Let's dig in...
I hope you can help me out here. I downloaded a discussion dated 26 Jan 1995 regarding the use of the LXX versus the MT. It was very helpful to me in my struggle over an issue I will now detail.
I come from a Jewish background and have my spiritual inspiration from Jesus and his followers. I am not one to put my head in the ground, nor take things at face value what the church tells me. I see challenges from my Jewish roots as really opportunities to understand better the world of the Jesus, yet they are always filled with the tension of wanting to stay honest and be willing to lose a formerly cherished belief if presented with a more mature view.
First, let me applaud your attitude of honesty and commitment!
Now I know that this issue is not that simplistic, so I have been trying to get at the truth of it. In all that I have read, I have not yet heard any attention placed on this question-- did the writers use of OT in the NT reflect a real creation and therefore NOVEL faith that DEPARTS from Jewish continuity, or does it just take some sensitive work at getting into the world of the first century to understand the relationship of the Torah, the people, translations, language, cult, etc.?
Please help me here!!
The short answer here is that the early Jewish Christians were altogether unoriginal and "uncreative" (almost boring) in their exegesis and use of scripture! Other groups within pre-Christian and even early post-NT Judaism were MUCH more creative with the OT: the Rabbi's with their midrash, the Qumran-ites with their 'near' eschatology, the Hellenistic Jews (e.g. Philo) with their allegorizing, and the various authors of the Pseudepigraphical works with their pseudonymity.
There are several ways to demonstrate this, but first we must distinguish two separate questions in your above section:
2. Did the early Jewish believers radically depart from 'acceptable' practices of OT exegesis, argument, and usage?
Interestingly, the first question provides a fruitful window into the second.
Indeed, Stephen's speech in Acts 7 contains several problems, with four of these in verses 2-8 (including the two you mention). But his usage is well within the parameters of acceptableness in the day. So, Longenecker (EBC, in.loc., emphasis mine):
"We need not, however, get so disturbed over such things as, on the one hand, to pounce on them to disprove a "high view" of biblical inspiration or, on the other hand, to attempt to harmonize them so as to support such a view. These matters relate to the conflations and inexactitude of popular Judaism, not necessarily to some then-existing scholastic tradition or to variant textual traditions. In large measure they can be paralleled in other popular writings of the day, whether overtly Hellenistic or simply more nonconformist in the broadest sense of that term. Philo, for example, also explained Abraham's departure from Ur of the Chaldees by reference to Genesis 12:1 (De Abrahamo 62-67), even though he knew that Genesis 12:1-5 is in the context of leaving Haran (cf. De Migratione Abrahami 176). Josephus spoke of Abraham's being seventy-five years old when he left Chaldea (contra Gen 12:4, which says he was seventy-five when he left Haran) and of leaving Chaldea because God bade him go to Canaan, with evident allusion to Genesis 12:1 (cf. Antiq. I, 154 [vii.1]). Likewise, Philo also placed the departure of Abraham from Haran after his father's death (De Migratione Abrahami 177). And undoubtedly the round figure of four hundred years for Israel's slavery in Egypt--a figure that stems from the statement credited to God in Genesis 15:13--was often used in popular expressions of religious piety in Late Judaism, as were also the transpositions of meaningful and usable phrases from one context to another.
But let' use this as a springboard into the second, more general question:
Let's ask first the methodological question: how would we determine 'parallel usage'?
Let's suggest a few first:
2. Exegetical: Do they use similar interpretive approaches to the text? In other words, do the other Jews of the period use the same kinds of exegetical rules (e.g., pesher midrash, typological)?
3. Theological: Do they use similar theological understandings of the text? In other words, do the other Jews of the period (list above) understand messianic texts and overall theological themes in the same ways?
The TEXTUAL issue--------------------------------------------------------------
What we are looking for here are samples of usage of "non-MT" (even though there really wasn't an "MT" at that point in history) by writers in those various segments of Judaism. Fortunately, these are quite easy to find, especially from standard Textbooks on textual criticism.
Let's go through these:
1. Qumran. This community considered itself to be the true remnant of Israel, and was thusly even more 'pure' than the Pharisees of the day. This community is associated with those documents known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. These are dated in three periods: Archaic (250-150 bc), Hasmonean (150-30 BC), and Herodian (30 bc-70 ad).
These Dead Sea Scrolls show usage of LXX, Samaritan, and various proto-MT textual traditions. One of the standard TC works today is Emmanual Tov of Hebrew University [OT:TCHB]. Only 60% of the texts found there agree with the MT (OT:TCHB:115). That's leaves 40% that vary. Let me show this from some of his material.
Also, it must be remembered that the LXX and MT are not as widely divergent as is commonly supposed:
Let me be clear about one thing, though. I am NOT suggesting that the Hebrew Text underlying the LXX was itself a major substrate in the DSS; merely, that the various textual traditions at Qumran had knowledge of this strain of text. It is at best a minor aspect of the DSS, as it is a minority piece of the NT quotations (as seen in the previous discussion).
2. Philo. As an Alexandrian Jew, he even ascribed the highest level of divine inspiration to the LXX (the Pentateuch only), and called the translators prophets! (Life of Moses, II.38-40):
"Philo (ca. 25 bc-ad 40) makes the translation an act of divine inspiration, and the translators prophets: although they worked separately they produced a single text that was literally identical throughout." [WTOT:51]
He also praises the pagan king, who received the Greek translation of the Pentateuch (Ant 1.10-13):
"The fact that Josephus was himself writing in Greek would make it seem likely that his chief textual source was the LXX, especially since he cited it as a precedent for presenting the history of the Jews to a non-Jewish audience (Ant 1. Proem 3 §10-12) and since he devoted so much space paraphrasing the account of the translation given in Let. Aris. (Ant 12.2.1-15 §11-118), hardly what one would expect in a work which is essentially a political and military rather than a cultural and religious history of the Jews. And yet, the very fact that he paraphrased the Bible in Greek would seem to indicate that he hoped to improve on that rendering, since there would hardly be much point otherwise in a new version. Hence it is not surprising that where the style of the LXX is more polished, as in the Additions to Esther or in 1 Esdras, he adheres more closely to its text. And yet, to have ignored the LXX, in view of the tremendous regard in which that version was held, would have been looked upon as an attempt to hide something. Nevertheless, even when Josephus agrees with the LXX, this is not necessarily an indication that he had the LXX text before him, since he may have incorporated an exegetical tradition which had been known earlier to the translators of the LXX. Finally, the biblical texts found at Qumran indicate that the differences between the Hebrew and the Greek texts were not so great as had been previously thought.
