Monday, September 29, 2008

Jerome's View of Double Inspiration

A student asked me a question about the LXX addition to Gen. 46:20, which has led to a day’s worth of research on the number of Israelites who descended into Egypt according to the various textual witnesses.
Just a quick survey: the MT of Gen. 46:27 says that 70 individuals went, as also Exod. 1:5 and Deut. 10:22. The LXX has the number 75 in the first two passages, though it maintains the 70 in the Deut. passage. The number 75 is also found in 2 fragments of Exod. 1:5 found at Qumran: 4QGen-Exoda (fr. 17 line 2) and 4QExodb (fr. 1 line 5), for which see DJD 12. The extra 5 people in the LXX are presented in an expansion of Gen. 46:20, which reads in The New English Translation of the Septuagint,
And to Ioseph in the land of Egypt were born sons, Manasse and Ephraim, whom Asenneth daughter of Petephres, priest of Heliopolis bore to him. [Here the MT ends.] And to Manasse were born sons, whom the Syrian concubine bore to him: Machir, and Machir became the father of Galaad. And the sons of Manasse’s brother Ephraim: Southalaam and Taam. And the sons of Southalaam: Edem.
Naturally, Jerome prefers the MT reading 70, and he argues that the extra 5 people included in the LXX addition to Gen. 46:20 are obviously secondary additions because Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh would not have been old enough at the time to have children, much less grandchildren. “Therefore it is clear that all of Jacob’s descendents who entered Egypt totaled 70, though 66 of these came later and found 3 already in Egypt, namely Joseph and his two sons; the 70th person is Jacob himself.”
A problem arises in that Stephen cites the number 75 in his speech in Acts 7:14. To this Jerome responds: “the answer is easy. Saint Luke, who is the author of that history, in publishing a book of the Acts of the Apostles for the gentiles, ought not to have written anything contrary to the Bible (scriptura) commonly accepted by the gentiles.”
This last comment is interesting for a number of reasons, not least of which is that Jerome here imagines that Luke did not give a literal presentation of Stephen’s words. Jerome probably envisioned Stephen speaking to the Jewish leadership in Hebrew or Aramaic (“Syriac”), and so of course Luke would have had to translate this into Greek. However, Luke’s editorial activity included even conforming Stephen’s speech to the expectations of a Gentile audience. Jerome seems to be saying that Stephen would have cited the number 70 in his actual speech, because it is the correct number in the Hebrew tradition. Luke changed this number to 75 in order to match the expectations of his readers. Both Stephen and Luke were inspired, in Jerome’s mind. This implies that the same Holy Spirit can inspire two inharmonious accounts of one incident. This is very reminiscent of Augustine’s discussion of Jonah’s prophecy within his defense of the LXX (City of God, book 18, chapter 44).
I’m not sure what to think of Jerome’s comment here. He seems close to conceding the position he elsewhere attacks so vigorously, and thereby he slackens somewhat on his commitment to the original (veritas). I’m sure that he didn’t think about the implications of his statement here as I have done, but I wonder whether he would have been better off, and more consistent, by allowing Stephen himself to cite the number 75. Yet, that option comes with its own problems.
Jerome’s discussion is found in his Hebrew Questions in Genesis at 46:26. I have used the Migne edition (PL 23.2, cols. 1051−1053).

