Genesis 1:1, Targum Neofiti, Mark Driscoll, and Biblical Languages

LXX studies is committed to the study of the biblical text and its ancient versions. Although I focus on the Hebrew texts and the Greek, Latin, and Syriac versions in most of my posts, the Aramaic Targums are also a real interest of mine, even though I consider myself very much a novice in them.

Tyler Williams has drawn attention to a post by Robert Cargill in which Cargill dismantles Mark Driscoll’s use of Targum Neofiti, which he used in a sermon here. I don’t agree with all of Cargill’s critique (e.g. his appeal to the documentary hypothesis to understand certain aspects of Gen 1), but his argument that Targum Neofiti in Gen 1:1 is a conflation of the Hebrew Bible’s Gen. 1:1 and Prov. 8:22 is quite compelling. The Targum is trying to harmonize God and Wisdom as the agents of creation, and is not an ancient Trinitarian interpretation of Genesis 1:1. Today, I learned something  about Targum Neofiti. Check out the links above, and you probably will too.

This incident is just a small example of why our pastors need to have more than a simplistic knowledge of the biblical languages and the biblical sources. Our theological institutions must hold the line and insist that their students demonstrate competence in the biblical languages in order for them to graduate with an MA or MDiv. We are not interpreting Homer or Virgil or some other sources of antiquity, which to get wrong has very little consequence. We are interpreting and teaching the Word of God, which to get wrong has very serious consequences as the history of the church bears witness.

Let us all (teachers and pastors) be warned and exhorted to study, do, and teach the Torah of YHWH faithfully (Ezra 7:10; 2 Timothy 2:15; James 3:1 etc.).

HT Tyler Williams


10 thoughts on “Genesis 1:1, Targum Neofiti, Mark Driscoll, and Biblical Languages

  1. Totally agree with you, John. On Thursday I just had a student call me a heretic and accuse me of undermining the Trinity when I refused an anachronisticly Trinitarian reading of Prov 8:22. But, simplistic thinking is just so easy…

    1. Yeah, I don’t think the hypostatic-Christological interpretation of Wisdom in Prov. 8:22 is the right way to go. There is a textual problem in that verse, on which I should comment one of these days. And let’s not forget that the Arians and modern day JW’s appeal to this text to say that the Son had a beginning!

      Do you take wisdom to be a simple personification in this verse? It seems to make the most sense of the context and later biblical revelation. Chalk me up as a heretic too then.

  2. Yes, I do take it as simple personification like the Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly personifications. The student actually accused me of being an Arian. I asked him what he did with the Lady Wisdom imagery since Jesus wasn’t a woman and he said that the “Hebrew in Proverbs did not necessarily need to be read as the female gender.” The conversation degenerated at that point.

  3. Charles, I’m simply smiling as I try to picture you explaining to the student that the Hebrew in Proverbs is grammatically feminine and is perfectly happy to be so literarily, since the reference is indeed to Lady wisdom. The father is trying to make wisdom attractive to the son, and what better way to do that than to portray wisdom as an attractive lady. It also strikes me that the abstract Lady wisdom in chapters 1-9 takes a concrete form in the “Proverbs 31 WOMAN” at the end of the book. Glad to hear we agree that Wisdom is a personification in Proverbs 1-9.

  4. Puritans like Flavel unfortunately took Proverbs 8 as a Christological reference. Proverbs 8 as a Christological parallel seems common in the Reformed tradition for some reason. Instead, I’ve always wondered if interpreters could see Jesus being like (or fulfilling the obedience of?) the wise son who obeys the father in Proverbs 1-9. Good post, John.

    1. Adam,

      The line of reasoning you are pursuing, I think, will be more fruitful than the traditional one. The theme is the wise son vs. the foolish son. Adam and Israelite typology with Christ as antitype can function in this construct.

      The simplistic line of reasoning of the traditional view begins with 1 Cor. 1:30, in which Christ is the wisdom of God, and then searches for an OT proof text. I’m still asking the question of the immediate context of Proverbs 8:22. The verse says way too much to attribute it to Christ. It seems to me that both LXX and MT (reading skk, “to weave” and not nsk “to install”) speak of a beginning or begetting of wisdom. If this verse applies to Christ, then does not Arius have a point to make?

    2. Adam,

      Sailhamer whips this passage into shape in his Intro to OT Theology, though I believe Driscoll would whip Sailhamer into shape in a darkened alley.

  5. Apologies for this belated posting. Regarding the Targum Neofiti, its provenance ought not to be overlooked. The manuscript is a unicum, hence its significance and importance for Targum studies. It is written in three hands, one scribe identifying himself as Menachem ben Mordechai, physician in Rome. The colophon reads Rome, 1504. We know it was property of Egedio Antonini, of Viterbo (1459-1532), among other things, a cardinal, diplomat for the Vatican, father-general of the Augustinian Order, and Christian Cabalist. He studied with Elias Levita (1469-1549), a major Hebraist and Masoretic scholar of the Renaissance. Levita lived for more than ten years in the cardinal’s palace, teaching him Hebrew and copying Cabalistic mss. for the cardinal’s library. How Egedio Antonini acquired the ms. is not known, but he was an extremely important collector of Hebrew mss.

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