4. Writers of the Pseudepigraphical and Apocryphal works. Here we have a vast amount of literature, from 300 bc to 300 ad, from Palestine and beyond, written in Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic (or 'other'!), by all types and stripes of theological persuasion. We can scarcely even sample this, but let's look at some of it.
As would be expected, the Greek-language and/or Egpytian-provenanced pieces demonstrate high LXX usage, but such usage is NOT confined to these texts. Below is a list of partial citations/allusions in the Pseudepigrapha to passages in the LXX. (The Apocrypha, of course, is PART of the LXX.)
2. Egyptian Ezekiel (2nd century BC). "Reading the narrative of the Exodus in the LXX, Ezekiel saw the potential to present its dramatic storyline in the form of a Greek tragedy...In most of the fragments the influence of the LXX is easily observed...Ezekiel's was a Judaism fully committed to the Jews' communal text (the Septuagint), their communal story, their national hero and their ancestral customs." [NT:JMD:133-134, 138]
3. The Letter of Aristeas (of course) is the source of the story of the miraculous translation of the LXX to begin with!
4. Aristobulus, arguing that the famous philosophers were actually dependent on Moses(!), advances a rather strange story: "how were Homer and Plato able to gain enlightenment from Moses' Hebrew text? He counters (12.1) with the thesis of an early Greek translation--before the version sponsored by Demetrius of Phalerum, before even 'the Persian conquest' (341 or 525 bce)" [NT:JMD:151] Aristobulus (c. 170bc) actually refers to Prov 8.22f, probably in translation [so Hengel, NT:JH01:163].
5. Pseudo-Phocylides, writes around 1st century bc., and attributes his work to the 6th century Greek poet. He writes a poem, in which "Some verses in the poem are derived directly from the LXX, either in concept or in vocabulary" [NT:JMD:338].
6. There are two writers in Palestine in our period, who write in Greek: The Anonymous Samaritan, often called pseudo-Eupolemus (ca 200-100 bc), and the Jewish historian Eupolemus (1 century bc). Hengel discusses their usage of the LXX [NT:JH01:88-95], and summaries on p.102: "The use of the LXX in the anonymous Samaritan and in Eupolemus, together with the discovery of LXX fragments in Qumran and in the caves used in the Bar Kochba revolt, shows that the Greek translation of the Old Testament also came to be highly prized in Palestine from the second century BC to the second century AD--in contrast to the sharp criticism of later Rabbis."
5. Any early "rabbinical" literature. Here we have a basic problem: this literature is not written down until AFTER the period in question. This creates some difficulty, but at the same time affords an interesting situation. If we are able to find SOME indication of usage of pre-MT text types prior to the formalization of the MT at the end of the 1st century AD, then this data will count very heavily for the acceptance of LXX-type usage.
The problem here is instantly obvious: this material is all in Hebrew or Aramaic, so how are we to detect LXX usage?
First, we have to note that ALL we are trying to show that the text type was NOT fixed at this point, not just that the LXX was in usage by Jews. We have already seen how the Samaritan Pentateuch & LXX showed up in Qumran, so all we have to try to do is find places in the Rabbinics and/or Aramaic Targumim that manifest textual variants.
In this case, any data about the early pre-Rabbinical scribes relative to a 'fixed MT' text-type would be useful.
Fortunately, we DO have indication of a plurality (and therefore, non-fixity) of text types in use in Palestine at the time. So Waltke (EBC, vol 1, "Textual Criticism of the Old Testament", pp. 214-215):
"More significantly, some liberal-minded scribes altered the text for both philological and theological reasons. Thus, they modernized the text by replacing archaic Hebrew forms and constructions with forms and constructions of a later Hebrew linguistic tradition. They also smoothed out the text by replacing rare constructions with more frequently occurring constructions and they supplemented and clarified the text by the insertion of additions and the interpolation of glosses from parallel passages. In addition, they substituted euphemisms for vulgarities, altered the names of false gods, removed the harsh phrase "curse God," and safe-guarded the sacred divine name by failing to pronounce the tetragrammaton (YHWH [Yahweh]) and occasionally by substituting other forms in the consonantal text.
"As a result of this liberal tendency, three distinct recensions and one mixed text type emerged during this period (c. 400 B.C. to c. A.D. 70). The three text types already known from the LXX, the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the text preserved by the Masoretes--the textus receptus--were corroborated by the finds at Qumran. Here the Hebrew text lying behind the Greek translation, the Jewish text type adopted and adapted by the Samaritans for their sectarian purposes, and the textus receptus are all represented.
"The confusion of text types in Palestine at this time is reflected in the citations from the OT in the NT, the Apocrypha, and the rabbinic traditions. The NT shares readings with the received text, Samar., LXX, Targ. Onkelos, Sirach, Testimonia, Florilegium, and Theod.
"In addition to rabbinic traditions about the textual emendations of the scribes cited above, other rabbinic tradition tells of the need for "book correctors" in Jerusalem attached to the temple and even of divergent readings in Pentateuchal scrolls kept in the temple archives. Moreover, collations made from the Codex Severus and preserved by medieval rabbis show variants from the textus receptus in the scroll taken to Rome by Titus in A.D. 70.
As regards the primary rabbinics, Tov notes [OT:TCHB:34, p.10]:
Some are very close to the MT (e.g., Targum Onkelos), but others are quite different, and may reflect an earlier cycle of their development, prior to the suppression of variants by the Rabbis. So Waltke (EBC, vol 1, p.224):
The same is true for Rabbi/Apostle Paul and other speakers in the NT. So Wilcox [HI:IIW:198]:
SUMMARY: On the textual issue, relative to NT times, ALL major groups within the Judaism of the day could, and did, use various text types. The early Christians were accordingly NO DIFFERENT than their non-Christian counterparts; they reflected the prevailing 'methods' and understandings of 1st century "good Jewry."
