Posted by: mattcolvin | January 15, 2023

Is Liturgy the Work of the People?

Raphael, The Mass at Bolsena, 1511. (Wikipedia)

Most of us who move in the circles of Anglicans, Lutherans, or Presbyterians-with-robes have probably heard the etymological claim in a sermon or read it in a blog post: “Liturgy means ‘the work of the people.’”

It’s a well-intentioned idea, and I am deeply appreciative of the ministry of the brothers who say it. It is intended to exhort a congregation to sing with gusto, recite the creeds, say prayers aloud, and add their loud “Amen” to the prayers offered by others. And we are all in favor of these things. We are glad for the Reformation’s restoration of the church’s singing to the congregation rather than leaving it the preserve of special choirs. But alas, the etymology is no good.

The term leitourgia occurs in the first epistle of Clement. Written around AD 96 at the latest, it urges the church in Corinth to reinstate the presbyters whom they had deposed—some of whom were also referred to by the title of their office, namely episkopos. These presbyters are said to “have ministered (leitourgēsantas) blamelessly to the flock of Christ with humility of mind, peacefully and not stingily, and have been attested by all for a long time—these we do not deem to be justly cast out of their ministry (leitourgia). (§44) Note the phrase “not stingily.” Clement uses this adverb because the leitourgia in question involved providing money for others.

What others? Another early Christian document gives us a clue with its similar concern about money. The Didache urges that bishops and deacons must be “meek, and not lovers of money, and truthful and proved; for they also leitourgousi to you the leitourgia of prophets and teachers” (15) This last phrase should not be understood to mean that the bishops do the job of the prophets and teachers, but that they underwrite those jobs, making possible the ministry of others by financial support — that is the meaning of the Greek verb leitourgeo. Yes, λειτουργία comes from ἔργον, work and λάος, people. But in classical Greece, say, 5th century Athens, a leitourgia was not a work done by the people, but a public work done for the people—such as sponsoring the construction of warships, or fielding chariots and horses in the Olympic games, as Alcibiades is said to have done. The historian Alistair Stewart comments further:

I may suggest that the leitourgia of the bishops and deacons was a public office undertaken at one’s own expense; thus, the term “liturgize” is here likewise used in its ancient sense: the bishops provide financial support for the teachers and prophets and enable them to carry out their ministry. The term in this sense and the institution of leitourgiai were still very much current in the first centuries of the Common Era. This may be illustrated both from literature and from papyri. Thus, P.Oxy. 1119 is concerned with the leitourgia of tax collection, P.Oxy 1412 uses the term leitourgēmata for public responsibilities, P.Oxy. 82 concerns a fair and even distribution of public works, termed “liturgies,” and P.Gr.Vind. 25824 is a journal discussing the dealings of prefects under Trajan with those in Egypt whose liturgy particularly involved the supply of grain. In the second century Dio Chrysostom frequently refers to leitourgiai as the responsibility of wealthy citizens, and Strabo, in describing the system of relief for the poor at Rhodes, states that the provision of food for the poor was considered a leitourgia.

A. Stewart, The Original Bishops (Baker, 2015), 61.

Thus, the bishops and deacons are depicted in the Didache as sponsoring, in the name of the whole church, the ministries of prophets and teachers; likewise, welcoming and sending traveling missionaries; providing the eucharist, etc.

Of course, in our day, the term “liturgy” no longer means the same thing it did in the first two centuries AD. Now it denotes the formal order of service with its sung responses, public prayers, and sequence of liturgical actions. And yes, it it good for the congregation to do these things rather than just watch the chancel-prancers in robes. But as an etymology, “liturgy means the work of the people” simply isn’t accurate. I hope that well-meaning pastors can stop saying it, and find a better argument to encourage their congregations to participate in the liturgy.

Posted by: mattcolvin | August 19, 2022

What does “in the sacrament” mean?

One of the biggest problems when discussing the question of Eucharistic adoration is what is meant by the phrase “Real Presence”. In the history of the English Church, one can find this phrase both affirmed and rejected by men whose doctrine of the Eucharist was the same. The same phrase — or close variants like the “real objective presence” — are variously used. Tell someone that you believe in the Real Presence, and he is likely to assume that you mean a local, spatially specified presence in or under the elements of bread and wine — an idea which all Anglicans denied prior to the Oxford movement. But tell someone that you don’t believe in the Real Presence, and he will assume that you are a Zwinglian who thinks the Eucharist is an edible flashcard to remind us of an absent Christ.

Here, I find it helpful to weigh what Anglican divines past have written on the topic. Consider this, from Canon Trevor, cited in Dimock, Papers on the Doctrine of the English Church Concerning the Eucharistic Presence:

“When it is known that not a word of Eucharistic adoration exists for a thousand years after Christ, thoughtful men will be inclined to test the sacramental presence by the proved absence of adoration, rather than graft the adoration on a particular interpretation of the presence. That Christ is to be adored wherever he is, is a truism which no Christian disputes ; [“in et cum Sacramento; extra, et sine Sacramento; ubiubi est, adorandus est.” Bishop Andrewes], but when it is said that he is to be adored in the sacrament, the question returns upon us whether sacrament means the visible symbols of his body and blood, or the whole rite in which he is undoubtedly present to the faithful communicant? In the latter sense we all adore him.” (“Sacrifice and Participation,” p. 108. )

This puts a fine point on the question. Bishop Jewel made a similar point, that directing worship toward a presence of Christ located in the elements was an innovation of the Middle Ages and cannot be found in patristic sources. We ought to reason from that lack of adoration to a conclusion about the mode or manner of any presence.

The most important Anglican divines of the first three centuries were united in affirming a real participation in Christ’s true body and blood. The question is whether the res is to be located in the elements in such a way as to be a proper object of worship. Bp. Lancelot Andrewes famous dictum that “Christ is to be worshipped in and with the sacrament, outside and without the sacrament, wherever He is present” is often cited by those in favor of Eucharistic adoration without considering how that quotation continues: “Christ, that is, the res, not the sacramentum.”

Why do we direct worship to Christ’s human body? Not, says Dimock, because of the “extra Calvinisticum” or because Christ’s divinity is ubiquitous. No, His body is a real and human, albeit resurrected and glorified, body. The reason it is a fit object of worship is because it is in hypostatic union with the divinity of Christ. Worship is directed at the theanthropic person, not at a nature, still less at a virtue or power. But if hypostatic union is required to make a human being a fit object of worship, can we say the same about the consecrated bread? There have been some who think so, claiming that Christ’s presence in the bread and wine is a “mystery” like the incarnation. The label for this view is “impanation” (from panis = bread). In the history of the Church of England, impanation has been rejected as untrue to the Bible’s teaching. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word did not become bread.

But ought we to think that the bread is the sacrament as it lies on the table? Peter Leithart has helpfully clarified the issue:

“What is the Supper? It is not just bread and wine, and not just eating of bread and wine. It is eating bread and wine by members of Christ’s body at Christ’s invitation. Christ’s authorization and definition and invitation make all the difference.” — Against Christianity, III.18

With this, Canon Trevor and Dimock and the Caroline Divines and the Anglican formularies agree: it is wholly appropriate to worship Christ in “the whole rite in which he is undoubtedly present to the faithful communicant”. But Anglican divines from Cranmer to Cosin also agree that worship is not to be directed toward the elements of bread and wine. Scripture has assured us that “the bread which we break” is “a participation in the body of Christ”; it has not said anything about Christ’s body being locally present in the element of bread quite apart from whether anyone is faithfully eating it.

This is near the root of why the practice of Eucharistic adoration — directing worship toward the species of bread and wine as though to a presence of the res (Jesus’ natural body) located in or under them — is properly understood as contrary to the 39 Articles and to historic Anglican practice.

Posted by: mattcolvin | August 19, 2022

Ritual Meal or Hocus Pocus?

Detail from Fernando Yáñez de la Almedina, The Eucharistic Christ. 1520 – 1530. Museo del Prado, Madrid.

In discussion with one of my Greek students, a Lutheran from Australia, who was acting as though an ontological “real presence” view of the Supper were the natural and obvious reading of the Bible’s words, I noted that Jesus does not say “This bread is my body”; and likewise, Paul does not say, “The bread which we break, is it not the body of Christ?” He says, “is it not the koinonia of the body of Christ?”

In my book, I have argued that the Supper is a ritual meal, and the ontological categories by which we should think about its efficacy and operation are those appropriate to a ritual meal. The ritual meal, i.e. the act of the people of God consuming the elements together in obedience to Jesus’ command, is the real subject of “is” in Jesus’ statement “This is my body” and in Paul’s rhetorical question “is it not the body of Christ?”

To make the element of bread the subject of that verb is to misunderstand what Jesus and Paul are saying. They had no intention of designating the bread, considered as an object, as a locus of Jesus’ presence. The claim that the bread itself is the body is therefore inappropriate to the sort of thing that the Supper is. It is a failure to consider the Supper as a meal — which is how it is actually described in the Bible, and is also what the Passover was. It is to locate the Supper’s working and efficacy in things other than its nature as a meal that is eaten and a ritual that is performed by the people of God; to locate its working and efficacy instead in words of consecration or ontological transformation, i.e. in things about which the Bible is wholly silent, because they are not part of the intended way the Supper was designed and intended by Jesus to work.

Stop and consider what stupendous omissions the advocates of “real presence” are forced to posit in the NT itself: on their view, the central event of the Church’s worship, the eucharist, works because of the “real presence” of Christ in the elements of bread and wine, and this “real presence” is brought about by the celebrant, when he says the words of consecration, which are misunderstood as a performative utterance with the illocutionary force of “I am hereby making these elements my body.” Yet this momentous event of ontological change is never described or narrated; the formula of words is never spelled out for us or understood this way; the identity of the celebrant tasked with this momentous power is never disclosed. There are several descriptions of the duties and qualifications of Christian ministers (e.g. 1 Tim. 3, Tit. 1), but these passages say nothing about consecrating the Eucharist to make the bread the body of Christ—an odd omission, since if that is something the clergy must do, then it is the most important part of their job! Surely these omissions must be puzzling for the advocates of a sacerdotal priesthood with the power of confecting Christ so that He becomes ontologically present in the elements? If the Supper works by the consecrating of the elements, why is it that such consecration is never described—neither in the New Testament, nor Ignatius, nor the Didache, nor any of the other apostolic fathers?

