Class Warfare Blog

August 4, 2020


When I read a great deal about a topic, I am always confronted with the “the more you know, the less you know” syndrome. This is actualy “the more you know, the more you discover there is to know” syndrome, but I also begin to wonder how must respect should be paid to those scholars I am reading.

Consider the following quote: “[The Gospel of John] is written in singularly poor Greek with a very limited vocabulary; the peculiarities of the Greek suggest that the writer was at least more at home in Aramaic. Hence it has been argued that, since the writer knows little Greek, he cannot have been influenced by Greek ideas.” (Some Hellenistic Elements in Primitive Christianity by Wilfred L. Knox, 1942)

“John” is the gospel that begins “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” The Greek word translated as “Word” here is logos, a concept from . . . wait for it . . . Greek philosophy.

Translating the Greek λόγος as “word” is a bit deceiving if not outright obfuscating. “Jesus is the word;” what the heck does that mean outside of Greek philosophy? Especially since logos is not used for a word in the grammatical sense; instead, the term lexis (λέξις, léxis) was used then.

Inside of Greek philosophy, logos was: a principle of order and knowledge, or reason, or wisdom, or explanation, or an argument from reason (Aristotle), or the active reason pervading and animating the Universe, or an intermediary divine being or demiurge (Philo of Alexandria), or the principle of meditation, and I assume, more things.

It seems to be logical that whoever wrote the gospel we call “John” in his execrable Greek, got his “logos” from Philo of Alexandra. Philo (c. 20 B.C.E.—40 C.E.) was a leading figure of the intellectual community surrounding Alexandria in Egypt, a hot spot in the development of Christianity. Philo was a Jew who wrote prodigiously (and note when he was alive) and his primary topic was . . . wait for it . . . wait . . . the harmonization of Hebrew scripture with Greek philosophy.

So, some scholars think that “since the writer (of “John”) knows little Greek, he cannot have been influenced by Greek ideas.” I don’t know how they support their ideas, but . . . understanding Greek aurally, or by reading is easier than knowing it so well that one can write well. It is perfectly possible for the author to have been exposed to ideas from Greek philosophy as the topic had been hot in the Jewish community for decades. Also, should we assume the writer was a lone wolf and had no organizational support behind him? This may be so, in that such support mostly came from the Jerusalem temple before, but the Jerusalem temple is no more at this point. (Plus I don’t know how much support one might have gotten from Jewish scribes when writing about Jesus.) Did the writer of “John” not have a colleague more learned in Greek who could check over his manuscript? What about all of the redactors, aka editors, who twiddled with every other part of the OT and NT? Did they leave his crudeness alone out of respect or were they just being passive-aggressive?

I wonder if the translators who thought the author of “John” had such bad Greek still felt comfortable translating logos as “word.”

Of course, my cartoon mind always gets the last word. What was rumbling in the background of my thoughts as I was finishing this was . . .

A-well-a ev’rybody’s heard about the bird
B-b-b-bird, b-birdd’s a word
A-well, a bird, bird, bird, bird is a word
A-well, a bird, bird, bird, well-a bird is a word
A-well, a bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s a word
A-well, a bird, bird, bird, well-a bird is a word
A-well, a bird, bird, b-bird is a word
A-well, a bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s a word
A-well, a bird, bird, bird, well-a bird is a word
A-well, a bird, bird, b-bird’s a word
A-well-a don’t you know about the bird?
Well, everybody knows that the bird is a word . . .
(Surfin’ Bird by The Trashmen)

But I was hearing “. . . a bird is the word . . .”


  1. I have “the more you know, the less you know” panic at least 3 times a month.


    Comment by The Pink Agendist — August 4, 2020 @ 5:03 pm | Reply

    • Well, at least you know now that you are normal! We tend to overemphasize the differences we feel exist between us and “them.” We know so little about other people, who are in a constant state of posturing in any case. (As a college professor I often said that “I get paid for appearing to know what I am talking about.”) Consequently we all think we are “different.” Our egos say “different in a superior way” and our fears say “different in a bad way.” I was clinically test to have an IQ of 142 … but I never felt “smart.” I always felt those other people were so much smarter than me.

      Such are the brains we have evolved. I now just laugh a lot at our foibles.

      Liked by 2 people

      Comment by Steve Ruis — August 5, 2020 @ 9:28 am | Reply

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