Wednesday, April 10, 2019

"Let Doubt (or, rather, certainty?) Prevail!"

I love this quotation from Bertrand Russell that you can find in various spots on the internet. 
One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.

This is from a radio address presented by Russell in 1953, “Present Perplexities,” part of his radio series, “Living in an Atomic Age.” You can hear Russell read that line here, in the sample on the right, or at YouTube, at about the 4:20 mark. The essay is printed in various collections, usually under the title “Current Perplexities.”

I came across this quotation of Russell while listening to a speech (in a debate) by Stephen Fry, who introduced the quotation by saying: “I would like this quotation from my hero Bertrand Russell to hover over the evening” (see here, 36:10 mark). After he reads the quotation, Fry exclaims, “Let doubt prevail!”

But it seems that Fry has undermined the point that his hero was trying to make. Russell's comment was not a criticism of certainty; it was a lament that in his day it seemed that only stupid people enjoyed certainty. It is worth noting that Russell considered this aspect of his time “painful,” and he immediately follows the section quoted with the words, “I do not think this is necessary.” He goes on to exude certainty with the intention of overcoming the “present perplexities.” Russell more-or-less exclaims, "Let certainty (for smart people) prevail!"

Of course, both Fry and Russell are complex thinkers whose views cannot be boiled down to a single battle cry. But it is interesting how a lament from Russell became a precept for Fry.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Old Testament and Christianity

Some of my thoughts here in an interview on the Overthinking Christian blog. My thanks to Paul Moldovan for asking me to participate.

Here's a taste:
Many Christians have the view that the OT focuses on God’s wrath while the NT on God’s love. What, if anything, is wrong with such a picture?

Ed: Well, let’s see, what would the evidence for such a view be, i.e., that the OT is more concerned with wrath and the NT more concerned with love? It’s not too hard to imagine how people who hold this view would support it. There are a lot of pretty specific laws in the OT, 613 of them according to the traditional Jewish reckoning, and some of these laws have pretty severe punishments attached to them—such as, “Whoever curses his father or his mother must be put to death” (Exod 21:17; Lev 20:9). God seems concerned in the OT about stuff like what people eat (Lev 11; Deut 14), and whether or not they wear clothes made of multiple materials (Lev 19:19; Deut 21:11). And, of course, he commands the genocide of the Canaanites (Deut 7:2; 20:16–18) and Amalekites (1 Sam 15:3). On the other hand, the New Testament presents a Jesus who is all about love (Mark 12:28:–34) and acceptance (Mark 2:13–17; Luke 7:36–50; 14:21; 19:9–10), against the hypocritical Pharisees who like to exclude people from God’s love (Matt 23:13). In the Old Testament, God is jealous (Exod 34:14); in the New Testament, God is love (1 John 4:7).
This is a caricature. 
Read the rest here.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Was Jerome Gay? When in Rome...

The Wikipedia entry on Jerome, as of 10 December 2018, has the following information at the beginning of its section on the saint's life.


The start of the second paragraph says that in Jerome's school days at Rome, "he engaged in the superficial escapades and homosexual behaviour of students there, which he indulged in quite casually but for which he suffered terrible bouts of guilt afterwards."

That was intriguing to me. I had never heard this before, though I have read some of Jerome and some scholarship on him. J. N. D. Kelly's authoritative biography mentions nothing about it. Kelly does summarize for us the evidence from Jerome's writings leading to the conclusion: "Jerome's student days were marked by sexual adventures to which he was afterwards to look back with loathing" (p. 21).

The Wikipedia entry fortunately provides a reference for the source of the information on Jerome's homosexual activities in Rome. Footnote 14 cites Robert Payne, The Fathers of the Western Church, originally published in 1951, pp. 90–92. Only one section of those three pages has anything whatsoever to do with Jerome's sexual adventures in Rome. I quote it below without comment.
A spare, pale youth with large eyes, country bred, he came to Rome only to meet the horrors he thought he had left behind. Sex tormented him. His friend Rufinus was baptized "pure as the driven snow," but of himself he said he had sinned "with unclean lips and with the eyes and with the foot and with the hand and with all his members," and he added that he deserved a second baptism of fire because he had defiled his baptismal robe, meaning simply that he had defiled his body, for in those days the candidate for baptism stood naked before the priest. Caught up in the gay activities of the students, he seems to have sinned quite casually and then to have suffered terrible bouts of repentance: at such times, like many others who were conscious of their sins, he would visit on Sundays the sepulchers of the martyrs and the apostles in the catacombs, and he remembered the horror of it when he was an old man. (p. 91)

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Prayer of Manasseh in Latin, and Stephen Langton

I recently came across this comment from Stephen Langton (d. 1228) in regard to the Prayer of Manasseh and its position at the end of the books of Chronicles: 
Hic oracio non est in Hebraica ueritate, nec in Regum nec in Paralipomenon, sed hic interserit eam Ieronimus (“this prayer is not in the Hebrew truth, neither in Kings nor Chronicles, but Jerome inserted it here”). 
Let me provide some context. 

