Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Only Two Cases Matter: Demonstrated

I AM EMBARKED on a huge and groundbreaking survey of the Septuagint Greek translations of Yahweh and Adonai. At present we are focusing on Yahweh. I can now confirm to have categorised 6867 Yahweh translations into Greek based on the current critical text of the Septuagint. For quite some time I have pointed out that any meaningful research needs to focus on certain cases only and today I am going to demonstrate that definitively: only nominative and genitive are the relevant cases.

There is a lot of data in the above chart, but that is part of the point: not of all it is relevant. The key thing to look for is the green and purple bars, representing the Greek translations in the accusative and dative cases. They tend to be much, much higher than the blue and orange bars, representing the nominative and genitive cases, sometimes maxing out at or near 100%. Let us translate what that means: generally speaking, when a Greek translator came across an instance of Yahweh that seemed to require an accusative or dative translation, they become unpredictable on whether or not to add the relevant article, apparently "torn" between a special rule on Yahweh translations (requiring as few articles as possible) and the pull of the Greek grammar.

Let us illustrate this with an "arthrous" example of each, to give a feel for the accusative and dative scenarios frequently faced by the translators:

1. Accusative example
. In Proverbs 28:5, we read Evil men do not understand justice, But those who seek the LORD [Yahweh] understand all things. 
➟ ἄνδρες κακοὶ οὐ νοήσουσιν κρίμα οἱ δὲ ζητοῦντες τὸν κύριον συνήσουσιν ἐν παντί

2. Dative example. In 2 Kings 23:21, we read Then the king commanded all the people saying, “Celebrate the Passover to the LORD [Yahweh] your God as it is written in this book of the covenant.” 
➟  καὶ ἐνετείλατο ὁ βασιλεὺς παντὶ τῷ λαῷ λέγων ποιήσατε τὸ πασχα τῷ κυρίῳ θεῷ ἡμῶν καθὼς γέγραπται ἐπὶ βιβλίου τῆς διαθήκης ταύτης

Numbers and Deuteronomy, however, should catch our eye. In fact, when broken down by case, we see more fluidity than my original results suggested in the first five books. A few weeks ago, as I started releasing my results on my blog and wrote Pentateuch Translations of Yahweh, I showed a robust picture of consistent low article rates with the nominative and genitive cases. That remains true, but depending on the book and the case, it seems that there was an application of the "grammatical signature", as I sometimes call it, even wider than that, especially in Deuteronomy. 

So what might that suggest? It suggests, like many historical phenomena, development. Development is messy because it produces big results from often untraceable or imprecise origins (like world religions, for instance!) Here's a caricature: a gifted bilingual Jewish scribe and translator is authorised and required to oversee a translation project of the Torah. The project exceeds his own capacity and requires a team effort, but he remains the leader. Steeped in Jewish history, belief and maybe even collective national pain of being an unfulfilled and deported people, he is deeply aware of the Adonay-Yahweh relationship and devises or rigorously adopts the anarthrous rule as he goes about translating Deuteronomy, whether he needs a "kyrios", a "kyriou", a "kyrion" or a "kyrio". He informs and instructs his fellow translators to do likewise. These translators, also gifted bilingual Jewish scribes, understand the basic principles of Deuteronomy Translator, but also are sensitive to the needs of their target language and make a few compromises, beginning to include articles in accusative and dative situations. The weight of this authoritative publication will continue to have strong albeit varied influence for the various translations as the rest of the canon was translated in the subsequent centuries, the most sustainable cases, however, being those most consistently upheld in the Pentateuch: nominative and genitive. 

(Alongside the authoritative editions of the massive works, of which only one or two copies would have coexisted, other ad-hoc translations would also have existed. The tiny fragmentary texts that have survived from this period I believe may have been for usage in diaspora synagogues and were still hampered, however, by the perceived risks of pronouncing the divine Name, and used various systems to avoid even writing kyrios, either because of an alternative translation tradition or because of the likelihood that these were the copies to be read out. It is well established in Jewish tradition that two forms of the text exist)

To the critics of the early kyrios situation: how do you account for a relatively sudden Christian creation of this practice given the variations you see evidenced above? I still can't see it.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Judas Significance Across the Gospels

JUDAS IS A significant biblical figure: the archetypal and infamous traitor, with whom no-one wants to be associated (although many would gladly associate their enemies with him!). But how significant is he? Today is a statistical response to that question. First, let us propose a methodology: count the number of words per Judas narrative, count the number of words in the books holding those narratives and divide the former by the latter to arrive at a percentage. That percentage is the amount of space given specifically to Judas by the gospel writer relative to their total. Since part of Luke's Judas narrative occurs in Acts 1, I have added Acts chapter 1 to Luke's total words.

