Friday, June 25, 2010

Religious Provenance of Genizah Palimpsests, again

In my previous post, I mentioned this article by Natalie Tchernetska, Judith Olszowy-Schlanger, and Nicholas de Lange on a Hebrew-Greek glossary from the Cairo Genizah. I may have more to say about this excellent and fascinating article some other time, but for now I want to continue the topic I was on before.

Particularly, I had said that Tchernetska supported the Jewish origin of the Aquila fragments, which seemed to be the case based on a statement made in her 2002 article: "Recent evidence from previously un-deciphered texts seems to contradict assumptions made in the theory of the Christian association and to support the Jewish origin of the Greek lower text" (p. 251). In the context of her article, this statement seems to apply to all of the palimpsests.

However, in Tchernetska's newer article with de Lange and Olszowy-Schlanger (2007), we find this statement: "Unlike the majority of the palimpsests from the Cairo Genizah, whose lower texts contain Christian works [here they cite Burkitt, Taylor, and Tchernetska's earlier article], this bilingual glossary is the work of a Jewish compiler. The Hebrew entries are written in Hebrew characters, while their Greek translations are in a form of Greek majuscule found in other manuscripts written by Greek-speaking Jews; the text of the glossary is arranged from right to left like a Hebrew codex" (p. 92).

Since Tchernetska, Olszowy-Schlanger, and de Lange cite the publications by Burkitt and Taylor for those Christian palimpsests, they must be thinking of the Aquila fragments as originally Christian, since the only thing Burkitt published were Aquila fragments of Kings, and Aquila formed a large part of Taylor's publication, as well.

However, it is strange that Burkitt and Taylor would be cited for this view, without comment, since both Burkitt and Taylor actually believed that the Aquila fragments were originally Jewish, and Tchernetska understood this in her 2002 article (p. 250 n. 55). In fact, the three publications cited to support the Christian identification of the genizah palimpsests (Burkitt, Taylor, Tchernetska 2002) actually all seem to favor a Jewish origin.

Furthermore, the contents of this new article on the Hebrew-Greek glossary make clear that a Jewish origin for the Aquila fragments cannot be ruled out, as the glossary exhibits strong indications of Aquila's influence within this Jewish context. But, as I say, perhaps I will be able to address some of these issues in a later post.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Religious Provenance of the Cairo Geniza Aquila Fragments

More than a hundred years ago, the Cairo Geniza yielded palimpsest fragments with the Greek text of Aquila written under a later Hebrew work. (For publication, see Burkitt and Taylor.) The script used for the Aquila fragments has been dated to the fifth or sixth century CE. (See now this article by Natalie Tchernetska.)

But the question remains, did these fragments of Aquila belong to Jews or Christians? In a previous post, I assumed that the fragments belonged to Jews. This seems to be the general assumption among LXX scholars: Burkitt (p. 9), Munnich (p. 147), Fernández Marcos (p. 113).

However, Stefan Reif (pp. 105-6) points out that the presence of NT fragments among the palimpsests recovered in the Geniza indicates possibly that all of the palimpsests were originally Christian. Indeed, this is the theory of Michael Sokoloff and Joseph Yahalom, as the title of their article indicates: "Christian Palimpsests from the Cairo Geniza," Revue d'Histoire des Textes 8 (1978): 109-32. They argue that all of the Greek material was Christian, and was sold as scrap to the Jews, who then re-used it for Hebrew compositions. This is also the assumption of Stemberger (p. 37).

On the other hand, Tchernetska (p. 251) has recently supported the Jewish origin of these fragments based on the presence of "a bilingual Greek and Hebrew list of words, apparently a glossary" as the underwriting of one of the previously unidentified palimpsests. "Such a glossary was almost certainly copied by a Jew," she says. Tchernetska (with Nicholas de Lange and Judith Olszowy-Schlanger) has now published this glossary (see the link for an abstract).

I have not yet seen this full publication of the fragment, but even were I fully convinced that a Jew must have composed this glossary, a scenario I do find highly likely, I'm not sure that would settle the matter for the other palimpsest fragments. Indeed, along with Reif, I am highly dubious that the New Testament materials published by Taylor originated in a Jewish context.

So, we have one palimpsest that probably originated among Jews (the glossary) and one small group of palimpsests that probably originated among Christians and were later sold as scrap to Jews (the NT mss; probably also the fragments of the Hexapla published by Taylor). Where does this put the Aquila fragments? Is it more likely that they originated among Jews or Christians?

