Why Thomas’s Gospel Didn’t Make It Into the Canon
Thank you for both points of view on the so-called Jesus Seminar (“Battling Over the Jesus Seminar,” Robert Miller and Ben Witherington, BR 13:02).
What I find most disturbing about the seminar is an academic arrogance of which many 20th-century humans are guilty. We equate technological advancement with advanced intelligence. This attitude leads to the assumption that modern-day scholars are somehow better equipped to determine the truth regarding events that occurred nearly two millennia ago than those who actually witnessed those events.
If gospel accounts contain gross inaccuracies, would not the many eyewitnesses of Jesus have stepped forward to object? Isn’t that the very reason the gospels of Thomas and Peter and many other accounts of Jesus’ life were not included in the canon? They were deemed inaccurate by those historically close to the events.
Let’s give the ancient world some credit. Biblical and extrabiblical evidence shows that they were much more devoted to literary accuracy than we are today.
Congrats on the Civil Tone
Robert Miller and Ben Witherington are to be congratulated on the civil tone of their discussion of the Jesus Seminar. They bring much useful clarification to the subject.
Let’s Duke It Out
I do not consider myself a Fundamentalist; I belong to the Presbyterian Church. We are not unfamiliar with a knockdown donnybrook. I find nothing wrong with a good fight.
Robert Miller characterizes the “polemical rhetoric of some of the seminar’s critics…[as] the ugliest I have ever encountered in scholarly writing.” His reading must be quite limited. He should read Luther. Yet in his rebuttal, Miller himself cannot refrain from making some “nasty” remarks. He gives me the impression of one stung to the quick.
Fort Myers, Florida
Casting (Colored) Stones
If Bible Review is to be considered a serious venue for biblical scholarship, then please, don’t publish any more articles about the Jesus Seminar!
I once had a college professor who theorized that two types of people go to college: those who are genuinely seeking knowledge and those who are seeking to confirm their previously conceived prejudices.
The Jesus Seminar definitely fits the second category.
The work of the Jesus Seminar is neither scholarly nor scientific. Its method of “casting (colored) stones” is nothing but an expanded version of the old “blackball” system used by fraternities and secret societies. It is a method more conducive to venting prejudice than making a determination by fact and reason.
Please open your pages to serious biblical scholarship, and leave the Jesus Seminar to the supermarket tabloids, a fitting outlet for its sensationalist ranting.
Thanks, BR, for presenting both sides of the Jesus Seminar. I do not always agree with the conclusions of your contributors, but they make me think.
Fort Worth, Texas
I find the Jesus Seminar’s obsession with the Gospel of Thomas fascinating indeed. When I first learned that scholars were seriously considering it as a fifth gospel to use in determining the historical Jesus, it blew my mind. I wonder how many people have carefully studied that gospel. I see an unreconcilable conflict between the basic view in Thomas and that in the canonical Gospels. Either one agrees with the four, or one agrees with Thomas. Thomas is based on a rock-hard, hate-women Gnosticism that is foreign to the canonical Gospels. Thomas ends with Peter telling Jesus he has to kick Mary out of the group because women are not worthy of life. Jesus agrees with Peter, but he has a solution; he will lead Mary to become a male like Peter and the others. Thomas concludes, “For every woman who makes herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Even though women have no place in the Kingdom of Heaven, if they follow Jesus and make themselves male, they still have a chance. I can’t help smiling thinking about the reaction in my presbytery if I claimed something like that, basing it on the Jesus Seminar’s Five Gospel collection.
I’m grateful that Thomas was buried in the sands of Egypt instead of included in the New Testament. Can anyone who loves the New Testament honestly say, “I wish we could add Thomas”?
The Seminar Has No Clothes
As an Evangelical who believes in historical, creedal, orthodox Christianity, I believe the Jesus Seminar has done a great service. They have reminded us of what J.G. Machen said many years ago: Liberal, critical Christianity is not real Christianity, but a totally different religion. This is what scares liberal and neo-orthodox academics; the Jesus Seminar proponents are proclaiming openly the unbelief that they secretly and politely hold, the unbelief that the mainline denominations are afraid to reveal to their laypeople. The Jesus Seminar has shown the difference between historic Christianity and liberal and neo-orthodox Christianity—what Flannery O’Connor describes as “those politer elements for whom the supernatural is an embarrassment and for whom religion has become a department of sociology or personality development.”
