Sunday, December 2, 2007

Which text?, part 2

In the previous post, I called attention to the thesis of Brevard Childs:  "that the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible is the vehicle both for recovering and for understanding the canonical text of the Old Testament."1

Pace Childs, I argued that partisan considerations may have been at work in the standardization of the Masoretic text. In this post I will consider a specific verse, Amos 9:12, in light of the question at issue.

Variant texts of Amos 9:12

Amos 9:11 begins, "In that day I  [YHWH] will raise up the booth of David that is fallen"2:

Masoretic Septuagint Acts 15:17-18
… that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name," declares the Lord who does this. … so that the remnant of men shall seek,* and all the Gentiles upon whom my name is called, says the Lord, who shall do these things.
*several manuscripts supply objects for the verb:  e.g., "shall seek Me".
… that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name," says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.

Surely Christians must take note of the correspondence between Acts 15:17 and the Septuagint translation of Amos 9:12, and inquire into its significance.

James's appeal to Amos 9:12

The issue at stake in Acts 15 concerned the place of the Gentiles in salvation history:  i.e., whether Gentile converts could be added to the Christian community without first agreeing to obey the Law of Moses. James, as the head of the church in Jerusalem, had to persuade a constituency that was vehemently pro Moses.

If Luke's account is historical, and James appealed to Amos 9:12, he must have known a Hebrew text that read, "… that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name." The Septuagint wouldn't have been authoritative enough to satisfy James's Hebrew-speaking constituency. And a text corresponding to the Masoretic text ("… that [Israel] may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name") would not have served James's purpose.

Indeed, we may presume that James would not have taken such a pro-Gentile position in the first place unless he had found it in scripture.

Minimal difference between the LXX and the MT

According to Michael Braun,3 only two minor emendations are required to arrive at a Hebrew text which corresponds to the Septuagint:
  • To change Edom into adam (= man) requires no emendation. "In earlier MSS. the former word would have appeared without pointing, so that in the non-vocalized texts with which the Masoretes worked there would have been no difference between the words."

  • To modify yyrsw ("they [Israel] shall possess") into ydrsw ("they [the nations] shall seek"), one consonant must be emended. It is not an unlikely variant:  "In the history of the transmission of the OT there was a time when d and y were virtually indistinguishable."

  • To supply an object for the verb seek ("they shall seek" — who, or what?), "the sign of the accusative in the MT (’t) [could] be emended to ’l, an ancient Semitic title for God." Braun adds, "Dahood suggests that the Masoretes would at times confuse ’l for ’t, failing to recognize the older, shortened title for God."
In sum, the difference between the Masoretic text and the Septuagint is very slight. The question is, which text is original? "They shall possess the remnant of Edom"? Or "the remnant of mankind shall seek the Lord"?

Jewish opposition to Christian proof texts

Childs would evidently give the benefit of the doubt to the Masoretic Text, and assume the Septuagint to be secondary. It seems to me that Christians must be a little more cynical about the Masoretes' motives.

Braun calls attention to a targum:4
Tg. Jonathan shows that there was considerable theological difficulty with Amos 9:11-12 in the Jewish community. It reads:  "So that they shall possess the remnant of Edom and of all the peoples, even the house of Israel, upon whom my name has been called." The flagrant gloss, "even the house of Israel," was certainly added to exclude the Gentiles from any hope of salvation.
The Targum says that God's name has been called upon the house of Israel:  not upon the Gentiles, per Amos 9:12. Here (and elsewhere) we have evidence of Jewish antipathy toward a Christian appeal to scripture.

Such antipathy is perfectly understandable, given the historical circumstances (the desperate position Jews were in after the events of 70 C.E.). Regardless, we must recognize the severe pressure the Masoretes were under to protect the faith against threats, particularly threats emerging from within the Jewish community.

Christianity was just such a threat.


I will respond here to some of the comments that were made on my previous post.
  • Two readers (both much more knowledgeable than I am) indicated that it is inaccurate to speak of "the" Septuagint. D.R. Driver commented, "It's surprising how much of the literature still refers to this unproblematically, whereas it is a highly eclectic text."

