Thursday, February 18, 2010


What follows here is something very arcane, sorry, but it happens to be meaningful to me. First the context. In the last post I suggested that life itself is a transcendent energy, different from chemical energy. We need both. This morning I literally chanced across variant translations, in Latin, of the phrase “Give us this day our daily bread,” Matthew 6:11 and “Give us day by day our daily bred,” Luke 11:3. St. Jerome, who did the translation from Greek into Latin, rendered the first as Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie (“Give us this day our daily bread”) and the second as Panem nostrum supersubstantialem da nobis hodie (“Give us this day our supersubstantial bread”). In both cases the variant word in Greek is epiousion, derived from epiousios. Epi stands for on, over, above. Ousios means substance, being, essence, nature.

Now the plot thickens. The Greek word is of extreme rarity, what is known as a hapax, thus a word or phrase that occurs only once or a few times in a work, an author, or a language. Evidently epiousios appears only twice in the Greek version of the Bible and nowhere else. All this I gathered from several sites. The subject is generously discussed by Wikipedia in an article on the very subject here. The presumption is that Jesus used an unusual word in Aramaic or Hebrew (see this article by Fr. Benjamin Reese) which the Greek translator strained, as it were, to render into Greek—and which Jerome then rendered as “daily” in Luke and as “supersubstantial” in Matthew.

I think this is quite interesting. I know no Greek, am not a scholar, have not engaged in textual hermeneutics, and, until this morning, knew absolutely nothing about this somewhat controversial issue of translation. I came across this matter quite by chance—as if there is such a thing in such matters. I was checking out the Maverick Philosopher’s blog. His post for February 17, the topmost this morning (here), was titled “Why Run?” and dealt with daily hiking, running, and cycling—the daily bread of legs and lungs. He ends the post with the Latin quote Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie. It was in running down this phrase, which vaguely echoed in my head from my Catholic childhood, that led to the discovery of that strange epiousios and its possible relevance to my post on February 16 suggesting that some kind of “transcendent” energy keeps us “alive”—while food nourishes our bodies.

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