.

A practical Finn caring for his or her language may ask for confirmation for some spelling or grammatical form from Kielitoimisto (the official language guardian of Finnish) which usually answers politely and occasionally adds new words to the official list of Finnish words (three new ones this December).

Learned instinct
There is something automatic, built-in, and instinctive in the language control package that Finnish babies probably get along with their mother's milk when first learning to say isi (or äiti). Later the kids learn the horribly complicated theoretical grammar of Finnish in school - äidinkieli (mother tongue) is for many one of the most difficult subjects in the school curriculum even they speak the language fluently.

Accordingly, the correct grammar and spelling rules are not in the beginning. Instead, the beginning is some individual/social language instinct giving rights and wrongs for exactly that language. Writing the language comes later as do the grammarians explaining the rules formally.

For example, Finnish was spoken long before it was written. The oral stage precedes by probably more than two thousand years the birth of written Finnish language. Bishop Mikael Agricola (1510-1557) wrote and published the first Abckiria 1543 and translated the Se Usi Testamenti in 1548. (Yes, you guessed right, the first book in Finnish was an ABC book followed by the New Testament.)

Examples of linguistic recognition
Two words, only the final o is different:

A native Finnish speaker gets immediately their meaning and knows that the two very similar looking words are not at all related.

Tuomi is the deciduous Bird Cherry or Hackberry (Prunus padus)
Tuomio is judgment or sentence.

Google translator gives for tuoksuva tuomi the logical translation fragrant sentenced trying to guess what is Tuomi. That machine would definitely not pass the Turing test!

If we add to tuomio (judgement) the active -ri ending (Finnish is agglunative language, meanings are modified by adding things to the end instead of indo-european prepositions) we need to modify the io to a (that is what our brain tells us) and so we get the pair of words.

It is immediately clear to a native Finnish speaker that those two words distinguished only by the final io > a-ri change are directly related.

Tuomio is a judgment, tuomari is a person who judges, a judge.

Similarly, the following words with initial K instead of T have only the final o difference:

Every normal Finn knows the meaning of kuoli - he or she died. (The Finnish language has no masculine or feminine or neutral like he or sheder,die, das - all people are equal!)

Similarly, the hypothetical language module in the brain tells every normal Finn that kuolio is a word for dead organ tissue and probably brings to Finnish mind those yellowish frozen toes caused by being too long in snow, gangrene.

Let us do that same the -ri ending thing with the io to a change

Everything looks okay, no Jose?

And yet, Finnish brain module says immediately "Sorry, Madam, Sir, there is no such word in Finnish language as kuolari."

Even if you wanted to invent dynamic vocabulary and suggest "kuolari" your native Finn friend hearing that word would consider it a mistake and nonsensical.


Nobody really knows but much work is being done on the subject as it is so crucial for understanding human languages.

The kind Finnish brain would be helpful and suggest right away alternative words working like a MS Word spellchecker searching for something that sounds similar - perhaps the foreigner saying kuolari was trying to say kolari (car crash) or kuolaaja (drooler) which are both valid words according to the "correct language" module in the brain.

Yet another example to prove the point
Tuomari Nurmio  - well known pop star,  Hannu Juhani Nurmio, perfectly valid language io ending name.
Tuomo Nurmari  - immediately rejected as nonsense and laughed at as something funny even by young Finnish children just learning their mother tongue.

For you, dear non-Finnish reader, both word pairs probably look as good or as strange as you wish. Or wihs, whatever...

Note, for example, that there are researches in Helsinki University Department of Cognitive sciences who are currently actively studying generative linguistics and looking also at the language development of  little babies.

What a nice subject!

Recognizing native speakers

Native English speakers can easily notice that this blogger was not born in Oxford.


Well, that is another BIG question - from where comes our instant ability to recognize incorrect usages, bad choices of words, mistakes in spelling and pronunciation, wrong structures of sentences (sic!)... ability that works sub-second and without any active effort from the native speaker's side.

Like smelling the good flower or cheese - native Britons instinctively recognize Oxford English from Edinburgh Scottish - to to mention Wales - and they immediately know when the speaker is a Yankee or an Aussi rather than from ye good ol' Brittany.

The Bible tells about a case where the difference between pronunciations in two dialects of Hebrew was not that clear. It was that s that decided between life and death!

Then Jephthah gathered together all the men of Gilead and fought with Ephraim; and the men of Gilead smote Ephraim, because they said, "Ye Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites and among the Manassites."