    Point taken. And it suggests that the title of my first post is misleading:  we are not choosing between the Masoretic text and a similarly standardized Septuagint text.

    Nonetheless, the observation doesn't obviate the point that I wanted to make. I set out to problematize Childs's emphatic preference for the Masoretic text, and I believe I have successfully done so.

    It would be a mistake to assume that the Masoretes had pure motives as they went about standardizing the Hebrew text. Variant Greek manuscripts (however ecclectic) may testify to an original text that was distorted by the Masoretes:  perhaps inadvertently, or perhaps as part of a deliberate campaign to undermine the claims of Christianity.

  • The same readers objected to one of my statements in the first post:  "… at many points the Septuagint is more open to a Christian reading than the Masoretic text." I concede that the statement is a generalization that I cannot justify.

    On the other hand, Tim pointed to a couple of important verses (Is. 7:14 and Ps. 22:16) in support of my contention. Allow me to restate my position more cautiously:  in some cases, the Greek text(s) is more open to a Christian reading than the Masoretic text.

  • John stakes out an intriguing position. In cases where the Greek text differs significantly from the Masoretic text (e.g. Jeremiah), John maintains that exegetes should explore both versions. John comments:
    I think a return to the older pre-Reformation and pre-Tridentine tradition is in order, in which the outer limits of the canon and the precise contents of the text of the component books were up for grabs. Why not return to allowing a degree of fluidity on these matters?
    This is certainly an acceptable proposal to me.

    The title of my previous post set up a false dichotomy between the Masoretic text and the Septuagint, as if we had to choose either one or the other. I suppose the title was poorly chosen. I never intended to argue that Christians should prefer the Septuagint to the Masoretic text in every case. (Nor did I state such a thing anywhere in the post.)
My thesis ought not to be controversial. I submit that any responsible interpreter must take all variant readings into account. (Certainly that is the practice among New Testament scholars.)

I understand why exegetes begin with the text in the original language, and only secondarily turn their attention to versions. However — and here is where I part company with Childs — there are extenuating circumstances to consider with respect to the Masoretic text. The Masoretes were under extraordinary pressure to undermine any distinctively Christian reading of scripture.

Therefore:  (a) when an Old Testament passage is taken up in the New Testament, and used as a proof text for a distinctively Christian doctrine; and (b) there is a significant difference between the Masoretic text and the New Testament quote (or allusion); then (c) the Christian interpreter must seriously consider the possibility that the Masoretic text is corrupt.

Amos 9:12 is an outstanding illustration of my point.

If Luke's account of the so-called Jerusalem council is not historical, then we cannot trace the apologetic use of Amos 9:12 back to James. In that case, it is Luke himself who appeals to Amos 9:12 as a proof text.

Even so, the Christian interpreter must seriously consider the possibility that the Masoretic text of Amos 9:12 is corrupt.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.
1Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament As Scripture. Fortress Press, 1979, p. 97.

2Scripture is quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.

The English translation of the Septuagint text comes from Michael A. Braun, "James' Use of Amos at the Jerusalem Council: Steps Toward a Possible Solution of the Textual and Theological Problems", JETS 20 (June 1977) 113-121 (translation of LXX at p. 115).

3Braun, ibid., p. 117.

4ibid., p. 116.


John said...

Thanks for posting very thoughtfully on these matters.

A couple of details. With respect to the days of James, Paul, and somewhat later, Josephus, the supposition is often made that in Hebrew mss., the textual pluriformity known from the Qumran finds had given way to proto-MT domination.

But we really don't know that to be the case. Personally, I don't think non-proto-MT Hebrew mss ceased being used and copied until the second cent. CE, and even then, I assume exceptions to the rule.

In any case, as you rightly highlight, people like James (which is interesting for a lot of reasons, since this guy is Jesus' brother after all) and Paul are reported to quote the Bible according to the unrevised LXX on occasion (which reflects text-types that sometime diverge considerably from proto-MT) and versions revised towards proto-MT on the other.

