Scriptural tattoos are a big trend in Christian America today. A lively debate is taking place among theologians over whether tattooing a biblical verse on one's body is a legitimate form of devotion or a vulgar violation of Leviticus 19:28. Popular verses include: John 3:16, Genesis 1:1, Galatians 2:20, Psalm 23 and many more. Particularly in vogue is having a scriptural tattoo in Hebrew or Greek, such as the example seen here.
But, uh oh! What happened here? This man wanted a massive tattoo of Psalm 23:4 in Greek (not clear why not Hebrew) to cover his torso, but he did not make sure to check that the text was correct! It seems that his computer turned every diacritical mark (i.e., accents and breathing marks over certain letters) into an additional character, making the text more or less nonsensical. He probably handed the tattoo artist a print-out and thought nothing more of it. Too bad he did not take the time to learn a bit of Greek before making this life changing decision! The corrected text is as follows:
ἐὰν γὰρ καὶ πορευθῶ ἐν μέσῳ σκιᾶς θανάτου, οὐ φοβηθήσομαι κακά, ὅτι σὺ μετ᾽ ἐμοῦ εἶ· ἡ ῥάβδος σου καὶ ἡ βακτηρία σου, αὐταί με παρεκάλεσαν.
"Even if I should walk in the middle of the shadow of death, I will not fear evil, because you are with me. Your rod and your staff, these have comforted me." (Psalm 22 :4)
Note, for example, that all the grave accents have been replaced with a period, and all the acute accents have become commas. Another interesting thing to notice is the word for "staff" in Greek is bakteria. When scientists first examined bacteria under a microscope in the 19th century, they saw tiny curved rods. Thus they gave it the Latin name bacterium which is a smaller version of the Greek baktron, a stick or rod. Incidentally, the long loaves of French bread known as "baguettes" are derived from the same root.
Over the past year I have served as an assistant to Judith Green on the writing of a new online Biblical Greek (koine) course. It is now complete and I encourage you to check it out. The course is offered by ETeacher, a company based in Israel that has had much success teaching Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic (as well as modern languages) online to students around the globe. This newest course (30 units) on which Judith and I collaborated is intended to prepare one to begin to read the New Testament and Septuagint in the original. The language of instruction is English, but it has already been translated into Spanish and Portuguese! The course has been approved by the Dept of Classics at Hebrew University and you can even take it for academic credit if you wish. One of the things I love about this course is the way it integrates archaeology and art history into the study of language. For example, there are several opportunities to decipher real Greek inscriptions on icons, mosaics, etc. Judith, who was my first Greek teacher in the MA program at the Rothberg School at Hebrew U (2003-4) did an amazing job including real Greek passages from the Bible (mostly the Gospels) from the earliest lessons. It is really exciting to be able to understand famous passages (such as the Lord's Prayer or the prologue to the Gospel of John) in the original Greek. Check it out!
I am Jonathan Lipnick, tour guide and educator specializing in Christianity and Judaism. In this blog I explore questions (historical, linguistic) that come up in the course of my teaching and reading.