Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Matthew and the Virgin Birth

Merry Christmas!

This is a brief but timely post on Matthew's use of Isaiah 7:14 in the first chapter of his Gospel (1:23). I have posted on this topic before (here, here, and here).

It is often the case that Matthew's use of Isaiah in this passage is interpreted as Matthew's attempt to prove that the Virgin Birth had been predicted in the Old Testament. A very helpful recent post (see also the helpful comments) by T.M. Law takes this line. Also, on the OUP blog Daniel Harrington has a post on the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke. He also seems to assume that Matthew's point in quoting Isa. was to establish that Jesus fulfills the prediction of a virgin birth. At one point, he says:
Next, he explains how the virginal conception of Jesus through the Holy Spirit fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy (7:14) [...]. 
I wanted to reiterate here--as I have done in this post-that I'm not convinced that this is the correct interpretation of Matthew's intentions. Rather than using Isaiah's prophecy as a prediction of the Virgin Birth, I think it probably makes better sense to interpret Matthew as using Isaiah's prophecy as a prediction of the advent of the Immanuel child, "which translated means God With Us" (1:23).

I wouldn't deny that Matthew also sees in Isaiah a prediction of a Virgin Birth--and John Meade's comments, at T.M. Law's post linked above, regarding the different translations between the LXX and the three later Jewish translators need to be factored into the discussion. But I take it as obvious that the part of the prophecy highlighted by Matthew himself is the name of the child--he is truly God With Us. The fact that the child was conceived by the Holy Spirit (1:20) also shows the Immanuel has finally arrived!

Friday, December 21, 2012

The 'Declartaion' and Theology

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Now, Jefferson goes on to list other 'self-evident truths,' but we'll stop here because these are the ones endowed by our Creator, according to Jefferson.

I'm sure there has been quite a number of theological analyses of the American Declaration of Independence, but I haven't read any of them. (I don't mean political analyses, I mean theological analyses.) I spoke recently with my friend, whose a graduate student focusing on American religious history, and he hadn't heard of such studies either, so maybe it's not so common.

My main question here is: Would Jesus or Paul have agreed with Jefferson that the unalienable rights that Jefferson enumerates here are indeed granted every person by their Creator?

It seems like a question well worth asking, and too little asked by conservative Christians in America, who typically hold the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution, as almost inspired documents granted to the Founding Fathers. This is true even for those Christians who understand that Jefferson was not particularly fond of traditional Christianity (though I know some people who would deny even this point, despite this, inter alia. It seems sort of funny to get our political theology from Jefferson, from whom we would not want to get much other theology.)

I'm sure I should read John Locke to see in what context he put the phrasing that Jefferson drew on for these thoughts. I haven't done that yet.

So, again, would Jesus or Paul have said that God has endowed all of humanity with the unalienable right of pursuing happiness? Or of Liberty, in the sense intended by Jefferson? Or even of Life? By asking the question I don't mean to imply a negative answer, but I do mean that the thoughts of the Founders of Christianity on the unalienable rights are not so clear as are those of the Founding Fathers.

And, as for theology, I think our views on these things have some implications for the role that we see the church playing in modern society. If the church in America is supposed to lead our society back to the vision of the Founding Fathers (I often encounter this sort of rhetoric), how far does this vision cohere with the vision of Jesus and the Apostles?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On the Origins of the Word "Helpmeet"

Not much time, so this will be brief.

The word "helpmeet" goes back, of course, to the KJV rendering of Gen. 2:18, where it was intended to be a noun "help" and an adjective "meet" (= suitable). On the history of misunderstanding produced by this rendering, this is helpful (pp. 216-17).

But actually the same rendering is found before the KJV (1611), in the Geneva Bible (1587): "an helpe meete for him." This is apparently the first English translation with this rendering. The Bishops Bible (1568) has "an helpe lyke vnto hym," and its predecessors (Wycliffe, Coverdale) rendered generally similarly. 

The first recorded use of the two words as a compound noun is in Dryden's play Marriage a la Mode (1673), Act 4, Scene 2. However, the online text of Dryden's play doesn't contain the word, but gives instead "help-mate," as mentioned in the article linked above. Here's the paragraph as contained in this text.

_Rho._ [_Aside._] She's sick as aptly for my purpose, as if she had contrived it so. Well, if ever woman was a help-mate for man, my spouse is so; for within this hour I received a note from Melantha, that she would meet me this evening in masquerade, in boys' habit, to rejoice with me before she entered into fetters; for I find she loves me better than Palamede, only because he's to be her husband. There's something of antipathy in the word _marriage_ to the nature of love: marriage is the mere ladle of affection, that cools it when 'tis never so fiercely boiling over.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Jerome and His Vulgate

A new article by Görge K. Hasselhoff examines Jerome's relationship with Jews, especially in his creation of the Vulgate. It appears in the journal Zeitschrift für Religions- und Geistesgeschichte, which is not one that I regularly peruse, but this one came to my attention because it was noted by Jim Davila.

The article is odd in a number of ways. First, there are sentences such as this:
The Christian Bible falls into two parts, namely the Old and the New Testament. (p. 211)
Ah, yes, I think I've heard of something like that. Or, Hasselhoff tells us that "already in the first century" something called the "New" Testament being created, which "combined the exegesis of the Bible (the 'Old' Testament) and the Jesus narrative" (p. 212). He says that this "New" Testament was "a kind of Midrash."

Second, there are some minor erroneous claims. The author says that Jerome settled in Bethlehem in 388. Actually, it was 386 (according to Fürst, 146; Rebenich, 41; and many others). Maybe that's simply a slip of the pen, though it's hard to tell from his narrative of Jerome's life. A couple of times Hasselhoff says that "Damasus asked Jerome to revise the Latin Bible" (210; cf. p. 215). But the only evidence for a papal commission is in Jerome's Preface to the Gospels, and it refers only to that particular translation. There is no evidence that Damasus asked Jerome to revise anything more than the Gospels. Hasselhoff seems to know about this lack of evidence, since the second time he makes the claim he cites the Preface to the Gospels and nothing further (p. 215 n. 29).

According to Hasselhoff, during Jerome's time as secretary to Damasus in Rome (382-385), he "revised the translations of the New Testament as well as the translations of several Old Testament books, including the Psalms" (215). Actually, only the Psalms. Scholars no longer accept the view--and haven't for many decades--that Jerome revised the New Testament beyond the Gospels; the Vulgate versions for these other books are strictly anonymous, though some scholars have made the case that they are to be attributed to Rufinus the Syrian. As for the Old Testament, the only book he revised during his Roman period was the Psalter.

Hasselhoff continues:
The translation of the Old Testament material, which is part of the Vulgate, is called "iuxta septuagintam" ("according to the Septuagint"). The revision of the rest of the Old Latin Translation was done in Bethlehem, and then not always according to the Greek tradition but sometimes according to the Hebrew tradition, because Jerome expected the Hebrew to be superior to the Greek since it was the first language of the Bible. He call it "Hebraica veritas". (215)
There are several problems with this passage. The only translation from the LXX that is part of the Vulgate is the Psalter. Jerome did translate some of books from the LXX, namely Job, Chronicles, and the Books of Solomon. But these translations are not extant (except for Job), much less are they a part of the Vulgate.  Moreover, he worked on all of these in Bethlehem, none at Rome. As I said earlier, of the Old Testament he did only the Psalter at Rome. Jerome may have revised more of the OT based on the LXX beyond the Psalter, Job, Chronicles, and Books of Solomon, as he himself claims, but we have neither the translation nor the prefaces to the translation to substantiate that claim. The Latin revision of the LXX that Jerome did work on is called the iuxta LXX, but it's not in the Vulgate (except for the Psalter). All of this is now common knowledge to Jerome scholars; a survey book like the one by Rebenich covers the ground well.

The last bit of the second sentence above is simply baffling. Does Hasselhoff not know that Jerome translated (or, at least, claimed to have translated) the entire Hebrew Bible from the hebraica veritas? How could he not know that? Maybe he's advocating a revisionist view such that Jerome translated only a portion from the Hebrew and worked mostly from the Greek, but that is not obvious, and he cites no one for these statements. Anyway, it is certainly misleading to say that he translated "sometimes according to the Hebrew tradition." In fact, he took 15 years (391-406) doing precisely that. That's what the Vulgate OT is--a translation from the Hebrew (except, again, for the Psalter). That's why it was revolutionary; that's why Jerome's contemporaries were so bothered by it.

I said Hasselhoff does not cite anything here. Actually, he gives a note to the term hebraica veritas, in which he claims that Christoph Markschies (175-76) "has shown that Jerome after his quarrels with Augustine and Rufinus more or less seems to have abandoned that particular term" (215 n. 30). No, Markschies did not claim that. And the evidence cannot support the contention. Jerome uses the term plenty in his latest biblical commentaries, for instance.

Later, Hasselhoff discusses Jerome's translations of Tobit and Judith (216-18). This is actually an area to which I have given quite a bit of thought, recently (see, e.g., here). I'll just point out a few bits where Hasselhoff disagrees with standard scholarship but does not seem to realize it (at least he cites nothing that suggests he does). He dates the translation of Judith to some years after the translation of Tobit, though the scholarly trend definitely favors dating them contemporaneously. Also, he dates the translation of Tobit (but not Judith) to very early in his career, before the translation of Daniel. Scholars typically date the Vulgate Tobit (and Judith) to around the turn of the fifth century (between 395-405).

Finally, and most surprisingly, Hasselhoff does not seem to have any familiarity with Jerome's position on the Old Testament canon (another issue to which I have devoted some attention; see here). The very last paragraph of the article is this:
A second meaning related to Hebraica veritas was the questioning of the canon of the Septuagint because it differed from the Hebrew versions. Jerome's response to that challenge was bipartite. On the one hand, he searched for Semitic versions of only Greek-transmitted writings, as I demonstrated with the translation of the Book of Tobit. But, on the other hand, we must make note of Jerome's cowardice in not following through on the consequences of his insight, for example, by not excluding the so-called apocrypha, i.e., the additions to the Septuagint. They remained a part of Jerome's Bible translation. (221)
In what way did they remain a part of Jerome's Bible translation? Well, certainly, the deuterocanonical books are in the Vulgate now, but we surely cannot attribute this to Jerome. Later editors of the Vulgate included these books, and often not Jerome's versions of them, because Jerome did not translate any of them except for Tobit and Judith (even these are often found in Vulgate manuscripts in their VL form). How this can go back to some decision by Jerome, or how we can ascribe it to Jerome's "cowardice," is beyond me. Jerome made quite clear in his Prologus Galeatus that he did not include the deuterocanonical books in the canon, and I think he makes it fairly clear in his Preface to Tobit and Preface to Judith that he did not consider these two books canonical (see, e.g., here). 

I hate that this post has been mostly negative, but I wanted to respond to some aspects of this article that made it odd, in my opinion. I will use some aspects of the article, especially his speculations about Jerome's Tobit on p. 217, which I found somewhat helpful and parallel to some of my own thoughts on the matter.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Pronunciation of Greek

Here is a report of a paper delivered in Cambridge by Michael P. Theophilos. The paper argues in favor of using Modern Greek pronunciation in teaching New Testament Greek.