Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Sabotage of the Christian O.T.: (1550-1700) The Hebrew text

We noted that the sabotage of the Christian O.T. began with Martin Luther, adopting the medieval Hebrew text taken from European Jews, in a misguided and botched attempt to convert them to Christianity.

This competition between the Greek O.T. used by the early Christians (later to be translated into Latin) and the Hebrew texts preferred by Jews really began in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D., when Christians (many of whom were Jews) were actively engaged in debating with Jews and establishing their own legitimacy.   But that initial confrontation went nowhere, and Christians and Jews each went their own way, with the Jews rejecting as "cursed" the ancient (pre-Christian)  translation into Greek which was originally viewed as "blessed".   At first, several Jewish scholars tried to publish new Greek translations, but this also went nowhere, as the early Church stuck to the now traditional Greek O.T. text of the Septuagint (LXX).

The Reformation however, offered a new opportunity for Jews to 'correct' the Christian text, and they lost no time in providing help with both the Hebrew text and its translation.
Medieval Hebrew Scroll

Jews suffering from persecution by the Roman Catholic Church and previous European governments were initially open to assisting the Reformers like Luther in securing their own independent O.T., more in conformity with their own texts (and interpretations).   So in Protestant jurisdictions, many Jewish scholars began to help the Reformers translate directly from Jewish copies into their local languages.

The naive position the Reformers put themselves in became rather apparent by the end of the 19th century, and many Protestants wanted to see some correction of this undesirable alliance.   The situation as to the English O.T. was described succinctly in the Dictionary of the Bible, (Ezra Abbot, Hackett, Smith, NY, 1872) vol. 4, p. 3441:
"Still less had been done at the commencement of the 17th century for the text of the O.T.  The Jewish teachers, from whom Protestant divines derived their knowledge, had given currency to the belief that in the Massoretic text were contained the ipisisima verba, of Revelation, free from all risks of error, from all casualties of transcription.   The conventional phrases, "the authentic Hebrew", "the Hebrew verity", were the expression of this undiscerning reverence. 1  They refused to apply the same rules of judgement here which they applied to the text of the N.T.   They assumed that the Masoretes were infallible, and were reluctant to acknowledge that there had been any variations since.  Even Walton did not escape being attacked as unsound by the great Puritan divine, Dr. John Owen, for having called attention to the fact of discrepancies (Proleg. cap vi.).   The materials for a revised text are, of course scantier than with the N.T.; but the labors of Kennicott, De Rossi, J H. Michaelis, and Davidson have not been fruitless, and here, as there, the older versions must be admitted as at least evidence of variations which once existed, but which were suppressed by the rigorous uniformity of the later Rabbis.  Conjectural emendations, suchas Newcombe, Lowth, and Ewald have so freely suggested, ought to be ventured on in such places only as are quite unintelligible without them."

1. The Judaizing spirit on this matter culminated in the Formula Helvetici Consensus, which pronounces the existing O.T. text to be "tum quoad consonas, tum quoad vocalia, sive puncta ipsa, sive punctorum potestatem, tum quoad rea, tum quoad verba, θεοπνευστος."

The Dean

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