And the Gileadites seized the passages of the Jordan before the Ephraimites; and it was so, that when those Ephraimites who had escaped said, "Let me go over," that the men of Gilead said unto him, "Art thou an Ephraimite?" If he said, "Nay,"

then said they unto him, "Say now Shibboleth." And he said "Sibboleth," for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him and slew him at the passages of the Jordan; and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand.
Judges 12:4-6 KJ21



Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication.

The English word derives ultimately from Latin lingua, "language, tongue", via Old French. When used as a general concept, "language" refers to the cognitive faculty that enables humans to learn and use systems of complex communication.

The approximately 3000–6000 languages that are spoken by humans today are the most salient examples, but natural languages can also be based on visual rather than auditory stimuli, for example in sign languages and written language.

Codes and other kinds of artificially constructed communication systems such as those used for computer programming can also be called languages. A language in this sense is a system of signs for encoding and decoding information.

The scientific study of language in any of its senses is called linguistics.

Communication system
Language as a communication system is thought to be fundamentally different from and of much higher complexity than those of other species as it is based on a complex system of rules relating symbols to their meanings, resulting in an infinite number of possible innovative utterances from a finite number of elements.

Language is thought to have originated when early hominids first started cooperating, adapting earlier systems of communication based on expressive signs to include a theory of other minds and shared intentionality. This development is thought to have coincided with an increase in brain volume, and many linguists see the structures of language as having evolved to serve specific communicative functions.

Brain area
Language is processed in many different locations in the human brain, but especially in Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas.

Learning to speak
Humans acquire language through social interaction in early childhood, and children generally speak fluently when they are around three years old.

Language and culture
The use of language has become deeply entrenched in human culture and, apart from being used to communicate and share information, it also has social and cultural uses, such as signifying group identity, social stratification and for social grooming and entertainment.

The word "language" can also be used to describe the set of rules that makes this possible, or the set of utterances that can be produced from those rules.

All languages rely on the process of semiosis to relate a sign with a particular meaning.

Spoken and signed languages contain a phonological system that governs how sounds or visual symbols are used to form sequences known as words or morphemes, and a syntactic system that governs how words and morphemes are used to form phrases and utterances.

Written languages use visual symbols to represent the sounds of the spoken languages, but they still require syntactic rules that govern the production of meaning from sequences of words.

Language families

Languages evolve and diversify over time, and the history of their evolution can be reconstructed by comparing modern languages to determine which traits their ancestral languages must have had for the later stages to have occurred.

A group of languages that descend from a common ancestor is known as a language family.

The languages that are most spoken in the world today belong to

  • the Indo-European family, which includes languages such as English, Spanish, Russian and Hindi;
  • the Sino-Tibetan languages, which include Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese and many others;
  • Semitic languages, which include Arabic, Amharic and Hebrew; and
  • the Bantu languages, which include Swahili, Zulu,Shona and hundreds of other languages spoken throughout Africa.

wikipedia (intro, slightly modified. Read the entire article!)


Linguistics is the scientific study of human language.

Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context.

The first is the study of language structure, or grammar. This focuses on the system of rules followed by the speakers (or hearers) of a language. It encompasses morphology (the formation and composition of words), syntax (the formation and composition of phrases and sentences from these words), and phonology (sound systems). Phonetics is a related branch of linguistics concerned with the actual properties of speech sounds and nonspeech sounds, and how they are produced and perceived.

The study of language meaning is concerned with how languages employ logical structures and real-world references to convey, process, and assign meaning, as well as to manage and resolve ambiguity. This subfield encompasses semantics (how meaning is inferred from words and concepts) and pragmatics (how meaning is inferred from context).

Language in its broader context includes evolutionary linguistics, which considers the origins of language; historical linguistics, which explores language change; sociolinguistics, which looks at the relation between linguistic variation and social structures; psycholinguistics, which explores the representation and function of language in the mind; neurolinguistics, which looks at language processing in the brain; language acquisition, how children or adults acquire language; and discourse analysis, which involves the structure of texts and conversations.

Although linguistics is the scientific study of language, a number of other intellectual disciplines are relevant to language and intersect with it. Semiotics, for example, is the general study of signs and symbols both within language and without. Literary theorists study the use of language in literature. Linguistics additionally draws on and informs work from such diverse fields as psychology, speech-language pathology, informatics, computer science, philosophy, biology, human anatomy, neuroscience, sociology, anthropology, and acoustics.
wikipedia (intro, read the entire article!)

Words and meanings

Words open worlds.

Words make sense in sentences that can be as short as a single word or as long as a paragraph in a German scientific journal.

