Thursday, March 06, 2008

Textual Traditions and Jewish-Christian Relations

What I find interesting is how a study of the textual traditions contribute to our understanding of the relationship between Christians and Jews/Judaism in the early centuries. Two examples come to mind:

1. Rom. 15.8. This verse reads: "For I declare that Christ became a servant of the "circumcision" for the sake of God's truth". Robert Jewett (Romans, 886) notes that the perfect verb gegenēsthai is replaced by the aorist genesthai in B C* F G Ψ 630 1739 1881 etc. In Jewett's view this change to the aorist is secondary and "serves to drop the implication of the original reading that Christ remains the servant of the Jews".

2. Matt. 8.4. This verse reads: "Go, show yourself to the priest and the present the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them". But the Diatessaron(eph), Ishodad of Merv, Romanos, the Liege Harmony, and the Venetian Harmony, read: "Go, show yourself to the priest and fulfill the law". This reading arguably stems from a Judeao-Christian background that is perhaps more concerned with a closer relationship between Christians and the Torah (Cited from Craig Allert, A High View of Scripture, 118).


  1. Pardon my ignorance, but I am having trouble seeing what difference an aorist would make to the meaning of the first example verse. Could you explain that more?

    With regard to the second example, I am having similar difficulty in seeing much of a difference in sense between the two variants. Isn't presenting the offering that Moses commanded fairly similar to fulfilling the law? Fulfilling the law would require carrying out the sacrifices Moses commanded would it not? Or are you taking it as significant that the word "fulfill" is used rather than "do"? Am I missing something obvious?

  2. I also wouldn't see evidence of any particular form of Jewish-Christian relations in the second example. The phrase "and fulfill the law" is simply an explanatory gloss of why he was to go to the priest. I can just as easily imagine that reading arising for the sake of Gentile readers who are unfamiliar with the law as I can imagine it as a way of exalting the law by way of explicit inclusion.

    The first example is interesting, both for the reason you give, and for a corollary to it, which is that it bears witness to asceticism (to borrow a word [perhaps a misnomer] from another recent post) on the part of the Byzantine text.

    If I may jump in and answer Ben's question about it, the perfect tense has a connotation of completed action with continuing result. In English we sometimes translate is with a present passive and sometimes with a perfect (E.g. By grace you have been saved/are saved). The aorist can be used for such situations, but the tense does not connote anything either way on whether the results last into the present as the perfect tense does.

    So in Rom 15:8, it's the aorist, "Christ became/was a servant," vs. the perfect, "Christ is made/has become/is become a servant."

  3. But the perfect does not always have a "connotation of completed action with continuing result" does it? The perfect can indicate things other than continuing present result right? So wouldn't it be a bit of a stretch to attach a great deal of significance to the mere fact that the verb is aorist or perfect? I may have no idea what I am talking about, but I am still not seeing the importance of the aspect of the verb either way.

  4. I'm pretty sure that (at least in the New Testament), the instances of a perfect tense being completely void of a present aspect (what is sometimes called the aoristic perfect) are very few. The idea of enduring results is the main thing that distinguishes perfect from aorist. Of course, since we're talking about a language, there are exceptions. But in the case at hand, if we are to ask what the difference in meaning is between the variant with the perfect and that with the aorist, it would have to be that the perfect carries a connotation of enduring result. For someone to say the contrary, they would have to have a clear reason, which is not to say there can't be such a reason, just that the reason for opting for an unusual use of the perfect will first need to be shown before that interpretation is accepted.

  5. pardon me for saying it, but I think that perfect -> aorist difference is really nothing more than a development of Greek itself. Koine started increasingly to drop out perfect tense and replace it with aorists. This development could have easily motivate scribes to change the text, that is, modernize it.

  6. That is also a very reasonable explanation Timo. But if that is the case, then we should expect to find that the same manuscripts that replace perfect with aorist here do the same thing with some frequency throughout their texts. Do you know if that is the case? If it only happens in those manuscripts fairly infrequently, then I would be led to wonder why it happened at this particular point, which may lead back to Jewett's explanation after all.

    If the explanation of modernizing the text is correct, it is still an interesting case of "asceticism" in the byzantine tradition.

  7. If the variation in Rom 15:8 is intentional (and not merely a transcriptional slip), then the combination of Alex (B 1739) + Western (DFG) support raises the possibility that it may be another example of the kind of readings discussed in an essay in the Kraus and Nicklas volume on New Testament Manuscripts: Their Text and Their World (Brill, 2006; see pp. 187-206 on "The Text of P46: Evidence of the Earliest 'Commentary' on Romans?").

  8. in my previous comment, I should also have noted that Bill Petersen discusses this variant in his volume on Tatian's Diatessaron (Brill, 1994) pp. 22-24, as evidence of "an edition of the gospels ... supportive of a Judaic-Christian point of view".
    Mike Holmes

  9. Sorry, it's one of those days: in my second comment, "this variant" should have read "the other variant"--i.e., Matt 8:4.
    mea culpa,

  10. Interesting point, Timo.

    A similar development has taken place in English.

    Prior to 1881, English Bibles often translated the aorist as present indicative, which has now been changed to a simple past.

    Examples from Romans 6:
    are dead > died
    are buried > were buried
    being raised > was raised

  11. Eric, I have no statistics yet. It is more like a "gut feeling" on the basis of my ongoing doctoral work. It looks to me that several Koine/Attic variations, perfect/aorist changes etc can most easily be explained as a development of Greek and scribal tendency to change the text to suite the current Greek idiom. Thus, for Koine/Attic variation, for example, one needs to pick that form which was more likely in the first century text with vernacular and conversational style. I have reservations for thinking that Luke-Acts constitutes purely literary Koine. My research to the non-literary papyri of the first century vis-à-vis the NT textual tradition indicates that at times the original Attic form was changed to its Koine equivalent by scribal habits, some of which may have been rather unconscious. The reserve, Atticism, has also affected the transmission of the NT text, but not all Koine forms are original.

    Thanks for Daniel of that example in English.

  12. I assume "Diatessaron(Eph)" means the Diatessaron according to Ephrem's commentary.

  13. Ephraim is fuller: 'Go, show yourself to the priests and fulfill that Law which you are despising'.

  14. That is interesting. That reading from Ephrem definitely evidences a particular view on the relationship of Christians to the Jewish law more clearly than the shorter "and fulfill the law" does.

  15. Thank you Michael. The second example really impresses me.

    Since previous comments tend to minimize the importance of these textual variants, two points are worth making about the reading in the Diatesseron et al:
    1) It uses "fulfill the Law" as a completely normative thing to do - instead of merely 'as a witness to them.' There is a significant difference between Jewish believers in Jesus doing the law out of a sense of obligation to Torah, versus doing it out of an ulterior motivation of 'being a witness to Jews.' See Mark Kinzer's book Post Missionary Messianic Judaism for the full significance of, and supporting argument for, this shift.

    2) it uses "fulfill the Law in a fully positive sense. The phrase has the sense of something that that is fuliflled by doing it, rather than fulfilled so that we can stop doing it.

    As a result I support Michael's assertion that this says something about Jewish-Christian relations and the "Parting of the Ways." On the face of it, this seems a pretty good example of the Gentilization of the early church.

    Critical Question for Michael: how do you establish that this is a shift from an earlier (closer to the original) to a later text?