So we arrive at the somewhat surprising following pie chart:

Because I have been studying the Judas narratives for a while, I was not too surprised to see how dominant John was when I crunched the numbers. The reason for a bigger focus for John can be accounted for in two ways, each connected to the other (and some folks aren't going to like the second one particularly).

Firstly, John ascribes the complaints at the scene of Jesus' anointing directly to Judas (and no-one else), which adds a bulky extra sub-chapter to his narrative. Secondly, since it is widely agreed that John is the latest of the gospels to be written, it is possible (and in my view very likely) that the villainy of Judas grew over time (see here for links to how the story developed by the early second century in Papias' time), requiring more gory details to fill out just how evil a character he was. John's Judas emphasis is the clear "winner" despite having no suicide scene - why might that be? Precisely because for Judas to "regret what he had done" (see Matthew 27:3) might decrease his villainy ratings. In the above hyper-linked post to Papias' account of Judas' death, I did not emphasise that strongly enough: Like John, Papias does not have a change of heart (Satan is in him, right?), and it his evil that slowly destructs his body until he disgustingly explodes! Even Papias accounts, however, require careful textual criticism to try to account for significant variations on the Judas narrative cited.

What is most surprising is Luke, who not only does include a suicide scene but still manages to emerge a distinct fourth, even behind the commonly-presumed brief Mark. Why might that be? First of all, remember this data representation is a significance comparison per author. Luke is a lengthy writer and my tally of English words (based on the NET version) for Luke plus Acts chapter 1 is 25570. Luke actually gives the same number of words to his Judas narrative as Mark does - 210 to Mark's 220. He simply has many other things to tell us about, especially about Jesus! I believe that had he had access to Matthew or John, he may well have opted to include more details.

I suppose I can also confess advance surprise by Matthew. Not on the basis of this particular comparison, but because I do not see from the Judas narrative comparison I am doing a clear awareness of Luke's account by Matthew, which I used to assume based on my meta-view of the gospel composition process. That is in part because of my understanding of how the trifold baptismal formula arose in Mat 28, as a response to a misconstrued Jesus baptism evidenced in Luke-Acts. So it is fascinating to see how these different studies tie in together, as looking in detail here helps me adjust my larger overall perspective. Two examples in Matthew then that are surprising to me: if Matthew were aware of Luke then why would he allow for regret on Judas' part and why would he omit Luke and John's insistence that Judas had become Satan's operative?

Monday, 11 June 2018

Exodus 8:22 - the Name and the Title side by side

JUST CHECKING, AS planned for unaccounted for double-occurrences of Yahweh in a single verse and stumbled over another interesting example perhaps worth sharing of how the title characteristics were associated with the Greek article (and the Name characteristics with its absence). In Exodus 8:22 in the NASB, based on Hebrew texts, we read:

“But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where My people are living, so that no swarms of flies will be there, in order that you may know that I, the LORD, am in the midst of the land."

In the NETS translation of the Greek Septuagint we read:
"And I will distinguish gloriously on that day the land of Gesem, which my people are on, whereon the dog-fly shall not be, so that you may know that I am [the] Lord, the Lord of all the land.

In the NETS version, we have a repetition of the word "Kyrios" - first without the article, then, immediately after, with the article. It's a marvelous example of how the two characteristics complement one another and are expressed in the Greek grammar, much like the example of Isaiah 49:14 (But Zion said, “[The] LORD [Yahweh] has forsaken me, the Lord [Adonai] has forgotten me.”) we discussed in my previous post. In the first instance we have the personhood of God; in the second, that person, Kyrios, is the kyrios of what? Of all the land.

How else could NETS translate this? How about the following:
"And I will distinguish gloriously on that day the land of Gesem, which my people are on, whereon the dog-fly shall not be, so that you may know that I am LORD, the lord of all the land.

What do you think?

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Do the Prophets Line Up With the Torah (translation-wise)?

