Friday, August 29, 2014

Augustine's _Questions on Joshua_ and the Hebrew Bible

Continuing in the same series; earlier posts here and here.

Question 7 on Joshua 5:13–15 (pp. 423–24)

At the end of this comment, Augustine points out that despite what his Latin text seems to say (in Iericho), Joshua was not actually in Jericho at the time of encountering the "commander-in-chief of the force of the Lord" (5:14 NETS) because the walls had not yet come tumblin' down. He must have been outside the walls, in the field. nam interpretatio, quae est ex hebraeo, sic habet. Sure enough, the Vulgate does explicitly say that Joshua was in the field of the city of Jericho (in agro urbis Hiericho, 5:13). The MT has ביריחו. BHS lists no variants, and this passage is not extant among the DSS. It looks like Jerome has added some clarifying words (in agro urbis) to his translation, and Augustine has accepted this translation as a precise reflection of the Hebrew text and so confirmation of his view that Joshua was not actually in Jericho but outside it. This is similar to what we saw in the previous post in Question 20 on Deut 14:28-29.

Question 15 on Joshua 10:5–6 (p. 432)

After the Israelites make a covenant with the Gibeonites (Josh 9), some Canaanite kings attack Gibeon and Gibeon asks the Israelites for help (Josh 10:1-6). In the LXX, the five kings that attack Gibeon are called kings of the Jebusites (10:5), but later when the Gibeonites ask for help, they describe their attackers as kings of the Amorites (10:6). In the MT, the term Amorite appears both places. Augustine notes this fact and says that the Hebrew makes sense because really the term Jebusite refers to an inhabitant of Jerusalem, not to a Canaanite more generally. Or maybe it can, Augustine suggests, like Libya can mean a part of Africa or Africa as a whole, and Asia can mean part or whole.

Augustine doesn't offer any more explanation. He does not say whether the Hebrew text or the LXX is correct, or whether one of them has suffered scribal corruption, and he does not discuss what spiritual realities might lie behind either rendering. He does seek to explain how his traditional Latin text (based on the LXX) might make sense after all, though it seems to me that he prefers the easier explanation that the Hebrew text preserves the correct reading here.

Question 19 on Joshua 16:10 (pp. 434–35)

At Josh 16:10, after saying that the Ephraimites did not drive out the Canaanites from Gezer, the MT simply says that the Canaanites in Gezer have been subjected to forced labor. In the LXX, instead of this conclusion, we find a much longer statement:
until Pharao, king of Egypt, went up and took it, and he burned it with fire, and they massacred the Chananites and the Pherezites and those living in Gazer, and Pharao gave it as a dowry to his daughter. (NETS)
This supplement is taken mostly from 1Kings 9:16–17.

The problem for Augustine - before even mentioning the textual variant - is that the Book of Joshua was written near in time to the events it describes, so how could the author know what Pharaoh would later do? He would have to have included this detail through prophecy, but why would this particular detail - which seems a rather insignificant matter - be chosen for prophetic inclusion? Augustine gives up on this route and attributes the addition instead to the Seventy translators.
proinde potius existimandum est septuaginta interpretes, qui auctoritate prophetica ex ipsa mirabili consensione interpretati esse perhibentur, haec addidisse, non tamquam futura praenuntiantes, sed quia illo tempore ipsi erant, quo facta esse meminerant et in libris Regnorum legerant; etenim regum temporibus factum est. quod ideo credibilius nobis uisum est, quoniam inspeximus interpretationem quae est ex hebraeo et hoc ibi non inuenimus. 
So one should rather conclude that the Seventy translators, who, because of the miraculous consensus, are regarded as having translated with prophetic authority, added these things, not as if predicting the future, but because they lived in that time in which they mentioned that these things were already done and they are read in the books of Kings. It was accomplished in the times of the Kings. This seems all the more credible to me because I have inspected the interpretation which is from the Hebrew and I did not find this. 
Augustine compares this passage to another one, when Joshua pronounces a curse on anyone who would rebuild Jericho (6:26). The MT shows the fulfillment of this curse in 1 Kings 16:34, but the LXX has that fulfillment already mentioned in the original verse (Josh 6:26). Here again, Augustine has checked the interpretatio ex hebraeo and found that the fulfillment is not contained in Josh 6:26.
unde adparet a Septuaginta interpositum, qui factum esse nouerant
so it is apparent that it was inserted by the Seventy, who knew what had happened.
Augustine does not think that these insertions are a product of any special knowledge on the part of the Seventy. They were just expanding the narrative with further information available to them and not available to the original authors. But he is careful to say that they do have prophetic authority, thereby justifying their editing of scripture.

Question 24 on Joshua 23:14 (p. 443)

Joshua says that he is about to "go the way of all the earth." Augustine finds the term recurro in his text, whereas the interpretatio quae est ex hebraeo has the verb ingredior. So, the Hebrew text just has "go," but the LXX has "return." The Seventy translators must have been thinking of something like the passage at Gen 3:19, where God says to that man that he will return to the earth, in reference to his body. Augustine realizes that the word "return" could be used in reference to the spirit, like in Eccl 12:7 where the spirit returns to God, but he thinks this makes sense only for the righteous. Joshua is certainly righteous, but since he says "return like all who are on the earth," he seems to be including the wicked and so he must not be talking about the spirit returning to God but the body returning to the earth. At the end of this discussion, Augustine turns to a critique of the Latin translator of the LXX, who found in his Greek text the word ἀποτρέχω and rendered it recurro instead of percurro or excurro. He thinks that the rendering of ἀποτρέχω at Gen 24:51 with recurro has influenced the translator of Josh 23:14.

So I'm not sure what to make of this discussion. At the end of it he seems unsure whether the LXX has the verb ἀποτρέχω: si hoc potest dici quod graecus habet ἀποτρέχω. He seems to think that recurro is not the best translation of this Greek word, both because of the meaning of the Greek word and because of the context of the passage. But at the beginning of the discussion Augustine seemed to want to find the appropriate interpretation for recurro, and attributed the use of that word to the Seventy translators. Maybe as he is writing his answer he continues to do more research, looks at the Greek text (instead of just his Latin translation of it) and finds ἀποτρέχω, and then becomes doubtful that recurro is even the right word to use.

Question 25 on Joshua 24:3 (pp. 443–44)

The LXX of Josh 24:3 has God say that he took Abraham and led him "in all the land," whereas the MT has "in all the land of Canaan" (בכל ארץ כנען). Jerome's Vulgate has "in the land of Canaan" (in terram Chanaan), which Augustine takes to be a precise representation of the Hebrew text.
mirum est ergo, si Septuaginta pro terra Chanaan omnem terram ponere uoluerunt nisi intuentes prophetiam, ut magis ex promissione dei tamquam factum accipiatur, quod certissime futurum in Christo et in ecclesia praenuntiabatur, quod est uerum semen Abrahae non in filiis carnis, sed in filiis promissionis. 
It is remarkable, then, if the Seventy wanted to put "all the land" instead of "land of Canaan," unless considering prophecy, so that it should be accepted as done more from the promise of God, because the future in Christ and in the Church was certainly being pre-announced, because the true seed of Abraham is not in sons of the flesh but in sons of promise (Rom 9:8).
Augustine seems to be interpreting the LXX's "all the land" as meaning "the entire earth" so that it has reference to the spiritual inheritance of the spiritual descendants of Abraham in Christ (cf. Rom. 4:13). Whereas Jerome's Vulgate reflects the original text accurately, the Seventy wanted to point toward spiritual realities.

Augustine's _Questions on Deuteronomy_ and the Hebrew Bible

This continues my thoughts from last time. Go there for an introduction to this series.

Augustine does not have any comments on the Hebrew text for Exodus, Leviticus, or Numbers, so we turn to Deuteronomy.

Question 3 on Deuteronomy 3:11 (p. 371)

At Deut 3:11, the Hebrew word rephaim appears, which the Seventy transliterate. Augustine says that those who know Hebrew say that the word means 'giants'. Here Hebrew is a help for exegesis.

Question 20 on Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 15:1 (pp. 386-88)

The passage concerns the poor tithe: every three years, instead of going to Jerusalem and eating your tithe (Deut 14:22-27), you're supposed to dump your whole tithe into the middle of town for poor people (Levite, alien, orphan, widow) to eat. Or, at least, that's what the MT seems to me to indicate (the poor tithe replaces the regular tithe every third year). For several reasons Augustine finds his Latin translation of the LXX to be unclear about the distinction between this tithe and the other one that you're supposed to offer every year. So, Augustine quotes Jerome's translation for this passage; he doesn't name the translator, he just says in ea interpretatione quae est ex hebraeo apertius hoc distinctum reperimus. This translation from the Hebrew is clearer because it clarifies that the poor tithe should happen "in the third year" not "after three years," and it is clearly labeled "another" tithe, in addition to the one already consumed by the worshipper in Jerusalem. This is an interesting decision by Jerome, to insert the word aliam before decimam (not exactly reflected in the Hebrew text) with the effect that Deut 14 commands two tithes to be given every third year. This is not the way the Rabbis reconciled Deuteornomy's tithing laws, but Augustine seems convinced by Jerome's translation; he clearly thinks this is a more precise translation from the Hebrew. Augustine does not comment on why the LXX is unclear in the tithing law.

Question 54 on Deuteronomy 30:11-14 (pp. 413-14)

This Deuteronomic passage is the one about the Law being near you, in your heart, not in heaven or across the sea. At the end of the passage, the LXX says:
The word is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart and in your hands, to do it. (30:14 NETS)
 Augustine recognizes that the Hebrew text does not have the phrase "in your hands."
nec frustra tamen hoc a septuaginta interpretibus additum existimo: nisi quia intellegi uoluerunt etiam ipsas manus, quibus significantur opera, in corde accipi debere, ubi est fides quae per dilectionem operatur. nam si forinsecus ea quae deus iubet manibus fiant et in corde non fiant, nemo est tam insulsus, qui praecepta arbitretur inpleri. porro si caritas, quae plenitudo legis est, habitet in corde, etiamsi manibus corporis quisquam non possit operari, pax illi est utique cum hominibus bonae uoluntatis. 
But I do not think this was added by the Seventy translators to no purpose: unless because they wanted it to be understood that even the hands themselves, which signify actions, ought to be received in the heart, where faith is, which operates through love (Gal 5:6). For if those things which God commands are done externally and are not done in the heart, no one is so stupid that he will judge the precepts to be fulfilled. If love, which is the fulfillment of the law (Rom 13:10), lives in the heart, even if someone cannot work with bodily hands, there is still peace to him with men of good will (cf. Luke 2:14). 
That's the end of the discussion. Augustine appreciates the addition of "hands" even though he obviously considers the heart - already there in the Hebrew text and retained in the LXX - to be the more important element.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Augustine's _Questions on Genesis_ and the Hebrew Bible

A number of times in Augustine's writings he interacts with variants between the LXX (a Latin translation of which served as his primary scriptural text) and the Hebrew text, which he accessed mostly through Jerome's more recent Latin translations. One of his later works, the Quaestiones in Heptateuchum (419 CE), deals with a number of such variants. This post will present Augustine's statements on these variants for the first book of this work, which deals with questions on Genesis.

You can find the CSEL edition here. The page numbers below refer to this edition. (But see also this nice online version that uses Migne's text.)

I have searched the Library of Latin Texts (Brepols) database to find all the places in this first book where Augustine talks about "Hebrew", and I isolated the following five instances in which he has something to say about the Hebrew text. I try to provide enough context to make clear what Augustine is talking about, but I'm not concerned at this point in evaluating everything Augustine says. Right now I'm just wanting to present his comments.

Question 2 on Genesis 5:25 (p. 4)

The question concerns Methuselah's age at death, a problem for many Church Fathers because in their Greek text it appeared that Methuselah lived beyond the time of the flood, but since he didn't join Noah in the ark, he should have died before the flood or in it. (The MT and SP have Methuselah die during the year of the flood, though they have several divergences among them. See Hendel's article here.) Augustine deals with this question more extensively in City of God 15.11-15, where he argues that the Hebrew text more accurately gives the numbers of the Patriarchs' ages than do the Greek manuscripts at his disposal, which he thinks have become corrupt in the course of their transmission. That is, he does not attribute the error to the original Seventy translators.

At Quaest. in Gen. 2, he says:
sed hanc quaestionem plurium codicum mendositas peperit. non solum quippe in hebraeis aliter inuenitur uerum etiam in Septuaginta interpretatione Mathusalam in codicibus paucioribus sed ueracioribus sex annos ante diluuium reperitur fuisse defunctus. 
But the error of many codices has caused this question. For not only in the Hebrew codices is it found differently but also in the LXX translation in fewer but more accurate codices Methuselah is discovered to have died six years before the flood. 
I'm using M. Harl's translation and annotation of Greek Genesis as a guide on how all this works out. She says that when you add up all the numbers in the genealogies, the LXX locates the flood in year 2242 from creation and Methuselah dies in year 2256. There were three ways for ancients dealing with the Greek text to solve this problem: (a) keep Methuselah's lifespan the same (969 years), but add twenty years to the time when he became the father of Lamech (aged 187 rather than 167), so that the flood comes twenty years later, now in year 2262. For this solution, see Josephus (A.J. 1.86), Julius Africanus (PG 10.68a), and a corrector of Codex Alexandrinus, and several other Greek mss (cited in Wevers' apparatus). This is also the solution that Augustine has seen in some Greek manuscripts, as he says above. (b) Augustine knows some exegetes who think that Methuselah was translated to heaven along with his father Enoch (Gen 5:24) until after the flood, when he apparently came back to earth, lived 14 more years, and then died (City of God 15.11). (c) Jerome adopted the Hebrew reading.

Question 97 on Genesis 31:47 (p. 50)

The question concerns the verse reporting a covenant made between Jacob and Laban, for which they set up a stone as a witness.
Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha: but Jacob called it Galeed.
Laban gives the stone an Aramaic name, consistent with his Aramaean heritage as presented in Genesis. Jacob gives the stone a Hebrew name. This comes across in Augustine's Latin translation as aceruum testimonii (Laban's name for the stone) and aceruum testem (Jacob's name for it). So the question: why two different names?
traditur ab eis qui et syram et hebraeam linguam nouerunt propter proprietates suae cuiusque linguae factum. fieri enim solet, ut alia lingua non dicatur uno uerbo, quod alia dicitur, et uicinitate significationis quidque appelletur.  
It is reported by those who know the Syriac [= Aramaic] and Hebrew language that it was done on account of the properties of each one's own language. For it is customary that what is said in one language is not said in another language with the same word, and things are designated by a word close to the same meaning. 
Augustine uses the information provided by Semitic linguists (surely Jerome) to undergird his own assertion that word-for-word translation is impossible. This doesn't exalt or disparage the Hebrew text, but it does assume that knowledge of Hebrew (and Aramaic) is useful for exegesis, just as Augustine had asserted in De Doctrina Christiana 2.11.16.

Question 152 on Genesis 46:26-27 (pp. 78-79)

According to Gen 46:26 (LXX and MT), a total of 66 people entered Egypt with Jacob. In the next verse, the MT says that Joseph had two sons in Egypt, bringing the total to 70 persons (apparently including Joseph, Ephraim, Manasseh, and Jacob; here I follow Jerome, QHG 46:26), and the LXX says that Joseph had nine descendants in Egypt, bringing the total to 75. The problem Augustine poses is why the LXX would count even the grandsons of Joseph in the reckoning of 75 persons "with whom Jacob entered Egypt" (cum quibus Iacob intrauit in Aegyptum), since Joseph and his children were in Egypt, they did not enter with Jacob. Augustine answers that we should imagine the "with whom" as equivalent to "from the house of Jacob when he entered Egypt."

But there's a further difficulty: when Jacob entered Egypt, Joseph surely only had 2 descendants, not 9, because Ephraim and Manasseh would have been too young (about 9 years old) to have any children yet. Augustine recognizes that the Hebrew text does count only Ephraim and Manasseh among Joseph's descendants at this point in the story: hoc loco hebraei codices habere dicuntur, that is, it is said that the Hebrew codices count only Ephraim and Manasseh here. Augustine goes on to say that the LXX itself does the same thing in a passage in Exodus, but I haven't been able to figure out what passage he's talking about. The CSEL editor references Exod 1:5, but I fail to see why Augustine would think LXX Exod 1:5 counts only Ephraim and Manasseh among Joseph's descendants, since it again gives the number 75 (though MT again has 70). [Is it possible that Augustine read 70 in his text of Exod 1:5? I doubt it: the first apparatus of the Göttingen LXX lists only the Syrohexapla and the Ethiopic version as attesting such a reading. Now, the LXX of Deut 10:22 has the number 70, so maybe Augustine has just misremembered which book has this alternative reckoning. Philo (Migr. 199-200) makes both numbers (70 and 75) meaningful. Origen has the number 70 at De Princ. 4.23.]

Augustine does not think the Seventy are in error at Gen 46:26-27, though. Rather, "they wanted to fill up this number on account of some mystical significance as if by some prophetic liberty." Maybe the Seventy translators are trying to take account of all the children born to Joseph while Jacob was still alive? No, that wont work, because Jacob only lived in Egypt for 17 years (Gen 47:28), and he entered Egypt in the second year of the famine (Gen 45:6), and Joseph didn't get married until the years of plenty had already started (Gen 41:46, 50), so at most Ephraim and Manasseh were only 26 years old when Jacob died, and they could not have been grandfathers yet (cf. Gen 46:20 LXX).

Does the Hebrew text help us here?
sed neque ulla hebraeica ueritate ista soluitur quaestio.
I love that line. I imagine Augustine being fed up with hearing people acclaim the "Hebrew truth," and he contemptuously says, "no amount of Hebrew truth helps to solve this question!" (Take that, Jerome!) Why? Because even if you don't count Joseph's great grandchildren, you've still got to count Benjamin's grandchildren. Augustine says that even the Hebrew text says that the number 66 (Gen 46:26) includes all of Benjamin's descendants up to that point, which would have included his grandchildren and a great grandson (cf. LXX Gen 46:21). [Is Augustine unaware that the MT counts all of the descendants of Benjamin listed in Gen 46:21 as his own children, not any being his grandchildren, as in the LXX? But see Num 26:38-41.]

There are further problems: all of Joseph's descendants add up to 8 (Gen 46:20), Benjamin's 11 (46:21), but the total number of descendants attributed to Rachel--the mother of Joseph and Benjamin--is 18 (46:22). And later Joseph is credited with 9 descendants (46:27), though only 8 were listed earlier.

Augustine despairs and offers hope at the same time:
haec omnia, quae indissolubilia uidentur, magnam continent sine dubitatione rationem; sed nescio utrum possint cuncta ad litteram conuenire praecipue in numeris, quos in scripturis esse sacratissimos et mysteriorum plenissimos, ex quibusdam, quos inde nosse potuimus, dignissime credimus.
All these things, which seem unsolvable, no doubt contain great reasoning; but I don't know whether they can all literally fit together especially in the numbers, which in the scriptures we most worthily believe to be most sacred and most full of mysteries, from some which we have been able to know.  
End of the discussion.

[I'm not sure that I've got that last bit right: ex quibusdam, quos inde nosse potuimus.]

Question 162 on Genesis 47:31 (pp. 84-85)

The verse says: "Then Isreal [= Jacob] bowed his head on the head of his staff/bed." The difference between 'staff' and 'bed' for this Hebrew word is merely vocalic; the same consonants are used. The LXX translated with 'staff'; most modern translations (and Jerome) choose 'bed'. Augustine finds a number of variants in the Latin codices available to him, mostly concerned with how "on the head" is phrased, and the antecedent of "his" (Jacob's or Joseph's): super caput virgae eius, super caput virgae suae, in capite virgae suae, in cacumen, super cacumen. He first discusses the antecedent of 'his', explaining that Latin suae or eius reflect different interpretations of a single Greek word that does distinguish meanings with an accent and can distinguish meanings with an extra letter, but doesn't always. After discussing this a bit more, he notes:
quamuis in hebraeo facillima huius queastionis absolutio esse dicatur, ubi scriptum perhibent: et adorauit Israhel ad caput lecti, in quo utique senex iacebat et sic positum habebat, ut in eo sine labore, quando uellet, oraret. nec ideo tamen quod Septuaginta interpretati sunt nullum uel leuem sensum habere putandum est. 
Although in Hebrew the solution to the question is said to be easy, where they have written: and Israel bowed on the head of the bed, in which certainly the old man was reclining and having himself positioned so that on it without work he could speak when he wanted. But neither should it be thought that what the Seventy have translated has no meaning or an inferior meaning.
End of the discussion.

Question 169 on Genesis 50:3

The verse says that it took 40 days for the embalming/burial of Joseph, and Augustine explores what figurative significance such a time period might have. It might be related to a set period for penitence and fasting, just as Moses (Exod 34:28), Elijah (1Kings 19:8), and Jesus (Matt 4:2) all fasted for 40 days, and 40 days is the length of time granted to Nineveh in the Hebrew text of Jonah 3:4 to repent of their sins and fast. Augustine recognizes that 40 days is not always a period of mourning or repentance: Jesus spent 40 days with his disciples post-resurrection and that was a period of joy (Acts 1:3). Another problem with this view is that the LXX does not have the number 40 at Jonah 3:4 but rather 3 days.
nec septuaginta interpretes, quos legere consueuit ecclesia, errasse credendi sunt, ut non dicerent; quadraginta dies, sed: triduum et Nineue euertetur. maiore quippe auctoritate praediti quam interpretum officium est prophetico spiritu, quo etiam ore uno in suis interpretationibus, quod magnum miraculum fuit, consonuisse firmantur, triduum posuerunt, quamuis non ignorarent quod dies quadraginta in hebraeis codicibus legerentur, ut in domini Iesu Christi clarificatione intellegerentur dissolui obolerique peccata, de quo dictum est: qui traditus est propter delicta nostra et resurrexit propter iustificationem nostram [Rom. 4:25]. clarificatio autem domini in resurrectione et in caelum ascensione cognoscitur. unde et bis numero quamuis unum et eundem spiritum sanctum dedit: primo, posteaquam resurrexit, iterum, posteaquam ascendit in caelum. et quoniam post triduum resurrexit, post quadraginta autem dies ascendit, unum horum, quod posterius factum est, numero dierum codices hebraei significant; alterum autem de triduo, quod ad eandem etiam rem pertinent, Septuaginta commemorare non interpretationis seruitute sed prophetiae auctoritate uoluerunt. non ergo dicamus unum horum falsum esse et pro aliis interpretibus aduersus alios litigemus, cum et illi, qui ex hebraeo interpretantur, probent nobis hoc scriptum esse quod interpretantur, et septuaginta interpretum auctoritas, quae tanto etiam diuinitus facto miraculo commendatur, tanta in ecclesiis uetustate firmetur.
But we should not believe that the Seventy translators, whom the church is used to reading, have made a mistake when they have not said "40 days" but "3 days and Nineveh will be destroyed." Since the office of one endowed with the prophetic spirit has more authority than the office of translators, and by that prophetic spirit they are confirmed to have agreed in their individual translations even as with one mouth--which was a great miracle--they put 3 days, although they were not ignorant that 40 days were read in the Hebrew codices, so that sins would be understood to be destroyed and abolished at the glorification of our Lord Jesus Christ, concerning whom it is written: "Who was handed over for our offenses and he rose for our justification" (Rom 4:25). Now the glorification of the Lord is known in his resurrection and ascension into heaven. Hence also twice in number he gave the Holy Spirit although it was one and the same spirit: first, after he rose (cf. John 20:22), again, after he ascended into heaven (cf. Acts 2:2-4). And because he rose after 3 days, and he ascended after 40 days, the one of these that happened later the Hebrew codices signify by the number of days (Jonah 3:4); the other concerning three days, which pertains to the very same thing, the Seventy wished to commemorate not by the servility of a translation but by the authority of prophecy. Therefore let us not say one of these is false and so argue on behalf of some translators against others, since even those who translate from Hebrew prove to us that what they translate is written, and the authority of the Seventy translators, which is commended by so great a divinely accomplished miracle, is established by such long use in the churches. 
Augustine has a similar discussion of Jonah 3:4 at City of God 18.44.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Basil the Great, Proverbs 8:22, and the Hebrew Bible

I've been reading Kevin Giles' book on the Eternal Generation of the Son, not a topic of my expertise but also not outside my interests. At Kindle location 1351 (ch. 5, on the Cappadocians), he comments on Basil of Caesarea's interpretation of Proverbs 8:22, and this does interact with a topic to which I have devoted some study, the patristic reception of Hebrew scripture.

Proverbs 8:22 was a favorite verse of opponents of the Nicene definition of the Trinity, because it could be interpreted as affirming that the Son of God was created and not eternal. In the LXX, it reads:
κύριος ἔκτισέν με ἀρχὴν ὁδῶν αὐτοῦ εἰς ἔργα αὐτοῦ
The Lord created me as the beginning of his ways, for the sake of his works. (NETS
The speaker of this line in the text of Proverbs is "Wisdom," and every fourth-century Christian knew that Christ himself was the wisdom of God (1Cor 1:24, 30). They regularly assumed that Christ was the speaker of this passage. But if so, does this verse not affirm that Christ is himself a created thing, a creature, and not eternal God? So Arius seems to have interpreted, and, more to the point, so Eunomius interpreted it.

The pro-Nicene Church Fathers had different ways of handling this passage without accepting the idea that the verse affirms the creation of the Son. Athanasius interpreted it in terms of the incarnation (Or. 2.44-56). Basil says (Adv. Eun. 2.20) that this single verse should not override other scriptures that affirm the divinity of the Son, and he cautions that the Book of Proverbs is enigmatic. But his third argument against the interpretation of Eunomius is what I want to highlight:
But in the meantime let us be sure not to let the following point go unnoticed: that other translators, who have hit upon the meaning of the Hebrew words in a more appropriate way [οἱ καιοιώτερον τῆς σημασίας τῶν Ἑβραϊκῶν καθικόμενοι], render it as "he acquired me" instead of he created me. This is going to be a great obstacle for them against their blasphemous term 'creature.' For the one who said: I have acquired a man through God [Gn 4.1] clearly used this term, not because he had created Cain, but rather because he had begotten him. (trans. DelCogliano and Radde-Gallwitz, 160-61; the Greek can be found at PG 29.616-17. I don't have access to the SC edition; TLG uses Migne for this text.)
[Basil messes up that last bit, where he seems to think that Adam is the speaker in Gen 4:1 (note the masculine pronouns), whereas it is actually Eve. The translators point out in a note that Basil follows Eusebius of Caesarea in this error.]

Basil is referencing here the alternative Greek translations of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, traditionally understood as second-century CE Jewish translators. He makes the argument that these later translators provide insight into the meaning of the passage by offering the term "acquire" as a substitute for "create."

My interest in this has to do with the implications of this argument for Basil's view of the authoritative text of the Bible. His argument seems to rely on the notion that the Hebrew text of scripture is authoritative for the Church. I haven't studied Basil's views on this topic in detail, and I'm not sure that there is much in his works that would provide material for such a study. I have studied the views of other Fathers (in ch. 5 here, and also here), and if I am correctly interpreting Basil's thought in this passage, I can say that he does not stand alone in affirming the theoretical importance (and at least occasional practical importance, as we see here) of the Hebrew text of scripture.

Of course, Basil doesn't discuss here how he can reconcile these statements with what I presume to be his view that the Greek text of the LXX is inspired and also authoritative for the Church. He probably would have said that the Seventy translators rendered the text ambiguously, perhaps even with edifying intent--to push readers toward higher spiritual realities. But the more recent translators offer a clearer, more straightforward rendering, which helps us to figure out what the LXX means. This is the way some other Church Fathers thought of the matter, and so it is reasonable to attribute the view to Basil. The LXX retains its authoritative position, but it should be interpreted in accordance with the true meaning of the Hebrew text as revealed by the more recent translators.

One of Basil's modern translators--Mark DelCogliano--has written an article on Basil's interpretation of Proverbs 8:22 where he points out that Basil largely depends on Eusebius of Caesarea for most of his thoughts on the passage, including his citation of other translations as offering superior interpretations of the Hebrew text. Eusebius offers this interpretation at Ecclesiastica Theologia 3.2.15 (Eusebius Werke IV, p. 142). DelCogliano (188 n. 26) also cites Epiphanius (Panarion 69.25.1-9) as following the same line.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Another Review of My Book

I was glad to see in the latest issue of Biblische Zeitschrift (vol. 58/1, 2014, pp. 115-19) that Heinz-Josef Fabry reviewed my Hebrew Scripture in Patristic Biblical Theory. If you want to practice your German, give it a read. It's a pretty positive review, mostly summary of my argument. His first paragraph describes the book as "dieses für die Bibelwissenschaft ungemein instruktive Buch." The main weakness he identifies is redundancy, which I suppose I cannot deny. But, he concludes: "Die Fülle an Informationen macht diesen negativen Eindruck jedoch mehr als wett. So bildet das Buch mitsamt seiner mächtigen Bibliographie ein unverzichtbares Hilfsmittel für jeden, der die Rezeption der Bibel in der frühchristlichen Zeit erforschen will."