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Gallagher, Edmon L.


Hebrew Scripture in Patristic Biblical Theory. Canon, Language, Text.


Leiden/Boston: Brill 2012. IX, 266 S. 23,4 x 15,5 cm = Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae, 114. Geb. EUR 123,00. ISBN 978-90-04-22633-3.


James Carleton Paget

In this book, Edmon L. Gallagher attempts to show how the Bible in Hebrew played a part in Christian understandings of the interrelated issues of the canon, language and text of the Bible.
After an introductory chapter in which he sets out his thesis in its different component parts, in chapter 2 he looks again at the much-discussed question of the canon of the Tanak and Christian Old Testament. G. argues that at a relatively early stage 22 books were agreed upon as a canon for the Jewish community, and that a number of criteria were used in determining this, including that of date (the book should have been written by the time of Artaxerxes or Ezra or Malachi) and the related view that the book should have been written in the period in which prophecy was said to be possible. While these two arguments played little role in Christian arguments about the content of the canon, many Christians regarded the Jewish bible as determinative for their own canon, though some, including Origen, saw the church as playing a more significant role in this matter (the ›ecclesiastical‹ as opposed to the ›synagogal‹ view). In chapter 3, as a continuation of the question of criteria for canonicity, G. argues vigorously for the widely accepted view among churchmen, most famously exemplified in the exchange between Africanus and Origen on the legitimate place or lack of it of the Book of Susanna in the canon, but seen elsewhere as well, especially in the extension of the LXX to embrace the whole Bible and not just the Pentateuch, and in the association of the 22 books of the canon with the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, of the view that a canonical book should be a translation of an original Hebrew. This view is followed by Jerome, even when he is willing to accept a different canon from that of the synagogue, but not by Augustine, who is seen to challenge a long-held Christian opinion. In chapter 4 G. gives a useful account of understandings both in Judaism and Christianity of the Hebrew language. In both cultures it was understood as the primordial language and the language of scripture, though it is likely that Christians did not arrive at this position through contact with Jews. »Patristic interpretation of the Bible was sufficient to gener­ate both the idea of Hebrew as the first language and its association with ancient Israel, and thus with Israelite scripture«. In spite of the fact that Jews could not be trusted to transmit the Bible faithfully, their language still played a vital role in determining canonicity. (G. argues that books which were written originally in Greek such as the Wisdom of Solomon and 2 Maccabees but found their way into the Christian canon, were held originally to be written in Hebrew, a point which Jerome was the first to seek to refute, and in so doing showing that many churchmen were largely ignorant of this point). The final chapter concerns the role the Hebrew Bible played in determining the text of the Old Testament. G. is clear that Jews regarded the Hebrew Bible text as authoritative, a point which applies even to the Septuagint’s greatest enthusiast, Philo, who had done so much to imbue that translation with almost magical powers by his rewriting of the Letter of Aristeas. The evidence from Philo and elsewhere points away from a simple understanding of Jewish opinion on this matter as pro-LXX or pro-Hebrew to something subtler, a point which becomes clearer when one notes that there is little evidence that the original LXX, the Pentateuch, underwent the same Hebraizing translation before the work of Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion, that the minor prophets and other Old Testament writings experienced. By and large Christians fol­-lowed the Jewish view of the authoritative nature of the Hebrew text, believing that differences which existed between the LXX and Hebrew were best explained on the basis of textual corruption of one or other, sometimes brought about by those hostile to Chris­tianity. In such a view it was generally held that the newer Greek translations (the so-called ›Three‹ of Aquila, Theodotion and Symmachus) were corrupt. Origen was the first Christian to understand that these translations were faithful to the Hebrew and sought to restore the LXX to what he took to be its pristine form (namely, one that was closer to the Hebrew). Origen could, on occasion, accept that some variants from the Hebrew in the LXX were justified theologically as they appeared to open up deeper elements in the text but he never developed this theory consistently, generally preferring the view that the LXX was broadly an accurate translation of the Hebrew and differences were best explained by reference to textual corruption. Those who followed Origen took a variety of positions on the question at hand, ranging from mistrusting the Hebrew manuscript tradition to thinking the LXX a flawed translation. Jerome marks a new stage in the discussion »in his rejection of the LXX as an accurate reflection of the Hebraica veritas«, setting himself against Christian tradition. Like Jerome, Augustine attrib­uted importance to the Septuagintal translators of the Hebrew Bible, though he took a more theological approach allowing for variants to contribute to a deeper understanding of the text. In this Augustine was one of the first Christians openly to question the Hebrew criterion for determining the original text.
This book successfully draws attention to an under-studied area of patristic reception of the Hebrew scriptures and makes a good case for the importance of the original Hebrew of the ›Old Testament‹ for considerations of canon, language and text. Some of the argument, inevitably, is dependent on conjectures, especially when it comes to the early Christian evidence, and on disputable interpretations of primary sources. G.’s argument that there is no evidence for Hebraizing translations of the LXX, will encounter opposition for a variety of reasons. Some might wonder whether Philo’s understanding of the LXX as a ›sister‹ text diminishes the importance of the Hebrew; and trying to reconstruct Justin’s attitude to the LXX as a translation is difficult, though G. argues well for the view that the fact that it was an accurate translation of the original Hebrew mattered to Justin. Some observations are based on thinner evidence, though, not least the view that the Wisdom of Solomon and 2 Maccabees only became Christian scripture because it was assumed they were originally written in Hebrew. Origen, of course, remains central. His decision to take more seriously than his predecessors the fact of the divergences between the LXX and the Hebrew and the propriety of the Three emerges from almost no­-where, though G. shows that such issues had been in the back­ground for a while, and is probably best explained by his training as a grammatikos with the importance for such training of what we would now term ›text criticism‹. G.’s discussion of Origen is measured and thoughtful, and argues cogently for Origen’s broad acceptance of the importance of the Hebrew original. But Origen’s position, with its strongly ecclesiastical dimension, is not easy to categorise, and what followed him was broadly a commentary of sorts on the tensions in his own position.
One of the contributions of this book is to lay out the evidence for Jewish and Christian opinions on the matters under discussion. The author is clear that the synagogue’s opinion on the impor­tance of the Hebrew mattered to the church, though on the question of the importance of Hebrew as a holy language, he believes that the church could have arrived at this point independent of Jewish opin­ion. That Jewish opinion mattered to the church on questions of canonicity, and by implication, the text of scripture, is made clear in a number of places, not least the writings of Origen. But at a certain point, it seems, Christians began to diverge from Jewish opinion as they clung to the LXX (still believing it an accurate translation of the Hebrew), while the Jewish community moved away from its former allegiance. Why that might have been the case is not answered by G. (it is perhaps a failing of the book that it lacks a discursive conclusion in which the wider implications of the book are addressed) but such an omission should not detract from the significance of this stimulating and well-researched book he has written at whose richness and interest this review can only hint.