Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Paul's Theology (Wright)

It's been a while since I posted on N.T. Wright's new book on Paul. (Previous posts here and here.) I'll admit that after a thousand pages, the reading is wearing on me. I'm ready for something different. (Larry Hurtado has also complained about the size of the book, and Nijay Gupta has also slowed down on his reading.) But I'm determined to get through it.

I'm especially a little tired of reading about election. I know, it's an important concept, but all of ch. 10 was on election, and that chapter is nearly 300 pages long. I'm now in ch. 11, on eschatology, and it was so very refreshing to change topics. But now I'm about to enter a section of ch. 11 that looks at "The Eschatological Challenge of Redefined Election," a section of 120 pages. So, before I jump back into election, I thought I would post some thoughts.

If you've read my previous post on this book, you'll know this is nothing like an actual review. Just some random thoughts stimulated by a reading of this book.

Chapter 9 is all about Paul's theology (in a strict sense: doctrine of God) and how he accommodated Christ and the Spirit within his monotheism. This is not a theme I really associate with Wright, more with people like Richard Bauckham and Larry Hurtado, and indeed Wright relies on these scholars (esp. Bauckham) and seeks to advance their work. Wright's "major new proposal" (p. 649) is that Jesus was seen as fulfilling the theme of the "return of Yhwh" to his temple. "The long-awaited return of YHWH to Zion is, I suggest, the hidden clue to the origin of christology" (p. 654). I'm not sure exactly how new this is; I'm not saying that Wright didn't come up with it, but I'm pretty sure I've read similar things in some of Wright's previous works, maybe in his previous book on Jesus. But maybe he hasn't emphasized it so much in the context of the development of christology. In any case, for more on Wright's work in this chapter, I suggest you read Gupta's take and especially the posts by Hurtado (here and here).

At the end of ch. 9, Wright deals with "The Dark Side of Revised Monotheism," that is, evil. And it is in this context that Wright addresses the familiar debate about which came first for Paul, plight or solution. I found this section helpful. Saul of Tarsus did recognize a problem in the world: a lot of bad things were happening in the world, God's people were dominated by Gentiles, and someday God would bring justice. After his encounter with Jesus, he recognized that the solution God offered meant that the problem was different and much worse than he had previously imagined.
Paul was like a man who, on the way to collect a prescribed medication, studies the doctor's note and concludes from the recommended remedy that his illness must be far more serious than he had supposed. (p. 751)
On ch. 10, dealing with Election, see Hurtado, here, and on ch. 11, on eschatology, see Hurtado here. In general, I benefited from ch. 10, but I got tired, like I said, and I very much appreciated the turn to eschatology, a discussion from which I learned a great deal.

The following comments, which often point out errors or inconsistencies, should not be interpreted as implying a negative judgment on the value of the book. I have learned a lot from it. These comments are various small matters I found interesting.

(1) There are some oddities, like when Wright, in one of his discussions of the 'righteousness of God', repeatedly gives the Hebrew of this phrase as tsedaqah elohim (pp. 1054, 1071). Of course, the first word should be in the construct state, so it should be tsidqat elohim.

(2) And then there is this footnote:
One theme, important in the second-Temple period, appears absent in the NT, namely the reassembly of the ten lost tribes: see e.g. Ezek. 37.15-28; Hos. 1.10f.; Zech. 10.6-12. Starling 2011 has explored the possibility that Paul does in fact work with this notion in e.g. Rom. 9.25f. where Hos. 1.10 and 2.23 are cited. (p. 1053 n. 44)
I was surprised and confused when I first read this a week or more ago, and I am still surprised and confused by it. How can Wright, of all people, assert that the theme of "the reassembly of the ten lost tribes" is "absent in the NT"? I suppose he sees distinctions in categories that I have not grasped, but I would have thought that the reassembly of the ten lost tribes--especially as worked out in Ezekiel 37 and Hosea 1--was pretty much the same theme as the restoration of "Israel", and that this was all over the NT, in Wright's reading most of all. I give you a statement from Wright's earlier book on Jesus in this same series:
The very existence of the twelve [apostles] speaks, of course, of the reconstitution of Israel; Israel had not had twelve visible tribes since the Assyrian invasion in 734 BC [sic], and for Jesus to give twelve followers a place of prominence, let alone to make comments about them sitting on thrones judging the twelve tribes, indicates pretty clearly that he was thinking in terms of the eschatological restoration of Israel. (p. 300)
That looks to me an awful lot like the theme of "the reassembly of the ten lost tribes." But, again, maybe Wright sees a distinction that is lost on me. 

