Monday, February 17, 2014

How We Got the Bible: Ancient Versions: The Old Testament

Chapter 13 describes the ancient versions or translations of the Old Testament. Like the ancient versions of the New Testament are independent witnesses to the Greek text, these versions are independent witnesses to the Hebrew text. They help by: 1) telling us something of what the text used before the time of the Massoretes was like; 2) providing clarification or complementation to the Massoretic Text; and 3) very often increasing the credibility of the Massoretic Text. These versions follow below:

Samaritan Pentateuch - This is not a translation but a form of the Hebrew text that arose when the Samaritans separated themselves from the Jews and built their sanctuary on Mount Gerizim around 400 B.C. They adopted their own form of the Hebrew Scriptures which counted only the five books of Moses as authoritative. It contains around 6,000 variants to the Massoretic Text. However, many of these are spelling and grammatical differences and differences due to the peculiar beliefs of the Samaritans. There are a few instances where it agrees with the Septuagint and these cause textual critics to take notice.

Aramaic Targums – After the Jewish exile in Babylon, Aramaic became the spoken language of the Jews. For this reason, when the Hebrew text was read during public worship an Aramaic interpretation had to be provided. Eventually these interpretations, or targums, were written down. By the fifth century there were two official targums, Targum Onkelos of the Pentateuch and Targum Jonathan of the Prophets. Fragments of Targums were found at Qumran and they consistently support the Massoretic Text.

Syriac Peshitta (Simple) – An Eastern Aramaic version begun possibly as early as the middle of the first century A.D. by Jews, Christians, or both. Its earliest form agrees closely with the Massoretic Text, however the later forms are influenced by the Septuagint.

Latin Vulgate – Latin translation of the Old Testament completed by Jerome from 390 – 405 using Hebrew manuscripts which were relatively the same as the Massoretic Text.

The Septuagint – Lightfoot devotes much of the chapter to this version. The compilation of this Greek translation of the Old Testament is documented in the Letter of Aristeas. While there are historical problems with this letter it seems reasonable the it rightly documents that the translation of the Pentateuch took place in Alexandria in the third century B.C. Since Aristeas only writes of the translation of the Pentateuch, we do not know how or when the remainder of the Old Testament was translated. However, it is certain that the entire Old Testament was available in Greek well before the rise of Christianity. The Septuagint was never a unified and guarded form of the Old Testament text and because of this it is hard to say what it means to the Hebrew text when it differs from the Massoretic Text. Because of the Dead Sea Scrolls discoveries it must at least be acknowledged that it is possible that there were different forms of the Hebrew text of Jeremiah and 1 and 2 Samuel. However, Lightfoot writes:

Although there are numerous textual variations between the Septuagint and the Hebrew text, the great majority of these are minor. Often it is not mentioned how very much the Septuagint supports the Hebrew text. Yet even when the Septuagint differs and offers a better reading, nonetheless it never replaces the Hebrew as the standard form of the text. Because it is a translation, the Septuagint always remains secondary. Only with great care, then, can one speak of “the authority of the Septuagint.”

Apart from the Septuagint’s relation to the text, it has had great influence. The titles Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy came from the Septuagint through the Latin Vulgate. The grouping of books into Law, History, Poetry, and Prophets and the dividing of 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, etc. are a result of the Septuagint. It was also the only Bible the early church had and it was the text most often quoted from by the apostles and inspired writers of the New Testament. Even New Testament terms and phrases such as “apostle,” “atonement,” “covenant,” “faith,” “forgiveness,” “glory,” “law,” “peace,” “redemption,” “righteousness,” and “truth” are derived from the Septuagint. Lightfoot closes the chapter by writing the following:

Today we can only be grateful for the Septuagint. The New Testament was written in Greek, but before it came the Old Testament translated into Greek. It was in God’s providence that the Septuagint by its language and vocabulary would open up the way for the gospel in a world dominated by Greek.

Stand firm in Christ,
Chase

2 comments:

George Kleinert said...

Is it too big a jump to suggest that the text form of the Masoretic text may have been been compiled in opposition to Christianity, at least in some instances? Justin Martyr made the charge that the Jews had changed some of their scriptures, in the Dialogue With Trypho.

In the February 10 article on this subject, mention is made of scribal practices of the Masoretes. To assume that the practices followed in the seventh century were followed in the first century, or more importantly, in the centuries before Christ, may be assuming too much.

Also mentioned in the Feb. 10 article, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, specifically scrolls 4QpaleoEx^m, 4QSam^a and 4QSam^b which contain readings that agree with the Septuagint should be considered. The existence of textual variants in antiquity should not scandalize us, as it apparently did not scandalize the ancients. The Masoretic text may be the Hebrew "received text", but as Christians, we may do well to consider texts passed down by Christian communities as of higher authority than texts passed down by Jewish communities.

Chase said...

Welcome to the blog George!

Is it too big a jump to suggest that the text form of the Masoretic text may have been been compiled in opposition to Christianity, at least in some instances?

It is never a big jump to suggest something if there is evidence for it. What evidence is there that the Massoretic text was compiled in opposition to Christianity? And if this is the case, what follows? What does this mean for the accuracy of the text they compiled?

Justin Martyr made the charge that the Jews had changed some of their scriptures, in the Dialogue With Trypho.

I am not familiar with the Dialogue With Trypho. Please provide the location of this charge within this work by Martyr and when able I will get a copy and investigate further.

However, here are my thoughts upon hearing this: The Jews alter their scripture? Their scripture was sacred to them. It seems a huge stretch to say that they altered it. Additionally, the two main Isaiah scrolls found at Qumran agree with the Massoretic Text. If they did alter portions of the text in response to Christianity it seems to me that surely portions of Isaiah (such as 7:14, 8:14, 9:6-9, 28:16, and 53) would have been altered.

In the February 10 article on this subject, mention is made of scribal practices of the Masoretes. To assume that the practices followed in the seventh century were followed in the first century, or more importantly, in the centuries before Christ, may be assuming too much.

Is an alternative assumption that the Jews were flippant in regards to following the Talmud? I add these two quotes of Lightfoot quoting Old Testament scholars Bleddyn J. Roberts (directly below) and J. Weingreen:

“the authenticity of the Massoretic text stands higher than at any time in the history of modern textual criticism, a standpoint which is based on a better assessment of the history of the Jewish transmission.”

“It should therefore be stated explicitly that, when we survey the Hebrew Bible as a whole, the incidence of copyists’ errors is statistically very few indeed. Even allowing for the intrusion of occasional errors in the received Hebrew text, it is remarkable how faithfully it was transmitted.”

It seems that there is little doubt that the Old Testament text was faithfully transmitted by the Jewish scribes.

Also mentioned in the Feb. 10 article, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, specifically scrolls 4QpaleoEx^m, 4QSam^a and 4QSam^b which contain readings that agree with the Septuagint should be considered. The existence of textual variants in antiquity should not scandalize us, as it apparently did not scandalize the ancients.

I did not intend to impress the fact that these scrolls at times agree with the Septuagint and differ from the Massoretic Text as scandalous. So that I may improve my writing and communicating in the future, please indicate how I did so. I do however refer you to the paragraph within the post where I quote Lightfoot. It begins with, “Although there are numerous textual variations…”

The Masoretic text may be the Hebrew "received text", but as Christians, we may do well to consider texts passed down by Christian communities as of higher authority than texts passed down by Jewish communities.

To understand you correctly, are you saying that we should consider holding the Septuagint as a higher authority than the Hebrew text from which it was translated?

Also, the Septuagint predates Christianity and the Letter of Aristeas records that Jews helped translate it. Lightfoot states the following regarding the Septuagint: “we are practically certain that before the dawn of the Christian era, and perhaps well before, the entire Old Testament was accessible in Greek.” The early Christians passed on the Septuagint as it had been passed on to them.

Respectfully.