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.