Witherington Gets the Last Word
I would like to reply to Robert Miller’s final response (“Battling Over the Jesus Seminar,” BR 13:02) to my critique of the Jesus Seminar. I do think that the volume The Five Gospels not so subtly intends to force the issue about the importance of the status of the canonical Gospels and their right to primacy in discussions about the historical Jesus. The implication is that other gospels should be put on similar footing in terms of their historical worth. I—and most scholars—would reject this conclusion, whether we are talking about Secret Mark, the Gospel of Peter or the Gospel of Thomas. I think we learn little or nothing of real significance about the historical Jesus from such documents. For most scholars, they have been tried and found wanting in comparison to the canonical Gospels.
As for the supposedly inauthentic sayings of Jesus compiled by the Jesus Seminar from the canonical Gospels, I find this whole way of putting things problematic. It assumes that just because a saying does not pass one or more of the stringent criteria for authenticity (multiple attestation, double dissimilarity, coherence) we may therefore place it on a list of inauthentic sayings of Jesus. This already tips the scales. A fair-minded scholar would begin with the assumption neither of authenticity nor inauthenticity of any given piece of tradition. If a particular saying does not pass a particular test of authenticity, then we do not have confirmation by this means of its authenticity. But, and this is a big but, the failure to pass such a test by no means proves the inauthenticity of such a saying, nor does it even give good reason for suspicions about such a saying. Proving a negative is far more difficult than confirming a positive, and at best these criteria can only confirm a positive, they cannot prove a negative! This is why no definitive list of inauthentic sayings can be produced using such criteria.
As the Jesus Seminar founder Robert Funk himself has said, methodology is not an indifferent net; it catches what it is intended to catch. What these criteria are intended to do is help provide us with reasonable confirmation that we are right in taking this or that saying as 007going back in some form to Jesus himself. What seems to have happened in the case of the Jesus Seminar is that skeptical presuppositions about the Jesus tradition have been wed to the use of certain criteria for authenticity. The end result is that it is assumed, not proved, that failure to pass such a test places this or that saying into the inauthentic category. This assumption is just not warranted.
The differences between the Jesus Seminar and its critics are as much on the level of presuppositions as they are on the level of methodology and results. A hermeneutic of suspicion does not make one a critical scholar; indeed, it predisposes one in advance to read the evidence a certain way. This is not what I would call fair or open-minded.
Professor of New Testament Interpretation
Asbury Theological Seminary
Getting From 22 to 26
The article by Harvey Minkoff in April’s BR (“As Simple as ABC: What acrostics in the Bible demonstrate,” BR 13:02) highlights the difficulty of translating Hebrew alphabetic acrostic poems into English. The few scholars who have attempted this have had to omit four English letters to make the 26-letter English alphabet match the 22-letter Hebrew one, thus spoiling the “A to Z” (aleph to tau) effect.
A few years ago I used all 26 English letters in translating Proverbs 31:10–31 (which is read in many Jewish homes at the Friday night Sabbath meal) to illustrate for my students the nature of acrostics. Successive letters of the English alphabet were used for the first eight lines, and thereafter for every second line, as in the original (the basic unit is the bicolon). Your readers may be interested in the result.
A capable wife who can find?
Beyond jewels is her worth.
Confidence her husband has in her,
Decreasing never in his wealth.
Evil she does not to him, only good,
For all the days of her life.
Gathering wool and flax,
Her hands delight in work.
In likeness to merchant ships, She brings her food from distant places.
Jet black is the night when she rises
To provide food for her household,
And assign tasks to her maidservants.
Keenly assessing a property, she buys it; With money earned, she plants a vineyard.
Loins girded with strength, She puts her shoulder to the wheel.
Merchandise is perceived by her as profitable.
She burns the midnight oil.
Near to hand is the distaff,
And her fingers hold the spindle.
Opening her hand to the poor, She reaches out to those in want.
Piercing cold arouses no fear for her family, For all her household wear scarlet.
Quilts she makes for herself; Her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Respected is her husband in the gates, When he sits with the elders of the land.
She makes a linen cloak and sells it, 008And supplies a sash to the merchant.
Turned out in strength and dignity, She can laugh at the future.
Uttering words of wisdom, Her tongue teaches loving-kindness.
Vigilant over the progress of her family, She does not eat the bread of idleness.
When they arise, her children bless her; Her husband also sings her praise:
“eXcellently have many women done, But you surpass them all!”
