Session 6 THE DEATH OF JUDAS
HOW DO OLD TESTAMENT SCROLLS LOOK?
This will amaze you: the ancient Old Testament scrolls do not have any chapters and verses, they have no spaces between the words, all the letters are capital letters, AND they have no vowels included. If I wrote this way in English, and asked you to make a copy, the following is what this first paragraph would look like:
You can read English, but can you read that? Would you be able to make copy after copy and make NO mistakes? Examine those last 7 letters as an example: WLDLKLK. These letters are our “vowel-less version” of the words “would look like!”
In the ancient world, there were no printing presses, but there were SCHOOLS of copyists who learned to achieve near perfection. Every Synagogue around the world needed copies of the Old Testament books (in Hebrew or in Greek), and every Christian Church needed the Old Testament books AND the New Testament books also! But the Christian Churches didn’t want the Old Testament books in Hebrew—many of the Jews and most of the Gentiles could not read Hebrew. The churches needed copies in GREEK! And the copies they need run into the hundreds! Ancient paper didn’t last forever, and a copy from animal skins (vellum) was very expensive and often bulky.
Do not be misled: mistakes were extremely rare. These copyists took their jobs very seriously. This was God’s Holy Word and not to be treated lightly. But, given enough years and enough copies, someone was bound to make an error. Would the next copyist catch it, or would it become the standard reading?
HOW TO MAKE A MISTAKE WHILE COPYING!
Let’s use the example of those “7 letters” again. WLDLKLK might represent “would look like” or “wild look-a-like,” but without the vowels or spaces–how would we know? Even though we know English well, some people might not guess it means “would look like.” Maybe we would imagine that WLDLKLK stands for “wild like lake.” “Wild like lake” doesn’t make any sense, does it? But the consonants are the same!
Now suppose you decide that “wild like lake” is a mistake made by a copyist, “This makes no sense!” You scratch your head and ask “What mistake has been made here? What did it originally say? Where did the previous copyist goof? I can’t leave it like this!”
We need a simple explanation for the mistake (the simpler the better!), so how about this as a suggestion: the copyist maybe made a mistake by duplicating L-K-L-K. Perhaps the original letters were not LKLK but LFLK and that might stand for “life lake.” Therefore, the original phrase WLDLFLK stands for “wildlife lake,” a lake which has lots of wildlife around it. That makes sense to me! All I needed to do is change one letter, and the whole meaning changes.
As a copyist, you see something you think is a mistake, you ponder it a while and decide to change ONE LETTER. Suddenly the change you made is something the next copyist will duplicate over and over because he thinks this is the original lettering.
DID THE SAME MISTAKES HAPPEN WITH HEBREW LETTERS?
(Don’t give up because this is Hebrew—you can do this!) Back to Zechariah 11:13 and our problem with “treasury” and “potter.” These two words in Hebrew have almost the same consonants. Even if you don’t know Hebrew, the similarity is obvious in sound and appearance: אוצר (a’o-tser) “treasury” vs. יוֹצֵר (yo-tser) “potter.”
One of two things could have happened: 1) a copyist was very tired and copied a wrong letter without noticing OR 2) a copyist said “potter” doesn’t make sense—there’s no potter in the temple—but “treasury” does make sense, so I will change the one letter because it is obviously a mistake. Is there a way to spot the original words?
THE ANSWER MIGHT BE IN A “PARALLEL BIBLE”
Parallel-column Bibles used to be very popular back in the 1960’s and ‘70’s when more and more English translations were appearing. People got frustrated since everyone had a different Bible translation. The solution? Buy a Bible with ALL of the translations! The first column might be the King James, the second column might be the Revised Standard Version, the third might be the Philip’s paraphrase, and so on. This is the perfect answer for the frustrated Bible student!
Believe it or not, the same problem happened in the Early Church when it came to Old Testament translations! The translations were not all the same. One important early Church Father, Origen of Alexandria (roughly 184 to 254 A.D.), trying to deal with all these different translations, came up with a brilliant idea: how about a parallel Bible?
The idea is pretty old! Origen, however, published SIX columns and called it The Hexapla. Although we do not have a complete copy of the Hexapla (Origen may never have completed his monumental task), we have large sections of it. These are Origen’s six Old Testament columns:
- A Hebrew version of the Old Testament
- Old Testament Hebrew transliterated into Greek letters
- Aquila’s Greek Old Testament
- Symmachus’ Greek Old Testament
- The Septuagint Greek Old Testament
- Theodotian’s Greek Old Testament
You see that correctly! The Septuagint was the most popular and common, but it is NOT the only Greek translation of the Old Testament. There were others. Symmachus was a late 2nd century Jew who translated with an eye to elegant Greek expression. Theodotian in about 150 A.D. translated the Old Testament into Greek; this proved to be highly respected and—in some places—more popular than the Septuagint version.
But it is Aquila’s version in which we take interest. Aquila is an unusual character, and many stories about him exist. Apparently, he converted to Christianity, but he refused to give up astrology and was thus excommunicated. Then he converted to Judaism and became a student of the rabbis, learned Hebrew, and viewed the Old Testament in a decidedly non-Christian way!1 So what is so interesting about THIS version?
1The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F.L. Cross; Oxford University Press, Oxford. Revised Edition 1983