I HAVE YET to comment on the final section of the Septuagint survey of Yahweh translations: the Prophets. Thus far we have seen a very consistent pathway created by the first five books of the Old Testament, by translating the great Name of the Israelite god, Yahweh, as "Kyrios", Greek for "Lord", but without the article. This is known in the field as an "anarthrous" translation, as it lacks the definite article the. I have speculated that this may have followed other traditions for people-group leaders, divine, semi-divine or human, where the article could also be dropped. e.g. Pharaoh. The same is true in English: "Chief", "Boss", "Sheriff", and so on.

As the survey works through the canon, the rates of article inclusion remain typically pretty low, except for Psalms, Proverbs and Job, the last of which disregards the "anarthrous rule" almost completely, showing no sign of awareness even of its existence (in my view).

This leaves the final section of the prophets open for scrutiny. Here's what happens:

What can we say? It's patchy - although that is perhaps not surprising. It is assumed by many scholars working in the area of the Septuagint that translations may have occurred at different times and locations. However, what has not been known until today, I think, is that we can state with considerable confidence that there was a common awareness of the anarthrous usage of Kyrios as a translation for Yahweh (and Adonai for that matter, see How does the Adonai cookie crumble into Greek Yoghurt?). The least careful of all the translating hands we see represented above is that of Hosea, who opted for the article with Kyrios and Kyriou five times out of twenty-four. That means that nineteen times he still opted for no article, even though we doggedly add the "the" to "the LORD". Other less careful hands are represented in red are Joel, Micah and Zephaniah translators.

You'll also notice there are several titles that I have put into a grey colour - this is simply because I do not feel it fair to comment when so few instances of Yahweh are present. Who can say that Daniel translator is especially anarthrous in his translation style when he only has 8 Yahweh occurrences to translate (and only 6 of those are in the relevant nominative and genitive cases)? Or that Habakkuk translator is surprisingly "arthrous" when he makes one of his seven relevant translations carry the article?

Isaiah 49:14 is interesting. I already mentioned it in passing during my survey of the Adonai translations, hyper-linked above. Let's have a quick look at it here though, as it may shed light on an interesting intermediary stage of translation practice no longer directly available to us and evidenced by the varying degrees of article application:

But Zion said, “The Lord [Yahweh] has forsaken me,
    the Lord [Adonai] has forgotten me.”

Here, Isaiah translator is faithful to the anarthrous translation of Kyrios for Yahweh, the first "Lord" of line 1. Line 2, however, witnesses the only arthrous translation of Kyrios in the whole book for Adonai, when placed alongside Yahweh. At some stage in translation and copying history, as Adonai and Yahweh were fused into Kyrios, Adonai lost its article that it may have originally held.

A Christian Invention?

Some scholars posit that Kyrios was a Christian translation invention, since there are no pre-Christian era extant manuscripts that actually use it. This is a complex debate, but there is now a new argument in the mix: how does the Christian invention argument cater for the variation of rates of articles we have seen across the Septuagint in translating Yahweh?

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Mark's Judas

Mark 3:19 (Jesus appointed twelve...) and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Mark 14:10-21 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus into their hands. When they heard this, they were delighted and promised to give him money. So Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray him...

While they were at the table eating, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, one of you eating with me will betray me.”  They were distressed, and one by one said to him, “Surely not I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who dips his hand with me into the bowl.  For the Son of Man will go as it is written about him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would be better for him if he had never been born.”

Mar 14:42-45 Get up, let us go. Look! My betrayer is approaching! Right away, while Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived. With him came a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent by the chief priests and experts in the law and elders. (Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "The one I kiss is the man. Arrest him and lead him away under guard." When Judas arrived, he went up to Jesus immediately and said, "Rabbi!" and kissed him.


Spoiler alert:

If you are committed to an error-free Bible (or “biblical inerrancy”), then this series of posts on Judas might be offensive to you. Sorry about that, although it does kinda depend on what you mean by error and if you see it as is truly antithetical to truth. As time goes on, my commitment to truth and authentic faith just makes me keep pushing. However, where contradictions in the Judas narratives occur (and I guarantee you that they will), because I am not in a drive to point out the historical accuracy of each biblical account, I am also free to ask other deeper questions. Here’s a good one that I have encountered already on the blog: why would you change a story when your resurrected leader insists on righteous and loving living before God?

