Friday, July 20, 2012

What does order mean?

Here's text I deleted from a footnote in an article I'm preparing. It briefly addresses the issue of what an "order" of books could have meant when the books themselves were written on scrolls, not in a codex, and thus presumably not subject to order. The previous existence of this material in a footnote explains why not every reference I give contains full bibliographic information. I think enough is provided, though, for you to trace the source should you feel so inclined.
The entire idea of the sequence of books prior to the emergence of the codex is a problem to my mind still unresolved. Three ancient testimonies known to me, however, do speak in terms of “order”: b. B. Bathra 14b (seder), the canon list of Melito of Sardis (apud Eus. Hist. eccl. 4.26.12–14; τάξις), and Jerome’s Prologus galeatus (ordo). They all would seem to be presenting what should be the definitive order for the HB/OT, and they all give a different order. For discussion, see N. M. Sarna, “The Order of the Books,” in Studies in Jewish Bibliography, History and Literature in Honor of I. Edward Kiev, ed. Charles Berlin (New York: Ktav, 1971), 407–13, updated as “Ancient Libraries and the Ordering of the Biblical Books,” in Studies in Biblical Interpretation (Philadelphia: JPS, 2000), 53–66 (arrangement in archives/library); Sid Z. Leiman, The Canonization of Hebrew Scripture: The Talmudic and Midrashic Evidence (Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1976), 162 n. 258, 202 n. 644 (writing multiple books on a scroll); Barton, Oracles of God, 82–91 (no significance); Beckwith, Old Testament Canon, 181–234; Sailhamer, Meaning of the Pentateuch, 211, 216 (mental construct); Philip S. Alexander, “The Formation of the Biblical Canon in Rabbinic Judaism,” in Alexander and Kaestli, Canon of Scripture, 57–80 (75–76); Steinberg, Ketuvim, 86–87.
As is often pointed out (see, e.g., Steinberg), multi-volume works certainly can have an order across volumes, and this could provide an analogy to these ancient testimonia regarding the order of the biblical books in a society before the domination of the codex (or at least before Jews adopted it as standard for the Bible). But this analogy doesn't seem all that helpful to me, because "order" in multi-volume works can, in fact, mean different things depending on the work. For a multi-volume novel like The Lord of the Rings, "order" means that you should not start reading with the third volume, but with the first, so that you can read the story from beginning to end. This is sometimes the meaning of "order" used to interpret the ancient references to an "order" of the biblical books, such that Baba Bathra, for example, intends that you should start reading the Ketuvim from Psalms and go straight through until you finish with Chronicles.

I have multiple problems with this idea. (1) Who can the Rabbis have expected to read the Ketuvim in this manner, and in what context? The Ketuvim were not read regularly in the synagogue. Can the baraita have been indicating the order the Ketuvim are to be studied in the Beit ha-Midrash? Surely it cannot mean the order in which one is to read the Ketuvim at home. Who would have owned all these scrolls? (I focus on the Ketuvim because it as a collection gives the appearance of less order than do the Torah or Prophets, both of which largely follow a historical order--though not for the Latter Prophets--and because the Torah and Prophets have a regular place in the synagogue liturgy, and so "order" for them might be interpreted to mean the order in which they are to be read liturgically.)

(2) Is there any evidence that anyone ever read the Ketuvim in this order? Is there any evidence that anyone ever read the Ketuvim in any kind of order? Did anyone ever even have a thought to reading the Ketuvim in some sort of order?

(3) The Bible lends itself readily to non-ordered reading (similar to an anthology of poems or of essays). I think this is absolutely the way most Christians today approach the Bible. The exception to this is if someone wants to read the entire Bible in a year, or some similar reading plan, that will sometimes (not always) involve reading straight through from Genesis to Revelation. But outside of this context, personal Bible study often has no thought to order. One might read all the way through Psalms, and then go to Matthew, and then Leviticus, etc. Or one might read a Psalm in the morning, and then a Gospel passage later, or some such. Non-liturgical worship services often feature passages of the Bible according to the whim of the preacher or worship leader. But note that all of those involved in these non-ordered readings of the Bible would say that the Bible has a definite order, and some of them would be able to recite that order almost as easily as reciting the ABCs. It's just that they don't think of that order as intended as a guide to reading. (Yes, they could be wrong, but that's what needs to be proved. I simply want to point out that the connection between "order" and "order for reading" is not so obvious to everyone.)