(3) He says that Akiba was "the last great teacher of the stricter school of rabbinic thought" (p. 620). What does he mean by this, "stricter school of rabbinic thought"? Judging from his discussion on Judaism in ch. 2, I'd guess he means the Shammaites. But does Wright think that Akiba was a Shammaite? That's not the tradition as I remember it. I thought it pretty well-established that Akiba was a Hillelite.

(4) I love it when Wright talks about his lack of space in the present volume to talk about certain issues (e.g., pp. 645, 649). We can all be thankful he saw fit to shorten his discussion.

(5) He's got a note on the appearance of the Tetragrammaton in LXX manuscripts (p. 701 n. 255) that does not present completely accurate information. This is nitpicking, admittedly, but it is simply not correct to say that LXX mss feature the Hebrew Tetragrammaton, or PIPI, or IAO, "as often" as they have kyrios.

(6) I appreciated his attempt to redeem the Nicene Creed, esp. in light of his highlighting the inadequacy of the Creed in How God Became King (and see this video of Richard Hays at the 6:10 mark). In his new book on Paul, Wright says: "The Nicene and other creeds were thus a way, not of capitulating to Greek philosophy, but of resisting it, and reasserting, as best they could in the language available to them, the christological monotheism of the New Testament" (p. 652 n. 124; cf. pp. 709-10).

(7) There are some places where Wright signals that he has changed his mind: p. 901 n. 350; p. 1016 with n. 686. Of course, everyone changes his/her mind on numerous points. I highlight these instances only because Wright can sometimes come across as if he's the only one that sees the most obvious points in Paul's exposition and all other scholars are simply reading him with their eyes shut (which, as I was reminded of last night, is bad for your hat and makes your eyebrows get red hot).

(8) Wright points out (p. 855) that 'salvation' language is absent from Galatians, which speaks only of justification. I didn't realize that. See also p. 927 with n. 431.

(9) On pistis Christou in Gal. 2:16, whether the genitive is subjective or objective: "I do not see that much hinges on this here" (p. 967).

(10) I liked Wright's exposition of those passages where Paul describes believers in terms of a temple. Actually, Wright talks about these passages twice, once in ch. 9 (pp. 711-17) and once in ch. 11 (pp. 1074-75), but the second time he forgets about Eph 2:20-21.

(11) Wright thinks that Eph. 5:5 and Col. 3:5 are talking about "sexual greed" as idolatry (p. 1107 n. 268). Is this a typical view?

(12) He repeatedly talks about Christians fulfilling the law, but "a different sort of law-fulfillment" (p. 922; see pp. 937, 958, 1088-89, 1100, 1109-11, 1125). He's referring to passages like Rom. 2:13-14, 28-29; 3:27; 8:4-7; and 10:6-10. I haven't gotten to his discussion of that last passage yet.

I wonder what Brian Rosner would say about this. I'm slowly reading his new book on Paul and the Law, and he does not seem to think that Rom. 2:14-15 and 2:28-29 is talking about Christians, or, at least, I don't see it in his discussions about how Christians relate to the law. He does say, though, that Christians "fulfill" the law in some sense. Maybe he would be comfortable with the language employed by Wright, but would resist seeing Rom. 2 as describing Christian law-fulfillment. Wright does acknowledge a couple of scholars who don't think Rom 2 has Christians in view (p. 921 n. 409 [Bell, pp. 190-96] and p. 1088 n. 196 [Hultgren, p. 131]), but he dismisses them rather casually.