There are cases where it can be shown that MT reflects a text modified in some detail in order to address an issue that impacted the way the tradent community defined itself over against perceived rivals and competitors. But there are not as many as Christian polemicists have often suggested. There may be a case or two of this sort of thing in Isa 53, but the evidence is equivocal. The Ps 22 example Tim gives might qualify, but then again, the MT may have arisen by an inadvertent scribal process.

As for Amos 9:12, yes, it's easy to see how the LXX translator read his Vorlage. But every text critical treatement I know of takes the MT to reflect the more original text in this instance. Rightly so, I think. Braun's Dahoodian proposal is far-fetched, but it would have been natural to supply the Tetragrammaton once יירשו was misread as ידרשו.

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the text of Amos 9:12 on which James depended was secondary. Does that mean James' argument is overthrown? Hardly. At the time, the LXX was accorded great respect among Greek-speaking Jews. Why should James have done any differently? The interpretation James gave to LXX Amos 9:12 is reasonable, and would have struck people as so at the time. Nor should we assume that James and his audience were aware of a textual issue in Amos 9:12. It is safer to assume the opposite.

Where would that leave us with respect to Childs' privileging of the MT? I think the example you discuss shows that a more nuanced approach than the one Childs took is necessary.

Either way, you are on the right track, in my view.

Kurk said...

Absolutely, (as John says) you're on the right track. Thanks for walking us through the various issues (and the meta issues of your previous post).

For anyone (Jew or Christian), to dismiss the LXX as merely Christian (an NT source) or as a lesser text for understanding (the OT) is a disservice. Your comparison of treatments of Amos is wonderful!

Thanks, Kurk (aka J.K. Gayle)

Stephen (aka Q) said...

People like James (which is interesting for a lot of reasons, since this guy is Jesus' brother after all) and Paul are reported to quote the Bible according to the unrevised LXX on occasion.

Thanks for taking the time to interact with these two posts in some detail.

With respect, Acts 15:17 does not necessarily come from the LXX. One of the arguments I made in this post is precisely that James would not have quoted the LXX, but a Hebrew text which differed from the (later) Masoretic text.

My understanding of the politics of Jerusalem vis-à-vis the Diaspora is informed by James Dunn's book, Jesus, Paul and the Law: Studies in Mark and Galatians. In one or two of the essays in that book, Dunn argues that Jews in Jerusalem swung toward an aggressively conservative position even before the destruction of the Temple.

If so, I don't believe James would have quoted the LXX. However authoritative the LXX was in the Diaspora, it would been regarded with disdain by Hebrew-speaking Jews in and around Jerusalem.

The tougher question for me concerns the historicity of Acts 15. It is problematic because of the contrary data of Galatians 2. Paul's description of the accommodation he reached with James and the other pillar apostles does not correspond to Luke's account. And the accommodation was later called into question when "certain men from James" travelled from Jerusalem to Antioch to enforce a separation of law-keeping (Jewish) Christians from law-eschewing (Gentile) Christians.

In sum: if Acts is historical, I maintain that James was quoting from a Hebrew text which corresponded to the LXX at the key point. But since we can't be confident of the historicity of Acts 15, it would be much better if we had an extant Hebrew text of the sort Braun argues for.

The best Braun can do is to point to some correspondences between one of the Qumran texts and Acts 15:16. It's an intriguing bit of data, but it stops one verse short of the text that matters for our purposes here (Amos 9:12 / Acts 15:17).

As for Amos 9:12, yes, it's easy to see how the LXX translator read his Vorlage. But every text critical treatement I know of takes the MT to reflect the more original text in this instance. Rightly so, I think.

It is ridiculous that I should be arguing against you on this point. But I don't know why this issue is considered by text critics to be closed.

You concede that the Masoretic text was not standardized yet at the time of the Acts 15 council. If so, how can anyone be sure that the LXX reading does not reflect a Hebrew text that has since been lost to us?

I understand how easy it would have been for the LXX translators to misinterpret the Hebrew text. On the other hand, it's possible that copyists of the Hebrew texts had arrived at two different readings of Amos 9:12.

In that case, the Masoretes had two texts to choose between: one that was supportive of Christian claims and one that wasn't. Which one would they deem authentic? The second: it's just human nature.

