Wednesday, 2 May 2018

"Euphemism": A Critical Response to Koog Hong

WE HAVE VERY quickly looked at some of the different issues around the Tetragrammaton in the Septuagint, with brief reference to John Wevers, Larry Perkins, Albert Pietersma, Martin Rösel, Larry Hurtado and Koog Hong, whose contribution I want to unpack with you now. Before I do that, however, I'm pleased to note that I did receive a response from Dr. Pietersma about my reservations with his conclusions on the Psalms. I will integrate his answer into my next post on "How the Adonai Cookie Crumbles", coming soon.

So Hong's paper, written for the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament in 2013 in 37.4 pp. 473-484 in Yonsei University, South Korea, treats the ineffability of God's name as a problem that found an early solution in the Hebrew Bible itself. Its title is The Euphemism for the Ineffable Name of God and Its Early Evidence in Chronicles and (wonderfully) is available for download via Hong's profile at here. What he does quite well here is to isolate very similar passages between Kings and Chronicles, and looks at how care over usage of God's Name may have affected its usage over the period of time separating the redaction of the two historical accounts. Here are the two most important statements from his abstract:
...the unique value of the double title אדני יהוה [Adonai Yahweh = "Lord LORD"] is established in tracing the euphemism in question, and the replacement of אדני יהוה of 2 Samuel with יהוה אלהים [Yahweh Elohim = "LORD God"] in Chronicles is presented as early evidence of the euphemism. Thus the reading Adonai for the Tetragrammaton appears to have begun considerably earlier than is commonly thought.
 p. 473

So put in simpler terms, Hong is saying that the Israelites were happy describing their God with a double title of Adonai Yahweh and at a later stage, when integrating the exact same story of David wanting to build God a temple, the double title had to go. What I never come to terms with in this paper is how Hong reconciles his belief that Adonai had become this great euphemism for the Sacredness of Yahweh, when in fact the narrow selection of examples that he points to seems to suggest, on his logic, the opposite direction of thought. 

Here's my difficulty: Later in the paper, Hong lays out all the passages he wants to compare for "the" euphemism, and actually 4 of the 7 comparable passages he examines simply contract the title Adonai-Yahweh into Yahweh. Only on two occasions, in 2 Chronicles 17:16-17, do you get the new appendage of Elohim that he just mentioned in the Abstract, and in the very same verse (2 Chronicles 17:17) you also get a contraction into Elohim. In summary, Hong's language of "the" euphemism implies a single solution to the ineffability and sacredness of the Divine Name while his key passage points to multiple acceptable practices, and they all involve ditching Adonai! If it is Yahweh that you want to exclude, why would the Chronicler ditch Adonai? 

The paper wants to set the context for its discovery of the early euphemism mentioned above in the debate around the Greek translation of kyrios ("LORD") for Yahweh. Kyrios, as you probably know by now if you read this blog, is what we know was used by Greek-speaking Jews (and Christians) very early on for "Yahweh", and like Yahweh, it was treated as a name. It was treated as a name in that in rarely held the definite article that we systematically smack on to the front, the LORD. I don't think Hong notes this or its significance to the discussion. What it does do is point to early sensitivities or preferences around God's name being significant enough to affect a diaspora community's history books. One question that we should check, given even the diversity of expression in the microcosm of Hong's passage: what is the Chronicler's usage of Adonai generally? Here, the other research we are currently unpacking on this blog is of some help to us. If we refer to Adonai vs Yahweh - Two Charts for the One Lord,  we can see that Hong is correct, the Chronicler "avoids" using Adonai completely, despite its 38,013 Hebrew words. 

That sounds impressive (see Hong's emphasis p. 482, "...[Adonai Yahweh] is never retained in Chronicles", emphasis original), but set in the wider context of the Yahweh and Adonai concentrations of the Hebrew Bible, it's not so impressive and points more generally, in my view, simply to an early limited use of Adonai. Look, Genesis and Exodus use it a tiny handful of times, Leviticus doesn't, Numbers has a single occurrence... none of this evidence is used to point to Adonai as a euphemism, sorry the euphemism for Yahweh. So what about Samuel? Oh dear - only 2 Samuel 7 contains Adonai - in all of its 38,003 words it mentions Adonai in just six verses ! It seems there would have been plenty of other opportunities of story overlap between Samuel and Chronicles to implement this apparent practice, but nope, just here. It seems pretty conspicuous to me and could quite conceivably be the work of a redactional revision of Samuel (Hong simply states his strange assumption, p. 474 "the Chronicler's replacement of Samuel's אדני יהוה with יהוה אלהים is presented as early evidence of the use of Adonai as a surrogate for the Tetragrammaton"). Indeed, redactor revision in the opposite direction would seem to work more in step with the chronology required by both Hong's logic and evidence.

Really interestingly, Hong notes Jewish sources from the first and second century B.C.E. that seem to affirm hesitation and replacement between the two names, Adonai and Yahweh (pp. 474-5), although it seems to be in the direction Yahweh -> Adonai, not Adonai - > Yahweh.

Another great contribution by Hong is the summary of the early textual evidence around the Greek translation of these two terms, that does not point favourably to "Kyrios" being in the original Old Greek Alexandrian translation, although as already stated, that is a point of controversy, and I am myself far from convinced. More importantly, several scholars, including Albert Pietersma, Larry Perkins and Martin Rösel are also on the sceptical side of this fence, despite Hong's remarks about what "specialists now tend to see" (p. 477).

The next contribution made by Hong (and I promise to summarise the contributions and problems at the end), is that we must understand there was a difference between written and spoken practices, namely that because of the spoken practices that may have replaced Yahweh with Adonai, that the double-occurrence in the text created redundancy in the Scripture read (p. 482).

We also learn something about the scriptural purpose of the Hebrew, Yahweh-Elohim, which is rarely to do with invocation (Hong, however, seems incorrect in his emphasis about Adonai-Yahweh as commonly used for invoking God - in Ezekiel, where it is most prominent, Adonai-Yahweh is about communicating God's words: "thus says the Lord GOD"). We can agree that the scribal and spoken practices and distinctions are probably what affected the changes between 2 Sam 7 and 1 Chron 17, even if that may have no bearing at all on the originality of the Greek translation for both words, Kyrios.

Final point of note, which does go in the direction of Hong's chronology, Hong notes that Targum Onkelos and Pseudo-Jonathan, this practice of Adonai -> Yahweh became systematic. Dating of this evidence, however, is late, especially in the case of Pseudo-Jonathan.

Let's summarise, with plenty to say on the positive for Hong's contribution:

  • highlights an interesting discrepency between Samuel and Chronicles in Divine Name appellation
  • introduces the notion of "euphemism" as a tool to understand the substitution mechanisms in place over the centuries
  • usefully surveys the lack of earliest extant textual evidence for the written usage of kyrios
  • highlights that there is strong evidence for a distinction between written and spoken practice of the Divine Name, 
  • asserts the alleged purpose of Yahweh-Elohim is not usually invocational (I can check this out soon with the tool I am developing), 
  • Some strands of Judaism later continued in the Adonai -> Yahweh direction.

What about the negatives?
  • Insufficient connection with the controversy around the originality of the Greek kyrios translation,
  • Unclear as to why an Adonai -> Yahweh euphemism would help clear up the issues created around the ineffability of the divine Name of Yahweh
  • The narrow evidence provided in Chronicles fails to account for any other ancient practice in the direction Hong assumes and fails to integrate the overall concentration differences in the Hebrew Bible between Adonai and Yahweh, the latter dwarfing the former massively and Adonai being generally so very rare in the earlier compositional periods.

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