Youthful beauty fades and charm is deceiving;
The woman who fears the LORD,
She is the one to be praised.
Zero in on her accomplishments,
And let her deeds praise her in the gates.
Cowan Professor of Religious Studies
Mount Allison University
Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada
Acrostics and the Liturgy
Harvey Minkoff’s article on acrostics in the Hebrew Bible is very informative (see “As Simple as ABC: What acrostics in the Bible demonstrate,” BR 13:02). It’s worth noting that acrostics that are defective or peculiar in the Masoretic text sometimes show up differently in other sources. For example, Minkoff is right that the alphabetic series in Psalm 145 lacks a verse beginning with the letter nun; but such a verse does appear in the Septuagint, Syriac Peshitta, Vulgate and Dead Sea Scrolls—a very unimaginative repetition of verse nine, replacing “good” (tov) with “faithful” (ne’emon); this verse is used in the Revised Standard Version.
I can add to this discussion that the change of acrostic format in the different chapters of Lamentations—a single straightforward alphabet for chapters one and two, a doubling in chapter three, a single alphabet again in chapter four and then in chapter five no acrostic at all but the same number of verses as in chapters one, two and four—may indicate that chapter five was written by another author who didn’t notice the acrostics already used.
A good deal can be written about acrostics in Hebrew liturgy. Many prayers are in alphabetic sequence; one example is the short confession, Ashamnu, in which a variety of sins (mostly of ingratitude and disloyalty) are expressed (usually as single words) in strict alphabetic order. Some Hebrew hymns use acrostics that spell out the composer’s name. For example, the first letters of the verses of the Hanukkah hymn Maoz Tzur spell out Mordecai; its final verse, which may be a later addition, begins with three words whose first letters spell out hazak (be strong). What is the purpose of these acrostics? The hidden names may simply be the composer’s witty attempt to prove his authorship or to perpetuate his fame. The sequences also prevent tampering with the text. The acrostic is also an aid to memorization. In the case of Psalm 145, which piles on praises of God, or of Ashamnu, which piles on admissions of wrongdoing, the use of the alphabetic sequence has another purpose: that we will know when to stop.
The “Judges” Were “Warriors”
The most interesting article by Ellis Easterly (see “A Case of Mistaken Identity: The judges in Judges don’t judge,” BR 13:02) supports James L. Crenshaw’s view that the word sho’feyt might better be translated not as judge but as warrior-ruler.
Easterly points out that Deborah is the only judge in the Book of Judges who actually judged. While she certainly judged, her more significant role was that of the warrior-ruler. The Bible celebrates her neither for her judicial abilities nor, indeed, for her prophesies, although she was also a prophetess (Judges 4:1). It celebrates her because, as a warrior-leader, she united the tribes of Israel in the battle against Sisera, assuming the supreme military command from her pusillanimous general, Barak (Judges 4:8–9). The final words of Deborah’s famous song are hardly those of a judge: “So may all your enemies be destroyed, oh YHWH, and let those that love Him be like the rising sun in its might” (Judges 5:31).
The term warrior-ruler may also be an appropriate translation for sho’feyt when Abraham asks God before He destroys the cities of the plain: “Will the sho’feyt of all the earth not do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25).
Perhaps Abraham calls God a sho’feyt not because He is a judge, as the word is commonly translated here, but because He would show Himself to be a warrior-ruler if He destroyed the cities of the plain.
The translation of sho’feyt as warrior-ruler may also help to elucidate the role of Moses when he tries to break up a fight between two Israelites after he has already killed an Egyptian who had been beating an Israelite.
When Moses tries to break up the fight, one of the Israelites says to Moses: “Who made you sar (prince) and sho’feyt (judge) over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” (Exodus 2:14).
When this Israelite rebukes Moses by calling him a sho’feyt, he pairs the term with sar, which means princely, as in the cognate Akkadian word sarru, meaning king. The Israelite is not accusing him of judging the Children of Israel but rather of acting as a warrior-ruler. After all, Moses had just killed an Egyptian (Exodus 2:12), an act more typical of a warrior than of a judge. In fact, the Torah states that executions are performed by witnesses or redeemers of blood, not by judges (Deuteronomy 17:7).
