Magi Mike's Blog

Another WordPress blog about politics and religion

Historically Diaspora Jews Never Abhorred Greek Bibles

with 4 comments

Solomon Schechter found important manuscripts, some of them mere fragments, in a Cairo Genizah, a repository for sacred books, and they were housed in Cambridge University Library at the end of the 19th century. Among them were some of the Essene books later found in the caves at Qumran.

Close study of the Cairo Genizah fragments by Nicholas de Lange, Professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies in the Cambridge Faculties of Divinity and Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, showed that some contained passages from the Bible in Greek written in Hebrew letters. Others contained parts of a lost Greek translation made by a convert to Judaism named Akylas in the 2nd century CE. The fragments date from 1,000 years after the original translation into Greek, showing the Greek text was still being used in Greek speaking synagogues in the Byzantine Empire and elsewhere when most experts thought Jews had relinquished using the Septuagint. Or, as Professor de Lange put it:

It was thought that the Jews, for some reason, gave up using Greek translations and chose to use the original Hebrew for public reading in synagogue and for private study, until modern times when pressure to use the vernacular led to its introduction in many synagogues.

The Septuagint is the original Greek version of the Jewish scriptures, considered by most biblicists to have been a translation from the original Hebrew, supposedly done by seventy Hebrew scholars at the behest of the early Ptolemaic kings of Egypt who wanted a copy in Greek for their Library at Alexandria, for use by the many Jews who already lived in Egypt in the second century BC.

Gulled as easily as they are—believing the bible’s own fantastic account of Jewish history as supposedly written in God’s own hand—most scholars have believed the story that the Septuagint was translated from a miraculously ancient Hebrew original, but a more credible idea is that the bible was effectively written in its modern form only then, with some earlier partial and much cruder Hebrew and Aramaic texts as a guide. This original version was the bible of the Persian colonists sent into Yehud to set up a temple state. It consisted of the law, now called Deuteronomy, and an embryonic version of the Deuteronomistic history, providing a rough hewn core of the Jewish scriptures as a basis for the Ptolemaic elaborations called a translation. Now it has been lost, and only the Greek version would have remained were it not for Jewish scholars in Alexandria translating it into Hebrew.

Subsequently, the Hebrew version of the Septuagint has been redacted by Hasmonaean and then Rabbinical scholars to suit later developments in Judaism and Jewish politics, and to respond to the influence of Christian usage of the Septuagint itself. Modern scholars, faced with Greek and Hebrew bibles, have assumed the Septuagint was an imperfect translation of its edited Hebrew versions, taken to have been original, when the reverse is the truth. Thus De Lange can say:

The translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek between the 3rd and 1st centuries BC is said to be one of the most lasting achievements of the Jewish civilization. Without it, Christianity might not have spread as quickly and as successfully as it did.

The new study suggests that Jews have used a Greek version of the Bible in synagogues for centuries longer than previously thought, almost continuously from the third century BC almost into, in places, living memory. There was hardly ever the aversion to the Greek scriptures that scholars have presumed, certainly among Diaspora Jews—always the majority. Even the Essenes had versions of the scriptures that were much closer to the Septuagint than Masoretic versions.

The Masoretes aimed to safeguard the Jewish integrity of the biblical text. They have a tradition that the standard text of the then canon existed as three scrolls of Torah, before 200 BC, a fact that was probably true, but those texts were either the earliest translations from the Greek, or were the law handed out by the Persians which were at the center of the original Persian scriptures of the Yehudist colony—the original core version from which the Septuagint came by an extended act of political Ptolemaic creativity. The work of the Masoretes was not considered complete until the tenth century AD (Rabbi Aaron ben Asher, 930 AD).

Manuscripts in other libraries confirmed the conclusions of the Cambridge discovery that Jews never did generally abhor Greek bibles, and added their own details. A scholar’s resource has been created following collaboration between research teams at Cambridge University, including Dr Cameron Boyd-Taylor and Dr Julia Krivoruchko, and King’s College London. Various Greek translations were in use among Jews in the Middle Ages, probably reflecting attempts by some Diaspora Jews to keep their version of the Septuagint abreast of the thinking of the rabbinical schools. Paul Spence, who led the team at the Centre for Computing in the Humanities at King’s explained:

This ambitious piece of collaborative digital scholarship required challenging technical difficulties to be solved. It draws together a wide variety of materials under a standards based framework which provides multiple entry points into the material.

The merit of this depends upon what he means by “standards based”. If the standard is the Hebrew bible, then the work is probably misleading and misguided, for it seems unlikely that the Septuagint will be regarded by many current scholars as the original standard. Yet it should be an hypothesis that deserves far more credence.

Written by mikemagee

29 December, 2010 at 3:33 pm

4 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. […] Historically Diaspora Jews Never Abhorred Greek Bibles | Magi … […]

    bible view 1 png

    31 December, 2010 at 12:29 am

  2. Dear sir:

    can you cite some references? I am researching this very topic.

    Thank you

    Bible Student

    5 March, 2011 at 3:51 am

  3. My apologies, I mean additional sources of information.

    Thank you

    Bible Student

    5 March, 2011 at 3:52 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: