The language of the Old Testament

I’ve been flicking through the pages of Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus, looking to see whether I should include it on a booklist as an introduction to textual criticism. I probably will, despite the mood indicated in its somewhat mischievous title. Ehrman is more balanced in practice than he is in rhetoric.

He is, however, occasionally careless. I was stopped in my tracks by his early reference to “Hebrew (the language of the Christian Old Testament)” (p5). Is that historically misleading?

It is true the books which Jews and Christians both own as Scripture were largely written in Hebrew, although a couple of portions were written in Aramaic. But until the time of the Reformation, no major Christian group seems to have treated that collection as the Old Testament.

For most Christians up to that point, and still for many today (a majority – depending on how you count), the phrase  “Old Testament” did not indicate the same collection of books as “Hebrew Bible”. Books like Wisdom, written in Greek, were also typically included. And the editions of the books were different. Jeremiah was shorter in Greek, Daniel was longer. Hebrew Esther famously doesn’t mention God, the Greek “second edition” corrects this theological anomaly.

From St Paul onwards, it was typically the Greek versions of Jewish books that were quoted as Scripture. It was the Greek books that made up the Christian “Old Testament”.  Even Protestants who rejected some of those books, kept the Greek (and Latin) order in which the books were gathered – the shelving classification of the scriptural library. The Protestant Old Testament was a new hybrid: Hebrew Bible books in Greek Bible order.

But it raises the question: can we really call Hebrew the language of the Christian Old Testament? Or is Bart Ehrman revealing that despite being agnostic about God, when it comes to the Bible, he is – unreflectively – a Protestant agnostic?

Lead us not up the creek without a paddle

Signpost

It struck me that yesterday’s gospel goes some way to disagreeing with Pope Francis. Shortly before Christmas he was widely reported as saying that the line of the Lord’s Prayer “Lead us not into temptation” was a poor translation.

Father Marco Pozza told the pope that friends have asked him, “Can God really lead us into temptation?”
“This is not a good translation,” the pope said. …

Francis told Father Pozza, “I’m the one who falls. But it’s not (God) who pushes me into temptation to see how I fall. No, a father does not do this. A father helps us up immediately.”

There was a flurry of publicity and some immediate pushback. Continue reading “Lead us not up the creek without a paddle”

The Wright – Hart smackdown on idiosyncratic Bible translation

Three months ago I commented somewhat dyspeptically on the imminent arrival of yet another Bible translation, this time by David Bentley Hart.

Now it has appeared, and almost immediately its author is embroiled in a reviewing spat with Tom Wright. Wright offered a fairly scathing review of Bentley Hart’s New Testament translation in The Christian Century. Now Bentley Hart has responded by issuing an equally scathing rebuttal, and review of Wright’s 2011 translation on a blog run by fellow Orthodox scholar Fr Kimel. Continue reading “The Wright – Hart smackdown on idiosyncratic Bible translation”

A blue plaque for Jesus

Having been given the title “A blue plaque nativity” for a talk to kick off one parish’s thinking about Christmas, I decided to start the talk with such a plaque, and the question of what people would put on it. One feature, of course, which makes it such a good way in to the gospel narratives, is that a blue plaque is always about event and interpretation.

Anyway, this is what I came up with for my discussion starter.

Biblical Studies Carnival for October 2017

Welcome to the Carnival

Coming back to host a Biblical Studies Carnival many years after I last did so (but that was on another website and besides the blog is dead), I’m struck by how much things have changed. The biggest of those changes – at least as I see it – over the intervening years is the present lack of interaction among bloggers compared to the past.

From time to time in recent years there has been an occasional flurry of posts, when the big beasts of the bibliobloggging jungle have bestirred themselves, but those are rare and tied to controversies like the Gospel of Jesus Wife, or the Jordanian Lead Codices.

No such major alleged forgery has brought bloggers together around the same topic in October, and so this carnival is a personal selection of largely disconnected posts (with one or two actual interactive conversations) that have for one reason or another caught my eye. (A note of thanks is owed to Bob MacDonald who was helpful in drawing a number of posts to my attention, many of which I have included below.)

So, on with the Carnival. I hope you find it informative, and even, possibly, just slightly entertaining. Continue reading “Biblical Studies Carnival for October 2017”

Lost in translations?

translation cover imageAt the start of the week, Scot McKnight posted about a new translation of the New Testament. This, by Orthodox lay theologian David Bentley Hart, won’t be published in the UK until January.

I confess that my first reaction is, “Another one?” It is hard not to see the continuous production of published NT translations, meeting some perceived lack of scriptural accuracy, as something of a first-world problem.

In these brief remarks, I’m reliant on McKnight’s post and what little I can see from Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature. Continue reading “Lost in translations?”

Biblical Studies Carnival

Phil Long has posted the Biblical Studies Carnival round-up for September. These carnivals – a long-standing blog tradition – are always a good way to discover new blogs or posts you may have missed, and Phil’s is no exception.

But let this also serve as notice that I shall be hosting the October carnival on this blog, which will be posted on 1 November. (I last did one a long time ago, on a blog far, far away, scattered many moons since on the winds of cyberspace.)

If you have posts to which you wish to draw my attention for that round-up, then leave a link in the comments here.

Clubbing together in Corinth (a review)

Detail of Roman banquet

It’s always interesting to read a book which works hard to overturn a consensus. I’ve just finished a scholarly monograph which attempts to do just that: The Pauline Church and the Corinthian Ekklēsia by Richard Last.

Last’s aim is to set the Corinthian church in the context of Greco-Roman associations. He thinks previous scholarship has overestimated both the size and the distinctiveness of the Corinthian church. As he makes his case he pays particular attention to questions of membership dues, elections of officers, and honorific awards. Continue reading “Clubbing together in Corinth (a review)”

“His blood be upon us”

The reading of the whole story of Jesus’ last night and day of his ministry, the last supper, trial, crucifixion and burial, is an important part of Christian liturgy on this Sunday of the Lord’s Passion (Palm Sunday). It poses a particular problem when, as this year, it is the turn of Matthew’s gospel.

High up on the list of verses that we might wish had never made it into the Bible is this part of the story: Continue reading ““His blood be upon us””