The world of words is very deep and wide- amazingly so. Consider, for example, these three fellows and their followers:

Peirce's Semiotics analyse signs and significations in the broadest sense of the words.
Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) is counted among the most significant American Philosophers of all times.

de Saussure's Semiotics analyse words, significations and underlying meanings.
Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913 ) is considered the founding father of modern linguistics and structuralism.

Logical positivism discusses meaningful and meaningless use of language
Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (1889-1951) is counted among the most significant Philosophers of 20th century.

Words open worlds.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Canonity of holy Books

Each Religion of the Book defines its own canon - the Scripture(s) that are considered genuinely holy for that religion and canonical or "according to the measure" set in often quite complex historical processes.

The formation of Tanakh, Torah, Nebiim, Ktuvim (Five books of Moses, Prophets, Writings) culminated after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD.  After the loss of the central institution it was important to have a clear set of canonical holy books written in Hebrew and partly in Aramaic. Traditionally it has been understood that the final decision was made by leading rabbis gathering in the coastal city of Yavneh (south of modern Tel Aviv) at about 90 AD.

The rabbis established the fundamental principle for distinguishing canonical books by stating that the Holy Spirit inspired the writings until the Persian period. Books written after that period such as the Hellenistic Maccabean Books were left outside.

The Masoretic text tradition was given priority. A good example of the canonical Tanakh is the Ben Ashera school Bible, Codex Leningradiensis, dated to the 10th century AD.

The Hellenistic translation of the Bible into Greek by Alexandrian Jews in the 2nd century BC has received an almost canonical position within Judaism and there is a holy tradition of the Seventy or Septuagint (LXX) who were inspired in the work of translation by the Holy Ghost.

In addition to the Bible especially the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds collected during the Byzantine period have since reached practical canonical status in post-temple Judaism and are today considered definite interpretations of Tanakh and the divine will expressed in the Torah.

The development of Christian Biblical canon took several centuries during the Byzantine period. A number of the books today found in the New Testament had to fight for their accepted position while some early candidates were eventually left out from it.

The complicated history of the Christian Bible can be studied from various sources. The lengthy process can be examined by looking what books were included in the early manuscripts containing the entire Bible such as the famed Codex Sinaiticus. References to authoritative texts by Church fathers is another indication including the controversial Marcion's canon that rejected Old Testament. There are also early listings of accepted books and letters such as the Muratorian fragment from the third century AD.

Christians eventually accepted the Hebrew and Aramaic Tanakh as the Old Testament or covenant and respect it as a divinely inspired holy book. In addition to it there is a group of Greek texts written in the classical Roman period, Four Gospels, Acts of Apostles, a number of letters to early congregations and the Revelation of John.

Very soon churches began to create local translations of the entire Bible or parts of it. Some of these translations have received almost canonical status in the respective churches like, for example, the early 5th century Latin translation Vulgata in the Western church.

Biblical Canon
A biblical canon, or canon of scripture, is a list of books considered to be authoritative as scripture by a particular religious community. The word "canon" comes from the Greek "κανών", meaning "rule" or "measuring stick". The term was first coined by Christians, but the idea is found in Jewish sources. The internal wording of the text can also be specified, for example the Masoretic Text is the canonical text for Judaism.

The canons listed below are usually considered "closed" (i.e., books cannot be added or removed), reflecting a belief that public revelation has ended and thus the inspired texts may be gathered into a complete and authoritative canon. By contrast, an "open canon" permits the addition of books through the process of continuous revelation.

These canonical books have been developed through debate and agreement by the religious authorities of their respective faiths. Believers consider these canonical books to be inspired by God or to express the authoritative history of the relationship between God and His people. Books, such as the Jewish-Christian Gospels, excluded from the canon are considered non-canonical, but many disputed books considered non-canonical or even apocryphal by some are considered Biblical apocrypha or Deuterocanonical or fully canonical by others. There are differences between the Jewish and Christian Biblical canons, and between the canons of different Christian denominations. The differing criteria and processes of canonization dictate what the communities regard as the inspired books.

Because of theological reasons explaining the origins of the Quran to the believer the accepted text is considered a self-evident standard and firmly dated to the revelation that happened in the Byzantine period Arabian peninsula.

According to the religion of Islam prophet Muhammad received Quran in a miraculous way. Angel Gabriel read it to him from the original Quran that exists in heaven and is written on tables in golden letters. The divine words of the revelation are without error in the original Quran that is written in classical Arabic language. 

Because of Quran the Byzantine era classical Arabic is the unifying language for all Muslims in the world. Many translations of the holy Book do exist but none of them have the canonical status of the Arabic original.