The Prayer of Manasseh is one of those documents in the Vulgate Appendix. It was excluded from the biblical canon by the Council of Trent in 1546, even though it had occupied a place in biblical manuscripts and editions of the Vulgate prior to the Council. 

(Actually, I'm not exactly sure how we know that the Council excluded the Prayer. I mean, the Council doesn't mention it in the canon list, but then I don't guess you'd really expect the Prayer to get an independent mention if it's thought of as only an appendix to Chronicles. After all, Lamentations wasn't mentioned by the Council either, but I don't think anyone suspects that the Council intended to exclude Lamentations. It was just considered an appendix to Jeremiah. At any rate, the Prayer has not been considered a part of the Roman Catholic biblical canon established by the Council, while Lamentations has been so considered.) 


You can see that Gutenberg located the Prayer immediately after Chronicles (fol. 226r), though here it doesn't appear so much as an appendix as a separate work, similar to the way Esdras appears just afterwards. Same in this edition of the Vulgate edited by Jan Henten with a date of 1583 (first published 1547, described by Gordon and Cameron in NCHB 3, pp. 192–93). And in the Vatable Bible published by Stephanus 1545 (the link is to vol. 2; see vol. 1 here; described by Gordon and Cameron on p. 191).


On the other hand, here's an example of a Paris Bible (Beinecke Yale MS 793) from the thirteenth century, and the Prayer does appear without any break as the conclusion to Chronicles. The Prayer starts on fol. 210r, at the bottom right. You can see that someone later has marked the start of the Prayer, but originally its text was continuous with Chronicles. An explicit appears on the other side of the page after the Prayer, and an inicipit introduces Esdras (or, actually, Jerome's Prologue to Esdras, with the biblical text beginning on the next page). 

In this next example, Paris BNF latin 15467 from the year 1270, it is even harder to distinguish between the end of Chronicles and the Prayer. The Prayer begins in the middle of line 13 in the left column of image 220. Again, immediately after the Prayer, Jerome's Prologue to Esdras starts at the top of the next column.

Anyway, from what I hear, the Prayer of Manasseh started to appear in Latin Bibles only in about the 13th century, so these Paris Bibles are early examples, at least as preserved. 
What about before the 13th century? 

Well, the Prayer was translated into Latin from Greek, of course. Now, if you pick up your Rahlfs(-Hanhart) edition of the LXX, you will not find the Prayer listed in the Table of Contents, but you will find a work called the Odes immediately after the Psalms. The Odes consists mostly of excerpts from other parts of the Bible: Ode 1 is the Song of the Sea (Exod 15), Ode 2 is the Song of Moses (Deut 32), Ode 6 is the Prayer of Jonah (Jonah 2), Odes 7–8 are the (deuterocanonical) Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men (Daniel 3). And Ode 12 is the Prayer of Manasseh. 

(The essential book now on the Odes is by Marguerite Harl (2014). The sequence of the odes is arbitrary, and differs according to manuscripts. The earliest surviving manuscript to include the Odes is Alexandrinus. You can take a look here = CSNTM's digital images of the nineteenth-century facsimile by Thompson. The Prayer is Ode 8 in Alexandrinus, and starts at the bottom right of what is labeled in the manuscript as fol. 567 = image GA_02_0557a.jpg.)

It was as part of a similar collection of odes (cantica) that the Prayer of Manasseh first came to be known in Latin. While we know that such collections of canticles were around in Latin from at least the fourth century, the Prayer of Manasseh is clearly attested only from the sixth century, in the commentary on the Canticles by Bishop Verecundus of Junca, such an important author that he merits two separate Wikipedia pages. 

But Stephen Langton thought that Jerome was responsible for locating the Prayer after Chronicles, as you can see from the quotation at the top of this post. Langton (main subject of only a single Wikipedia page) is most famous generally for his role in the situation leading to the Magna Carta, but he is also well-known to biblical scholars for popularizing our present chapter divisions. He wrote many biblical commentaries, of which few have been printed. But the beginning of his commentary on the Prayer of Manasseh has been printed by Beryl Smalley in G. Lacombe and B. Smalley, “Studies on the Commentaries of Cardinal Stephen Langton,” Archives d’histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen âge 5 (1930): 1–220, on p. 158 (available here). The comment I quoted at the beginning of this post can be found there.