Los Angeles, California
Ellis Easterly responds:
I appreciate the comments of Dr. Hepner concerning Deborah’s role as “warrior-ruler.” In pointing out that Deborah was the only “judge” mentioned as having a judicial role, I didn’t mean to exclude leadership or military functions. The article did state that she issued orders to a “coalition of tribes” (see “A Case of Mistaken Identity: The judges in Judges don’t judge,” BR 13:02). In hindsight, however, I probably should have been more explicit.
Where did Ellis Easterly get the year 1330 as a terminus a quo for the making of the Wycliffe Bible? Either this is a misprint or he knows something I don’t know. Otherwise, a very good article!
Ellis Easterly responds:
Thanks to Mr. Fowler for his perceptive question. The answer provides a good illustration as to how scribal errors occur. In the original manuscript the dates “1330 to 1384” were intended to refer to the years of Wycliffe’s birth and death. In the course of the transmission of the text (manuscript), however, it came out as when his Bible was “first translated” into English. The first of Wycliffe’s versions was actually produced between 1380 and 1384 (see F.F. Bruce, The English Bible, rev. ed. [New York: Oxford, 1970], p. 14). The responsibility for the error is mine, since I overlooked it in the final proof.
The Big Picture in Judges
Ellis Easterly has written an important article suggesting that the verbs “to rule” or “to govern” might more accurately convey the meaning expressed in the verb shaphat (traditionally “to judge”) and its cognates in the Book of Judges (see “A Case of Mistaken Identity: The judges in Judges don’t judge,” BR 13:02). He makes some misleading and occasionally erroneous claims, however, especially in the first few paragraphs.
Following a long tradition of scholarship, Easterly identifies twelve individuals in the Book of Judges as “major judges” or “minor judges.” These terms, however, are foreign to the book and ultimately are not fully satisfying descriptions. Nowhere in the Book of Judges are Ehud, Shamgar or Gideon identified by the verb shaphat or any of its cognates. Nine of the twelve may properly be called “judges” (or “rulers” or “governors”), and six of the twelve—Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Gideon, Tola and Samson—may properly be called “deliverers,” since the verb yasha’ or its cognates are used in reference to these six, but there is no single term that can justifiably be used to categorize all twelve. To call all twelve “judges” (or “rulers” or “governors”) is to place too much emphasis on the theological framework in Judges 2:11–3:6 at the expense of the details in the individual stories.
The formula “so-and-so judged Israel” is used with only eight of the twelve, not nine, as Easterly claims; the verb referring to Deborah’s activity (Judges 4:4) is a participle, not a finite verb. A better translation there would be “Deborah was judging (ruling/governing) Israel.”
Easterly’s claim that “most of the book” describes the activities of the “major judges” is also misleading. Of the book’s 618 verses, only 332—or 54 percent—pertain to these six, by my somewhat generous count. Admittedly, this is a somewhat imprecise measurement, since verses are not of uniform length, but I trust the significance is clear: Close to half of the Book of Judges is devoted to matters other than the activities of the six “major judges,” or even the activities of the six “minor judges,” who collectively merit a total of 14 verses. A substantial portion of the book has absolutely nothing to do with “judges” or “deliverers,” but deals with the failure of Israel to complete the conquest (Judges 1:1–2:5), the death of Joshua (Judges 2:6–10), the rise and fall of Abimelech (chapter 9), and all the events described in chapters 17–21, in which the verbs shaphat and yasha’ are never used. The title of the book and the theological framework in 2:11–3:6 obscures much in the book that is of great significance.
Easterly claims that the primary function of all twelve “judges” is to deliver Israel from oppression through military action, and he says that James Crenshaw “is right on target with his appropriate designation of the ‘judges’ as ‘warrior-rulers.’” However, a full third of the twelve (Jair, Ibzan, Elon and Abdon) are not mentioned in relation to any external threat and are not described as engaging in any sort of military action. Again, too much emphasis has been placed on the framework in Judges 2:11–3:6 at the expense of the rest of the book.
Mention should also be made of a 13th “judge”/“deliverer” in the Book of Judges, namely, the Lord, who is identified both as “judge” (Judges 11:27, with the verb shaphat as well as the noun
Finally, I wonder to what extent we should consider the “judges” as “military heroes.” To begin with, not all twelve are successful. The silence at the conclusion of the Samson saga is telling: Samson did not successfully deliver Israel, even though he “judged” Israel for 20 years (Judges 15:20; 16:31). The cycle of judges and deliverers abruptly ends at this point, and the book describes in gruesome detail the state of Israel after the judges: An idol of one man becomes the idol of the whole tribe of Dan, which brutally murders the inhabitants of a “quiet and unsuspecting” town (Judges 18:27); the savage, night-long rape of one woman leads to her death and dismemberment, then to civil war within Israel and finally to the abduction of more than 400 young women to serve as wives for the remaining Benjaminites. These are some of the most gruesome stories in the Bible, and one has to wonder why they follow the stories of the “judges” with no transition or introduction whatsoever. In the end, the reader is the final judge: The “judges” and “deliverers” may have saved Israel from some foreign threats—but who will save Israel from itself?
Princeton Theological Seminary
Princeton, New Jersey
Ellis Easterly responds:
I appreciate Mr. Pinches’s detailed and thoughtful comments on my article (see “A Case of Mistaken Identity: The judges in Judges don’t judge,” BR 13:02). However, my aim was simply to suggest a more accurate, overall term than “judge” to describe these heroes of the faith.
Mr. Pinches has raised some very interesting points that would be well worth pursuing in some type of work (perhaps his doctoral thesis?) that challenges traditional introductions to the book.
I found Anthony Saldarini’s “Understanding Matthew’s Vitriol,” BR 13:02, interesting but unconvincing, and although I am not a Bible scholar, I found his lack of knowledge concerning Matthew’s text astounding.
Saldarini states that Matthew never said Jesus was God, but in the first chapter Matthew writes (quoting Isaiah) “and they shall call his name Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” Now obviously His name was not Emmanuel, it was Jesus. Why would Matthew (mis-)quote the prophet unless he was telling us that Jesus was sent from God; and he calls Jesus the Son of God at least eight times.
Concerning the dating of Matthew, Saldarini writes that “the author of Matthew” was in some way involved in a power struggle with the leaders of certain Jewish communities. What Jewish communities? Jerusalem had been destroyed around 70 A.D., and by 90 A.D. most Jews had become as secularized as many Jews are today. Of what interest to Jews in 90 A.D. was the Temple tax? The Temple was gone. What Jew in 90 A.D. would be concerned with a rumor that His disciples had stolen His body (Matthew 28:15) or would know where the Field of Blood was located (Matthew 27:8)? For Matthew to have been involved in a power struggle, he must have been writing much earlier, perhaps as early as 45 A.D., and certainly before the destruction of the Temple.
Matthew’s vitriol against Jewish leaders was based on their rejection of the Stone that had become the Cornerstone. He was probably also upset that salvation was being offered not only to the Jews but now to the Gentiles, and this he did not approve of.
Saldarini’s theory on Matthew falls far short of the mark.
Anthony Saldarini responds:
Mr. Bailey confidently asserts a number of “facts” that are either erroneous or are hypotheses that are possible but less than probable. We cannot say the Gospel of Matthew was “certainly” written at a given time because it is not dated. I follow the majority hypothesis that Matthew used the Gospel of Mark, which was written around the time of the war with Rome (66–70 C.E.). Thus Matthew was written later in the century, perhaps in the 80s or 90s C.E. Clement of Rome cites teachings similar to those found in Matthew and the other gospels, but he does not quote any gospel exactly. Most probably Clement is quoting oral or written traditions that he and the gospel author(s) used independently.
I say that Matthew was in a power 012struggle with other Jewish leaders because of the many vitriolic polemics against Jewish leaders in his narrative. Some of the arguments over law fit the agenda of the early rabbis, who were just beginning to influence their fellow Jews in the late first century C.E. The rabbis were very interested in Temple law even though the Temple had been destroyed. Matthew’s teaching about the Temple tax is not unusual. For Matthew and other Jews, the Temple was still real and generated thought and hope. I must admit that I have never heard the thesis that after 70 C.E. “most Jews had become as secularized as many Jews are today” and have no idea why someone would hold it. Jewish law, apocalypses, prayers, etc., from the post-70 C.E. period testify to a living religion.
Finally, Mr. Bailey implies that Matthew says that Jesus is God and then writes that God sent Jesus and that Matthew calls Jesus son of God, which is not the same thing. (In the fourth and fifth centuries Christian theologians worked out a trinitarian doctrine in which the second divine person of the Trinity, the Son, becomes human, but surely Matthew did not say this.) Matthew understands Jesus to be closely related to God, but in first-century C.E. terms, if he said Jesus were God, he would be teaching two Gods. Matthew is Jewish enough to avoid that error.
