Evangelical Textual Criticism

Saturday, August 18, 2007

When was the 'Septuagint version' invented?

In connection with a comment I've just made on the preceding post, I wonder if anyone can help me by informing me of the earliest reference to such a thing as a Bible version called the 'Septuagint'. What is needed is a reference to a Bible version as a version called 'the Seventy'. There are of course a plethora of mentions of 'the Seventy', but most of the earlier ones are references to a group of people who translated biblical texts, not to a version itself. References can be in Latin or Greek. References to omicron in the Hexapla should probably not be included as I am informed that this is a terminus technicus for the Fifth Column of the Hexapla, i.e. Origen's version, not to a version known as 'the Seventy'. Obviously at some stage the noun 'seventy' sometimes becomes singular, e.g. French 'la Septante'. By this stage it seems clear that a version is referred to. I'm pretty confident that there is no reference to a version called 'the Seventy' before Eusebius, but the earliest reference may in fact be quite some time after him. If you find any references please quote the original text so that we can judge it without chasing the wording. [I'm grateful for discussion with Peter Gentry to help formulate these ideas, with which he may disagree.]

47 comments:

  1. Unfortunately, I can't find a primary source reference that meets the criterion of being older than Eusebius. I was surprised to see you say that, though, expecting that the title of the Septuagint, for a particular OT version at least went back to Origen if not earlier.

    But I did find this secondary reference that I expect has something from Origen behind it for which the author unfortunately did not give a reference:
    "Let us consider two texts of Daniel which widely circulated in the time of Origen: one he calls 'Septuagintal', the other was Theodotian's recension."
    (Elias Bickerman, "Some Notes on the Transmission of the Septuagint," in vol. 1 of his Studies of Jewish and Christian History, p. 158).

    Bickerman also references Swete's Introduction, which is fortunately available free at www.archive.org . Where Swete has a nice discussion of the two versions (both of which actually antedate Theodotian and existed side by side even at the time of the NT). Swete includes a quote from Jerome (later than Eusebius) where LXX is used as a title of the version (Swete, Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek, pp. 47-49).

    Bickerman's excellent essay does at other points give a reference to Origen's commentary on Matthew XV:14, without giving an actual quote. But from the context of where Bickerman cites this reference it looks like a fruitful place to look for a reference to "the LXX". Unfortunately, this particular part of Origen's Matthew commentary is not in ANF. So I can't access it. But if anybody else has access to it, I'd love to see the quote.

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  2. I found that Origen reference in TLG.
    Here's a quote of the part Bickerman apparently had in mind:

    τῶν γὰρ ἀμφιβαλλομένων παρὰ
    τοῖς Ἑβδομήκοντα διὰ τὴν τῶν
    ἀντιγράφων διαφωνίαν τὴν κρίσιν (100)
    ποιησάμενοι ἀπὸ τῶν λοιπῶν ἐκδό-
    σεων τὸ συνᾷδον ἐκείναις ἐφυλάξα-
    μεν, καὶ τινὰ μὲν ὠβελίσαμεν ὡς
    ἐν τῷ Ἑβραϊκῷ μὴ κείμενα (οὐ
    τολμήσαντες αὐτὰ πάντη περιελεῖν)
    (Origen, Commentary on Matthew 15:14, lines 98-105).

    It does appear that he's using the word Ἑβδομήκοντα in reference to a verion of the OT, not just the translators themselves, since it exists in various ἀντιγράφων. Am I reading it wrong? Actually, I'm not really sure how to tell if Ἑβδομήκοντα must refer to the work or the creators of it in any given case. That seems to be a thorny problem now that I think of it.

    I would add, however, that it seems likely to me that the title "Septuagint" for a Greek version of the entire OT would go all the way back to when Christians first began to believe that the work of the 70 included a translation of all inspired Jewish Scriptures, not just the Pentateuch. This believe is found as early as Justin, where we also find the word Ἑβδομήκοντα.

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  3. Eric,
    Thanks for this. My take on this is that the reference to the 'Seventy' is still personal. The entity is hoi hebdomekonta. At this stage is it probably short for 'the seventy elders' or 'the seventy translators'. There is still no version called 'the seventy'.

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  4. I was thinking that as well, but then I asked myself, "What's the difference?" And I really can't see a substantial one.

    When Origen (or Justin for that matter) refers to the 70, with reference to their words as found in the MSS he saw, how is that different than calling the work itself "the 70"? I realize that the plural versus singular makes a formal grammatical difference, but not a conceptual one. The situation with the 70 seems the same to me as that for every other literary work that is known by the name of its presumed author, like most of the books of the Bible.

    I guess I could also turn your point against references to Theodotian, Aquila, and Symachus, as titles for particular Greek versions of the OT. It seems to me that when referring to the words of these versions, the name of the translator will always be used, and the reader can conceptualize either the translator himself or his work interchangeably.

    At the very least, I think we can say that the idea that the 70 were responsible for a particular Greek version of the whole OT goes back to Origen, if not as far back as Justin or earlier. The advent of this idea strikes me as the much more important watershed moment than any later time when we can find an unambiguous reference to the work itself as the LXX.

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  5. "At the very least, I think we can say that the idea that the 70 were responsible for a particular Greek version of the whole OT goes back to Origen, if not as far back as Justin or earlier."

    I think this is an area where pedantry may clarify questions. We know that these two Fathers attributed the Greek texts of certain books available to them to the Seventy. But at least at their stage if they had a Greek text of 1 Maccabees, they probably would not have attributed it to the 70. What would Justin have made of two Greek texts of Esther or of Greek Ecclesiastes? A 'version' may have a greater tendency to imply full coverage of a set of books (e.g. a canon) than mere reference to the work of a group of people. Both Justin and Origen show important steps in the development of the understanding of Greek OT translations, but Justin at least does not give us a name for the translation. What would Paul have called the Antiochene (i.e. Lucianic) or kaige or Old Greek text of books from the Prophets if they were available to him? Could translations be essentially nameless?