Perhaps a Jewish origin for the Aquila fragments is indicated by the use of a form of paleo-Hebrew script for the tretragrammaton. But is this decisive in favor of a Jewish origin? Burkitt (pp. 15-16) discusses the peculiarities of the paleo-Hebrew script in his fragment, and says, "To the scribe of our MS the Tetragrammaton must have been a mere symbol, blindly copied from the model." Couldn't this be as true (or truer) of a Christian scribe as of a Jewish one? The Divine Name in the Aquila fragments published by Taylor (see pp. vi and 72) also seems to be written by a scribe more familiar with writing Greek than Hebrew. (My impression: it looks like backwards lambda's for the yod and waw, and backwards epsilon's for the he's.) If Christians made copies of the Greek Bible that included Hebrew letters, I imagine that it would look something like this. (Some Christians butchered the Hebrew letters even further, and represented them with Greek letters, with the result that they spelled out PIPI in Greek; see Burkitt, p. 15; Taylor, p. vi.)

As far as I can tell right now, then, the question about the religious provenance of these Aquila fragments comes down to whether it would be more likely that Jews or Christians produced and/or used Aquila's translation. At present, however, that is a debated topic.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

SBL Program Book

The online program for this Fall's SBL in Atlanta is available here. I thought I'd highlight the sessions in which I'll be participating.

Function of Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphal Writings in Early Judaism and Early Christianity
4:00 PM to 7:00 PM

Theme: Perhaps Outside the Canon, But Not Off the Shelves: Contributions of Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha to the Formation of Early Judiasm and Christianity

David A. deSilva, Ashland Theological Seminary, Presiding

Francis Borchardt, University of Helsinki
Why was 2 Maccabees Read in the Ancient World? (30 min)

D. Jeffrey Bingham, Dallas Theological Seminary
Irenaeus and the Other Books: Non-Canonical Christian Texts in His Polemic (30 min)

Edmon Gallagher, Heritage Christian University
The “Apocrypha” in Jerome’s Canonical Theory (30 min)

Rebecca Rine, University of Virginia
Canon Lists Are Not Just Lists (30 min)

Loren L. Johns, Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary
When Pseudepigrapha Become Canonical: Rethinking Canon and Textual Criticism (30 min)

Discussion (30 min)

Early Jewish Christian Relations
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM

Theme: Open Session

Andrew Jacobs, Scripps College, Presiding

Edmon Gallagher, Heritage Christian University
The Jews and the Old Testament according to Julius Africanus and Origen (30 min)

James McLaren, Australian Catholic University
Eusebius on the capture of Jerusalem and the flight to Pella story (30 min)

Tracy Thorpe, Harvard University
Anti-Judaism 'In the Round' (30 min)

Ari Finkelstein, Harvard University
Sleeping among tombs for the sake of Dream Visions: A Discourse of Incubation among Jews in Emperor Julian’s works (30 min)

Susan L. Graham, Saint Peter's College
Mount Sion and the Christian Construction of a Sacred Space (30 min)

Alexander on Rabbinic Textual Theory

I've read this article several times and thought it was great each time, but I always seem to forget what it says. I thought maybe blogging about it would help me remember.

Philip S. Alexander, “Why No Textual Criticism in Rabbinic Midrash? Reflections on the Textual Culture of the Rabbis,” in Jewish Ways of Reading the Bible (JSSSup 11; ed. George J. Brook; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 175–90.

In this paper, Alexander first explains that rabbinic literature lacks any discussion of text critical issues related to scripture. This absence of text-critical reflection is not due to their doctrine of the inspiration of the text, because the similar doctrine in Christianity allows for corruption in the text subsequent to the autographs (p. 176).

Neither is it due to rabbinic ignorance of text-critical principles (pp. 176–81). In fact, sophisticated forms of textual criticism were developed in Alexandria, Egypt, beginning in the third century BCE, and these were inherited and applied to the Bible by the likes of Origen and Jerome (pp. 176–77). The Rabbis knew of differences in manuscripts: the reading of Gen. 3:21 in R. Meir’s Torah as reported in Gen. Rab. 20:12; the different readings to be found in Christian and Samaritan copies of the Torah; the changes introduced by the translators of the LXX (cf. b. Meg. 9a–b); the traditions of the tiqqunei soferim; and the development of the ketiv/qerei apparatus; the textual plurality attested by the Dead Sea Scrolls; the lemmata in rabbinic literature which diverge from the MT; the variants to be found in the different MT manuscripts themselves; the rabbinic awareness of superior manuscripts such as the three scrolls in the Temple (pp. 177–78). The Masorah would seem to be a first step toward textual criticism, but actually serves the opposite purpose—the preservation of inconsistencies and oddities of the biblical text. Nevertheless, the Masorah evidences signs of an earlier stage of textual scholarship: ketiv/qerei; the extraordinary points (nequdot); the inverted nuns; the suspended letters; all of which may have indicated textual variants but have now become part of the immutable divine text (pp. 179–80). On the other hand, the Rabbis did practice textual criticism on rabbinic texts, such as the Talmud (pp. 180–81). Thus, the absence of biblical textual criticism in rabbinic literature demands an explanation.

