Another term, another round of biblical ignorance.
I was treated this morning to an email that asked my opinion of this link. Another pseudo-Bible “student” passing around the idea that the Bible names Barack Obama as the Antichrist. This monument to interpretive incoherence was the result of a viral YouTube video (and where else would we look for sound biblical scholarship than YouTube?) that first surfaced back in 2009. I blogged about it here on PaleoBabble. I’d invite new readers to have a look and then decide if they should laugh or cry.
Let me add one footnote to this tale of biblical illiteracy. Back in 2009 this “story” was birthed by World Net Daily (WND). Here is where that story lives. To their credit, WND published my rebuttal. However, that can only be found with Google or some other search engine. That is, WND buried it. Check out the original WND story link above — you won’t find my rebuttal linked on the story page (at least at the time of this post!), so WND readers would never know the whole idea is hermeneutical garbage. But there are plenty of other links surrounding the original article selling prophecy books of equal value. I’ve complained about the pseudo-archaeology pimps in the popular media on this blog plenty of times, but you all need to know that journalistic prostitution of the Bible for page views is alive and well, too.
Well, this isn’t exactly ancient, but I was sufficiently appalled at President Obama’s utterly clueless pronouncement that “Islam has always been part of America” in his speech last week on Ramadan that I felt it was worth an honorable mention. Okay, I know. This is an easy target. We ought not to expect any politician to have any grasp of anything that doesn’t result in filling their coffers with campaign funds or extracting more taxes from us. But we might expect the president to have a bit of a feel for American history.
Apparently the president got this gem of an insight from something called “The Collections and Stories of American Muslims,” the product of a non-profit organization. That organization makes the claim that Peter Salem, a former slave who fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill, must have been a Muslim since “Salem” bears an etymological resemblance to “Salaam,” the Arabic word for peace. Wonderful logic there — and that’s what put me over the edge to including this on PaleoBabble. It’s precisely the same sort of “sounds the same to my ear regardless of whether it has any linguistic – or in this case, historical – support” that far too many Christian “Bible researchers” use to prove this or that piece of paleobabble. And ditto that for the people who think Zeitgeist and Holy Blood, Holy Grail have any intellectual merit. Ridiculous.
Here’s a nice link to a short rebuttal of the comment.
Here’s a bit of information on Peter Salem. I also found several scholarly articles that mention him. This one is representative — see the footnote on page 10 — nothing is actually known about him. For all we know, “Salem” might have been a name given to him to denote where (geographically) he lived as a slave. It isn’t that far from Boston / Bunker Hill.
If I can find this sort of thing in five minutes, so can the president and his speech writers. But they don’t appear to be interested in research, just propaganda.
No, it’s not another archaeo-journalism piece of tripe. The WP ran an article on “End Times Theology in the Age of Obama” in which my post debunking the (in)famous “Did Jesus give us the name of the antichrist” viral video is mentioned.
A recent World Net Daily Exclusive brought attention to a viral video that attempts to persuade viewers that there is a cryptic reference to President Barack Obama’s name in Luke 10:18 and Isaiah 14:12. The creator of the video understands these passages to refer to the antichrist, and so viewers are left to connect the dots between Barack Obama and the great satanic enemy of the biblical end times. Do the arguments of the video have any merit? The short answer is no, and anyone with an interest in handling the biblical text responsibly should dismiss the video’s claims without hesitation. The arguments of this video would be laughed aside by anyone with competence in the ancient biblical languages. Anyone with a solid grasp of the English Bible would see other logical problems pretty quickly.
Because the subject matter is sensitive and my dismissal so categorical, readers need to know where I’m coming from. I work as the Academic Editor for Bible Study Magazine and Logos Bible Software, the leader in producing databases for the study of the Bible in its original languages, as well as digital tools and books for studying the Bible. Before coming to Logos, I devoted nearly 20 years to the formal study of biblical Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, and a half dozen more ancient languages on the way to my PhD in Hebrew Bible and Semitic Studies. I’m therefore sympathetic to people who want to read the Bible with more discernment and comprehension, and for those who are in vocational ministry. I’m also no fan of Barack Obama. While President Obama has made it clear in one of his biographical memoirs, Dreams of My Father, that he is an African colonialist Marxist, that doesn’t make him the antichrist. Neither does the Bible.
The first error on the part of the video’s speaker is trivial, but it shows the propensity of the speaker to inject details into the biblical text that are actually not there. The speaker presumes that Jesus originally spoke Luke 10:18 in Aramaic. We don’t actually know that. Yes, Aramaic was the common language among Jews of first century Palestine, but Jesus and the disciples were at least bilingual (speaking Greek as well, the common tongue of the eastern Mediterranean at the time, much like English is today. Jesus was also trilingual (he knew Hebrew well enough to quote the Hebrew Masoretic text on occasion). But this mistaken assumption is the least of the speaker’s problems. The arguments that follow demonstrate that the speaker has no knowledge of the biblical languages at even a beginner’s level.