The Quran
The Quran literally meaning "the recitation"), also transliterated Qur'an, Koran, Alcoran, Qur’ān, Coran, Kuran, and al-Qur’ān, is the central religious text of Islam, which Muslims consider the verbatim word of God  (Arabic: الله‎, Allah). It is regarded widely as the finest piece of literature in the Arabic language. The Quran is divided into 114 suras of unequal length which are classified either as Meccan or Medinan depending upon their place and time of revelation.


Muslims believe the Quran to be verbally revealed through angel Jibrīl (Gabriel) from God to Muhammad gradually over a period of approximately 23 years beginning in 610 CE, when Muhammad was 40, and concluding in 632 CE, the year of his death.

Canonical text

Shortly after Muhammad's death the Quran was compiled into a single book by order of the first Caliph Abu Bakr and at the suggestion of his future successor Umar. Hafsa, Muhammad's widow and Umar's daughter, was entrusted with that Quranic text after the second Caliph Umar died.

When the third Caliph Uthman began noticing slight differences in Arabic dialect, he sought Hafsa's permission to use her text to be set as the standard dialect, the Quraish dialect now known as Fus'ha (Modern Standard Arabic). Before returning the text to Hafsa, Uthman made several thousand copies of Abu Bakr's redaction and, to standardize the text, invalidated all other versions of the Quran. This process of formalization is known as the "Uthmanic recension".

The present form of the Quran text is accepted by most scholars as the original version compiled by Abu Bakr.

Biblical heritage

Muslims regard the Quran as the main miracle of Muhammad, the proof of his prophethood and the culmination of a series of divine messages that started with the messages revealed to Adam, regarded in Islam as the first prophet, and continued with the Suhuf Ibrahim (Scrolls of Abraham), the Tawrat (Torah or Pentateuch) of Moses, the Zabur (Tehillim or Book of Psalms) of David, and the Injil (Gospel) of Jesus.

The Quran assumes familiarity with major narratives recounted in Jewish and Christian scriptures, summarizing some, dwelling at length on others and in some cases presenting alternative accounts and interpretations of events. The Quran describes itself as a book of guidance, sometimes offering detailed accounts of specific historical events, and often emphasizing the moral significance of an event over its narrative sequence. 

The 19th century religion of Mormons has a holy tradition somewhat resembling that of Islam: it is believed that their prophet, Joseph Smith Jr. (1805-1844), received copy of the golden original of the Book of Mormon from a place shown to him by an angel.

The Book of Mormon is a highly North American text - it continues the ancient history of Israel by following a group of Jews who left the Promised Land and sailed across the Atlantic to establish a community in the New continent.

Since the holy book of Mormons is so recent and written in a short period of time there is an undisputed canonical version of it revered as a holy Book along the holy Bible by the believers.

The Book of Mormon is a sacred text of the Latter Day Saint movement that adherents believe contains writings of ancient prophets who lived on the American continent from approximately 2600 BC to AD 421. It was first published in March 1830 by Joseph Smith, Jr. as The Book of Mormon: An Account Written by the Hand of Mormon upon Plates Taken from the Plates of Nephi.

According to Smith's account, and also according to the book's narrative, the Book of Mormon was originally written in otherwise unknown characters referred to as "reformed Egyptian" engraved on golden plates. Smith claimed that the last prophet to contribute to the book, a man named Moroni, buried it in a hill in present-day New York and then returned to earth in 1827 as an angel, revealing the location of the book to Smith and instructing him to translate and disseminate it as evidence of the restoration of Christ's true church in the latter days.

Relationship of Religions of Book

In today's world there are several significant Religions of the Book. It is very important to realize that these are not independent systems but exist in an organic historical relationship that can be expressed as a tree.  While the analysis in the table is not in any way exhaustive it still gives the basic idea how setting the holy Books in chronological perspective reveals the relationships between them.

PeriodReligionHoly BookHoly Book
Bronze AgeJudaismTanakh Talmud
Classical Roman periodChristianityJewish holy books Tanach and ApocryphaNew Testament
Byzantine periodIslamJewish and Christian holy Books (Old and New Testament)Koran
19th centuryMormonsJewish and Christian holy books (Old and New Testament)Book of Mormon

The same idea can be visualized by drawing a tree where the branches cannot really be understood without the preceding stages. The topmost Book is the defining one that sets the religion apart from the others in the tree.

Power of the Book

The centrality of a Book in a religion seems to be a powerful factor both in the distribution of the religion and also in its survival through the ages. After all, Judaism, the mother of all religions of Book, is among the oldest religions still active today and a quite vigorous and influential faith system.