A Legacy of Horror
The virulent anti-Jewish expression found in the Gospels has long remained unanalyzed by Christians over the past 1,900 years. It has, across the centuries, conditioned the Christian populations of Europe to have a highly demonized view of the Jewish people and has led to contemporary anti-Semitism.
It is the underlying cause of the systematic murder of six million Jews, including one and a half million children, by the Germans (all of whom had a Christian upbringing) in our time. The recurrent slaughter of Jewish populations over the centuries, especially during the Christian Crusades, has had a marked demographic effect. Some estimates hold that there would otherwise be about 50 million Jews in the world today, constituting, among other things, a major challenge to Christian triumphalism.
It is therefore with much appreciation that one reads Anthony Saldarini’s exposition of the brutal anti-Jewish statements attributed to Jesus by the author of Matthew. Saldarini speaks of the dangers of such material for post-Holocaust Christians. Unfortunately, the dangers have all been realized, and to this day we continue to gaze with horror upon what has been perpetrated. Jewish Jesus and his Jewish apostles would undoubtedly also reel in horror and anguish at what has been done to the Jewish people in their names.
The psychopathy of Adolf Hitler would never have resonated with the German people without the foundation of Christian Jew-hatred upon which it rested. Indeed, it is possible that the personal pathology of many, including Hitler, would not have focused upon the Jews in the first place were it not for the universal inculcation of the European population with a view of the Jews as devil figures.
Scholars today acknowledge that the anti-Jewish animus in the canonical Gospels reflects very human and mundane power struggles that occurred decades after Jesus, as so skillfully delineated by Professor Saldarini.
How tragic that these insights were not elucidated and widely taught many centuries earlier, and how sad that, even today, they remain largely matters for scholars to contemplate.
New York, New York
Translations, Not Cover-Ups
I wish to reply to my good colleague and friend Walter Harrelson, who took me to task (Readers Reply, BR 13:02) for not affirming the Contemporary English Version Bible translation (CEV). As I said in the October 1996 issue of BR (Joseph Blenkinsopp and Barclay M. Newman, “Point/Counterpoint: Pros and Cons of the Contemporary English Version,” BR 12:05), the claim in the advance publicity to have produced the first Bible translation purged of anti-Judaism is not and could not be vindicated by the means adopted by the anonymous translators. This will be obvious to Christian readers who attended services during Holy Week and listened with even minimal attention to the gospel accounts of the arrest, trial and execution of Jesus. No amount of paraphrastic retranslation could disguise the insistent aim of exonerating the Romans and their local representative and assigning responsibility to the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem acting with the overwhelming support of the populace. And the same aim is restated on numerous occasions in the sermons attributed to apostles in Acts (3:13–15, 4:10, 5:30, 7:51–53 et al.). Much offensive language not amenable to softening by retranslation occurs elsewhere in the New Testament, of course. We could delete references to Jesus’ hearers as children of the devil and therefore murderers and liars (John 8:44), or to a certain Jewish community as a synagogue of Satan (Revelation 2:9, 3:9), but it doesn’t help much to retranslate the latter as “a group that belongs to Satan.”
Perhaps Walter Harrelson would agree with me that in any case, the term “anti-Judaism” is inaccurate and anachronistic as applied to this kind of language and the situations of tension and conflict that precipitated it. These situations arose in the first place within Judaism, involving parties and factions at odds with each other on certain crucial issues tied up with the nature, mission and destiny of Israel. Both Jewish and Christian history bears witness to the pain, acrimony and anger apparently inseparable from the process of a dissident group breaking away from its parent body.
I think Walter Harrelson would also agree that translators are not at liberty to alter the text by commission or omission, that they must not omit (in his 048words) “the sordid, narrowly moralistic, prejudiced and immoral teachings” contained in the Bible, presumably including the New Testament. He goes on to say that we can still work around these reprehensible parts to avoid giving unnecessary offense, for example, by using gender-inclusive language. I would add that such problematic texts can also be explained by using footnotes.
