Monday, June 18, 2012

For my part, I would much rather that you would furnish us with a translation of the Greek version of the canonical Scriptures known as the work of the Seventy translators. For if your translation begins to be more generally read in many churches, it will be a grievous thing that, in the reading of Scripture, differences must arise between the Latin Churches and the Greek Churches, especially seeing that the discrepancy is easily condemned in a Latin version by the production of the original in Greek, which is a language very widely known; whereas, if any one has been disturbed by the occurrence of something to which he was not accustomed in the translation taken from the Hebrew, and alleges that the new translation is wrong, it will be found difficult, if not impossible, to get at the Hebrew documents by which the version to which exception is taken may be defended. And when they are obtained, who will submit, to have so many Latin and Greek authorities pronounced to be in the wrong? Besides all this, Jews, if consulted as to the meaning of the Hebrew text, may give a different opinion from yours: in which case it will seem as if your presence were indispensable, as being the only one who could refute their view; and it would be a miracle if one could be found capable of acting as arbiter between you and them.
A certain bishop, one of our brethren, having introduced in the church over which he presides the reading of your version, came upon a word in the book of the prophet Jonah, of which you have given a very different rendering from that which had been of old familiar to the senses and memory of all the worshippers, and had been chanted for so many generations in the church. Thereupon arose such a tumult in the congregation, especially among the Greeks, correcting what had been read, and denouncing the translation as false, that the bishop was compelled to ask the testimony of the Jewish residents (it was in the town of Oea). These, whether from ignorance or from spite, answered that the words in the Hebrew manuscripts were correctly rendered in the Greek version, and in the Latin one taken from it. What further need I say? The man was compelled to correct your version in that passage as if it had been falsely translated, as he desired not to be left without a congregation -- a calamity which he narrowly escaped. From this case we also are led to think that you may be occasionally mistaken. You will also observe how great must have been the difficulty if this had occurred in those writings which cannot be explained by comparing the testimony of languages now in use…...
I wish you would have the kindness to open up to me what you think to be the reason of the frequent discrepancies between the text supported by the Hebrew codices and the Greek Septuagint version. For the latter has no mean authority, seeing that it has obtained so wide circulation, and was the one which the apostles used, as is not only proved by looking to the text itself, but has also been, as I remember, affirmed by yourself. You would therefore confer upon us a much greater boon if you gave an exact Latin translation of the Greek Septuagint version: for the variations found in the different codices of the Latin text are intolerably numerous; and it is so justly open to suspicion as possibly different from what is to be found in the Greek, that one has no confidence in either quoting it or proving anything by its help.

So wrote Augustine to Jerome who was working on a Latin translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew manuscripts(The renowned 'Vulgate').  This was quite the change, as the Church had used the Greek version of the Old Testament, or translations of this version, since the time of Christ and the Apostles.  This Greek version, commonly known as the Septuagint or the LXX, was translated from the original Hebrew before the time of Christ.  It was needed because the Diaspora, or the Jews scattered from the time of Nebuchadnezzar(and from the previous scattering of half the kingdom as well) took on the language around them, and needed a translation in their own vernacular. Tradition has it that King Ptolemy of Egypt wanted to add the Jews' Bible to his library at Alexandria, and so had Jews taken from each tribe(traditionally seventy or 72 of them altogether, thus the title 'LXX') translate the Torah.  It is believed that the rest of the Tanakh was translated somewhat later on probably by other scholars.  The compilation of the Greek translations took on the name of 'Septuagint'.  It was the Apostles for the most part, if not always, instead of the Hebrew Text.  It was subsequently used by the early Church up until the time of Augustine; it was, as Mogens Muller puts it, "The First Bible of the Church".

Jerome's Vulgate changed all of that. The Old Testament of the Church today is, like Jerome's, based upon the Hebrew text. For the most part, every English Bible translates from it. 
You may ask, what difference does it make whether or not Jerome used the Hebrew or Greek texts?  Wouldn't the Hebrew actually be the better source as it was the original language of the OT?  What does it matter that we changed our OT base from a translation of a translation to a translation of the original?