The EXEGETICAL ISSUE--------------------------------------------------------------------------
The second category is a fascinating one: Did the early Jewish Christians use the same exegetical methods as 1st century Jewry (even given the wide variety within this Jewry)?
Now, how could we approach this question?
There are a couple of items to consider here:
2. We could look at accepted rabbinical exegetical rules of the day (e.g. Hillel) and see if they were used.
3. We might try to reality-check the level of 'innovation/creativity' in the various strands of Judaism of the day and see if NT exegesis was 'conservative' or 'wildly creative' by comparison.
First, let's examine the interpretive approaches in the period.
There were four approaches at the time: literalist, midrash, pesher, allegorical. This extended description from Longenecker [BEALE:380ff] will set the stage, as well as summarize some of the data of the period:
"A literalist (peshat) type of exegesis is to be found in all stands of early Jewish interpretation. While midrashic exegesis may characterize the Talmud, rabbinic literature also contains many examples of Scripture being understood in a quite straightforward manner, with the result that the natural meaning of the text is applied to the lives of the people--particularly in applying Deuteronomic legislation. The situation is somewhat similar in the Dead Sea Scrolls, where preoccupation with pesher interpretation so overshadows all other types of exegesis that one could easily get the impression that the men of Qumran never understood Scripture literally. Yet the opening lines of the Manual of Discipline commit the members of the community to a literal observance of both "the rule [order, serek] of the community" and what God "commanded through Moses and through all his servants the prophets" ( 1 QS 1.1-3). Deuteronomic legislation, in fact, while adapted somewhat to their unique situation, was taken by the Qumran covenanters, for the most part, quite literally--even hyperliterally. Likewise Philo, while known most for his allegorical interpretations, understood certain biblical passages in a literalist fashion. Most familiar in this regard is his insistence that though allegorical exegesis is proper, it must not set aside the literal practice of the Law (De Migrat Abr 89-94). Philo believed, for example, that circumcision should be allegorically understood, yet practiced literally (De Migrat Abr 92); he insisted on the eternality of the Law (De Vita Mos 44) and rebuked those who did not keep it (De Exsecrat 138-39).
"The central concept in rabbinic exegesis, and presumably that of earlier Pharisees as well, was "midrash." The word comes from the verb darash (to resort to, seek; figuratively, to read repeatedly, study, interpret), and strictly denotes an interpretive exposition however derived and irrespective of the type of material under consideration. In the Mishnah, the Palestinian Gemaras, and the earlier Midrashim the verb peshat and derash are used in roughly synonymous fashion, for the earlier rabbis (the Tannaim) did not see any difference between their literal interpretations and their more elaborate exegetical treatment. Only among the Amoraite rabbis, sometime in the fourth century C.E were literalist exegesis and midrash exegesis consciously differentiated. But while not recognized as such until later, midrashic exegesis can be seen in retrospect to have differed from literalist exegesis among the Pharisaic teachers of the New Testament period.
"Midrashic exegesis ostensibly takes its point of departure from the biblical text itself (though psychologically it may have been motivated by other factors) and seeks to explicate the hidden meanings contained therein by means of agreed-upon hermeneutical rules (e.g., Rabbi Hillel's seven Middoth; Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha's later set of thirteen; Rabbi Eliezer ben Jose ha-Galili's thirty-two). The purpose of midrash exegesis is to contemporize the revelation of God given earlier for the people of God living later in a different situation. What results may be characterized by the maxim: "That has relevance for This"--that is, what is written in Scripture has relevance for our present situation. In so doing, early Judaism developed what George Foote Moore once aptly defined as "an atomistic exegesis, which interprets sentences, clauses, phrases, and even single words, independently of the context or the historical occasion, as divine oracles; combines them with other similar detached utterances; and makes large use of analogy of expression often by purely verbal association" (Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era, 1.248).
"The expositions in the texts from Qumran are usually introduced by the term "pesher," which stems from the Aramaic word pishar meaning "solution" or "interpretation." There are also instances where "midrash" appears in the texts (e.g., lQS 6.24; 8.15, 26; CD 20.6; 4QFlor 1, 14), though in these cases the word is used in a non-technical sense to mean only "interpretation" generally. The Dead Sea sectarians considered themselves to be the elect community of the final generation of the present age, living in the last days of "messianic travail" before the eschatological consummation. Theirs was the task of preparing for the coming of the messianic age. And so to them applied certain prophecies in Scripture that were considered to speak of their present situation.
"While the rabbis sought to contemporize Holy Writ so as to make God's Torah relevant to their circumstances, the Dead Sea covenanters looked upon Scripture from what they accepted was a revelatory perspective (based on the interpretations of the Teacher of Righteousness) and emphasized imminent, catastrophic fulfillment. Their maxim seems to have been: "This is That"--that is, our present situation is depicted in what is written in Scripture. Qumran's pesher interpretation of the Old Testament, therefore, is neither principally "commentary" nor "midrashic exegesis," though it uses the forms of both. As Cecil Roth pointed out: "It does not attempt to elucidate the Biblical text, but to determine the application of Biblical prophecy or, rather, of certain Biblical prophecies; and the application of these Biblical prophecies in precise terms to current and even contemporary events" ("The Subject Matter of Qumran Exegesis," Vetus Testamentum 10 : 51-52).
"The most prominent Jewish allegorist of the first century was Philo of Alexandria, whose expositions of Scripture were produced during the life of Jesus and the earliest days of the church. Though a Jew, Philo was the inheritor of Stoic and Platonic ideas. And though a critic of the content of these philosophies, he used their basic categories of thought and methods in presenting to his Grecian audience what he believed to be the truth of the Jewish Torah. So he usually treated the Old Testament as a body of symbols given by God for man's spiritual and moral benefit, which must be understood other than in a literal or historical fashion. The prima facie meaning must normally be pushed aside--even counted as offensive--to make room for the intended spiritual meaning underlying the obvious; though, as noted above, at times he seems willing to consider literalist and allegorical exegesis as having a parallel legitimacy. In the main, however, exegesis of Holy Writ was for Philo an esoteric enterprise which, while not without its governing principles, was to be disassociated from literalist interpretation.
