June 29, 2009

Quote of the Day: If the Septuagint was Good Enough for Abraham, It's Good Enough For Me!

I'm fond of reminding people that long before there was KJV Only-ism there was LXX Only-ism: a great many early Christian writers (though probably not a majority) not only thought that the LXX was inspired, but that the Hebrew texts had been subsequently corrupted. (LXX, the Roman numeral for 70, is the abbreviation used for the Septuagint, and ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament made a few centuries before Christ.) A few even went so far as to claim that they had been intentionally corrupted by a Jewish conspiracy. Really, nothing is new under the sun. An example which is particularly egregious not for its anti-Semitism but for its hilarious illogic is found in the Epistle of Barnabas 9:8:

For <Genesis 14:14> says: "Abraham circumcised eighteen and three hundred men from his household." What knowledge, then, was given to him? Notice that first he mentions the eighteen and then, after a pause, the three hundred. The number eighteen [in Greek] consists of an Iota [J], 10, and an Eta [E], 8. There you have Jesus. And because the cross was about to have grace in the letter Tau [T], he next gives the three hundred, Tau. And so he shows the name Jesus by the first two letters, and the cross by the other. (Tr. Bart Ehrman. Pointy brackets mine; square brackets Ehrman's)

Now, the LXX actually spells out the numbers in question, rather than using the numerals. Nevertheless, 'Barnabas' (the books is pseudepigraphal) feels the need to point out that the Greek numeral for 18 is IH', the first two letters of the Greek name of Jesus, and 300 is T', which looks like a cross. Now, this sort of typological interpretation is typical of the Alexandrian school of Biblical exegesis, so that can't be regarded as the really ridiculous part. No, the really ridiculous part is that this is supposed to answer the question of what knowledge was given to Abraham in the covenant of circumcision! 'Barnabas' tacitly assumes that Abraham spoke Septuagint Greek in much the same way that some exceptionally ridiculous American fundamentalists have assumed that St. Paul spoke King James English. Again, nothing is new under the sun.

Posted by Kenny at June 29, 2009 9:14 AM
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