Monday, January 13, 2014

The religious provenance of the Aquila manuscripts from the Cairo Genizah

Edmon L. Gallagher, 'The religious provenance of the Aquila manuscripts from the Cairo Genizah' Journal of Jewish Studies LXIV (2013), 283-305.

The Cairo Genizah yielded two palimpsest manuscripts of Aquila’s Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. For more than a century, scholars have commonly assumed, often without argument, that these manuscript fragments derive ultimately from Jewish circles. This in turn has led to citations of them in arguments regarding the Jewish reception of Greek scripture in Late Antiquity and the origins of the system of contractions known as nomina sacra . However, the opinion that these are Jewish manuscripts cannot claim universal scholarly assent, though doubts in this regard have not often been noted. This article surveys the use of these Genizah manuscripts in arguments concerning the Jewish use of Greek scripture and the nomina sacra and then examines the evidence to hand regarding their religious provenance. It concludes that the general assumption of a Jewish provenance remains unproven.
 I would say that this article is more interesting than it sounds. Broadly speaking it is a reminder that some things we think we know (i.e. that LXX texts with the Tetragrammaton in Hebrew characters reflect a Jewish provenance) are not necessarily absolute. Among other things Gallagher argues that there is evidence for Christian scribes attempting to preserve the representation of the Tetragrammaton in Hebrew square letters within copies of the Greek Old Testament (p. 303 - so the Mercati Hexapla [Rahlfs 1098]; other evidence, e.g. Marchalianus [Rahlfs 2125] and TS 12.182 [Ralhfs 2005] show the Greek letters PIPI being used in some contexts, which may have become conventional); and even possibly that Christian scribes might attempt to preserve a form of the Tetragrammaton in palaeo-Hebrew characters (p. 304).
In this manuscript we have to reckon either with a Jewish scribe using nomina sacra or with a Christian scribe attempting to reproduce the Tetragrammaton in palaeo-Hebrew character. Gallagher suggests the latter.
[Up-dated from comments from the author and a second look at the article]


  1. Thank you for highlighting my article. One note: the Mercati fragments of the Hexapla (Ra 1098) provide evidence of a Christian scribe employing actual Hebrew square characters for the Tetragrammaton and not just PIPI (p. 303 of my article, and see p. 300 n. 70). We do not have evidence of a Christian scribe employing the paleo-Hebrew script, but I speculate on p. 304 that had a Christian scribe attempted to do so, it may have ended up looking like the script used in the Aquila Genizah fragments. After all, a Christian scribe might 'butcher' paleo-Hebrew just as easily as a Jewish scribe.

  2. Thanks Ed,
    Sorry for the mistake. I'll have a look again at the article tomorrow. Cheers


  3. A layman's questions:

    What are the sources for identifying the Cairo Geniza MSS as Aquila's Greek translation of the Tanakh? Another question is, are there MSS of Aquila's version that we definitely know to be Aquila's, and not some other Jewish or Christian translator's work?

  4. Kepha, those are excellent questions. I briefly address the first issue in my article at p. 284 n. 5 (with bibliography). The basic answer is that one must compare the content of the mss with the readings attributed to Aquila in Christian sources (whether patristic commentaries or the margins of LXX mss). The answer to the second question is, unfortunately, no. But we do have a couple palimpsest copies of the Hexapla (see nn. 3-4 of my article), wherein the third column is usually assumed to be Aquila, in accordance with ancient testimony about the Hexapla and the character of Aquila's translation as attested in patristic sources. I would also say that the identity of these two Genizah mss as copies of Aquila's translation has not often (ever?) been doubted by scholars, and there is a third fragment from Egypt that is attributed to Aquila as well (p. 286).

  5. I'm joining the discussion very late. Ed, I'm trying to track down the article. Do you treat the fragments from Job 28 in your article?