Since Paul's view of the law was one of the major themes that I was hoping to learn about from reading this book, I might have more to say about Wright's views in a later post. But maybe not. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Samaritans and the Septuagint

I've been reading through Gary Knoppers' new book Jews and Samaritans (Oxford, 2013). It's really quite excellent, and I may have more to say about it in a later post. His main theme is that these two religious groups share a close history up to the time that John Hyrcanus destroyed the Samari(t)an temple at Mt. Gerizim in 111-110 BCE. It is now widely accepted that it was this act by Hyrcanus that precipitated the irrevocable split between the two groups, but I suppose it is Knoppers' contribution to emphasize the almost complete lack of evidence for animosity before that point. His chapter on Nehemiah (ch. 6) emphasizes that Nehemiah's opposition to Sanballat was apparently an attitude not shared by many other powerful Judeans at the time.

His seventh chapter treats the Samaritan Pentateuch. This chapter, along with the main emphasis of the entire book, made me think of an as-yet unpublished essay by Jan Joosten which he has already uploaded to his page. The essay is called "Septuagint and Samareitikon," and it argues that the Samareitikon was the Samaritan equivalent, not to the Septuagint, but to the later Jewish revisers (Aquila and Theodotion; see pp. 14-15). This means that the Samaritans had the Septuagint and then, like the Jews, revised it toward their Hebrew text, thus producing the Samareitikon. But, Joosten asks, how did the Samaritans get the LXX in the first place? Did they borrow it from the Jews? Joosten suggests the more likely scenario that there were people on the original translation committee who looked to Gerizim as their spiritual homeland (pp. 15-16). Since the major split probably did not occur before the very end of the second century BCE and the LXX was translated in the first half of the third century BCE, it is very possible, even probable, that the translators counted among their members some who looked to Jerusalem and some who looked to Gerizim as the legitimate place of worship.

Now, in this essay Joosten never mentions the Letter of Aristeas, but I am reminded of the composition of the translation committee according to this earliest (and legendary) account: 6 sages from each of the 12 tribes. I had always taken that as sort of a hypothetical, even imaginary reckoning, since, I assumed, the 12 tribes no longer existed after the Assryian destruction of the north in 722 BCE. But in light of Knoppers' emphasis in his book and Joosten's argument in his essay, maybe there is a little more to Aristeas' mentioning of the 12 tribes than I had given him credit for. I'm not at all suggesting that the translation committee really was composed of 6 sages from each of the 12 tribes, but perhaps Aristeas is acknowledging that not only Jews (Judeans) use the LXX and that it was an effort of "all Israel" and not just those in the south. The usual date for the Letter to Aristeas is sometime during the second century BCE, and thus most likely also before the major split occasioned by the Gerizim temple destruction.

UPDATE (15 April 2014): I see that Knoppers has largely anticipated my point here. He notes the pan-Israelite perspective of Aristeas in relation to the identity of the translators (p. 193 n. 65, p. 218 n. 4).

Friday, April 4, 2014

Patristic Views on the Hebrew Text of Scripture

This post wraps up a series summarizing my book from a couple years ago. It's taken me a while to get through the series. The posts cover introductory topics, the OT canon, the Hebrew language, and the Greek Bible among Jews.

This post covers the second half of ch. 5 of my book, on the reception of the Hebrew biblical text in patristic thought. Note, I am not talking about actual patristic use of the Hebrew text of scripture, but rather how the Fathers thought about the Hebrew text of scripture.

In yesterday's post, on Jewish views of the Greek and Hebrew Bible, I argued that even Jews who used the LXX (e.g., Philo) held the Hebrew Bible in high esteem. They insisted that their Greek Bible corresponded perfectly with the Hebrew Bible. There was no "pro-LXX" group of Jews who were not at the same time "pro-Hebrew."

To a surprisingly great extent the same appears true for Christians: though they mostly disregarded the Hebrew text in practice, their textual theory almost always conceded the authority of the Hebrew text and, like Philo, they equated the original Septuagint with the original Hebrew Bible (pp. 173–209). The Church Fathers did recognize that the Septuagint often diverged from the more recent Jewish translations (Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion), and they adopted several different ways of arguing for the authority of the Septuagint while maintaining its status as a miraculously accurate translation. Significantly, Christians made this argument for the entire Greek Old Testament, which they labeled the Septuagint and attributed in its entirety to the original seventy(-two) inspired translators, an expansion of the scope of translation beyond what the Jewish sources allow (i.e., the Pentateuch).

