Saturday, 25 May 2013

Who killed Goliath? (Part 5)

In my last post on this theme I answered the easy part of the conundrum of the 3½ versions of the story known as "David and Goliath". We saw there that the version in 1Chronicles 20:5 is a harmonisation of 2 accounts written earlier: the longest story, 1Samuel 17 and the shortest, 2Samuel 21:19. Moreover, the Chronicles account has simply lifted the 2Samuel account, slightly modified it, and "published" this new version, which rescues the chronicler's favourite hero, David, from embarrassment of an alternative claim to Goliath's head.
I had previously pointed out that the Hebrew text of 1Samuel 17 (the Old Greek text varies considerably) is a complex and composite text with many accretions which have ended up being contradictory (e.g. how does David have an initial meeting with Saul twice?) or anachronistic (e.g. Goliath's head is paraded in Jerusalem many years before Jerusalem has been captured).

Composite Texts - How are they Formed?
To help answer this question here's a slightly different example to show something of the process, which I'll put in the form of a little quiz:
Who are the participants in the following story, and whereabouts in the book of Genesis will you find it?
1. A husband and wife couple enter a new country.
2. They agree between themselves to promote a small deception with the settled population in that country: that the woman is the man's sister rather than his wife.
3. This deception is carried out to protect the man from being killed.
4. The ruler of the country is initially fooled by this ruse.
5. The ruler finds out the truth and challenges the man as to why he has carried out this deception.
6. The situation is corrected by the ruler, and all goes well with the couple.

Okay, have you:
reflected on it,
got the answer, and
checked where it is in the book of Genesis?
If so, read on.

If you know the book of Genesis well you should recognise this story because it's told not once but 3 times, each time with slightly different characters:
(1) Gen 12:11-20. Protagonists Abram and Sarai, ruler Egyption pharaoh.
(2) Gen 20:2-18. Protagonists same as above, but now called Abraham and Sarah, ruler Abimelech king of Gerar.
(3) Gen 26:6-11. Protagonists Isaac and Rebekah, ruler same as (2) above, Abimelech king of Gerar.

Note the different comparative lengths of these 3 versions of the same story, and consequently the amount of detail given in each one. The shortest version is the the one that appears last, Gen 26: 6-11.
In contrast, the longest one, with the most detailed story telling is the middle version, Gen 20:2-18. Here the king actually takes the wife as his own, and god comes to him in a dream to admonish him; there is the fullest conversation between the ruler and the male protagonist; the ruler compensates the couple; the man blesses and heals the ruler, the ruler's wife and his female servants. Quite a degree of accretions for the same story! It really should have made a considerable impact on Abimelech, but he seems to have completely forgotten by the time he makes the same mistake with Isaac and Rebekah!
Similarly, when Abraham entered Gerar he didn't say to his wife, "Look you know we've been through this before; let's not tell the same fib here as we did eight chapters ago - you know what we went through, we wouldn't want that again!".
One more thing to note about this long, elaborate version is that it is attributed to Abraham - arguably the most revered jewish ancestor (alongside Moses). If the simplest and shortest version of the story is attributed to Isaac and Rebekah, somewhat lesser heroes, it is perhaps an indication of the reverence for Abraham that he gets the most detailed form.

How Are Such Texts Composed?
It's easy to assume that when texts are composed there is one "compositional episode". What do I mean by "composition episode"? Imagine someone probably sitting down to write a short story; perhaps they do it in a morning, a day, or couple of days. Some of the New Testament documents were almost undoubtedly composed like this; for example Paul's letter to Philemon is so short that it can hardly be conceived that it was composed in any other way than in one go. Even when J.K Rowling wrote something like her first Harry Potter book, this would be done in a matter of weeks/months; perhaps there may have been drafts before a final version is created. nevertheless you can consider it one event.
Pictorially one might represent the text with various ideas coming in as:

Here the arrows indicate the author's various ideas and sources (oral) coming in to make up the compositional scroll.
However there are clear signs that some biblical texts were not composed in this "one compositional event" approach. Rather they grew up over time. Perhaps they started with one compisitional episode, but the text established in this way was revised and redacted with new material at some stage. The revision might happen several times. This might look pictorially like this:

Alternatively two stories composed originally independently might be combined later on to form a third, composite story, looking something like this:

Indeed these ways of stories evolving over time can themselves be combined to give a complex evolutionary development of texts we now have in front of us.

Harmonization and Preservation of Texts
Returning to the Genesis husband-and-wife-enter-a-new-country story outlined above, it seems someone, somewhere came up with the basic schema of this story; it may have been retold several times. In the re-telling, perhaps some of the original details of the story were forgotten, whilst others were embellished. Perhaps some scribe was familiar with two of the three versions and, wanting to preserve them, combined them into one narrative. Now imagine a scribe who knows a third, slightly different form of the story who comes across this text with the two stories - what is he (I'm afraid it is unlikely to have been a "she" given the patriarchal nature of societies at that time) to do if he wishes to maintain his own version? 
Well the custom of the time seems to have been simply to add it in to the text. This "addition" of texts might feel a little odd to us these days; being familiar with the "harmonizations" of modern-day fundamentalism, we might have thought that scribes would want to change the text they had in front of them so that it corresponded more closely, or exactly, with the version of the story that the scribe knew.
Of course, sometimes this happened; but it seems that even more important than "harmonization" was to many ancient scribes, "preservation" of stories/traditions was de rigueur in many societies. If you don't believe me from the examples already given, have a read of the book of Judges, and ask why the story of each and every judge is very similar:
1. The Israelites did what was evil in Yahweh's sight.
2. They prostrated themselves to other gods.
3. Oppressors triumphed over the Israelites just as Yahweh had promised
4. Yahweh heard their suffering and raised up a leader (traditionally translated "a judge").
5. The leader was victorious over the oppressors.
6. The leader later died.
7. On the death of the leader, the Israelites turned and behaved more corruptly than their fathers.
It's the same story over and over again, with embellishments and minor variations.

