Thursday, March 11, 2010

Eastern Orthodox refuted?

My most recent YouTube videos, made in response to a series of videos entitled "Eastern Orthodoxy Refuted" by drakeshelton, a Presbyterian. I would have posted his videos here as well, so you can see exactly what I'm responding to, but he took them down shortly after I posted these.


  1. Maybe not, but that again, private, if You would've stayed Roman Catholic, You could've gotten one of those cool-sounding Latin phrases as a blog title... something like "militus Christi", for instance -- just a thought there, soldier. :D

  2. This was the first time I'd heard of Eastern Orthodox folk royally bashing the Massoretic tradition. Since the Septuagint was translated from Hebrew, doesn't it make sense to read the Hebrew original whenever possible? Is the anti-Hebrew stance of Orthodoxy only extended to the choice of canon or does it disregard the text as well? Even those who follow the ben Asher tradition (codex Leningradensis, Aleppo, etc.) from time to time disagree with the vowels pointing of the best texts, etc, but as a whole the MT texts reflect very old, pre-Christian traditions (even if we know from the LXX, DSS, etc. that some books of the Bible circulated in text traditions other than the proto-Massoretic - but competing traditions is not the same as consigning the entire MT to some post-Christian reactionary creation). I've been considering exploring Eastern Orthodoxy, but would hate for all my time spent learning Hebrew to be wasted!

  3. Anon:

    I don't think your time learning Hebrew would be wasted at all! While I think that it's important to establish that the Masoretic is not the original Hebrew, but a Hebrew textual tradition of a later date, and also to recognize that its collation and preservation are from almost entirely Jewish (post-Christ) sources, I also think there is a great deal of value to be found in the Masoretic, both as a historical document and as a source by which to deepen one's understanding of Sacred Writing. While, as Christians, we should default to the Septuagint as itself, in the Greek, being divinely inspired, and so give precedence to the readings of the Septuagint insofar as it differs from the Masoretic, I see absolutely no problem (and I doubt any Orthodox Christian does) with using the Masoretic in studies of Scripture. Origen of Alexandria's Hexapla, in which he compared and contrasted five different versions (both Greek and Hebrew, including a version of the Masoretic) of Scripture side by side is an example of Orthodox Christian use of the Masoretic. Essentially, I would say that the Masoretic can be considered divinely inspired insofar as it agrees with the Septuagint -- though I would venture to say that even the differences in the Masoretic can be enlightening both spiritually and historically. I hope that this answers helps clear things up some.

    (You might also be interested in the blog of an Orthodox Priest in Israel, who does a lot of work amongst the Jews there and who posts often elucidating from the Hebrew. I've followed his blog for some time now, and he hasn't posted much in the last few months, but his older posts may be of some value with you. It is here: )


  4. Lucian:

    I'm a Sergeant, by the way ;) My last deployment to Iraq was with a cavalry unit (1st Cavalry Division out of Fort Hood, TX) -- I got my unit's chaplain (some off-brand of Protestantism) to put up an icon of St. George in our "chapel" (actually a tent with plywood "floor"). :)

  5. There are many Orthodox who use Bibles based on the Masoretic text. Having said that, the preference is for the Old Testament text used by the Apostles in their writings of the New Testament: the LXX. I'm not sure if I'd want to say: "If it was good enough for the Apostles, it's good enough for us." But, that's essentially why Orthodox have liked the LXX.

    David, you do a great job of patiently responding to people. Keep up the great work! Have you thought about service in the Church after you finish serving in the military?

  6. Orthocath:

    I appreciate the encouragement! I've definitely thought about serving in the Church (whether ordained or not) in some way once I get out. I've also thought about becoming an Army Chaplain some day. I think both of those are well down the road right now, though -- a little too young and high-strung for all that right now :)

  7. Orthocat, the picture of the Apostles' use of scripture is a little more complex. You might check out Longenecker's book Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period. Longenecker does a fine job demonstrating how some quotes of the Old Testament come from the LXX, some could only come from the MT and some are a more free translation that differs from both the LXX and the MT. He breaks down his analysis book by book: the author of Hebrews, for example, seems to have used only the LXX. But the picture isn't as simple as "the LXX was good enough for the Apostles".

