In prior articles I’ve mentioned how the Biblical idea of overshadowing is a recurring theme in my 6th-grade Catechism class. Starting with Exodus, the word “overshadow” is explicitly used in verses such as this one describing the Ark of the Covenant: “The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be.”
Other brief examples:
The Ark overshadowed by the Glory Cloud, God’s Presence.
The Ark overshadowed by the Meeting Tent.
Psalm 91: “He will overshadow you with his shoulders: and under his wings you shall trust,” which dovetails well with the overshadowing cherubs’ wings.
In Luke’s gospel: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
The Transfiguration: “He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
The concept of overshadowing is also expressed when Elijah covers Elisha. And likewise in the Book of Ruth.
That’s plenty of overshadowing for 6th grade.
The Hebrew word sometimes translated as overshadow is sakhakh (סכך), which is also translated as cover. Deciding whether to say cover or overshadow in English can depend on the Greek words used in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament.
By the way, in Greek overshadow is episkiazo (ἐπισκιάζω). Epi means over (e.g. epidemic), and skiazo is, uh-huh, shadow. Skiazo and shadow share a common Indo-European root, and over a few millennia differ only a bit more than skirt and shirt, or shin and skin differ over a few centuries. And in the Vulgate, to overshadow is obumbrare.The Latin stem for shadow, umbra, is also found in umbrella, and sombrero.
Kids like things to be clear and simple. So in class when I read “the power of the Most High will overshadow you” from Luke, I like to review supporting verses which also use the word overshadow. A Greek translation of the Bible will say to overshadow in more verses than I can use in 6th grade, but English isn’t too reliable in this respect. Different English Bibles will use the word overshadow in different verses, and only a few times; although I expect that they all use it with regard to the Annunciation and the Transfiguration. Otherwise it’s hit and miss in English. So if I read a verse in class from my NAB in English which doesn’t say “overshadow” (but Greek does), I say “overshadow” to keep it consistent for the kids.
A couple of weeks ago maybe you heard this at Mass:
“…they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and pallets, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them.” It doesn’t quite say ‘overshadow.’ But part of that verse in Greek reads: Πέτρου κἂν ἡ σκιὰ ἐπισκιάσει τινὶ αὐτῶν. I can’t read all that, but look at this bit: σκιὰ ἐπι-σκιάσει. That’s skia epi-skiasei, [the] shadow [might] over-shadow. When Luke wrote Acts, he was careful to say overshadow, just as he did in his Gospel. For a long time I connected this bit of Acts to sacraments (God’s power flowing through physical media), but didn’t connect it to the bigger overshadowing theme until later. I have to assume that recent translators decided “shadow….overshadow” was too redundant for readers of the word-rich English language. I suppose Luke would disagree: without the right words, one can’t make the right connections.
Now I’m curious about which Bibles do say shadow-overshadow, the way Luke wrote it:
Latin Vulgate? Yes: “Petro saltim umbra illius obumbraret quemquam eorum.”
Martin Luther’s Bibel? Yes: “sein Schatten ihrer etliche überschattete.”
Douai-Rheims? Yes: “his shadow at the least might overshadow any of them.”
KJV? Yes: “the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them.”
Revised Standard Version- Catholic Edition? No: “his shadow might fall on some of them.” Ya done me wrong, RSV-CE!
Catholic NAB? No: “his shadow might fall on one or another of them.”
NIV? No: “Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by.”
If St. Luke were alive today he’d be rolling over in his grave. Traduttore, traditore.
Copyright 2016, Christian LeBlanc