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).