Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The noun κονια (konia) means dust, but dust to the ancients was a completely different thing than it is to us moderns. To the ancients, the dry land consisted of solid dead things (like rocks and mountains) and living things (animals and people), and in between the two existed a strange shadowland of dust (and dust-dwelling plants). Dust formed when rocks and mountains crumbled (Psalm 46:2, Job 14:18, Isaiah 54:10) and it became itself the raw material for living things, which were made from the dust (Genesis 2:7).
Several different physical processes were observed that caused dust to form into organisms (or that God used to make living things out of dust) but most obviously, the wind picked it up and created dust devils that traveled across the plains like formidable ghosts (2 Kings 2:11). Our noun κονια (konia) comes from the Proto-Indo-European root "ken-", meaning to hurry or hasten, an activity which in Hebrew is known by the verb חשש (hashash), from which comes the name Thahash, which belonged to an animal whose skin formed the outer layer of the tabernacle. This is considerably significant because in both Greek and Hebrew the word for wind and spirit is the same one (in Hebrew: רוח, ruah; in Greek: πνευμα, pneuma). This demonstrates that the ancients understood the movements of people, both in geographic and cultural terms, to be governed by winds-slash-spirits, or animated by bestial, cold-blooded souls like those of snakes (Genesis 3:14, Revelation 12:9).
It was also obvious to the ancients that not just any kind of dust could make an organic body, and that proto-organic dust was as special as an organic body, and by all means was an organic body that just hadn't been assembled yet, like dry land that hadn't yet risen out of the sea. God created Adam by forming his body from the dust of the earth (by which is implied: a special select sample of viable dust from the much broader pallet of available dust) and blowing into his nostrils the breath of life. Then, much later, God told Abraham that his progeny would be like the dust of the earth (Genesis 13:16). Abraham's seed are those who are consciously one with the Word of God and thus with the Creator (Galatians 3:29, John 17:20-26), whom God brought together into a living body, into which he released his spirit (Acts 2:2-4). And with this he also showed that, indeed, there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
The ancients understood that social structures form by means of the same mechanisms as biological formations (in modern terms we call this self-similarity), and went on to understand that at the nucleic heart of a living cell sits a discrete data set, divided over two sets, one of which pertains to the father (the Creator) and the other to the mother (creation or society). When life transformed from single-cellular to multi-cellular, the genetic code at its foundational heart became copied and dispersed over every cell. In the same way the Ark of the Covenant featured prominently in Israel's nucleic structure from Moses up to Solomon, but Israel became multicellular in Babylon and Zerubbabel's temple related to Solomon's temple the way a conscious mind relates to one's DNA, which explains why the Ark isn't mentioned from the second temple period on.
The ancients understood the formidable powers that drove humans together and apart, that formed and dissolved tribes, nations and empires, and integrated their reflections into their stories. One of the themes they contemplated was how the proto-organic select managed to drift away from the main bulk, how they found each other and purified their own from too much inorganic dilution while still retaining crucial inorganic participation, and how they would congregate separately from the main bulk long before they were actually able to form something notably different. How do proto-organic atoms and molecules know that they are different, and what they are capable of, long before there is any organism to testify of that? And how do they choose to leave the main bulk, to find their own, and to cluster up so that God can blow into them the breath of life so that they, indeed, become the first living and breathing creature in a world full of senseless boulders and rocks?
Extra-biblical Jewish legends tell of Abraham as he takes on the pentapolitan coalition of Amraphel — which had abducted nephew Lot in the wake of the War of Four against Five Kings (Genesis 14:12) — by casting dust on them, which then turned into weaponry, as per the prophet Isaiah: "Who has stirred up one from the east, calling him in righteousness to his service ? He hands nations over to him and subdues kings before him. He turns them to dust with his sword, to windblown chaff with his bow" (Isaiah 41:2).
The prophet Daniel, also per extra-biblical Jewish lore, challenged the tradition of the chief deity of Babylon, named Bel, also by means of dust. Worshippers would leave food in front of Bel's statue, and Bel would apparently accept the offering and eat the food, as it would be gone the next morning. Daniel decided to expose the goings on and sprinkled dust on the floor around the statue. The next morning, the food was gone but in the dust were the footprints of Bel's priests, who were thus found out to have manipulated (or in this case pedipulated) people's perception of the deity.
This story goes far beyond the theatrical nature of religion or the deceptive antics of many religious frontmen. In fact, the Bible regards the relationship with Babylon and Persia not in simple terms of good-guys versus bad-guys, but reserves the greatest respect for Babylon (Jeremiah 27:6) and Persia (Isaiah 44:28).
Abraham may be the Bible's token objector, but his theology could form only as a reaction to the Babylonian take on things. Abraham was through-and-through Babylonian, and so were his wife, his son's wife and his grandson Jacob's wives. Abraham's progeny remained Babylonian until the sons of Israel began to take local wives. The wisdom tradition for which the Jews are still celebrated today matured predominantly in the wisdom schools of post-exilic Babylon. The Old Testament the way we have it was written in Babylon. The Pharisaic sect — which in turn gave us the apostle Paul, Nicodemus, Gamaliel, Nathanael, Simon the Host (Luke 7:36), and probably Simon of Cyrene, and even the historian Josephus — appears to have originated in Persia, and from their native ranks came the Magi, who were the first humans to independently deduce from their observations of the night sky that the Christ had been born on earth (Matthew 2:1-2, see Romans 1:20).
Anybody with any sense at all would have understood that food offered to Bel was collected by the servants of Bel, but sense was as rare then as it is now, and social cohesion depended then as much as now greatly on theatrical representations of what's going on behind the curtain. The priests of Bel, just like any priests in antiquity, were not religious figures in the modern sense of the word, but scholars, doctors and engineers, whose duties largely consisted of collecting vital intel and developing information technology (such as a writing system, the manufacture of paper, the organization of a dependable postal system) and technologies to help statecraft, agriculture, warfare and urban bliss, and in general to support the government in keeping society together.
Imagine that the intimate mechanisms of our modern governments were visible only in its entirety as through glass, that patients in hospitals could only learn about their afflictions from the conversations between medical experts, or that people could only use machines whose mechanisms they intimately understood. If society would not produce and protect theatrical representations of its most intimate mechanisms, society would lose cohesion and fall apart. One of the most important jobs of the priestly elite is to translate conversations between experts into terms that lay-people might understand (also since our modern generation of researchers is not the first to face the problem of funding). But all this ties into the importance of symbolic representations, which started in pictures and culminated in the production of the alphabet, which in turn (as if life came into dust) produced literary narrative, epic narrative and finally metaphorical and even the self-similar narrative of the Bible which, much to the wonder of millions of students, operates on precisely the same principles as the material and biological realms.
All forms of symbolic representations — from writing to metaphors, up to the essence of man's mind in which the whole world is reproduced in the form of data — are forms of dust-walking: it obviously leaves the footprints of the one who is doing to representation, but its ultimate function is to attract and gather those audience members who are particularly sensitive in certain particular ways, and whose sensitivity has no obvious usefulness in the present world but will be the foundation of a whole new world to come.
When Jacob encountered the angel of YHWH (Genesis 32:24, Hosea 12:3-4) they engaged each other until daybreak in an activity that medieval Christian translators failed to understand and translated as "wrestling", hence setting off one of the great follies of Christian theology, namely the idea that a righteous man would ever presume to fight God, or vice versa, and prevail. Genesis 32:22-32 remains the most mis-translated passage of the Bible in non-Jewish circles, and terminates in the observation that the sons of Israel don't eat the "sinew of the hip". Of course, no such dietary injunction exists in the whole of Jewish canon, because this passage is not about God and man "wrestling". The verb is אבק ('abaq), denominative from the identical noun אבק ('abaq) meaning dust. This verb was translated as "wrestle" on the assumption that Jacob and God were rolling around in the dust and got dusty.