    David, thanks for the blog tip. I'll check that out.

  8. David, I've got a buddy who likes to write about the LXX and point out curious places where the NT writers are getting information that he thinks is only found in the LXX (like angels participating in the giving of the Law at Sinai), and almost every time he writes such a thing, I dip into the Targums an show that this tradition is recorded there as well. Dating the Targumic material is hard, so it is tough to come up with a theory for why this happens. I can't say whether the Targums are translations of a different Hebrew text (something closer, in places, to whatever the LXX might have been translating), or if these changes reflect an oral tradition of interpretation that was never in text form, but the same tradition was expressed in the LXX, etc. Someone brighter than me may well have a theory. But since the Targums are embraced as part of the Jewish tradition even today (annotated copies of the Bible that include things like Rashi's commentaries pretty much always have at least Targum Onqelos and/or Jonathan printed right there with the MT), it seems strange to posit some sort of cover-up being done by Jews to make the Bible less Christian, as no attempt was made to 'clean-up' the Targums, and yet they weren't rejected.

  9. Anon:

    Nobody said they were consistent about it ;) The Book of Sirach is cited in the Talmud as Scripture as well. :) I think that Aquila's Greek translation of the Scriptures, intended as a replacement for the Septuagint is abundant evidence for the charge I (and quite a few scholars, as well as the early Christians) level against the ancient Jews. The "back to Hebrew" movement which produced the Masoretic was largely an anti-Christian movement, because the Jews of the time knew that the claims of Christians hinged on some of the patricular features of the Septuagint. This isn't to say that there was a massive cover up, but that the Jews did come to reject the Septuagint and to create the Masoretic as a reaction to Christians. To tell the truth, I'm not really concerned either way, because the induspitable truth for a Christian is that the Church is the continuation of Israel and that the Jews who have rejected Christ are not the true Israel as they've abandoned the promise of God. For Christians, the activities of Jews after Christ matters about as much as the activities of pagan Greeks -- a matter of historical interest and perhaps an enlightening look at Christian interactions therewith, but of no real theological significance, divine inspiration having ceased to exist amongst the physical descendants of Abraham and moved to the Church as a continuation of Israel. As a matter of Christian history, the Church is in a direct line from the ancient Israel, and the Jews are a schism therefrom.

  10. OK, let's say you're right and the Jews lopped off part of their canon as a reaction to Christians. Why did they lop off Maccabees, which contains the story of Hannukah, which they still celebrate? What Christian doctrine did they defeat by doing so? There are a few New Testament allusions to deuterocanonical books, but in the grand scheme of things, why get rid of Tobit yet keep Isaiah? Wouldn't removing Isaiah be much more effective?

    Even the Church Fathers occasionally cite books that aren't in any biblical canon today with introductory formulae identical to those used to cite canonical scripture. I think it is obvious that there was a time, both in Christianity and Judaism when the boundaries of the canon were a lot fuzzier than they are today, with a large body of literature universally agreed upon and then other books living out at the fringe. When it came time to fomalize the canon (due to external pressures, the wide spread use of writings of a rather late date, etc.) the communities came to different decisions about what books make the cut. But if you're going to assert that the Jewish canon was a reaction to Christianity, don't you have to show HOW the choices they made further that agenda? Because it seems that if refuting Chrisianity was the driving force shaping the Jewish canon, they did a pretty poor job. The "bumbling redactor" argument is always a tough pill to swallow.

    But both Orthodox Christianity and Judaism share one trait: their canon isn't just what books are in the Bible, but also the body of tradition handed down. For Orthodoxy that is expressed in the Fathers, the liturgy, the creeds, etc. (I think), and for Jews that is expressed in the Mishnah, the Talmuds and other Rabbinic literature (and to some extend the later commentators).


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