"But though Philo was the most prominent Jewish allegorist of the first Christian century, he was not alone. The Letter of Aristeas includes one instance of a mild allegorical treatment in its portrayal of the High Priest Eleazer's defence of the Jewish dietary laws (see 150-70; esp.150: "For the division of the hoof and the separation of the claws are intended to teach us that we must discriminate between our individual actions with a view to the practice of virtue"). Jacob Lauterbach has identified two groups of Palestinian Pharisees active prior to the time of Rabbi Judah "the Prince" (the compiler of the Mishnah in the latter part of the second century C.E.), the Dorshe Reshumot and the Dorshe Hamurot, who used a type of allegorical exegesis in their interpretations of Scripture ("Ancient Jewish Allegorists," Jewish Quarterly Review 1 : 291-333, 503-31). And Joseph Bonsirven and David Daube have presented significant data in support of the thesis of an early Pharisaic allegorical exegesis within Palestine itself (Bonsirven, "Exegese allegorique chez les rabbins tannaites," Recherches de Science Religieuse 23 : 522-24; Daube, "Rabbinic Methods of Interpretation and Hellenistic Rhetoric," Hebrew Union College Annual 22 : 239-64). In addition, the Dead Sea Scrolls include a number of examples of allegorical interpretation, representative of which is the treatment of Habakkuk 2:17 in lQpHab 12:3-4: "'Lebanon' stands here for the Communal Council; 'wild beasts' for the simple-minded Jews who carry out the Law" (see also lQpMic. 8-10; CD 6.2-11; 7.9-20). But though allegorical exegesis was widespread amongst Jews of the first century, it was not dominant in Palestine.
"The Jewish roots of Christianity make it a priori likely that the exegetical procedures of the New Testament would resemble to some extent those of then contemporary Judaism. This has long been established with regard to the hermeneutics of Paul vis-a-vis the Talmud, and it is becoming increasingly clear with respect to the Qumran texts as well. Indeed, there is little indication in the New Testament itself that the canonical writers were conscious of varieties of exegetical genre or of following particular modes of interpretation. At least they seem to make no sharp distinctions between what we would call historico-grammatical exegesis, midrash, pesher, allegory, or interpretations based on "corporate solidarity" or "typological correspondences in history." All of these are used in their writings in something of a blended and interwoven fashion. Yet there are discernible patterns and individual emphases among the various New Testament authors.
"In almost all of the New Testament authors one can find some literalist, straightforward exegesis of biblical texts. Occasionally some allegorical interpretation is also present. The pesher method, however dominates a certain class of material, namely that representative of Jesus' early disciples: principally Peter's preaching recorded in the early chapters of Acts, the Gospels of Matthew and John, and 1 Peter. Here these authors seem to be taking Jesus' own method of using Scripture as their pattern. By revelation they had come to know that "this" manifest in the work and person of Jesus "is that" of which the Old Testament speaks. Yet other New Testament writers, notably Paul and the author of Hebrews, can be characterized by a midrashic type of biblical interpretation (except where Paul uses a pesher approach in describing his own apostolic calling). Midrashic interpretation in the hands of these authors starts with Scripture and seeks to demonstrate christological relevance by means of a controlled atomistic exegesis.
Second, let's look at the accepted rabbinical exegetical rules of the day (e.g. Hillel) and see if they were used.
There were a number of rabbinical exegetical rules practiced around the time of Jesus, most notably those of Hillel.
2. Gezerah shawah: verbal analogy from one verse to another; where the same words are applied to two separate cases it follows that the same considerations apply to both.
3. Binyan ab mikathub 'ehad: building up a family from a single text; when the same phrase is found in a number of passages, then a consideration found in one of them applies to all of them.
4. Binyan ab mishene kethubim: building up a family from two texts; a principle is established by relating two texts together; the principle can then be applied to other passages.
5. Kelal upherat: the general and the particular, a general principle may be restricted by a particularisation of it in another verse; or conversely, a particular rule may be extended into a general principle.
6. Kayoze bo bemaqom 'aher: as is found in another place; a difficulty in one text may be solved by comparing it with another which has points of general (though not necessarily verbal) similarity.
7. Dabar halamed me'inyano: a meaning established by its context.
Just to cite some of the passages where these principles are used (for discussion, see BEAP, NWNTI:117-118, and OTEC:87ff):
Rule 2 (Inference from similar words): Mark 2.23-28; Luke 6.1-5; Rom 4.3,7; Heb 7.1-28; Jas 2.21ff.
Rule 3 (General principle from one verse): Mark 12.26; Jas 5.16ff.
Rule 4 (General principle from two verses): Rom 4.1-25 (Abe and David); I Cor 9.9, 13 (from Deut 25.4 and 18.1-8); Jas 2.22-26 (Abe and Rahab).
Rule 5 (Inference from a general principle): Mark 12.28-34; Rom 13.9ff (from Lev 19.18).
Rule 6 (Inference from an analogous passage): Mark 14.62 (anlgy of Dan 7.9 with Ps 110.1); Gal 3.8-16 (anlgy of Gen 12.3 and 22.18); Heb 4.7-9 (anlgy of Josh 1.13-15 with Ps 95.7-11); Heb 8.7-13 (anlgy of Exod 19.5ff with Jer 31.31-34).
Rule 7 (Interpretation from the context): Matt 19.4-8; Rom 4.10f; Gal 3.17; Heb 4.9f.; heb 11.1-13; Heb 11.35-40.
RABBINIC: b. Pesahim 7b-8a: "The School of R. Ishmael taught: In the evening of the fourteenth leaven is searched for by the light of a lamp. Though there is no proof of this, there is an allusion to it, because it is said, 'seven days shall there be no leaven [in your houses]'; and it is said, 'and he searched, and began at the eldest, and left at the youngest: and the cup was found [in Benjamin's sack]'; and it is said, 'And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with lamps'. and it is said, 'The soul of man is the lamp of the Lord, searching [all the innermost parts of the belly]'"
QUMRAN: 4QTest strings together Deut 5.28f, Deut 18.18f, Num 24.15-17, Deut 33.8-11, and Josh 6.26.
QUMRAN: 4QFlor strings together 2 Sam 7.10-14, Ps 1.1, and Ps 2.1f
So, we have to say that the NT authors were certainly in line with standard Jewish hermeneutical principles.
Finally, we might try to 'reality-check' the NT exegesis for 'conservativeness' over against the rabbinics, Qumran, etc.