This brings us to the CEV’s use of different expedients to paraphrase or omit the expression hoi ioudaioi, the Jews. When it is quite clear from the gospel context that the term refers to people in general interacting with Jesus, this works well enough, since we may assume, unless informed otherwise, that these contemporaries of Jesus were Jews and not gentiles. But hoi ioudaioi is translated “the Jewish leaders” or simply “the leaders” in places where those referred to are certainly or very probably not confined to the leadership, as in John 7:11–31, the altercation during the Festival of Shelters (sic), and in Acts 12:11, where “(of) the Jewish people” (tou laou
I agree with both Walter Harrelson and James Sanders that we need a variety of translations, but I am uneasy with the idea of having one kind of translation for the scholar and educated layperson and another—“dumbed-down” version—for the less well lettered, unlettered or functionally illiterate. The CEV’s use of lively, crisp and colloquial language often works well and sounds good, but colloquial language doesn’t always wear well, and too often the CEV sinks into banality. John the Baptist condemns the Pharisees and Sadducees as a “bunch of snakes” (Matthew 3:7); in Thessalonika Paul is attacked by “some worthless bums” (Acts 17:5); Matthew’s Pharisees are show-offs, not hypocrites (Matthew 23:13); women are warned against “fancy hairdos”(1 Peter 3:3), and so on. Paul doesn’t get stoned, as in earlier versions, but is hit with stones instead (Acts 14:19), which is at least better than the New Revised Standard Version’s “once I received a stoning” (2 Corinthians 11:25). On the other hand, his rebuke of the high priest “you whitewashed wall, God will hit you” (Acts 23:3) sounds just plain silly.
It also seems that the translators made a pact to avoid any word of more than two syllables, including such not particularly esoteric terms as synagogue, circumcised and purification. Unleavened bread is thin bread (Acts 20:6), and we get through the entire passion narrative without having to pronounce the words crucify or crucifixion.
I approve of the good intentions that inspired the anonymous translators of the CEV, but I have serious reservations about their approach to the translator’s task as well as some aspects of the translation itself.
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, Indiana
The Alexandria Library: A Clarification
I just recently had a chance to read J. Harold Ellens’s fine article, “The Ancient Library of Alexandria,” in the February 1997 issue and want to make some corrections to the sidebar that accompanies the article. The sidebar, entitled “Alexandria Library Redux,” contains two inaccuracies. The first has to do with the site of the new library: It does not correspond to the site of the original library, as is stated, citing the first-century B.C.E. historian Strabo (who never mentions the “library” per se); the site corresponds to what Strabo described as the “Inner Palaces,” part of a larger neighborhood called the “Palaces.” The ancient Mouseion, with its library, could have been located in the general vicinity, but no one knows. Second, it is not true that Gary Lease and I were granted permission to excavate the site in 1984 and 1989; the sites involved in our aborted project were in other locations, although not far from the new library site. The focus of our interest was the area corresponding to the most important Jewish quarter of Alexandria in the first century, adjacent to the “Palaces,” according to Josephus.
I wish to stress that the concerns I had with the planning of the new library project, mentioned in the sidebar—such as the omission of any provisions for preliminary archaeological excavation of the site—were not based on any proprietary interests of mine. They were based on general considerations of what should be required in connection with modern building projects on sites of archaeological importance, based on my own knowledge of the topography of ancient Alexandria.
I did put forward a resolution at the Fifth International Congress of Coptic Studies in Washington, D.C., in 1992, which passed. The resolution called upon the General Organization of the Alexandria Library, the Governorate of Alexandria and other relevant Egyptian authorities “to allow for a scientific archaeological excavation under the auspices of the Egyptian Antiquities Organization [EAO] before proceeding with construction.” After the congress, I also sent to several journals and newspapers a statement titled “The New Alexandria Library: Promise or Threat?” which was published in Biblical Archaeologist 56:2 (1993), p. 106. (It was submitted to but not published in Biblical Archaeology Review.) By the time the statement was published, a decision had been made to interrupt the building site preparation to allow for an archaeological excavation to be conducted there. This excavation, mounted under the auspices of the EAO, was underway when I visited Alexandria in August of 1993. My visit prompted the follow-up article that appeared in Biblical Archaeologist 56:4 (1993), p. 221 (referred to in the sidebar in BR).
Finally, regarding archaeologist Mieczyslaw Rodziewicz’s role in the excavations, it should be stated that he was one of several archaeologists working on the site, under the general direction of the Graeco-Roman Museum of Alexandria and the EAO. He did tell me at the time that he would be in charge of the excavation reports, which to my knowledge have not yet appeared. (Rodziewicz has worked for the EAO in Alexandria since 1984, but for many years prior to that he was director of the Polish Excavations in Alexandria.)
Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies
University of California, Santa Barbara