Friday, August 29, 2008

Chaldean Truth

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

There are several items I could clarify from my previous post. Maybe I’ll turn such clarifications into a series, though if you’ve read enough of this blog, you know that I’m very bad about finishing series. (I do plan to return to Zechariah, though I doubt I’ll get back to Calvin).
For now, I’ll just note that, as I previously wrote, Origen does not say that he derived the connection between the Hebrew alphabet and the Jewish canon from the Jews. Or, at least, he does not say so in the fragment of his commentary on the first psalm as preserved in Eusebius (HE 6.25). This is correctly perceived by Martin Hengel (Septuagint as Christian Scripture (2002), 62 n. 12).
However, in Fragment 3 of his Homilies on Lamentations, Origen does report that this tradition derives from the Jews. (See here for the 1901 GCS edition by Erich Klostermann, Origenes Werke 3, p. 236. And you better download it while you can. Next time you might not be able to find it.) Only the first paragraph is relevant. This is my translation.
Therefore the Hebrews say the books of the Old Testament are equal in number to the letters, so that they are an introduction to all divine knowledge, just as the letters are [an introduction] to all wisdom for those who learn. Therefore, they are quadrupled, perhaps because the elements of bodies are four.
The last sentence is a little confusing. My guess is that it refers to the four acrostic poems that make up the first four chapters of the Book of Lamentations (the last chapter, though containing 22 verses, is not an acrostic). Since these four acrostics each proceed through the entire Hebrew alphabet, Origen says that Lamentations has quadrupled the alphabet. He thinks the reason for quadrupling the alphabet (i.e. letters = “elements”) is to maintain an analogy with the four physical elements (earth, water, air, fire).
In any case, my point here is that this fragment definitely affirms that the connection between the 22 letters of the alphabet and the 22 books of the OT is current in the Judaism of Origen’s day. This should be considered when one tries to determine the chronological development of the Jewish canon. As Peter Katz showed long ago, and as, e.g., Gilles Dorival has emphasized of late (see references below), the 22-book canon has much better and earlier attestation than the 24-book canon. However, the 24-book canon appears already in 4 Ezra 14:45 and the Gospel of Thomas 52, so they must have co-existed in Judaism for several centuries. Much investigation has been done in this area, but more could be done.
Peter Katz, “The Old Testament Canon in Palestine and Alexandria,” ZNW 47 (1956): 191–217; repr. in S.Z. Leiman (ed.), The Canon and Masorah of the Hebrew Bible (New York: Ktav, 1974), 72–98.
Gilles Dorival, “L’apport des Pères de l’Église à la question de la clôture du canon de l’Ancien Testament,” in J.-M. Auwers and H.J. De Jonge (eds.), The Biblical Canons, Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium 163 (Louvain: University Press, 2003), 81–110.

Monday, June 30, 2008

The 22 Books of the OT

Almost all the early Christian canonical lists of OT books limited the number to 22, which more or less equals the modern Protestant reckoning of 39 books. For how 22 = 39, see this good handout prepared by Tyler Williams and follow these steps: (1) start with the Protestant canon of 39 books; (2) note that it contains the same books as the Jewish canon of 24 books, just arranged differently; (3) using the Jewish canon of 24 books, count Lamentations with Jeremiah and Ruth with Judges; (4) notice that you now have 22 books.
The number 22 is first attested in Josephus (CA 1.37–41), although R.H. Charles argued for its presence already in Jubilees about 2 ½ centuries earlier (see his The Book of Jubilees, 1902; also see the criticism by James VanderKam, From Revelation to Canon, 2000, pp. 18–19). I should note that Josephus does not tell us which books he includes, leaving scholars to debate whether his 22 books equals what Christians later called the 22 books.
The Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters, and the Fathers often saw a connection between the 22 letters that serve as an introduction to learning and the 22 books that serve as an introduction to piety. The connection between the OT and the Hebrew alphabet is first attested in Origen’s commentary on the first Psalm (preserved by Eusebius, HE 6.25).
It is possible that Origen learned of this connection from a Jewish source, though he does not say so. The Jewish sources other than Josephus unanimously (as far as I know) count their books as 24, and this number is attested almost as early as Josephus’s 22, being found already in 4 Ezra 14:45 and the Gospel of Thomas 52. The number 24 is also assumed in the famous passage from the Babylonian Talmud, Baba Bathra 14b. Again, the 24 books are the same as the 22 books, just counted differently.
While the early Fathers usually limited the OT to 22 books, and thus the books of the Jewish canon, two caveats should be kept in mind. (1) The Greek form of the book sometimes differed radically from the Hebrew/Jewish form. This is apparent especially in, e.g., the Book of Jeremiah, which almost always in Christian reckoning included Lamentations, Baruch, and the Letter of Jeremiah, the latter two being completely absent from the Jewish Bible, the first being present but not counted with Jeremiah. Of course, the Book of Jeremiah itself is quite different in its Hebrew and Greek forms. Other obvious examples would be Daniel and Esther, less obvious examples abound.
(2) Even Fathers that seem to limit their OT canon to the Jewish Bible sometimes limit it even more, excluding the book of Esther. Those that omit Esther include Melito, Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Amphilochus. Athanasius includes Esther as one of the “other books” to be read but not used for doctrine. Amphilochus appends a note to his list saying that some people include Esther.
Those Fathers who mention a connection between the number of OT books and the letters of the Hebrew alphabet include:
  1. 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.)
  2. Athanasius of Alexandria in his 39th Festal Letter.
  3. 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).
  4. Gregory of Nazianzus, Carmen 1.12.
  5. Hilary of Poitiers, Tractatus super Psalmos 15. (See here)
  6. Jerome, Prologus Galeatus.
Those that obviously count 22 OT books, but do not mention the alphabet include:
  1. Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lecture 4.35), who stresses the number 22 for the OT books, but does not mention the alphabet.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
Some canon lists contain only the books accepted by the Jews (with allowance for variations between the Greek and Hebrew forms of those books), but do not seem to count them as 22. These include:
  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
Some late 4th-century Latin lists incorporate the “Apocrypha” (as they are called by Protestants; “deuterocanonicals” among Roman Catholics; “ecclesiastical books” according to Rufinus, in the work cited above, section 38). Thus, they include more books than any of those mentioned already. These longer lists include:
  1. The Mommsen Catalogue (= the Cheltenham List, from North Africa ca. 359).
  2. Council of Hippo in 393, the canons of which were not preserved, but the scriptural canon was reaffirmed at Carthage in 397.
  3. Council of Carthage in 397, canon 26.
  4. Augustine’s list in On Christian Doctrine 2.13.
  5. 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.
Each of these five sources (except, perhaps, the Mommsen Catalogue) provides a list including the same six books rejected by the Jews: Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Tobit, Judith, and 1 and 2 Maccabees. While the Mommsen Catalogue does list the latter four books, it is uncertain whether its title “Salomonis” includes Wisdom and Sirach, though the given stichometry makes this probable. See T. Zahn, Geschichte des neutestamentlichen Kanons, 2 vols. (1888–92; repr. New York: Georg Olms, 1975), 2.151. These 6 “deuterocanonical“ books are the same as those listed by Jerome (Preaf. in lib. Sal.) and Rufinus (see citation above) as books to be read, but not for the confirmation of doctrine. Athanasius included a similar list of “books to be read” outside the canon, but his list omits reference to the Maccabees, and includes Esther.
Now I have something on this blog to show for the month of June.