I'm left with some questions? Did Langton not know about Bibles that excluded the Prayer? Did he not realize that it was only during his own lifetime that the Prayer came to be located after Chronicles? Or did he think that this recent habit restored a long-abandoned practice introduced by Jerome?

Just for the record, we have no evidence suggesting that Jerome was familiar with the Prayer of Manasseh.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

On Reading the Bible Wrong

If you read the Bible and it makes you feel warm and cozy inside, you may be sure that you are reading it wrong. 
--a comment attributed to James A. Sanders by Beverly Roberts Gaventa, When in Romans: An Invitation to Linger with the Gospel according to Paul (Grands Rapids: Baker, 2016), 26 n. 5. Gaventa says she heard Sanders make this comment while she was a student at New York's Union Theological Seminary in the 1970s. According to Wikipedia, Gaventa received her MDiv from Union in 1973. 

Friday, July 27, 2018

Did Jerome Designate Tobit and Judith 'Apocrypha' or 'Agiographa'?

This week I received the newly published Sources chrétiennes (no. 592) volume containing the Préfaces aux livres de la Bible by Jerome, edited under the directorship of Aline Canellis. Along with all of the Jerome's biblical prefaces—in both Latin and French—this volume contains a 200-page introduction surveying the context of Jerome's translation work. To give you an idea of the types of things she treats, here is a list of the major headings in the introduction.

Le contexte de l'entreprise hiéronymienne (pp. 53–76)
L'entreprise de Jérôme (pp. 77–201)
--Révisions et retour à l'Hebraica veritas (pp. 77–156)
--La méthode de traduction de Jérôme (pp. 157–64)
--Le genre des préfaces et les lecteurs visés (pp. 165–201)
Du travail de Jérôme à la Vulgate (pp. 201–25)
La présente édition (pp. 226–47)

The last major part of the section titled "Révisions et retour à l'Hebraica veritas" deals with Jerome's views on the biblical canon, a subject of interest for me. Most of Canellis' treatment of Jerome's views on the canon are standard and unobjectionable, and she provides a helpful overview with good French bibliography.

But this post concerns a fairly minor point upon which I want to register disagreement: whether Jerome's Prefaces to Tobit and Judith refer to these books as apocrypha or as agiographa.

Canellis argues first that Jerome has two definitions for the term apocrypha (pp. 134–39). Sometimes he uses the word in a negative sense to refer to heretical books, and sometimes he uses it in a neutral sense to refer to useful books that are not in the canon. This latter sense appears—according to Canellis—in the Prologus Galeatus and in the Prefaces to Tobit and Judith.

I don't think so. I fully agree that Jerome often uses the term apocrypha in a negative sense to refer to heretical books. I would also argue (and have argued) that this meaning for the term apocrypha was very common in Jerome's day, the normal meaning. In fact, it is this usual definition of the term apocrypha that colors the way I interpret its appearance in the Prologus Galeatus. It seems to me that in that preface, Jerome could not be relying on some obscure neutral definition of the word, but rather he assumed the nearly universal negative definition, and that was the point: the books that were sometimes added to the Christian Old Testament beyond the Jewish canon were apocrypha, in the negative sense. It's a strong statement, polemical, pejorative, basically rhetorical, because Jerome didn't really regard these books—Tobit and Judith and Maccabees and Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon—as dangerous or heretical, but he was offering an exaggerated negative view of these books in order to make the point that they do not belong in the canon. I've developed these ideas further here and here.

As for the examples from Jerome's Prefaces to Tobit and Judith, I do not believe these examples are valid because the manuscript evidence strongly supports the reading agiographa in both prefaces over against apocrypha. I've posted on this issue before, and I've published an article on it. Both of the major editions of the Vulgate—the Roman edition and the Stuttgart edition—print the word 'agiographa' in the text, though Migne's edition from the mid-nineteenth century printed the word apcrypha. You can read about Migne in that post I mentioned.

Canellis prefers the reading apcrypha in these prefaces for two main reasons (pp. 139–41). (1) Jerome elsewhere uses the term agiographa only in reference to the third section of the Jewish canon, i.e., as the Latin equivalent for the Ketuvim or Writings (see, e.g., the Prologus Galeatus). Why would he use the same word in a different sense in the same sort of context (= discussions of scriptural canon)? (2) One can easily imagine a scribe confusing the Greek letters ΓΙ and Π, and thereby writing ΑΓΙΟΓΡΑΦΑ instead of ΑΠΟΚΡΥΦΑ. I'm not sure I really understand this argument. Is Canellis assuming that the Vorlage that created confusion for the Latin scribe had the Greek word in Greek characters in Jerome's Latin preface? I don't know. The preface to Tobit as it appears in Codex Amiatinus (ca. 700) does not use Greek characters (see here), nor does it in the Stuttgart edition of the Vulgate. On the other hand, the Stuttgart Vulgate does use Greek letters for this word in the Prologus Galeatus, as does Amiatinus (here), though neither of them use Greek letters for apocrypha in the Prologus Galeatus.