Amazingly, the speaker doesn’t realize that Hebrew and Aramaic are not the same language. In a textbook example of why YouTube enthusiasts should never assume it to be a source of academically reliable content, the speaker says Aramaic is “the most ancient form of Hebrew.” Aramaic is not Hebrew. It’s, well, Aramaic. Perhaps the speaker was thinking of the fact that Aramaic and Hebrew use the same script (letter style). If so, it should be self evident that just because two (or more) languages might use the same script (font, in our modern parlance) does not mean they are the same language! For example, Spanish and English use the same letters or script, but they are not the same language. Hebrew adopted the Aramaic script (the so-called “block” letter script still used today) after it went into exile in Babylon in the sixth century BC (after Aramaic had earlier displaced Akkadian / Assyrian as the dominant language of Mesopotamia). Aramaic and Hebrew are part of the same language class and sub-class. A quick use of Wikipedia (no graduate degree is required for this sort of fact-checking) would have informed the speaker of that.
Some readers might be thinking that this oversight is forgivable, and that perhaps the speaker still knows his Hebrew well enough to support his claims. That isn’t the case. In what follows he shows that he doesn’t have a capable grasp of even the Hebrew alphabet.
Using Strong’s Concordance and its dictionary, familiar tools for many readers, the speaker asserts that Jesus would have uttered the words of Luke 10:18 “in Hebrew” and then goes on to focus on the words for “lightning” and “heights”/”heavens”. The word for “lightning” in Hebrew, we are told, is “barawk,” sounding suspiciously like the president’s name (Barack). Here’s where knowledge of the alphabet and what Strong’s English letter spelling is for would have kept the speaker from embarrassment. The English spelling of Barack Obama’s first name ends with “ck”. This is the way English letters account for the foreign Semitic letter “k” (kaph in Hebrew; kaf in Arabic). This means that the consonants in “Barack” are b-r-k. Unfortunately, the word for “lightning” in Hebrew isn’t spelled with the consonants b-r-k (Hebrew originally had no vowels, so it’s the consonants that matter here). Rather, it is spelled b-r-q. In Hebrew (and Arabic) “k” and “q” are two entirely different letters, thought they sort of sound the same, just as in English. The root consonants b-r-k mean “blessing” as a noun, “blessed” as an adjective, and “to bless” when a verb form is in view. “Barack” in Arabic (or Hebrew) means “blessing,” not “lightning.” This alone severs the connection the speaker in the video seeks to make.
By way of illustration, here are the two words and their respective dictionary entries from William Holladay’s Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon: It is crucial to take note that these words have different final letters (Hebrew is read right-to-left). I’ve noted the confused letters in respective colors, along with the meanings of the words to show that the speaker is giving his listeners misinformed nonsense. “Lightning” in Hebrew is b-r-q. The letter “q” is not the letter “k”, in English or Hebrew. They must not be treated as though they are.
That Barack Obama’s first name means “blessing” (and not “lightning”) in Arabic has been noted many times. Here’s one example. But why, then, is the Hebrew word for “lightning” spelled out in Strong’s dictionary as “barawk” with a “k” at the end? The reason is that Strong’s dictionary was not aiming to give users a correct transliteration of the word. Transliteration is the practice of matching letter-for-letter equivalents between a language that uses English letters and a language that uses characters, like Hebrew, Arabic, Sanskrit, or Chinese. Strong was not giving a transliteration, but was instead aiming to give a rough approximation of what a Hebrew word sounds like, regardless of whether it reproduces the letter characters with precise accuracy (note that in “barawk” there is no “w” consonant; it’s just there for pronunciation help). Unfortunately, the speaker was using an old, outdated online version of Strong’s. In the new revised edition, the editors added correct transliteration of all the consonants alongside the older pronunciation help. Below is an image of the entry for b-r-q (“lightning”; Strong’s number 1299 as in the video) from the digital version of Strong’s we produce at Logos.
