Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bad Interpretation and Erasmus

For a wonderful example of the nonsense that one can spout if one knows only a little bit of Greek and Hebrew, take a look at this video at Boulders 2 Bits. It's a bit long, but painfully and unintentionally funny. By the way, the author of Boulders 2 Bits is not promoting the views in the video!

It reminded me of a story that Erasmus told about some linguistic analysis that he heard that was almost as creative and tortured. You'll make the most sense of Erasmus' story if you know just a little bit of Latin.

"I met... another, some eighty years of age, and such a divine that you'd have sworn Scotus himself was revived in him. He... with wonderful subtlety demonstrate[d] that there lay hidden in [the letters found in the name of Jesus] whatever could be said of him; for that it was only declined with three cases, he said, it was a manifest token of the Divine Trinity; and then, that the first ended in S, the second in M, the third in U... those three letters declaring to us that he was the beginning, middle, and end (summum, medium, et ultimum) of all. Nay, the mystery was yet more abstruse; for he... split the word Jesus into two equal parts [and] left the middle letter by itself, and then told us that that letter in Hebrew was schin or sin, and that sin in the Scotch tongue, as he remembered, signified as much as sin; from whence he gathered that it was Jesus that took away the sins of the world. At which new exposition the audience were so wonderfully intent and struck with admiration, especially the theologians… ”

-Erasmus, In Praise of Folly, 1515 (and the picture is from that work)


  1. Hantalë for mentioning my post!

    Thanks for the Erasmus story!

  2. Alassenya! (hopefully correct - my Quenya is much reduced, alas).

    By the way, I looked at the website for the gentleman who expounded on Hebrew in the video. It said that his areas of expertise are "the Blood of Jesus, faith, relationships, the Hebrew language, and the Holy Spirit." If Hebrew is one of his areas of expertise, I'm not sure if I want to get his advice on relationships! ahh, cynicism...


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