LXX’s Contemporizing, Sectarian Leaders, Fence Around the Law

1. Emanuel Tov, “The Septuagint,” Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, ed. Martin Jan Mulder (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004) 178.

“In order that the subject matter of the translation should be understood by the readers, the LXX translators used words and terms taken from daily life in Egypt and also made actualizing changes. E.g., in Isa 9:11 ‘Aram on the east and the Philistines on the west’ has been changed to ‘Syria on the east and the Greeks on the west’. In this translation the names of the enemies of Israel in the time of the OT have been changed to conform with the situation existing during the Hellenistic period…The new enemies are the Hellenistic cities on the shore of the Mediterranean and the Seleucid kingdom in the East. In Isa 46:1 ‘Bel…Nebo‘, the last name has been changed to [Dagon]. Seelingman applies this change to a Hellenistic source which knew Dagon as a Babylonian godhead side by side with Bel.”

This overlaps with what I wrote about yesterday, in Reapplied Prophecy, Marcion on Matthew 5:17, Atoning Marriage. I see here an example of how the LXX rewrites a prophecy to fit the nations of its day. It doesn’t do so in a way that’s totally unfaithful to the Hebrew text, however, for Aram and Syria are the same nation.

I also see that the LXX rewrote the Bible in light of the historical research of its time. There were Hellenistic sources that placed Dagon beside Bel, so the LXX interpreted Isaiah 46:1 in light of that. I’m not sure if the translator thought the Hebrew text was wrong, or if he felt he was clarifying and elucidating it.

2. Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume II: Ante-Nicene Christianity (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1910) 515.

“Another characteristic feature of patristic polemics is to trace heresy to mean motives, such as pride, disappointed ambition, sensual lust, and avarice. No allowance is made for different mental constitutions, educational influences, and other causes. There are, however, a few notable exceptions. Origen and Augustin admit the honesty and earnestness at least of some teachers of error.”

The New Testament does the same sort of thing: it believes heretics have a bad character. Here are some examples:

Galatians 6:13: “Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh” (NRSV).

II Peter 2:1-3: “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive opinions. They will even deny the Master who bought them– bringing swift destruction on themselves. Even so, many will follow their licentious ways, and because of these teachers the way of truth will be maligned. And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. Their condemnation, pronounced against them long ago, has not been idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”

Are false teachers necessarily bad people? I think there are many who are, since we know of religious figures who try to gain power for themselves. Moreover, II Peter may discuss a group that was antinomian–which justified its own sinful lifestyle with the claim that we don’t have to keep a moral law. In that case, bad character and false doctrine tended to go hand-in-hand. Then there’s the NT notion that false teachers may themselves be deceived (II Timothy 3:13).

I’ve been thinking about factionalism as I’ve read the Koran and James Crossley’s Why Christianity Happened. My impression from the Koran is that it believes people should accept the message of Muhammad, the prophet of Allah. My question is, “Why?” If Muhammad’s basic message was that people should believe in God and the final judgment while avoiding evil and doing good, can’t one do those things without embracing the person of Muhammad? If so, then why is acceptance of Muhammad necessary?

I wonder the same thing about Jewish sects. What was so special about the Teacher of Righteousness (in Qumran)? What did he offer that was substantially different from other Judaisms of the Second Temple Period?

Can one say the same about Jesus? The New Testament often focuses on accepting the person of Jesus, since he was the one God raised from the dead (Acts 2:24, 32; 3:15, 26; 17:31). But can one accept moral principles without embracing the person of Jesus? Is Christianity the same as other religions, only it adds the person of Jesus to the mix–as Islam adds Muhammad, and Qumran had the Teacher of Righteousness?

Not exactly, for Christianity is a religion with substantial differences in terms of content. James Crossley talks about Jesus’ message of repentance, and he asks why many Jewish leaders had problems with it, when they themselves believed that sinners should repent. His answer is that Jesus’ idea of repentance differed from that of most Jewish leaders. For Jesus, repentance didn’t mean living a life that had a lot of religious rituals. So Christianity isn’t just about having a certain personality (Jesus) who leads a movement. Rather, Jesus makes the content of Christianity different, although it also has clear overlaps with other religions.

3. Jacob Neusner, Judaism’s Story of Creation: Scripture, Halakhah, Aggadah (Boston: Brill, 2000) 263.

“Man showed his arrogance in adding to God’s commandment concerning the tree (GR XIX:III).”

This is from Genesis Rabbah. Here’s the text, from my Judaic Classics Library:

“BUT OF THE FRUIT OF THE TREE WHICH IS IN THE MIDST OF THE GARDEN, GOD HATH SAID: YE SHALL NOT EAT OF IT, NEITHER SHALL YE TOUCH IT, LEST YE DIE (III, 3). Thus it is written, Add not unto His words, lest He reprove thee, and thou be found a liar (Prov. XXX, 6). R. Hiyya taught: That means that you must not make the fence more than the principal thing, lest it fall and destroy the plants. Thus, the Holy One, blessed be He, had said, For in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Gen. II,17); whereas she did not say thus, but, GOD HATH SAID: YE SHALL NOT EAT OF IT, NEITHER SHALL YE TOUCH IT; when he [the serpent] saw her thus lying, he took and thrust her against it. ‘ Have you then died? he said to her; just as you were not stricken through touching it, so will you not die when you eat it, but For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, etc. (ib. 5).”

God commanded Adam not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. When Satan tempted Eve to eat from it, Eve recited the rule with a slight addition: you can’t touch the tree either. Satan proved the rule-plus-the-addition to be wrong by making Eve touch the tree, which didn’t result in her death. As a result, Eve concluded that the entire command must be incorrect.

A teacher I had once drew a parallel between Adam’s addition to God’s command and the Jewish concept of a “fence around the law.” Within Judaism, there are fences that protect the law: you don’t get to the point where you violate the law because you avoid situations where you remotely can disobey it. Similarly, Adam prohibited Eve from even touching the tree, since, if she didn’t touch it, she wouldn’t eat from it.

Interestingly, the midrash doesn’t say we shouldn’t have fences around the law. Rather, it states that we shouldn’t allow the fence to overshadow the law itself. Maybe this means that we should view the fence as a fence–it’s not a divine command, but it’s a boundary we can set for ourselves to avoid compromising situations.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
This entry was posted in Acts, Bible, Comps, Daily Quiet Time, Koran, Rabbinics, Religion, School. Bookmark the permalink.