The point here is simply to get some feel for the 'weirdness index' of the various strands of 1st century Judaism, with which to compare the NT authors. This will admittedly be subjective in the extreme, but perhaps it will help level-set our understanding of 1st-century 'acceptable' exegetical praxis. The method is simply to pick a sample or two of what might be considered 'creative' use of the OT from each of our sectors of Jewry.
RABBINIC: The Babylonian Talmud has this passage:
RABBINIC: One midrash passage from Mid. Teh. Buber [cited in MTJL:62]:
"God appears here to fix the limit of human life by this number, indicating by it the manifold prerogative of honour; for in the first place this number proceeds from the units, according to combination, from the number fifteen; but the principle of the number fifteen is that of a more transparent appearance, since it is on the fifteenth day that the moon is rendered full of light, borrowing its light of the sun at the approach of evening, and restoring it to him again in the morning; so that during the night of the full moon the darkness is scarcely visible, but it is all light.
"In the second place, the number a hundred and twenty is a triangular number, and is the fifteenth number consisting of triangles.
"Thirdly, it is so because it consists of a combination of odd and even numbers, being contained by the power of the faculty of the concurring numbers, sixty-four and fifty-six; for the equal number of sixty-four is compounded of the uniting of these eight odd numbers, one, three, five, seven, nine, eleven, thirteen, fifteen; the reduction of which, by their parts into squares, makes a sum total of sixty-four, and that is a cube, and at the same time a square number...But again from the seven double units there arises the unequal number of fifty-six, being compounded of seven double pairs, which generate other productions of them, two, four, six, eight, ten, twelve, fourteen; the sum total of which is fifty-six.
"In the fourth place, it is compounded of four numbers, of one triangle, namely fifteen; and of another square, namely twenty-five; and of a third quinquangular figure, thirty-five; and of a fourth a sexangular figure forty-five, by the same analogy: for the fifth is always received according to each appearance; for from the unity of the triangles the fifth number becomes fifteen; again the fifth of the quadrangular number from the unit makes twenty-five; and the fifth of the quinquangular number from the unit makes thirty-five; and the fifth of the sexangular number from the unit makes forty-five...But every one of these numbers is a divine and sacred number, consisting of fifteens as has been already shown; and the number twenty-five belongs to the tribe of Levi. And the number thirty-five comes from the double diagram of arithmetic, geometry, and harmony; but sixteen, and eighteen, and nineteen, and twenty-one, the combination of which numbers amounts to seventy-four, is that according to which seven months' children are born. And forty-five consists of a triple diagram; but to this number, sixteen, nineteen, twenty-two, and twenty-eight, belong: the combination of which makes eighty-five, according to which nine months' children are produced.
"Fifthly, this diagram has fifteen parts, and a twofold composition, peculiarly belonging to itself; forsooth when divided by two it gives sixty, the measure of the age of all mankind; when divided by three it gives forty, the idea of prophecy; when divided by four it gives thirty, a nation; when divided by five, it makes twenty-four, the measure of day and night; when divided by six, it gives twenty, a beginning; when divided by eight, we have fifteen, the moon in the fulness of brilliancy; when divided by ten, it makes twelve, the zodiac embellished with living animals; when divided by twelve, it makes ten, holy; when divided by fifteen, it gives eight, the first ark; when divided by twenty, it leaves six, the number of creation; when divided by twenty-four, it makes five, the emblem of the outward sense; when divided by thirty it makes four, the beginning of solid measure; when divided by forty, it gives three, the symbol of fulness, the beginning, the middle, and the end; when divided by sixty, it makes two, which is woman; and when divided by the whole number of a hundred and twenty, the product is one, or man...And every one of all these numbers is more natural, as is proved in each of them, but the composition of them is twofold, for the product is two hundred and forty, which is a sign that it is worthy of a twofold life; for as the number of years is doubled, so also we may imagine that the life is doubled too; one being in connection with the body, the other being detached from the body, according to which every holy and perfect man may receive the gift of prophecy.
"Sixthly, because the fifth and sixth figures arise, the three numbers being multiplied together, three times four times five, since three times four times five make sixty; so in like manner the next following numbers four times five times six make a hundred and twenty, for four times five times six make a hundred and twenty.
Seventhly, when the number twenty has been taken in, which is the beginning of the reduction of mankind, I mean twenty, and being added to itself two or three times, so as to make twenty, forty, and sixty, these added together make a hundred and twenty. But perhaps the number a hundred and twenty is not the general term of human life, but only of the life of those men who existed at that time, and who were to perish by the deluge after an interval of so many years, which their kind Benefactor prolonged, giving them space for repentance; when, after the aforesaid term, they lived a longer time in the subsequent ages.
PSEUDEPIGRAPHA: These works are noted for their expansions and embellishments to the biblical text and for ascribing 'new experiences' to most of the main biblical characters. They are NOT known for their 'fidelity' to the intent of the biblical authors!
JOSEPHUS: Alexander describes J's usage of the text in his Contra Apion thus [HI:IIW:113, 115]:
"(on Gen 22.1-19) He also reports at some length on Isaac's reactions to Abraham's speech (Ant i, 232), and has God clarify his motives for imposing the test (Ant 1,233). Such changes come about quite naturally when a narrator attempts to recast a story in his own words. The vivid little detail that Abraham and Isaac embraced each other after Isaac's deliverance (Ant i, 236) is another example of a natural aggadic addition."
SUMMARY: Overall then, I am forced to conclude that the NT authors were not in any way departing in radical fashion from their non-Christian counterparts in 1st century Judaism, in the areas of (1) textual usage or (2) exegetical practice. Instead, they were squarely within acceptable praxis, and indeed, may have constituted the most exegetically conservative of the groups at the time.
The THEOLOGICAL ISSUE--------------------------------------------------------------------------
Here the question is: Do they use similar theological understandings of the text? In other words, do the other Jews of the period (list above) understand messianic texts and overall theological themes in the same ways?
The approach here will be to see if:
2. Non-Christian Jewry identified specific humans with some messianic figure;
3. Non-Christian Jewry had their OWN problem of 'plurality in the Godhead' and/or with a supra-human messiah;
4. Non-Christian Jewry used 'typological' exegesis;
5. Non-Christian Jewry accepted Jesus as Messiah.
1. Acceptance of the same OT passages as being messianic: I have demonstrated (in detail) that this was indeed the case elsewhere.
