[B-Greek] Looking for a Quote

Randall Buth randallbuth at gmail.com
Thu Mar 30 06:04:47 EST 2006

XAIRE Albert

Some good points about Greek text and gospel writing are raised. I'll
briefly intersperse some comments

> > ...and those in 1st century Palestine were commonly bilingual or trilingual,
> > cf. heaps of research from the 1980s.
> > Ann Nyland
> > The apostles all knew Hebrew quite well if not
> > mothertongue.
> > Randall Buth
Haig egrapsen
> What seems
> reasonably clear, however, is that whoever wrote certain sections at least
> of the Gospels did not know Hebrew or Aramaic. This is shown by their
> dependence on the Greek LXX for OT prophetic fulfilment examples even when
> it is at odds with the Hebrew.

I think that it shows that the gospels were written in Greek.
Ignorance of other languages is difficult to prove without knowing the
working methodology of the author. When midrash ("poetic exegesis" in
lieu of a long definnition) is mixed in, then knowledge or ignorance
of other meanings in a source may not be recoverable from that data

One must also ask, could the writer of Greek Matthew have been a
mother-tongue Greek writer? [Most probably not.] Mark? [Most probably
not.] Luke? [Yes, probably.] John? [Yes, but I think not.] It would
take a book to describe these arugments. Your arguments work best in
the case of mothertongue Greeks.

> (1) All four Gospels apply Isaiah 40:3 to John the Baptist; but the problem
> is most acute in John 1:23, because the author here records John the Baptist
> as applying it to himself. ... But in the Hebrew, it is clear that this
> should read "a voice crying, in the wilderness make straight the way of the
> Lord"

Your Hebrew comment is correct. But the nature of John's sermonizing
in Greek at the end of the first century has not been factored in.
Most would see John's pictures as a 'pastiche', that is composite
images that tell the whole story without necessary reflecting
individual scenes as they happened.

> John the Baptist, and those he was speaking to, would have been native
> Aramaic/Hebrew speakers, and hence had he quoted this verse he would have
> done so from an Aramaic Targum or the Hebrew original,

You have made a good point here. The pshat [plain meaning] in the
Baptist's day with his audience or questioners could have only
referred "prepare the way in the wilderness" to John, not the "voice".
The voice could only have been a midrashic development and a secondary
application. Who first made such a jump, and when, is difficult to
say. It also depends on the kind of evidence that John the gospel
writer is giving, pastiche or verbatim.

As an aside, the only targum in use in the Land in the first century,
that we know of for certain, was Job (attested by 2 Qumran copies, 2
rabbinic stories, and the LXX!). The Baptist's audience would have
known a Hebrew text, and/or LXX. (This explicitly contradicts the
views of someone like Chilton in "Jesus Rabbi", or Casey. But primary
literature trumps secondary literature.)

> Or perhaps this verse was
> already so established as  a "fulfilment" example amongst Greek-speaking
> Christians that they chose to include it despite misgivings about the
> Hebrew.

You've just answered why the gospel writer could include it.

> (2) Matthew 21:16: The problem with this text is that Jesus' quotation of
> the Psalm follows the LXX, whereas the Hebrew reads "strength" (`oz), not
> "praise" (tehillah) - Psalm 8:2, 8:3 MT & LXX. In context, the Psalm is
> talking about having strength to defeat God's enemies. But the gospel of
> Matthew follows the LXX, reading AINON. Jesus, and those he was speaking to,
> however, would have been native speakers of Aramaic and Hebrew, and hence he
> would have quoted either an Aramaic Targum or the original Hebrew. This
> "fulfilment" was only possible because the source was relying on the LXX and
> did not know the Hebrew.

A classic conundrum, though you leave out the possibility of midrashic
development. [e.g. Mark and Luke both quote a Shma with 4 items. This
is not the Hebrew Bible nor LXX, but in my view reflects misdrashic
discussions current at the time.  (We have no explicit texts but this
can be extrapolated from both rabbinic and qumran sources.)] Ps 8 has
several delightful features (curiousities in the Hebrew) that would
have been a magnet for any ancient expounding this text midrashically.

> (3) Matthew 1:23: This is the most infamous,

with most details already known.  jumping to the conclusion:

> Again, this fulfilment example seems to have come about by reliance on the
> Greek in ignorance of the Hebrew.

Again, in the first century world, we can't know that. Matthew
certainly used the LXX in writing his Greek gospel. But ignorant of
Hebrew? I would say that he ignored the pshat, not that he was
ignorant of it.

> I think these examples make a cumulative case that the authors of the
> Gospels, or at least parts of the Gospels, or the sources from which they
> drew their material, knew only Greek and not Hebrew or Aramaic.

The problem are the words 'only Greek and not'. I've seen many a
rabbinic midrash writing in Hebrew and purposefully misquoting or
ignoring the Hebrew. One cannot say that they did not know Hebrew,
because they were writing in it. Yet if the same teacher wrote out his
conclusion in Greek with a proof text, you might think he was ignorant
of Hebrew. There was a tongue-in-cheek saying, sarsehu vedorshehu
"pervert the text and preach it" (BabaBatra 119).  And if you know
Hebrew well enough you can claim that my translation right here
"shows" that I don't know Hebrew, [but I'm just being polite on list].

Anyway, thank you for listing the three texts together. they are an
important part of the landscape if one wants to see what is happening
in our greek texts and if one wants to confront the complexities of
multiple layers culturally, textually, and conceptually.

Randall Buth
Randall Buth, PhD
ybitan at mscc.huji.ac.il
randallbuth at gmail.com

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