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3796Re: Did Jesus use the Septuagint?

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  • C L
    Aug 1, 2012
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      Dear Abram (et al.),

      As I read some of the preliminary responses to your question here, it seems helpful to distinguish between the text(s) Jesus used and the texts employed by the Evangelists.

      Clearly, much work has already been done on what texts the gospel writers used. That question has already been addressed here, in any case, so I won't address it except to note that I think that the New Testament writers' use of the Hebrew Scriptures reflect the milieu of their time: The bulk of their citations align with the Old Greek (except Daniel, which seems to follow Theodotion); a significant number align with what may be called a Proto-Masoretic text type; and a relatively small fraction of all citations in the Old Testament (~15%, if memory serves) appear to align with textual witnesses that are neither Proto-Masoretic nor Old Greek/Septuagint in nature.

      Notably, the manuscripts found at Qumran show a similar distribution of texts that align with Old Greek/Septuagint, Proto-Masoretic, and Other. (Discounting Pesher texts and other texts that seem peculiar to the Qumran community).

      Qumran, though it probably had no direct contact with Jesus, provides a snapshot of the textual witnesses to the Hebrew Scriptures in circulation roughly during the time of Jesus. Furthermore, I believe it is telling that this highly devout community did not restrict itself to Hebrew or Aramaic, but also made extensive use of Greek texts. This is particularly noteworthy if we consider that the Qumran community was anti-Hellenist. That is, as I understand it, the Qumran community was very critical of the pervasive Greek influence in Jerusalem; yet this did not prevent them from including extensive copies of the Scriptures in Greek. This suggests that use of the Greek Scriptures was so pervasive that it infiltrated even among those who had an aversion to other things Greek.

      If the Greek Scriptures were that pervasive even in an isolated community, then I think a good case could be made that Jesus - who was not isolated and spent much of his ministry in areas (ie, the Galilee, the Pentapolis, etc.) where Greek was likely as prevalent as Aramaic - most likely used the Greek Scriptures when appropriate.

      (By the same token, the Bar-Kokhba texts also attest to wide use of Greek among the rebels who fought to depose Roman rule. Again, this is a group that I might expect to eschew the use of Greek on the basis of patriotism or piety [not that they would have distinguished patriotism from piety, necessarily]. However, they have no problem using Greek, as well as Aramaic and even Hebrew). I don't have references for Bar-Kokhba, but they should be easy to track down.

      There is probably an argument to be made from the Evangelists, as well: If the gospel writers were disciples of Jesus (either directly or indirectly), and those disciples used the Old Greek/Septuagint extensively, is it not reasonable to posit that their use of the Scripture mimics that of their teacher?

      Of course, it is possible that Jesus read his Scriptures in Hebrew and Aramaic, and his disciples BROKE with that practice by preferring the Greek. However, is such a break LIKELY? And is it likely for that switch in preference to be roughly the same for all the Evangelists/New Testament writers?

      On the other hand, if Jesus had shown a strong preference for citing the Scriptures in Hebrew or Aramaic during his ministry, would we not expect the disciples to mimic their master by reflecting the same preference?

      I'm not convinced that this is a strong argument that Jesus used the Old Greek/Septuagint. However, I do think that it is one argument among others that may merit attention.

      For details on the Greek texts at Qumran, see

      The text-critical use of the Septuagint in biblical research By: Tov, Emanuel. Jerusalem: Simor Ltd, 1997 (2d ed ). Publication Type: Book (Start with this book). 

      Textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible By: Tov, Emanuel. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2001 (2nd revised ed ). PublicationType: Book   

      You may also find these informative:

      Hebrew Bible, Greek Bible, and Qumran: collected essays By: Tov, Emanuel. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008 . Publication Type: Book   

      The significance of the texts from the Judean Desert for the history of the text of the Hebrew Bible : a new synthesis. By: Tov, Emanuel. Source: Qumran between the Old and New Testaments, p 277-309.Sheffield, Eng : Sheffield Academic Pr, 1998 Publication Type: Essay   

      On the question of whether Jesus SPOKE or taught in Greek, you might want to start with these:

      Did Jesus Ever Teach in Greek. By: Porter, Stanley E.. Source: Tyndale Bulletin, 44 no 2 N 1993, p 199-235. Publication Type: Article   

      Jesus spoke Greek By: Christodoulou, Christopher. Source: Patristic and Byzantine Review, 23 no 1-3 2005, p 117-129. Publication
      Type: Article   

      Jesus and the use of Greek: a response to Maurice Casey By: Porter, Stanley E.. Source: Bulletin for Biblical Research, 10 no 1
      2000, p 71-87. Publication Type: Article   

      Finally, I have to mention Barthelemy, Studies in the Text of the Old Testament (Eisenbrauns, 2012). The opening discussion on the transmission of the Hebrew Scriptures is very helpful, even though it does not deal with the Greek directly at that point. (I'm still reading this book, so I'm not sure how much Barthelemy gets into that later).

      I wish you success in your studies. Please write back to share your conclusions.


      Chris Lovelace,
      M.Div., Th.M. (Candidate)

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