Biblical and Patristic Studies, especially dealing with the reception of the Hebrew Bible in Early Christianity
Monday, September 29, 2008
Jerome's View of Double Inspiration
Friday, August 29, 2008
This post is designed merely to help people locate Jerome’s phrase “Chaldean truth”. I spent about twenty minutes Googling it in every variation I could think of (e.g. “Chaldee verity” etc.), all in vain. Finally, I noticed that I had already cited it in a paper I wrote several months ago.
As readers of Jerome will know, he speaks constantly of the Hebrew truth (Hebraica veritas) as his rallying cry to return to the original language of the OT. He does the same for the NT, speaking of the “Greek truth” in his preface to the Gospels (cf. Stuttgart Vulgate, ed. Weber, p. 1515, line 4), but Greek is not so often associated with Jerome because he did so little work on the NT compared with the OT. Scholars have, in fact, failed to find traces of his revision activity in the NT outside of the Gospels; the rest of the NT was revised, but by an anonymous editor, whom some modern scholars identify as Rufinus the Syrian (not Rufinus of Aquileia).
Since part of the Bible is written in Aramaic rather than Hebrew, Jerome naturally does not apply the phrase Hebraica veritas to this portion. Here is his Commentary on Daniel 5:11; the lemma is underlined.
Est vir in regno tuo qui spiritum deorum sanctorum habet in se. Praeter Symmachum, qui chaldaicam veritatem secutus est, ceteri ‘spiritum Dei’ interpretati sunt.
Jerome says that Symmachus alone among Greek translators follows the “Chaldean truth” by using the plural “gods” rather than the singular “God.”
At any rate, my interest in this comment is in the phrase chaldaica veritas. I hope that if anyone wants to find Jerome’s statement about it, this post will make it easier to locate.
Friday, July 4, 2008
The Jews, the Canon, and the Hebrew Alphabet
Monday, June 30, 2008
The 22 Books of the OT
- Origen, as cited above. (Though I agree with Dominique Barthélemy that the canon list Origen gives does not represent his own OT canon, but merely that of the “Hebrews”; see Études d’histoire du texte de l’Ancien Testament, 1978, p. 114.)
- Athanasius of Alexandria in his 39th Festal Letter.
- Epiphanius of Salamis in three separate lists: Panarion 8.6.1-4; De mens. et pond. 4; 22-23. In each of these lists, Epiphanius mentions also the number 27, which is simply a different way of counting the 22 books, in accordance with the five doubled letters of the Hebrew alphabet which bring the number of Hebrew letters to 27. Jerome also mentions the number 27 and the five doubled letters/books (Prologus Galeatus).
- Gregory of Nazianzus, Carmen 1.12.
- Hilary of Poitiers, Tractatus super Psalmos 15. (See here)
- Jerome, Prologus Galeatus.
- Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lecture 4.35), who stresses the number 22 for the OT books, but does not mention the alphabet.
- The Council of Laodicea, canon 60. Two notes: (1) Though the total number of books is not given, each book is assigned a number, with the last book, Daniel, being given number 22. (2) It is not certain that this list originated with the council, or whether it was added later.
- Rufinus of Aquileia, Commentary on the Apostle's Creed, 37. Notes: it is clear that Rufinus is aiming for the number 22 because he counts Ruth with Judges, and reports that the Hebrews count the four books of Kings (i.e. our Samuel and Kings) as two, etc. The only reason to do this is to preserve the number 22. I am aware of Meinrad Stenzel’s objection to this view (“Der Bibelkanon des Rufin von Aquileja,” Biblica 23 (1942): 43–61 (45)), but I find his argument unpersuasive.
- Melito of Sardis (preserved in Eusebius, HE 4.26). I assume with Albert Sundberg that Melito does not include the Wisdom of Solomon (see The Old Testament of the Early Church (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1964), 133–134 n. 10). Some scholars have attempted to count Melito’s books as 22 (e.g. Sundberg, 133–134), but others more simply count 25 (e.g. R.T. Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church, 1985, 184–185).
- Hierosolymitanus 54 (= the Bryennios list), a list of OT canonical books found in the same manuscript which yielded the Didache. The manuscript was discovered in Jerusalem (hence Hierosolymitanus) by Philotheos Bryennios. The list counts 27 books, which is reminiscent of Epiphanius (see above). This canon list was studied by J.-P. Audet, “A Hebrew-Aramaic List of Books of the Old Testament in Greek Transcription,” JThS 1 (1950): 135–154; reprinted in S.Z. Leiman (ed.), Canon and Masorah of the Hebrew Bible, 1974, 52–71.