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”

I have been harping on the need to check the original sources in order to confirm the accuracy of statements in modern books. Reading Hilary’s Tractatus super Psalmos § 15 for my previous post had the unexpected side benefit of demolishing another scholarly myth, one that I was not expecting.
I have previously reported on this blog that the first ancient author to use the phrase “Minor Prophets” was Augustine, in his City of God 18.29. Before Augustine, so I thought, authors used the title “The Twelve” to refer to these prophets, which title is standard in Judaism and derives at least from the early second century BC work Sirach (49:10).
The attribution of the title “Minor Prophets” to Augustine is rather common (see a, b, c). The following scholarly articles that perpetuate this attribution are merely a sampling.
Peter Mommer, “Minor Prophets,” in E. Fahlbusch, et al., The Encyclopedia of Christianity, 4 vols. (Eerdmans and Brill, 2003), 3.544.
John William Rogerson, “Dodekapropheton,” in TRE 9 (De Gruyter, 1982), 18.
Marvin Sweeney is admirably cautious in saying: “The term ‘Minor Prophets,’ Prophetae minores in Latin, first appears in Latin Christian Patristic sources, such as the work of Augustine (City of G–d 18:29)” (The Twelve Prophets, 2 vols. [Liturgical Press, 2000], 1.xvi).
It turns out that Augustine is not the first author on record to use the title “Minor Prophets”. As seen in my preceding post, Hilary already used the term in the introduction to his “tracts” on the psalms. Manlio Simonetti dates this work to the last decade of Hilary’s life, which ended in 367 (see Simonetti’s discussion of Hilary in A. di Berardino, Patrology, vol. 4 (1978; ET 1986), 33–61).
Hilary’s use of the term thus preceded that of Augustine by several decades. The eighteenth book of Augustine’s City of God was probably written ca. 426. His words at chapter 29 that the twelve prophets “are called minor” implies that this is a somewhat common designation.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Jesus and the Flat Earth

I do not have time to respond to all the points of interest in Chris Tilling’s recent post concerning the limitations of Jesus’ knowledge, but I would like to say a few things. First, let me make it clear that these comments will not address the larger issue of whether Jesus could be wrong about certain matters. I will here merely note some inadequacies in the examples used in Chris' post.

