“Two Revolutionaries”

“Two Revolutionaries”

Miss Kelly was taken aback by yesterday’s Gospel referring to the two men crucified alongside Christ as “revolutionaries.” We’re used to seeing them called the Good Thief and the Bad Thief and in fact, the Revised Standard Version translation of this Gospel (Mark 15:27) calls them “robbers”. So Miss Kelly asks why does the New American Bible translation, which is used as the basis for the lectionary at Mass, call them revolutionaries.

Excusez-moi? They crucified two revolutionaries? I’d always heard these two described as robbers, which is what’s written in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke in my 1962 St. Joseph’s Bible. John’s gospel simply refers to two men.  No doubt some very wise and learned progressive Catholic scholars have unearthed evidence that the two men crucified on either side of Jesus were not simple thieves.  apparently were freedom fighters who sought to bring down the patriarchal, military/industrial complex and stick it to the Man, in order to bring social justice to the oppressed proletariats.  Ayy gevalt. Who changed the words and why?

The original Greek word used in that verse is “leisteis” (Nestle-Aland; NTG 26th) which can mean either “thief” or “revolutionary,” according to my copy of Bauer’s Greek-English Lexicon, 2nd edition. Bauer’s attests that it is used in both senses in ancient Greek writings and throughout the New Testament and Old Testament Septuagint. Mark 15:7 uses a derivation of the word to refer to Barabbas as a revolutionary.

I guess the translators of the New American Bible decided to use “revolutionary” instead of the more traditional image of the two crucified thieves. Why did they do so? That’s another question, but at least in this case its use is supported both by the Greek text and the contextual tradition.

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli