Monday, September 26, 2016

Septuagint and Canon (2)

Here is a second post in my occasional series taking note of articles that deal with the issue of the relationship between the Septuagint and the canon of scripture. Today's article:

W. Edward Glenny, "The Septuagint and Biblical Theology," Themelios 41.2 (2016): 263–78.

This is a useful article. It is an introduction to issues surrounding the appropriation of the LXX for Christian theology, and the approach it takes is to survey five perspectives on this question. 

1. LXX Priority and Canon. This is Glenny's longest discussion of any particular perspective. He discusses the work of Hartmut Gese (esp. his contribution to this book), Martin Hengel, Peter Stuhlmacher, Timothy McLay, and Michael Law. Glenny interacts with these works a bit (see n.41 for his rejection of Hengel's interpretation of Luke 16:16), but mostly he summarizes their positions. These scholars see the LXX as part of a continuous stream of tradition within the development of the OT, and they think that the OT canon was still open at the time of the NT, so that the deuterocanonical literature should be included in the Christian Bible. 

2. LXX Priority, Hebrew Canon. Here he includes Mogens Müller and Robert Hanhart (intro to Hengel's book). Müller and Hanhart both believe that the canon was more-or-less settled by the NT era, so there's no question here about including the deuterocanonical literature in the Christian Bible. Rather the text of the LXX (for the books of the Jewish canon) is authoritative for the church because of its use in the NT and because the LXX stands at the end of a long process in the growth of the OT. In Müller's mind, the LXX was translated as the redaction process of the OT was coming to an end, so that that process in a sense is brought to completion in the LXX. 

3. Hebrew Priority and Canon, LXX Bridge. Here we find Jobes and Silva. The LXX was the Bible of the early church, its authority was derivative of the Hebrew, and was so understood by the early church. The LXX certainly influenced the theology of the early church, by its unique readings, but even these unique readings were in harmony with the theology (if not the wording) of the Hebrew scriptures. Glenny points to criticisms by Jobes and Silva in regard to the first two positions listed above. 

4. Hebrew and Greek Are Sanctified as Scripture by the Spirit. Ross Wagner is the example. Using the work of John Webster, Wagner argues that the Spirit has sanctified the LXX by means of its use within the church and by the apostles. Glenny compares the position of Augustine and Origen; but, whereas Origen perhaps would have shared Wagner's view, Augustine actually thought that the LXX was inspired in its composition, not just sanctified by its use.

5. Hebrew Priority and Canon, LXX Commentary. Glenny interacts with J. Julius Scott Jr., but it is a little obscure as to what position Glenny attributes to Scott, and how it differs from that of Jobes and Silva. And he ends by saying that Scott would probably not agree with the position that Glenny has attributed to him (or something close to that). 

After this survey of approaches, Glenny concludes that "the importance and function of the LXX in Christian biblical theology is at least fourfold": 
  1. "the LXX can function as the source of Christian biblical theology." Glenny's explanation of this point focuses on the possibility that the LXX might attest an original Hebrew text (which is not the direction I thought he would take under that heading). 
  2. "the LXX is valuable for biblical theology in its role as a commentary on the biblical text." Background to the NT (similar to the fifth position surveyed above) and commentary of sorts on the OT. 
  3. "perhaps most important, the LXX is a bridge or link between the Christian OT and NT." It's not that the LXX is part of a continuing tradition (like for Gese), but there is, instead, a "unique literary connection" that "reflects and interprets" the Hebrew scriptures. The LXX influences the NT in the form of text quoted, but also in vocabulary, grammar, syntax, style, and theology. 
  4. "a complement to the Hebrew Scriptures." The NT sometimes quotes the LXX where it diverges from the MT, e.g., Acts 15:16–18 quoting Amos 9:11–12. "I contend that Christian biblical theologians should understand theological statements that are unique to the LXX to complement and extend the understanding of the Hebrew Bible, as far as they reflect and repackage the theology found in the Hebrew Bible or as far as that reflected and repackaged theology of the LXX is picked up and used in the NT." 

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Ethiopian Canon

I mentioned previously that the new issue of The Bible Translator is devoted to the canon of scripture. In this post I want to take a look at the article on the Ethiopian canon:

Bruk A. Asale, "The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Canon of the Scriptures: Neither Open nor Closed," The Bible Translator 67.2 (2016): 202–22.

[By the way, he refers to his own published work as 'Bruk 2014', etc., so I take it that the name listed first is his surname. That's why I'll refer to him as Bruk rather than Asale. The journal, however, puts 'Asale' in the running head to the article.]

Bruk's article is part of a growing area of interest in the Ethiopian Bible. At least, it seems to me that I've seen a lot more publications on this subject in the last 4-5 years than I had before that. Which makes sense because study of the biblical canon as a whole is so popular, and usually pursued with a focus strictly on Western attitudes, that of course broadening our view to include other perspectives would help us have a better informed idea of what a biblical canon is. I learned quite a bit about the Ethiopian canon from Mroczek's recent book (pp. 156–61), who provides good recent bibliography.

I found Bruk's article to be quite excellent. I am not expert on the Ethiopian Bible, so I am not competent to critique it anyway. But I found it to be helpful because it is written by an insider [see update below], it surveys the history of the Ethiopian Church, it references opinions held by Ethiopian clergy and laymen, and it was very sane in the implications it drew. The article does not actually get into the different possibilities for the list of books, or which books are definitely in and which books might be either in or out. It rather focuses on the concept of a biblical canon, arguing that the Ethiopian concept is different from the Western concept.

Bruk reveals where he is going at the very beginning of the article, saying that "the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) asserts its own canon of the Scriptures traditionally identified as eighty-one books," but in reality "the concept of a canon as a strict list of books and the requirement to limit oneself to that list is possibly alien to the EOTC's understanding of canon" (203).

Bruk conducted interviews with "high-level scholars, theologians, clergy, and lay members of the EOTC," asking them the following questions:
  • How do you define the canon of Scripture?
  • What constitutes Scripture or the canon of Scripture in the EOTC?
  • Is the canon of the EOTC closed or open?
Before getting to the results of these interviews, Bruk tutors us in the basic history of the EOTC (204–11). He identifies five major periods. 
  1. Before and at the birth of Christianity. The EOTC teaches that Judaism was introduced to Ethiopia from the time of the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon, and that some of the Hebrew Scriptures were translated at this time. Recent discoveries of manuscripts dating to the fourth–sixth centuries suggests the presence of Christianity before the fourth century, along with the possibility of Ge'ez translations. 
  2. Fourth century, Christian had become the state religion, during the reign of King Ezana (first half of fourth century), with St. Frumentius as bishop. Probably at this time a formal translation was made, without distinction between canonical and non-canonical books. Ge'ez itself changed, with the introduction of vowels and the reversal of the direction writing from right-to-left to left-to-right. Frumentius was consecrated by Athanasius, and the EOTC was under the authority of the Coptic Church (until the twentieth century). 
  3. fifth–sixth centuries, the time of the arrival of "the Nine Saints" from Syria, who not only helped to consolidate the church but also produced a translation from the LXX with some reference to Syriac. "[T]he evidence indicates the Saints translated 'canonical' and 'pseudepigraphical' books without making any distinction" (208). 
  4. fourteenth–fifteenth centuries, major reform. This period followed the Ethiopian 'Dark Age' (7th–13th centuries), characterized by a weakened central state, isolation of the EOTC from the Coptic Church, oppression at the time of Queen Judith's invasion (208n16). During the reform period the Ge'ez version was revised according to an Arabic version, itself based on the Hebrew, producing a Ge'ez text with both a LXX-base and an MT-base. It is at this time that the number 81 became important for the EOTC canon. This number is found in the Fetḥa Nagast, the Law of the Kings, a legal code compiled around 1240 in Arabic and translated into Ge'ez, which says, in part, that there are 81 "divine books which must be accepted by the holy church," and then it lists 73 or 74 books. According to Bruk, "The problem is that it is not known which council recognized this list as such and which books make up these eighty-one. There was no debate as to the extent and the concept of the canon in this period either, with the most prominent theological controversy of this period being Mariology, among others" (209). 
  5. twentieth century, formal autonomy and language shift from Ge'ez to Amharic. Bruk mentions several challenges faced by the EOTC at this time (e.g., invasion by Jesuits, invasion by Muslim sultanate of Adal, etc.). But the EOTC came through it, and finally gained autonomy from the Coptic Church. 
Then Bruk presents the findings from his interviews of 15 people "deliberately chosen because of their capacity and expertise in Scripture and canon" (213).

But first he talks for a couple of pages (213–15) about this Amharic book by Dibekulu Zewde called in English The 81 Holy books and the Scripture-Canons in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (1995), which is apparently the best book on the subject. Apparently this is the book, not that that entry helps a lot. Anyway, Bruk provides a substantive summary of the book, and draws the implication that "the canon of the EOTC has never been closed in a strict sense with a binding list of books, on the one hand, and on the other hand, that there is nonetheless a limited set of books that are up for consideration as part of the canon" (215). But whereas Dibekulu recommends that the EOTC officially close the canon--whether it ends up with 81 books, or 84, or 73--Bruk does not share this view. He rather believes that the EOTC canon "is not an open canon so long as the option to include whatever books one may want to include is closed and it is not a closed canon so long as there is still the possibility of including or excluding certain books" (215).

Now to the interviews. There were five basic responses that Bruk discusses (215–18).

  1. The EOTC canon is closed. Here he lists four respondents, who, nevertheless, seem to take slightly different positions, according to whether the important thing is the number 81 and it doesn't matter so much which books are included, or whether the important thing is the books included and the number is not so important. Or maybe I'm just misreading this paragraph. Anyway, included here are (1) a university theologian and (2) "the vice-chairperson of the scholars' committee of the EOTC, second to the patriarch," who seem to hold the view that the books are important even if the way they are counted is variable; and (3) a seminary instructor and (4) an accountant who is active in the church, both of whom mention the 81 books, and seem to recognize that there are different ways to get to 81, which I take to mean that the actual books (within a limited range) don't matter so much. 
  2. The EOTC canon is open. Two respondents: (1) a leading scholar of the EOTC and a Bible translation consultant, and (2) a university theologian. While there is no difference between canonical, non-canonical, deuterocanonical, and pseudepigrapha, for any book to be considered Scripture it must conform to "the overall teaching of the Scriptures." 
  3. Not strictly closed or open. One respondent, a university theologian, who sees the number 81 as a non-binding tradition since the actual number of books in the canon are fewer than 81. 
  4. Not comfortable with the question. Five respondents (with n. 42): (1) the General Secretary of the Bible Society of Ethiopia, (2) a translation consultant for the Bible Society, (3) a PhD student and seminary instructor, (4) head of a mission organization for the EOTC, and (5) a lay member. Since the church has not said whether it has an open or closed canon, it is difficult to say which is right. 
  5. Both closed and open. One respondent, a prominent church leader and scholar. "He argues that so long as there is a clear principle that permits a book to be among Scriptures, it is a closed canon. However, that does not mean that there is a rigid number of books counted as part of a canon; this would make it an open canon." 
[I guess there are two interviewees that he did not mention in his results. Or I messed up somewhere.]

Bruk does not like it when scholars describe the EOTC canon as "fluid," calling this description "meaningless and misleading if it does not consider the EOTC's deeper understanding of the concept of canon" (218–19). On the one hand, the issue simply has not come up within the EOTC until very recently, probably due to external influences. On the other hand, the EOTC concept of the canon of scripture is more in line with the ancient teaching regarding the 'canon' of faith rather than the later definition of the biblical canon as a list of books.

UPDATE (2 Nov 2016): when I wrote this post, I mistakenly assumed that Bruk was an adherent of the EOTC, so I called him an 'insider'. However, another of his articles clarifies his position: he is an Ethiopian, but not an adherent of the EOTC. He calls himself an "insider-outsider" (p. 360).

Friday, September 16, 2016

Septuagint and Canon (1)

This post starts an occasional series on the subject of the relationship of the LXX to the canon. I will be posting notes from and responses to articles (and books?) on this theme. There are several such articles in a pile on my desk, and the speed with which I go through them will be the speed at which I post on them. Don't expect frequent posts.

Today I'm posting on an article that just came out in The Bible Translator. The whole recent issue of The Bible Translator is on the biblical canon, so I may try to go through each article and post some thoughts. But I had a similar thought earlier this year when the same journal devoted an entire issue to Erasmus' New Testament, but I never got around to it.

The article in this issue that is on the Septuagint is:

Simon Crisp, "The Septuagint as Canon," The Bible Translator 67.2 (2016): 137–50.

Crisp (see here, scroll down) presents a survey of the issues, really a basic introduction to the topic, arguing that the LXX played a crucial role in the expansion of the Christian canon over the Jewish one. The article contains one blunder that I saw, where it claims that scholars generally date the Letter of Aristeas to the late first century BCE (p. 139); surely he means late second century BCE. He does talk about the Letter of Aristeas, and the Christian reception of the translation legend, which really doesn't involve the canon so much as the text of the OT. He is equivocal on the idea of an Alexandrian Jewish canon, saying that it cannot be proven but that "there can be little doubt about the authoritative status of the LXX for Greek-speaking Jews" (p. 143, citing approvingly Rajak). Of course, this statement is true, but what he doesn't tell you is what Greek-speaking Jews thought the LXX was, or at least he doesn't tell you here. Earlier, he had said: "Historically, we should really apply the term 'Septuagint' only to the Greek translation of the five books of the Torah made in Alexandria in the third century B.C.E." (p. 138).

Next, he discusses Christians: " is clear that the Greek Old Testament did acquire authoritative status in the Christian community. It is equally the case, however, that it took some time for this corpus to attain a fixed shape" (p. 143). He brings up the three Great Codices (Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus) and mentions their inclusion of books not in the Jewish canon and the order of the OT books (distinct from the Tanak structure). He thinks this different order has some big theological implications for the meaning of the OT (p. 144). I have my doubts.

Apparently based on these three manuscripts, Crisp feels he can assert: "The LXX canon, then, as a Christian collection of books, includes all the books of the Hebrew Bible together with a number of books which do not form a part of that corpus" (p. 144). He immediately follows this sentence with: "These books appear with varying degrees of consistency in the early Christian canon lists, which are themselves in the main based more or less firmly on the books of the Hebrew Bible."

Actually, the early Greek canon lists hardly ever include these extra books (see this post). Maybe Melito included Wisdom of Solomon, but maybe not. 1Esdras was often included in addition to Ezra-Nehemiah. Jeremiah often contained some additional books like Baruch. But Tobit, Judith, Maccabees? Those books that Crisp has told us appear in the biblical codices? They don't appear in the Greek canon lists of the first four centuries. They do appear in some Latin lists from the second half of the fourth century. What Crisp should have said is that these books "appear with varying degrees of consistency in the early Christian" codices (rather than canon lists), because he has already shown us that Alexandrinus, Sinaiticus, and Vaticanus do not actually contain the same 'extra' books. One wonders, then, how they could form a canon in Ulrich's terms (as Crisp seems to claim; see p. 138 for a reference to Ulrich).

Crisp claims that these 'extra' books (books from outside the Hebrew Bible canon, p. 145) "were included among the wide range of sources quoted or alluded to by NT authors and early Christian apologists" (citing Hengel, 107–8; deSilva 34; Sundberg here, 82). I need to check those citations, but at this point I would accept this statement as true only if we nixed "quoted" and just went with "alluded to," since I am persuaded by Skarsaune (here) that none of these 'extra' books was actually formally quoted by a Christian author in the first two centuries (except for Jude's citation of Enoch, but some would even object there that it wasn't a 'formal' quotation--without a formula).

It is hard to understand why Crisp (p. 145) allows for the possibility that the 'extra' books were not canonical for Jews but only edifying, whereas he doesn't allow for this possibility for Christians, though this is precisely the way Athanasius described these books.

After all this, he concludes: "it might seem inappropriate to speak of a 'canon' at all with regard to the LXX" (p. 146). He again allows that for Jews these 'extra' books "possessed varying degrees of religious or spiritual authority ... but they did not constitute a formal or institutional canon." And finally: "What we can affirm with certainty is that specific forms of the LXX tradition subsequently became canonical for individual Christian churches--but that is the subject of another discussion" (p. 147). I guess I can live with that final statement. But the previous discussion confuses the issues.

He ends with some practical implications for the United Bible Societies in regard to their production of Bible translations for various faith communities.