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Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Example #3, Judges 18:30 and 2 Kings 9:4 (Part III, Case Studies in Interpolation in the series: Is 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 an interpolation?

It really strikes me as incredible how Bible translators can be so confident that the Majority Text of the New Testament is riddled with interpolations, yet seem totally incapable of identifying any in the Majority Text of the Old Testament. This despite the fact that the Masoretic Text of the Old Testament is clearly a recension, its oldest manuscripts being up to a thousand years less ancient than the manuscripts that don't support its alleged interpolations.

Just to give one example of an interpolation that Bible translators have been slow to expunge from their texts, look at Judges 18:30, where the identity of the Levite who led the tribe of Dan into idolatry is disclosed. What's his grandfather's name in your Bible? If it's "Manasseh," you're looking at an interpolation which consists of but a single letter, the Hebrew letter nun. That it was not in the original text is obvious by the fact that the Masoretes faithfully copied it down through the centuries suspended above the line of text, as if to say:
We recognize that the text here originally read משה, but that would spell "Moses," and we can't bring ourselves to admit that a grandson of our Great Legislator could have so easily fallen into idolatry, so we'll go ahead and call him מנשה instead.
Had the Masoretes not been so scrupulously honest, we may have never identified the interpolation here, and thought the many manuscripts that read משה to be victims of scribal parablepsis. But it was the translators of the KJV who fell victim instead to the most blatant Orthodox Corruption in the entire Bible. The tendency over the past century and a half, however, is to fix "Moses" firmly in the text, though all but the most paraphrastic of versions, The Message, at least dignify the obvious interpolation with a footnote admitting that the Masoretic Text reads "Manasseh." This despite the fact that at the other end of Codex Alexandrinus, which reads "Moses" here--as do many manuscripts in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin--they bow to its sole authority in the deletion of a key pronoun from Revelation 5:9--a deletion that causes them to forge a conjecture in its place--without ever so much as grudgingly admitting that "some mss read 'us'."

Now, on to the point of today's post. I mentioned in the previous post the likelihood that a scribe could add a note in the margin, never intending to interpolate the text itself. As the process goes on, a later scribe then copies the manuscript, marginal note and all. A still later scribe, seeing the marginal text in the manuscript before him, assumes that it had earlier been inadvertently omitted from his copy, and--as he thinks--inserts it back into the text. Numerous examples of this process have been alleged, but who is to say in which cases Step #1 did in fact occur, or in what cases the process actually began with Step #3? I will give the reader two cases of alleged interpolation, and allow him to sort out the likelihood of which was which.

Case #1: 2 Kings 9:4

And goes the lad the lad the prophet Ramoth Gilead.

So the young man the young man the prophet went to Ramoth Gilead.

Can you spot the interpolation? It's easy to see how it came about. Here is how the original text would have read:

and goes the lad Ramoth Gilead.
So the young man went to Ramoth Gilead.

A scribe with an editorial bent wanted the reader to know that the young man in question was one of the prophets ('disciples of the prophets' in v. 1). So he made a marginal note, similar to those in any Bible today, giving a marginal explanation of a word in the text. But since they had no superscripted letters or numerals in those days, nor chapter and verse references, the way to call attention to a particular word in the text was to write it again in the margin--as, of course, is still done today. For example:

Text: So the young man[a] went to Ramoth Gilead.
Margin: [a]v.4 the young man: that is, the prophet

Take away the superscript letter, the reference, and "that is," and you have the reconstructed reading of a hypothesized exemplar. All it took to get from that, to the reading before us today, was for a subsequent scribe to--rather stupidly, we can all clearly see--bring the entire marginal reading, reference and all, "back into" the text--where it made what would have been an understandable text into a puzzle of redundancy--a redundancy passed on down through the ages by the ever-faithful Masoretes. Stupid as that scribe may have seemed, he was no doubt slavishly obeying his instructions to restore all marginal readings that had been deleted from the text. Applied to most modern translations, this approach would result in a much improved text in the New Testament, but we find it still perpetuating ancient corruptions in the Old Testament, such as the doubly redundant text we end up with here:

So the young man[a] the young man: the prophet went to Ramoth Gilead.

We couldn't ask for a much clearer example of inadvertent interpolation than this. But how do the Bible translators handle it? Well, one would think from reading the fruit of their efforts that either they do not believe it possible for a biblical manuscript to contain an interpolation, or that they are unaware that the science of textual criticism even exists. So what if no Hebrew Manuscript can be found with the conjectured original reading? It is obvious on its face that the present reading is corrupted, and just as obvious exactly what it would take to fix it. We all do this sort of thing all the time when reading the daily paper: spot a scribal error so obvious that there is no doubt in anyone's mind what the original would have read.

But here's how a sampling of how Bible translators handle the awkwardness of the original reading (all spellings standardised):

Targum (Gill): the young man, a disciple of the prophets
Septuagint (Brenton): the young man the prophet
Vulgate (White Man): young man, boy of prophet
Wycliffe: the young waxing man, the child of the prophet
Douay (as Clarke): the young man, the servant of the prophet
King James: the young man, even the young man the Prophet
ERV/ASV: the young man, even the young man the prophet
Darby: the young man, the young prophet

Thus the translators of centuries previous to the last. No one recognized the interpolation for what it was, but took it to be some sort of appositive. To the checklist!

1. - abrupt changes in the subject matter or interruptions in an otherwise continuous train of thought;
2. - seeming inconsistencies or contradictions that conflict with other material in the document;
3. - the presence of certain formulae in supposedly inappropriate or uncustomary contexts;
4. - repetition of redundant elements or perceived changes in tone or style;
5. - the supposed assumption by the writer of different circumstances on the part of the intended audience;
6 - the perceived character of the manuscripts that don't contain the alleged interpolation;
7 - the variety of readings in the manuscripts that do contain the alleged interpolation.

1) Yes. The second 'young man' is one that all the translators try to make fit, in a variety of ways, but it just doesn't.
2) Yes. The idea in some of the early translations that this was a servant of some specific prophet is inconsistent with the context.
3) Yes. The Targums' repeat of the "disciple(s) of the prophets" doesn't fit here like it did in verse one. He is subsequently always just referred to as "he" in the text.
4) Yes. A Hebrew word is repeated, which the Septuagint and subsequent translators took to be a dittography and just didn't translate it.
5) No. This is one of the rare interpolations with universal manuscript support of some level--even in the versions.
6) Yes. There is a lot of variety among the translators who grapple to make sense of the interpolation.

This case study should conclusively show that it isn't necessary to have manuscript support to allege an interpolation. Combining a knowledge of scribal tendencies with observation of a variety of readings is enough internal evidence to prove interpolation. It can safely be assumed that the only reason manuscript evidence is lacking is that the interpolation predates the earliest extant manuscripts.

Now we come to the translators of the last hundred years. Were they, with all their vast knowledge of interpolations that supposedly litter the landscape of the New Testament manuscripts, able to spot this one? Alas, they did no more than duplicate the diversity of ancient readings:

NASB, NKJV: the young man, the servant of the prophet (=Douay)
NRSV: the young man, the young prophet (=Darby)
NIV: the young man, the prophet (=LXX)
NLT, The Message, TNIV: the young prophet

This last reading is an interesting one. Faced with a double redundancy, the translators only threw out half of it--just as the LXX had done two thousand years before. But they still didn't catch that the man was only a disciple of the prophets. His authority was not directly from God, but mediate through, in this case, Elisha. He was a young man, but not a prophet! Every last translator fell hook, line, and sinker for the misguided marginal notation of a scribe whose work has been totally lost in the mists of antiquity. So here, for the first time*, I offer a translation of a reconstructed 2 Kings 9:4--

So the young man went to Ramoth-Gilead.

For the best documented case of this sort of interpolation happening in the New Testament, see here.

We'll get to the other case of alleged interpolation in the next post.

*UPDATE: I apologise for failing to note that the Catholic editors of The Jerusalem Bible preceded me by several decades, in  their English edition of 1968 (and perhaps as early as the French Edition of 1966):
"The young man left for Ramoth-gilead"
I now believe that these editors, who had a low view of inspiration, were the first to be able to break free from the foibles of the Masoretic Text, even where it was supported by all the versions. This, however, in contrast to their introductory claim to have "made full use of the ancient Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew texts."
At any rate, there truly is nothing new under the sun, despite our tendency to think ourselves first until an earlier claim emerges.

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