But let me make a couple of additional comments:
First, the Rabbinical material refers to three times as many messianic passages as does the NT! The NT writers could have tapped into a massive 'gold mine' of messianic traditions, but only used a small subset of these (perhaps controlled by the teaching of Jesus, cf. Luke 24.25-27). The rabbi's saw MANY more 'messianic' interpretations than did the NT Christians (even though some of the passages indeed differ).
Second, the Psalms were routinely seen as messianic by ALL 1st century "Judaism." The rabbinical citations alone show this for rabbinical Judaism. For Qumran, this is obvious from their use of the pesher method on them:
"As for the Psalms, their use [in the NT] is primarily in line with the Scrolls' view of them as prophetic texts in need of fulfillment." [[HI:SASQ50:262].
2. Did non-Christian Jewry identify specific humans with some messianic figure? Absolutely!
As I documented earlier, the range of messianic expectation was very, very wide--from a strictly human nationalist hero to a veritable "God-man" (Neusner's phrase). But most of them had a conception in mind, as they identified specific human individuals as 'candidates'.
This is very obvious from the string of messianic figures that arose (and were accepted by large segments of the population!) for two centuries on either side of Jesus of Nazareth. Messianic and semi-messianic Prophetic figures abounded in this period, and can be documented from the sources of the day.
Josephus (see [HI:PFLST] for full details) describes the following prophetic figures:
"R. Yohanan said, 'My teacher used to expound, 'There shall step forth a star out of Jacob [Num 24.17]--thus, read not kokab [star], but kozeb [liar]'". 'When R. Aqiva beheld Bar Koziva, he exclaimed, 'This is the king Messiah'" (Lam. R. 2.4)
Early Jewish Christians were simply NOT the only ones that identified a human individual with the messianic promises--the rabbi's did, Qumran did, the general Jewish populace did.
3. Did non-Christian Jewry have their OWN "problem" of 'plurality in the Godhead' and/or with a supra-human messiah?
I have cited the specific passages, and discussed elsewhere the "plurality tensions" within the Tanakh/OT, within the Pseudepigrapha, and within Rabbinic Judaism.
What I would like to do here is simply to offer a few summary statements by scholars on two points: (1) the supra-human expectation of SOME strands of messianic hope; and (2) the continuity between pre-Nicene Christian "plural-tarianism" and the Jewish milieu of the 1st century.
First, let me offer two quotes on the 'deity' of the messianic figure (emphases mine):
The first is from Jacob Neusner, famed scholar of rabbinics ["Mishnah and Messiah", JTM:275]:
"Already in the Old Testament and in pre-Christian Judaism the one God was understood to have 'plural' manifestations. In ancient Israel he was (in some sense) identified with and (in some sense) distinct from his Spirit or his Angel. Apparently, Yahweh was believed to have 'an indefinable extension of the personality,' by which he was present 'in person' in his agents. Even the king as the Lord's anointed (= 'messiah') represented 'a potent extension of the divine personality.'
"In later strata of the Old Testament and in intertestamental Judaism certain attributes of God - such as his Word or his Wisdom- were viewed and used in a similar manner. In some instances the usage is only a poetic personification, a description of God's action under the name of the particular divine attribute that he employs. In others, however, it appears to represent a divine hypostasis, the essence of God's own being that is at the same time distinguishable from God.
"From this background, together with a messianic hope that included the expectation that Yahweh himself would come to deliver Israel, the followers of Jesus would have been prepared, wholly within a Jewish monotheistic and 'salvation history' perspective, to see in the Messiah a manifestation of God. In the event, they were brought to this conclusion by their experience of Jesus' works and teachings, particularly as it came to a culmination in his resurrection appearances and commands. Although during his earthly ministry they had, according to the Gospel accounts, occasionally been made aware of a strange otherness about Jesus, only after his resurrection do they identify him as God. Paul, the first literary witness to do this, probably expresses a conviction initially formed at his Damascus Christophany. John the Evangelist, who wrote later but who saw the risen Lord (and was a bearer of early traditions about that event), also describes the confession of Jesus as God as a reaction to the resurrection appearances. Yet, such direct assertions of Jesus' deity are exceptional in the New Testament and could hardly have been sustained among Jewish believers apart from a perspective on the Old Testament that affirmed and/or confirmed a manifestation of Yahweh in and as Messiah.
"The New Testament writers usually set forth Messiah's unity with God by identifying him with God's Son or Spirit or image or wisdom or by applying to him biblical passages that in their original context referred to Yahweh. They often do this within an implicit or explicit commentary (midrash) on Scripture and thereby reveal their conviction that the 'supernatural' dimension of Jesus' person is not merely that of an angelic messenger but is the being of God himself.
"The use of Scripture in first and second century Judaism, then, marked a watershed in the biblical doctrine of God. At that time it channeled the imprecise monotheism of the Old Testament and early Judaism in two irreversible directions. On the one hand Jewish-Christian apostles and prophets, via 'corporate personality' conceptions and Christological exposition, set a course that led to the trinitarian monotheism of late Christianity. On the other hand the rabbinic writers, with their exegetical emphasis on God's unity, brought into final definition the unitarian monotheism of talmudic Judaism."
4. Did non-Christian Jewry use 'typological' exegesis in the same ways NT Christian Jews did?
And I have documented this elsewhere as being present throughout the Tanaakh and other Judaica of the times.
We were (again) not unique in this at all.
5. Did any Non-Christian Jewry find NT arguments persuasive and exegesis 'acceptable'? ("As measured by" accepting Jesus as Messiah?!)
If the New Testament can be trusted at all, we know:
Fiensy [BAFCSP:226ff] lists some of the various classes of folk known to be in that group:
1. The Wealthy or Semi-wealthy (Simon of Cyrene, Barnabas, Ananias & Sapphira, Mary mother of John Mark, Manaen,
2. The lower class (some of the disciples, James)
3. Ordinary temple priests (but not from High Priestly family)
4. One Levite (Joseph Barnabas, Acts 4.36)
5. Submerged classes (e.g. beggars, impoverished widows, and healed people)
6. Women of various classes
7. Hebraists (Jews who spoke both Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek) and Hellenists (Jews who only spoke Greek).