- Amphilochus of Iconium, Iambi ad Seleucum 251–319. Amphilocus may count 22 books, but he does not say, nor does he assign numbers to the individual books.
- The Apostolic Canons, canon 85. I follow the text of P.-P. Joannou, Discipline générale antique, 3 vols., Fonti codificazione canonica orientale 9 (Grottaferrata (Rome): Tipografia Italo-Orientale “S. Nilo,” 1961–64), 1.2.51–52. The text of F.X. Funk includes after Eshter, “Judith and three books of Maccabees,” which is an interpolation from the Latin (Didascalia Constitutiones Apostolorum, 2 vols. (Paderborn: Schoeningh, 1905), 1.590–592).
- The Mommsen Catalogue (= the Cheltenham List, from North Africa ca. 359).
- Council of Hippo in 393, the canons of which were not preserved, but the scriptural canon was reaffirmed at Carthage in 397.
- Council of Carthage in 397, canon 26.
- Augustine’s list in On Christian Doctrine 2.13.
- The list of Pope Innocent I given in his letter to Exsuperius, section 7. This list actually comes from the early 5th century (ca. 405), and is the first pronouncement of Rome on the issue.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Quote of the Day
From Werner Jaeger, Early Christianity and Greek Paideia (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1961), p. 33, speaking of the difference between the Greek and Latin forms of early Christianity.
The Greeks always welcome the support of reason, whereas the Roman mind stresses throughout (1) the factor of personality in the acceptance of the Christian faith and (2) the suprapersonal factor of authority.
That is a good way of putting it, and fits very well with the concept of the early Christian canon on which I am working.
Friday, April 25, 2008
The Title of the “Minor Prophets”
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Jesus and the Flat Earth
Before exploring the idea of the flat earth, I point out some statements with which I take issue.
He was fully a first century man. This is why Jesus didn't tell the world about a cure for cancer, or instruct people on basic sanctity in relation to bacteria and such like, or detail the way to make penicillin, projects that would have saved thousands upon thousands of lives, many more than hundreds of his miracles put together.
This is certainly a strange thing to say. “Jesus would have cured cancer if he had known how.” Such an argument ignores the entire discussion about God’s righteousness in the face of suffering. It is generally thought by Christians that God could now obliterate cancer from the human condition, but he doesn’t want to, for whatever reason. I’m not sure how this wouldn’t apply to Jesus in his earthly life.
I affirm the orthodox teaching of the incarnation, that Christ is fully God and fully man.
While Tilling says that he affirms the orthodox teaching of the incarnation, it seems rather that he maintains the orthodox terminology, while applying that terminology to concepts that would not have been acceptable to those who first developed the doctrine. I’m thinking especially about Jesus’
ignorance nescience. I find it doubtful that many of the Fathers would have allowed this concept much leeway outside the specific context to which Matthew 24:36 restricts it. But see the next point.
Origen and some of the other Fathers would say Jesus is 'ignorant' on certain matters, but they really mean that he was nescient.
I have not researched the history of exegesis for Matthew 24:36, so I cannot speak with authority on this point. I reiterate that a priori I am doubtful that the orthodox Fathers would have found much that Jesus didn’t know. Jerome, for one, rejects even the explicit statement of the verse, and says that Jesus did in fact know just as much as God the Father regarding the coming day.
Finally, did Jesus think the earth was flat?
There are three points I’d like to make. But before getting to them, let’s just change the perspective by asking whether an average first-century Palestinian Jew (A1PJ) would have thought that the earth was flat. Since some say that Jesus was an A1PJ, this will answer their question, and since some say that Jesus was decidedly not an A1PJ, phrasing the question in this way will avoid having to discuss the special knowledge that Jesus himself may have possessed.
First, according to the "authoritative" Wikipedia article on the idea of a Flat Earth, very few educated people have ever believed in a flat earth, at least since Hellenistic times. Eratosthenes, already in the 3rd century BC, calculated the circumference of the earth amazingly close to the correct measurement. This was done in Alexandria, the major location of diaspora Jews in Hellenistic and Roman times. It is debatable whether an A1PJ would have been exposed to this knowledge, so we must look for sources that indicate the cosmology current in Palestine.
Second, does Matthew 4:8 imply a flat earth? I am not a NT scholar, so I’m not up-to-date on scholarship regarding the formation of the Gospels, but I do think the parallel in Luke is worth reading.
