Friday, December 09, 2005

Speculating about the Titulus

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In Thiede and d'Ancona's book The Quest for the True Cross, I came across a fascinating theory about the writer of the Titulus (the plaque on the cross) taken from clues in the Hebrew line. I recommend the book as a whole. It is an interesting investigation. Here is the account from pp. 105-106:

It is, at any rate, possible to advance a sensible theory about the nature of the Hebrew line. However, we still do not know the precise wording of the missing part. A fascinating solution was suggested by a Jewish scholar who has not seen the Titulus in Rome, but has worked on the basis of the Greek text in John 19:19. Shalom Ben-Chorin surmised that the following was the Hebrew line (and the letters which we reconstructed on the actual Titulus are in bold type): Yeshu HaNozri VeMelek HaYehudim. Translated, this means: Jesus the Nazorean and King of the Jews. Ben-Chorin does not explain the philological aspects of his suggestion: obviously, it is not a word-for-word translation of the Latin, which must have been the source language of Pilate's order. But we can accept it as a Hebrew rendering which makes considerable sense: first, name and identification, Jesus the Nazorean, with a normal definite article, Ha = the. Then, the legal causa poenae 'King of the Jews', both parts linked with a grammatically correct 'and' (Ve). Another definite article Ha was not needed before Melek ('King') - even less so as 'King of the Jews' or 'Rex ludaeorum' was the causa poenae taken from Latin, a language without definite articles. Why does Ben-Chorin think that this was the Hebrew text? Consciously or not, he argues, the scribe was offering a rendering that began each new word with highly charged letters. If, as he presumes, Yeshu, HaNozri, VeMelek and HaYehudim were understood as four groups of words, the initial letters were Yod, Heh, Vahv, Heh. And this was the Tetragram, the four letters of the holy, unpronounceable name of God: YHVH.

We could assume that the scribe did not know what he was doing. But we could just as easily assume that he did, if, as we speculated in the last chapter, he was one of those Jews who believed in Jesus. Any Jew who had heard Jesus say those decisive words, which contributed to his sentencing by the Sanhedrin and consequently to his death, 'I and the Father are One' and who believed these words, might easily be inspired to incorporate the Tetragram into the Hebrew line on the Titulus. Small wonder, in any case, that the chief priests protested vehemently. 'Do not write "The King of the Jews", but, "This man said, 'I am King of the Jews'" (John 19:21). Ben-Chorin suggests two possibilities: either they protested against the royal dignity bestowed, even if only ironically, upon Jesus by Pilate; or they protested because they recognized the profanation, as they would have seen it, of the Tetragram. Perhaps they did so for both reasons.

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