I gather that few text critics question the Masoretic text of Amos 9:12. That, of course, is my point: they ought to be less certain that the LXX reading is secondary.

• Kurk:

I'm glad you found my treatment of this issue helpful. I don't speak with any authority on these issues, but if I get people thinking about them, I've achieved what I set out to do.

D. R. Driver said...

What makes this post outstanding are the careful, concrete example. Kudos.

Two points.

For the record, Childs is being a good deal more subtle that you suppose (and this goes for several others). He speaks of the “search for the Christian Bible,” and while one might make the case that he becomes increasingly ambiguous about the relationship of the MT to the “LXX” (Ross Wagner has toyed with the idea, I think), even in 1970 you find him marking differences between the Greek and Hebrew text traditions in the NT’s hearing of the OT (see Biblical Theology in Crisis, the chapter on Psalm 8. Also, I think your talk of the “more original” would have sounded strange to him: see the discussion of text criticism on about p98f of the text you’ve been citing).

“Vehicle,” too, to focus on language you’ve quoting, allows for the subtlety of his position. He doesn’t default to the MT in a way that brackets out the legitimacy of Greek alternate readings. Instead, for theological reasons that have to do with what he calls the “mystery of Israel,” he privileges the MT as the starting point for the church’s hearing of the scriptures of Israel. You may say these things are close, but they are definitely not identical.

Secondly, following what I take to be the implications of all this, I would argue for a separation of the NT’s material hearing of the OT (illustrated wonderfully in your slick HTML chart above) from the voice of the Hebrew (and for that matter Greek) witnesses. Thus with respect to your conclusion (a), (b) and (c), I accept (a) and (b) as more or less the facts of the matter, but disagree with (c) where it comes to how the Church hears its Old Testament.

On analogy with the fourfold witness to the gospel, or again the two testament witness to the one God (though of course that is precisely at issue here), I think the Christian reader is compelled to reckon with dialectic. I know this word has been problematic. I mean it in the sense of bringing polysemy. And of course the historic forms of the OT already require the same, though the two testament character of the Christian canon probably brings the dynamic to bear in a different way.

Once you add problems of text criticism, things only get more complicated. To paraphrase Childs again, we are asking for an algebraic solution to a problem that requires calculus.

Finally, to John: (1) Thanks for the reference in the last post. I had that book in my hands at SBL and will have to give it a second look now on your recommendation. (2) Who would use the commentary you long for? I am sure you think it would be useful in preaching as well as scholarship: do we leave someone with perhaps less critical training, and almost certainly with less time, to sort out the full range of textual variants for any text, Greek, Hebrew, Ethiopic, OCS, Coptic?

D. R. Driver said...

SIC on line one -- Change to "…examples" or read "is" for "are".

Stephen (aka Q) said...

Childs is being a good deal more subtle that you suppose.

I'm not surprised to hear you say that, but I have a hard time knowing what to make of it.

I find Childs difficult to pin down. I recognize that his approach is actually complex and sophisticated, and I've only begun to explore his writings, and therefore my summary is inevitably reductionistic.

However, I keep taking clear statements at face value, only to be told that I've distorted Childs's position. (In addition to your comment here, I am thinking also of discussions I've had with Phil.) For example, I quoted this statement in the first post:

"Why should decisions within the Jewish community, some of which extended chronologically after the rise of Christianity, be deemed normative in any sense for Christians?"

The implication is, the Masoretic text is, in some sense, normative for Christians. And that's what I am taking issue with in these two posts.

Similarly with respect to the word 'vehicle' ("that the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible is the vehicle both for recovering and for understanding the canonical text of the Old Testament").

I recognize that Childs is giving himself some wriggle room there. Nonetheless, it is the MT — not the LXX, or the whole of the manuscript tradition — that is the vehicle, according to Childs.

So I'm trying to be true to what Childs has written. But I'm aware that you're right: Childs's handling of scripture, including text criticism, is more sophisticated than my representation of him here. As I say, I find it difficult to pin him down.

