Friday, August 16, 2019

Asa or Asaph in Matthew 1: A Teaser for the THGNT Textual Commentary

Yesterday morning, I was reading a sermon by Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834–1892) titled "Concealing the Words of God." No, the sermon is not about textual criticism, but Spurgeon made a remark that sent my mind back to the arguments surrounding Asa or Asaph in Matt. 1:7–8. Spurgeon said (emphasis mine),

Lay no embargo upon any form of truth; demand no toll for the commodities of heaven. Let your mind be an open port, carrying on a free trade in the treasures of the gospel. Believe whatever God says, because God says it, though you may not always see its why and wherefore or perceive its internal consistency. Be prepared, and even anxious, to know the whole truth as far as you can know it, and let it pervade your entire being with its holy influence. It will be a terrible thing if one of these days you shall have to say "I rejected a great truth. I had a suspicion that it was so, but I did not wish to believe it, and so I shut my ears to its evidence. I had a leaning towards the opposite view, and I felt committed to it, and so refused to alter." —Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit 25 (1879): 245.

Of course, Spurgeon is talking about theology here, but his remarks have relevance to arguments I've come across regarding a textual variant in Matt. 1. Since Spurgeon was not opposed to textual criticism, I'll use his remark to leap into the Asa/Asaph variant at Matt. 1:7–8. I derive parts of what follows from the forthcoming Textual Commentary for the Tyndale House Greek New Testament that Dirk Jongkind and I are working on.

The variant in question is at Matt. 1:7–8. There are two instances of a name in Matthew's genealogy—Ἀσά or Ἀσάφ, right at the end of v. 7 and beginning of v. 8. A sampling of the textual evidence breaks down thus, derived mostly from the UBS5 (with languages separated by commas):

Ἀσάφ· ἈσὰφP1(vid ασ̣α̣[φ ασα]φ̣) ℵ B C 700 f1 f13, aur c g1 k q vgmss, sa bo mae, arm, eth, geo, (syhmg) 
Ἀσά· ἈσὰK L W Δ Σ 33 565 1241 892 1424 Byz, (a), f ff1 vg, syc sys syp syh sypalslav

The Tyndale House edition, UBS, NA and SBL editions all go with Ἀσάφ. The earliest manuscripts support Ἀσάφ, as well as much of the Old Latin tradition, all of the Coptic tradition, and most of the 'minor' versions. On the other hand, the majority of Greek, Latin and Syriac manuscripts support Ἀσά, as it is supported by the Byzantine Greek text and the Vulgate, as well as some Old Latin and most Syriac versions.

Textually, if one's preference is for early manuscripts, this decision is easy. There is a clear 'winner' among early witnesses in the Greek tradition. Still, the explanation for the variation has caused concern for some. The issue is that in 1 Kings 15:9, this individual is named Asa, not Asaph. Copyists were not unaware of this difference—in GA 1582 (which is close to the archetype of fam. 1), the text has Ἀσάφ, but a marginal note mentions that "Ασα" is the name according to 1 Kings (see Amy S. Anderson, The Textual Tradition of the Gospels: Family 1 in Matthew. NTTS 32. [Leiden: Brill, 2004], 62.)

The question, then, is whether copyists changed Ἀσά to Ἀσάφ, presumably because of the familiarity with the Psalmist, or did copyists see Ἀσάφ, perceive an error and 'correct' it, writing Ἀσά and conforming the text to 1 Kings?

Metzger writes that Ἀσάφ likely came about because "the evangelist may have derived material for the genealogy, not from the Old Testament directly, but from subsequent genealogical lists, in which the erroneous spelling occurred" (Textual Commentary, 2nd ed. [Stuttgart: German Bible Society, 1994], 1). If one believes that the original text is inerrant, one would rightly be suspicious of Metzger's explanation here. That being said, one must not fall into the fallacy of a false dilemma and think that one must accept Metzger's reason in order to accept the same text as Metzger.

In the current draft of the forthcoming Textual Commentary for the THGNT, we write the following to support the decision to print Ἀσάφ:

The text is adopted on the basis of its early evidence. The king’s name is given as Ἀσά thoughout 1 Kings 15, which could have led scribes to think the reading Ἀσάφ is an error, even as some modern scholars have suggested.[1] The similarity of the names Ἀσάφ (also note the Psalmist of the same name) and Ἀσά could have led to confusion as well.
The name used in the Hebrew text of 1 Kings 15 is אָסָא (Asa), and a legitimate interpretation of this name is that it is a hypocorism (a shortened name)—an alternative form of the same name,אָסָף  (Asaph).[2] An alternative explanation for the use of Ἀσάφ might be that Matthew knows Hebrew better than his later copyists, and for the king who is called Asa in 1 Kings 15, Matthew uses the longer form of his name, Asaph.

[1] For example, Bruce M. Metzger suggests that Matthew may have copied Ἀσάφ from “genealogical lists, in which the erroneous spelling occurred,” in Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Biblegesellschaft, 1994), 1. W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison also suggest that Ἀσάφ is an error, corrected by later scribes in The Gospel According to Saint Matthew: Volume 1, International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988), 175.
[2] On אָסָא as a hypocorism (a shortened form) of אסף and the divine name but אָסָף as a hypocorism of the divine name and אסף, see Wilhelm Gesenius, Hebräisches und Aramäisches Handwörterbuch über das Alte Testament: Gesamtausgabe, ed. Herbert Donner, 18th ed. (Heidelberg: Springer, 2013), 83, 85. We are indebted to Pete Myers for this reference.

If one wanted to push the evidence a bit further, one might conclude that having the right text (Ἀσάφ) supports traditional views about Matthean authorship better than the majority reading, Ἀσά. If the author of Matthew's Gospel was a Hebrew-speaking Christian, wouldn't it make sense that he knew how Hebrew names worked better than his Greek- and Latin-speaking copyists centuries later?

As Spurgeon said, Believe whatever God says, because God says it, though you may not always see its why and wherefore or perceive its internal consistency. Our priority should be for the text and what it is, trusting that it is internally consistent even if we do not always perceive it so. When I was discussing this passage with a friend, he said something helpful to me once we found the explanation of hypocorism. "The thing you've got to remember," he said, "is that the text [i.e. Asaph] was already perfect and without error long before we found an explanation for why it is perfect and without error."

Friday, August 09, 2019

Complete Online Schedule for Oxford Patristics Studies Conference

Today, the Oxford Patristics Conference's global schedule was published online here. It is a massive schedule, but the online version is easily searchable by Title, Author, Presenter, etc.

I'm looking forward to attending and participating in this conference for the first time to hear and learn about all the good work of my fellow colleagues.