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

More than a year ago, Kevin Wilson posted on what he considered a strange statement by Jesus in Luke 13:33–34, which describes Jerusalem as the city that kills the prophets. Kevin thought this was strange because there is very little in the OT that would justify this description of Jerusalem.
The tradition of the “killing of the prophets” is found in other passages in the Gospels (and the NT as a whole), notably Matthew 23:35 // Luke 11:51, which speaks of the righteous blood from Abel to Zechariah. The identification of Abel is quite easy—he is the first person killed in the Bible (Gen 4:8). Scholars have long (since the Patristic era) debated who exactly this Zechariah is.
The statement as recorded in Matthew 23:35 identifies Zechariah as the son of Berachiah, though this patronym is not given in the Lukan version. Jesus further said (in both versions) that Zechariah was killed between the sanctuary and the altar. These details, far from clearing up matters, have actually contributed to greater confusion, because they point to two separate individuals.
(1) Zechariah son of Berachiah son of Iddo (eleventh in canonical order of “Minor Prophets”) is the obvious candidate based on the patronym, but his death is unrelated in the Bible.
(2) Zechariah son of Jehoiada is the obvious candidate based on the description of the death, since 2 Chronicles 24:20-21 says that he was killed in the temple court. But his father’s name was not Berachiah.
It would seem as if these two Zechariahs were confounded, and this is exactly what happened in several rabbinic texts. For example, Targum Lamentations 2:20 (which is cited in Chris Brady’s comment to Kevin’s post, mentioned above) says that one of the reasons for Jewish woes is their murder of “Zechariah the son of Iddo,[1] the high priest and faithful prophet, in the House of the Sanctuary of the Lord on the Day of Atonement, because he admonished you not to do that which was evil before the Lord” (translation by Philip S. Alexander, The Targum of Lamentations, Aramaic Bible 17B [Liturgical Press, 2008], 141).[2] In the footnote (p. 141 n. 73), Alexander translates Lamentations Rabba 2:20 §23, which has a very similar comment, but speaks instead of Zechariah the son of Jehoiada.
That Jesus would have Zechariah son of Jehoiada in mind is supported by the many rabbinic passages attributing the destruction of the temple, in part, to this Zechariah’s murder. These include, from the Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 57b and Sanhedrin 96b, from the Jerusalem Talmud, Taanit 4, as well as Pesikta de Rav Kahana 15 and Targum Esther 12. This reproduces Chris Brady’s list (in his The Rabbinic Targum of Lamentations [Brill, 2003], 57 n. 114; or see his D.Phil. dissertation, p. 118 n. 393); for more rabbinic citations, see Alexander’s translation of the targum, p. 141 n. 73.
Naturally, not all would agree that Jesus intended to speak of Zechariah son of Jehoiada, nor do I think this is the best interpretation of the passage. In the next post, I will present the various possibilities that have been discussed for the identification of the Zechariah in Matthew 23:35.
In the meantime, the following works might prove helpful.
David Satran, Biblical Prophets in Byzantine Palestine: Reassessing the Lives of the Prophets (Leiden: Brill, 1995). There is a helpful survey of scholarship on the tradition of the “death of the Prophets” on pp. 25–28.
Betsy Halpern Amaru, “The Killing of the Prophets: Unraveling a Midrash,” Hebrew Union College Annual 54 (1983): 155–180.
Sheldon H. Blank, “The Death of Zechariah in Rabbinic Literature,” Hebrew Union College Annual 12–13 (1937–38): 327–46.