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  6. As an aside, since you're in touch with Dr. Gentry, it would be great to see him share his septuagintal insights on ETC from time to time.

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  7. Here, here, for having Peter Gentry on board at ETC.

    The question about the Seventy and the question about the contents of the canon (a term that is in some sense anachronistic for the period we are discussing; I'm using it in a functional sense I detail in a series on my blog) intersect.

    It's clear for a variety of reasons that "when Christians first began to believe that the work of the 70 included a translation of all inspired Jewish Scriptures, not just the Pentateuch," under the work of the 70 they would have intended, for example, the book of Jeremiah in a text form at considerable variance with that of proto-MT, together with, probably, the book of Baruch (translated, it appears, by the same individual).

    John Hobbins
    ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com

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  8. John,
    To look at Christian attitudes to whatever Greek translation of Jeremiah they had access to, we would also need to consider the distribution and reception of the Antiochene ('Lucianic') text of Jeremiah. Assuming the Antiochene represents a pre-Hexaplaric revision of the OG of Jeremiah then parts of the church were not satisfied with the OG of Jeremiah for very long. Far too often people impose a conception of a 'Septuagint version' on the early church without adequate evidence.

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  9. Right.
    The so-called Theodotian version of Daniel is quoted in the NT!

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  10. Eric,

    in fact, NT writers quote from a variety of Greek translations which in turn are based, the evidence suggests, on parent texts which sometimes significantly differed from proto-MT. Sooner or later, that fact has to affect how we think about canon.

    Peter,

    you make an interesting point. However, the views of Jerome and those who thought like him didn't prevail, did they? Preference for a translation of the scriptures based on proto-MT was far from universal in the early church.

    One has to wait until the Reformation before the views of Jerome find new and forceful interpreters.

    John Hobbins

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  11. John, I am aware of that point about the NT using a variety of textforms of the OT. But what does that have to do with canon? The canon is a delimitation of books irrespective of the various textforms in which they may be found.

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  12. John, the issue of preference for 'proto-MT' or of Jerome's views seems to me to be something rather different from the question of how the Greek translations of Jeremiah available to early Christians were named and viewed. During the NT period there were a variety of Greek translations of some OT books and writers may have had to reckon with having no, one, or several translations available of particular books to which they referred. Aside from the Pentateuch, we have little idea what conception of the authorship of the translations people may have had. If there were two C1 translations of Jeremiah ('Old Greek' and 'Antiochene/Lucianic'), or perhaps even three (if we have lost the kaige of this book), then we do not know much about how widely these circulated and how they were viewed. We can see that texts like Revelation 15:3-4 appear to cite from parts of Jeremiah that are not preserved in what we construct as the 'Old Greek' (Jeremiah 10:7).

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  13. "During the NT period there were a variety of Greek translations of some OT books and writers may have had to reckon with having no, one, or several translations available of particular books to which they referred."
    They also may or may not have had access to a Hebrew copy or had a given Hebrew passage memorized, and if either were the case, they may or may not have quoted it in Greek in a fresh translation (as in the quotations found in Matthew that are not also in Mark). Whatever the case was in any given instance, the decisions made by the NT authors do not necessarily reflect a judgment in favor of any one text form over another, so much as they reflect the varying circumstances the authors had in their access to texts.

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  14. Not to extend the litany too far. But there's at least a good chance that some NT citations were taken from testimonia, where the author citing the testimonium may not have even known the circumstances under which the verses were copied. I wouldn't want to appeal to situations like that as an inspired endorsement of one text form over another.

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  15. Eric and Peter,

    I think this is an interesting conversation. The points we are discussing deserve to be aired more thoroughly.

    Eric, I don't think text and canon are as separable in reality or in the minds of people as you seem to be suggesting. If I'm arguing from Scripture and the text I'm citing is in a book we both regard as authoritative, but I base my argument on a verse that you don't find in your version of the book, or on a version of the verse that has a decisively different sense than the one you are working from, functionally speaking, we have two different canons, or sources of authority, and discussion will inevitably be diverted in that direction.

    It sounds like you are trying to protect a preference for MT as the canonical text we should work from, when you dismiss the evidence that the NT writers had anything but such a preference. I share your preference, but I wouldn't want to construct a systematic theology that depends on that preference. It seems wiser to do theology with a sense of dialogic context, something I think I show Cyprian did in a famous work (see Appendix B of my canon series), which means we need to bear the burden of one another's discrepant text forms, so to speak, rather than pretend we can rule the text-form out, not to mention the longer or shorter list of books that belong to the canon of an historic Christian tradition other than our own.

    In any case, it is only honest to admit, given the evidence of Paul, Josephus, Philo, NT writers including 1-2 Peter and Jude (a subcorpus which interacts with and cites, in the case of Jude, Enochic literature as an authority), and the authors of 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra, that Jews in the first century of this era worked from a oommon core of texts but with very different "canons within the canon," different text-forms thereof, and different notions about the limits of the body of literature that might be cited and/or otherwise regarded as authoritative for the establishment of a point of teaching.

    Put another way, to play off the title of this post, the text and canon you and I know as the Old Testament (because we are Protestants) was not invented yet in the first century of this era.

    John Hobbins

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  16. I don't think I ever said anything about NT authors preferring an MT form of the text.
    My way of looking at it was that we don't have any evidence about them preferring any form of the text at all (as if they had an array of scrolls of any given book from which to draw their citations), and that their recognition of this or that book as authoritative were not based on a particular text over another. So I wouldn't use them as a precedent one way or the other when it comes to believers today choosing between competing readings with the resources that we have available to us that NT authors didn't have available to them.

