Friday, September 5, 2014

Augustine and the Hebrew Bible: The Evidence of His Quaestiones in Heptateuchum

This post concludes a series. For earlier posts, see here, here, here, and here.

Augustine is well-known as someone who advocated continued use of the LXX as the Church's Bible in the face of those--like Jerome--who would replace it with a text closer to the Hebrew Bible, or at least downgrade its status significantly. He echoed a prominent Christian (and Jewish) tradition ascribing inspiration to the Seventy translators. But whereas earlier Christians (and Philo) had seen the Seventy to be inspired specifically for the purpose of producing a faithful translation--a miraculously accurate translation (see more here)--Augustine's innovation was in proposing that the Seventy were inspired to produce changes in the biblical texts, not really substantial changes, but small changes that ultimately pointed toward spiritual realities.

I believe that Augustine developed this position in response to Jerome's textual scholarship; Augustine did not feel competent to challenge Jerome's assertions that the LXX diverges often from the Hebrew text available in his day, and admitting this point seems to have made it untenable to continue to insist that the LXX was a more accurate translation than Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion. Jerome took this to mean that a new translation was needed. Augustine held on to the idea that the Seventy were inspired, but since they also changed the biblical text, that must have been what God inspired them to do. Augustine tries to diminish the strangeness of such an opinion by comparing the Seventy translators to the ancient Hebrew prophets--God inspired Isaiah and Jeremiah to say different things, and so it should not seem strange if he later inspired the Seventy prophetic translators to say things different from (but not, mind you, contradictory to) either Isaiah or Jeremiah (City of God 18.42-43). Elsewhere Augustine compares the relationship of the translators to their Hebrew Vorlage to the relationship among the four Evangelists, who were all inspired to produce different accounts of the life of Christ (Harmony of the Gospels 2.66.128).

In 1986, Anne-Marie la Bonnardière asked the question, "Did Augustine Use the Vulgate of Jerome?" (pp. 303–12 of this collection). To answer this question, she looked especially at the Quaestiones in Heptateuchum and the City of God. In regard to the Quaestiones, she counted 18x that Augustine compared the Hebrew translation to the LXX. I also count 18x (see below), but the passages that we include are a little different.

She omits Quaest. Gen. 2 and 169, and she includes Quaest. Gen. 97. She counts Quaest. Ios. 19 twice because in that passage Augustine discusses both Josh 16:10 and 6:26. And she references Quaest. Gen. 192, which she says is a discussion of Gen 41:50 (p. 305 n. 12). This is obviously a typo: there are not 192 questions for Genesis. I think she probably means Quaest. Gen. 152 on Gen 46:26–27, which is otherwise not in her list and obviously should be. Also, she later cites this question as an example of where Augustine speaks of the prophetic inspiration of the Seventy translators (p. 306 n. 16). 

As a general statement, she says: "En effet ces essais de confrontations n'aboutissent pas à ébranler l'estime d'Augustin pour la Septante" (p. 306). This is of course true, but I think somewhat unremarkable. In the context of early Christianity, this is the normal position. What I find more remarkable about Augustine--especially given his strong defense of the LXX as inspired and authoritative for the Church--is his willingness to engage occasionally with (a Latin translation of) the Hebrew text and use it for exegesis or even for textual criticism.

See here for the full post on Genesis. I discussed five questions, but quest. 97 does not discuss variants between the LXX and Hebrew (it only says that Hebrew is useful for exegesis), so I leave it out below.