How should we apply this to David and Goliath?
If you've been following closely the argument so far, you'll have remembered that I have previously mentioned that the story we now have in the Hebrew text of 1Sam 16-18 is a "composite" story. Here are some of the things that betray this feature:
1. David is introduced to the reader twice (1Sam 16:1-13 and 1Sam 17:12-14).
2. David is introduced to Saul twice (1Sam 16:14-23 and 1Sam 17:55-58)
3. David kills Goliath twice (1Sam 17:49-50 without a sword, and 1Sam 17:51 with a sword)
4. Saul promotes David twice to lead the troops (1Sam 18:5 and 1Sam 18:13)
5. Saul offers David to marry two of his daughters in quick succession (1Sam 18:17-19 and 1Sam 18:20-27), yet the first one is offered in gratitude for David's valiance, and the second one in order to bring about his death.
6. David brings Goliath's head to Jerusalem (1Sam 17:54) despite the fact that the story is set several years before Jerusalem's capture (2Sam 5:4-7).
7. In the same verse (1Sam 17:54) David also puts his (presumably Goliath's) weapons (כֵּלָיו) in "his own tent". The writer here has "forgotten" that David has just arrived on the scene as a shepherd boy and certainly doesn't have his own tent - the writer of this verse seems to think he is an army captain or higher!
So the composite nature of the Hebrew text here is quite clear. This is a text which is based on multiple sources built up over time. These sources contradict each other or contain elements which are now out of place in their current setting.

The Old Greek Version
One interesting aspect of these doublets and inconsistencies is that the Old Greek (OG) translation of 1Sam 16-18, which you might remember I mentioned previously is considerably shorter than the Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT), contains very few of them. For example, I have already mentioned that in the OG Goliath dies just the once, as opposed to twice in the MT. On the other hand, in the OG David still takes Goliath's head to Jerusalem and puts weapons in his tent. Nevertheless, the OG version is very much simpler (i.e. less composite) than the MT version.
There's an "obvious" possible solution to this, namely the OG represents an earlier form of the 1Sam 16-18 story than the MT; i.e. the OG was translated from a Hebrew vorlage which was at an earlier stage of evolution than the Hebrew text we now have.
And this "obvious" solution might have been the end of the matter, were it not for the fact that some scholars have thought that the OG is too good to be true, i.e. it's suspiciously simple and too "uncomposite". They have raised the question, just like the author(s) of the Chronicles version of the story we looked at last time, have the translators of the OG recognised the composite nature of the Hebrew text and set about "rectifying" it in their translation. Did the Hebrew text become complex over time, and then at some point the translators of the OG rendered it less complex again?
To sum up this point, what was the direction of travel in the evolution between the Hebrew and Old Greek versions of 1Sam 16-18? Which version represents the earlier text?
I'd like to do a separate post on this question. But in the meantime I'd like to note one more thing about a couple of the inconsistencies in both the Hebrew and Greek versions of the story.

The Anachronisms
I've noted above 2 matters which are anachronistic in the text, and this time they are both in the Hebrew and Greek texts:
1. David taking the head of Goliath to Jerusalem, despite Jerusalem not being captured for many years to come.
2. David placing weapons in his tent, despite him being the lowly of lowly in this story.
These features seem to come from a version of the story where Jerusalem has already been captured and is considered a major city for the Israelites. Moreover, they must also come from a version where the hero is of sufficient stature to have his own tent on the battlefield*.
Well, perhaps it is coincidence, but we have just such a version of the story available. When Elhanan killed Goliath in 2Sam 21:19 (poor Goliath, it's the third time he's had to die!) David had already captured Jerusalem, built his palace and made it his capital. And although the text doesn't say who Elhanan was, it does mention that David was no longer going out to battle himself, presumably relying on warriors/captains to do his fighting for him. Elhanan seems to have been one such character, so it would be no stretch to say it was likely he had his own tent on the battlefield.
Thus, did the story of Goliath's head being taken to Jerusalem and weapons being place in a hero's tent originate with an Elhanan version of the story? Such a theory could never be proved (unless we one day happen felicitously on more ancient manuscripts!), but certainly such elements of the story fit much better with the Elhanan version than the Davidic version. Perhaps they have become transplaced, honouring a more famous hero.

The Hebrew text of 1Sam 17 is a composite text which now shows a number of internal inconsistencies due to the way different, contradictory strands have been combined. There remains the question of whether the OG version, which is less composite, represents and earlier stage of evolution of the story, or has been deliberately redacted from a composite version such as the Hebrew text found today, thus making it more internally more coherent.

*The problem of David having his own tent is admittedly less acute in the OG version, as in this version David is by now consistently part of Saul's court, so conceivably might be considered quite important. In the MT version David is simply a visitor to the battlefield. Personally I am not convinced that even such a person with the OG's elevated position would have his own tent on the battlefield, nevertheless I'm no expert on ancient warfare as I've already admitted. To me, it does seem more reasonable that individual tents would be reserved for only the most senior officers, which hardly fits the bill in either version for David.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Geza Vermes (1924 - 2013)

I don't want this blog to become a place for obituaries. Nevertheless, I'm going to make an small exception for the recent death of Geza Vermes - a truly exceptional scholar.
Some of the readership here will be very familiar with his scholarship, and others have probably never heard of him. There is an obituary in The Times, but on their website it is behind the paywall. There are various other obituaries around the blogsphere.
Vermes was born to a Hungarian jewish family in 1924. In a rising tide of anti-semitism his family converted to Roman Catholicism when he was only 6 years old, and he attended a Roman Catholic seminary from 1939. His family's pragmatic conversion to christianity did not unfortunately save his parents from the holocaust.
Geza Vermes himself became an RC priest, moved to Belgium following the war and was awarded a doctorate by the Catholic University of Louvain. His religious journey did not end there - although I can't claim him for atheism. He left the priesthood and christianity, "reconverting" to judaism in 1957. Though subsequently strongly identifying with with judaism, he seems not to have been very active in synagogue life. He moved to Britain, teaching first at Newcastle University and then at Oxford University.
He was incredibly famous in the biblical critical world for two areas of research:

1) The Dead Sea Scrolls.
He studied the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) from very early on, and produced the most widely used translation of them into English (The [Complete] Dead Sea Scrolls in English, Penguin, 1966 - original version, 2004 - "Complete" version), a heavily thumbed copy of which sits on practically every biblical critic's bookshelf. He was enormously influential in the early studies of the DSS, combining his extensive knowledge of early jewish texts with the discoveries coming to light from the DSS.

2) The jewishness of Jesus
In 1973 he published Jesus the Jew (Fortress Press) a truly ground-breaking work which showed how the Jesus of the earliest gospels was a product of his time and the jewish religion(s) of his day. Again here he was able to show, thanks to the same extensive knowledge of early jewish texts mentioned above (a familiarity that other New Testament scholars simply didn't possess) that what the earliest gospels were portraying was a Jesus who was not as transcending or paradigm-shifting as earlier scholars had thought.

Although NT scholars today like to refer to Vermes' work, and claim their reconstructions of Jesus and early christianity are "thoroughly jewish", there is still a tendency to make out that Jesus surpassed the judaism(s) of his day - Vermes' lesson has not been well learnt by the profession!
I think that one of the greatest achievements of Vermes was to show that whatever a scholar's personal background and current beliefs, he or she can do a great deal to counter his/her own inherent bias, if he/she is prepared to try - a theme I touched on over at the Deity Schmeity blog.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

April Biblical Studies Carnival

Over at the blog ἐνθύμησις is the Biblical Studies Carnival for the month of April. Jacob Cerone has been kind enough to mention this ABC blog.
For those of you who read Hebrew (and Greek) his blog is quite fascinating. Ἐνθύμησις  means "the process of considering someth., thought, reflection, idea" (BDAG) and is found in Mat. 9:4; 12:25; Acts 17:29 and Heb. 4:12. 
Currently Cerone is going through the book of Jonah which, if you're like me, you remember as one of your first set texts in Hebrew class, which gives it a special place at least in my affection (at my university first year Hebrew alternated either setting Jonah or Ruth - I had Jonah). Cerone is looking in particular at how the Old Greek renders the text, something with which I'm not at all familiar, and has some very interesting results. Well worth a look!

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Change of Blog Style

Many thanks to a devoted reader who has done an awful lot of art work to improve the image of this blog. I think it looks a lot more attractive and less stark than before.

I've also been adding in links on my side bar (right) to other blogs which might be of interest to people who come here, and I'll carry on doing this.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Who Killed Goliath? (Part 4)

It's about time I got back to the theme I promised to continue. This is part 4, and if you haven't read them yet, first you really need to read parts one to three which you can find here:

A Résumé of the Argument So Far.
The Hebrew text of the bible has 3 stories of how Goliath met his end (1Sam 17; 2Sam 21:19; 1Chr 20:5), although the 3rd one whilst clearly linked to the first two, now has Goliath's brother Lahmi - a "literary" creation out of the consonants for Bethlehem - that dies.
The briefest and simplest story is the one in 2 Sam 21:19 where Elhanan kills Goliath. The most detailed version is the 1Sam 17 story, which itself has two different versions, the Hebrew version found in the Masoretic text, and the Greek version found in the Old Greek texts. The Greek form of the 1Sam 17 story is significantly shorter than the Hebrew, and it seems rather more coherent as well, although from time to time it contains a small detail not found in the Hebrew version.

Making Sense of the Data - 1Chronicles 20:5
The easiest part to explain in the evolution of the 3½ versions (as I have called them) of the Goliath story is how the 1Chr 20:5 account was written. Chronicles is a comparatively late work which is well known for having used the books of Samuel and Kings, amongst others, as its sources. Its knowledge of the 2 stories of Goliath's death in Samuel is therefore unquestionable.
Indeed the consonantal text of 1Chr 20 5 is almost identical with that of 2Sam 21:19, showing only minor changes. Remember that prior to the Masoretes the text only contained the consonants, not the vowel points. Here are the two consonantal texts, colour-coded as follows:
Black - these consonants are identical in the other text.
Blue - these consonants have an equivalent in the other text, but they have been altered or repeated.
Red - these consonants have no equivalent in the other text.

2Sam ותהי־עוד המלחמה בגוב עם־פלשׁתים ויך אלחנן בן־יערי ארגים בית הלחמי את גלית הגתי ועץ חניתו כמנור ארגים׃
ותהי־עוד מלחמה את־פלשׁתים ויך אלחנן בן־יעיר את־לחמי אחי גלית הגתי ועץ חניתו כמנור ארגים׃
2Samuel- And there was again the war in Gob with the Philistines, and Elhanan son of Jaare Oregim [a weaver] a Bethlehemite smote Goliath the Gittite and the shaft of his spear was like a weaver's beam.
1Chronicles- And there was again war with the Philistines and Elhanan son of Jair smote Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, and the shaft of his spear was like a weaver's beam.
You can see the enormous overlap of the two texts. The red consonants consist of only one significant piece of information - Gob (the location of the battle). The only remaining red consonant is the definite article.
The blue consonants consist of:
A different preposition used for "with"
The spelling of the name Jair/Jaare.
Dittography of Oregim/weaver.
Conversion of "Bethlehemite" to direct definite object marker + Lahmi.
Conversion of definite direct object marker to "brother of".
Everything else is identical between the two verses. Thus it is easy to spot dependency of one on the other.

Other Aspects of of the Book of Chronicles
There are a few more qualities of the book of Chronicles that come into play here. Firstly we should recognise the unwavering support for King David in the book of Chronicles. Compare this with Deuteronomistic History (DH - a term denoting the "historical" overall narrative of the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings) which gives quite a 3 dimensional picture of David - a sort of "warts and all" approach. In contrast, Chronicles gives a thoroughgoing positive appraisal of David omitting, for example, most of his rise to power (where he only gradually gained ascendency over Saul), his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah. Thus, the elimination from Chronicles of the competing story, of someone other than David killing Goliath, fits well with the chronicler's aims.
Secondly, the chronicler tends to "iron out" difficulties he finds in his sources. For example, both 1Chr 16:39 and 2Chr 1:3 have the tent of Yahweh at Gibeon for Solomon's encounter with god, thus eliminating the implicit meeting of god at a forbidden "high place" in 1Kings 3.
I'm going to give below a second example of this "ironing-out of difficulties" approach of the chronicler, as is shows up an issue that you might easily miss if you don't read Hebrew and only read the bible in translation.

An Excursus. Chronicles' Harmonisation - What does בָּשַׁל mean?
Those readers who do know classical Hebrew probably remember learning this word with the gloss of "to boil", and it is most often used for boiling meat. Although this is by far its most common meaning, top marks if you have also remembered there are two instances (or 3 if you include 1QPsalmsa) where it refers to "ripening" of fruit or the harvest. As a verb it occurs 28 times in the Masoretic Text (MT) and a further 2 occasions in the form of the associated adjective בָּשֵׁל - "boiled".

It's the verb used in the often quoted commandment (Exo 23:19; 34:26; Deu 14:21):

 לֹא־תְבַשֵּׁל גְּדִי בַּחֲלֵב אִמּוֹ
Do not boil a kid in the milk of its mother.

which is even today used to justify the kosher practice of never eating dairy products with meat (a little stretch of the command!).
When it comes to the passover meal, the verb features again, this time in 2 different passages which have a tension between them. Here's Exodus 12:8-9:

8 וְאָכְלוּ אֶת־הַבָּשָׂר בַּלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה צְלִי־אֵשׁ וּמַצּוֹת עַל־מְרֹרִים יֹאכְלֻהוּ 
9 אַל־תֹּאכְלוּ מִמֶּנּוּ נָא וּבָשֵׁל מְבֻשָּׁל בַּמָּיִם כִּי אִם־צְלִי־אֵשׁ רֹאשׁוֹ עַל־כְּרָעָיו וְעַל־קִרְבּוֹ
8 And they will eat the flesh in that night, roasted with fire, and they will eat unleavened bread with bitter herbs. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, rather roasted in fire its head upon its legs upon its entrails.

Note the tautological adjective-verb/participle clause וּבָשֵׁל מְבֻשָּׁל - difficult to capture in English; perhaps like an infinitive absolute, "certainly not boiled!"; I've only been able to find Lev 26:10 with a similar structure (ישׁן repeated in adjectival and verbal/participle form) - if you can find any more, please let me know. Anyway, the message is clear - you must certainly not boil this meat!
So that makes Deu 16:7 rather difficult when it too describes how to cook the Passover sacrifice:
 וּבִשַּׁלְתָּ וְאָכַלְתָּ בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בּוֹ
And you shall boil [it] and eat [it] in the place which Yahweh your god will choose.
Many translations of the bible into English get over this discrepancy by translating the verb "cook" here instead of "boil"; but if you can read Hebrew you can see it's the same verb in both cases. Even the Tanakh of the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) does this kind of harmonisation, and marvelously it's own commentary corrects it thus:
Cook: more accurately, “boil,” like other standard sacrifices (Exod. 29:1; Lev. 6:21; 8:31; Num. 6:19; 1 Sam. 2:13, 15; Zech. 14:21). This prescription is at odds with the earlier stipulation that the paschal offering be “roasted by fire,” not “boiled in water” (Exod. 12:8–9; Hebrew). The Passover is now being treated as a standard sacrifice.
I've cut short the quotation from the commentary as it goes on to "steal my thunder" (see below).
The chronicler has also spotted the contradiction in the two earlier texts, and he didn't have the option open to him of mistranslation to resolve the difficulty; so instead he went about it it in a different way here in 2Chronicles 35:13 where Josiah celebrates the Passover in regal fashion:

 וַיְבַשְּׁלוּ הַפֶּסַח בָּאֵשׁ כַּמִּשְׁפָּט וְהַקֳּדָשִׁים בִּשְּׁלוּ בַּסִּירוֹת וּבַדְּוָדִים וּבַצֵּלָחוֹת וַיָּרִיצוּ לְכָל־בְּנֵי הָעָם

They boiled the Passover sacrifice in the fire according to the ordinance, and they boiled the holy food in the pots, the pans and the dishes, and hurried it to all the sons of the people.
Here we have two instances of בָּשַׁל "boiled". The one I've highlighted in red no longer makes sense because the chronicler has added "in the fire" two words later; it's clearly an attempt to make בָּשַׁל mean "roasted" - you can't "boil in the fire". All translations of the bible will thus use "roasted", "cooked" or something similar here, because that's clearly the sense the chronicler intended; he has just changed the meaning of the word "boil" in order to iron out the contradiction between the Exodus and Deuteronomy stipulations - a harmonisation worthy of any modern-day fundamentalist!
I can now finish the quote I gave from the JPS commentary above:
These two mutually inconsistent laws are harmonized at 2 Chron. 35:13, where the Hebrew paradoxically reads: “They boiled the Passover offering by fire, according to the law.”

Summary of Characteristics of the Book of Chronicles
So thus we see some characteristics of the book of Chronicles:
Use of and reliance on earlier sources
Promotion of positive view of King David
Resolution of difficulties in earlier texts

Chronicles' account of David and Goliath (Elhanan and Lahmi)
All of these go to explain how the story of Elhanan killing Goliath's brother Lahmi in 1Chr 20:5 arose:

1. The chronicler was aware of the two different stories in 1Sam 17 and 2Sam 21:19.
2. He wanted to protect the story of his hero, David, killing Goliath.
3. He found a way of mildly adjusting the Hebrew text of 2Sam 21:19 thus creating a brother of Goliath, Lahmi, for Elhanan to kill.
4. A resolution of the contradictions between 2 earlier texts is achieved!

Thus the account in Chronicles is a late harmonisation. It is entirely dependent on the two earlier accounts, and adds little that is useful in determining how earlier accounts arose. All we can say from Chronicles is that the 2Sam 21:19 account must have existed already pretty much verbatim with what we have there now by the time the chronicler adapted it. Also, there must have been, by this time, a story of David killing Goliath, probably a form of the story in 1Sam 17; but in what was the earliest form of this story?

Tune in to the next episode of "Who Killed Goliath?"...

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Biblical Studies Carnival

Over at Reading Acts Phillip Long has the latest monthly digest of biblical blogs, with a passing mention of ABC's series on Matthew's jewishness - much obliged!

Check out the Carnival!

Friday, 29 March 2013

Was the Author of Matthew's Gospel Jewish? (Part 3)

I think I should give a résumé of the argument so far. As you read, I'm sorry for the formatting of this post - I can't get my Hebrew to line up with my translations given the right-to-left nature of Hebrew. Please bear with this.

A Summary of the Arguments So Far
Matthew's Gospel has, for a long time, been considered the most jewish of all four gospels considered canonical by christian churches. In my series of posts about Mark Goodacre's critique of Francesca Stavrakopoulou's views on the virginal conception, I pointed out that Goodacre seemed to take it for granted that Matthew was a devout Jew who knew his scriptures well. Goodacre is far from alone in his viewpoint, but actually the question of whether Matthew was a devout Jew, or even not a Jew at all, is a live one in modern biblical criticism.

I should mention that in contrast to Matthew's Gospel, Luke's Gospel has traditionally been considered as largely gentile.

Until the advent of biblical criticism, this "jewishness" view of Matthew's Gospel was largely based on "tradition" of who wrote the Gospel, rather than on a detailed analysis of the Gospel text itself. There are good reasons for thinking that this tradition may not contain reliable information handed down by those who actually knew who wrote the Gospel. This doesn't mean that the tradition is necessarily wrong, but it does lend importance to examining the text of the Gospel itself to see if there is anything there which might give a clue.

But how can you tell from a text if an author is jewish or not? And if Matthew was jewish, then how devout and knowledgable about judaism was he? In particular, are there signs which betray his intimate familiarity with the judaism(s) of his day? Alternatively, are there other signs which indicate that he considers himself separate from the religion, or lacking in knowledge about it?

These questions were addressed relatively briefly by Udo Schnelle in his The New Testament Writings, which has become a standard technical introduction to the New Testament (taking over this mantle from Werner Kümmel's Introduction to the New Testament). He set out what I have called "for and against lists" for Matthew's jewishness. Each list looks rather impressive when read in isolation from the other, although I spent some time in my last two posts criticizing the strength of some of the arguments on both sides.

A Further Argument
However, in his list of arguments against Matthew having been jewish, Schnelle has missed one which is very common these days. This argument concerns Matthew's complete misunderstanding of "Hebrew parallelism", a feature found in almost all poetic books of the Hebrew scriptures of his day and, albeit to a significantly lesser extent, in some prose texts . I have to confess I don't know from where this argument originates; like so many people, I first came across it thanks to Bart Ehrman's The New Testament, A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (p.118, fourth edition 2008), but it almost certainly didn't originate from Ehrman.

Before turning to the Matthean text, we need to take a look at this concept of "Hebrew parallelism".

What is Hebrew Parallelism?
Even if you have never come across this term, if you are familiar with the large percentage (exact figures are disputed - but it's often estimated at about 33%, sometimes significantly more) of the Hebrew bible that is poetry, you will undoubtedly have read a good deal of Hebrew parallelism, although perhaps you have read it in translation; it is probably a feature that you have kind of figured out yourself - because it's that widespread.

I've not been entirely satisfied with definitions of Hebrew parallelism that I've found, so let's start with an example. Psalm 103:10 says:
לֹא כַחֲטָאֵינוּ עָשָׂה לָנוּ
וְלֹא כַעֲוֹנֹתֵינוּ גָּמַל עָלֵינוּ׃
Not according to our sins has he done to us,
And not according to our iniquities has he dealt with us.
You can see here that the two lines of the verse treat one subject. The second line says pretty much exactly the same as the first, just in different words. Of course I've put the verse in two lines so as to show this (early manuscripts probably didn't line it up this way), but the principle still remains that there are two clauses outlining the same thing.

The majority of Hebrew parallelism occurs in this two-line couplet structure. But there are some examples of three-line, four-line and even greater number of lines to parallelism. I'll restrict myself to two-line parallelism because, not only is it by far the most common type, but it's the easiest to spot and decipher.

Psalm 103:10 given above is an example of synonymous parallelism, and there are indeed a number of different categories of parallelism; in fact there are a number of different ways to categorize parallelism, and I'll go through one of these here. Please do bear in mind that categorisations are loose and challengeable.

1) Synonymous Parallelism
We have already seen Psalm 103:10 above where the two lines mean pretty much exactly the same thing. I haven't seen any statistics on this, but from my reading I would say that synonymous parallelism is the most common type. Just how close do the two lines need to be to each other? Well here's another example where the meaning is very close indeed. This is the second half of Micah 6:2:
כִּי רִיב לַיהוָה עִם־עַמּוֹ
וְעִם־יִשְׂרָאֵל יִתְוַכָּח׃
For Yahweh has a quarrel with his people,
With Israel he disputes.
I think you can see that the two lines mean the same thing; they are slightly further removed from each other than the previous example, as the second line relies on the implicit subject rather than repeating "Yahweh", and "his people" is paired with "Israel". If you read Hebrew you'll see the syntactical difference between the two lines as well (a possessive form changes to a verbal form).

Despite these differences, the two lines remain clearly synonymous - they mean the same thing.

Because synonymous parallelism is so common, it's worth giving a third example. Here's Proverbs 6:20:
נְצֹר בְּנִי מִצְוַת אָבִיךָ
וְאַל־תִּטֹּשׁ תּוֹרַת אִמֶּךָ׃
Keep, my son, the commandments of your father,
And do not forsake the instruction of your mother.
Now this one is also considered synonymous, even though we have a different parent in each line. Yes, there is this difference, but the overall idea is the same - obey your parents!

I wanted to include this example to show that synonymous parallelism can contain differences between the two (or more) lines; it's the overall idea expressed by the lines that needs to be the same. Indeed small differences between the lines are quite common, inevitably so - it would get rather boring if every line in synonymous parallelism were exactly the same!

2) Antithetical Parallelism
This is where one line gives the converse of the other line. Proverbs 10:1 gives another nice familial example:
בֵּן חָכָם יְשַׂמַּח־אָב
וּבֵן כְּסִיל תּוּגַת אִמּוֹ׃
A wise son brings gladness to a father,
But a foolish son is grief to his mother.
Here the two lines don't say the same thing, rather they say the converse which, taken together, give a unified overall idea. Note again how in the example here we have two different parents in the two lines - we don't need them to be identical for parallelism to work; I'm sure the writer would have considered a foolish son to be grief to his father just as much to his mother!

3) Chiastic Parallelism
In chiastic parallelism it is the order of elements that count. The first line will provide an order of elements (say, A then B then C) which will be reversed in the second line (C then B then A). Here's probably the most simple example - the opening of Jeremiah 4:5:
הַגִּידוּ בִיהוּדָה
וּבִירוּשָׁלִַם הַשְׁמִיעוּ
Announce [it] in-Judah,
In-Jerusalem make-[it]-heard
This chiastic structure is probably more difficult to spot if you don't read Hebrew - you're reliant on translators conveying it well, which is difficult to do. Even in this simple example, if you didn't know that "in" is a prefix to both "Judah" and to "Jerusalem" you might miss the chiastic structure in translation. I've resorted to using hyphens to indicate single words in Hebrew - I don't think many translations would go to these lengths!

Note how the two lines are synonymous, although Judah and Jerusalem stand for each other (as they do in many other places).

As chiastic parallelism is often lost in translation, I'll give another example to whet your appetite. Here's Psalm 89:35:
לֹא־אֲחַלֵּל בְּרִיתִי
וּמוֹצָא שְׂפָתַי לֹא אֲשַׁנֶּה׃
Nor will-I-break my-covenant
The-utterance of-my-lips not I-will-change
Hmm, my hyphens don't really help that much with this one (e.g. I've had to single out "not" in a peculiar place in the second line), but I hope you get the idea.

4) Staircase Parallelism
Staircase parallelism is also about structure. Whereas chiastic parallelism could be represented by two lines as follows:
staircase parallelism would be more like:
That is, you climb the stairs twice, but the second time you arrive at a different destination. Here's Judges 5:12:
עוּרִי עוּרִי דְּבוֹרָה
עוּרִי עוּרִי דַּבְּרִי־שִׁיר
Awake, awake Deborah!
Awake, awake, chant a song!
5) Janus Parallelism
In Roman mythology Janus was a two faced god who, thanks to his two faces, could look in two directions at once - right/left, front/back or more figuratively future/past. In Janus parallelism there is a word which has two meanings, and the parallelism hinges on this word - a sort of double entendre.

Janus parallelism is immensely difficult, if not impossible, to translate. So you'll have to bear with me for this example. Here's Canticles 2:12
הַנִּצָּנִים נִרְאוּ בָאָרֶץ
עֵת הַזָּמִיר הִגִּיעַ
וְקוֹל הַתּוֹר נִשְׁמַע בְּאַרְצֵנוּ׃
Okay, so how do we translate this? Well it depends how you take the word in red (if this has come out in red on the blog). This word can have two meanings; firstly it could be "the pruning" which fits in well with the first clause; secondly it could mean "the singing" which would fit in well with the second clause. So we can translate this as follows (I've numbered the clauses so you can see where the break is):
(1) The blossoms have appeared in the land,
the time of the pruning/singing has arrived
(2) and the voice of the turtledove has been heard in our land.
And why is this parallelism? Because the whole verse is about the signs of the arrival of spring.

Janus parallelism is quite rare in the Hebrew bible, which is perhaps fortunate considering how difficult it is to translate!

Hebrew Parallelism - a Summary
There are other categories of parallelism that I could outline. Alternatively, parallelism could be divided differently into different categories.

The point that I'm trying to make from all the above is that parallelism is very widespread in its different forms in the Hebrew bible. If you are someone who is familiar with the Hebrew bible I hope that, as you have read the few examples I've given above, you will think to yourself, "Oh yes, I see this all the time". Perhaps, if you read in translation, you'll miss particularly chiastic and Janus parallelism, because these ones are very hard to convey in translation but, overall, parallelism should be very familiar to you indeed.

Similarly, if the author of Matthew's Gospel was familiar with the Hebrew bible, he should also have been familiar with this form of poetry. Undoubtedly, he would not have divided parallelisms into categories as I have done; but he would recognize what was going on when he met an example of parallelism.

Matthew's Unfamiliarity with Scripture
We have already seen in previous posts some examples where the author of Matthew's Gospel shows dubious-at-best familiarity with jewish scriptures of his day. I'll now turn to a passage in Matthew which shows just how unfamiliar he was with the very widespread feature of Hebrew poetry that is Hebrew parallelism. In fact he was so ignorant of this feature that he created a little absurdity in his Gospel.

If you remember, it is widely accepted in modern scholarship that Matthew's Gospel took Mark's Gospel as one of his sources. Matthew has the story of Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem in 21:1-9, which he has taken largely from the equivalent story in Mark 11:1-10. The stories share, amongst other things, the following elements:
  1. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and comes near to the village of Bethphage.
  2. Jesus instructs two disciples to go and find mounted transport, with specific instructions as to what to say to anyone who questions this action.
  3. The two disciples carry out this instruction and bring mounted transport to Jesus.
  4. They lay cloaks (ἱμάτιον) on the mounted transport, and Jesus mounts on top.
  5. Proceeding towards Jerusalem, they are met by crowds who lay branches in their path and cry "Hosanna".

There are two major differences between the two versions, both of which are linked. In the earlier text (Mark's) Jesus, quite reasonably, is sitting on one animal - a horse (πῶλος). This is sometimes translated as "colt" or even "foal", but BDAG (a standard Greek lexicon) makes it clear that this term can refer to a horse of any age, and clearly it was old enough to ride.

