Monthly Archives: April 2014

Valley Girl is Best (rabbit hole and nerd alert)

I’ve been using the WEB (not internet, but World English Bible) translation since ~2004 when I first got it for my palm pilot. Today was the first time ever that the use of metric units stood out. Pastor was reading John 11, and I was following along on my Palm… and she reads “about 2 miles” where as mine said about 2.7 km in John 11:17

Ok, so we have a big problem.

2miles = 3.2km, not 2.7km,

Certainly, I’ve often used the phrase, its about 2 miles (which in my own parlance generally equates to between 1 and 3 miles), but maybe its been years since I went there, so maybe its between just out of sight and 5 miles away… but I would never use the word about followed by significant digits which imply a level of precision beyond the scope of “about”. Yep, its a metrology nerd thing.

Granted, this is not a huge theological deal, as the scriptures are not a surveyors manual or scientific textbook, but obviously something is hosed up somewhere or another. So its time to derust some Greek.

Fortunately ?? ??? ??????? ????????? is common among all the Greek source texts I could find, so its a good starting point.

?? is a screwball adverb which hosed me up in Greek class some 20+ years ago. As such, lets consider it in isolation first to see what spins out. (Greek words in isolation are like playing with fire… its almost always going to give you something hairbrained and wrong, (but such can also be sort of cool at times)! 🙂

The simplest approach to this is to go into valley girl mode.
Bethany was near Jerusalem, like 2 miles away. 

Alas, simple is not necessarily correct, ?? when used in combination with numerical data changes meaning… Like turns into about, or nearly, which to me slips into the realm of lower precision such as my own parlance as described above.

Ok, cool, we now have the translation pastor used
Bethany was near Jerusalem, about 2 miles away.

But… this doesn’t help me as to why the metric conversion is in error, to say nothing about the precision implied with the significant digit (the decimal place), thus back to the source texts.

??? has a multitude of possibilities, but the good thing is that no matter how weird one gets with the possible translation, it doesn’t screw with the precision of measurement or type of units. We got lucky with this. I’ll just call it “away” to make like simple, but “off” works, as would “distant”… but one could venture into weird mode too I guess.

??????? ????????? is pretty simple, there is no ambiguity of the number of units of measurement. Fifteen is fifteen is fifteen. It is what it is.  ??????? as a unit of measure is also quite clear. A stadia is a stadia is a stadia. This too is clear.

Bethany was near Jerusalem, about 15 stadia away.

The rubber hits the road when we define what on a earth a stadia is…

The ancient world didn’t have international standards bodies to determine consistency of measurements… they probably didn’t have much of a standard at all, beyond what could be carried from point A to point B without being damaged, lost, or vandalized enroute. Thus we have a ~30% swing as to stadia to meter conversion factors with the Olympic measurement at 176.4 meters being the shortest, and the Phoenician-Egyptian conversion at 209.2 meters being the longest. The most commonly accepted conversion factor is the Italian one at 184.8 meters/stadia… which gives us.

Bethany was near Jerusalem, about 2.6km away.

argh, this doesn’t match either.

So, lets get practical, and just use technology, it should be easy to pull up Jerusalem and Bethany (Al-Eizariya) on a map and have google calculate the distance. Whoops. this is not going to work either, as both are so large today, that its near impossible to determine accurate starting and ending points…. not the least of which that Al-Eizariya is located in the West Bank (where google sat data leans sparse).

Valley Girl mode seems best after all… Bethany was near Jerusalem, like 3km away!