Orthodox Study Bible redux

My Orthodox brothers Felix Culpa and Esteban will both be commenting on the Orthodox Study Bible in coming days. I recommend you to check their blogs for their insightful critiques. I think this will be the last post of mine dealing more than in passing with the new Orthodox Study Bible. I’ve noted a few more problems with this Bible, two of which are “deal breakers” which, for me, means it will join its predecessor and various other study Bibles to collect dust. This is unfortunate, as some of the translated texts are done quite well. The problem is that not all of them are, and that the presentation in this volume inadequately reflects the nobility of the subject matter. Let us cut to the chase!

On Tobit. There are two texts of Tobit, the short text as found in the majority of manuscripts (Hanhart’s GI, found in Codices Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, and others, as well as represented in Jerome’s Vulgate translation), and the long text (Hanhart’s GII, found in Codex Sinaiticus with lacunae, and a few fragments otherwise, but well-represented in the Old Latin translation). The GII text is universally recognized to the be the older of the two, with GI representing a later reworking of the text. In such a case, the presentation of both versions or the longer alone (perhaps with an indication of which passages are lacking in the shorter version) would be preferable. While it is known that the text of Codex Alexandrinus is the Old Testament in favor on Mount Athos, and so the shorter version of Tobit will be preferred there, there is no canonical statement finding for either ancient text. The fuller text does tell the story better, however, and for that reason alone it might be preferred. But it appears that the Revised Standard Version was the boilerplate in the books called anaginōskomena (“readable”) among the Orthodox and “apocrypha” generally, and the RSV used the shorter text. Again, the NETS actually provides translations of both texts in parallel, as it does for the case of all such divergent texts in the Septuagint tradition: in Iesous (Joshua), Judges, Esther (giving the Old Greek and the Alpha text, which is a bonus!), Tobit (the GII and GI texts), Sousanna, Daniel, Bel and the Dragon (all three have both Old Greek and Theodotion). The approach of NETS is preferable.

Regarding the notes in the OSB, I thought I’d take a look at something which would naturally have occurred to a good editor: to make certain that the points made in the articles about various texts were also included in the notes to those texts. Here too the OSB makes a failing grade. Take, for example, the article “Types of Mary in the Old Testament.” Firstly, why just “Mary” and not a properly Orthodox reference to the Champion of the Faithful like “The Virgin Mary Theotokos”? How about even “Mary, Mother of God”? Oh, that’s right, I forgot that this OSB is actually directed at Protestants, not Orthodox, so we couldn’t possibly call her what we actually call her in what is supposed to be our own Bible! Secondly, of the eighteen Scriptural references given in the article, ten are not represented in the notes to those texts. That is, at those points in the notes, where a reader is most likely to be looking for information on how the Orthodox Church reads the verse, there is no notice that these various ten verses are read to reflect the Theotokos. Even aside from this, and it really is unforgivable, Isaiah 7 and 9 are not included in the article! How can the primary prophecy of the Theotokos in Isaiah 7.14, recognized even in the Gospels, not be included in an article on the subject? That’s laughable! Likewise, there are many other references which were not included. The author of the article could simply have sat down with an annotated copy of the services for the Church’s Feasts, like The Festal Menaion put together by Bishop Kallistos, and made a list of all the Scripture readings and allusions therein and made sure the editor would ensure appropriate commentary in the notes for each. This would’ve taken mere minutes, not hours or days. In addition to this shortcoming in this particular article, there is another shortcoming, a more literal one: the text of no article fills the page dedicated to it. It appears that the font of the articles was changed along the line somewhere so that it is smaller and no longer fills the page. This is sloppy. The extra space could’ve been used to better the articles.

Randomly flipping through the OSB, I found that a number of notes are problematic in historical or factual matters. A note to Isaiah 22.1-5 indicates “Jerusalem fell to the Assyrians.” This is not the case. A note to 2 Kingdoms 15.7-12 (the text of 15.7 begins “Four years later…”) reads “After four years (the LXX has “forty”)….” So, this quite apparently answers our question as to whether this is a translation of the Septuagint or not. Clearly it is not! It is guided by other motivations, which allowed some of the translators to adjust their text toward the Hebrew. This is not in itself a bad idea, but it is not what the Old Testaement of the OSB (or rather the “St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint™” [sic and barf]) proclaims itself to be. The note to Judith 1.1 places the entire book in the wrong light: “This opening verse is anachronistic in that the father of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebopolassar, destroyed Nineveh in about 607 BC.” Aside from the error that Nineveh was not destroyed in “about 607” but 612 BC, with no “about” about it, and the oddly spelled Nebopolassar rather than the standard Nabopolassar, this misses the entire point of the book in its parabolic masking of various historical characters with names drawn from the rest of the Old Testament, of which Judith is a part. Nineveh represents Seleucia, and Nebuchadnezzar the Seleucid king, and so on. Reading this as a straight historical account is as much a mistake as reading it as an entirely allegorical one. Bad form! A relatively good note appears at Daniel 5.2: “St. Jerome remarks that ‘vice always glories in defiling what is noble.’ He sees in Belshazzar’s blatant misuse of the holy vessels a type of the misuse and twisting of Scripture by heretics for the purpose of drawing others into false doctrine and worship.” Now that is on the right track, at least. Yet there is no way to find out where St Jerome elaborates on this, as there is no reference to his undoubtedly pithy statement on the matter. It would perhaps have been preferable to leave out the vast number of inane notes in preference for more substantial patristic quotations which included references to the works (at the very least!) in which they appear. But I tire of this.

There are some very good translations in the OSB Old Testament. Isaiah and Job are quite well done, as is Jeremiah. I haven’t delved too much into others, as this edition is not conducive to reading. Most of the Prophets suffer from the serious drawback that their texts are not presented (I kid you not) in poetic scansion. The lines are all run together as though everything in them were prose. And the density of this font in combination with the close line spacing and the thin paper (with its subsequent bleedthrough) makes for very uncomfortable reading indeed. For me, this is one of the “deal breakers” I mentioned above. For whatever reason the verses weren’t presented in poetic format, the verdict is the same: poorly done indeed!

Add to this the occasion that the very complicated issues of verse numbering in various books have received the least useful solution in this OSB: that of creating a versification unused by anyone else, and probably not even by all the annotators in the volume! This is the other “deal breaker” I mentioned. This is wholly unacceptable and unjustifiable. A better solution, again, is presented in the NETS: the versification of the standard editions is retained, and the versification of the Hebrew text is indicated in small raised parentheses.

Readers will need to follow the progress of the other Orthodox Septuagint translation projects in order to eventually obtain a decent Orthodox translation of the Church’s Old Testament. The OSB is not that. In the meantime, I would continue to recommend the NETS. While it may not be a perfect translation, and it is an academic translation geared toward usefulness as a tool in better understanding the underlying Greek texts, it is still of a higher consistent quality than is the OSB. If a reader wants to read a contemporary English translation of the Septuagint, then the NETS edition is the one to read.

A tale of a tail

St. Jerome, who tells us that he translated the Book of Tobit from Greek into Latin in the course of a single night, was intrigued by that dog. Although he must have been pretty tired as he came to the end of his candlelight labor during the morning hours, Jerome was still sufficiently alert to do something rather imaginative with that dog. He actually altered the text of the Book of Tobit, a thing he felt free to do, since he did not believe the book to be canonical (a distinctly eccentric view among the Latin Fathers, be it noted). Jerome inserted a detail—or, more accurately, a tail—in the Vulgate’s description of Tobias’s return: “Then the dog, which had been with them in the way, ran before, and coming as if it had brought the news, showed his joy by fawning and wagging his tail.” Neither that tail nor its wagging is found in the Septuagint version of Tobit. Jerome made it all up.

It is not difficult to discern why the prankish Jerome engaged in this little witticism. Struck by the story’s resemblance to Homer’s Odyssey, which also tells of a man’s journey back to the home of his father, Jerome remembered Argus, the dog of Odysseus, the first friend to recognize that ancient traveler on his return to Ithaca. The old and weakened Argus, Homer wrote, when he recognized his master’s voice, “endeavored to wag his tail” (Odyssey 17.302).

There was more than a joke involved here, however. Jerome correctly regarded the trip of Tobias, like the travels of Odysseus, as a symbol of man’s journey through this world, returning to the paternal home. Tobias thus takes his place with Gilgamesh, Theseus, Jason and the Argonauts, Aeneas, and the other great travelers of literature. It is the Bible’s teaching that we do not make this trip alone. We are accompanied by “an angel of peace, a faithful guide, a guardian of our souls and bodies.”

Fr Patrick Reardon, Christ in His Saints, 278


Allegory, in some sense, belongs not to medieval man but to man, or even to mind, in general. It is of the very nature of thought and language to represent what is immaterial in picturable terms. What is good or happy has always been high like the heavens and bright like the sun. Evil and misery were deep and dark from the first. Pain is black in Homer, and goodness is a middle point for Alfred no less than for Aristotle. To ask how these married pairs of sensibles and insensibles first came together would be great folly; the real question is how they ever came apart, and to answer that question is beyond the province of the mere historian.

C. S. Lewis The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition, 44.

Some thoughts

I’ve been thinking about the excerpt from Bishop, later Archbishop, now Servant of God (he is in the first steps of canonization as a saint) Fulton J. Sheen that I posted yesterday, The Night Friends of Christ.

First, I was reminded of the kind of strong Catholic culture that used to exist in the United States mid-century, of which Fulton J. Sheen is probably the standout figure. Archbishop Sheen became an actual celebrity, a household name through his popular radio program and extremely popular television presence in two programs, Life is Worth Living and The Fulton Sheen Show, crossing confessional boundaries all around. Archbishop Sheen is still popular in Catholic circles, of course, and various episodes are available on Youtube, and reruns of his programs are broadcast (thankfully!) on EWTN, the Eternal Word Television Network, a cable station. In the excerpt from the book which I posted yesterday, it’s possible to gain a taste of what made Archbishop Sheen so very popular. His tone is one of the loving teacher, of a father teaching his child important things, though not teaching as though the child were stupid: not paternalistically, but paternally. This is something more easily seen in his television programs: his loving respect for the people in his audience, whom he knows and shows he knows are capable of understanding and of having faith, and of increasing both where already present. Is this so hard for us to do today? Can we not learn from a master who blazed a trail with love? Perhaps that way we could reach other night friends of Christ?

This leads to my second thought, of what a perfect descriptor “Night Friends of Christ” is for those people who are, for whatever reason—family, friends, profession, society’s ridicule (again a problem with the re-paganizing of our once-Christian cultures)—secret friends of Christ, willing to meet Him secretly in the night journeys of their own hearts, but not willing to meet Him in the daylight travelling with His Church, the Body of Christ, seen and known by all as a (gasp!) Christian. Will he next say he believes the Bible? All those dogmas? That there was an exodus? That Israel birthed a Messiah? That a man rose from the dead? That the Almighty God was born, through His completely unnecessary and unselfish love became what we are and suffered what we do in order to heal every instant, every contingent of our existence in this universe of pain and death? Why, yes, he might very well believe all that, and he wouldn’t be alone at all.

So, keep your eyes open for the Night Friends of Christ of your own acquaintance. Pray for them, whether you know of them or not. Most especially, be the example that they need to draw them out into the daylight, so that they might be willing to confront the secular world and its ruling paradigms, and so they will demand their right to their Lord’s, their treasured friend’s, Body!

The Night Friends of Christ

The body of the Saviour hung limp upon the Cross—anybody’s property, but it belonged to the mother especially. No one in all the world, except Mary, could pronounce His words at the Last Supper as she could, though she was not a priestess. Since no one but the Blessed Mother had given Him body and blood, the Holy Spirit overshadowing, only she could say: ‘This is my body; this is my blood.’ She alone gave Him that by which He redeemed; she alone made Him possible; she alone made Him the new Adam. There was no human counterpart; on the Spirit of Love.

Mary claimed Him as her own through the services of two rich men. One was Nicodemus, the secret disciple who made his appearances at night. Nicodemus was a doctor of the law and was looked upon as a master in Israel. From the very beginning, he knew that Our Saviour was a teacher come from heaven, yet in order to preserve his authority and not expose himself to the hatred of his countrymen, he always showed up in darkness. The other, Joseph of Arimathea, gave Him the new tomb. The latter had gone to Pilate to ask him for the Body of Our Lord, and Pilate committed It to him. The wealth, rank, and position of these men was noteworthy; one heard the Crucified One tell about His being ‘lifted up’; the other came from the land of mourning, the site of Rachel’s tomb. Isaias, centuries before, had foretold that Our Lord would be ‘rich in death’; He is now given over to the rich man, Joseph of Arimathea.

These two men with a few devout followers prepared to take Our Lord down, to unfasten the nails and take off the crown of thorns. Bending over the figure on which the Blood was hardened, only the eyes of faith could see the marks of royalty there. But with the love that broke through all bounds of calculation, these two latecomers and hidden disciples tried to show their loyalty. It is likely that when the dead Christ was taken down from the Cross, He was laid in the arms of His Blessed Mother. To a mother no child ever grows up. It must have seemed for the moment that Bethlehem had come back again, for He was a Babe in her embrace. But all had changed. He was no longer white as He came from the Father; He was red as He came from the hands of men.

Nicodemus and Joseph anointed the Body with a hundred pounds of myrrh and spices and wound it about with pure linen. The elaborate embalming rather suggested that these secret disciples, as the Apostles themselves, were not expecting the Resurrection. Physically, they were mindful of Him; spiritually, the knew not yet Who He was. Their concern about His burial was a token of their love for Him, not of their faith in Him as the Resurrection and Life.

In the same quarter where he was crucified
      There was a garden            John19:41

The word ‘garden’ hinted at Eden and the fall of man, as it also suggested through its flowers in the springtime the Resurrection from the dead. In that garden was a tomb in which ‘no man had ever been buried’. Born of a virgin womb, He was buried in a virgin tomb, and as Crenshaw said: ‘And a Joseph did betroth them both’. Nothing seems more repelling than to have a Crucifixion in a garden, and yet there would be compensation, for the garden would have its Resurrection. Born in a stranger’s cave, buried in a stranger’s grave, both human birth and death were strangers to His Divinity. Stranger’s grave too, because since sin was foreign to Him, so too was death. Dying for others, He was placed in another’s grave. His grave was borrowed, for He would give it back on Easter, as He gave back the beast that He rode on Palm Sunday, and the Upper Room which He used for the Last Supper. Burying is only a planting. Paul would later on draw from the fact that He was buried in a garden the law that if we are planted in the likeness of His death, we shall rise with Him in the glory of His Resurrection.

Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, chapter 53 of Life of Christ

Happy Western Easter!

On the Oral Torah

The sages in these proportionate, balanced, and measured components revealed a world of rules and exposed a realm of justice and therefore rational explanation. It was the kingdom of Heaven, so the sages called it, meaning the kingdom of God. For that Eden, in the abstraction of natural history that was invented by philosophy, corresponds to the conception of the world and its perfection set forth by the theology of the sages. They accordingly conceived of a philosophical Eden out of Scripture’s account—its authorized history of the world from Eden to the return to Zion. What the observed facts of nature taught philosophers, the revealed facts of Scripture taught our sages of blessed memory. Therein theology differs from philosophy—but, in the Oral Torah in particular, the difference is there and there alone and nowhere else.

Jacob Neusner, The Theology of the Oral Torah, 17

Baruch and Jacobus Rex

As an interesting comparison, below one may compare three editions of the King James Version of Baruch 3.9-14. The first is the text of the 1611 edition, in its original orthography. The second is the Oxford Bible text, the edition of the King James of 1769, which is what most of us are familiar with as the King James Bible. The third is the edition of David Norton, from the New Cambridge Paragraph Bible (paperback corrected edition, 2006). Norton’s editorial work or recovering the original text of the King James Bible is described in detail in A Textual History of the King James Bible. This text is very nice. Even though it’s a paperback, it’s rapidly becoming a favorite of mine in my Bible collection, for the sheer quality of the translation. We can look forward, the publisher told me, to further bindings of this corrected text of the New Cambridge Paragraph Bible later this year. In any case, notice the simple corrections that Norton has made to the text, and listen to how much better it flows, even in this obscure passage in Baruch. The text really does become poetry in Norton’s edition, metrically balanced, but not adhering to a rigid metric scheme. It’s truly free verse three hundred years before its time, really. Enjoy.

1611 Edition
Heare, Israel, the commandements of life,
giue eare to vnderstand wisedome.
How happeneth it, Israel, that thou art in thine enemies land,
that thou art waxen old in a strange countrey,
that thou art defiled with the dead?
That thou art counted with them that goe downe into the graue?
Thou hast forsaken the fountaine of wisedome.
For if thou hadst walked in the way of God,
thou shouldest haue dwelled in peace for euer.
Learne where is wisedome, where is strength, where is vnderstanding,
that thou mayest know also where is length of daies, and life,
where is the light of the eyes and peace.

1769 Edition
Hear, Israel, the commandments of life:
give ear to understand wisdom.
How happeneth it Israel, that thou art in thine enemies’ land,
that thou art waxen old in a strange country,
that thou art defiled with the dead,
That thou art counted with them that go down into the grave?
Thou hast forsaken the fountain of wisdom.
For if thou hadst walked in the way of God,
thou shouldest have dwelled in peace for ever.
Learn where is wisdom, where is strength, where is understanding;
that thou mayest know also where is length of days, and life,
where is the light of the eyes, and peace.

2006 Edition
Hear, Israel, the commandments of life:
give ear to understand wisdom.
How happeneth it, Israel, that thou art in thy enemies’ land,
that thou art waxed old in a strange country,
that thou art defiled with the dead,
that thou art counted with them that go down into the grave?
Thou hast forsaken the fountain of wisdom.
For if thou hadst walked in the way of God,
thou shouldst have dwelt in peace for ever.
Learn where is wisdom, where is strength, where is understanding,
that thou mayest know also where is length of days, and life,
where is the light of the eyes, and peace.

The First Spring Day

I wonder if the sap is stirring yet,
If wintry birds are dreaming of a mate,
If frozen snowdrops feel as yet the sun
And crocus fires are kindling one by one:
     Sing, robin, sing;
I still am sore in doubt concerning Spring.

I wonder if the Springtide of this year
Will bring another Spring both lost and dear;
If heart and spirit will find out their Spring,
Or if the world alone will bud and sing:
     Sing, hope, to me;
Sweet notes, my hope, soft notes for memory.

The sap will surely quicken soon or late,
The tardiest bird will twitter to a mate;
The Spring must dawn again with warmth and bloom,
Or in this world, or in the world to come:
     Sing, voice of Spring,
Till I too blossom and rejoice and sing.

Christina Georgina Rossetti, 1 March 1855

The Professor

O child of the sixties
    thou art not “all that”!
To dance with the pixies
    thou doffest thy hat.
Thy tie is let fly,
    thy shoes are let loose.
Thinkest thou art a hippy
    in thy Brooks Brothers suit?

Forty years onward
    thou seest not the change,
thy gray ponytail
    now surrounded by mange.
Thou thinkest thy dance
    of ideas is so bold.
Yet ‘struth, they and thou
    are now simply just old.

Me, today, from about 11:30-11:54

Heroes of Faith

Today is the Sunday of Orthodoxy on which we commemorate the Seventh Ecumenical Council and the vindication of the Apostolic Faith. Though the particular emphasis on this day is on icons, as the Seventh Ecumenical Council definitively categorized iconoclasm and aniconism in the Church as heresy, since this was the last great theological challenge in the formative years of the Church, it has come to be celebrated as a commemoration of the defense, approbation and triumph of the Apostolic Faith against all its enemies through the ages.