[1] Zechariah the “Minor Prophet” is called “son of Iddo” in Ezra 5:1 and 6:14, apparently in reference to his grandfather.
[2] lists Kevin Cathcart as the translator, but Alexander’s preface makes it clear that he did the translating. Cathcart is, in fact, not mentioned on the title page or in the preface. It appears to be Amazon’s error.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Greek Etymology in Susanna

If you’re keeping tabs on who among the ancients recognized that the Greek etymologies in the Story of Susanna (one of the Greek additions to Daniel) precluded its original composition in Hebrew, I have compiled a list of those I have found.
  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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).
Those are all the testimonia I have found. Of course, after Jerome wrote about the etymologies in his preface to the Vulgate (as it was later known) version of Daniel, it would have become common knowledge (to those who could and would read), as these prefaces were transmitted in almost all manuscripts of the Vulgate. If you know of other references to these etymologies before Jerome, please leave a comment.
By the way, modern critics are less sure than their ancient counterparts that the Greek etymologies prove that Susanna was originally written in Greek, and in this way follow Origen, who also had doubts (see his Letter §6 [10 in de Lange] and §12 [18 in de Lange]). A good discussion with an inconclusive result may be found in the new Schürer, 3/2 p. 724.

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 remember the first time I heard one of my undergraduate professors declare that he was no theologian, only a biblical scholar. I was confused, for I had thought that those two occupations were quite identical. Now, when I make the same statement to my students, I see the same confusion written on their faces.

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3]

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.[4] 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,[5] 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.[6] 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.

[1] 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.

[2] 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”.

[3] 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.”

[4] 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.”

[5] See the lists provided by H.B. Swete, An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek2 (1914), pp. 198ff.