8. Pharisees (Acts 15.5)
So, we can safely say that at least some Jews found the NT-type arguments persuasive and the methods 'acceptable', and this phrase 'some Jews' would have included those from all of the other "Judaisms" of the day.
Let me quickly summarize the above pieces, before moving on to the next of your questions. What we have seen so far:
2. The Jewish believers reflected a usage of a mixture of text types--just as ALL of their contemporaries did.
3. The Jewish believers used the same interpretive approaches that ALL of their contemporaries did.
4. The Jewish believers used the same exegetical rules as the Rabbi's.
5. The Jewish believers were probably more 'conservative' and 'uncreative' in their Tanakh/OT exegesis than their contemporaries, including the rabbi's.
6. The Jewish Christians believed in the prophetic significance of the Psalms--shared with the major contemporary groups of the day.
7. The Jewish believers had views on the main messianic passages that were shared by some or all of their contemporaries.
8. The Jewish believers saw the messianic prophecies fulfilled in a specific human being--and their contemporaries were willing to make similar identifications.
9. The Jewish believers had a 'plurality problem'--that was inherited from Judaism and indeed, shared with the other 'Judaisms' of the day (and actually, later as well).
10. The Jewish believers used typological exegesis on occasion--just like their contemporaries.
11. The NT authors saw in Jesus of Nazareth the promised Messiah, as did many of their fellow Jews from all walks of life.
But at this point, we can simply conclude that the early Jewish Christians were as faithful to their heritage and as honest with their religious background as ANY of the other Jewish groups of the day.
Before I summarize all of this, let me know go through some more of your eMail and address one other question.
The questioner continued:
The LXX was cited as scripture by Diaspora Jewry consistently in pre-Christian times, was used in synagogues through the 6th century AD, and was used at Qumran in pre-Christian times similarly. Although it was consistently corrected and refined through its heyday (not without major protest from Diaspora Jewry), this was paralleled by Jewish efforts to define/determine the most precise Hebrew text. The disowning of the LXX was never "official", although it was highly disparaged in the later Rabbinical writings.
Without getting into all the intricacies of the history of translations, let me walk us through an overview of the history/logic of the LXX:
1. First of all, we have to note that a Greek translation of the Hebrew Tanakh/OT will be as necessary to Diaspora Jews as an Aramaic translation (i.e., the Targums) will be to most of the Palestinian Jews at the time of Jesus. The Aramaic translations were used alongside of the Hebrew texts in Palestinian synagogues. [WTOT:53]. Compare Schiffman [FTT:89]:
2. The non-coordinated nature of Diaspora worship would have given rise to multiple Greek versions--BEFORE the LXX was created. So, in the Letter of Aristeas (314), the author complains about the quality of "earlier inadequate versions of the Law".
3. Something must have prompted an action-point. Either the Alexandrian ruler wanted an 'authorized version' of the Torah, local communities wanted a 'Jerusalem-sanctioned' version, someone needed to deal with intra-Judaism quibbles, or Jerusalem wanted to exercise some religious control or guidance over Diaspora Jewry. For any (or all) of the reasons, the LXX version of the Pentateuch was created from a Palestinian Hebrew text in the middle of the 3rd century b.c.
4. The first LXX was ONLY for the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the bible), but quickly more of the Tanakh/OT was translated. We have several early witnesses to this:
"Originally the LXX was a Jewish translation, and hence was quoted by Jewish historians (Demetrius, Eupolemus, Artapanus, Josephus), poets (Ezekiel) and philosophers (Philo)." [HI:MIKRA:163; the details of the less known of these are given in HI:MIKRA, Chapter 14 (van der Horst): "The Interpretation of the Bible by the Minor Hellenistic Jewish Authors".]
5. Somewhere around the middle of the second century BC, complaints apparently arose about the "quality" of even this 'official' translation. Concerns were being voiced about disagreements between the various texts and translations (long before the NT controversies erupted). Part of this was predictable, since the Hebrew text itself was undergoing development.
We know, for example, that the Hebrew master-copy that would have been used for the LXX version of the Torah would NOT have been the same even a century later. So Bickerman [HI:JGA:105]:
"The diversity of the first-century Greek OT text has been documented by the discovery and publication of 8HevXIIgr, a fragmentary Greek scroll of the Minor Prophets. This text differs from the LXX at several points, and agrees with at least three of the recensions (Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion) at several points" [Evans, NWNTI:74]
"It is true that in the past scholars have attributed to the translators of the LXX various major alterations of an editorial nature in order to explain the differences between LXX and MT, but a greater awareness of the translators' aims and methods, and the new evidence from Qumran for the existence of a plurality of Hebrew text types prior to the standardisation of the consonantal text in the later first century AD, suggest that it is most unlikely that any of the LXX translators acted in a high-handed way with the texts they were rendering into Greek" [Brock, HI:IIW:90]
6. Somehow, by the end of the second century BC, the leaders in Palestinian Jewry become aware of, and concerned about, the differences between the Greek and the Hebrew 'originals'.
7. This creates an interesting and "political" dilemma for pre-Christian Jewry [HI:IIW:91f]:
"This line of approach was taken a stage further by Philo who claims that those who know the two languages 'speak of the authors not as translators, but as prophets and priests of the mysteries, whose sincerity and singleness of thought has enabled them to go hand in hand with the purest of spirits, the spirit of Moses' (Life of Moses ii, 40; tr. Colson).
"By describing the translators as 'prophets' Philo was claiming that the Greek translation has an authority equal to that of the original: both original and translation are to be held in 'awe and reverence as sisters' (ibid.). On such a view (inherited by the early christian church) any observable differences between the Greek and the Hebrew were no longer a matter of concern, requiring correction on the ground that the translators had failed in what later generations saw as their proper role as merely interpretes, word for word translators: since they were in fact 'prophets', rather than interpretes, the translators could be regarded as having been in a position to act as authoritative expositors as well.
8. What is interesting about the Jerusalem approach was that it wanted to simply correct, not abolish, the Greek translations. There was nothing per se wrong with a local-language translation. Correspondingly, it undertook 'corrections' that were apparently NOT motivated by Christian-Jewish controversy/polemic. The initial controversy (above) was Jerusalem-vs-Diaspora Jewry (perhaps over the sore spot of "how much Hellenization is okay?").
