Sunday, January 23, 2011

The OT as Christian Scripture

Ernst Axel Knauf has issued a review of the commentary on Joshua written by J. Gordon McConville and Stephen Williams for the Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary Series published by Eerdmans.

The review is rather negative, and quite brief, and I will leave aside Knauf’s comments on the book itself. My interest was peaked, however, by a comment toward the close of the review. As Knauf explains how he would read Joshua as scripture, he writes the following.

If I want to read Joshua as part of a Bible that also contains a New Testament, I turn to the Vulgate as the first Bible that did that. If I read the Hebrew text, I read it as part of the Prophets that comment on Torah.

This comment interests me mainly because I don’t know what it means. Let’s take it one sentence at a time.

So, the Vulgate is the first Bible that put Joshua (and, no doubt, any other OT book) together with the NT. Um, how did it do that? Why wouldn’t you say the Greek Bible did this before the Vulgate? (And the Old Latin, for that matter.) I mean, after all, we have actual manuscripts of the Greek Bible, such as Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, that have (or originally had) the entire Greek OT and entire (more-or-less) Greek NT, and that preceded chronologically the earliest parts of the Vulgate by several decades.

Perhaps Knauf would say that the Greek translations of the OT were translated by Jews, and piecemeal at that, so these translations were not created with a view to the NT, and they were only joined with the NT sometimes many centuries after the original translation. But, Jerome is the translator we typically associate with the Vulgate, and he failed to translate (probably) the majority of the NT, working only on the Gospels before turning to the OT. So, the Vulgate too was translated only piecemeal, and put together, OT with NT, only at a later time, much the like the Greek Bible.

Again, Knauf may respond that Jerome was the first one who translated the OT as a Christian, at least, whose translation is extant (since the Old Latin is not completely extant). This may be true, and it may not be (see Peshitta), but Jerome certainly used his Christianity as an argument to his contemporaries that his translation would be better than others. On the other hand, Jerome was convinced that he was revealing the Hebrew text in his translations, and that it was the Hebrew Bible, rather than the Greek LXX, that really testified to Christ, and that the apostles themselves attest this by quoting the Hebrew rather than the Greek (so Jerome argued). So, saying that his Vulgate is somehow more Christian than the Hebrew text is actually a repudiation of the principles behind the Vulgate. I don’t mean to say that it is wrong, but I don’t think that Jerome would have agreed with it.

Now for the second sentence:

If I read the Hebrew text, I read it as part of the Prophets that comment on Torah.

When Knauf speaks of Joshua as “part of the Prophets”, I assume he must be talking about the divisions of the Hebrew Bible into three parts: Law (Torah), Prophets, and Writings. Otherwise, I’m not sure how you could classify Joshua as a prophetic book. So, when reading Joshua in Hebrew, one should read it according to the divisions defined in a later age, perhaps as late as the third or fourth century CE. I guess this is what he means at the very end of his review when he urges us to read the Old Testament not only as Christian scripture but also as Jewish scripture. He seems to mean: “scripture in terms of how it was received in what became normative Judaism.”

But, then I’m back to asking, “Why do Christians have to read the Vulgate, and not the LXX?”

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