Book is a powerful thing. There is an old Aramaic saying "sifra saif" - the book is a sword.

Probably there are many scientific studies about the psychological and sociological power of the book. But even without such research we know from our own experience how near the book brings the contents to a person who knows to read the writing and understands the language.

For example, today we can watch a movie that is based on a book. The relationship between Lord of the Rings or Harry Pottery books and movies is complicated and the effect different. Perhaps we can see that the book is somehow more powerful despite of all the special effects as it lets the mind to build those effects for the reader. Anyway, the experiences are different and both the book and the movie are often of interest to the audience. The experiences are not mutually exclusive but seeing the movie twice is not the same as reading the book twice!

In comparison to other faith systems religions of the Book have a strongly unifying factor, the Book, that crosses the borders of time, geography, nationality and culture and adapts to new environments and languages with translations and teaching.

This, of course, depends also on the character of the religion - Judaism is very inclusive religion and defines Jewish person, nation and culture, now also a modern country, "Jewish state". 

Christianity and Islam are universal reaching for all people upon the Earth to spread the message found in the holy Book.

Statistics on Religions of Book

The world of religions is amazingly rich and complex.

One way to bring some order to this multitude of faith systems, rituals, traditions and experiences is to define the Religion of Book as distinct from other types of religions.

The Religion of Book is dominated by holy scriptures that are binding the whole together.

There are holy books in almost every religion, for example the Veda literature in Hinduism or Avesta in Zoroastrianism. However, the unparalleled significance given to holy scriptures in the religions listed above (and others similar to them) into a category of their own.
Religions of Book include the largest religions in the world. According to one estimate

  1. Christianity: 2.1 billion
  2. Islam: 1.5 billion
  3. Secular/Nonreligious/Agnostic/Atheist: 1.1 billion
  4. Hinduism: 900 million
  5. Chinese traditional religion: 394 million
  6. Buddhism: 376 million
  7. primal-indigenous: 300 million
  8. African Traditional & Diasporic: 100 million
  9. Sikhism: 23 million
  10. Juche: 19 million
  11. Spiritism: 15 million
  12. Judaism: 14 million
  13. Baha'i: 7 million
  14. Jainism: 4.2 million
  15. Shinto: 4 million
  16. Cao Dai: 4 million
  17. Zoroastrianism: 2.6 million
  18. Tenrikyo: 2 million
  19. Neo-Paganism: 1 million
  20. Unitarian-Universalism: 800 thousand
  21. Rastafarianism: 600 thousand
  22. Scientology: 500 thousand

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Prolegomena and prayer

Bible is a book unlike any other book ever written by humanity. But what it is?

The fundamental idea behind the concept of Christology of the Word of God comes from the magnificent opening verses of the Gospel of John

    εν αρχη ην ο λογος και ο λογος ην προς τον θεον και θεος ην ο λογος
    ουτος ην εν αρχη προς τον θεον
    παντα δι αυτου εγενετο και χωρις αυτου εγενετο ουδε εν ο γεγονεν
    εν αυτω ζωη ην και η ζωη ην το φως των ανθρωπων

   In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
   The same was in the beginning with God.
   All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.
   In Him was life, and that life was the Light of men.   John 1:1-4

Council of Chalcedon

The Church of Christ was strongly challenged by deacon Arius of Alexandria to define the Trinity. This was done in the Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea 325 and Constantinople 381. These enhanced the meaning of Creed or formal commonly agreed confession of faith within the Church especially in the rejection of false teachings and doctrines.

But if Jesus of Nazareth, the Jewish man born in Bethlehem, is a person in the holy Trinity and thus God, how does this work out in real life and logic?

Many ideas were presented by early church fathers, orthodox and heretic. Some ideas were variations of basic themes and some writings were totally off. Finally, after four centuries of intensive discussions and debates the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon decided for the Church what Orthodoxy thinks about this mystery. It was held from 8 October to 1 November, 451 AD in the ancient maritime city of Chalcedon located on the Asian side of Bosporus. Today the old city is the Kadıköy district of Istanbul.

Christology of the Word of God
Christology of the Word of God applies the teaching of Chalcedon to help us understand better our faith in the Word God.

In other words, Christology of the Word of God examines the significance of the Council of Chalcedon to Biblical hermeneutics. 

This subject is enormous, something like a Himalaja of Theology, and my prayer is that we could together humbly and with open ears wonder its valleys and peaks and walk together; that we would have open ears and eyes so that the Holy Spirit Himself would in His grace teach us more about the Truth, the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ - the Word of God.