As I have noted before, it is Bart Ehrman’s early work that provides us a good answer. When Ehrman was probing the reasons as to why Christian scribes would occasionally make changes to the texts they were copying, he realised that there was not malicious intent involved, but rather a deep desire to preserve and safeguard the truth against misconstrual. I'm just going to go ahead and say that word again: MISCONSTRUAL.

This is such a keyword, very much like “misunderstanding”, but better. Essentially, the way I see it, if deeper-level misconstrual is at stake, less significant compromises on historical accuracy can and should be made, especially if a sense of divine commissioning undergirds the text.

My proposal on how to read the gospel writers on Judas is one that invites each up to the stand “in turn” – one after the other – and invite them to share what they consider to be relevant to our knowledge of Judas and the scene of Jesus’ anointing. As we do so, we can reflect upon what the author may be seeking to achieve with the details he includes or leaves out, and when contradictions do occur, what the likelier historical precedent might have been. Since Mark is the obvious first author to invite to the stand, there is nothing yet to contradict, this will be more evident later on.

Mark’s Judas

Surprisingly, perhaps, this earliest account we have of Judas does not really have much to say about him. One thing that that is quite intriguing is the statement “Judas, one of the twelve” is actually repeated in Mark. In all, it occurs seven times between the four canonical authors, twice in each synoptic and once in John. We can speculate that perhaps there was discussion early on about who Jesus’ betrayer was and perhaps some disbelief that the betrayer of the leader of the movement could really have come from within the inmost circle – surely not!

Mark also has an insistence on “Iscariot” – which is a helpful identifier in a context where Judas was a popular Jewish name (note also the tribe of Judah). It may, of course, have been tricky if you were in the Iscariot family in the first century…. UNLESS the Iscariots were actually anti-Christian Jews and thus not favourable among the Christians. So perhaps this deeply Jewish family rejected the Christian sect and actively contributed to their exclusion from the synagogues (see Luke 21:12 and John 16:2). Given how we will see story-telling around Judas commenced even within the Christian canon, I would say that although speculative, this is not an unlikely scenario.

On the theme of Jesus betrayals, Mark goes into just as much detail on Peter’s own denial of his master, their Rabbi, before the second crowing of the cock. Actually, the Peter betrayal stands in a sort of strange juxtaposition against the Judas betrayal and Mark never revisits Judas or concludes what happened to him, he simply seems to set up that although betrayal maybe terrible, it is redeemable. Judas's betrayal is done through some kind of public acknowledgement of Jesus being Judas’ rabbi, while Peter denied it. From now on, the focus moves entirely to Jesus.

So what about the anointing? Where is Judas in that story, isn't he supposed to be hypocritical about the value of the wasted expensive anointing oil so lavishly splashed around Jesus's feet? Nope, not yet:

Mark’s anointing (14:3-9)

In Mark’s anointing, we read: Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, "Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year's wages and the money given to the poor." And they rebuked her harshly. "Leave her alone," said Jesus. "Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.

Yes, in case you were wondering if the plural discussion of those criticising the anointing act were treated in the plural also by Jesus in his response, Mark’s account has Jesus addressing them in the plural. At this stage of his story, neither Judas nor any of the other disciples have any notable role in the discussion. The story seems nonetheless rooted in history and is located in the house of “Simon the leaper”, a geographic anchor later repeated by Matthew (but not by Luke or John, who change the location).

Monday, 4 June 2018

"It Is Finished"!

IT HAS BEEN the most epic project ever taken on this blog, and probably one of the few things I'll be able to say I contributed during this tiny life: to have completed my Yahweh translation survey. Thank you so much for those of you who have followed this rather specific journey but have glimpsed its relevance for better biblical interpretation in the future, translation, our understanding of the relationship between the Old and New Testament Lords, and so on.

Where to go from here?

As readers might have become aware, I am increasingly enjoying using dynamic content, so why not even do that for my checklist? Follow this post to see my progress steadily checked off below!

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Greek Articles in the Septuagint: From Yahweh to Kyrios to Ho Kyrios?

