Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Delitzsch on Matthew 5:28

How much help can a translation of a translation be in studying the gospels?  Answer: plenty!  Here's the first of what could become a running series of examples.

Last week in a weekly Torah study I'm a part of, I mused (on the tenth commandment):
Is coveting your neighbor's wife necessarily the prelude to committing adultery? Is coveting your neighbor's donkey the prelude to stealing? If so, then is this last mitzvah a sort of "fence" around the previous mitzvot? If it is a fence, then why did Yeshua teach that 'anyone who looks on a woman lustfully commits adultery with her in his heart'--why didn't he simply refer to this as coveting? (Possible answer: adultery has a penalty of death, so it's considered a more severe transgression...thus he heightened his point by focusing on the mitzvah with the greater penalty.)
These thoughts were rather stream of consciousness, and afterwards I delved into a more detailed word study in both the Tanakh and the Apostolic Writings.  So imagine my surprise (and joy) when I discovered that I was wrong, and Yeshua actually DID use the word for coveting. Here's what I wrote back:
I was incorrect; Yeshua DOES use the word for coveting in relation to his statement about not lusting: "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman to COVET AFTER HER [my literal translation] has already committed adultery with her in his heart." [Compare the Greek text with Paul's lists of the commandments in Romans or Galatians.]  This verse seems to be universally translated as "to lust after" [See http://bible.cc/matthew/5-28.htm], with Young's literal translation being one notable exception.  By contrast, the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels explicitly highlight the presence of the word covet in the text: "whoever gazes at a woman to covet [footnote: desire] her..."
I am curious about the near-universal choice of "lust" here over "covet" in English translations: is there a strong linguistic basis for it or does it have more to do with the meanings of the English words "lust" and "covet" in our modern day? Or is it simply the profound literary influence of the masterful KJV translation?

In any case, I think this is one great example of how the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels can be highly effective in helping us to get to know the canonical Greek texts better, while simultaneously highlighting for us the fact that our English translations are just that: translations.

(Update: Rabbi Russ Resnik also draws this connection in his book Divine Reversal--see my comment below.)

10 comments:

dailyminyan said...

Yahnatan, going from a prolonged glance (in popular understanding) at an attractive member of the fair sex (something that frankly few normal men can avoid at all times) to an actual coveting makes a huge difference for our understanding of the severity of implications behind Yeshua's statement that this amounts to adultery. Thank you raising this point.

For me, even before this translation, I viewed the statement "to lust after" to mean "seriously considering/wanting to bed that woman", which is close enough to mean "coveting", I suppose.

Yahnatan said...

Gene,

Far be it from me to suggest that Yeshua's statement ought to be interpreted less stringently than it commonly is. In fact, it's tempting to suggest that, in our sex-saturated society, a more robust application of this teaching is desperately needed. However, I'm not really in a position to judge society at large, or in fact any other person, so I'll continue just focusing on myself via mussar, etc.

I'm also reminded that Yeshua introduced this set of teachings by saying that whoever looses even the least of the commandments will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. When it comes to interpretation/application, the stakes are high. I'm not a rabbi and certainly not a posek, so I'll defer to those who are to draw the applications of this great teaching.

That said, I do find the rulings of chazal instructive in this matter, even possibly as a practical how-to of Yeshua's command (when applied within the larger matrix of love of God and neighbor that undergirds all of Yeshua's ethical teaching). There's a great little mussar book on this subject called Windows to the Soul by R. Zvi Miller, one section of which lays out the four laws of shmirat einayim as found in the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch. It can be viewed for free online at the GuardUrEyes website (scroll down to entry 12). This blog post from A Simple Jew also contains some relevant thoughts.

One caveat: I do think there's a difference between keeping the mitzvah of shmirat einayim and pushing all the responsibilities therein onto women. Modesty is a Jewish value, but so is respecting the tzelem Elohim. Troubling excesses in this area are tearing apart Israel right now; I see those as perversions of this great mitzvah which detract from its true purpose, which aims ultimately to get at the heart.

mymorningmeditations.com said...

First of all, how cool. This is another example (for me, anyway) of how a the traditional understanding of this teaching has been sort of "watered down" over the years and disconnected from the link to the source Jesus was using (the Torah). I hope Boaz has seen this blog (then again, maybe not since you published it extremely early this morning) and if not, perhaps you could email him the link.

I do think there's a difference between keeping the mitzvah of shmirat einayim and pushing all the responsibilities therein onto women. Modesty is a Jewish value, but so is respecting the tzelem Elohim. Troubling excesses in this area are tearing apart Israel right now; I see those as perversions of this great mitzvah which detract from its true purpose, which aims ultimately to get at the heart.

I agree. We see disturbing extremes in some parts of the Jewish world and of course, in Islam, where the woman is given practically 100% of the responsibility for preventing the man from having any sort of temptation to look whatsoever. That reduces men to the level of "sex-driven animals" who have no control over themselves and who must rely on women to do the "controlling". I don't think that's what Moses and Jesus were teaching.

-James

Ari H. said...

I just want to say that i really appreciate your insights, and I would gladly welcome getting to know you better in the future...

-- Ari Hauben

Rabbi Joshua said...

Nice post!

The Drake said...

A little while ago I broke the sins in Matt. 5 into Torah commandments. I'm not sure what I did with the list though. "Lusting" was actually a "thought commandment" I connected to the 10th when I did, so it makes me feel extra tingly now that sharper minds than my own connected the same dots.

Yahnatan said...

Ari wrote:

> I would gladly welcome getting
> to know you better in the future...

Likewise. I would gladly welcome a facebook message!

Drake wrote:

> A little while ago I broke the sins in Matt. 5...

Drake, lol!

Yahnatan said...

Hey all, I vaguely recalled that maybe Rabbi Russ Resnik referenced this same translation of "covet" in Matthew 5 in his book Divine Reversal. Sure enough, he discusses the connection of Matthew 5:28 to coveting and references Israeli Bible teacher Joseph Shulam and Jewish New Testament scholar Darrell Bock, who support this translation as well.

Check out the full quote on p. 83.

The Drake said...

Oh man.

I meant to say "broke down" the sins. And that I lost the list.

THAT WAS AN EXTREME MALAPROPISM!

"I resemble that remark!" - Rodney Dangerfield

Jon said...

Drake, that definitely made me laugh.