Continuing in a series of posts attempting to describe Epiphanius’s biblical theory (see Part 1 and Part 2.1), in this post are reasons 3–5 for holding that Epiphanius considered the Hebrew text as a crucial part of his biblical theory. At the end, I will attempt to draw some conclusions on this point before moving to other aspects of his thought.
3. The Hebrew Text as Reference Point
Both in his retelling of the Aristeas narrative and in practical examples, Epiphanius holds up the Hebrew text as the reference point:
Now when they were finished, the King sat on a high throne and also thirty-six readers were seated in a lower position, having the thirty-six copies (ἰσότυπα) of each book and one having a copy (ἀντίγραφον) of the Hebrew book. And while one reader was reading and the others keeping in silence there was no disagreement found, but a marvelous work of God in order that it might be known, that those men had the gift of the Holy Spirit, agreeing in the translation…(Mens. 6).
Here Epiphanius reports that the agreement among versions is not only between the Greek copies but also with the “certified copy” of the Hebrew book. Interestingly, Aristeas does not mention the presence of the Hebrew book in the review of the translation, but Epiphanius includes this detail to support his theory that there are no disagreements between the individual Greek translations themselves and the Hebrew with them. It is also interesting to note that a certified copy of the Hebrew book contrasts implicitly with the copies of each (Greek) book.
In a more complicated instance, Epiphanius compares the Greek translation of the Seventy-Two with that of the later Jewish reviser, Aquila. He uses a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew text of Genesis 5:5 as his point of reference. I will treat this passage in more detail in a later post, since it also has bearing on his view of the Greek translation.
4. The “Hidden Treasure” and “Sealed up Spring”
After Ptolemy received copies of the Hebrew books from the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, he replied to them in a second letter:
King Ptolemy to the teachers of piety who are in Jerusalem, greatest greetings. When a treasure has been hidden and the spring has been sealed what is the profit with either? Thus also the subject of the books having been sent to us from you. For because we were not able to read the things having been sent to us from you, such will become as no advantage to us (Mens. 11).
According to Epiphanius, Ptolemy compares the Hebrew scriptures to a “hidden treasure” (perhaps cp. Sir. 20:30 “Hidden wisdom and unseen treasure, of what value is either?” NRSV) and to a “sealed fountain” (perhaps cp. Song 4:12 “A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a garden locked, a spring sealed.“). The images of hidden treasures and barred springs are positive and speak to the great value of the prize, but their inaccessibility makes them of no benefit, hence the need for translation.
This conclusion fits with that of the Letter of Aristeas itself:
The books of the law of the Jews (with some few others) are absent from the library. They are written in the Hebrew characters and language and have been carelessly interpreted, and do not represent the original text as I [Demetrius] am informed by those who know;….It is necessary that these [books] should be made accurate for your library since the law which they contain, in as much as it is of divine origin, is full of wisdom and free from all blemish. For this reason literary men and poets and the mass of historical writers have held aloof from referring to these books and the men who have lived and are living in accordance with them (Aristeas, 30–31).
There is much wisdom in these Hebrew books, according to Aristeas and Ptolemy, which is inaccessible to all except the Jews, who have been trained to read them. Translation is required to make the Hebrew treasure accessible and to unseal the Hebraic spring.
5. The Hebrew Columns in Origen’s Hexapla
There is much to say about this point (and much debate also), but space allows for only a comment on what Epiphanius describes and his positive interpretation of the work of Origen’s Hexapla:
For having compiled the six translations and the Hebrew scripture in the Hebrew letters and words themselves in one column, he [Origen] placed another column beside, with Greek letters, but with Hebrew words [i.e. a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew], for those who do not understand Hebrew letters in order that through the Greek (letters) they might know the phonetic value of the Hebrew words. And in this way by having placed the two Hebrew columns and the columns of the six translators gathered by him in parallel in the Hexapla or Octapla, he gave scholars a great increase in knowledge (Mens. 7).
In short, Epiphanius’s appraisal of Origen’s Hexapla is extremely positive. Indeed, by adding the Hebrew columns, one with the actual Hebrew and the other in Greek transliteration to the published translations, Origen supplied scholars with a great increase in knowledge, since now they could compare these Greek versions with their Hebrew source as well as compare these Greek versions with one another.
To sum up, Epiphanius holds the Hebrew canon and version in high esteem as an essential component of his whole biblical theory. His theory did not exchange the Hebrew for the Greek or the Greek for the Hebrew, as we shall see. He recognized the work of the Seventy-Two as a translation or interpretation (ἑρμηνεία) of the prior and authoritative Hebrew scripture. The next post will enquire into the role of the Greek version of the Seventy-Two in Epiphanius’s biblical theory.