“My peace I give to you” (John14:27)
The New Testament word for peace is eirēnē. It is probably derived, scholars say, from a word meaning “to join”, perhaps with the sense of two people connecting personally, which both presupposes peace and creates it.
Despite the fact that our New Testaments were written in Greek, the lingua franca of the day, it is understood that Jesus and the disciples spoke Aramaic, a language closely related to Hebrew. So when Jesus said “My peace”, it is likely he would have said shlami in Aramaic, which translates into Hebrew as shlomi.
This word ‘shlami’, or ‘shlomi’, is interesting for the resonances it carries from the textual world of the Old Testament. Assonance is word play, a vital feature of the Bible, with the suggestiveness of words echoing other words contributing to their meaning. It is therefore permissible to ask, What echoes do we find in the rest of the Bible from shlomi, ‘my peace’?
We are reminded at once of the name Solomon, Shlomo in Hebrew, David and Bathsheba’s son, the king who was known above all for wisdom, the abundance of Israel under his rule, and the peace that prevailed between Israel and her neighbours during his reign. We are similarly reminded of the opening of the Song of Songs, that great canticle of love, which reads Shir hashirim asher lishlomo. The Song celebrates not only earthly love but the divine love with which Christ the Bridegroom loves the Church his Bride.
So to a reader of the Hebrew Bible, Jesus’ word shlami or shlomi resonates with echoes of the earthly peace of Solomon’s kingdom of wise rule, as well as with the heavenly peace enjoyed by those who know the passionate love of God in Christ Jesus.