#2 When God Spoke Greek

As stated in the first post, Michael Law set out to write a narrative history of the Septuagint, a worthwhile endeavor to say the least. So much goes into writing a history but the first obstacle one must face is that the facts are not self-interpreting. To be sure Law no where claims that they are, but it should be stated in a critique which is going to offer an alternative way of analyzing the data.

In this post I want to interact with a crucial part of chapter three: Was there a Bible before the Bible? The first paragraph of the chapter places Law’s view in focus, “Prior to the second century [CE] there was no way of knowing which scriptural books would be included within the collection and which would be left out; nor was there any way of knowing how the final version of the individual books would appear” (19). Law claims that prior to the 2nd CE, there was no canon, only Scriptures; there was no stable text for these Scriptures, only fluid texts. In a succinct way, Law has laid all of his cards on the table. The canon question will be treated first in this post and then the textual history.

Law portrays the forming and perhaps closing of the Hebrew Bible as occurring in the 2nd CE. This is not a new view and can be found in many manuals on the Old Testament. As one attempting to read Law’s book carefully, the question is does Law deny even a canonical consciousness or a developing canon in the period before the destruction of the second temple in 70 CE? In the book he does not admit of a canonical consciousness in the the preceding period, but I am open to correction on this point. In his recent blog post on the question he does treat some of the relevant evidence but he still does not speak of a canonical consciousness or developing canon. Here is the problem with Law’s view: during the time of Jesus and long before Jesus the Jews refer to a collection or corpus of books, which means they had at the very least some consciousness of their collection and what that final collection might be; an idea of which books would eventually be in and which books would eventually be out. The assumption is that the authors and readers shared a mutual understanding of what these titles denoted. The alternative assumption is that the author wrote nonsense when using these titles and therefore the titles do not refer to a set collection or corpus of books and therefore they do not communicate to the readers. The following are only the so-called tripartite titles (there are many single and bipartite titles which refer to the same reality as well):

(1) The Evidence of Ben Sira / Ecclesiasticus (132 BCE). In three places in this source the Hebrew Bible is referred to in a tripartite structure: (1) the law and the prophets and the other (books) which followed them (vs. 1), (2) the law and the prophets and the other ancestral books (vss. 8-10), and (3) the law and the prophecies and the rest of the books (vss. 24-25). My problem with most treatments of this evidence is that they omit a contrast being made between the books in the tripartite structure and the book of Ben Sira itself. First, Iesous, the grandfather, gives himself to the reading of the Law and the Prophets and the other ancestral books and only after acquiring sufficient expertise in these works did he set out to write something concerned with education and wisdom, that is, his own work of edification and interpretation. He composed his piece so that those who love learning, after being captivated by these things, might gain much more through living by the Law. The grandson did not include his grandfather’s work in the third section or “the other books.” Second, the grandson says, “Therefore you are invited to read with a good will and careful attention and to judge kindly in which places we may seem to be incapable [to translate] with respect to some of the expressions which have been toiled over eagerly in rendering; for these things having been spoken in Hebrew itself [originally] are not capable of producing the same effect as when they are rendered into another tongue/language; and not these only, but also the Law itself and the Prophets and the rest of the books have no little difference when spoken in their own language [the original].” Again, the grandson creates a contrast between “these books” and the Law, Prophets, and other books. He could have included his grandfather’s work in the other books but he does not. He makes a contrast between the works included in the Old Testament and his grandfather’s work. Robert Hanhart, major editor of the Göttingen Septuaginta, draws the following conclusion, “It seems to me justifiable to conclude that the distinction-in relation both to their character and the quality of their translation-between Law, Prophets, and the other Writings, on the one hand, and the literature first exemplified in the work of the grandfather, on the other, was grounded first and foremost in the distinction between ‘canonical’ and ‘apocryphal’ already current at the time” (M. Hengel, The Septuagint as Christian Scripture, 3). On this reading, the Jews by 132 BCE had an idea of which books were ‘included’ and which books were ‘excluded’. They referred to the included books by employing tripartite titles. This reading of the Prologue is superior to Lee McDonald’s (p. 106), because it reckons with the inherent contrast between books.

(2) The Evidence of 4QMMT (152 BCE). This letter says, “We have written to you so that you may study (carefully) the book of Moses and the books of the Prophets and (the writings of) David.” The editors of 4QMMT say, “In this context דויד [David] probably refers not only to the Psalms of David, but rather to the Hagiographa. This is a significant piece of evidence for the history of the tripartite division of the Canon” (59). Again, it is possible that these titles do not refer to specific books, but the more likely possibility is that they did denote a corpus of books.

(3) The Evidence of the Gospels (Luke 24:44; Matthew 23:35). In Luke 24:44, Jesus says that all that was written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms had to be fulfilled. In Matthew 23:35, Jesus appears to be referring to a certain ordering of books when he accuses the Pharisees (who would have been very aware of this ordering of books) of being guilty of bloodshed from Abel to Zechariah son of Barachiah (probably a homiletic identification for Zechariah son of Jehoiada (2 Chronicles 24:15) as a later Targum on Lamentations makes clear). Is Jesus communicating by referring to the Hebrew Scriptures with these terms? Or is he using the terms without any particular referent? One has to decide whether Jesus has a canonical consciousness or not.

(4) The Evidence of Philo of Alexandria (b. 20 BCE; d. later than 40 CE). In his work De Vita Contemplativa (On the Contemplative Life), Philo references the practice of the Therapeutae and says that they do not take earthly things into their oratory but rather they take (the) Laws (νόμους), and the Oracles (λόγια) given by inspiration through the (the) Prophets, and (the) Psalms (ὕμνους), and the other books by which knowledge and piety are increased and completed. Philo recognizes three parts. The identification of the other books either refers to other books of the Hagiographa or other works that the Therapeutae considered to be on par with the canonical text. That point is not important at present. The point is whether these Jewish communities had a canonical consciousness or not.

(5) The evidence of Josephus (93-95 CE; Against Apion I. 37-43), Jerome (Helmed Prologue to  Samuel and Kings; 391-394 CE), and the Talmud (Bab. Talmud Baba Bathra 14b; 200 CE). Since these sources are later, I will not comment on them. They are significant because they probably indicate the continuation of a tradition which began at an earlier stage.


(1) What does this evidence mean? On page 71 Law comments on Sirach, “‘The other ancestral books,’ according to this assumption [complete Hebrew Bible by 132 BCE], would be the Writings (Ketuvim). Most scholars, however, do not accept this hypothesis since the ‘other ancestral books’ could refer to anything, including the books that never became canonical. At best it seems that the Torah and Prophets might have been a known collection by this time, but we should not read this statement in the Prologue as a confirmation of the later canon of the Hebrew Bible” (WGSG, 71). At the opening of chapter 3 (cited at the top of this post), Law claimed that prior to the second century CE there was no way of knowing which books would be included in the collection. Here his skepticism recedes, however slightly, and he now holds out the possibility that Torah and Prophets (and on page 42, the Psalms) were already a collection and perhaps canonical by the end of the first century. If Hanhart’s reading of the Prologue is correct, as I am inclined to think, then there was already a categorization of books into canonical and non-canonical, Sirach already being one of the excluded books–a work of edification and reflection on the Law, Prophets, and other books. This would mean that by 132 BCE there is at least a developing canon or a canonical consciousness, not simply in retrospect but in prospect. Prospectively, then, the Jews had a view as to which books they considered canonical.

(2) Two ways to view the evidence? As in all matters historical, there are different ways to view the evidence. The titles for the Old Testament corpus of books indicate to me that there was at the very least a canonical consciousness, a recognized corpus of books by 132 BCE and more probably a closed canon by that time complete with a categorization of the canonical and non-canonical. There are more reasons such as the numbering of the books and the ordering of the books which corroborate this point. Part of the historian’s difficulty is that there are not a lot of sources to examine from this period. There is no list of books from this early period. This fact does not mean there was no canon. In the period of the temple there would have been no need for a list of books since those books were all laid up in the temple following ancient precedent (cf. Deuteronomy 31:26; cp. 2 Maccabees 2:13-14). If a Jew during this early period wanted to know her holy books, she would need to go and inquire at the temple. Therefore there is a good reason why no such list was composed at this time–it was not needed. It is interesting that the first lists appear after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE (Bab. Talmud Baba Bathra 14b).

I have not put this issue to rest. There are more avenues to pursue such as all of the other titles referring to the Old Testament and the internal Torah, Torah, Torah structure of the Old Testament itself (see Stephen Dempster’s Dominion and Dynasty for the details). All I wanted to do here was offer a different interpretation for the evidence.

The next several posts will be shorter and they will comment on Law’s treatment of the various strands of evidence for the text history of the Old Testament.

#1 When God Spoke Greek

The fanfare over the release of T. M. Law’s When God Spoke Greek was fierce. Michael Law posted a few interviews over at his site. There were numerous blog reviews. See the Near Emmaus blog for the blog tour summary. Now that the fanfare is dying down, I want to contribute a few comments on the book. This will not be a book review. Many summaries of the book have been written and I commend those to you. Rather, I want to focus on what kind of book this is and then attempt to offer some critical interaction with it. I should say from the beginning that I required this book for my Septuagint course over the summer. The few students that took the class (may their tribe increase!) bought the book and reviewed it as an assignment. I will continue to require this book in future offerings of the course because I think it is an interesting and readable book and provides the students with an alternative perspective, something every professor and class needs.

The first question is what kind of book is it? Law has called it a “narrative history” of the Septuagint on many occasions. Although one is not able to find this exact categorization in the book, I agree with it, but that’s not actually the question I am raising at present. In the interactions I have had with students and peers, the question over whether the book is a work of popular scholarship or popular scholarship has arisen. I suppose Law has answered this question in a clean up blog post by denying “scholarly monograph” status to his own work. And yet the work was published by Oxford University Press and it was endorsed by very established scholars in the field, some who said “the book is meant for the scholar and learned reader alike.” It is for these reasons, not to mention the book’s own internal scholarly arguments, which perhaps causes Law to deny that his book is simply “popular drivel” in the same blog post (sidebar: comments like this one always create more heat than light and should be avoided at all costs). I have read the book with its end notes and certain parts of the book many times, and Law interacts with most of the up-to-date scholarship on the questions he poses. He did not trace arguments to their roots and, as I will point out later, he did not represent other viewpoints in some chapters. This fact may mean the book is more popular than scholarly, but I do not want readers to take this comment as dismissive. On the contrary, the book demands critical interaction. I will also discuss Law’s use of primary sources since in my view one’s interaction with the primary evidence is the mark of good scholarship. Therefore, I am treating the work as a narrative history of the Septuagint written for a serious reader or scholar. As such this book and its claims must be put under close scrutiny in order to evaluate its significance to the fields of historical and textual research.

Textual Growth in Isaiah 40:7-8? (Part 1)

This series of posts may be too ambitious for a blog, but I hope to present some of the key issues and the scholars involved with this textual problem and the other significant textual problems in Isaiah generally. I will present the texts in this post and the two theories used to explain the textual situation. In a second post, I will present the interpretation of Eugene Ulrich, “The Developmental Composition of the Book of Isaiah: Light from 1QIsaa on Additions in the MT,” Dead Sea Discoveries 8,3 (2001): 288-305. In a third post, I want to convey some of the main ideas in a recent article by Drew Longacre, “Developmental Stage, Scribal Lapse, or Physical Defect? 1QIsaa’s Damaged Exemplar for Isaiah Chapters 34-66,” Dead Sea Discoveries 20 (2013): 17-50. In a fourth post, I will offer my own conclusion to this textual problem. These texts are the most relevant to this problem but I will comment on all of the evidence in post four.

MT:  יָבֵ֤שׁ חָצִיר֙ נָ֣בֵֽל צִ֔יץ כִּ֛י ר֥וּחַ יְהוָ֖ה נָ֣שְׁבָה בֹּ֑ו אָכֵ֥ן חָצִ֖יר הָעָֽם ׃יָבֵ֥שׁ חָצִ֖יר נָ֣בֵֽל צִ֑יץ וּדְבַר־אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יָק֥וּם לְעֹולָֽם׃ ס. The text in red is what is under consideration.

NRSV: The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.

LXX: ἐξηράνθη ὁ χόρτος, καὶ τὸ ἄνθος ἐξέπεσεν, […] τὸ δὲ ῥῆμα τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν μένει εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα.

NETS: The grass has withered, and the flower has fallen, […] but the word of our God remains forever.

1QIsaa: יבשׁ חציר נבל ציצ כי רוח ֑֑֑֑ נשׁבה בוא הכן חציר העם יבשׁ חציל נבל ציצ ודבר אלהינו יקום לעולם. The text in red represents a later addition to this text, perhaps written in a different handwriting by a later scribe. I provide the image from the manuscript (see here for the whole digital scroll).


As one can see, the Masoretic text is longer than the text of the LXX. Furthermore, 1QIsaa has an interesting and perhaps a mixed text. The image above shows that originally 1QIsaa had a shorter text similar to the LXX and that another hand added the longer reading of MT above the line and then continued the longer text down the left margin.

In order to describe this text and the factors involved one needs a theory which can explain these kinds of problems. Currently, the two theories on this problem and others like them are (1) 1QIsaa represents the shorter original and MT represents a growing and expanding text of Isaiah and (2) 1QIsaa and LXX represent a text that became shorter by a scribal error during the transmission of the longer text. In addition to a theory, one also needs an understanding of the character of these textual witnesses in order to describe the factors involved. For example, (1) would need to show that 1QIsaa usually has a shorter text than MT and the reason for MT’s longer text is due to intentional scribal additions. (2) would need to show that an unintentional scribal error is probable in 1QIsaa and would have to supply an equally probable solution for the rest of the shorter texts in that manuscript. In other words, a global knowledge of the textual character of 1QIsaa combined with a theory of its transmission is prerequisite to deciding between the two theories.

As we unpack this problem, I want to keep an eye on the theory which most simply explains the difference between these texts. Both theories are plausible from the outset, but which one will offer the simpler solution in the final analysis?

Upcoming IOSCS in Munich

A light post for the weekend. The congress of the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies (IOSCS) meets August 1-3 in Munich. The program is posted here. The complete list of abstracts is here.

I will be presenting a paper for the section on manuscripts. I post the abstract below. I also want to highlight other papers to be presented. Natia Dundua is presenting a paper on the Old Georgian of Ecclesiastes, “The Textual Value of the Old Georgian Version of Ecclesiastes.” Here is the abstract:

Ecclesiastes will be the first Göttingen Volume for which the Old Georgian Version was collated as a daughter version. Our paper briefly describes the task of collating this version and an assessment of these data for the history of the textual transmission of the Greek Ecclesiastes.

Amazing that Ecclesiastes will be the first edition to include this version. I look forward to learning about the textual character of this version.

My presentation will be on the significance of manuscript RA 788 for a a critical edition of the Hexaplaric Fragments of Job. Here is the abstract:

Ra 788 (Tyrnavos 25) is a tenth century Greek catena manuscript containing the book of Job and the three Solomonic books. Dieter and Ursula Hagedorn were not aware of it and therefore it was not included in their magisterial work Die Älteren Griechischen Katenen zum Buch Hiob or the Nachlese. Before commenting on the hexaplaric fragments, it is necessary to determine the manuscript’s place in the stemma. This paper seeks to show that 788 is a member of oldest Greek catena (Hagedorns’ Γʹ) and in particular that it is the ancestor of the important ms 250. Once its place in the manuscript stemma has been determined, the paper will comment on the significant hexaplaric fragments within the manuscript in comparison with the recent dissertations on the hexaplaric fragments of Job by Nancy Woods and John Meade.

Update to καίγε in Joel 2:29 and Acts 2:18

I have made an update to the post καίγε in Joel 2:29 and Acts 2:18, which interacts briefly with Steve Runge’s comments on Acts 2:18.

I post the Update here as well:

UPDATE: Brian Davidson informed me that Steve Runge wrote a paper on Joel 3:1-5 in Acts 2. Steve gives a great discussion of the Hebrew discourse function of גם and the Greek discourse function of γε. The particles גם and γε disambiguate the intended function of the following prepositional phrases marking the fullest extent to which the outpouring of the Spirit will be experienced. The LXX is ambiguous with καί only, but γε in Acts 2:18 indicates that the fronting of the prepositional phrases is emphatic and not contrastive. Excellent analysis of the grammar. What Steve does not mention (not the intention of this paper) is the καίγε tradition, which probably influences Acts 2:18. Before Acts 2, the Jews were already revising גם/וגם with καίγε where the OG had only καί. Therefore, καί γε is not an adaptation on the part of Luke (Steve does not actually suggest this from what I read), rather Luke received a text with καίγε in all probability.

Let’s keep the discussion going.

καίγε in Joel 2:29 and Acts 2:18

Blogging has been a low priority for me this past year since my transition to Phoenix last summer. My first year of teaching at Phoenix Seminary was both challenging and satisfying. Currently I am teaching a course on the Septuagint, Readings in the Septuagint, and in my preparation I came across an interesting piece in Joel 2:29.

As I was reading Joseph Ziegler’s apparatus for the Duodecim Prophetae for Joel 2:29, I found a curious variant. I provide the first part of the Hebrew, LXX, and NT followed by the apparatus for LXX:

HT: וְגַ֥ם עַל־הָֽעֲבָדִ֖ים

LXX: καὶ ἐπὶ τοὺς δούλους

NT: καί γε ἐπὶ τοὺς δούλους

καί 1° W* B-S*-V L-36 C-68 AchSa] + γε rel. = Act. 2:18.

No doubt Ziegler has determined the original text in this instance and perhaps Acts 2:18 influenced the rest of the Greek manuscript tradition with the addition of γε. Acts 2:18 is the earliest witness to this variant but it probably did not introduce this reading into the textual transmission. Where did γε come from? We now have enough evidence, especially for the Twelve Prophets, that shows that the Jews were revising the (O)ld (G)reek to a text closer to the proto-Masoretic Text long before the time of Jesus and the NT. One of the characteristics, indeed the characteristic after which the tradition became named, was the revision of the translation of וגם/גם with καίγε (sometimes two words καί γε) where OG had simple καί. This characteristic and the general tradition was brought to its pinnacle in the revision of Aquila. The most significant piece of evidence for the tradition comes from the Nahal Hever Scroll of the 12 Prophets dated to the middle of the 1st century BCE.

One can see that the use of καίγε brings the Greek text into greater quantitative alignment with the Hebrew source, for now גם has an equivalent in the Greek text.

What is intriguing to me in this example and others like it is that the NT has a reading which in all probability goes back to the καίγε tradition of the 1st century BCE and therefore a reading in close alignment with the proto-MT.

It is very intriguing to me that at times they cite what is close to the OG (even when it departs from the proto-MT) and at other times they cite what is closer to καίγε or Theodotion (a prominent member of the former tradition; see here). Did the NT authors have a choice between texts or did they simply use what they had at their disposal? This is an open question in my mind and I invite you to list your opinions in the comments.

UPDATE: Brian Davidson informed me that Steve Runge wrote a paper on Joel 3:1-5 in Acts 2. Steve gives a great discussion of the Hebrew discourse function of גם and the Greek discourse function of γε. The particles גם and γε disambiguate the intended function of the following prepositional phrases marking the fullest extent to which the outpouring of the Spirit will be experienced. The LXX is ambiguous with καί only, but γε in Acts 2:18 indicates that the fronting of the prepositional phrases is emphatic and not contrastive. Excellent analysis of the grammar. What Steve does not mention (not the intention of this paper) is the καίγε tradition, which probably influences Acts 2:18. Before Acts 2, the Jews were already revising גם/וגם with καίγε where the OG had only καί.

Life Update

At the end of July I moved my family from Louisville, KY to Phoenix, AZ to take a teaching position at Phoenix Seminary. Phoenix is a wonderful city even though it is hot in August. I started teaching last week and am almost through week two already. I teach Hebrew I, Hebrew III (Syntax and Exegesis), and Survey of the Pentateuch. The students are great and it has been a wonderful experience so far.

I reserve Fridays for research pursuits. Lately, I have been working on the Hexaplaric fragments in ms RA 788. This manuscript needs to be incorporated into the collection of the hexaplaric fragments of Job. I was able to incorporate most of it into my dissertation, and now I am comparing it to work of Nancy Woods on the first half of Job. I hope to present the findings at a scholarly meeting and eventually publish the article.

I am also working on articles for a three volume work to be published by Brill, The Textual History of the Bible. The work will be edited by Armin Lange. My articles pertain to the Hexapla of Psalms, the three Solomonic books, the major prophets, and of course Job.

It is a busy season of transition and new opportunities, but it is an exciting one!