9. And then the Jewish-Christian animosity cranks up.
and at the same time, the Jews of Jerusalem finalize the consonantal text:
"The Hebrew consonantal text was not frozen until sometime toward 100 CE, but once it was accepted as authoritative, all scrolls deviating from the standard recension were suppressed by the rabbinic authorities. Divergent manuscripts of the Sepuagint, however, continued to circulate freely. Around 90 C.E., Josephus, in his paraphrase of pseudo-Aristeas, suggest that his readers 'amend' any text of the Septuagint manuscript that they possess if they find any addition or omission there" [HI:JGA:106]
(But this suppression is not as thorough as one might imagine, since Tov points out that the Hebrew exemplar that Aquila used for his very literal LXX revision was only "very close to the proto-Masoretic text." [HITCULXX:151].)
10. But the Jews still used the Greek translations in worship! Aquila, for example, was still in use in the synagogues in the 6th century ad [Tov, OT:TCHB:144]! We have palimpsets of this from the Cairo Geniza, and "in Emperor Justinian's conciliatory Codicil No. 146 [533 AD] this version is cited along with the inspired Septuagint as sanctioned for use in synagogues" [WTOT:55].
The above details and overview should indicate quite clearly that DiasporaJudaism saw the LXX versions (and revisions) as absolutely inspired. Philo, for example, put it at the same level as the Mosaic revelation!
But what about rabbinic or pre-rabbinic Judaism? Did they consider the Greek translation to be 'holy'--did it 'defile the hands' like the Hebrew scrolls did?
Strangely enough, in spite of the various complaints and in-fighting, many of them absolutely did!
The Talmud has this fascinating passage (Megilla 9a,b) in which we read (Soncino):
"R. SIMEON B. GAMALIEL SAYS THAT BOOKS [OF THE SCRIPTURE] ALSO ARE PERMITTED TO BE WRITTEN ONLY IN GREEK. R. Abbahu said in the name of R. Johanan: The halachah follows R. Simeon b. Gamaliel. R. Johanan further said: What is the reason of R. Simeon b. Gamaliel? Scripture says, God enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; [this means] that the words of Japheth shall be in the tents of Shem. But why not say [the words of] Gomer and Magog? - R. Hiyya b. Abba replied: The real reason is because it is written, Let God enlarge [yaft] Japheth: implying, let the chief beauty [yafyuth] of Japheth be in the tents of Shem.
Now, it is in this context that the NT writers compose the NT documents. All of the NT dox were written prior to 70 AD (with the possible exception of the Revelation of John), by reasonably literate and practicing Jews. Therefore, at the time that Jesus is preaching and the post-Easter Jewish church is expanding, the following situation obtains:
2. There is no fixed MT or proto-MT at the time.
3. There are some revisions to the LXX, but none apparently agreed upon by Diaspora Judaism.
4. Quotes from the LXX as being "scripture" by non-Christian Jews abound in the various classes of Jewish literature (in Greek) of the period.
5. The rabbinic data indicates a continuing allowance (even preferential treatment) for Greek translations of Torah. These would have FULL 'inspired' status (i.e., defiling the hands).
Now, what I have tried to demonstrate so far---from primary and secondary sources--was that the early Jewish believers were in no way treating the Tanakh/OT inappropriately. They used the same methods, same approaches, same textual mix, same religious guidelines toward God's word.
But they did 'end up at' a different place from the other peer-Judaisms of the day. We must now try to characterize WHAT differences emerged, and HOW such a distinctive 'flavor' of pre-Talmudic Judaism could have developed given the strong continuities and similar worldviews between Jewish Christianity and non-Christian Jewry (1st century).
To this we turn now...
In a nutshell, the main difference between the early Jewish messianic believers and other Jews of "other Judaisms" was their personal experience of God's in-breaking in the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth.
Another way of putting this would be that the Jewish people of the Land who encountered Jesus in his salvific ministry, recognized in that encounter that YHWH had 'visited His people'. Out of the many, many "possible messianic scenarios" afforded by the messianic prophecies in the Tanakh/OT, they saw one materialize--concretely, specifically, powerfully, authoritatively, vividly-- in front of their very eyes and in the middle of their troubled lives. They encountered their Awesome Covenant God, "meek and bearing salvation", in this brash and powerful figure from Nazareth.
They were never the same again.
They experienced the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. They saw how Israel would be delivered. They understood why 'making an end of unrighteousness' (Dan 9) was first in the eschatological program. They knew that God had begun to fulfill his many promises to His people, in this strange and wonderful Visitor. They experienced the "aftershocks of love" in the community created by the outpouring of the promised Spirit from the prophet Joel.
History had been split in half for them.
R. T. France points out that this element was the critical difference between these Jews and their peers [JSOTGP3:123]:
The issue began with Jesus...
..and it will continue to be Jesus.
I have surveyed in other places the radical character, offers of divine renewal, and authoritative claims of this Jewish Jesus, son of David, son of Man, Son of God. But it is quite clear today, that this Jesus spoke as if He were the very authority of God. Indeed, no one has seen this more clearly than Neusner:
"First-century Judaism was a highly diverse phenomenon, as becomes apparent from a comparison of the writings of Philo, Josephus, Qumran, the (traditions of the) rabbis and the early Christians. The New Testament, which as far as I can see was written altogether by Jews, is a part of that diversity but also a part of that Judaism. Its writers were Jews, but Jews who differed from the majority of the nation and who in time found the greater number of their company of faith not among their own people but among the Gentiles. And still today, apart from a continuing Judeo-Christian minority, the church remains a community of Gentiles, but Gentiles with a difference. For as long as Gentile Christians give attention to their charter documents, they can never forget that as those who are joined to a Jewish Messiah they are in a manner of speaking 'adopted Jews' or, in Paul's imagery, branches engrafted into the ancient tree of Israel and a people who have their hope in the promise given to Abraham. The centrality of the Old Testament in the message of Jesus and his apostles and prophets underscores that fact.
And they--using the tools of their peers, the texts of their peers, and the methods of their peers--could see this reality in the messianic passages and themes of their shared Mikra/Scripture...and this 'visitation of good news' had been promised by their God, and fulfilled in the appearing of the long-awaited Messiah--Son of David, Son of Man, Son of God.