Thursday, August 28, 2014

Augustine's _Questions on Genesis_ and the Hebrew Bible

A number of times in Augustine's writings he interacts with variants between the LXX (a Latin translation of which served as his primary scriptural text) and the Hebrew text, which he accessed mostly through Jerome's more recent Latin translations. One of his later works, the Quaestiones in Heptateuchum (419 CE), deals with a number of such variants. This post will present Augustine's statements on these variants for the first book of this work, which deals with questions on Genesis.

You can find the CSEL edition here. The page numbers below refer to this edition. (But see also this nice online version that uses Migne's text.)

I have searched the Library of Latin Texts (Brepols) database to find all the places in this first book where Augustine talks about "Hebrew", and I isolated the following five instances in which he has something to say about the Hebrew text. I try to provide enough context to make clear what Augustine is talking about, but I'm not concerned at this point in evaluating everything Augustine says. Right now I'm just wanting to present his comments.

Question 2 on Genesis 5:25 (p. 4)

The question concerns Methuselah's age at death, a problem for many Church Fathers because in their Greek text it appeared that Methuselah lived beyond the time of the flood, but since he didn't join Noah in the ark, he should have died before the flood or in it. (The MT and SP have Methuselah die during the year of the flood, though they have several divergences among them. See Hendel's article here.) Augustine deals with this question more extensively in City of God 15.11-15, where he argues that the Hebrew text more accurately gives the numbers of the Patriarchs' ages than do the Greek manuscripts at his disposal, which he thinks have become corrupt in the course of their transmission. That is, he does not attribute the error to the original Seventy translators.

At Quaest. in Gen. 2, he says:
sed hanc quaestionem plurium codicum mendositas peperit. non solum quippe in hebraeis aliter inuenitur uerum etiam in Septuaginta interpretatione Mathusalam in codicibus paucioribus sed ueracioribus sex annos ante diluuium reperitur fuisse defunctus. 
But the error of many codices has caused this question. For not only in the Hebrew codices is it found differently but also in the LXX translation in fewer but more accurate codices Methuselah is discovered to have died six years before the flood. 
I'm using M. Harl's translation and annotation of Greek Genesis as a guide on how all this works out. She says that when you add up all the numbers in the genealogies, the LXX locates the flood in year 2242 from creation and Methuselah dies in year 2256. There were three ways for ancients dealing with the Greek text to solve this problem: (a) keep Methuselah's lifespan the same (969 years), but add twenty years to the time when he became the father of Lamech (aged 187 rather than 167), so that the flood comes twenty years later, now in year 2262. For this solution, see Josephus (A.J. 1.86), Julius Africanus (PG 10.68a), and a corrector of Codex Alexandrinus, and several other Greek mss (cited in Wevers' apparatus). This is also the solution that Augustine has seen in some Greek manuscripts, as he says above. (b) Augustine knows some exegetes who think that Methuselah was translated to heaven along with his father Enoch (Gen 5:24) until after the flood, when he apparently came back to earth, lived 14 more years, and then died (City of God 15.11). (c) Jerome adopted the Hebrew reading.

Question 97 on Genesis 31:47 (p. 50)

The question concerns the verse reporting a covenant made between Jacob and Laban, for which they set up a stone as a witness.
Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha: but Jacob called it Galeed.
Laban gives the stone an Aramaic name, consistent with his Aramaean heritage as presented in Genesis. Jacob gives the stone a Hebrew name. This comes across in Augustine's Latin translation as aceruum testimonii (Laban's name for the stone) and aceruum testem (Jacob's name for it). So the question: why two different names?
traditur ab eis qui et syram et hebraeam linguam nouerunt propter proprietates suae cuiusque linguae factum. fieri enim solet, ut alia lingua non dicatur uno uerbo, quod alia dicitur, et uicinitate significationis quidque appelletur.  
It is reported by those who know the Syriac [= Aramaic] and Hebrew language that it was done on account of the properties of each one's own language. For it is customary that what is said in one language is not said in another language with the same word, and things are designated by a word close to the same meaning. 
Augustine uses the information provided by Semitic linguists (surely Jerome) to undergird his own assertion that word-for-word translation is impossible. This doesn't exalt or disparage the Hebrew text, but it does assume that knowledge of Hebrew (and Aramaic) is useful for exegesis, just as Augustine had asserted in De Doctrina Christiana 2.11.16.

