Monday, October 29, 2012

Marcion and Aquila [Part Eight]

I have been postponing posting here for some time as I try to get my head around this new discovery which has a great deal of significance for our understanding of earliest Christianity.  I will try and sum up about a weeks worth of research in point form.  If you find it difficult to follow along at home come back over the next few days or look at previous posts.  In a nutshell the situation is best described as something like this:

  1. as likely as the existence of an Aramaic gospel is in theory, it is beyond dispute that the gospels as they have come down to us were established in Greek
  2. if you accept the authority of the canonical gospels there are plenty of references to the LXX (the Greek translation of the 'Old Testament' according to the seventy scribes in Alexandria centuries before the advent of Christianity)
  3. if you tentatively accept the idea that the tradition associated with a certain 'Marcion' is the earliest form of organized Christianity there are far less of these citations of scripture.  
  4. as we demonstrated in our last post the early fourth century Church Father Lactantius identifies "those who call Jesus 'Chrestos'" - i.e. the followers of Marcion - with a preference for the translation of the Old Testament made by Aquila c. 121 CE.  
  5. Lactantius notes that the Aquila translation does not translate the reference to 'messiah' in the Hebrew text of Daniel 9:26 as christos.  Aquila chose another Greek term which typically is used to describe 'smearing' rather than 'anointing' oil. 
  6. the implication here is that the Marcionites not only refused to call Jesus 'Christ' but also understood the prophesy of Daniel here to be about something other than advent of the Jewish 'Christ' - the most likely scenario being the 'cutting off' of the Jewish priesthood.  
  7. in the late fourth century another Latin Church Father, Philastrius, condemns Christian heretics who prefer Aquila over the 'holy truth' of the LXX translation.  He cites Aquila's refusal to translate למשיח יהוה from 1 Sam 24:6 as 'Christ of God' but instead 'unction of God' ('unctum Dei').
  8. there is a problem with this simple juxtaposition of the Aquila translation with our existing LXX.  The LXX as it is preserved today also refuses to render Daniel 9:26 as 'Christ' but chooses in fact chrisma or 'smearing.'  Lactantius's criticism still stands but the objection of Philastrius makes little sense.  
  9. there are two second century Greek translations of Daniel which do render Dan 9:26 as 'christ' - i.e. that of Symmachus and Theodotion.  Nevertheless Origen 'wrongly' identifies the Theodotion translation as 'the LXX.'  A generation earlier, Clement cites a translation of Dan 9:24 - 27 which pretty much lines up as the LXX without naming it.  
  10. Jerome in the course of discussing the various Greek translations of the Old Testament makes repeated reference to two editions of Aquila - the 'first' and 'second editions' of the translation.  Could what is now identified as the LXX have been Aquila's second edition?  We must remember that Origen cites Theodotion's text as 'the LXX' which means a switch could have occurred.  
  11. it is important to note that Aquila's text was accepted as the authoritative translation by the early rabbinic tradition.  However it is explicitly anti-messianic especially in the case of Dan 9:26 (which is the only passage in the Old Testament to explicitly reference a future 'messiah'). Why would the rabbis have willingly adopted a text which denied the messianism which was about to manifest itself in the person of Bar Kochba?  Could 'aquila' be a reference not to a person but to the Roman state (i.e. an officially accepted edition)?
  12. a strong argument in favor of the Aquila translation meaning officially sanctioned Roman text is the fact that the Justinian legal texts only two Greek translations for use among Jews in their synagogues - the LXX and 'Aquilas.'  They do this in spite of acknowledging that the latter differs from the former 'sometime significantly.' 
  13. the Cairo Geniza preserves fragments of the Aquila translation being used in the Egyptian synagogues. 
It would seem then that we have a situation where Aquila was officially sanctioned by the Imperial government.  The Marcionites are both accused of being both 'Christians who borrow from the Jews' and employers of the Aquila translation.  Their understanding of Jesus being something other than the Jewish messiah seems to derive from this dependence which likely goes back to the early second century.  

Of course the ultimate question has to be - was there a Greek translation of Daniel in existence before Aquila's text?  The knee-jerk reaction of course is that the LXX 'should' be earlier.  Yet the actual LXX text certainly only covered the Pentateuch.  Symmachus and Theodotion are universally acknowledged to have come after Aquila, leaving open the question - what was the Greek translation called LXX in our inherited tradition, cited but unidentified by Clement of Alexandria and which is not the text identified as the LXX by Clement's student Origen?

The idea that a text identified as 'according to the LXX' might be Aquila's is not as crazy as it might seem.  Many scholars identify LXX Ecclesiastes as by Aquila:

Swete went no further than admitting that Ecclesiastes 'savours of the school of Aquila' while agreements with, and differences from, his style have led others to suppose the LXX of the book to be an early draft of his translation. A plausible solution is furnished by Barthelemy who attributes it unequivocally to Aquila and places it at the beginning of his literary activity as an attempt to furnish Greek-speaking Jews with a faithful translation of a book only recently established as canonical by the rabbis of Jamnia. Its position in the fifth column of the Hexapla was due, according to Barthelemy, to Origen's not knowing that it was Aquila's. Accordingly, in the third (Aquilanic) column he placed 'une autre version'.4 It is further conceivable that another outstanding problem may find its solution along the lines of Barthelemy's main thesis, namely those passages in which two different renderings are attributed to Aquila. Hitherto there has been little alternative to following Jerome and postulating a 'first' and 'second' edition (prima, secunda editio) of Aquila's work.5 Much more likely is the hypothesis that in those passages where dual renderings are assigned, in this particular case to Aquila, one of them is actually the reading of another. Certainly we shall have to allow more recensional activity than has been customary in the past. If Barthelemy be correct, the version of Aquila is to be construed not as an entirely new departure in translational enterprise, but as the culmination of a process extending over some years.[Sidney Jellico, The Septuagint and Modern Study p. 81 - 82]

I am beginning to see a strong argument emerging that there existed an unidentified Greek translation of Daniel - which resembled a hybrid of Theodotion and the LXX - and which was used by the earliest Christian witnesses.  I think if I can prove this text was Aquila's 'second edition' we will have finally solved everything - and most notably that Christianity emerged as an organized Greek speaking religion in the second century.  

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