Some readers may still wonder if it is permissible to take the letters b-r-k from “Barack” and treat them as though they can still match b-r-q (“lightning”). After all, “k” and “q” do sound alike. They may sound alike to us, but native speakers of Hebrew and Arabic distinguish them with ease, mainly because they know their own vocabulary. For those who don’t have this kind of native facility in Hebrew or Arabic, there are lexicons, specialized dictionaries of a given collection of literature. The industry-standard tool for all biblical Hebrew scholarship is the multi-volume Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT). Resources like HALOT, unlike English-based resources like Strong’s dictionary typically provide the user with the equivalent term in a range of Semitic languages. HALOT gives us the Arabic word that corresponds to Hebrew b-r-q (“lightning”), along with other languages like Old South Arabian, Egyptian Aramaic, Ugaritic, Jewish Aramaic, etc. Below are images from my electronic version of HALOT to show that the “q” and “k” distinction is secure and unimpeachable. There are entries for both the Hebrew word b-r-q (“lightning”) and b-r-k (“blessing”/”bless”). Arabic and Hebrew are consistent here:
According to the video, the antichrist’s last name can be derived from Isaiah 14:12-19. Isaiah 14 is a mocking taunt against the king of Babylon. The prophet uses an ancient story of cosmic rebellion to cast the king as unspeakably proud. The villain in that ancient story is considered by many to be Satan (though the word “satan” does not appear in Isaiah 14). This rebel sought to attain a status higher than God, desiring to ascend above the “heights” of the clouds and be like the Most High. The speaker on the video informs us that the word for “heights” here is bamah. The hearer is naturally supposed to think “Obama” at the sound of that word.
The speaker’s ignorance of Hebrew is again apparent in Isaiah 14 with respect to the Hebrew word bamah. He anticipates that viewers will want to know what happened to the “O” in “Obama” if bamah is part of the antichrist’s name. The speaker tells us that the conjunction “w” (the Hebrew consonant waw) is sometimes pronounced like our letter “o”. There are two problems here. First, the conjunction waw never gets the “o” sound at the beginning of a noun in Hebrew—not even once in the 23,213 verses of the Hebrew Bible. Second, when the “w” consonant in Hebrew serves to mark the vowel sound “o” it is never a conjunction; it only marks the “o” sound the end or in the middle of a word. Therefore the sound combination “O-bamah” never occurs in the Hebrew Bible. The same is true for the “o” sound following baraq. The “u” sound is possible at the beginning of a word. There is one occurrence in the entire Hebrew Bible of this conjunction before bamah in the Hebrew Bible, Ezekiel 36:2, but that verse has nothing to do with the devil or antichrist.
This kind of thinking is a textbook example of a notorious language fallacy: if a combination of sounds is the same between two languages, the words created by those sounds must mean the same thing. A couple of examples will show how ridiculous this is. Is the Greek word gune (pronounced “goonay”) the same as English “goony”? You’d better not say that around your wife or girlfriend, since gune means “woman”! Or maybe the Hebrew word kar (“pasture”; Isa 30:23) is equivalent to English “car”! I wonder what make and model was the most popular in David’s time. There are literally hundreds of these sorts of false equivalences between any two languages. A sound or group of sounds in Hebrew (or any other language) does not have the same meaning as the same combination of sounds in English. This ought to be self-evident, but I guess it’s not.
I could list a number of other flaws in the argumentation, but the discussion would quickly morph into a conclave of language nerds. Consequently I’ll mention only that the speaker fundamentally misunderstands Luke 10:18.
Luke 10:18 actually points to an event in Jesus’ own lifetime, not an event in the distant future. When Jesus says that he saw Satan expelled from heaven like lightning, he is announcing that the kingdom of God has been inaugurated on earth now that his own ministry has begun; he is announcing Satan’s defeat, not the coming of the antichrist. Parallel passages in the gospels show this is the case (John 12:31; 16:11). This telegraphs the speaker’s most obvious blunder. It is difficult to see the coherence of linking a passage where Satan is cast down to the rise of the antichrist. The Bible clearly has the antichrist and Satan as distinct personalities. Revelation 20:10 makes this explicitly clear: “And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
The beast, of course, is the antichrist in the Bible, the one whose number is 666 (cf. Rev. 13:18). In Rev. 10:10 Satan and the antichrist are separate figures thrown into the lake of fire. This means that Luke 10:18 (and Isaiah 14 for that matter) have nothing to do with the antichrist. It is nonsense to have Jesus meaning something like “I saw the devil cast out like the antichrist (lightning/baraq)” in Luke 10:18. The result is simply incoherent.
Lest I be misunderstood, the last thing in the world I want to do is to discourage Bible study. It’s not just for scholars! In fact, my career is directed toward enabling the non-specialist to dig into the Bible in ways that, to this point in time, only scholars could. But that goal is no excuse for such a poor handling of the biblical text and its original languages.
The subject matter may not extend too far back into antiquity in some cases, but historians and scholars of Islam are starting to weigh in on President Obama’s speech in Cairo last week. If you heard it you know that Muslims were credited with a range of accomplishments in an attempt to show that the world owes more to Islam than the desire to subjugate the world. For sure, Islamic culture has indeed made significant contributions, but as Post 2 (below) especially shows, the claims in his speech were exaggerated and erroneous (i.e., he picked bad examples and went overboard in his attempt to kiss up to Islamic wahabists, something previous administrations [notably the Bushes] ought to have avoided as well).