    Also, my distinction between text and canon is nothing more than a demand that we be careful with our words not to bend them beyond their meanings. The definition of "canon" is well established and any survey of theological dictionaries and other authorities that we may use to guide us in the meaning of this word will be unanimous in defining it as a delimitation of books without regard to textforms (a chapter in the book The Canon Debate includes a littany of such definitions). Debates about which books are Scripture may be functionally SIMILAR to debates about the readings that we should prefer when we encounter variants in our extant witnesses to those books. But the latter question is not a canonical one. It is a text-critical one.

    On that subject of how text critical questions can sometimes be functionally similar to canonical questions, I do agree that the NT must have a role in our dogmas. My own opinion is that, while I believe in verbal plenary inspiration, I also believe that Christians must have enough respect for the text they find in the tangible copies of Scripture they have in hand so that they can revere them as the Word of God without worrying about the transmissional errors. I believe that this is what we see the NT authors doing when they cite from the variety of textforms that we have been talking about.

    On your point about Enochic literature, this is a genuine issue of canon proper, and I admit a sticky one for me (at least in the case of the Jude citation). But this issue is getting away from the issue of labeling the various textforms of the Greek versions of the OT.

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  18. John, it might have been my comment about the NT including quotations from the so-called Theodotian version of Daniel that gave you the impression that I was appealing to the NT for authorization of the textform of the MT. I can see someone making that argument. But my intended point was something different. I only mentioned that to highlight the point that the Greek versions of the OT at the time of the NT can't be viewed as a monolithic textform--if the "Theodotian" version of Daniel existed at the time of the NT, it didn't really originate with Theodotian.

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  19. Eric,

    if you don't go to the NT and expect them all to be citing from a corpus of scripture that is identical at a fine-grain level [word-level and such] or medium-grain level (phrase, verse, and paragraph level), why expect them to all cite from a corpus that is identical at the macro-grain level (book level; excuse the malapropism)? So what if the author of Jude regarded Enoch as scripture?

    The NT writers had different scriptures at all the above named levels, and Christians today have scriptures that differ at all these levels.

    The questions are, can we and must we adjudicate between the differences? In what sense? At what levels? On the basis of what criteria?

    An interesting test case: Deuteronomy 32:8 and 43. Michael Heiser wrote an article for Bibliotheca Sacra not to long ago arguing on text-critical grounds for accepting a version of these verses which takes us to unrevised version of the original, with proto-MT our witness to the revision. (For a handy discussion of the issues, see Excursus 31 in Jeffrey Tigay's Deuteronomy commentary).

    Personally, I would want to defend MT without regarding the unrevised version of the text reconstructible on the basis of non-proto-MT materials as any less verbally and plenarily inspired as the revised version. Michael, if memory serves, would probably accuse me of wanting to eat my cake and have it, too.

    At any rate, these are the kind of questions I would like to see addressed on this blog.

    John Hobbins

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  20. John,
    My main point here is to say that the idea of a version of the Septuagint in NT times will lead us to a number of anachronisms:
    1) assuming there was one (rather than none or more than one) translation available to people;
    2) assuming this was attributed to the 70
    3) assuming that people then thought that books now in the 'Septuagint' (i.e. Rahlfs) were part of a common translation with the translations of the Pentateuch attributed to the 70. There is as much (or as little) evidence for thinking that 1 Enoch was viewed as part of the work of the 70 as for thinking that 1 Maccabees was.

    In general, recovering the state of Greek translations of the OT in the first century AD is harder than reconstructing the earliest available form of the Greek translation for any particular book.

    As far as I know, no one has even set out to try to recover the first century Greek OT translations.

    Swete's citation is of interest, but show that it is likely that texts in circulation in Palestine in the C1 often represented revisions from what we reconstruct as the earliest form of the text for each book:

    A recent examination, by A. Mez, of Basle [813], into the Biblical text presupposed by Josephus' history in Ant. v.—vii. has led to the following results, which are important for the criticism of the LXX. (1) The Josephus text of the LXX. has no affinity with the characteristic text of cod. B. (2) In Joshua it generally approximates to the text of M[ajority]. (3) In Judges it is frequently, but not constantly, Lucianic; in 1, 3 Kingdoms it agrees with Lucian so closely as to fall into the same omissions and misconceptions; only in four instances, other than proper names, does it contravene a Lucianic reading, and three of these are numerical differences, whilst in the fourth 'Lucian' appears to have undergone correction, and the reading of Josephus survives in cod. A. These investigations, so far as they go, point to a probability that in these books the Greek Bible of Palestine during the second half of the first century presented a text not very remote from that of the recension which emanated from Antioch early in the fourth. While Philo the Alexandrian supports on the whole the text of our oldest uncial cod. B, Josephus the Palestinian seems to have followed that of an 'Urlucian.'
    see here.

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  21. Peter,

    your points are excellently made, and the bit about the text form of the biblical books Josephus utilized in writing up Ant. v.—vii is very interesting.

    I imagine you are aware that Josephus relied on (I quote from Steve Mason's article in HBOT I/1, p. 229) LXX "1 Esdras perhaps conflated with Ezra (generally preferring 1 Esdras)" and LXX "Esther (including 'Greek additions' B-E)" later on his Antiquities.

    So I might as well repeat my point: the text and canon you and I know as the Old Testament (because we are Protestants) was not invented yet in the first century of this era.

    John Hobbins

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  22. John,
    I've never replicated the data about Josephus' quotations from 1 Esdras. However, as there is an 'Antiochene' (Lucianic) text of 1 Esdras it makes sense that he would do this. We should thus observe that there were probably at least two Greek versions of 1 Esdras in the C1 (let's call them the Egyptian and the Antiochene). I guess that Josephus used one of these. It would, of course, be difficult to know what Josephus viewed as 'scriptural' since he cites many earlier texts as historical sources without viewing them as scriptural. In judging the significance of anyone's use of texts we will also need to take into account the question of availability.

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  23. "So I might as well repeat my point: the text and canon you and I know as the Old Testament (because we are Protestants) was not invented yet in the first century of this era."
    Which part of the text was not invented yet, and which part of the canon was not invented yet?

    On the canonical issue, the question I feel obligated to ask in my approach to a book is, "is this book inspired?" If the answer is yes, then I must receive it as the Word of God. Naturally, on this question the evidence from the inspired NT as to which books are inspired is very important. You asked, "So what if the author of Jude regarded Enoch as scripture?" I must be coming at this from a different perspective than you, because I see that question as pretty important. If God via Jude did call some book of Enoch Scripture, then I would be obligated to accept it as such.

    On the textual issue, my question is not whether a given book is an inspired book, it's whether a given reading was originally in a book I already accept as inspired. For this question the only help the NT can provide is a certain measure of evidence as to the readings that existed in the first century. But it doesn't provide any opinions as to whether or not those readings must be accepted at the expense of others if those others were original. When I face this question in practice I take consolation in finding that, while the NT sometimes cites the OT using words that I don't accept as original, I have always been able to see the point being made even with the wording I accept. I can almost hear the groans at this claim already, so I'm hesitant to make it here, since I know it could prompt a list of dozens of passages considered to be cases where the NT argument precisely depends on a secondary reading (Edom vs. Adam in Acts 13; a little lower than the angels vs. a little lower than God; a body you have prepared for me vs. my ears you have dug out; etc.). All I can say is that when I have approached these cases, giving God's Word the benefit of the doubt I've never been unable to find a good resolution of the problem.

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  24. You're right, Eric. I am groaning at the thought of you harmonizing your way around the differences between the various witnesses. It sounds like a contortionist act.

    But now I understand better why you would feel obliged to accept a book of Enoch as scripture if God via Jude cited it as such (and this appears to be the case, as you admit).

    What God believed was good enough for Jude and his audience is by definition good enough for you, at least at the macro-level of appeal to authority (book).

    You do not, however, feel bound at the micro-level or middle levels. I don't follow the logic.

    I've always been helped by Luther's threefold notion of God's Word. The primary sense of the expression refers to the Word of God incarnate, who is Christ our Lord. A derived sense refers to the Word of God inscripturated, which is the Word of God insofar as it bears witnesses to Christ (was Christum treibet). The third sense, also derived, is the Word of God preached.

    The authority of the Word of God inscripturated and of the Word of God preached are derivative and in proportion to the degree to which they bear witness to Christ.

    I'm aware of the dangers of this way of seeing things (and Luther himself was not immune to falling prey to them), but I can't think of a better alternative.

    John Hobbins

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  25. "You do not, however, feel bound at the micro-level or middle levels. I don't follow the logic."
    I do feel bound at those levels. I feel bound at every level to receive as God's Word all Scripture that He has inspired and provided me. The difference between the canonical question and the textual question in this discussion is that the NT gives expression to God's own verdict as to which books He inspired, while it does not give expression to any verdict as to which readings are original.

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  26. Peter,

    still, the natural assumption is that Josephus regarded 1 Esdras as scripture more than Ezra, if he relied on the former at the expense of the latter in writing his Antiquities.

    Likewise, if Josephus makes use of and cites Esther with the additions, it seems reasonable to assume that he regarded the book as he knew it, with all its parts, as scripture, or alternatively, that he did not regard it as scripture at all, but as a historical source.

    Either way, the OT canon as Protestants conceive of it was unknown to Josephus.

    Am I missing something here?

    John Hobbins

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  27. John, would you please clarify your own position regarding whether or not there are any Enochic books that we are to receive as God's Word.
    If so, which ones, and why?
    If not, then aren't you susceptible to the same charge you made to me?

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  28. "[T]he NT gives expression to God's own verdict as to which books He inspired, while it does not give expression to any verdict as to which readings are original."

    How do you know that God does one but not the other through the NT?

    And what, precisely, is said verdict at the book level? The books cited as authoritative for the purposes of establishing a point of teaching in the NT do not, by sins of omission and commission, correspond to the Protestant OT canon.

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  29. "How do you know that God does one but not the other through the NT?"
    I do that by simply reading the NT, which, as a simple matter of fact does make certain claims of certain books being Scripture, but does not at any point make any claims about which witnesses best preserve the words of those books or which readings are to be accepted or rejected as original.

    On the book level, the NT does not on its own provide an exhaustive list. But it does provide verdicts of numerous books and/or groups of books being Scripture. That's what I meant when I said nothing more than that, regarding the canon, "the NT must have a role in our dogmas." I was deliberate in not being more specific. All I'm driving at is that, as a simple matter of fact, the NT contains verdicts as to certain books being Scripture, and is silent on the text-critical questions (unless a person were to read a given quotation as an endorsement of a particular reading against others, which the NT never claims to do).

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  30. Eric,

    I don't personally treat 1 Enoch as scripture, but I'm not going to argue with an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian who does today, nor am I bothered by the fact that the authors and communities associable with 1-2 Peter and Jude apparently treated a corpus of Enochic literature as authoritative in their day. These facts encourage me to take another look at Enochic literature, to interpret said literature constructively and charitably, but I also accept that God was and is at work in the Latin Christian tradition, which, Tertullian notwithstanding, excluded Enochic literature from its canon.

    It's not possible to derive an OT canon that is identical to the Protestant one on the basis of the NT. You are aware of that, which means you accept another locus of authority for that purpose. What is it?

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  31. Thanks John for that. Actually, I pretty much agree with it you on the point about not needing to argue against the Ethiopic church on that point, nor with any ancient Christian community. But for you personally, as a believer, the question of whether or not some Enochic books are Scripture must be important. And if you are convinced that Jude says they are, then why disagree?

    Also, correct me if this is wrong. But isn't 1 Enoch actually 5 books, one of which was written after the NT? Even if Jude does cite a prophecy of Enoch as Scripture, why would that be taken as a verdict of all 5 of these books, including one that hadn't been written yet? Wouldn't it be better to specify that Jude accepts the Book of the Watchers, or the Apocalypse of Weeks, or whichever one it is that he quotes (I'm afraid I forget which). I would also argue that the Enochic corpus that did exist at that time also included a good deal of material that is now completely lost, which would complicate the canonical question even more, because once that citation in Jude opens the door for Enoch, we need to know how wide open the door has to get.

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  32. You're right, Eric, I don't want to get in an argument with Jude because he quotes from 1 Enoch 1:5 to establish a point of teaching, and assumes knowledge of more, though we can't be precise about how much more.

    I will do all I can to submit myself to Jude's teaching, but I don't think that means I have to go around quoting from (a subset of) 1 Enoch as an authority. But if I were to do so, I shouldn't be shushed for doing so without at least conceding that I can appeal to a weighty precedent.

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  33. John, It should be 1 Enoch 1.9. I think that your inference that the canon you call 'Protestant' (though of course it is Rabbinic) was unknown to Josephus. We might be able to say that Josephus displays no knowledge of it his writings (unless one were to appeal to '22'). I think that your inference in relation to his use of Esther is probably incorrect. As an Aramaic speaker, it is not unreasonable to assume that he would have attended readings of the Hebrew text of Esther, without the additions and would know that there were bits in the Greek that weren't in the Hebrew. The fact that in a Greek work he makes use of material from the Greek text does not allow us to draw inferences about his attitude towards the Hebrew text without the additions. I think that something similar could be said in relation to Ezra-Nehemiah and 1 Esdras.

    I am intrigued by what you mean by 'verbally and plenarily inspired' (message of 8:21 p.m.). I would have thought that this entails not merely believing that something is 'God's word', but that it is 'God's words', i.e. consists of a sequence of words which may be said to be given by God. These sequences of words are defined over against sequences which are not given by God. My question is: how else could one affirm belief in verbal inspiration other than by affirming that there is a distinction between sequences of words of which God may be said to be the author and sequences of which this may not be said?

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  34. Peter,

    Thanks for pointing out that Jude quotes 1 Enoch 1:9, not 1:5 as I mistakenly typed (a copyist error on my part).

    My point about a body of writings to which one might appeal to establish a point of teaching was not about labels. However one labels it, "rabbinic" or "Protestant," the OT canon we are familiar with was not, to judge from the evidence at hand, invented yet. It rather appears that the extent of what later became known as the Tanakh was not firmed up in all details until later. The selfsame 5 + 13 +4 = 22 books of Josephus (Against Apion 1.37-43), given the difficulty of covering the entire Tanakh in the tripartite total as explained by Josephus, supports this.

    I’m not sure what to make of your argument that Josephus may have attributed greater authority to Ezra than to 1 Esdras though he followed the latter rather than the former where they differ in writing up the Antiquities. Of course you are right, and you are also right that it is possible that Josephus quotes from the additions to Esther though he did not hold them to carry authority of the same kind as the rest of the book of Esther.

    But why argue in this fashion? It sounds like special pleading. Is the high view of Scripture that has characterized historic Christianity of all ages threatened if Josephus regarded 1 Esdras and “LXX” Esther as authoritative in a way that prefigures the high authority accorded both books in much of Greek and Latin Christian tradition? That cannot possibly be the case.

    Finally, I thank you for your question, which I was trying to provoke. It goes like this: how else could one affirm belief in verbal inspiration other than by affirming that there is a distinction between sequences of words of which God may be said to be the author and sequences of which this may not be said?

    My claim, and I think more and more people will come around to it as the facts become better known, is the following: in a case like Deuteronomy 32:8 and 43, God may be said (simplifying a bit) to be the author of two sequence of words: the one reflected in pre-proto-MT and the one reflected in MT of said verses. We do not have to choose between them. An analogy on a smaller scale: the qere-ketiv tradition of the Hebrew Bible.

    On the other hand, if we found, in the textual tradition of 32:8, a word sequence like this: “and when the Most High gave some nations a heritage, and denied one to others,” it would be possible to deny that sequence of words an origin in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, based on all else we know God says through scripture as otherwise known to us.

    John Hobbins

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  35. John, you said, "the OT canon we are familiar with was not, to judge from the evidence at hand, invented yet."
    This is not the first time in this conversation that you have expressed this idea of a canon being invented. What do you mean by that?

    Do you intend that some books of our OT were not yet considered Scripture by anyone? Do you mean that the canon had not yet been "closed" in some decisive moment? Do you mean that the whole concept of a canon didn't exist yet? Were there other canons that had been "invented" but just not that one?

    Of all the competing canons that existed then and now, it's hard for me to see how a historian can ever talk about a time when any particular canon was "invented". "Invent" is a word that I would think must be reserved for some innovative development; and I struggle to see what that could be in the case of a particular canon.

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  36. Eric,

    that's a good question, and if you are familiar with the collection of essays entitled "The Canon Debate," for example, you will know that the questions you raise remain debated.

    But you are right in my view to speak of competing canons for the period under consideration. That is, a corpus of texts, the extent of which varied across time and place and across the various Judaisms that existed, was or might be appealed to in order to establish a point of doctrine from the time of Ezra and Nehemiah forward.

    My claim is that the particular canon we are familiar with (what is later referred to as the Tanakh, equivalent to the Protestant OT cannon) is unattested in Christian sources or elsewhere until quite late, perhaps not until the fourth century of this era. A number of scholars now think the Tanakh as we know it was definitively fixed at that time or not much before.

    At Qumran, Esther was not canonical, not to mention the fact that other books (as for the author of 4 Ezra) also had authoritative status. The 22 books of Josephus do not appear to correspond to the Tanakh either. A good guess is that Song of Songs was not among them. In Christian literature of the first centuries (NT and beyond), a common core of "OT" books is discernible, but there is plenty of evidence of differences around the edges, and differences of opinion about what authority if any to attribute to Enoch literature that circulated, and other books that are termed deuterocanonical, and were in fact included in the canons of one or more historic Christian churches.

    It will always be possible to argue, because impossible to disprove, that in the temple precints a collection of books existed that was identical to the Tanakh in terms of books included and text form. If I'm not mistaken, Roger Beckwith argues along these lines. Even supposing he is right, I don't see that it matters. The evidence is overwhelming that the scriptures people actually cited and copied varied in details large and small and varied at the book level also, throughout antiquity.

    In formulating a doctrine of scripture, these facts need to be taken into consideration.

    For details, I invite you to look at my Thinking about Canon series.

    John Hobbins
    ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com

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  37. John,
    You ask why what you see as my position might be 'threatened' by a certain argument. I might equally well ask why you think your position might be 'threatened' by mine. This sort of language conveys a sense of the solidity of one position and the precariousness of another, but not on the basis of argumentation.

    Obviously you are right if your point is that if one could demonstrate that Josephus had a higher view of 1 Esdras than of Ezra it would not necessarily make a high view of scripture untenable.

    Now, I'd like to push you a bit further. You would like to maintain that in many cases two sets of wording may be seen as given by God. Fine. A.W. Pink (probably without having read either) believed in the verbal inspiration of both the MT and LXX. But if you are going to be using the expression 'verbal inspiration' meaningfully then you are going to have still to define a set of words that are not given by God. I imagine that if you were editor of a critical edition of the Bible then the product would differ from both traditional and modern methods of textual presentation: you would want to present a variety of texts marked as from God and then identify others that were not. There are, after all, in the manuscripts plenty of readings that I think you might want to say God did not inspire. I could cite some if you want. I do rather suspect that you would either end up with a revisionist definition of 'verbal inspiration' (but why revise a term when it would be easier to reject it?) or you would maintain it meaningfully, but find that you had inadequate criteria for defining verbally inspired texts. However, if you believe that God has given certain verbal sequences and not others then I think you will agree that an edition setting forth which is which is a scholarly desideratum.

    I did not feel that my arguments re Josephus were special pleading. We must take into account that there were literally millions of hours of Pharisaic teaching and legal discussion during the first century to which we have absolutely no direct access from contemporary documentation. Rabbinic materials in Mishnah and Talmud may be early, but not all will accept this in any given instance and therefore what 'mainstream' Judaism(s) may have thought in the first century will remain a question of scholarly debate. The reconstruction I offered is, I believe, plausible. The interpretation you offer of Josephus's attitude to texts, to put it generously, could certainly not be accused of underinterpretation.

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  38. John,
    "the particular canon we are familiar with ... is unattested in Christian sources or elsewhere until quite late, perhaps not until the fourth century of this era."

    Do you mean by canon the full book-by-book list? That seems like too high a criterion. The books that were later disputed in rabbinic debates all existed in the NT era, and all were revered as Scripture by somebody. It's not like Song of Songs was floating around for centuries as a secular romance novel and then got anointed by some wisecrack rabbi. The two rabbinic positions in those debates were the conservative position of those wanting to keep the disputed books which they had received as Scripture after unknown generations of doing so and the innovative position of those who wanted to get rid of them. I don't know which books that aren't extant at Qumran the Essenes would have accepted as Scripture. But in the case of 4 Ezra, the number 24 for the basic books argues for inclusion of Esther.

    "A number of scholars now think the Tanakh as we know it was definitively fixed at that time or not much before."

    But the only times any canons have ever been "definitively fixed" were for particular groups. There was a council in Carthage that definitively fixed a canon for a small local group of churches in the 4th century. But no canon was ever definitively fixed for ostensibly the whole church until the 1500's, and that only for Roman Catholics. The canon used by reformed people wasn't definitively fixed until the just-less-than-canonical Westminster standards definitively fixed it for them. The Marcionites had a definitively fixed canon well before the fourth century. Alternatively, I could look at the diversity of canons that still exist among Jews and Christians and argue that as of today the Canon has yet to be definitively fixed. In which case, a canon not being definitively fixed in the first century is not especially remarkable.

    P.S. Yes, I've read and enjoyed the Canon Debate. It was the book that convinced me to stop using the word "canon" for textual matters and restrict it to delimitations of books.

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  39. Peter,

    As a practical matter, I doubt it is as hard as you seem to think to rule out divine inspiration of many textual details in the manuscript tradition. In any case, I don't see how this differs much in principle from holding to the verbal inspiration of variant versions of the sayings of Jesus across the canonical gospels (which of course both you and I do).

    But by all means, let's talk about specific OT examples in which you, apparently, wish to throw out all attested versions but one. I'm interested in your take on the Deuteronomy 32 passages I referred to.

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  40. John, thanks for yours. For whatever reason, an initial post on the idea of the Septuagint has developed into a discussion about verbal inspiration. Still, here goes:

    In Dt 32:8 I take it that either 'God' or 'Israel' is the scriptural text and the other is not. In Dt 32:43 I have to confess my lack of study, though I tend to think of the Greek reading as a secondary expansion, though not an erroneous one. Heb. 1:6 is primarily influenced by Ps. 96:1 with help from the Great Ode Dt 32 itself (cf. S. Motyer, TynB 50 (1999) 18).

    I do not, of course, believe that scripture exhausts all verbal utterance of God through all history.

    I agree that on your scheme you will find it easy to rule out the verbal inspiration of 'many textual details' in the manuscript tradition.

    Perhaps you can tell us which of the following you believe to be verbally inspired:

    The Odes of Solomon
    1 Enoch
    Tobit
    2 Maccabees

    Perhaps you can also let us know whether the Comma Johanneum or the Bezan saying after Luke 6:4 are also verbally inspired.

