Friday, October 23, 2009

Did Late Antique Jews Use Aquila's Translation?

There is a new article about Aquila’s translation.
Jenny R. Labendz, “Aquila’s Bible Translation in Late Antiquity: Jewish and Christian Perspectives,” Harvard Theological Review 102.3 (2009): 353–388.
Labendz, of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, makes it her goal “to develop a more nuanced understanding of the history of Aquila’s Bible translation in Late Antiquity” (p. 353). If you are not immediately familiar with who Aquila is, learn more here.
Labendz first discusses the rabbinic sources for Aquila (pp. 355–370) before moving to the patristic sources (pp. 370–386). Labendz is obviously (and by her own admission) more comfortable in the Jewish sources than among the Fathers, and it is in her analysis of the rabbinic tradition of Aquila that I found her most helpful. (Her comments on the Church Fathers are not innovative, as far as I could tell.) I will let you read for yourself what she has to say. I suppose the take-away point for me is that rabbinic literature may indicate only that the Rabbis encountered Aquila’s translations as something like “oral targums” (which word, תרגם, they do use in connection with him). Still, I’m not sure how this would be the easiest way to explain all of the evidence.
Anyway, the purpose of this post is to point out that, strangely, Labendz repeatedly makes the erroneous assertion that the rabbinic evidence is the only extant Jewish evidence related to Aquila.
“The only ancient Jewish sources that mention Aquila or use his translation are rabbinic […]” (p. 353).
Speaking of Origen in his Letter to Africanus, when he says that Jews use Aquila: “If Origen is referring to the rabbis, then the evidence of rabbinic literature confirms this, as we have seen. But if he is referring rather, or in addition, to a wider Greek-speaking Jewish community, then we lack corroborating evidence of this claim” (p. 373).
After summarizing the evidence from rabbinic sources: “Other Jewish sources are silent” (p. 388).
In fact, we do have (admittedly, very limited) Jewish evidence outside rabbinic literature for the Jewish use of Aquila’s translation. First, there is an inscription in third century Rome that follows Aquila’s translation of Prov. 10:7. It has most recently been published as inscription 112 in vol. 2 of David Noy, ed. Jewish Inscriptions of Western Europe, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993–1995).
Second, the Cairo Genizah yielded some fragments of Aquila. To be sure, these fragments post-date the chronological limit Labendz set on herself (p. 354), but they must have been copied from earlier manuscripts, and these later fragments attest a continuing use of Aquila among some Jews.
The whole question of which Greek Bible text Greek-speaking Jews might have used is quite vexed. We can see now the collection of studies edited by Nicholas de Lange, Julia Krivoruchko, and Cameron Boyd-Taylor, Jewish Reception of Greek Bible Versions (Mohr Siebeck, 2009). In the introduction (p. 6), de Lange highlights the continuing importance of Aquila among Byzantine Jews as one of the major conclusions arising from the papers presented in the volume.


Jenny R. Labendz said...

I became aware of the inscription shortly after the article was published and am indeed embarrassed by my oversight. I was, however, well aware of the Geniza fragments but, as you noted, restricted the article to Late Antique evidence. Thanks for calling attention to the article, though, and correcting the oversight.

Ed Gallagher said...

Thanks for leaving a comment. I'm surprised that a reviewer didn't catch the oversight of the inscription.

What do you think about my argument that the Geniza fragments do provide some evidence for Late Antique Jewish use of Aquila, since the fragments, though Byzantine, must have been copied from earlier (i.e. Late Antique) texts?

I am quite fascinated by the use of Greek Bible versions among Jews (and Christians, for that matter), so I appreciate your research in this area.


Jenny R. Labendz said...

I don't like drawing conclusions from later manuscripts about earlier ones. Aquila's translation definitely EXISTED in Late Antiquity, but the question of who was reading it or using it then cannot be answered based on later manuscripts.

Are you aware of the conference in Oxford this spring entitled "Greek Scripture and the Rabbis"?

Ed Gallagher said...

If you are still keeping up with the comments on this post, I'll point out that in light of further study, I've assigned a separate post to the topic of the origins of those Cairo Geniza fragments of Aquila:

Your caution regarding these fragments is certainly correct.

Also, did you attend the conference in Oxford that you mentioned in your previous comment (5 months ago--I'm a little slow sometimes).