Early Christianity without the Septuagint: a counterfactual thought experiment

If we cast our minds back to the Alexandrian Jewish community in, say, the third century BCE, we might envisage a counterfactual history like the following: a group of Jewish elders considers the way in which the whole community carries on its conversation, its business, its worship in Greek. Most of our people struggle to understand the holy books, one says. Shall we translate them into Greek? An aged man steps forward and declares: No, the Holy One, blessed be He, delivered these oracles to Moses and the prophets in the holy language, the language of patriarchs and angels, Hebrew, and his holy word must be preserved. No translation is possible. We shall have to teach our people to understand the holy tongue, since to render it into Greek would be a deep profanation. The meeting is swayed by the pious reflections, and agree to an aggressive programme of Hebrew instruction and withdrawal from the broader Alexandrian community. The message is clear: like the Quran a thousand years later, the Hebrew Bible is untranslateable. The sentiment spreads, and in time the halakhic judgment against the propriety of non-Hebrew languages for Scripture becomes widespread. The earliest followers of Jesus see, therefore, no rationale for translating their master’s sayings into Greek, early Christian mission takes as its emphasis Hebrew-speaking communities, who, n.b., have a much more insular relationship to their setting in the Western diaspora because of the linguistic gap. The apostle Paul heads east rather than west, and the New Testament eventually comes to be written, in a curtailed form, in Hebrew rather than Greek, and the emergence of Christianity is firmly rooted in Palestine and the eastern Diaspora, rather than in the Hellenized west. Needless to say, early Christianity would have taken a much different form. In some ways, it is easier to imagine an early Christianity without the apostle Paul than one without the Septuagint.

  1. #1 by Vincent S Artale Jr on June 10, 2015 - 9:40 pm

    Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.

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