In Matthew's derived version, bizarrely Jesus sits astride two steeds (καὶ ἐπεκάθισεν ἐπάνω αὐτῶν - notice the use of the aorist and how this describes the completed action); one of these is a horse (πῶλος) just as in Mark's Gospel; the other steed is an ass (ὄνος).

Why does Matthew introduce this extraordinary change to Mark's version, and render his account so unrealistic? Well the reason for this is the other difference in Matthew's version: Matthew has gone searching for a scripture to provide a fulfillment for this episode. He has hit upon Zechariah 9:9 - a quite long verse which has two (arguably three) examples of parallelism in it - and cited it as a fulfillment quotation in Matt 21:5.

Matthew doesn't get the first example of parallelism in this verse at all - a shame really, because it is a very clear example of synonymous parallelism:
גִּילִי מְאֹד בַּת־צִיּוֹן
הָרִיעִי בַּת יְרוּשָׁלִַם
Rejoice greatly daughter of Zion,
Cry out daughter of Jerusalem
A more exact synonymity would be hard to find! Matthew, strangely, has rendered this as (21:5):
Εἴπατε τῇ θυγατρὶ Σιών
Say to the daughter of Zion
So not only does he miss the parallelism here, he has a mistranslation of the text, which again is a shame, because the Hebrew text here would have fitted his context quite nicely. Instead, perhaps he has confused the opening of Zechariah 9:9 with a clause from Isaiah 62:11, which unfortunately really doesn't fit his context at all.

But Matthew's biggest problem is missing the parallelism at the end of Zechariah 9:9:
עָנִי וְרֹכֵב עַל־חֲמוֹר
וְעַל־עַיִר בֶּן־אֲתֹנוֹת׃
Lowly and riding on an ass,
and on a male-ass, son of a she-ass.
How many animals are we talking about here? Just the one, evidently as we're dealing with synonymous parallelism (albeit the one ass is an offspring of a second, its mother), but Matthew just doesn't get it! Matthew fails to recognize that we have parallelism in the text, and so thinks he has two animals at work here. So he takes a perfectly reasonable story from Mark and renders it absurd by having Jesus mount two animals at once.

Is this really the kind of mistake that someone familiar with Hebrew scriptures could make? If he was such an educated Jew as is frequently maintained (as Mark Goodacre did in his podcast), then he had a singularly brainless moment here! Personally, I think this beggars credibility. Rather, as we have already seen, Matthew's knowledge of jewish scripture of his time was rather limited.

Finding A Path Through The Data
So what are we to do with all this? We have strong evidence both that:
  • the author of Matthew's Gospel was very familiar with judaism and had a strong connection with it, yet
  • that he felt distant from judaism and had complete failures to understand its texts.

I think the first thing to do is rule out the extremes. It simply isn't possible (pace Goodacre) to say that Matthew was a very devout and educated Jew, steeped in the scriptures and judaic customs of his day. Nor is it possible to hold that Matthew was entirely disconnected with judaism and uninfluenced by its ideas, traditions and scriptures.

Of course this leaves scope for a very wide range of options in between these two extremes, and a degree of judgement must be exercised when weighing up the evidence we have spent 3 posts examining (and perhaps others will have more evidence).

In terms of Matthew's familiarity with scriptures, we have seen that his knowledge is incredibly shaky; he seems to have skimped on his research into this area (if he did any); he is reliant on the Greek translation of his day, but can't get that right; he is unfamiliar with basic principles of Hebrew scriptural writings. If he was a Jew, he certainly wasn't one who had the opportunity or inclination to familiarize himself with Hebrew scriptures. But this still leaves plenty of room for him to have considered himself a Jew.

Matthew, if he was jewish, has also abandoned the idea that Israel has a unique place in god's salvific history. This is a considerable shift for a Jew to make. It is certainly very possible the later the Gospel is dated. If the Gospel were dated, as many scholars do, to the 80s, I find it hard to believe that a Jew would have moved this far in their thinking.

One Proposal Among Many
If Matthew was not jewish, then the strong jewish features of his Gospel have to be accounted for somehow. I think it is inevitable that Matthew's religious community at the time of the writing of his Gospel must have contained significant numbers of Jews; if this weren't the case it would hardly be possible to explain the numerous jewish references in his Gospel.

Is it possible the Matthew was not only writing for a jewish readership but, being himself a Gentile, was assisted by jewish members of his religious group? Perhaps in this scenario, Matthew was very keen to become educated in jewish beliefs, customs and scriptures; after all the founder of his religious movement, Jesus, had himself been a Jew and the movement had started within judaism and was probably still strongly associated with judaism in Matthew's day. Perhaps this keenness was not accompanied by the time and opportunity to get more than a basic understanding of the jewish religion; he himself would be dependent on Greek translations of jewish scriptures, whether those already in circulation (the Old Greek, aka LXX) or those provided on spec by jewish members of his religious group.

I think the above would represent one possibility that fits the data; there are, however, numerous others, including some where Matthew is jewish himself, but operates with limited knowledge of scriptures in Hebrew and a significant degree of detachment from the religion of his birth.

In the final examination, other than eliminating the extremes as outlined above, we simply don't have enough data to explain the tensions in the Gospel pertaining to Matthew's jewishness or lack thereof.