    Can you tell us the criteria whereby you identify some things as verbally inspired and some as not?

    I am prepared to confess that I may not always know (e.g. Deut. 32:8), but I would identify this as a problem in my knowledge, not in the idea of verbal inspiration itself.

    Best wishes,

    Pete

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  41. Peter,

    "In Dt 32:8 I take it that either 'God' or 'Israel' is the scriptural text and the other is not." Why? You've skirted the issue here.

    "In Dt 32:43 . . . I tend to think of the Greek reading as a secondary expansion, though not an erroneous one." True enough, but take another look. There's more happening there than your remark suggests.

    Do you get a kick out of Odes of Solomon as much as I do? You have to admit, it's fun to read them in Syriac.

    In accordance with the unanimous opinion of the historic churches, I would exclude Odes of Solomon from the canon. Church and canon are correlated entities in my book. Am I right that they are in yours as well?

    I would not and do not make a scene if I'm worshipping with the Orthodox or Roman Catholics and I hear Tobit or 2 Maccabees read and expounded as Scripture, or were to hear 1 Enoch so treated. So long as what is preached is compatible with the more limited canon I'm familiar with, I'm fine with the fact that God speaks to different sets of Christians from canons of different dimensions. I touched on the concept of a core canon in my "Thinking about Canon" series.

    But as I stated in a comment directed at Eric, I also think that the fact that the authors and communities associable with 1-2 Peter and Jude apparently treated a corpus of Enochic literature as authoritative should encourage us to take another look at said literature, and seek to interpret it constructively and charitably. All the more so, given that some contemporary Christians treat it as Scripture. Because I believe (in) the church, as the creed has it, I understand the NT canon to include the books that it does (and if the Copts have a slightly larger NT canon, I'm not going to fuss about it). On the other hand, I'm not bothered by Didymus the Blind pointing out that, in his opinion, 2 Peter is pseudepigraphical (I think he used stronger language), which I take to be an intellectually honest position, but what impresses me about Didymus is that he turns 'round and continues to quote from and constructively interpret 2 Peter for the benefit of the church just the same. A mature Christian position, if you ask me, one which Luther came 'round to in the case of the epistle of straw as well.

    As far as the Comma Johanneum is concerned, it's pretty clear that it is an insert, isn't it? But the same holds for the pericope about the adulteress in the Gospel of John. Why not include both in our New Testaments, with a footnote to the effect that the manuscript evidence suggests the passages are non-original? That's what "The Orthodox Study Bible New Testament and Psalms" does.

    in my experience, the bulk of variation across manuscripts is attributable to unintentional copying error. These can safely be discarded as uninspired, though I admit, as I assume you do, that we are forced by circumstance to treat some copy error as verbally inspired, because we do not have the means to identify all copy error without remainder. Of course, it's always been that way.

    Th larger point is: we have to locate authority in the text we have, not the one we wished we had.
    And that brings us back to the Septuagint. If I understand Augustine's arguments aright - he was a practical man - that's what it boils down to for him. Before him, among Greek-speaking churches, the thought must have been similar. That explains why the 'Septuagint version' was invented. When is not nearly so important.

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  42. Eric,

    "It's not like Song of Songs was floating around for centuries as a secular romance novel and then got anointed by some wisecrack rabbi."

    Too funny. That is pretty much what most Hebrew Bible scholarship thinks, however, myself included. I happen also to believe that the wiseacre rabbi was inspired by God in so doing, that he probably read it allegorically (like Aqiba), cherished it as such, and considered a literal interpretation of its contents as revolting (as did Aqiba). The book is attested at Qumran, but then, so are a lot of books, and in more copies.

    When did the Song take off, so to speak, in frequency of use as a religious authority among both Jews and Christians? Pretty late, according to the evidence in hand. Allegorical interpretation of it was a nice platform from which Jews and Christians might have it out, and they did, with relish, but later rather than earlier.

    You are exactly right that the fact that a definitively fixed canon in the first century did not exist is not remarkable. You make the point better than I.

    And that is what I meant when I said that the Tanakh/Old Testament was not yet invented in the first century of this era. Big deal, you say. I couldn't agree more.

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  43. John,
    I didn't think my comments on Dt. 32 were exhaustive, but neither do I think they skirted the issue. Personally I think they hit it head on (but that probably shows what different perspectives we have).

    By linking scripture to community so closely as you do, I cannot see how 'verbally inspired' remains meaningful unless you're going to say that, for example, 2 Maccabees is verbally inspired for communities that accept it and not for those that don't.

    You tell me that you get a kick out of reading Odes of Solomon; that 'God speaks to different sets of Christians' with different books; that we should 'take another look at' 1 Enoch; but this does not tell me whether God may (anthropopathically or otherwise) be said to have spoken the words in these books or not. God speaking through X is quite different from God saying X (which is the core idea behind verbal inspiration).

    I wholly agree that we have to locate authority in the text we have (as I've been arguing on this blog since its inception). So, in the end, we do agree about something basic and important :-)

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  44. Peter,

    We probably do agree on important and essential things, but of course, it's more fun to talk about our differences. So here I go again.

    It looks like Jude understands God to have said x, where x=1 Enoch 1:9. That's the clear witness of scripture. I stand with Jude.

    I don't think your distinction between God saying x and God speaking through x is helpful here.

    For Jude, God said x=1 Enoch 1:9 and God spoke through x=the book of Enoch as he knew it. Both.

    It's your either-or approach, it seems to me, that sometimes causes problems. Thus you feel compelled to choose between two rather different versions of Deut 32:8, declaring one to be verbally inspired, the other to be something else. Please inform me which is which, so I can correct the Bible I have accordingly.

    I don't see why it is necessary to choose between the two versions.

    FYI, I wrote up this conversation very briefly on my blog.