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. (Matthew 4:8)
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. (Luke 4:5)
In my view, the Lukan account does not at all imply a flat earth, but rather some sort of a visionary experience, and this despite the devil’s taking Jesus “up”. Perhaps some say that this is exactly why Luke made the change from Matthew, i.e., because he knew that there was no mountain that could give a view of the entire world, and maybe this was due to Luke’s more sophisticated cosmology. In any case, it will not be agreed by all that Luke’s version should be taken into account when interpreting Matthew.
I admit that the following argument is speculative, but I think Luke’s insight would have been readily apparent to any A1PJ. In other words, anyone would know that there was no mountain that could give a view of all the kingdoms of the world, simply because such a mountain could not be seen from Palestine. In other words, if a mountain could overlook every kingdom, then every kingdom could also see that mountain. But no such mountain could be seen from Palestine. Surely the Evangelists had scaled the local mountains and perceived that the views offered were not nearly extensive enough to see the whole world (even if we take “all the kingdoms of the world” to include only the Roman Empire and the various other known kingdoms on the outskirts of the Roman Empire). So I don’t think we need to understand Matthew’s account in the sense that the “very high mountain” offered a view of the world to Jesus that could be seen also by anyone else. I also find it significant that the mountain is not named—an indication that Matthew does not intend any physical mountain?
The difficulty with this interpretation, then, is why the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain. As often noted, Jesus had quite a few “spiritual” experiences on mountains, so that is not so unusual in this case. But why does the writer specify that the mountain was “very high”? It is possible that Matthew uses the adverb and adjective to indicate the spiritual nature of the experience. Luke’s version does support this reading, though I understand that that evidence is not admissible by all. In any event, I do regard it unlikely that any educated A1PJ actually thought that a mountain, no matter how high, could provide the required view. (I qualify the author of the First Gospel with the adjective “educated” exactly because he was an author—he could write, after all.)
Third, does Second Temple Jewish literature support the idea of a flat earth? The suggestion has been made that 1 Enoch does so. I haven’t the time to read through 1 Enoch right now, but I’ll simply say that the passages used by some to establish the point do not convince. In any case, 1 Enoch was certainly not looked on by all, least of all the Jerusalem establishment, as authoritative, and is associated most closely with sectarian groups like the Qumran community. So would an A1PJ take his cosmology from 1 Enoch? I guess some would and some wouldn’t.
Monday, April 14, 2008
The Death of Zechariah, Part 1
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Greek Etymology in Susanna
- Origen seems to have been the first. He writes in his Letter to Africanus (§6, or §10 in the most recent critical edition by Nicholas de Lange in SC 302) that he previously recognized the difficulty. His acknowledgment of this point is found in book 10 of his Stromata, preserved by Jerome in his Commentary on Daniel 13:54-59 (available here in Gleason Archer’s translation).
- Africanus raises the point about the etymologies in his Letter to Origen (§1, or §5 in the edition by de Lange) as one of seven arguments against the authenticity of Susanna.
- Porphyry, the neo-Platonic philosopher and anti-Christian writer, recognized the Greek etymologies and used it apparently as an argument that the entire Book of Daniel had been originally composed in Greek. This is how Porphyry’s position is related by Jerome in the preface to his Commentary on Daniel. (Again, Gleason Archer’s translation is available here. Note P.M. Casey's caution [p. 19] about deciphering Porphyry’s precise position from Jerome.) Robert M. Grant showed long ago that it is unlikely that Porphyry was dependent on Africanus or Origen, specifically because Porphyry thought the whole Book of Daniel was composed in Greek, whereas it would have been difficult for him to gain this impression from these earlier Christian writers. See Grant’s “Historical Criticism in the Ancient Church,” Journal of Religion 25 (1945): 183–96 (194). This is in contrast to other scholars who think that Porphyry was dependent on Africanus (e.g. de Lange, on p. 490 of his edition of the letters = SC 302).
- A Jewish teacher is said by Jerome to have brought this objection against the story. This is related in Jerome’s preface to his translation of Daniel (available here in Fremantle’s old translation, or here in Kevin Edgecomb’s recent translation).
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Benedictio contra sternumenta
The Blessing Against Sneezes
My four-year-old daughter recently asked why one of our relatives responds to someone’s sneeze with the expression, “God bless you,” while my wife and I are in the habit of saying merely, “Bless you.” I replied that the sayings were equivalent, and that our habit was to leave the divine agent unexpressed, but assumed.
This started me thinking how one might expand the Benedictio contra sternumenta (or is there a better name for it?), i.e., what else might be assumed, even in the fuller three-word version, “God bless you.”
I think the following is about as detailed as you would want to get. I may use it the next time I hear someone sneeze. I assume it will make the sneezer feel like I’ve put some thought into my blessing, instead of making a merely customary comment that really has no significance.
