What does the phrase "or euer" mean in Middle English from the 1500s?
It's often translated as "before", but I'm trying to find out specifically the cultural connotation of what the word could mean other than just "before".
The place that I find this is from the 1535 Coverdale Bible. It is used throughout the bible. All modern translations translate to "before", however I believe that based on my understandings of scripture that it may be lost in translation. In translation it makes the verse appear to be saying that one person existed before another person, but I need to fully understand the phrase to reduce any other possibility.
Here is one of the several verses that what this word specifically means or could mean, could change the entire meaning of the verse:
Iesus sayde vnto the: Verely verely I saye vnto you: Or euer Abraham was, I am.
The direct translation to Early Modern English would be:
"Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily I say unto you: _______ Abraham was, I am."
I can see that in some other verses, "before" may be a correct translation. However, I am suspicious that the phrase may also mean something different than the pure word "before", so I am trying to glean the full context of the word.
The original Greek from the correct manuscripts would also be in order to continue to reduce any other possibilities; but as it is, right now I am only trying to see what possibilities this word could mean via the 1535 translator.
The Textus Receptus was the manuscript used for the 1611 King James Bible, and it uses the word "πριν" in the Greek. However, this is not the manuscript used for the 1535 Coverdale Bible.
The 1535 Coverdale Bible uses the Latin Vulgate. It may be that no true manuscript of the Latin Vulgate exists today. The Catholic Church purged all known manuscripts in the 1500s and 1600s, so it's not clear whether a genuine manuscript exists today of the Latin Vulgate. Thus why I can't really go back to the source to find the original word, so instead I want to see what this phrase could possibly mean in the 1535 translation, known as the first complete English Bible translation.
That is, what the meaning of the Middle English (1535) phrase could possibly mean in Early Modern English (also known as King James English), which is the closest English that is still legible to modern English readers without significantly changing the words.
Update: based on my suspicion that "or euer" could be an old spelling of "or ever", I continued further research. I found evidence my suspicion may be correct:
(now archaic or dialect) Before; ere. Followed by "ever" or "ere"
1611, The Holy Bible, […] (King James Version), London: […] Robert Barker, […],
OCLC 964384981, Ecclesiastes 12:6-7:
Or euer the siluer corde be loose ... Then shall the dust returne to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall returne vnto God who gaue it.
1834, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"
I looked to heaven, and tried to pray;
But or ever a prayer had gusht, A wicked whisper came, and made
So, it can mean "or ever", which might help. It could be this is post-Middle English and in fact perhaps Early Modern English, as it was used also in 1611. Middle English was typically used until about 1500. But based on some of the spellings, it does look closer to Middle English, it could be only beginning the transition.
Another source confirms:
Or, prep., conj., adv. before. Comb.: or ever, WW.
Source: Middle English Dictionary
Thanks to the answer that I accepted, this is solved. "or euer" means "ere ever" which can mean:
- before ever
- rather than ever
- soon ever
So, it could mean on the one hand "before Abraham was", but it could also mean "rather than abraham was", which could imply not a timeframe, but a hierarchy -- that is, that Jesus was saying he is greater than Abraham, not necessarily that he "existed" before he was even born, which is the common modern theological interpretation.
I was trying to see if there was any other possibility than the modern translation/interpretation. I see that yes, there is another possibility. This was very helpful for my research.