Monday, February 15, 2010

Septuagint Pt. 2

This was originally going to be a reply in responses of the previous thread, but it was too long, so it becomes a post.

It is foremost a response to some of Josh's and Hebrew Scholar's objections, but I would like to start out by saying that Helgi's NT professor is a nut. He's part of the Jesus Seminar for goodness sake.
Now that that's off my chest, Lets talk a little more about the Masoretes. It was not their intention, I'll agree, to change anything in the text. They took the best available consonantal texts as the basis for their work. However, they give thousands of alternate vocalizations that would require different consonants. Many of these, it's true, are simple waw – yod shifts, but there are plenty of other differences as well. In other words, their received oral tradition was not the same as the base text. Futhermore, we have clear cases within the development of the Masoretic tradition where the marginal reading (the spoken text) is moved into the main text, and the original consonants disappear. We also have cases of normal scrible errors, mostly with resh and dalet and things like that. Even though the Masoretes display a fidelity that is almost super-human within the scribal world, they were not perfect. Indeed, no two even of the Masoretic manuscripts are identical. There is only one that is in complete agreement with it's own Mazorah (scribal notes), Codex Aleppo, and that text was the work of Aaron ben Asher's lifetime. He spent years correcting and re-correcting it to get it to the state of perfection it is. Granted, the differences are generally negligible, but they do exist. No scribe is perfect.
I agree, of course, that the Hebrew transmission of the text has been much more faithful that the Greek transmission. That is obvious. It doesn't change the fact that there are times when we can tell, due to the nature of the variant, that the translators had a different Hebrew text or tradition of vocalization before them. When there is such evidence, it is not to be taken lightly because it is certainly not an error created by a clumsy or faithless greek scribe who didn't even know Hebrew. The LXX, on many occasions, represents an alternate form of the Hebrew text going back to 250 B.C. (or whenever various books were added). This does not automatically mean that it is the “original Hebrew,” any more than variants found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Samaritan Pentateuch, or the variants with the the Masoretic tradition itself. It means that, when you find these kinds of differences, you place the reconstructed Hebrew text from LXX next to the MT (and the DSS, if your lucky) and try to work out what happened.
As far as Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, I don't think they are perfect witnesses to the original translations of the LXX. I believe I said they were “fair representations.” The Masoretes were probably the best scribes in history. However, they were not the only erudite school of scribes ever to have arisen. The Alexandrian scribal school was the most renowned of its time, and there were many good Jewish scribes there as well. In fact, Philo of Alexandria believe the LXX translation itself was inspired down to the letter, just as he believed of the Hebrew text. The scribes of Alexandria took the transmission of the LXX very seriously. They did not, of course, approach the level of erudition displayed by the Masoretes, but they were the best of their time. Furthermore, the LXX, contrary to the New Testament, was born in Alexandria. It's transmission in that city was carefully controlled from the time of its creation. I do not mean to suggest that there are no problems with the text. There are. I'm just saying that they its pretty good.
Speaking of the Dead Sea Scrolls, those are definite versions of the Hebrew text that are more ancient than any other, and they often disagree with the MT (and many times agree with the LXX). And don't try to bring arguments about sectarian bias. Most of the Biblical manuscripts at Qumran pre-date the sect itself, and there are very few signs of any sort of sectarian interpolation in those manuscripts. Indeed the very most ancient Biblical texts, those two micro inscriptions found in burial caves at Ketef Hinnom, dated to the seventh century B.C., differ VASTLY from the traditional Hebrew text. They are so early, however, that I question whether the people who made them and used them even thought about any kind of “Bible.” They may just as likely been using something that was repeated with various forms by the priests at the Jerusalem Temple, and were not trying to use a biblical text per-se. That isn't to say that there wasn't some kind of sacred scripture at the time, just that I'm not sure the maker of the scrolls would be any more concerned with it than with the daily rites at the temple.
Aside from those two inscriptions, however, I do think the MT represents the most ancient base texts, older than those at Qumran or reconstructed from the LXX. The Hebrew spelling of the MT is characteristic of the Persian period, as where the spelling at Qumran is from the Hellenistic period. This means that the tradition adopted by the Masoretes reflects an earlier form of consonantal text.
Yes, now is the time to do the double take. The spelling conventions of the MT date to the Persian period. In the first temple period, they only used mater lexiones (consonants that represent vowels... it's complicated...) at the end of words. Assuming there were written Hebrew traditions prior to the first temple period (and assuming that they would have used an alphabetic rather than sylabic scripts), it is doubtful that they would have used any mater lexiones at all (no other alphabetic writing systems of that period do so). In any case, it is nearly inconceivable that whatever traditions we have preserved reflect the spelling of anything prior to the exile. Indeed, the farther back one goes, the less precise it seems scribes cared to be. This is somewhat troubling when it comes to a text with the antiquity of the Hebrew Bible, especially when our earliest manuscripts are many hundreds of years after the original.
Of course, for Josh, I imagine the Torah is of particular concern. We may be very thankful that in all of the various versions, the Torah is the most well established textually. The variants there are not so many or so difficult. The variants in spelling between the DSS and the MT are still everywhere, but the assumed reading is hardly different (indeed, the additional Mater Lexiones in the DSS often confirm a masoretic vocalization that would not be apparent from the consonants of the MT alone). The Torah appears to have been transmitted by all involved with the utmost care as far back as our manuscripts allow us to see (except for some very obvious interpolations by the Samaritans, but even they have been very careful overall). There are still problems, but they are not too bad.

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