Session 5 THE DEATH OF JUDAS
NOT LIGHT READING—TAKE YOUR TIME!
Did you ever notice in Bible Class that when someone reads a verse, sometimes your Bible has different words? Usually the words are at least close to each other. We have so many different English translations that it gets difficult to settle on the proper words! Ultimately, a translation becomes someone’s opinion of the precise meaning.
That’s what is happening in Zechariah: we have Hebrew and Syriac/Aramaic versions, we have multiple Greek translations, and then we try to translate those into English. Pretty soon we have “potter,” “treasury,” “furnace,” etc. and wonder what happened! Can we ever hope to understand what Matthew meant to say?
Yes, I think you will understand Matthew’s meaning by the time we are done. Just read through this patiently! (We have a lot of time on our hands due to the Covid-19 crisis, so there’s no need to make this an “easy” Bible study, is there?)
ZECHARIAH AND THE “FURNACE”
Even a cursory reading of the Greek translation of the Old Testament makes the reader wonder if he has the correct chapter! How can “throw it to the potter” (Hebrew) become “throw it into the furnace?” (Greek translation)1
Many of you have seen and/or used a “concordance.”2 These are books which allow you to select any word in the Bible and then look it up to see where it is used in other verses. For example, you could look up the word “flock” and find every Bible verse which uses the word “flock.” Many of the more complete concordances will even tell you which Hebrew or Greek word is being translated as “flock” (of course, knowing Greek and Hebrew would make that more useful).
A concordance can become very specialized. It is amazing that someone took the time to put a concordance together which organizes ALL the words in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. The standard concordance for the Septuagint for many years has been the two huge volumes by Hatch and Redpath.3
How is this useful to our study of the Zechariah passage? Using Hatch and Redpath, we can look up the Greek word for “furnace” to find out how often it is used, where it is found, and (MOST interesting) to see what Hebrew word is being translated as “furnace.” And, as expected, Hatch and Redpath provides information we would find nowhere else!
The Greek word for “furnace” looks like this: χωνευτήριος. It turns out that there are not one but TWO different Hebrew words in the Old Testament which are translated with this same Greek word “furnace,” χωνευτήριος.
The two Hebrew words are far different in meaning AND appearance:
כּוּר (“koor”) BDB4 p. 468: Furnace, pot, basin, something in a round shape
צָרֵ֔ף (“tsaraph”) BDB4 p. 864: Smelter, Refiner
כּוּר (“koor”) is found in 1 Kings 8:51 (ESV) “…for they are your people, and your heritage, which you brought out of Egypt, from the midst of the iron furnace.”
צָרֵ֔ף(“tsaraph”) Malachi 3:2 (ESV) “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner‘s fire and like fullers’ soap.”
“Furnace” and “refiner” are two different words in English. But when the Greek translates these Old Testament Hebrew verses, it uses the SAME word for “furnace” and “refiner.” Greek makes no distinction between these two Hebrew words! This is uncharacteristically “sloppy” for the Greek language which is generally very exacting.
I want you to look CLOSELY at these three Hebrew words (remember they read from right to left!). Do you see anything which they all share (highlighted in red)?
אוצר (a’o-tser) “treasury”
יוֹצֵר (yo-tser) “potter”
צָרֵ֔ף (tser-aph) “furnace”
You don’t need to know Hebrew to see the pattern! All of them use the same two Hebrew letters: this letter (צ) is called a “tsadeh” (a “tz” or “ts” sound) and this letter (ר) is called a “resh” (an “r” sound). For right now, let’s concentrate only on “potter” and “furnace” and skip “treasury.” Why? Zechariah 11 in Hebrew says “potter” and Zechariah 11 in Greek says “furnace.” Our first task is to figure out if “potter” or “furnace” is the correct original word.
SIMPLIFYING: A QUICK SUMMARY
What do we know so far about Zechariah 11:13?
- The Hebrew words say the prophet threw the money “to the potter” but the Greek translation of this Old Testament verse says the prophet threw the money “into the furnace.”
- The Hebrew words for “potter” and “furnace” look almost alike, and share two of the three primary Hebrew letters. Did a copyist mistake one Hebrew word for the other? That would explain why the two translations are so different.
- We need to figure out if the original word in Zechariah was “potter” or “furnace.” Was the mistake made by a Hebrew copyist or a Greek copyist? If the Hebrew copyist made the mistake, then the Greek text is simply copying what the Hebrew says, and we can’t blame the Greek copyist for an error.
- If we can figure the original word, we can then look at Matthew’s quote of Zechariah for more information.
Once you understand these four points, go back and reread this session #5 from the beginning, and I think it will make more sense!
1 Zechariah 11:13 in the Septuagint Greek: καὶ εἶπε Κύριος πρός με· κάθες αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ χωνευτήριον, καὶ σκέψαι εἰ δόκιμόν ἐστιν, ὃν τρόπον ἐδοκιμάσθην ὑπέρ αὐτῶν. καὶ ἔλαβον τοὺς τριάκοντα ἀργυροῦς καὶ ἐνέβαλον αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸν οἶκον Κυρίου εἰς τὸ χωνευτήριον.
2Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, Young’s Analytical Concordance or Cruden’s Complete Concordanceare only samples of the more familiar ones over the years.
3 A Concordance to the Septuagint and Other Greek Versions of the Old Testament, Edwin Hatch and Henry A. Redpath. (Univ. Verlaganstalt, Graz-Austria: Akademische Druck, 1954). A third volume has been added to include the Apocryphal books as well.
4 “BDB” is the abbreviation for what has been the standard Hebrew Dictionary for 100+ years: Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907)