Here is my new Benedictio contra sternumenta:
May the Lord our God, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and His Son Jesus Christ who has redeemed us from all our transgressions, and Their Holy Spirit, who has inspired the divine scriptures, bless thee that this sneeze not portend any descent from that measure of bodily health that thou dost now enjoy, so that thou wilt be strong in body, mind, and spirit, both now and through eternity, Amen and Amen.
I believe the archaic second person singular pronouns are essential in such situations.
Suggestions for improvements?
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
The Profundity of St. Anselm
I do long for a more adequate understanding of classical Christian theology. Recently, a chance to sample some came to me as I was asked to teach an apologetics class to the high school students of my local church. Of course, we don’t get too deep in the class, but our discussion of the existence of God led me to seek out more information about the ontological argument.
I am now slowly making my way through a collection of extracts from those who have discussed the ontological argument through the ages (The Ontological Argument: from St. Anselm to Contemporary Philosophers, ed. Alvin Plantinga, with an introduction by Richard Taylor [New York: Doubleday, 1965]). I am still reading extracts from Anselm, so you can tell that I have not made it far.
I’m not sure what to make of the ontological argument. But the following from St. Anselm certainly brings humor, not to mention despair, to my quest for deeper theological understanding.
This is taken from chapter 2 of St. Anselm’s Reply to Gaunilo, p. 16 of the aforementioned collection.
But you will say that although it is in the understanding, it does not follow that it is understood. But observe that the fact of its being understood does necessitate its being in the understanding. For as what is conceived, is conceived by conception, and what is conceived by conception, as it is conceived, so is in conception; so what is understood, is understood by understanding, and what is understood by understanding, as it is understood, so is in the understanding. What can be more clear than this?
I think I’m beginning to understand this, though I’m not sure if it is understood in the understanding, or by understanding, or whatever. What can be more clear than this?
Friday, February 8, 2008
Jerome's Preface to the Twelve Prophets
Jerome translated the Twelve Prophets (i.e., “Minor Prophets”) around AD 394. As was his custom, he prefixed this brief note to his translation, dedicating it to two of his friends (Paula and Eustochium).
The order of the Twelve Prophets is not the same among the Hebrews as it is among us. Hence, according to that which is read there [in the Hebrew], here [in my version] also they are set down. Hosea is broken up into clauses, and speaks as if in aphorisms. Joel is clear at the beginning, quite obscure at the end. And the individual [prophets] have their own characteristics all the way to Malachi, which the Hebrews assert to be Ezra, the scribe and teacher of the law. And because it would take too long now to speak concerning all of them, this alone, O Paula and Eustochium, I wish you to take to heart, that the Twelve Prophets are one book, and Hosea is a contemporary of Isaiah, but Malachi lived in the times of Haggai and Zechariah. But when no date is given in the title, that prophet prophesied under the same kings as the preceding prophet that does have a date in the title.
The old NPNF translation of Jerome's prefaces does not contain this preface, but merely the following brief note:
This Preface, dedicated to Paula and Eustochium in A.D. 392, contains nothing of importance, merely mentioning the dates of a few of the prophets, and the fact that the Twelve Prophets were counted by the Hebrews as forming a single book.
On the contrary, I find this preface to be a helpful introduction to the reception of the Minor Prophets among early Christians. Jerome crams a lot of interesting tidbits into this brief introduction.
First, he names them the Twelve Prophets, rather than the title more traditional for Western Christians, viz., “Minor Prophets”. This is because this latter title was apparently not yet coined by the time Jerome published his translation. The earliest attestation for the designation “Minor Prophets” is found in Augustine’s City of God, book 18, published in the early to mid-420s. Before Augustine, everyone called these books “The Twelve”, going back as early as Ben Sira (49:10) in the early second century BC. This is the unanimous testimony of the early Jewish and Christian canonical lists, and is still the custom among Jews.
These same sources also provide testimony for the custom of counting the Twelve Prophets as one book, a matter stressed by Jerome in this preface. Again, Augustine seems to be the first writer to count the Twelve as twelve instead of as one, and his numbering system became standard in western Christianity. All Christians before Augustine, and Jews up to the present day, counted the Twelve as a single book.
One thing further on this point: it is interesting that Jerome is so insistent in this preface that the Twelve count as one book, and in his translation he does not provide prologues for each prophet. In other words, he treats them as one book in his translation. However, in his commentary on the Twelve, which he would begin to publish shortly after this translation, and which would be complete in 406, he does not at all treat them as one book. There, he offers no general preface for the entire corpus, but instead writes introductions for each prophet separately. In this, he does not differ from his contemporaries or predecessors. Despite this preface, Jerome was not, after all, a forerunner of the recent scholarly attempts to read the Twelve as a single book.