It was Peter Leithart who first caused me to see this point when he asked, in Against Christianity, “What is the Supper?” and answered that “It is not just bread and wine, and not just eating of bread and wine. It is eating bread and wine by members of Christ’s body at Christ’s invitation.”

One consequence of this way of viewing the Supper is the realization that traditions that posit ontological change in the elements actually have a very low view of the efficacy of the ritual meal itself. If the bread becomes or contains or is united with Jesus’ body quite apart from whether any Christians are consuming it as part of a ritual meal, then the power and efficacy is dislocated from that meal to whatever means are thought to effect the ontological change in the elements. All the gaudy ceremonial (tabernacles, monstrances, chasubles, sancing bells, manual acts and gestures, elevation, reservation, adoration) suddenly appears compensatory, like a sports car driven by a balding middle aged man; or worse, a distraction, like the gestures of a stage magician engaged in legerdemain.

To dislocate the Supper’s power to an alleged ontological change in the elements is to miss the all-too-real way in which it does work: namely, by the power of God himself who raised Jesus from the dead, and will also raise those who partake of the ritual meal, so that He makes them to be united with Jesus by their eating of the bread and drinking of the wine.

Exodus 10

10:6 – καὶ ἐκκλίνας Μωυσῆς ἐξῆλθεν ἀπὸ Φαραω – “and Moses turned away and went out from [the presence of] Pharaoh.” This is a narrative marker showing that Moses is not present for the discussion between Pharaoh and his servants.

10:7 – Pharaoh’s servants, confronted with the threat of locusts, ask their master, “How long will this be a snare (σκῶλον, Heb. מֹוקֵ֔שׁ, from יָקֹשׁ, “to ensnare”) to us?” The same root is behind Psalm 124:7: “Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped.”

Pharaoh’s servants urge him to “send the people (τοὺς ἀνθρώπους) out” in contrast to Pharaoh’s reneging in 10:11: “Let the men (οἱ ἄνδρες, not inclusive of women) go.”

10:8 – καὶ ἀπέστρεψαν τόν τε Μωυσῆν καὶ Ααρων πρὸς Φαραω – “And they turned Moses and Aaron back to Pharaoh…” Another narrative marker. Having prevailed upon Pharaoh, his servants recall Moses and Aaron, who had departed in 10:6.

τίνες δὲ καὶ τίνες εἰσὶν οἱ πορευόμενοι; – lit. “But who and who are the ones going?”, a literal rendering of the Hebrew מִ֥י וָמִ֖י, which has the sense of “Precisely who…?” or “Just who is going?” (Alter) The question implies that Pharaoh does not grant permission for all the Hebrews to leave.

10:9 – Moses’ answer uses comprehensive merism to specify that the entirety of the Hebrew population is to go: “We will go with our young and our old, with our sons and daughters and flocks and cattle.” Among the three terms “we,” “our young,” and “our old,” every living generation of Israelites is specified.

Note the grounds given for this comprehensiveness: “For it is a festival of the Lord our God.” This is why all generations are required.

10:10 – καθότι ἀποστέλλω ὑμᾶς, μὴ καὶ τὴν ἀποσκευὴν ὑμῶν – “Because I am sending you out, I’m not sending out all your livestock, am I?” A rhetorical (μὴ) question indicating that Pharaoh does not assent to the dismissal of the Hebrews’ goods. This is the LXX’s rendering of a rather vexed Hebrew verse, which might be best rendered, “May the Lord be with you as much as I will let you go, and your little ones.” The Hebrew amounts to a refusal, and a wish that the Lord may not be with them. The word ἀποσκευή means “baggage, household goods,” and is an attempt to translate the Hebrew טַפְּכֶ֑ם, which as Cassuto notes, can sometimes mean “your livestock”, but at other times means “your children” (when women have already been mentioned separately), and at still other times, “your women and children” in contrast to men. Here, Pharaoh’s refusal of permission for the women and children is grounded in the immediately following sentence: ἴδετε ὅτι πονηρία πρόκειται ὑμῖν – “See ye that evil lies ahead of you.” (Therefore, don’t seek to bring your women and children into it.)

10:12 – The plague of locusts, designated in the collective singular ἀκρίς, “the locust,” is described as eating up πᾶσαν βοτάνην…καὶ πάντα τὸν καρπὸν τῶν ξύλων, “every herb and every fruit of the trees.” This is very specific diction lifted from Genesis 1:12. The locusts are thus agents of de-creation.

10:12 – Whereas the south wind brought the locusts to Egypt (ὁ ἄνεμος ὁ νότος ἀνέλαβεν τὴν ἀκρίδα ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν), it then brings them to rest (κατέπαυσεν) upon it, rather than blowing them away. Verse 19 will see the locusts removed by the wind.

10:15 – De-creation is expressed again by ἐφθάρη ἡ γῆ, “the land/earth was destroyed.” (10:15) Note the rhetorical force of the word order that conveys the totality of the destruction: “There was not left any green thing among the trees and among all the herb of the field in all the land of Egypt.”

10:16 – Pharaoh confesses his sin with a perfect verb, Ἡμάρτηκα, as well as confessing that he has sinned “in the sight of the Lord” (ἐναντίον κυρίου) as well as “against you” (εἰς ὑμᾶς).

10:19 – The same construction of totality that was used in 10:15 for the denuding of Egypt’s vegetation by the locusts is now deployed for the removal of the locusts by the wind: “there was not left a single locust (οὐκ ὑπελείφθη ἀκρὶς μία) in all the land of Egypt.”

10:21 – The darkness of the next plague is described as ψηλαφητόν, “able to be handled.” The root is the same as the verb used in 1 John 1:1, “which our hands have handled (ἐψηλάφησαν).”

10:28-29 – There is tragic irony in Pharaoh’s threat, “On the day that you appear to me, you shall die,” and in Moses’ response, “I will no longer appear to you to your face.” One midrashic tradition (Mekhilta d’Rabbi Yishmael 2:6) holds that Pharaoh personally led his army and perished in the sea.

Posted by: mattcolvin | November 24, 2021

Sublety and Indirection in Jesus’ Communication

I had the pleasure of delivering a talk for the Davenant Institute’s Teaching Fellows lecture series. It is up on YouTube now. Among the topics discussed are…

  • Methods of communicating to one audience while leaving another in the dark: dramatic irony, Socratic irony, the words of Boaz in Ruth 4:5, and Jesus’ parables.
  • What’s wrong with William Wrede’s The Messianic Secret.
  • Jesus’ use of the Psalms as scripts for his actions and words.
  • The ”sop” or morsel that Jesus gives to Judas as a way of identifying him to Peter and the beloved disciple, without letting everyone else know.
  • The kiss of Judas as an attempt by Judas to identify Jesus to the servants of the high priest, without letting Jesus or the other disciples know.
  • The significance of Peter’s cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant Malchus, and of Jesus’ healing of him.
Posted by: mattcolvin | May 1, 2021

Notes on LXX Exodus 9: Exceedingly Great Death

Hailstones from England in August, 2019. (From The Times,

Exodus 9

9:3 – ἐν τοῖς κτήνεσίν σου…ἐν τοῖς ἵπποις καὶ ἐν τοῖς ὑποζυγίοις καὶ ταῖς καμήλοις καὶ βουσὶν καὶ προβάτοις – Moses enumerates the livestock of Egypt in a polysyndetic list for emphasis. We are reminded of Apollo shooting his plague-arrows in Iliad 1.50: οὐρῆας μὲν πρῶτον ἐπῴχετο καὶ κύνας ἀργούς, “he went for the mules first and the lazy dogs”—before turning his weapons on the men themselves.

The threatened plague is called θάνατος μέγας σφόδρα, “exceedingly great death.”

9:4 – καὶ παραδοξάσω…ἀνὰ μέσον τῶν κτηνῶν τῶν Αἰγυπτίων καὶ ἀνὰ μέσον τῶν κτηνῶν τῶν υἱῶν Ισραηλ – On παραδοξάσω as a mistranslation of Heb. וְהִפְלֵיתִי, “I will make a distinction between”, see my comments on 8:18 here.

It is remarkable that even LSJ lists “make a distinction between” as a meaning for παραδοξάζω (with only Ex. 9:4 and 8:22 as authorities), because that is the meaning of פלה, even though the LXX has misconstrued it as though it were פלא, “to do something wonderful.” Note that the LXX has followed it with ἀνὰ μέσον…καὶ ἀνὰ μέσον, which is not Greek idiom for “between X and Y,” but is a literalism for the Hebrew בֵּ֚ין… וּבֵ֖ין construction.

οὐ τελευτήσει ἀπὸ πάντων τῶν τοῦ Ισραηλ υἱῶν ῥητόν – literally, “there shall not perish a word from all the possessions of the sons of Israel,” using ῥητόν, which is a literalism for the Hebrew דָּבָֽר, which unlike the Greek, can have the sense of “a thing” as well as “a word.” (Also in the next verse, 9:5.)

9:5 – καὶ ἔδωκεν ὁ θεὸς ὅρον – lit. “and God gave a boundary,” but here ὅρος is used in a temporal sense, so “a deadline.”

9:7 – After the deaths of “all the livestock of the Egyptians,” Pharaoh sees that “there did not die anything from all the livestock of the sons of Israel.” This very contrast is what causes Pharoah to become stubborn again: ἐβαρύνθη ἡ καρδία Φαραω, “Pharaoh’s heart was made heavy.”

9:8 – The soot of a furnace (αἰθάλης καμιναίας) which Moses is to scatter (πασάτω) to the sky will become a κονιορτός, “dust-cloud” or perhaps “dust-storm,” though the word is used in the NT for “dust” such as is shaken off one’s feet or thrown into the air in anger (Acts 13:51, 22:23, Lk 9:5, 10:11, Mt 10:14). This in turn will produce ulcers (ἕλκη, used also of the ulcers produced by the plague of Athens in Thucydides 2:49) and boils (φλυκτίδες), which are described rather graphically as “bubbling up” (ἀναζέουσαι).

9:13 – God commands Moses, ὄρθρισον τὸ πρωί, “rise up early in the morning.”

9:14 – Moses is told to threaten Pharaoh and his people with πάντα τὰ συναντήματά μου, “all my visitations,” a rendering of the Hebrew מַגֵּפֹתַי֙, “my plagues.”

9:16 – The LXX confirms a conjecture of A.S. Yahuda (The Language of the Pentateuch in its Relation to Egyptian, 11) concerning הֶעֱמַדְתִּ֔יךָ, “I have caused you to stand” from ‘amadh, “to cause to stand.” Most English versions follow the KJV in rendering it as “I have raised thee up.” But Yahuda points out that it is a rendering of the Egyptian ‘ch’.w , meaning “lifetime, term of life, period of time,” so that a prayer of Rameses III for his son asks Amon-Re to “make his lifetime (‘ch’.w-f = “his standing”) on earth as enduring as the polar star.” Accordingly, he argues that הֶעֱמַדְתִּ֔יךָ should be rendered, “I have let you live” or “I have preserved your life.” The LXX confirms this interpretation by its unusual choice of διετηρήθης: “you have been kept/preserved.” In other words, if God were not designing to get glory from Pharaoh’s further humiliations, he would have killed him already.

9:17 – “you still lay claim to (ἐμποιῇ, middle) my people, to not send them out.” The KJV punctuates this as a question: “As yet exaltest thou thyself against my people, that thou wilt not let them go?” Sarna comments on מִסְתֹּולֵ֣ל, the verb which the LXX renders with ἐμποιῇ and the KJV with “exaltest against”, but which he renders “thwart”: “the meaning of this unique Hebrew phrase is uncertain.”

9:18 – The hail that is threatened is “such as there has not been in Egypt from the day it was founded (ἀφ᾽ ἧς ἡμέρας ἔκτισται) until this day.” Yahuda comments that this phrase is common in Egyptian “to characterize a thing or event as unusual, monstrous, unheard of, from the earliest times within human memory.” The Hebrew למן היום with the infinitive הוסדה reflects, so Yahuda claims, an Egyptian construction (The Language of the Pentateuch, 84).

9:20-21 – As with the death of the firstborn, the fate of each household is decided by its reaction to the announced plague of hail: “he who did not pay heed with his thought to the word of the Lord” is contrasted with “the one fearing the word of the Lord” – with the former leaving his beasts in the field to be killed by hail, and the latter gathering them into buildings for shelter.

9:23 – As soon as Moses stretches out his hand, the Lord makes good on the threatened hail, and indeed outdoes the threat by the addition of fire (τὸ πῦρ) and voices (φωνάς – thunder?). We are perhaps to be reminded of Isaiah 30:30: “And the LORD shall cause his glorious voice to be heard, and shall shew the lighting down of his arm, with the indignation of his anger, and with the flame of a devouring fire, with scattering, and tempest, and hailstones.”

9:24 – The hail is described as “very, very great” (πολλὴ σφόδρα σφόδρα), and again, is extolled by comparison with all the hailstorms that have ever been “in Egypt since there was not a people upon it.” This, explains Yahuda (84), is a reference to the time when Upper and Lower Egypt became united (c. 3100 BC, under Narmer or Menes).

9:27 – After the destruction wrought by the hail, Pharaoh acknowledges himself to be in the wrong. He uses covenant-lawsuit terms: “I have sinned (ἡμάρτηκα) now. The Lord is righteous, and I and my people are impious.” For a similar concession, cf. the self-pronounced verdict of Judah in acknowledging Tamar’s victory (Gen. 38).

9:28 – Having ackonwledged that he is himself in the wrong, and that YHWH is in the right, Pharaoh accordingly asks Moses to pray for him; he cannot pray to YHWH himself.

This repentance is short-lived. Pharaoh renews his hard-hearted (ἐσκληρύνθη ἡ καρδία, 9:35) ways as soon as the rain and hail and thunder had been stopped (πέπαυται 9:34).

Posted by: mattcolvin | December 6, 2020

Notes on LXX Exodus 8: Dog-flies and Snarky Moses

Exodus 8

8:1 – καὶ ἐπὶ τὰς διώρυγας “and over the ditches,” a reference to irrigation channels in Egypt.

καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ ἕλη – “and over the marshes”

8:2 – καὶ ἀνεβιβάσθη ὁ βάτραχος καὶ ἐκάλυψεν τὴν γῆν Αἰγύπτου – “and the frog was brought up and covered the land of Egypt.” Note the collective singular “the frog.”

8:3 – As usual so far, the enchanters (ἐπαοιδοὶ, from ἀείδω, the same verb that is the second word of the Iliad) are able to counterfeit the plague inflicted by Aaron; as usual, their activity only makes things worse, since they bring up even more frogs. And of course, they play no role in the ending of the plague.

8:4 – Pharaoh beseeches Moses to pray for him and his people “to the Lord.” There is no difficulty in recognizing which god is behind the plagues. Pharaoh also promises to send the people out, that they may sacrifice to the Lord.

8:5 – In response to this abject begging, Moses twists the knife by giving Pharaoh the choice of time: Τάξαι πρός με, πότε εὔξωμαι περὶ σοῦ…”Command me, when shall I pray for you…?” This is subtle condescension, mocking the idea that Pharaoh is really in control.

8:6 – The mockery continues. Pharaoh answers Moses’ “When?” question with the clipped, desperate Εἰς αὔριον, “Tomorrow!” Moses replies Ὡς εἴρηκας, “As you have said,” again rubbing salt in the wounds by an obsequious pretense that Pharaoh is in control.

8:7 – Moses then lists, in a polysyndetic catalogue, all the places full of frogs right now.

8:14 – The same collective singular is used of the gnats: “the enchanters worked likewise with their sorceries to bring forth the gnat (τὸν σκνῖφα)”

καὶ οὐκ ἠδύναντο – “and they could not.” Walter Brueggemann waxes poetical over this in The Prophetic Imagination : “The Egyptian empire could not! The gods of Egypt could not! The scientists of the regime could not! The imperial religion was dead! The politics of oppression had failed! That is the ultimate criticism, that the assured and alleged power of the dominant culture is now shown to be fraudulent. Criticism is not carping and denouncing. It is asserting that false claims to authority and power cannot keep their promises, which they could not in the face of the free God. It is only a matter of time until they are dead on the seashore.”

8:17 – The next threat is κυνόμυιαν, “the dog-fly,” a larger and more fearsome sequel to the gnats. This word is used as an insult by Ares when he attempts to attack Athena in Iliad 21.394.

8:18 – καὶ παραδοξάσω…τὴν γῆν Γεσεμ, “and I will marvelously glorify the land of Goshen…” This is an outright mistranslation by the LXX translators. In choosing παραδοξάζω, they have misunderstood the Hebrew וְהִפְלֵיתִי as though it came from פלא, “to do something wonderful” rather than from פלה, “to make a difference between.”

That this is the correct understanding of וְהִפְלֵיתִי is proven by the parallelism with which 8:19 begins: καὶ δώσω διαστολὴν ἀνὰ μέσον τοῦ ἐμοῦ λαοῦ καὶ ἀνὰ μέσον τοῦ σοῦ λαοῦ – “and I will put a difference (sundering, distinction) between my people and yours”

8:22 – In answer to Pharaoh’s suggestion that Israel should sacrifice to YHWH in Egypt, Moses replies that “It is impossible for it to be so. For we will sacrifice τὰ βδελύγματα τῶν Αἰγυπτίων to the Lord our God.” The immediately following verse makes clear that this means “things abominable to the Egyptians,” i.e. that Αἰγυπτίων is a subjective genitive, so that the phrase denotes things that the Egyptians abhor, not things belonging to Egypt that the Lord abhors. We should remember Gen. 46:34, where “every shepherd of livestock is a βδελύγμα to the Egyptians.”

Posted by: mattcolvin | October 17, 2020

Notes on LXX Exodus 7

6:30 – Moses protests that he has a speech impediment. The Greek word is ἰσχνόφωνος, from ἰσχνός, “dry, withered, weak” and φωνή, “voice.”

7:1 – The Lord’s shocking statement, “Behold I have given you as God to Pharaoh” indicates that Moses is a stand-in for YHWH in relation to the king of Egypt. But he further says that “Aaron your brother shall be your prophet.”

7:3-4 – There follows the series of first person future verbs as YHWH outlines what He will do: “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and I will multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt…and I will send forth my hand against Egypt and I will lead my people out with my power…”

7:5 – The result of all this will be that the Egyptians will recognize the lion from his claw: “And all the Egyptians shall know that I am (ἐγώ εἰμι) the Lord stretching out my hand against Egypt…” Note the ἐγώ εἰμι that is YHWH’s scarlet pimpernell, as it were.

7:7 – So Aaron is three years older than Moses, making this yet another instance of the younger having precedence over the older.

7:9 – Aaron’s rod will become a large snake (δράκων). It remains a matter of controversy whether δράκων and ὄφις are really interchangeable synonyms, but the LXX does seem to distinguish between them here, since Ex. 4:3 had Moses’ rod become an ὄφις, and 7:15 repeats this language concerning it, while 7:9 says that Aaron’s rod became a δράκων. It seems to me that it would be more normal to call a garter snake or a krait an ὄφις – something small and slithery, maybe poisonous – while pythons and anacondas would definitely fall into the category of δράκοντες.

Above: the manuscript by Renaissance-era Cretan scribe Ange Vergece (Ἄγγελος Βεργίκιος) of Manuel Philes’ bestiary poem De Animalium Proprietate, showing a δράκων (top right) and an ὄφις (bottom right).

