Monday, October 31, 2011

The so-called
Hebrew & Alexandrian Bible canons
being challenged
& the Greek speaking Jews of Palestine /

Οι επιλεγόμενοι
Ιουδαϊκός & Αλεξανδρινός βιβλικός κανόνας
εν αμφιβόλω
& οι ελληνόφωνοι Ιουδαίοι της Παλαιστίνης

4Q LXXLevb

The Alexandrian canon hypothesis in modern canonical studies was proposed by J. S. Semler (1771).24 Divorcing himself from the dogmatic Protestant position that the Old Testament had always been the books of the Hebrew canon, Semler proposed that Hellenistic Jews of Egypt had a different canon than those in Palestine. Alexandrian Jews and Jews of the Diaspora were a third party that accepted the books of the Apocrypha in their canon. Semler believed that these books were composed in Greek in Alexandria. Like Augustine, Semler believed that the Jewish translators of the Law into Greek were inspired, which gave authority to the enlarged Greek canon. His hypothesis came to be generally accepted in the nineteenth century (Sundberg 1964:7-40). Since Semler, scholarly research has produced no additional evidence supporting the Alexandrian canon hypothesis.

This consensus about the Hebrew and Alexandrian canons began to be challenged in 1957 with the presentation by this writer of a doctoral thesis to the Faculty of Harvard University with the title, The Old Testament of the Early Church.25 These were the days when the discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls were still fresh. I was attracted by the circumstance that scrolls and scroll fragments of books we now call Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha as well as other, often previously unknown, non-sectarian religious writings were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Copies of the Hebrew canonical writings and sectarian writings of the apparently Essene (?)26 inhabitants of Qumran were also found. This appeared strikingly similar to the circumstance in early Christianity as observed above. The resultant thesis challenged the Old Testament canon consensus at two points: Was there really an Alexandrian canon? Was the Hebrew or Jewish canon in Palestine completed (as a de facto canon) before the first century C.E.?

Critique of the Alexandrian canon consisted chiefly in bringing attention to previous scholarly findings that completely undercut the foundations upon which the Alexandrian canon rested. But notice had not been taken as to the effect these had upon the Alexandrian canon hypothesis. The bases upon which the Alexandrian canon had been proposed had simply been forgotten.

Socio-political studies placed the venue for the composition of apocryphal writings in Palestine rather then in Alexandria (Smith 1900; Grant 1923 and 1924, Pfeiffer 1949:63; and Torrey 1945:108). Linguistic analysis of the extra-canonical Jewish literature came to show that most of that literature, rather than having been written in Greek in Alexandria, was actually written in Hebrew or Aramaic in Palestine (Sundberg 1964:62). A Hebrew text of Ben Sira was found in a Geniza in Cairo (Kahle 1960).

The Hellenistic element in Palestinian Judaism is now generally recognized, which was not the case three or four decades ago. S. Lieberman's Greek in Jewish Palestine (1942) and E. R. Goodenough's Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period (1953) were ground-breaking and not immediately generally accepted. Goodenough (1953:1.8-13) told us that Greek names are nearly as common as Hebrew and Aramaic names combined on first century C.E. Jewish tombs in Palestine and that names of Jews preserved on ossuaries from the period of the Maccabees to 135 C.E. are one third Greek (Goodenough 1953:1.111-132). One inscription from pre-70 C.E. Jerusalem, records the building and dedication of a synagogue "for the reading of the Law and for the teaching of the Commandments." The inscription is in Greek and the name of the builder is Greek. Goodenough (1953:1.8-13) believed that the Law was read in Greek in that synagogue. By the third century C.E. Greek was the predominant language for Jews in Palestine. Goodenough (1953:1.80)27 says that, ". . . Greek inscriptions in Palestinian synagogues show that the placing of Hellenized Judaism, as Alexandrian, over against Palestinian Judaism is unwarranted." Thus, it appears that a significant portion of the Palestinian Jewish population was bi-lingual: Aramaic (and Hebrew as a learned language) and Greek.

Lieberman (1942:15) points out the evidence for the use of Greek in the rabbinic materials and notes an "overwhelming number of Greek words" in the Talmudic literature. More impressive than direct reference to Jews using Greek is the inclusion of Greek words, phrases and proverbs in the sayings of the Jewish preachers (Lieberman 1942:30).28 Lieberman refutes the claim that these were embellishments by preachers to dazzle their ignorant hearers with high-sounding phrases. Rather, he argues, the preacher spoke to the people in their language and style and, thus, this Greek usage reflects the common understanding and usage of the time (Lieberman 1942:37-67).

* Albert C. Sundberg, Jr.,
"The Old Testament of the Early Church Revisited",
in Thomas J. Sienkewicz and James E. Betts (eds.),
Festschrift in Honor of Charles Speel
Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois, 1997.
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