The Bible is about information technology. The temple of Solomon celebrates the alphabet; the temple of Zerubbabel celebrates global correspondence. Priests are dust-walkers, and laypeople should appreciate the symbol while simultaneously knowing that the symbol is not the original, and that the original goes beyond anybody's imagination, and always grows and is always underway to meet the Creator on the clouds, whether they be clouds of earthly dust or heavenly water vapor (1 Thessalonians 4:17). We are, after all, dust and our return shall be onto dust (Genesis 3:19).
Our core-word κονια (konia) is not used independently in the New Testament, and only shows up in compounds and derivatives:
- Together with the preposition δια (dia) meaning through or throughout: the noun διακονος (diakonos), literally meaning dust-traverser or wholly-dusty. In antiquity this common word described a servant and particularly in a priestly sense: an attendant or official in a temple. Medieval commentators concluded that the servants known by this term were dust-grovellers, and had to be of lower rank than the ordinary δουλος (doulos), or slave. More recent scholarship has deduced from this word's many surviving contexts that this assumption was not correct. As explained above, this word literally refers to dust-walking, to symbolically represent complicated specialistic issues in order to bring about social cohesion. Possibly because it's so hard to interpret, this word was never translated and instead was transliterated into Latin as diaconus and finally into English as "deacon". But the bottom-line is that a deacon is someone who makes things easier (to do, understand, endure, partake in, and so on). This important and still broadly misunderstood noun is used 30 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:
- The verb διακονεω (diakoneo), meaning to "deaconate", to act as a deacon, to make things easier to do, understand, endure, or partake in. More elaborately, to "deaconate" means to symbolically represent complicated and specialistic proceedings so that the uninitiated may benefit from its knowledge, and help preserve the consistency of the much larger community. Complex societies, by their nature, consist of many interdependently operating guilds, which all need to be bound together. That is the principle job of deacons, and this verb describes their office. It's used 37 times; see full concordance.
- The noun διακονια (diakonia), meaning deaconry, the office or service of deacons: the place or activity of making things easier to do, understand, endure, or partake in. This noun is used 34 times; see full concordance.
- The verb κονιαω (koniao), meaning to plaster with lime or stucco; a substance whose main ingredient was powdered gypsum or cement (Matthew 23:27 and Acts 23:3 only). The office of deacon bears tremendous responsibility, as the deacon has to intimately understand both the difficult material at hand, and the ways in which the common people express themselves. Over history's many millennia, it has often transpired that the material with which the deacon was so familiar became obsolete, and a scrupulous deacon may have chosen to hide that fact and continue to mesmerize his audience, and so collect his keep. Or in the famous words of Leo Tolstoy: "I know that most men can seldom discern even the simplest and most obvious truth if it would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions they have formed — conclusions of which they are proud, which they have taught to others, and on which they have built their lives". Modern critics may be quick to point out that most religions are whitewashed walls, but here at Abarim Publications we suspect that mankind's ancient Scriptures (and not just the Biblical ones) may be all what's left of mankind's once vivid understanding of the operating principles of natural reality, including man's mind. Unfortunately, most obsolete but persistent dogma today is scientific in nature.
- Together with the verb ορνυμι (ornumi), meaning to stir up or excite: the noun κονιορτος (koniortos), meaning raised dust (the proverbial opposite of settled dust, upon which a decision maker often proverbially waits). In the Greek classics as well as in the New Testament, this noun simply describes literal dust that has become airborne and thus gradually settles upon things and people. But since the whole New Testament consists of many layers of interlocked metaphors (this is, after all, the defining nature of a fractal), our noun κονιορτος (koniortos) also has a clear cognitive and educational component. Neither Jesus nor Paul operated in an educational vacuum but faced armies of teachers of all sorts of old traditions and new insights, methods and persuasions. Our noun is used 5 times; see full concordance.
Note that in English we speak of dusty stuffy old books, implying that these books haven't been touched much, but forgetting that books aren't more prone to attract dust than other objects. The Dutch language (which is as Greek as English is Latin), speaks of lesstof or "lesson dust" to describe the material taught to students.