Question 152 on Genesis 46:26-27 (pp. 78-79)

According to Gen 46:26 (LXX and MT), a total of 66 people entered Egypt with Jacob. In the next verse, the MT says that Joseph had two sons in Egypt, bringing the total to 70 persons (apparently including Joseph, Ephraim, Manasseh, and Jacob; here I follow Jerome, QHG 46:26), and the LXX says that Joseph had nine descendants in Egypt, bringing the total to 75. The problem Augustine poses is why the LXX would count even the grandsons of Joseph in the reckoning of 75 persons "with whom Jacob entered Egypt" (cum quibus Iacob intrauit in Aegyptum), since Joseph and his children were in Egypt, they did not enter with Jacob. Augustine answers that we should imagine the "with whom" as equivalent to "from the house of Jacob when he entered Egypt."

But there's a further difficulty: when Jacob entered Egypt, Joseph surely only had 2 descendants, not 9, because Ephraim and Manasseh would have been too young (about 9 years old) to have any children yet. Augustine recognizes that the Hebrew text does count only Ephraim and Manasseh among Joseph's descendants at this point in the story: hoc loco hebraei codices habere dicuntur, that is, it is said that the Hebrew codices count only Ephraim and Manasseh here. Augustine goes on to say that the LXX itself does the same thing in a passage in Exodus, but I haven't been able to figure out what passage he's talking about. The CSEL editor references Exod 1:5, but I fail to see why Augustine would think LXX Exod 1:5 counts only Ephraim and Manasseh among Joseph's descendants, since it again gives the number 75 (though MT again has 70). [Is it possible that Augustine read 70 in his text of Exod 1:5? I doubt it: the first apparatus of the Göttingen LXX lists only the Syrohexapla and the Ethiopic version as attesting such a reading. Now, the LXX of Deut 10:22 has the number 70, so maybe Augustine has just misremembered which book has this alternative reckoning. Philo (Migr. 199-200) makes both numbers (70 and 75) meaningful. Origen has the number 70 at De Princ. 4.23.]

Augustine does not think the Seventy are in error at Gen 46:26-27, though. Rather, "they wanted to fill up this number on account of some mystical significance as if by some prophetic liberty." Maybe the Seventy translators are trying to take account of all the children born to Joseph while Jacob was still alive? No, that wont work, because Jacob only lived in Egypt for 17 years (Gen 47:28), and he entered Egypt in the second year of the famine (Gen 45:6), and Joseph didn't get married until the years of plenty had already started (Gen 41:46, 50), so at most Ephraim and Manasseh were only 26 years old when Jacob died, and they could not have been grandfathers yet (cf. Gen 46:20 LXX).

Does the Hebrew text help us here?
sed neque ulla hebraeica ueritate ista soluitur quaestio.
I love that line. I imagine Augustine being fed up with hearing people acclaim the "Hebrew truth," and he contemptuously says, "no amount of Hebrew truth helps to solve this question!" (Take that, Jerome!) Why? Because even if you don't count Joseph's great grandchildren, you've still got to count Benjamin's grandchildren. Augustine says that even the Hebrew text says that the number 66 (Gen 46:26) includes all of Benjamin's descendants up to that point, which would have included his grandchildren and a great grandson (cf. LXX Gen 46:21). [Is Augustine unaware that the MT counts all of the descendants of Benjamin listed in Gen 46:21 as his own children, not any being his grandchildren, as in the LXX? But see Num 26:38-41.]

There are further problems: all of Joseph's descendants add up to 8 (Gen 46:20), Benjamin's 11 (46:21), but the total number of descendants attributed to Rachel--the mother of Joseph and Benjamin--is 18 (46:22). And later Joseph is credited with 9 descendants (46:27), though only 8 were listed earlier.

Augustine despairs and offers hope at the same time:
haec omnia, quae indissolubilia uidentur, magnam continent sine dubitatione rationem; sed nescio utrum possint cuncta ad litteram conuenire praecipue in numeris, quos in scripturis esse sacratissimos et mysteriorum plenissimos, ex quibusdam, quos inde nosse potuimus, dignissime credimus.
All these things, which seem unsolvable, no doubt contain great reasoning; but I don't know whether they can all literally fit together especially in the numbers, which in the scriptures we most worthily believe to be most sacred and most full of mysteries, from some which we have been able to know.  
End of the discussion.

[I'm not sure that I've got that last bit right: ex quibusdam, quos inde nosse potuimus.]