(4) Finally (for now), there are different ways of thinking about the order of multi-volume works, as I noted before. The Lord of the Rings illustrates one way of thinking about order, but the Anchor Bible Dictionary illustrates another. Now, there is a definite order of volumes for ABD, so that if you want to cite any article you must include not only the page number but also the volume number. But the order of ABD is not intended as an order of reading, and no one would think that the proper way of approaching ABD is to start with vol. 1 and read straight through to the end. If this is the analogy used to understand the ancient references to an order of biblical books, I think we're closer to Sarna's understanding, for whom "order" meant something like "place on a library shelf."

Now, I'm not at all convinced that Sarna is right either, mostly because of a lack of evidence. And so, as I said above, this is an issue still unresolved in my mind. I am interested in exploring the possibility, though, that the references to order are simply for the purposes of memorization, and nothing more. What I mean is, what if "order" of the biblical books is like the "order" of the ABCs. Maybe I'm missing something, but it doesn't seem to me that the order of the ABCs has any significance other than that we had to put them in some order so that we could memorize them without fear that we'd leave a letter out. (For example, if you try to name all 50 states of the USA, you're going to need to use some sort of order or you're likely to omit some. It's probably easiest to use alphabetic order as anything, and that way you know you hit them all.) I think this is how the order of the Bible functions today for Christians. Some scholars have tried to give a significance to the order of the Christian canon (e.g. Marvin Sweeney), but as James Barr astutely noted (in Concept of Biblical Theology, 307-9), and I'm paragraphsing--"I didn't learn that in Sunday school." Christians just do not think about the order of their Bibles as all that significant for reading or interpretation, and I'm not sure that they're wrong for that. But when the order does become important is when they try to list off all 66 books of the Bible. Get one out of order, and it's like putting T before S. It's just not right.

I might also point out--for those who like to see some great significance that the Christian OT ends with Malachi--that this arrangement is actually rather late, widely attested only from the sixth, seventh, or eighth centuries. Earlier, the Twelve were often listed as the first of the Prophets in Christian lists and manuscripts, or, at least, at some position other than last.

Obviously my ideas are not fully developed. I'm just thinking out loud. Maybe the future will bring with it more clarity on this issue.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Why Is the Order of Canonical Books in Baba Bathra a Baraita?

The only rabbinic discussion of the order of the biblical books is presented in b. B. Bathra 14b (text and brief discussion here). The tradition is reported as a baraita, a tannaitic saying omitted from the Mishnah.

Most often, scholars find significance in this fact by dating the tradition early. That is, if the tradition were just recorded in the Talmud anonymously, it would be dated to the fifth or sixth centuries, the time period of the redaction of the Talmud. But since it is a baraita, it must date to centuries before this, the second or third centuries.

But what of the significance of the fact that the Mishnah omitted the tradition? Is that important? Lee McDonald thinks it might be.
That this tradition is classified as a baraita from the Tannaitic period and did not find a place in the Mishnah suggests that the text had not yet received widespread approval by the closure and codification of the Mishnah around 200 C.E. (The Biblical Canon, 2007, p. 165)
That makes some sense. But wouldn't the opposite scenario also be plausible? The
tradition on the sequence of books might have been deemed too obvious for inclusion in the Mishnah, but a few hundred years later different sequences for the biblical books (perhaps reflected now in the manuscripts) forced the redactors of the Talmud to clarify the authoritative sequence. It's speculative, but so is the alternative. I'm also not clear on what criteria guided the selection process for material in the Mishnah. What qualified for inclusion?

As to where the tradition might have found a home in the Mishnah, Philip S. Alexander has an idea. I quote the entire paragraph because he has several interesting suggestions.
The canonic list embedded in Bavli Bava Batra 14b-15a is given as a Baraita. It probably dates back to roughly 200 CE. In other words it is probably contemporary with Mishnah Yadayim 3,5, and with the editing and promulgation of the Mishnah, the foundation document of Rabbinic Judaism which contains the key to the Rabbinic reading of Scripture. Though it cannot be proved, it would make sense if this canonic list were in fact, like the Mishnah, issued in the name of Judah ha-Nasi, though in this case it remains somewhat puzzling why it should have been excluded from the Mishnah. It could easily have been introduced into Mishnah Megillah chapter 4, which deals extensively with the reading of Scripture in synagogue. Note, for example, the List of Forbidden Targumim there (m.Megillah 4,10). ("The Biblical Canon in Rabbinic Judaism," in The Canon of Scripture in Jewish and Christian Tradition, ed. P.S. Alexander and J.-D. Kaestli, 2007, p. 77)
I have no answers at this time, just the question: what is the significance of the fact that the lone rabbinic canonical list is presented in the Talmud as a baraita?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Jerome's Preface to Tobit, Again

I've commented on Jerome's Preface to Tobit before, and I've mentioned that I'm working on something dealing with his translations of Tobit and Judith (see also here).