The problem appears when we compare quotations that  the Apostles, made from the Old Testament with the 'original Hebrew'.  For instance, in the book of Hebrews, the writer(possibly Paul), quotes  Psalm 40: 6-8 as: "Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, But a body didst thou prepare for me; In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hadst no pleasure: Then said I, Lo, I am come (In the roll of the book it is written of me) To do thy will, O God." (Heb 10:5-7 ASV Emphasis added) But if you look at the original verse in the OT in our English Bibles, practically all of them read:"Sacrifice and offering thou hast no delight in; Mine ears hast thou opened: Burnt-offering and sin-offering hast thou not required. Then said I, Lo, I am come; In the roll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do thy will, O my God; Yea, thy law is within my heart."(Psa 40:6-8 ASV Emphasis added).  This is because our Hebrew texts read that way.  The Literal Translation of the Holy Bible renders it:  "Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; You have opened ears to Me. You have not asked burnt offering and sin offering." (Psa 40:6 LITV) And the Exegisis Companion Bible:  "Sacrifice and offering you desire not; you pierce my ears;holocaust and for sin you ask not."(Psa 40:6 ECB)  The Apostle is quoting from the Septuagint, which has 'a body you have prepared for me', not 'my ears you have opened'.  Adam Clark writes: "But how is it possible that the Septuagint and the apostle should take a meaning so totally different from the sense of the Hebrew? Dr. Kennicott has a very ingenious conjecture here: he supposes that the Septuagint and apostle express the meaning of the words as they stood in the copy from which the Greek translation was made; and that the present Hebrew text is corrupted in the word אזנים  oznayim, ears, which has been written through carelessness for אז גוה  az gevah, Then, a Body The first syllable, אז  az, Then, is the same in both; and the latter, Myn, which, joined to אז makes אזנים  oznayim, might have been easily mistaken for גוה  gevah, Body; נ  nun being very like ג  gimel; י  yod like ו  vau; and h he like final ם  mem; especially if the line on which the letters were written in the MS. happened to be blacker than ordinary, which has often been a cause of mistake, it might then have been easily taken for the under-stroke of the mem, and thus give rise to a corrupt reading; add to this, the root כרה  carah signifies as well to prepare, as to open, bore, etc. On this supposition the ancient copy translated by the Septuagint, and followed by the apostle, must have read the text thus: אז גוה כרית לי  az gevah charitha lli; Σωμα δε κατηρτισω μοι· Then a body thou hast prepared me: thus the Hebrew text, the version of the Septuagint, and the apostle, will agree in what is known to be an indisputable fact in Christianity; namely, that Christ was incarnated for the sin of the world.
The Ethiopic has nearly the same reading: the Arabic has both, 'A body hast thou prepared me, and mine ears thou hast opened.' But the Syriac, the Chaldee, and the Vulgate, agree with the present Hebrew text; and none of the MSS. collated by Kennicott and De Rossi have any various reading on the disputed words." There are many quotations in the NT by the Apostles like this, quoted from the LXX and disagreeing with our Hebrew text.  Which leads us to our main point: that the received Hebrew text of today is not the received Hebrew text of Christ and the Apostles.

Paradoxically, despite our good intentions, in our translating from the language in which the OT was written, we are not getting at the original OT. We are not hitting what we're aiming at.  Am I saying that we should toss out our Old Testaments? No.  But I am saying we should be working to achieve better aim so as to hit the Hebrew original.  Part of obtaining this aim will involve our overcoming our prejudice towards the received Hebrew text, and see the value of the translation that the writers of the NT used. 

The Septuagint, despite its being a version, has an excellent recommendation:  the early church and the Apostles used it(Christ seems to have quoted from it as well) instead of the original Hebrew. Doesn't that seem like an authorization of the version?  Augustine was very concerned that Jerome was turning away from this version opting instead for the received Hebrew text of the non-Christian Jews.

This practice, of reverting to the authorized text of the Jews, has continued down to our day, to the detriment of the Septuagint."The time was, when such men as Bp. Walton and Bp. Pearson, or as Vitringa and Carpzov could never divide the study of the LXX, from that of the Hebrew archetype.  They felt there could be no safety or security in studying the original, apart from the version; that a language which had ceased to be vernacular so long before the Christian era, demanded the concurrent aid of a translation, which has now existed for more than two thousand years.  But the daring and adventurous genius of later scholars has taught them to think very lightly of such subsidiary aids.  Whoever has looked into the writings of Paulus, Ewald, Eichhorn or Gessenius, will be at no loss to comprehend this difference.  Now, we have the Hebrew of the Old Testament buried under endless appeals to comparatively modern oriental dialects.  That small portion of Hebrew which we really possess, is stifled under loads of Arabic and Coptic, which few can read, and still fewer understand.  But, we can all understand the practical result of such obscure and mazy erudition.  Several of these continental Hebraists, with Mr. Norton amongst the Transatlantics, have openly avowed their disbelief of Divine inspiration.  It is only the natural result of such unbounded and hazardous speculations concerning Hebrew etymologies, which when deprived of the compass and rudder of the ancient Greek translation. 
There can be little doubt, that the very obscurities of Hebrew form one of its chief recommendations to men, whose favorite delight is to grapple with difficulties, and to explore what is dark, dubious and uncertain.  But though this taste, within certain limits, is useful and praiseworthy, it is extremely dangerous, when indulged in excess, especially on subjects of Biblical investigation.  There is small scope for invention, in matters of Biblical criticism, and the closer we adhere to Divine authority the less likely are we to fall into human paradox.
The Septuagint comes before us, as the most ancient authorized interpretation of the Hebrew.  Such an authority quenches the spirit of theory, and rebukes the love of invention.  We then remain pupils and scholars, and sit patiently at the the feet of the original, and the version..  This is painful and humbling to human genius, but it is the best attitude of the Christian student and divine.  It should not be charged, as any imperfection of the Greek version, that it keeps us, from the elation of theorists and from the pride of dogmatists. When poor mortals sit down to study the Word of God, their first and most painful lesson is to abjure the love of originality.  It is their business to translate, not to invent; to follow; not to lead; to copy, not to originate.  The Greek version of the Old Testament, when united to the original, is admirably adapted to cherish and nurture this intellectual docility.  It should be used, as the teacher of the Christian student, in his approach to the awful mysteries of the Cross.  He will acquire from it far more valuable discipline, than from all the technical canons of Biblical critics.[1]"

In the following chapters, we shall take a closer look at the Hebrew and Greek text, starting with our received Hebrew text.

[1] Edward William Grinfield, An Apology for the Septuagint, in which its claims to Biblical and canonicital authority are briefly stated and vindicated

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