My friend John Barach points out that the Hebrew behind δράκων in this passage is actually תַנִּֽין, tannîn, which is the word used for the primordial sea monster of Canaanite mythology, as well as the “great whales” (κήτη τὰ μεγάλα) of Genesis 1:21. Garter snakes aren’t in it. Crocodiles might be.

7:11 – A number of different words are used for the court magicians whom Pharaoh summons to compete with Moses and Aaron in performing miracles. They are called σοφισταί (wise men = magi?), φαρμακοί (sorcerers; etymologically, users of potions), and ἐπαοιδοὶ (enchanters; etymologically, users of incantations). We might consider whether Joseph and Daniel can also be considered to fall into any these categories, i.e. professional court magicians. 2 Timothy 3:8’s identification of these magicians by name (“Jannes and Jambres”) is not from Genesis, but is derived from the Apocryphon of Jannes and Jambres, which is mentioned by Origen and preserved in fragments in both Greek (Chester Beatty papyrus XVI) and Ethiopic. Jannes “and his brother” are also mentioned in the Damascus Document from Qumran. What impulse led later writers to assign names to villains whom Exodus had left anonymous?

7:12 – It is interesting that the LXX says that Aaron’s rod did not “eat up,” but rather “drank down” (κατέπιεν) the rods of the Egyptian sorcerers. This denotes the act of swallowing, not of biting or chewing, so that it is an apt description of the peristalsis by which a snake would swallow another snake. In the narrative of the wizards’ duel, this indicates the victory of Aaron over the Egyptian sorcerers, but they have put up enough of a show of competitiveness that Pharaoh “hardened his heart” (7:13).

7:19 – It is noteworthy that the Lord includes mention, not only of the Nile itself, but also of the irrigation canals (διώρυγαι) which the Egyptians used – a detail that indicates knowledge of historical Egyptian custom. He also targets τὰ ἕλη (“the marshes”) and πᾶν συνεστηκὸς ὕδωρ (“every body of standing water”). The water in these also will be turned to blood, which is the more remarkable because they are not connected to the Nile’s flow, and must be changed separately from it.

This verse also specifies that water turned to blood ἔν τε τοῖς ξύλοις καὶ ἐν τοῖς λίθοις, “in their wooden [vessels] and in their [vessels of] stone.” It is an interesting distinction, because Judaism had different rules for the purity of stone vessels and vessels of other materials. Sarna suggests that the phrase is a merism, intended to indicate any vessel whatsoever. It is curious, and reminds me of another pairing of wood and stone, albeit with different words, which appears in an enigmatic and much-discussed line of Hesiod’s Theogony: ἀλλὰ τί ἦ μοι ταῦτα περὶ δρῦν ἢ περὶ πέτρην; “But what is my business around tree or rock?” It also appears in the Iliad 22.126-8: “There is no way now from tree or from rock (ἀπὸ δρυὸς οὐδ’ ἀπὸ πέτρης) to converse with him.”

7:20 – Note the action here: καὶ ἐπάρας τῇ ῥάβδῳ αὐτοῦ ἐπάταξεν τὸ ὕδωρ… “and lifting up his staff he struck the water.” This action will be explicitly recalled in 17:5-6, when Moses is commanded to strike the rock at Meribah to make water come out. Thus, the same staff causes the Egyptians’ water to become undrinkable and brings forth drinkable water from the rock for the Hebrews.

7:22 – I have always found it comical that “the enchanters of the Egyptians did likewise with their enchantments,” – so that the final result was presumably that even more water in Egypt was turned to blood!

7:25 – ἀνεπληρώθησαν ἑπτὰ ἡμέραι – The weekly cycle is a parody of the creation week as the Lord gradually unmakes the land of Egypt.

Posted by: mattcolvin | October 1, 2020

Notes on LXX Exodus 5-6

Burial chamber of Rechmirê, chief and vizier, scene: production of bricks (Wikimedia)

5:3 – πορευσόμεθα οὖν ὁδὸν τριῶν ἡμερῶν εἰς τὴν ἔρημον, ὅπως θύσωμεν τῷ θεῷ ἡμῶν, μήποτε συναντήσ μν θάνατος φόνος – “We will go three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to our God, lest death or murder encounter us.” Sarna takes this as a threat that the Lord may strike the Israelites with plague or sudden death as punishment for failing to worship Him. But it might also be a plan to be safely beyond the reach of vengeful Egyptians.

5:6 – The “taskmasters” (Heb. הַנֹּגְשִׂ֣ים) of the people are rendered by the LXX with the coinage ἐργοδιώκτης, “work-hounder” or “job-pursuer.”

5:9 – It is interesting that the LXX uses μεριμνάτωσαν ταῦτα, “let them worry about these things” (sc. the making of bricks and the gathering of straw for them) and μὴ μεριμνάτωσαν ἐν λόγοις κενοῖς, “let them not worry in empty words,” both phrases employing the same verb “to worry” that Jesus uses in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 6:25). Possibly this is not a strong connection, but it might bear investigating.

