By Recycling, a Medieval Jew Preserved a Major Work of Christian Bible Scholarship

March 27 2019

Composed by the church father Origen in the 3rd century CE, the Hexapla (“six-fold”) contained, in parallel columns, the text of the Hebrew Bible, a transliteration into Greek, and four different Greek translations. The work was a key tool of ancient Christian biblical scholarship, including Origen’s own. While no complete versions, or even complete pages, of the Hexapla are extant, a fragment discovered in the Cairo Genizah—a repository of used books and document at a medieval synagogue—sheds light on what the original may have looked like. Benjamin Kantor writes:

There has been scholarly debate about whether there really was a first column (Hebrew in Hebrew letters) as part of the Hexapla, since there are no remains of the first column in any of the extant textual witnesses. It is only attested in ancient authors’ descriptions. On the basis of the precise measurements and proportions of this Genizah fragment, however, it has been persuasively argued that this palimpsest, [a parchment where writing has been scraped off and written over], originally did contain a Hebrew column. . . .

This 6th- or 7th-century palimpsest happens to be the oldest direct witness to the Hexapla extant today. It contains a portion of Psalm 22. We do not know much about the history of the text, but it was probably an early copy of the Hexapla (or the Hexaplaric Psalter) that circulated in Christian circles in Palestine and/or Egypt in the latter half of the first millennium. Eventually, at least, it found its way to Egypt, whether before or after being written over with the Hebrew liturgical poetry of Yannai in the 10th century. . . .

In terms of analyzing the original format of the Hexapla, this is the most important witness we have. Although only portions of columns II (Hebrew in Greek letters), III (the translation of Aquila), IV (that of Symmachus), and V (the Septuagint) remain, the proportions and measurements of the fragment, according to [the scholar] R.G. Jenkins, prove that this palimpsest originally contained both column I (Hebrew in Hebrew letters) and column VI (the translation of Theodotion). This is partially due to the fact that you can still see the original gutter (i.e., “crease”) that marked the center of the codex.

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Read more at Taylor-Schechter Genizah

More about: Cairo Geniza, Christianity, History & Ideas, Translation

 

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter