Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A Controversial Example of Textual Criticism Involving Messianic Prophecy

I'm pretty much going to be quoting (good artists borrow, great ones steal) from the Christian Thinktank's article on Psalm 22.

Here is the problem:
I don't know if this qualifies as a tough question but here goes. Recently I have been speaking with a Rabbi and we got into a discussion about psalm 22 and specifically verse 16. The verse, of course reads "...they have pierced my hands and my feet." and has been traditionally held as referring to the Crucifixion. However, the Rabbi sees the verse as saying " a lion my hands" and as I don't know Hebrew I cannot argue. Still, I have a suspicion that this is a late Hebrew rendering of the verse that has been a reaction to the christian point of view. Which rendering is correct? I have a feeling that the Septuagint might be able to answer this question as it will give a pre-christian Jewish interpretation of the passage in the Greek, which may be less ambiguous than the Hebrew. Thank you for your time Mr. Miller.

Dear Glen: I have read with great interest your work regarding the use of the LXX. I have an article that I could email to you where a Jewish counter-missionary is claiming that none of the books other than the Pentateuch were translated in pre-Christian times and that the rest of the LXX is a Christian translation and cannot be used to reflect pre-Christian ideas. Please help!! This comment came up when the counter-missionary was arguing that Christians deliberately changed Psalm 22:16 from "like a lion" to "they have pierced" and the fact that the LXX supports this reading is useless since the Christians translated the Psalms and put their own spin on it.

Ok, so here's the problem. Psalm 22 in the Masoretic reads "like a lions my hands and feat".

So if you've been following my non-expert advice, you consult the Septuagint and find that that translation reads "they have pierced my hands and feet." Furthermore, the New Testament (which is another source we can use) doesn't quote it.

So now you are faced with counter-missionaries who tells you the Septuagint was corrupted. What do you do now?

Consult all Masoretic texts you can find and look at the Dead Sea Scrolls (if possible).

And what do we find? The verse appears only once in the Dead Sea Scrolls and supports the Septuagint. Furthermore, there are textual variants within the Masoretic tradition which have the same reading.

In other words, the evidence doesn't look like Christians made this up. The textual evidence supports "they have pierced my hands and feet."

While this is a high-level review of the issue, I fully recommend reading the above article.

That's it for my much-delayed series on textual criticism. Please leave any questions in the comments section.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

An Example of Textual Criticism Using the Masoretic Text with the Septuagint

So we've gone over a lot of material regarding textual criticism of the Tanakh. What would this look like in practice? What would consulting the Septuagint look like?

Let me give a relatively quick and straightforward example. There are others listed in the above link.

There are two verses in the Tanakh which seem to contradict each other.
2 Samuel 8:4 And David took from him 1,700 horsemen, and 20,000 foot soldiers. And David hamstrung all the chariot horses but left enough for a hundred chariots.

1 Chronicles 18:4 And David took from him 1,000 chariots, 7,000 horsemen and 20,000 foot soldiers. And David hamstrung all the chariot horses, but left enough for 100 chariots.

So, is it 1700 or 7000 horsemen?

This is a problem. If we look at the Septuagint and Dead Sea Scrolls, we see that both verses have 1700 in both of them. Based on all the textual evidence, it looks like "7000" was due to a scribal error in the transmission of the text.

My next post should be the last in this series, and we will tackle a more controversial Messianic prophecy.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Jerome's Preface to Genesis

Jerome, translator of the Latin Vulgate, wrote prefaces in his work before different books of the Bible. Before the book of Genesis he defended his utilization of Hebrew texts instead of using the Septuagint.
I have received the desired letters of my Desiderius, who in a foretelling of things to happen has obtained with Daniel a certain name [see Vulgate Daniel 9.23: quia vir desideriorum es tu, “for you are a man of desires”], beseeching that I might hand over to our hearers a translation of the Pentateuch in the Latin tongue from the Hebrew words. Certainly a dangerous work, open to the barkings of detractors, who accuse me of insult to the Seventy to prepare a new interpretation from the old ones, thus approving ability (or “genius”) like wine.

Now, the interesting thing is that Jerome's defense centers around Messianic prophecies mentioned in the New Testament, do not appear in the Septuagint, but appear in the Hebrew texts. The Hebrew texts referred to probably became what we now know as the Masoretic texts (remember the earliest texts we have of that tradition date from around 900 CE).
And especially by the authority of the Evangelists and the Apostles, in which we read many things from the Old Testament which are not found in our books, as it is (with): “Out of Egypt I have called My Son,” and “For He shall be called a Nazarene,” and “They will look on Him Whom they have pierced,” and “Rivers of living waters shall flow from his belly,” and “Things which no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor has arisen in the heart of man, which God has prepared for those loving Him,” and many others which are desiring a proper context.

What is interesting about this list is that "He shall be called a Nazarene" is disputed by traditional Judaism. Anti-missionaries point it out as a New Testament error. Apparently, Jerome saw it right in the text of the Hebrew.

For the record, Dr. Michael Brown deals with that objection in Volume 4 of his Answering Jewish Objections, a summary of which can be found here.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Variants Between the Septuagint & Masoretic Manuscripts and Controversies About the Two

Here is a good summary from Wikipedia:
The sources of the many differences between the Septuagint and the Masoretic text have long been discussed by scholars. The most widely accepted view today is that the Septuagint provides a reasonably accurate record of an early Semitic textual variant, now lost, that differed from ancestors of the Masoretic text. Ancient scholars, however, did not suspect this. Early Christians—who were largely unfamiliar with Hebrew texts, and were thus only made aware of the differences through the newer Greek versions—tended to dismiss the differences as a product of uninspired translation of the Hebrew in these new versions. Following the Renaissance, a common opinion among some humanists was that the LXX translators bungled the translation from the Hebrew and that the LXX became more corrupt with time. The discovery of many fragments in the Dead Sea scrolls that agree with the Septuagint rather than the Masoretic Text proved that many of the variants in Greek were also present in early Semitic manuscripts.

These issues notwithstanding, the text of the LXX is in general close to that of the Masoretic.

You may see arguments from anti-missionaries which state that a certain reading of a Messianic prophecy is based on a faulty reading from the Septuagint. It is generally not as simple as that, as that Wikipedia quote relates. Some will even claim that the Septuagint was intentionally corrupted.

You may also see ancient Christians, who didn't know Hebrew, favor the Septuagint and suspect that some Jewish people were hiding the true meaning of the texts.

The above description is based on my recollection, so please forgive me since I can't provide references off the top of my head.

But the point of this series is to say, forget all of those claims if you don't have proof of corruption, supression, etc.

The Dead Sea Scrolls have shown that variants between the Septuagint and the Masoretic texts weren't made up out of thin-air. For more on the issue I recommend this article.

I have one more post before we get into some examples. The light is at the end of the tunnel.

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