One more response to your feedback —
I highly value dialectic myself. Indeed, my concern with Childs is that he is trying to establish a norm, instead of embracing the various tensions that exist: between the OT and the NT, between the MT and the LXX, between the primitive tradition and the later redaction of the texts.

And again, I know I will be told that I misrepresent Childs: that he isn't trying to smooth out the tensions. But time and again, Childs establishes a pecking order: the MT is preferred to the LXX; the final canonical edition of the text is preferred to a critical reconstruction of the earlier tradition. And thus I insist that Childs is indeed smoothing out the tensions and decreasing the opportunity for dialectic.

D. R. Driver said...

Thanks Stephen.

Believe it or not, I do not wish to defend Childs against all comers. I have no desire to venerate him as a saint. He is, however, much maligned. And he engaged with the theological consequences of critical scholarship at a depth that few can match. I’m just a good deal more reluctant than most to write him off.

Further, your basic outline is correct. For the two pecking orders you point out, I can only say yes and yes.

My point is that a call for the “search for the Christian Bible” through the “vehicle” of the MT has some overlooked advantages. First, it admits the so-called LXX, though with some nuance that subordinates its role. (And is not appealing to the LXX as the “more original” about the same thing? Or, isn’t what you really mean that, as a translation, the LXX witnesses to a different Vorlage, a term necessarily with reference to the Hebrew?) Second, it gives the OT a special integrity over and against the NT’s hearing of it. Third, it ties in to a relatively stable text tradition while fully allowing for the difficult, necessary reckoning with the full variety of witnesses. As a result, third, it takes seriously the canon’s norming function.

Frankly, I’m a bit baffled to see normativity pitted against dialectic. Is not establishing some sort of rule one of the basic functions of canon? (Indeed, rule translates to canon!) But granting all the facts you point out, all the calculus required, what is scary about a regulative function? Surely then the canon entails something variegated—as historically, of course, it has.

These profound theological issues are no more about Brueggemann than they are about Childs, but I do wonder some of the same things when I read Brueggemann. That is, when some critics (Levenson) call him a soft pluralist, I can’t help feeling they have a point. Them’s fightin’ words, I know; and on this score I rather suspect you’ve read B. more thoroughly than I. (He does not argue for a putative LXX over the MT though, does he?)

Thanks again for your engagement.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

Isn’t what you really mean that, as a translation, the LXX witnesses to a different Vorlage, a term necessarily with reference to the Hebrew?

Yes, you've summarized my point very well.

Second, it gives the OT a special integrity over and against the NT’s hearing of it.

I appreciate the strength of that point. A dialectical interaction is only possible if we have a clearly defined tradition at either end. The Jewish tradition certainly takes the Masoretic Text as its starting point, and Christians must respect that (even if the textual tradition isn't so simple from our perspective).

I meant to come back to a point you made in your first comment: that one of the strengths of Childs's position is that it establishes the MT as common ground where Jews and Christians can meet for dialogue. I understand the importance of that, even if I continue to think that Childs concedes too much by subordinating the Greek manuscript tradition to the MT.

Frankly, I’m a bit baffled to see normativity pitted against dialectic.

Presumably I haven't expressed myself very clearly. And that may reflect the fact that my own views haven't been thought through yet.

Indeed, I'm not as well read even with respect to Brueggemann as you suppose. Brueggemann has captured something that resonates with me, since I am, to some extent, postmodern in my thinking. But I have no desire to make a fetish of Brueggemann. He may be a soft pluralist, as Levenson charges. Me, too: I haven't worked it out yet.

I view blogging as an opportunity to submit my thoughts to peer review. My studies thus far have mostly been of the New Testament, but I would like to spend the next few years developing an informed perspective on the prophetic literature. So far, I've just begun to deal with some preliminary questions.

I appreciate the dialogue with you and others, because it helps me to progress in working out my thoughts. Thank you.

D. R. Driver said...

I don't pretend to have sorted all this out either. One does have to reckon with the Reformation legacy on this, which seems to have carried the day in historical-critical work. That may be fading, however.

You've had plenty from me already, but it does occur to me that we should mention Jerome. If you want a text with precedent for Christian reading, it would be hard to surpass the Vulgate.