The discussion of this section of the chapter hinges around the work of Origen of Alexandria/Caesarea, the third-century Christian scholar whose work broke new ground in illuminating the relationship between the Greek and Hebrew texts. Before Origen’s time, Christians faced with newer Jewish translations diverging from the Septuagint simply denied that the newer translations accurately represented the Hebrew text (pp. 174–78). They instead asserted the accuracy of the Septuagint and attributed the newer translations to anti-Christian bias and a Jewish desire to corrupt the biblical passages dear to Christians. Justin Martyr’s account of the Greek translation contains no miraculous elements, while Irenaeus of Lyons attests the well-known story about the translators being separated and all producing identical translations. Both authors, though, affirm that the Septuagint uniquely reflects the Hebrew text while the newer translations misrepresent their Vorlage. Their view links the Septuagint with the Hebrew text as joint witnesses against the newer Jewish versions.

Such an idea could no longer be maintained once Origen commenced his work on the Old Testament text (pp. 178–89). If his massive six-columned Bible called the Hexapla showed anything, it was that there were numerous differences between the current Hebrew text (columns 1 and 2) and the Septuagint (column 5), while the newer Jewish translations (Aquila: column 3; Symmachus: column 4; Theodotion: column 6) corresponded more closely to the Hebrew Bible. Origen himself produced a hebraizing recension of the Septuagint, saying that he was thereby ‘healing’ the Old Testament text. He seems to imagine that his work restored the Septuagint to its pristine state of conformity to the Hebrew Bible whereas it had suffered corruption in its transmission (pp. 180–81). He largely assumes the purity of the current Hebrew text, though he recognizes that it too may have suffered in transmission (p. 182–83). Most of Origen’s statements can best be understood as arising from the view that the original Septuagint faithfully rendered the original Hebrew and one or both texts have suffered corruption. However, some limited evidence does imply that Origen thought the Seventy translators themselves made certain small changes in the text in order to edify readers (pp. 183–85).

Patristic authors following Origen had to deal with the implications of the latter’s work though they still wanted to maintain a close connection between the original Septuagint and the original Hebrew text (pp. 189–97). They essentially retained the options promoted by Origen, explaining textual divergence in terms of corruption in either the Septuagint tradition or the Hebrew tradition. As opposed to the pre-Origen patristic authors, these later Church Fathers typically (not universally) admitted the accuracy of the newer Jewish versions, a point amply demonstrated by Origen. Eusebius of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa explain the variation between the Septuagint and the Hebrew text as resulting from intentional corruption of the Hebrew text by the Jews. The Septuagint reflects most accurately the original Hebrew text (pp. 190–92). Epiphanius of Salamis attempts to diminish the significance of the differences between the Septuagint and the Hebrew Bible by attributing these differences merely to the inevitable difficulties of the business of translating. He is also willing to accuse the newer Jewish translators of perverting the text of the Bible (pp. 192–94). Theodoret of Cyrus tends to explain the variations in the biblical text in reference to corruption in the Septuagint manuscript tradition (p. 195). All of these positions assume that originally the Septuagint corresponded to the Hebrew and that one of the marks of the authentic text of the Bible is its fidelity to the Hebrew text. (For more on this point, see my paper here.)

The survey of patristic authors ends with Jerome and those who responded to his work (pp. 197–208). One of Jerome’s main themes was to deny what had earlier been almost universally assumed, that the original Septuagint essentially reproduced in Greek the original Hebrew. Jerome argued that the Septuagint and the Hebrew text had suffered little corruption so that essentially the original of each textual tradition survived into his own day (pp. 197–202). The divergences between the Greek and Hebrew texts could not be explained by corruption in the textual transmission, but rather the Seventy translators must have made these changes. In fact, Jerome does explicitly charge the translators with changing the text of the Bible, either willfully or through their own ignorance (pp. 202–203). He himself adheres to the Hebraica veritas and he assumes that his detractors also acknowledge the authority of the Hebrew text, as demonstrated by his repeated demands for his readers to “ask the Jews” about the accuracy of his translation. While Jerome’s Latin translation of the Hebrew Bible was completely innovative in practice, he did inherit from his predecessors the theory of an authoritative Hebrew text.