Question 162 on Genesis 47:31 (pp. 84-85)

The verse says: "Then Isreal [= Jacob] bowed his head on the head of his staff/bed." The difference between 'staff' and 'bed' for this Hebrew word is merely vocalic; the same consonants are used. The LXX translated with 'staff'; most modern translations (and Jerome) choose 'bed'. Augustine finds a number of variants in the Latin codices available to him, mostly concerned with how "on the head" is phrased, and the antecedent of "his" (Jacob's or Joseph's): super caput virgae eius, super caput virgae suae, in capite virgae suae, in cacumen, super cacumen. He first discusses the antecedent of 'his', explaining that Latin suae or eius reflect different interpretations of a single Greek word that does distinguish meanings with an accent and can distinguish meanings with an extra letter, but doesn't always. After discussing this a bit more, he notes:
quamuis in hebraeo facillima huius queastionis absolutio esse dicatur, ubi scriptum perhibent: et adorauit Israhel ad caput lecti, in quo utique senex iacebat et sic positum habebat, ut in eo sine labore, quando uellet, oraret. nec ideo tamen quod Septuaginta interpretati sunt nullum uel leuem sensum habere putandum est. 
Although in Hebrew the solution to the question is said to be easy, where they have written: and Israel bowed on the head of the bed, in which certainly the old man was reclining and having himself positioned so that on it without work he could speak when he wanted. But neither should it be thought that what the Seventy have translated has no meaning or an inferior meaning.
End of the discussion.

Question 169 on Genesis 50:3

The verse says that it took 40 days for the embalming/burial of Joseph, and Augustine explores what figurative significance such a time period might have. It might be related to a set period for penitence and fasting, just as Moses (Exod 34:28), Elijah (1Kings 19:8), and Jesus (Matt 4:2) all fasted for 40 days, and 40 days is the length of time granted to Nineveh in the Hebrew text of Jonah 3:4 to repent of their sins and fast. Augustine recognizes that 40 days is not always a period of mourning or repentance: Jesus spent 40 days with his disciples post-resurrection and that was a period of joy (Acts 1:3). Another problem with this view is that the LXX does not have the number 40 at Jonah 3:4 but rather 3 days.
nec septuaginta interpretes, quos legere consueuit ecclesia, errasse credendi sunt, ut non dicerent; quadraginta dies, sed: triduum et Nineue euertetur. maiore quippe auctoritate praediti quam interpretum officium est prophetico spiritu, quo etiam ore uno in suis interpretationibus, quod magnum miraculum fuit, consonuisse firmantur, triduum posuerunt, quamuis non ignorarent quod dies quadraginta in hebraeis codicibus legerentur, ut in domini Iesu Christi clarificatione intellegerentur dissolui obolerique peccata, de quo dictum est: qui traditus est propter delicta nostra et resurrexit propter iustificationem nostram [Rom. 4:25]. clarificatio autem domini in resurrectione et in caelum ascensione cognoscitur. unde et bis numero quamuis unum et eundem spiritum sanctum dedit: primo, posteaquam resurrexit, iterum, posteaquam ascendit in caelum. et quoniam post triduum resurrexit, post quadraginta autem dies ascendit, unum horum, quod posterius factum est, numero dierum codices hebraei significant; alterum autem de triduo, quod ad eandem etiam rem pertinent, Septuaginta commemorare non interpretationis seruitute sed prophetiae auctoritate uoluerunt. non ergo dicamus unum horum falsum esse et pro aliis interpretibus aduersus alios litigemus, cum et illi, qui ex hebraeo interpretantur, probent nobis hoc scriptum esse quod interpretantur, et septuaginta interpretum auctoritas, quae tanto etiam diuinitus facto miraculo commendatur, tanta in ecclesiis uetustate firmetur.
But we should not believe that the Seventy translators, whom the church is used to reading, have made a mistake when they have not said "40 days" but "3 days and Nineveh will be destroyed." Since the office of one endowed with the prophetic spirit has more authority than the office of translators, and by that prophetic spirit they are confirmed to have agreed in their individual translations even as with one mouth--which was a great miracle--they put 3 days, although they were not ignorant that 40 days were read in the Hebrew codices, so that sins would be understood to be destroyed and abolished at the glorification of our Lord Jesus Christ, concerning whom it is written: "Who was handed over for our offenses and he rose for our justification" (Rom 4:25). Now the glorification of the Lord is known in his resurrection and ascension into heaven. Hence also twice in number he gave the Holy Spirit although it was one and the same spirit: first, after he rose (cf. John 20:22), again, after he ascended into heaven (cf. Acts 2:2-4). And because he rose after 3 days, and he ascended after 40 days, the one of these that happened later the Hebrew codices signify by the number of days (Jonah 3:4); the other concerning three days, which pertains to the very same thing, the Seventy wished to commemorate not by the servility of a translation but by the authority of prophecy. Therefore let us not say one of these is false and so argue on behalf of some translators against others, since even those who translate from Hebrew prove to us that what they translate is written, and the authority of the Seventy translators, which is commended by so great a divinely accomplished miracle, is established by such long use in the churches. 
Augustine has a similar discussion of Jonah 3:4 at City of God 18.44.

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