But she's right that if the word Agiographa appears in the prefaces to Tobit and Judith—as attested in nearly all manuscripts—then Jerome must have been using the word in a sense different from the one he used in the Prologus Galeatus, since we cannot think that Jerome meant that Tobit and Judith featured in the Jewish Ketuvim. But she seems to not remember that she has already proposed that Jerome uses the term apocrypha in two different senses. As far as I can see, either Jerome uses the term apocrypha in two different sense or he uses the term agiographa in two different senses, so we can't score points either way on Jerome's consistent terminology. But I think it more likely that Jerome varied in his meaning for the term agiographa simply because this word was much less common, without an established definition. Canellis points out that Jerome doesn't use the word outside his biblical prefaces, and I have pointed out before that Jerome is the first one to use the term in Latin, and it is slow to catch on.

Moreover, I would think that a scribe would be more likely to change the rare word agiographa to the much more common apocrypha, whether in Greek or in Latin.

So I still think it makes more sense to agree with the manuscripts and major editions of the Vulgate and retain the reading Agiographa rather than Apocrypha in Jerome's Prefaces to Tobit and Judith.

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Vulgate Appendix

If you study much about the biblical canon in the Latin tradition, you will eventually run across a statement about how some books are in the appendix to the Vulgate. This type of thing is meant quite literally: if you get a hold of the standard modern edition of the Latin Vulgate, you can flip to the end (after the New Testament) and you will find an Appendix that includes the following books:

The Prayer of Manasseh
3 Ezra (= LXX 1 Esdras)
4 Ezra (= 2 Esdras in some English versions of the apocrypha)
Psalm 151
The Epistle to the Laodiceans

But, of course, these books did not constitute an "appendix" to the Vulgate in any ancient or medieval manuscripts of the Latin Bible. As far as I know, there was no such thing as an "appendix" to Latin biblical manuscripts. So, when someone talks about 3 Ezra as occupying a place in the appendix to the Vulgate, this could give quite a misleading impression. Such a statement is accurate only if the term "Vulgate" refers to a modern printed edition and not to anything that, for instance, Jerome would have recognized.

Where did the appendix come from? Well, I'm not completely sure, but I think that the Sixto-Clementine edition from 1592 was the first to include an appendix.

The Sistine edition from 1590 did not include an appendix. It's available here, all three volumes. Vol. 1 ends with Job, vol. 2 ends with 2 Maccabees, and vol. 3 contains the NT and ends with Revelation. No appendix.

The Sixto-Clementine edition is available here. After the NT, there's an appendix with the Prayer of Manasseh and 3–4 Ezra. And there's a preface to the Appendix:
Oratio Manassa, necnon Libri duo, qui sub libri Tertii & Quarti Esdrae nomine circumferuntur, hoc in loco, extra scilicet seriem canonicorum Librorum, quos sancta Tridentina Synodus suscepit, & pro Canonicis suscipiendos decreuit, sepositi sunt, ne prorsus interirent, quippe qui a nonnullis sanctis Patribus interdum citantur, & in aliquibus Bibliis Latinis tam manuscriptis quam impressis reperiuntur. 
The Prayer of Manasseh, as well as two books, which circulate under the name of the Third and Fourth Book of Ezra, are set aside in this place—that is, outside the series of canonical books, which the holy Tridentine Synod accepted, and determined should be taken up for canonical—lest they should perish completely, since they are sometimes cited by some of the holy Fathers, and they are found in some Latin books, both manuscript and printed. 
As this note suggests, it was the decree on the biblical canon by the Council of Trent (1546) that created the situation in which it made some sense to print the Vulgate with an appendix containing non-canonical books. For it was only at Trent that the biblical canon was definitively settled. Thenceforth, editions of the Vulgate for a Roman Catholic readership would need to conform to the canon approved by Trent, and so it would no longer be appropriate to print the Prayer of Manasseh and 3–4 Ezra among the other biblical books, as the Gutenberg Bible had done, for instance. An edition of the Vulgate could completely omit any non-canonical works, as the Sistine edition had done, but the editors of the Sixto-Clementine edition were concerned that these venerable though non-canonical books might no longer be available, even though previous generations of Christian authors had sometimes referred to them.

Thus was born the Vulgate appendix.