Jerome’s opponents in the realm of biblical scholarship also seem to have accepted the authority of the Hebrew text but they continued to insist that the Septuagint most accurately rendered it. Theodore of Mopsuestia and Rufinus of Aquileia both charge Jerome with ignorance of Hebrew in comparison with the Seventy translators (pp. 203–204). Rufinus also parrots the charge issued by earlier Christians that the Jews had intentionally corrupted the Hebrew Bible, which text served as the basis for Jerome’s translation. The Septuagint, on the contrary, reflected the original text of the Hebrew Bible (p. 204). Augustine alone among Jerome’s contemporaries seems to have taken the latter’s textual work seriously while also maintaining the authority of the Septuagint (pp. 205–208). If Jerome had shown that the original Septuagint did not closely correspond to the original Hebrew text but rather introduced numerous changes, and if the Church has hallowed the Septuagint as the God-given Bible for Christians, then God must have approved, even ordained, the changes made by the translators. Over the course of his career, Augustine refined this innovative textual theory to its most sophisticated form in his City of God. Augustine asserted the inspiration of both the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint even in their differences; God had inspired the Greek translators to make changes to the biblical text for the benefit of Christian readers. Augustine’s mature position represents the first sustained attempt to divorce the authoritative biblical text (the Septuagint) from dependence on the Hebrew, though even Augustine continued to attribute a theoretical importance to the Hebrew Bible as an alternative record of divine revelation.


As a whole, my monograph demonstrates the importance of Hebrew scripture in the theoretical framework of patristic reception of the Jewish Bible. Christians in the first four or five centuries rarely paid attention to Hebrew in their Bible reading; Jerome is the major exception, and some other Christians—Origen especially, but also Eusebius and others—occasionally attempted to use available tools to incorporate Hebrew learning into their exegesis, without actually learning Hebrew. But though Hebrew did not prove to be of particular practical importance, throughout the period under investigation it retained great theoretical significance. Whether the issues involved canon, language, or text, early Christians often endeavored to connect closely their Old Testament to Hebrew scripture.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Greek Bible among the Jews

This post continues a series I recently revived, summarizing the chapters of my book. Previous posts include an introduction, summary of chs. 2-3 on the Old Testament canon, and a summary of ch. 4 on the Hebrew language.

This post covers the first part of ch. 5, the final chapter of the book. This chapter considers the role of Hebrew scripture in Jewish and Christian views regarding the authentic text of the Old Testament. This post will cover the Jewish reception of Greek scripture, and the next post will cover the Christian reception. The question for the chapter as a whole is: to what did extent did the ancients think that the Bible in Greek (or Latin) ought to be dependent on the Hebrew text? If I use a Greek Bible, what theoretical importance does the Hebrew Bible have for me?

The Greek Septuagint became the Bible of some Jewish communities as also of most early Christians, with both Jews and Christians asserting the inspiration of the translation. Many scholars have assumed or argued that Greek-speaking Jews and early Christians promoted the Septuagint to the extent that they devalued the Hebrew text or even rejected its authority. This chapter challenges such views through close readings of the Jewish and Christian statements about the origins of the Greek translation and its relationship to the Hebrew text. While the Hebrew text featured minimally in the exegesis of those who adhered to the Septuagint, for the most part they affirmed the value and authority of the Hebrew Bible in their theoretical pronouncements on the authentic text of scripture.

After a brief survey of the state of the biblical text (Hebrew and Greek) at the turn of the era (pp. 143–46), I consider Jewish views on the relationship between the Septuagint and the Hebrew Bible (pp. 147–73). Several ancient Jewish sources narrate the story of the original Greek translation (pp. 147–52). The Letter of Aristeas provides the earliest account: seventy-two Jewish scholars from Jerusalem travel to Alexandria with Hebrew scrolls of the Torah and complete the work of translation in seventy-two days. Ptolemy, the Greek king in Alexandria, bows before the translation just as he had earlier bowed before the Hebrew Torah upon its arrival, and the Jewish community of Alexandria hails the accuracy of the translation and pronounces a curse on anyone who would modify it. Other Jewish authors such as Aristobulus, Josephus, and the Rabbis also relate versions of this story. Philo significantly declares the translators inspired so that they produced a perfect translation that captures both the wording and the sense of the original.

Two important points emerge from these narrations (pp. 151–52). First, the Hebrew text features prominently in the imagination even of those who feel secure in ignoring it in practice. Philo, for instance, justifies his sole reliance on the Greek translation by asserting that the translation reproduces the original Hebrew in every possible way; for him, the translation and the original text are “sisters, or rather […] one and the same both in sense and in words.” Second, all ancient Jewish sources restrict the Septuagint to the Pentateuch. Scholars commonly use the term ‘Septuagint’ in reference to the entire Greek Old Testament, an inheritance from Christian terminology, but ancient Jewish writers never use the term in this way. They do not relate translation stories for any Old Testament books except for the Pentateuch. Only the translation of the Pentateuch (and not, e.g., of Isaiah or of Psalms) appears to have provoked any sort of reverence on the part of Jews.

These points provide a helpful framework for ancient Jewish attitudes toward the relationship between the Greek and Hebrew texts (pp. 152–64). Some scholars have argued that Jewish opinion divided over the proper scriptural text, whether the Septuagint or the Hebrew text were authoritative. Evidence for this division comes from, on the one hand, statements such as those of Philo, praising the translation as inspired, and, on the other hand, the apparent contemporary hebraizing revisions of the Septuagint, which suggest that the Hebrew text was the standard to which the Greek translation must conform. However, the Jewish sources exalting the Septuagint refer to the Greek Pentateuch exclusively, while evidence for hebraizing revisions of Greek translations concern books outside the Pentateuch. The most dramatic evidence for hebraizing Greek versions comes from the Greek Minor Prophets scroll from Naḥal Ḥever, but there is no reason to think that Philo would have objected to a revision of the Greek Minor Prophets. He regarded the Greek translation of the Pentateuch alone to be perfect due to its inspiration, and there is little evidence that anyone objected to the quality of the Greek Pentateuch before the second century CE.

From the second century CE, however, Greek-speaking Jews encountered various available translations. Alongside the traditional Septuagint, newer Jewish translations by Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion appeared. Limited evidence prevents our being certain whether one of these newer translations proved more popular among Jews than the traditional Greek text, but at least some evidence—in the form of inscriptions and Christian testimonia—indicates that while the Septuagint continued in use among some Jews, others preferred Aquila’s literal style of translation (pp. 164–73). This should occasion little surprise, since we have seen that no Greek translation other than the Pentateuch enjoyed any sort of authority as an inspired text, and even the Pentateuch commanded esteem because it was thought to be a perfect equivalent of the Hebrew text. With newer translations emerging in the second century that showed the divergences between the Septuagint and the Hebrew text, some Jews apparently adopted a more literal translation (Aquila) rather than adhere to a traditional but (what they now saw to be) flawed version. For Greek-speaking Jews the Hebrew text of scripture seems to have factored heavily in their ideas about which Greek text was most authoritative.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Patristic Views on the Hebrew (and Aramaic) Language(s)

A while back I started a series summarizing the main points of my book. I ended up only making it halfway through the book. I wrote an introductory post and then a second post on the second and third chapters dealing with the Old Testament canon in early Christianity.

I have recently had occasion to write a summary of my book, so I thought I'd duplicate some of that summary to finish the series. This post will deal with ch. 4: "The Language of Hebrew Scripture and Patristic Biblical Theory."

The fourth chapter of my monograph turns to late antique notions regarding the Hebrew language itself. Since Christians considered the Hebrew language an important element in definitions of the biblical canon (as argued in ch. 3), could such a concept signal a more widespread glorification of the language? This question gains relevance in light of the contemporary rabbinic views regarding Hebrew. The first half of the chapter explores the development of Jewish ideas about the sanctity of the Hebrew language before searching for potential parallels in early Christian literature.

The Rabbis of late antiquity regularly referred to Hebrew as the ‘holy language’, thus distinguishing it from all other languages. Nevertheless, for most purposes few Jews spoke Hebrew during this period (pp. 106–10). Within Roman Palestine, Greek and Aramaic dominate most of the surviving evidence (inscriptions, coins, literature), though Hebrew has certainly not disappeared completely, as attested particularly by the Dead Sea Scrolls and, later, the early rabbinic literature (e.g., the Mishnah). In the Jewish Diaspora, Hebrew appears hardly at all in the extant evidence. The decline of Hebrew can generally be traced back to the early post-exilic period, though it intensified with the advancement of Hellenism in the fourth and third centuries BCE.

At precisely the same time, evidence emerges that some Jews infused the Hebrew language with deep cultural and religious significance (pp. 111–23). This evidence ranges from the coins issued by the Hasmonean priest-kings that feature Hebrew prominently, literature written in Hebrew (including the Dead Sea Scrolls and even parts of the Bible itself), the use of the term ‘holy language’ in reference to Hebrew already in a Dead Sea Scroll, the Hebrew coins issued during the First Jewish Revolt and later during the Bar Kokhba Revolt, and the rabbinic pronouncements regarding the sanctity of the Hebrew language (pp. 111–18). In an age when, according to scholarly consensus, Hebrew could no longer claim to be the vernacular of any Jewish community, this use of Hebrew in various ways indicates its symbolic value. Certain rabbinic injunctions regarding the use of the Hebrew language in prayer, and the use of this language for writing the Tetragrammaton even in Greek biblical manuscripts, show that some Jewish groups considered Hebrew to be truly the ‘holy language’ (pp. 118–21). It was, in fact, the language through which God created the world and the first language spoken by humans (p. 118).

Christians share some of these ideas about Hebrew but do not reflect the full rabbinic notion of Hebrew as a holy language (pp. 123–41). Their comments create some interpretive difficulties because they at times seem to confuse the Hebrew and Aramaic languages (pp. 123–31). Even Jerome of Stridon and Epiphanius of Salamis, both of whom are reputed to have learned Hebrew, occasionally classify as Hebrew certain Aramaic expressions. In one passage Epiphanius distinguishes ‘the Syriac dialect’ (i.e., Aramaic) from ‘the deep language’ of the Hebrews. Epiphanius seems to be thinking that Hebrew is a more ancient (‘deep’) form of the language of which Aramaic is the modern form. Jerome considers Hebrew ‘the mother of all languages’ (including Latin), necessarily implying that Aramaic descended from Hebrew. The close linguistic connection between the two languages, along with the shared alphabet, probably contributed to such notions.

The Church Fathers transmit two primary ideas regarding the importance of the Hebrew language: it was the primordial language and it was the language of ancient Israel (pp. 131–37). Christians do not seem to have understood Hebrew to be especially holy in the sense current among the Rabbis (pp. 131–33). That is, the Church Fathers freely used translations of scripture and made no efforts to promote the use of Hebrew. But for the most part they did consider Hebrew to be the language spoken by the first humans. Augustine, for instance, asserts that only the descendants of Heber (Gen. 10:21) preserved the primordial Hebrew language (pp. 133–34). Some patristic authors, though, think either that there is no such thing as a ‘primordial language’ (Gregory of Nyssa) or that it was not Hebrew but rather Aramaic (Theodoret of Cyrus; pp. 134–35).

Early Christian authors also associated ancient Israel uniquely with the Hebrew language (pp. 135–37). While patristic authors recognized that contemporary Jews used a variety of languages, they assumed that ancient Israelites only knew Hebrew, and that they were the only nation that knew Hebrew. Their scriptures were, therefore, composed in Hebrew. As Augustine says: “It is called the Hebrew language, which the authority of the Patriarchs and Prophets preserved, not only in their speech but also in their sacred writings.” Hebrew is the biblical language because it was the language of ancient Israel. In this sense, Aramaic does not qualify as a ‘biblical’ language, even though the Bible does contain Aramaic passages and some Christians considered Aramaic a sub-branch of Hebrew (pp. 138–41). While they do not regard Hebrew to be ‘holy’ in the manner intended by the Rabbis, the association of Hebrew with ancient Israel meant that the Fathers knew that their scripture was originally Hebrew.