FIVE THOUSAND YAHWEH Greek translations have now been categorised, covering Genesis all the way through to Song of Songs - the question at hand: how did the translators of the Hebrew Bible translate the divine Name of Yahweh into Greek? We know that the answer to that question is the same answer as the title of Adonai: KYRIOS (Lord). But the article is missing in Greek, giving it a name-like quality, like Pharoah. But to what degree? Scholars and historians agree that it is likely that the initial main translation project was not of the whole Hebrew Bible, but rather of the first five books, sometimes referred to as the Torah. If a decision about using anarthrous KYRIOS was made for Yahweh and Adonai at this stage, then measuring article behaviour across the rest of the Septuagint can provide us with interesting data about the translation history of the project, and maybe even some fresh perspective on the redactional dates of the originals. Finally, we may wish to question afresh the adequacy of the "the LORD" solution in many English translations of the Old Testament.

I'm going to present the information graphically in two forms: one with the book of Job included and one without. The reason for that is that because Job is such an extreme outlier in the way it includes the article with Kyrios and Kyriou that it reduces the visual impact of the variations across the other books. So here, first then, is my current data set (excluding Ezekiel, which will be integrated when I provide the full data set with the prophetic books):

So we can observe that the pattern of excluding the article for Kyrios and Kyriou established in the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy) seems to continue relatively without change until we get to Job, at which point the rule book is completely thrown out of the window! Job has 26 relevant occurrences of Yahweh translations, and 22 of them include the article. This makes for a huge spike, but note how the orange line tracing the rates of articles does not immediately sink back to its typical levels - both Psalms and Proverbs seem significantly higher than before, just below the 20% mark.

What else do we know about Job that could account for such a wildly different approach to the Kyrios translation? NETS, the critical and publically available Greek translation into English thus far does not integrate this astonishing statistic nor help us in attempting to understand it. It does help characterise it, however, with the following observations:

  • "OG Iob is one of a kind in the Septuagint corpus: ... the least literal, both in its attitude to abbreviating the parent text and in the way the translator worked with that portion of the text." (NETS, p. 667)
  • It consciously abbreviates the parent text at an increasing rate as you go through the book, with the overall text being significantly shorter than the Hebrew.
  • Except, I note, in 1:21, the translator does not opt for the usual "and it came to pass" Hebraism translation (καὶ ἐγένετο) of וַֽיְהִי and states simply "And when" (καὶ ὡς) - however, I could only find three occurrences of that translation in Job for the 8 occurrences of וַֽיְהִי .
  • The translator inserts a lot of particles: 'as Kitto says, "Greek is well stocked with little words, conjunctions that hunt in couples or in packs, whose sole function is to make the structure clear. They act, as it were, as signposts". This seems to be the translator's intent in Iob, i.e., to give the rather loosely linked Hebrew text a connectedness. So the translation is heavily salted with particles: "and," "but," "now," "because," "for," "really," "on the on hand ... on the other," "however," "therefore," "rather," "again," "or" and others." (emphasis mine, NETS p. 668, Kitto citation taken from D. F. Kitto, The Greeks (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1973 (1951; revised ed., 1957))
  • The translator may have been borrowing techniques from other translated books in the Septuagint: NETS cites research comparing 4.21a to Isaiah 40.24b, 34:13 to Psalm 24:1 and 34:15 to Gen 3:19.
This last point is interesting since it removes one of the explanations for the use of articles with Kyrios - a very early translation preceding or beyond the influence of other translations. It is difficult to ground much on this, however, because if you actually bring up the Greek for the comparisons cited, there really is nothing strikingly similar.

Whatever the relationship, we can note the following progression through the three language groups:

Hebrew Name Yahweh throughout the OT ("anarthrous") 
     --> Greek Name/Title KYRIOS ("anarthrous") 
           --> Greek Title HO KYRIOS in Job ("arthrous") 
                --> modern European language title throughout the OT THE LORD/L'ETERNEL/o SENHOR/il SIGNOR/El Señor/der HERR, etc. (also "arthrous"). 

Could Job, then, be our "missing link"?

Job, despite its extreme position, is not our only outlier. We have discussed Psalms at various points over the course of my postings on this topic, and in my next post, we'll zoom in a bit further by removing Job from the picture and see where the other contours lie. Sneak preview:

Of course, I will also be cataloguing the remaining prophetic material to complete the survey. However, we can expect few surprises there, the prophets I think are very on board with the anarthrous rule. So expect the brown line to come back down and stay very low.