    Best wishes,

    John

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  45. John,

    You said: “It looks like Jude understands God to have said x, where x=1 Enoch 1:9. That's the clear witness of scripture. I stand with Jude.”

    PW: So do I.

    JH: “For Jude, God said x=1 Enoch 1:9 and God spoke through x=the book of Enoch as he knew it. Both.”

    PW: There is a shift in the value of x here between the two parts of the sentence, and also a shift from ‘said’ to ‘spoke through’. Why?

    JW: “I don't think your distinction between God saying x and God speaking through x is helpful here.”

    PW: The distinction is hardly a subtle one. God probably speaks through everything that is verbally inspired by him (I can’t think of exceptions), but that does not mean that everything he speaks through (e.g. the heavens in Ps. 19) is verbally inspired. The devil also speaks through scripture (Matt. 4:6). Why would an intelligent person like yourself not want to make a basic distinction when trying to formulate theological definitions?

    If by ‘verbal inspiration’ you actually mean merely ‘God speaks through’ but not ‘God authored these words’ then you will only create confusion by saying that you believe in verbal inspiration.

    JH: “It's your either-or approach, it seems to me, that sometimes causes problems. Thus you feel compelled to choose between two rather different versions of Deut 32:8, declaring one to be verbally inspired, the other to be something else. Please inform me which is which, so I can correct the Bible I have accordingly.”

    PW: I do not see why my position need compel me either to decide between the readings, nor to inform you so that you can correct your Bible. Affirming the statement, ‘either Jesus was born in BC 4 or he wasn’t’ is logical and does not compel me to choose a date. Neither does affirming that ‘either x or y is what God inspired in Dt. 32’ compel me to choose (as I’ve argued here).

    As my blogging time is limited, I am happy to give you the final word in the next message unless you have a point on which you would really like clarification of my position.

    With thanks for your cordial discussion,

    Pete

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  46. Peter,

    Thanks for taking the time to interact on these topics. I will try to wrap up the conversation in an appropriate way.

    PW: If by ‘verbal inspiration’ you actually mean merely ‘God speaks through’ but not ‘God authored these words’ then you will only create confusion by saying that you believe in verbal inspiration.

    JH: I agree, though of course the sense in which divine authorship is to be understood varies according to genre, such that the affirmation means one thing in reference to prophecy, another in reference to a prayer, and another in reference to a narrative based on whatever sources an inspired author had on hand. Affirmation of divine authorship in the case of a text like Psalm 137:7-9 is a paradoxical statement – I would still make it – whereas it is a (relatively) straightforward statement in the case of a text like Psalm 2:7-9.

    But I chose to bring up Jude for a reason. My point is that Jude quotes the book of Enoch in the sense of “God authored these words.” Prophecy is involved, so the claim has to be understood in a straightforward way. As the book of Enoch claims, God revealed things to Enoch which he then records.

    It would not make sense for Jude to say, “Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men,” if he did not believe that Enoch was among the holy men of God who spoke as moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 2:21), and that Enoch prophesied about the travails of his time.

    The author of 2 Peter must also have numbered Enoch among those holy men, and treasured prophecy attributed to Enoch, inasmuch as he refers to events revealed in Enoch literature, but not in the books of the rabbinic canon, to underpin his parenesis: “For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and consigned them to chains in the lowest part of hell, to be kept there until the Judgment … then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly from trial and keep the ungodly under punishment until Judgment Day (2 Peter 2:4-9).

    1 Peter 3:19-20, in affirming that Christ preached “to the spirits in prison who were formerly disobedient,” also assumes the credibility of Enoch literature which, I would point out, is best understood as an explication of Isaiah 24:21-23. Like Enoch before him, Christ, the text seems to be affirming, gave said spirits a verbal foretaste of their coming doom.

    That NT writers outside of 1-2 Peter and Jude do not assume the credibility of revelation attributed to Enoch in the course of their exposition is symptomatic of the fact that while some strands of Judaism cherished revelation attributed to Enoch, most strands did not.

    These differences within Judaism in Greco-Roman antiquity impacted the history of the canon among Christians. Attitudes toward literature attributed to Enoch varied from acceptance as part of an OT canon in some traditions to rejection of that very thing in others. The literature in one shape or another was transmitted among Christians across a wide geographical and linguistic range.

    Why go on about this? Because Eric made the pertinent observation in this thread that the NT provides a measure of evidence as to the readings that existed in the first century, but it doesn't provide any opinions as to whether or not those readings must be accepted at the expense of others. I concur, and would extend the observation to apply to the question of the extent of the functional canon NT authors worked from.

    If the NT reflects a set of variant functional canons, rather than a single functional canon assumed by all, and a set of variant readings in the case of authoritative literature it variously depends on, not a text identical to, for example, the hebraica veritas Jerome knew a few centuries later, then it cannot be used to adjudicate on issues of canon and text insofar as its witness is not univocal.

    In the absence of an authority accepted by all Christians that might adjudicate such matters, it stands to reason that a diversity of texts and canons will continue to characterize Christianity’s various traditions.

    It remains to discuss the practical difference between Peter’s position and mine. He holds that verbal inspiration should be attributed to one sequence of words, not two, in a case like Deuteronomy 32:8 where two sequences (to simplify) are attested and arguments in favor of one (greater originality) or the other (greater orthodoxy) might be understood to cancel each other out. But he refrains from choosing between them, just as I do. Whereas I accord provisional authority to both, I am tempted to say that Peter accords authority to neither, since he does not choose between them and also holds that only one of them should be accorded authority. But I trust this is not true. My guess is that he accords provisional authority to the MT. If so, that is, in my view, an eminently defensible position.

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  47. John,
    Thank you very much for your interaction. I hope to publish on matters relating to Enochic account of the fallen angels some time, but will hold my fire till then.
    With best wishes,
    Pete

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