[b-hebrew] Is the Massoretic text reliable?

James Christian jc.bhebrew at googlemail.com
Fri Nov 20 07:44:17 EST 2009


2009/11/19 K Randolph <kwrandolph at gmail.com>

> James:
> I bring up the New Testament only as a witness to the MT and Hebrew text.

Of course. Me too.

> On Thu, Nov 19, 2009 at 10:09 AM, James Christian <
> jc.bhebrew at googlemail.com
> > wrote:
> > In many respects I agree with your sentiments. Obviously, as a Christian,
> I
> > have more respect for the opinions of the original authors of the NT than
> > for anything else but there are still too many variables to make a
> decisive
> > decision:
> >
> > 1) What language was the NT written in? Syriac or Greek or both? There
> are
> > good arguments for both camps.
> >
> Among ancient books, there is none as well attested as the New Testament.
> Not only in surviving comments about it, but in actual surviving
> manuscripts. That it was written in Greek (with the exception of Matthew)
> is
> attested to in both, with the oldest predating the Syriac translation.

It is far from clear whether the Syriac was a translation. There are strong
arguments for Syriac being the original language just as there are strong
arguments for Greek being the original language.

1) The patriarchate of Antioch (the base of early Christian missionary work)
to this very day maintains a strong tradition of Syriac primacy.
2) There are linguistic arguments that imply Syriac primacy to be
believable. e.g. A camel through the eye of a needle in the Syriac is a rope
through the eye of a needle. The words for camel and rope are similar in
Syriac and supporters of Syriac primacy hold that Greek was a translation
and 'Camel' was mistranslated. The illustration of a rope through the eye of
a needle rather that thread makes more sense.
3) We have reference to an original 'Hebrew' gospel of Matthew but what
exactly was meant by Hebrew?
4) The language spoken in Antioch (the base or early Christianity) was
Syriac and not Greek.

Please note that I am not arguing for Syriac primacy. Where I see two
conflicting traditions my instinct is that there is some truth in both and
some falsehood in both. My gut feeling is that as both Syriac and Greek were
common languages and, if we are to believe the testimony of the gift of
tongues, the authors were polyglots it may well be that the Greek and Syriac
were both original and that neither is a translation of the other.

> As far as how accurately we know it, to me it appears that the Byzantine
> tradition may reflect the oldest and most accurate texts, in other words,
> more accurate copies. One reason I say that is because in the Gospels, it
> appears to reflect even slight dialectal differences in its transcribed
> names between Judea and Galilee, distinctions lost in Sinaiticus, Vaticanus
> and similar texts.
You've lost me here. The sinaiticus and the vaticanus are the major basis of
the Byzantine tradition. What do you mean by 'Byzantine tradition'?

> > 2) Given the above how sure can we be of the original state of the NT
> > documents? e.g. absence of YHWH in MSS makes me suspicious.
> >
> As for not using YHWH in the Greek text, remember, these were Jews, writing
> in a Jewish religious milieu, in which κυριος had been the accepted way of
> referring to YHWH in Greek for a couple of centuries already, why should
> they be different?
Actually, fragments of the LXX which predate the vaticanus and the
sinaiticus show the tetragrammaton in all its glory in its rightful places.
The NT present a prophet named Jesus who actively opposed the traditions of
men. The idea that such a man would support the superstition which the
original authors of the hebrew books evidently did not share seems, at least
to me, to be a complete contradiction in terms.

>From everything I've seen it would appear to me that the removal of the name
from YHWH Greek traditions is not testified before the 4th century (the time
of great reforms under Constantine's rule) and this makes me suspicious.

> > 3) How close is the Hebrew text of NT author's day to that of the MT
> > (centuries later)?
> >
> There was an article I read a while back, I don’t remember where, where it
> was pointed out that there seemed to be an attempt at textual criticism as
> early as about 100 BC, so that the texts of the late Second Temple period
> tend to be closer to the MT than the earlier ones. But even then there are
> still changes, probably mostly connected with copyist errors, such as the
> two differences I noted in the Nahal Heber fragment on Psalm 22. It could
> be
> that, like the Byzantine tradition apparently reflecting an older
> tradition,
> so the MT reflects an older tradition that, on the whole, is close to the
> original.
> > 4) Scenario gets even worse because Jerome was much later than MT
> authors.
> >
> Why even bring in Jerome?
> >
> > All in all, given the above factors (and any others I have forgotten to
> > mention) I feel that both positions are extreme. i.e. to assert Greek or
> > Hebrew primacy of the various text traditions. There seems to be evidence
> > that both are corrupt and that careful analysis of all traditions should
> be
> > taken without ascribing any primacy to any particular tradition. I feel
> that
> > a much more balanced position is that neither are absolutely superior and
> > that both traditions have pros and cons.
> >
> > James Christian
> >
> > The question is not which position is more extreme, rather which
> position,
> if any, has the most historical evidence to back it up? For the record, I
> am
> not a textual critic, but those who are tell me that they consider the LXX
> as a legitimate source when looking at the MT, particularly on verses that
> are difficult to understand. There are times that they accept that as the
> preferred text, though that is not common.
> A final note: as a person who has written translations, no translation is
> ever as good as the original in trying to convey its message. The LXX is a
> translation.


> As long as the MT has shown itself to be pretty close to the
> original (at least the consonantal text), there is no reason not to accept
> it as the main working text when looking for its message.

I would feel more comfortable making a critical reference to all the sources
available. Differences in the Greek tradition are suspicious because well
intentioned Christians may have felt they were making justifiable changes.
In the same was differences in the MT are suspicious because well
intentioned defenders of Judaism may have felt they were making justifiable

James Christian

> Karl W. Randolph.
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