A Bible Translator’s Greeky Wordplay: Before Hosea Became a “Christian” or a “New Testament” Spokesman
I’m so glad to see that Daniel Boyarin has come over to BLT to make clear his opinion and his arguments for his opinion. Among other things, he’s said:
“As for the notion that anything can be found in the OT; I don’t think so.”
Notice his language. In his book, by this book of his, he’s arguing for The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ. And here now, he’s saying, “the OT.” This is refreshing, I must say!
It’s not what some, like Amy-Jill Levine, would suggest. She’s given a talk that Brian LePort has blogged about: “How Jews and Christians Read Scripture Differently.” According to LePort, “Levine argued that Christians should say, ‘Old Testament’ [because ...] when Christians say things like ‘Hebrew Bible’ or ‘Jewish Scriptures’ it assumes falsely that everything is shared [presumably by Jewish and Christian readers].” (For example, “For Orthodox the LXX is more authoritative than the MT.”) This is no doubt the case. So “Jews and Christians read scripture differently.” And how! This gets one Jewish reader, like Willis Barnstone, restoring the NT so that it can be read in ways not so exclusively Christianly when that Christian re-writing of the Hebrew Bible or Jewish Scriptures excludes, well, the Jews. BTW, NT = The New Testament. So let me give a footnote from Barnstone’s Restored New Testament, and then if you’re still with me, we’ll look at “the original” texts of Scripture. We’ll get to something Greeky and still authoritative for the Jews if not so Christian, yet.
Barnstone’s footnote 97 refers back to Romans 9:25-26, where Paul is quoting the Hebrew Bible, the Jewish Scriptures, and specifically what we today call “Hosea.”
What I want to suggest is that Paul is not quoting the Hebrew at all. He’s quoting what Christians today tend to call the OT, but — not just any OT — the LXX. Paul is quoting to his readers in Rome the Greek translation of the Hebrew. And why? It is because they are Christians? Jews first and also Greeks? Is it because they are more facile in reading Greek or more familiar with the Alexandrian Jewish translation into Hellene than with the Hebrew Bible? Well, couldn’t Paul just have translated the Hebrew into Greek for them to make whatever point it is he is trying to make about the Jewish God, namely his exclaimed “rhetorical question” point?! οὓς καὶ ἐκάλεσεν ἡμᾶς οὐ μόνον ἐξ Ἰουδαίων ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐξ ἐθνῶν;?!
I’m sure I do not have the answers to my questions here. My point is to say, nonetheless, that the Greek translation that becomes the NT has the Jewish God speaking more like Homer than like the “later church fathers and scribes” for whom “the Christianization of the [Jewish] Bible] will often be line by line” the very exclusion of the Jews.
Homer sounded punny and Greeky and cunning like this:
There is homophonic wordplay going on. Odes, are musical ballad songs, and an Odys is a Path, and the Odyssey is the name of what the character Odysseus is on. And then Odysseus, our hero, tells Polyphemus the awful Shepherd, that his name is Oytis. Usually one gains potential advantage when learning the name of another. But Odysseus is a trickster. He claims his name is Oytis, which (dear reader please see this) sounds like Odysseus, but actually means “Nobody” or “No man” or “Nothing.”
Hosea’s Greeky translator sounds like this as well:
And he said, “Call his name Not My People [Oulaosmou / Οὐ-λαόσ-μου], for you are not my people [ou laos mou / οὐ λαός μου] and I am not your “I am” …. and it shall be, in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people [ou laos mou / οὐ λαός μου],” they too shall be called, “sons of a living god [huioi theou zontos / υἱοὶ θεοῦ ζῶντος].”
The English translation I’m giving here is George E. Howard’s for the New English Translation of the LXX (aka NETS). It’s LXX Hosee 1:9-10 in English. I’ve only added back in the Greek and its transliteration. Doesn’t it sound like Homer’s Odysseus tricking the Cyclops? The name plays on the Greek. (Of course, the Hebrew has a similar play, but the Greek in the disapora is making a play of the Hellene in a rhetorical way. At the very least, those readers familiar with Homer’s epics in Alexandria would get the connection to God here speaking like Odysseus. It smacks of politics long before any Christians came to claim the LXX and the NT as their non-Jewish own.
It helps us here, perhaps, to see that there’s something rhetorical, literary, political, sophisticated and poetic about the Greeky Jewish translation of the Bible.