Alexander suggests three possible responses to the obvious textual divergences in the Jewish scriptures. First, the Rabbis may have viewed all textual variants as inspired. This is a problematic position (how can every scribal alteration be the word of God?), but something like it seems to have been held at Qumran and, perhaps, by the Apostle Paul. Alexander compares the al tiqrei passages in rabbinic literature (pp. 181–82).

A second response would be to produce an eclectic text (pp. 182–83). This is apparently how the proto-Masoretic Text came to be, during the Maccabean Age (says Alexander)—the creation of an authoritative text based on “heavy editorial intervention”.

But, Alexander says the Rabbis largely followed a third path: they merely chose a single textual tradition and deemed it alone authoritative and inspired. “Textual variants could and did arise in the copying of the Masoretic text, and these had, of course, to be corrected, but once the ‘original’ Masoretic text had been recovered the process of correction abruptly stopped. That Masoretic text, itself, with all its inherent textual problems which were carefully noted in Midrash and Masorah, was regarded as absolutely fixed and inviolable” (p. 183).

[Alexander does not here address how this choosing of one textual tradition would actually have taken place. Why did they choose this particular text? Was this text a unit even before the Rabbis chose it? In other words, we think of the MT of Genesis as textually similar to the MT of Daniel because they are both found in the MT. But, would a prerabbinic sage have had any reason to relate these two scrolls (a particular textual form of Genesis and a particular textual form of Daniel) together as of similar textual type? Perhaps they were both housed in the Temple? Or were they of distinct textual types, so that the Rabbis had to choose a textual type for the Torah, another for Proverbs, another for Psalms, another for…every biblical book? Would this choosing have practically amounted to the election of one particular manuscript of each biblical book from which all subsequent rabbinic biblical texts should be copied?]

Alexander discusses three reasons for choosing one textual type (pp. 184–187). (1) Tradition—the [proto-] Masoretic text [of most biblical books] was already widely accepted as authoritative prior to the rabbinic movement. (2) Apologetic—it is easier to “sell” an ancient text than to win approval for a newly edited text. (3) Theology—the rabbinic doctrine of scripture rested on an understanding of the biblical text as immutable and divine. “Was it the rabbinic doctrine of Scripture that led the rabbis to declare the Masoretic text as authoritative and unchangeable? Or was the doctrine, at least in part, a working out of the implications of that declaration? Or was there some sort of mutually reinforcing dialectic between the doctrine and the declaration? As it developed the rabbinic doctrine of Scripture located inspiration ever more precisely in the graphic form of the consonantal text as it is found in the Synagogue Sifrei Torah” (p. 186). This textual position became extreme in the later rabbinic period with an emphasis on the cosmic significance of the Torah.

“It is no accident that textual criticism is absent from Midrash. Its absence was one of a range of strategies which together constitute the textual culture of the rabbis. Its absence is inextricably linked to the very essence of the midrashic enterprise” (p. 187).

Alexander closes (pp. 187–90) with a series of observations that summarize the main points of the paper. (1) The Rabbis picked one form of the “Torah of Moses” as true and correct. (2) Theological and apologetic reasons and especially tradition contributed to this decision. (3) The divine status of the Torah came to be attributed to every facet of the written text, including the script, orthography, scribal notations (e.g., inverted nuns), etc. (4) The Masorah developed in order to ensure the preservation (not the elimination) of anomalies in the manuscripts. (5) Although the MT in theory represented the authentic Torah of Moses, in practice it was still impossible to make exact copies of this ideal MT, so textual criticism to a limited extent was still necessary for the elimination of errors in the MT manuscripts. [Alexander (p. 189 n. 22) identifies Samuel David Luzzatto (1800–1865) as the first Jew to practice true textual criticism on the MT.] (6) Textual anomalies were theologized midrashically rather than correct text-critically. (7) The signs within the MT of previous textual criticism (e.g., ketiv/qerei, nequdot, etc.) were explained away or theologized so that the inviolability of the MT was preserved.