  • Quest 2: the correct reading of Gen 5:25 is the one found in the Hebrew text and the more accurate Greek codices. 
  • Quest 152: the question of how many descendants went down with Jacob to Egypt (Gen 46:26–27) becomes so confusing that Augustine gives up trying to figure it out. He recognizes that the LXX and the Hebrew text say different things, but he insists that neither one of them make any sense. He concludes that scriptural numbers are often mysterious, meaning, I guess, that the presence of these problems must mean that we need to be thinking spiritually. 
  • Quest 162: he says that the Hebrew text makes good sense, and he seems to think that the Seventy translators have changed the text and also produced a good meaning. 
  • Quest 169: the Hebrew Bible and the LXX diverge on the number of days granted for Nineveh's repentance (40 vs. 3), but both texts have spiritual meanings. 
See here for the full post on Deuteronomy. I discussed three questions, but quest. 3 does not discuss variants between the LXX and Hebrew, so I leave it out below.
  • Quest 20: Augustine finds the Hebrew text (or Jerome's translation of it) to be clearer in reference to the tithing law. The feature that Augustine finds so helpful about Jerome's translation is actually not a precise reflection of the Hebrew text but an interpretive addition made by Jerome. 
  • Quest 54: the Seventy translators have added a phrase for a spiritual purpose. 
See here for the full post on Joshua. I discussed five passages. 
  • Quest 7: Augustine finds the Hebrew text to agree with his own interpretation of a potentially confusing passage. The feature of the Vulgate that Augustine finds so helpful is an interpretive addition by Jerome. 
  • Quest 15: Augustine generally seems to prefer the Hebrew text here, though he does not completely rule out the reading preserved in his traditional Latin translation. 
  • Quest 19: the Seventy translators made additions to fill out the consequences of the narrative, consequences about which they were aware because they were later chronologically than the prophets. 
  • Quest 24: this discussion is difficult for me to interpret, but it looks to me like early on Augustine thinks the Seventy have opted for an odd but spiritually significant translation, and later he thinks that maybe his Latin version just contains a mistranslation. 
  • Quest 25: Augustine thinks the Seventy have slightly altered the text in order to point toward spiritual realities. 
See here for the full post on Judges. I discussed seven passages. 
  • Quest 16: the Hebrew text confirms Augustine's interpretation. 
  • Quest 21: the Hebrew text confirms Augustine's interpretation. 
  • Quest 25: Augustine simply notes a divergence between the Hebrew text and LXX without explaining it. 
  • Quest 37: Augustine cites the variant in the Hebrew text and says that it is planius (more clear). Augustine is not clear on whether he thinks the Hebrew reading to be original. 
  • Quest 41: the Hebrew text confirms Augustine's interpretation. 
  • Quest 47: the Hebrew text confirms Augustine's interpretation. The element of Jerome's translation that Augustine finds helpful is an interpretive element added by Jerome. 
  • Quest 55: the Hebrew text confirms Augustine's interpretation. 

Final results (18 questions): 
  • First of all, la Bonnardière is absolutely right to stress that Augustine engages the Hebrew text only 18x out of the hundreds of questions that he pursues in this work. It would be nice to know why he didn't do this more. He found consultation of the Hebrew text to be valuable for his exegesis sometimes, but he the vast majority of the time he did not do it. 
  • 10x the Hebrew text stands as correct, either as preserving the better wording, or as more clearly stating what is less clear but implied in the LXX: Quaest Gen. 2; Quaest. Deut. 20; Quaest. Ios. 7; 15; 24 (?); Quaest. Iudic.  16; 21; 41; 47; 55. 
  • 4x the Seventy translators altered the biblical text for spiritual purposes: Quaest. Gen. 169; Quaest Deut 54; Quaest Ios. 19 (not really so much for spiritual purposes as historical ones); 25. 
  • 4x Augustine is not sure of the right answer or he does not reveal his own thoughts: Quaest Gen 152; 162; Quaest Iudic. 25; 37. 
This is very similar to the conclusions reached by la Bonnardière, who judges (p. 306 n. 16) that Augustine regards the LXX as prophetic at Quaest Gen 152; Quaest Deut 54; Quaest Ios. 19; 25, and she says (p. 306 n. 17) that Augustine regards the Hebrew as valuable or clearer at Quaest Gen 97; 162; Quaest Deut 20; Quaest Ios 7; 15; Quaest Iudic. 37; 47. (She also acknowledges that sometimes Augustine does not express an opinion.)

As for her first category, I would only switch out Quaest Gen 152 for Quaest Gen 169. For the second category, la Bonnardière has a total of 7 references, while in my similar category I have a total of 10. But not only would I add a few references, I would also switch out a few. At any rate, my study in some ways confirms, but also moves beyond, the study of la Bonnardière.

I also find it interesting (funny) that Augustine sometimes finds helpful (and regards as original Hebrew) the interpretive additions made by Jerome (Quaest. Deut. 20; Quaest. Ios. 7; Quaest. Iudic. 47).

If you just can't get enough of Augustine on the Hebrew Bible, be at the San Diego Convention Center (Room 30 D, upper level) at 1pm on Saturday, November 22, and you'll hear me give a paper on the subject. It wont be all dedicated to the Quaestiones in Heptateuchum, so don't be concerned that you've already been over this ground. And if you're that interest in the topic, let's meet and discuss it!

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