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A Short Explanation of James’ Title Oblias or Ωβλιας in Greek and Hebrew
Roy BLizzard III
James The Just's Nickname
2011© Roy Blizzard III
In the earliest Biographical stories of James the brother of Jesus, by Hegesippus (circa 150 a.d.) and which is quoted by Eusebius, he has been given an interesting title or nickname which seems to have defied many people’s explanations. It was supposed to have been a Semitic based name with a Greek transcription. While James, as the head of the Believer’s community in Jerusalem, has several titles such as James the Just, The Wall of the People and their Justification, this last title has till now defied explanation. Why I am not sure as it seems perfectly obvious to me.
His obscure title was Oblias or Ωβλιας in Greek. As I looked at his title it occurred to me that it was probably a transcription of a Hebrew word of some sort so I decided to do a bit of digging to find out what may be the basis for it. I chose to look in the Liddell and Scott Greek Lexicon first to determine if there were any Greek words that are even close to matching up to this word. There are not. I then went to the Jastrow’s Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Babli, Yerushalmi, and Midrashic Literature. I finally found on page 172 an interesting citation on the root word Belah or הּלּבּוּ (it reads backwards in this posting-Uvleh in Hebrew would be Oblias in Greek) from Pirke Avot or Ethics of the Fathers which is a book central to the teachings of Judaism. In Pirke Avot 5:22 there is a passage which says,
“Ben Bag Bag used to say, "Turn it, and turn it, for everything is in it. Reflect on it and grow old and gray with it. Don't turn from it, for nothing is better than it."
Yochanan ben Bag Bag is said to have been a disciple of Hillel (who Paul was also a student of and Jesus mainly followed his teachings except for the subject of marriage and divorce where he more closely followed Shammai), who lived in the first century and was considered to be an expert in Torah. One tradition holds that both ben Bag Bag and ben Hei Hei (Pirke Avot 5:23) refer to the same person, the potential convert to Judaism who came to Hillel and asked the teacher to teach him the Torah while standing on one foot.
In relation to this passage the commentary on this word says, “ Reflect on it and grow old and gray with it.” Meaning The Torah or Word of God.
So the Jews in the first century believed that a person can discover that everything is contained in the Torah. One only needs to take the time to study it over and over in order to search for its meaning. This process involves more than just reading the words of a text, it involves reflection and interaction with the text which gives us an opportunity to renew ourselves and our minds and to grow as individuals, even as it strengthens our communal connections to one another. As we age both in years and wisdom, our experiences provide new insights to our understanding of the text and the text, in turn, guides the choices we will make.
To the first century believers, James probably followed the traditional thoughts on this passage and may have also transferred some meaning to the Word Made Flesh or Jesus (Yeshua) in that we need to reflect on Him and grow old with Him in this relationship and in this community of believers, in other words we need to have a faithfulness to Him.
So, in the end we can say that James’ title of Oblias or Ωβλιας in Greek transcription from the Hebrew word Belah or הּלּבּוּ would mean one who reflects on the Torah, a wise one who doubtless would be Just in his decisions and would be the wall for the people as his Faith would be unshakable and who would be able to Justify his People by showing them an example of faithfulness to the Word.
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