I've still got some unresolved issues with some parts of Jerome's preface.

Here's the text:
Cromatio et Heliodoro episcopis Hieronymus in Domino salutem. Mirari non desino exactionis uestrae instantiam. Exigitis enim, ut librum chaldeo sermone conscriptum ad latinum stilum traham, librum utique Tobiae, quem Hebraei de catalogo diuinarum Scripturarum secantes, his quae Agiografa memorant manciparunt. Feci satis desiderio uestro, non tamen meo studio. Arguunt enim nos Hebraeorum studia et inputant nobis, contra suum canonem latinis auribus ista transferre. Sed melius esse iudicans Pharisaeorum displicere iudicio et episcoporum iussionibus deseruire, institi ut potui, et quia uicina est Chaldeorum lingua sermoni hebraico, utriusque linguae peritissimum loquacem repperiens, unius diei laborem arripui et quicquid ille mihi hebraicis uerbis expressit, haec ego accito notario, sermonibus latinis exposui. Orationibus uestris mercedem huius operis conpensabo, cum gratum uobis didicero me quod iubere estis dignati conplesse. explicit prologus

The most interesting sentence here is this one: Arguunt enim nos Hebraeorum studia et inputant nobis, contra suum canonem latinis auribus ista transferre. Or, at least, it's the most complicated sentence, both in terms of syntax and meaning.

What is the subject of the sentence? I know of three translations of this preface that are widely available. One by Leslie Cahoon appears in the commentary on Tobit by Carey Moore in the Anchor (Yale) Bible series (1996), p. 62. There the sentence is translated: 
For they [i.e., the Hebrews] insist and accuse us of translating those studies of the Hebrews for Latin ears against their own canon.
Here, the subject seems to be assumed from previous discussion, not the previous sentence, but the one before that, where the "Hebrews" cut Tobit out of the catalogue of divine scriptures. So studia Hebraeorum is then the object of transferre, and ista would have the function of an adjective rather than a pronoun: "those studies of the Hebrews".

Another translation is offered by Vincent T. M. Skemp in his published dissertation, The Vulgate of Tobit Compared with Other Ancient Witnesses (SBL, 2000), 15-16.
For the works of the Jews argue against us, and they accuse us of translating them [= studia, "works"] for Latin ears contrary to their canon.
Skemp takes studia Hebraeorum as the subject of the verbs and ista as the object of transferre

The third translation that I know of is the one by Kevin P. Edgecomb available online at multiple places (e.g., here). 
For the studies of the Hebrews rebuke us and find fault with us, to translate this for the ears of Latins contrary to their canon.
This translation is more-or-less on par with Skemp's.

One further interpretation of this sentence worth noting is the one by Johann Gamberoni, Die Auslegung des Buches Tobias (1969), who does not present a full-fledged translation but does imply that the subject of our sentence is "learned Jews" (gelehrten Juden), which I assume is his interpretation of studia Hebraeorum (p. 75). It doesn't seem to me that that will work.

Against Cahoon and Gamberoni's interpretation, it seems to me that Skemp and Edgecomb are correct to take studia Hebraeorum as the subject of the two main verbs, arguunt and inputant. But what does it mean that "studies" or "works" or perhaps "zeal" accuses Jerome?

Let me offer an interpretation. Maybe Jerome is saying that the study that he himself has put in to learning Hebrew and rabbinic interpretation is now being put to bad use in translating the Book of Tobit, a non-canonical document. He labored for years to learn the Hebrew language and related matters in order to understand better the Bible, but all of this study also allows him to translate documents that really do not deserve the honor. And so the study that he has made of Hebrew now accuses him. In this case, studia Hebraeorum could be translated "studies of Hebrew things" or "zeal for Hebrew matters" or some such.

Of what does it accuse him? Of translating them =  "studies of Hebrew things". What does this mean? Jerome is making available to Latin ears all the knowledge that it took him so long to acquire, again, in this case improperly (because Tobit is not in the catalogue of divine scriptures). He is transferring his study of Hebrew things for Latin ears.

The reason this is bad is because it is against their own canon (contra suum canonem). Whose canon? The reflexive adjective suum should refer to the subject of the sentence. But in this case the subject is impersonal, studia (unless Cahoon's translation above is correct, or that of Gamberoni, which seems unlikely to me). I haven't research Jerome's use of this adjective, but I wonder if it would conform to classical standards. In any case, I just want to put out a suggestion that what Jerome means is that his translation is against the canon of the Latins. After all, in Jerome's mind, the canon of the Latins should be equivalent to the Jewish canon.