[6] 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

John Barton’s Oracles of God: Perceptions of Ancient Prophecy in Israel after the Exile has recently been reissued after 21 years (Oxford: University Press, 2007). Though called a “New Edition” on the title page, it is new only by including a “Preface to the Second Edition” by Barton, in which he says that this is a reprint (except for errors) of the 1986 edition.
Last year also saw a special article of The Journal of Hebrew Scriptures dedicated to the reissue of the book, with contributions by Ehud Ben Zvi (as the editor), Philip R. Davies, James Kugel, Hindy Najman, and Barton himself, whose response to the other scholars here comprises the aforementioned “Preface to the Second Edition” in the book, with only minor changes.
Barton’s book is clearly important, though as he says in his new preface, it has not impacted scholarship on the reception of the prophets as much as he had hoped. It has had more influence in discussions of the canon, for which it is often cited as an early articulation of the view that the formula “The Law and the Prophets”, which appears often in literature of NT times, references the entirety of Scripture, and not just the first two sections of the Hebrew Bible, which is now divided into Law, Prophets, and Writings. In other words, the “Prophets” in this formulation constituted not just the second section of the Hebrew Bible (as it is now divided), but all non-Pentateuchal literature, including all the literature now found in the Writings (e.g. Psalms, Chronicles, etc.). Though the traditional theory of OT canon formation connects the three sections of the Hebrew Bible to three periods of canonization, with the Law canonized first, then the Prophets, then the Writings, Barton says this is anachronistic. The canon was bipartite, not tripartite, in NT times, as witnessed by the formula, “The Law and the Prophets”.
If this is so, how did it come about that the Hebrew Bible is now tripartite, as it has been at least since Talmudic times (see Baba Bathra 14b–15a)? Barton’s answer is that the creation of the third section, the Writings, is connected to the development of the liturgy (see Oracles, pp. 75–82). In synagogues today, there is regularly a public reading of the Torah, followed by a reading from the Prophets, i.e., the second division of the modern Hebrew Bible. These readings from the Prophets are called haftaroth. Barton’s suggestion for the development of the tripartite Bible is that all those books that were not included as haftaroth were relegated to the newly formed third section of the Bible, the Writings. This leaves only what we now think of as “The Prophets” (in the Hebrew Bible) in this section which formerly encompassed all non-Torah literature. Barton is able to cite (p. 78) as precedent for this view Sid Leiman’s The Canonization of Hebrew Scripture (1976; p. 168 n. 287).
But Leiman and Barton give different answers to the question: “On what basis were certain books chosen for haftaroth readings?” Leiman says that those books that tell of Jewish national history were included in the weekly readings, an explanation Barton dismisses rather easily (p. 79). Barton’s own solution is to suppose that the haftaroth readings were taken from books that were more commonly available in local synagogues, and those books that hadn’t quite established themselves as sufficiently important to possess were left aside. He writes on p. 79:
By New Testament times the scrolls of the ‘Deuteronomistic History’ and of the three great prophets and the Twelve were, we may suppose, widely known, and all synagogues would aspire to possess copies. Later books, such as Chronicles or Daniel, were becoming known but were not yet common property.
He gives a similar explanation as to why early Christians quoted so often from particular books, such as the Psalms and Isaiah. From p. 148:
The horribly simple explanation that their preference had something to do with the distribution of scrolls of these two books—worse still, that these were the only two non-Torah scrolls that happened to be in the book-cupboard of the synagogue at Nazareth or Capernaum—cannot be discounted.
I cannot now evaluate Barton’s position in full, and it may well be that the distribution of particular scrolls had something to do with the development of the haftaroth readings and with Christian preference for Isaiah and the Psalms, but I would be hesitant to say that this was a significant factor for at least two reasons.
First of all, as the second quotation from Barton above makes clear, the Psalms were widely known and used in early Judaism. Why would they not, then, be included in the haftaroth readings, if the decisive factor for inclusion in these readings was the availability of the scroll? The inadequacy of Barton’s explanation with regard to the Psalms is the more apparent since the psalms themselves are so clearly “liturgical”, and they were regarded in some ways as prophetic (see Barton, p. 40), meaning that they could legitimately stand among the Prophets, at least as legitimately as the Book of Judges.
Secondly, the evidence available for book distribution in the first century indicates that none, or very few, of the documents now in the Writings were unavailable to large numbers of Jews. David Goodblatt has recently examined the distribution of biblical scrolls in first century Judah, and has arrived at results that are startling, even to him. (See his Elements of Ancient Jewish Nationalism [2006], chapter 2: “Constructing Jewish Nationalism: The Role of Scripture,” pp. 28–48.)
Goodblatt’s evidence includes the scrolls found in the Judaean Desert (mostly in the caves around Qumran) analyzed according to the survival ratio of ancient texts. A survival ratio allows us to estimate the number of texts that would have existed in a particular time and place based on the number of texts that we now possess from that time and place. Goodblatt says that a survival ratio for first century Judah of 1:5000 (one extant text representing 5000 that did not survive) would be rather conservative. Given that we have about 900 scrolls from the Qumran library, we can estimate that tens of thousands of biblical scrolls circulated in first century Judah. “Even taking into account the fact that these copies span three centuries of production, these are still astronomical numbers” (Goodblatt, p. 45).
These results make Goodblatt somewhat uncomfortable, but not enough to dismiss them. “These extraordinary results suggest that the survival ratio we are using must be off kilter. But unless we are willing to assume that the Qumran collection constitutes a large percentage of all the scrolls in circulation in first-century Judah, as the Golb thesis might allow, then these findings suggest the existence of thousands of scrolls in the country” (p. 45).
This indicates that Barton’s proposal for the reason that certain documents were chosen for the haftaroth is inaccurate. Since every book of the current Hebrew Bible was found at Qumran (except for Esther and Nehemiah), we can estimate that thousands of copies of these books would have existed in first century Judah. To say that certain books were relegated to the Writings because they were not widely available, as Barton does, fails to take account of these data.
This is the more true if one accepts Goodblatt’s explanation for the large number of texts:
And such a large number in a small, predominantly nonliterate population would make widespread public recitation much more likely. (pp. 45–46)
The archaeological evidence from late first century (Qumran and Masada) and early second century (caves with refugees from the Bar Kokhba revolt) Judah thus suggests that biblical scrolls were fairly plentiful and widely diffused. Why were so many texts needed in an overwhelmingly nonliterate society? The most probable explanation is that many of these manuscripts, like many or most ancient books, were performance texts. (p. 47)
Goodblatt proposes that the large number of scrolls is indicative of their use in the public reading of Judaean synagogues. This is obviously the case not only for those books now included in the Prophets, but also for those now included in the Writings. If these documents really were so widely available as Goodblatt’s evidence suggests, and used in the way Goodblatt suggests, then Barton’s idea that the haftaroth were chosen based on availability is shown to be false.
This does not entail that Barton is wrong in thinking that the tripartite canon arose in connection with the liturgy, which I am inclined to accept.[*]

[*] I appreciate the comments of my colleague Michael Jackson regarding this post.

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:

  1. Old books are easier to understand than modern commentaries on those old books.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).