Today was also read for the Epistle reading Hebrews 11.32-40, a passage very familiar to Christians as one describing heroes of the faith. There is a very interesting variation on this particular reading from the old Georgian Lectionary, which is based almost verbatim on the practice in the churches in Jerusalem circa 700 AD. This variation entails the insertion of names of various holy prophets into the text at appropriate places:

And what more can we say, for time would fail us in this description of the judges, of Barak, of Samson, and of Jephthah, of the kings, of David and Samuel and the prophets, Abraham and the judges who through faith conquered kings, Abraham, Moses, Joshua and Phineas administered justice, Abraham, Joshua, and Caleb received promises, Samson and David and Daniel shut the mouths of lions, the three youths Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael quenched flaming fire, Uriah, Mideli [sic], and Elijah the Prophet escaped the edge of the sword, David, King Hezekiah, King Asa received strength out of weakness, Gideon, Barak, Samson, and David routed the foreign armies, the Shunammite woman and the woman from Sarepta — women received their dead by resurrection, the seven Maccabee brothers and their mother and other prophets others were tortured … that they might be worthy, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Job, certain were bent over … were tested, Jeremiah and Micah chained and imprisoned, Jeremiah and Naboth were stoned, Isaiah was cut in two, Job, Zerubbabel were tempted, Micah, Amos, Zechariah the priest were killed by the sword, John the Baptist, Elijah, Elishah went around in skins…this world, the prophet who nourished Obadiah wandered in deserts…in the caves of the earth. With all these, witness was proven…that not without us will they be perfected.

There are two quite striking additions relating to the Old Testament apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, and others that may likely do so, though they are obscure.

The first is “the seven Maccabee brothers and their mother and other prophets others were tortured … that they might be worthy” is inserted into verse 35, the relevant part of which in the ESV reads: “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.” Anyone familiar with the tale of the mother and her seven sons in Second Maccabees chapter 7 will recognize this summary in Hebrews 11.35 as relating to that episode. What is striking is that the Georgian Lectionary made this connection explicit in a liturgical context (specifically for the commemoration of Saint Antony the Great on 17 January; commemoration of the Holy Prophet Amos on 17 June; and the commemoration of the Holy Prophet Jonah on 10 December).

Then comes the reference to “Isaiah was cut in two” which is an alteration of part of verse 37, “they were sawn in two.” This particularly grisly end to the earthly life of the Holy Prophet Isaiah is related in books categorized as among the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, particularly the Martyrdom of Isaiah (also known as Ascension of Isaiah) chapter 5 and in the Lives of the Prophets 1.1. It is also mentioned in St Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 120, and also appears in the writings of St Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lecture 13) and Palladius (Dialogue on the Life of St John Chrysostom. This is also referred to in the hymnography of Matins on Wednesday of mid-Pentecost in Eastern Orthodox churches: “They sawed Esaias asunder with a saw fashioned out of wood.” Also somewhere I’ve read an elaboration of this tradition that Isaiah was hiding inside a hollow mulberry tree, was found, and then the tree was sawed through with him inside it (I heard this so long ago as a child that whenever I see a mulberry bush I think of Isaiah; I can’t find a reference to this fuller version, however). This tradition of Isaiah’s death by being sawn asunder was so widespread, however, it’s hard to say whether it was related to a particular writing or simply a long-preserved tradition with no single source of written original expression.

Other alterations above refer to events that can’t be easily construed from the biblical text. These include “Uriah, Mideli [sic], and Elijah the Prophet escaped the edge of the sword” (Mideli being certainly a corruption, perhaps Mordecai in Esther might be meant); “Job, Zerubbabel were tempted”—I suppose one may read Job as being tempted to sin in Job, though this is not so explicit as in Testament of Job, while the tempting of Zerubbabel remains mysterious; “Micah, Amos, Zechariah the priest were killed by the sword”—the deaths of Micah and Amos are not related canonically, and death “by the sword” doesn’t fit the descriptions in Lives of the Prophets, wherein Micah is apparently pushed off a cliff, and Amos dies some days after being hit in the head with a club (LivPro 6–7), and the death of Zechariah the priest in Second Chronicles 24.20-22 is not by sword, though this could be inferred from Matthew 23.35 and Luke 11.51.

This bit of elaboration of Hebrews 11.32-40 on the part of either Greek ecclesiastics in Jerusalem or Georgian ecclesiastics in their homeland shows the enduring value of tradition within community, and specifically the value early Christians placed on traditions known through their inclusion in the Old Testament apocrypha and pseudepigrapha. Presumably the works preserving those traditions were likewise held in some kind of esteem, subordinate but supportive of the canonical biblical books (which differ among traditions).

Above all, it’s simply a delightful lectionary passage, bringing even greater life to an already beloved passage. I hope others will also find delight in it.