5:14-15 – The slavery inflicted by the Egyptians on the Hebrews is mediated through Hebrew officers (lit. “scribes,” γραμματεῖς), who are punished (ἐμαστιγώθησαν, “were whipped”) for their people’s failures to meet quota; these officers in turn complain, first to Pharaoh, and then to Moses and Aaron.

5:21 – “May God see you and judge, because you have made our smell abominable (ἐβδελύξατε τὴν ὀσμὴν ἡμῶν) in the sight of Pharaoh…”

5:22 – Moses’ complaint to God offers us another proximate theodicy, different in kind from the book of Job: διὰ τί ἐκάκωσας τὸν λαὸν τοῦτον, “What have you troubled this people?” In fact, the “trouble” is the prelude to deliverance, and it is the Egyptians who, though at this point untroubled, will soon be devastated by the judgment of God.

6:9 – Upon Moses’ explanation to the people of God’s identity and covenant promises to the patriarchs, we are told that “they did not hearken to Moses” out of ὀλιγοψυχία, “having too little ψύχη,” a word similar in formation to Jesus’ oft-repeated rebuke to his disciples, charging them with ὀλιγοπιστία, “having too little faith.”

Posted by: mattcolvin | September 6, 2020

Notes on LXX Exodus 3-4

Hard-hearted Pharaoh is not impressed with your snake trick.

Notes on LXX Exodus 3-4

3:6 – Moses “turned away his face.” This foreshadows the revelation of God’s glory to Moses in the cleft of the rock, as well as fitting well with Paul’s statements in 2 Cor. 3.

3:8 – “and I have come down (κατέβην) to rescue them…” The last time God “came down” was to see what the men of Babel were building.

3:8 – εἰς τὸν τόπον τῶν Χαναναίων καὶ Χετταίων καὶ Αμορραίων καὶ Φερεζαίων καὶ Γεργεσαίων καὶ Ευαίων καὶ Ιεβουσαίων. The polysyndeton and the length of the list (7 names of tribes) serve to magnify the number of peoples that God will displace when he brings Israel into the land.

3:14 – God’s answer to Moses’ question about his name is, in the LXX, Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν – “I am the one who is.” Note that this rendering makes the Lord’s answer more unambiguously about his personal identity than the English translation, “I am what I am.”

3:15 – “This is my eternal (αἰώνιον) and memorable (μνημόσυνον) name unto generations of generations (γενεῶν γενεαῖς).” The idea seems to be that the name is both to be called upon as a matter of covenant remembrance (זִכְרִ֖י) and that it is to be so used forever (γενεῶν γενεαῖς = לְדֹ֥ר דֹּֽר).

3:16 – Note that the gathered elders of the people are referred to by the term γερουσία. They are to accompany Moses on his first embassy to Pharaoh, presumably to demonstrate that he has the support of the people.

3:19 – Pharaoh’s resistance is predicted: “But I know that Pharaoh king of Egypt will not let you go, except with a strong hand.”

4:3 – The changing of Moses’ staff into a snake is offered as a demonstration of the authenticating power of a miracle: “If the people don’t believe you, do this, and they will.” But it has the comical effect of terrifying Moses: “and Moses fled from it.”

4:4 – The Lord kindly specifies where Moses is to grab the snake: ἐπιλαβοῦ τῆς κέρκου – “Take hold of it by the tail.”

4:6-7 – It is curious that the Lord instructs Moses to “put your hand into your bosom,” as though it were important to conceal the moment of change from healthy to leprous and back again.

4:10 – Having objected that the Israelites will not believe that the Lord appeared to him, and having been given two signs to guarantee their persuasion, Moses now moves to a new objection: that he is ἰσχνόφωνος καὶ βραδύγλωσσος, “with a speech impediment and slow of tongue.”

4:11 – The Lord’s response is reminiscent of his answer to Job: he asserts his authority as the Creator of man’s mouth and tongue, and thus as the bestower of gifts of speech.

4:16 – “and he [Aaron] shall be your mouth, and you shall be to him the things concerning God.”

4:18 – “And Jethro said to Moses, ‘Go, being healthy’ (βάδιζε ὑγιαίνων).”

4:19 – “After those many days, the King of Egypt died.” An instance of waiting for the death of a hostile king in the Bible: cf. Jesus’ family fleeing to Egypt until the death of Herod (Mt. 2:15).

4:25 – “Zipporah, taking up a small stone (ψῆφον) circumcised the foreskin of her son and threw it at the feet and said…” The Greek does not make clear that the foreskin is thrown at Moses’ feet.

Zipporah’s utterance when she throws the foreskin at his feet is an odd one in Greek: Ἔστη τὸ αἷμα τῆς περιτομῆς τοῦ παιδίου μου – “The blood of the circumcision of my child has stood” – using the intransitive root aorist ἔστη rather than a transitive first aorist ἔστησε.

4:27 – Aaron’s meeting with Moses and their kissing of each other is reminiscent of other reunions of long-separated siblings, e.g. Jacob and Esau or Joseph and Benjamin.

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