Why did Mose Hoerner

On the way to the office, a poster with its huge letters jumped at me recently: «Happy is he who meets the Lord in awe and is happy about his commandments. Psalm 112, 1st Agency C. »

Because I am one of those who react more suspiciously the bigger the letters on the world-format posters, I look for “Agency C” on the Internet as soon as I arrive at the office. I find a whole series of such posters, titled: «God's Word in Every Place». Aha, let's see. I look up the quoted verse in Luther and Zwingli.

I have found different versions, all with the same wording that he who “fears the Lord” is happy. So what now? Does this god want to inspire fear or just to have respect for him? Is "God's Word" a selection program?

Then Jonas Fränkel (1879-1965) came back to my mind. Fränkel came to Switzerland as a student and later worked for forty years as a linguist at the University of Bern. He grew up as a Polish-speaking Jew in Krakow. As a teenager he wanted to become a rabbi, which is why he learned Greek and Hebrew, as well as self-taught German. In 1900, the NZZ printed the first feature articles for the 21-year-old student. Frankel was undoubtedly more talented at languages ​​than most.

In 1954 Fränkel published a collection of essays entitled "Poetry and Science". In it he speaks in the first contribution "Of the task and the sins of philology" and begins with the description of Michelangelo's statue of Moses in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome - a larger than life marble figure that strangely has horns: horns, otherwise headdress of the devil, of all people who brought God's tables of law down from Mount Sinai - and indeed, as the Jewish original text says in Hebrew, with a "shining face" because he had previously spoken to God (Exodus 34:29) .

Frankel's explanation: Michelangelo did not understand Hebrew. That is why he based his presentation on the "Vulgate", the Latin translation of the Bible by Jerome (347-420). This later ecclesiastical saint had in his work "mixed up different meanings which come from the same word root". This root could be used for "radiant" or Stand "horned": "Hieronymus made a horned head out of the radiant face, which Moses brought home from being with God!"

In the autumn of 1956, Fränkel wrote a letter to his friend, the writer Jakob Rudolf Humm, telling him what he had found out since then: he found Moses with horns in the Greek translation of the text by Aquila about two hundred years before Jerome. Because Jerome was demonstrably familiar with this translation, it was therefore probably not a translation error. Rather, he probably copied the mistake in Aquila, from which he concluded that Jerome translated a text that he did not even know in the original.

More than a thousand years later, around 1510, Michelangelo carved out the head of Moses from Carrara marble. The horns - this "most visible sin of philology" (Fränkel) - are for him the unquestionable word of God.

In comparison, it seems harmless when “Agency C” redrafts threatening “fear” into more easily consumable “awe”. This is how every PR agency works that has something to sell. However, not everyone claims that their advertising slogan is "God's Word".