The second point of interest in this preface is that Jerome points out the divergence in order of the Twelve Prophets between the Septuagint (LXX) and Jewish tradition. We are familiar with the Hebrew order, thanks to Jerome’s reliance on the Hebraica veritas (“Hebrew truth”) in his Vulgate translation of the OT. The LXX differs from it in the first half of the Twelve, giving the following order: Hosea, Amos, Micah, Joel, Obadiah, Jonah. The order for the rest of the books is identical.
It is unclear how early the internal order of the Twelve was fixed in the Hebrew tradition, though many scholars assume that Ben Sira’s reference to the twelve prophets (49:10), and most of the evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls, confirms that it was fixed by the early second century BC. It is equally unclear what principles governed the arrangement of the books, though they are assembled roughly chronologically. The books that don’t fit this paradigm are Joel and Obadiah, though they do not explicitly indicate a time period and are notoriously difficult to date, so they may in fact fit this schema, at least in the mind of their ancient editor.
It is generally assumed that the LXX order was determined by the length of the books, so that Joel and Obadiah follow the longer books of Hosea, Amos, and Micah. Jonah is set by itself because it is unique in not offering prophetic oracles, but instead a story about a prophet. Why these principles were not carried through the entire corpus, but only affected the first half, is, again, unclear. The reader can judge for himself how convincing is this line of reasoning, and he is also invited to propose a better solution.
These comments on Jerome’s preface to the Twelve cover only the first sentence. Perhaps in the future I will have something to say about the rest.
 The translation of this preface by Kevin P. Edgecomb may be viewed at his site or here. I offer in the present post my own translation. The differences are mostly stylistic.
 This phrase is translated thus by A.A. Macintosh, Hosea, ICC (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark, 1997), p. lxiv. Macintosh considers Jerome’s evaluation of Hosea’s style “entirely apposite”.
 This is a loose translation of Jerome’s much more complicated syntax. A more literal translation runs as follows: “But in those for which the time is not displayed in the title, they prophesied under those kings under whom also they prophesied who have titles before them.”
 The first sentence of ch. 29 runs as follows in the NPNF translation: “The prophecy of Isaiah is not in the book of the twelve prophets, who are called the minor from the brevity of their writings, as compared with those who are called the greater prophets because they published larger volumes.”
 See the lists provided by H.B. Swete, An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek2 (1914), pp. 198ff.
 See On Christian Doctrine 2.13 . Augustine does say that the Twelve are counted as one, but later in the same paragraph he asserts that the books of the OT total 44, a number which assumes that the Twelve count as twelve. Augustine also includes the Apocrypha, of course.
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
John Barton on the OT Canon
Thursday, January 3, 2008
C.S. Lewis on Old Books
C.S. Lewis makes his case for reading old books in his introduction to St. Athanasius on the Incarnation: The Treatise De Incarnatione Verbi Dei (London: Mowbray, 1944), 3–10. The full text of the book is available here.
His arguments are:
- Old books are easier to understand than modern commentaries on those old books.
- The content of old books is assumed in much modern writing, so that if you read only the modern works, you are clueless as to the basis of the work you are reading.
- Since we are a product of modern times, recent books share our modern perspective, thus reinforcing our own beliefs, even wrong ones. Old books provide a corrective to this.
- Regarding Christian books in particular, reading the classics allows one to see that “mere Christianity” which runs through writers of all Christian divisions.
Lewis then sings the praises of St. Athanasius, and his De Incarnatione in particular. Here follows some of his more interesting and eloquent observations. The first three passages concern the value of old books. The fourth passage continues this topic, but is interesting primarily for Lewis’ views on Christian divisions. The last passage articulates a stuggle common to earnest Christians eager to “devote” their minds to God but unable to extract any insight or emotion from “devotional” literature.
There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that first-hand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than second-hand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire (p. 3)
It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones (p. 4).
Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us (p. 5).
We are all rightly distressed, and ashamed also, at the divisions of Christendom. But those who have always lived within the Christian fold may be too easily dispirited by them. They are bad, but such people do not know what it looks like from without. Seen from there, what is left intact despite all the divisions, still appears (as it truly is) an immensely formidable unity. I know, for I saw it; and well our enemies know it. That unity any of us can find by going out of his own age. (p. 7).
For my own part I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that “nothing happens” when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand (p. 8).