Scribes and Scholars 1; How Many Plagues?

1.  At the Hebrew Union College library today, I read the first 86 pages of L.D. Reynolds’ Scribes and Scholars

Reynolds talks about the Alexandrian method of text criticism, which marked with an obelos the parts of a text that it deemed spurious.  Why would a critic deem part of the text to be spurious?  Parts of the text that displayed undignified language or conduct were considered spurious, for example, the goddess Aphrodite in the Illiad (3:423-6) carrying a seat for the human Helen.  Then there were parts of the text that didn’t flow well with the rest of the story, and they were marked as spurious.  The latter criterion overlaps with the text criticism of today.

I encountered interesting people in today’s reading.  There was Crates of Mallon, from the second century B.C.E., who broke his leg in a sewer and used his time of forced convalescence to give lectures on poetry.  There was Probus, a first century C.E. character, who was disappointed because he didn’t get a military promotion, and so he turned his attention to the old authors he studied in school, who by that point were “out of fashion in Rome”.  He became a prominent text critic.  When God closes a door, he opens a window!  Or, as Tom Hanks says in Castaway, you don’t know what the shore will bring!

Reynolds talked about the ambivalence of Christians towards the classics.  Some Christians said that only learned Christians should study the classics, meaning that the Christian masses should avoid them.  And yet, Jerome and Augustine said that Christians should freely use the insights of the classics, as long as they utilize them within a Christian framework.  Origen said that he was open to the study of the classics, as long as they didn’t deny the existence of a god or divine providence.

Under Julian, an anti-Christian emperor in the fourth century C.E., Christians were banned from teaching the classics.  (There may be more nuance to that, but so I have heard.)  A Christian named Apollinarius then devised a Christian curriculum, which used Homeric-style poetry to narrate the history of the Jews, and transformed the Gospels and the Epistles into Socratic-like dialogues.  But Apollinarius’ curriculum did not last, for, before you knew it, a Christian emperor took Julian’s place, and Christians could teach the classics again.

Reynolds doesn’t buy into the notion that Christians burned pagan texts.  He believes there’s no evidence for that, and he points out that even some of Julian’s writings were still around when Christians held power.  The texts may have vanished on account of their not being used.

2.  In Bringing the Hidden to Light, I read Marc Brettler’s “The Poet as Historian: The Plague Tradition in Psalm 105.”  Brettler’s argument (if I’m reading him correctly) is that Psalm 105 draws from the priestly and the Yahwistic narratives about the plagues.  But Psalm 105 holds that there were seven plagues, not ten.  Brettler speculates that the Passover Haggadah emphasize that there were ten plagues to counter another popular tradition: that there were seven. 

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.
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