Monday, May 24, 2010

Rublev's Trinity - Part 7 'Divine Homily'

We conclude our look into Rublev’s famous Icon, The Trinity. To sum up Rublev’s work one might use the word ὁμιλία, homilia. Homilia is the Greek work which means to have communion or hold intercourse with a person or persons. Paul uses the word this way in 1 Corinthians 15:33, “evil communications [homilia] corrupt good manners” (KJV). The Divine Homily, the conversation within the Godhead, is communicated to us through Rublev’s work.

Many commentators have drawn the inference from Rublev’s Icon that what is being discussed here is the Divine mission of God to redeem mankind. In the words of Father Gabriel Bunge, OSB, Rublev’s Icon is, “a wordless conversation between Father, Son and Holy Spirit... the eternal decision of the Father to send the Son with the Help of the Spirit for the redemption of mankind... Rublev’s Troitsa, the theological context of which is Pentecost, can be “read” as a depiction in colour and shape of the Johannine account of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, which is completely shot through with the mystery, now being revealed, of the Triune God... The intra-Trinitarian conversation proceeds from the Son; with entreaty he looks at the Father, while his right hand points to the chalice of his passion and beyond that to the Spirit. This look and gesture intimate the request of sending the Helper which only becomes possible through the self-sacrifice of the Son. The Father, who always hears the Son (Jn. 11.42), fulfils this request. His gaze is directed to the Holy Spirit, who is enthroned with him behind the altar table, and his right hand bestows on him the blessing for the completion of the saving work of the Son... this original-copy relationship finds mystical reality, a gracious foretaste of this future glory, here on earth in that conversation (homilia) of the spirit with God, transcending any representation, whether in image or concept, that the masters of the spiritual life call prayer. It finds its fullness and perfection only in that ineffable communion with God, a communion at once typified (typos) and created by the Holy Trinity thanks to its own, uncreated, three in one being (Jn. 17.21).

The Triune God, meeting our deepest need, redemption, the forgiveness of sin. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image (εἰκών, icon) of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers (Rom 8:29). Man, re-created, can be a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit, a temple for the undivided Trinity. The hospitality of Abraham was used by Andrei Rublev as the backdrop for this Divine Homily, yet Rublev chose to remove Abraham and Sarah from the famous scene. In doing so they are replaced by all who are in Christ, among whom the Trinity have set up their tent and invited us to their table to commune with them. As the Son has taught us, “Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad." (John 8:56)

Rublev's Trinity - Part 6 'Holy Spirit'

The last angel we will examine is the one on the right. This angel represents the Holy Spirit. Rublev would have no doubt been aware of the spiritual foundations of the Lavra of St. Sergii of Radonezh where he and other iconographers painted and decorated the church of the Holy Trinity. Sergii of Radonezh had emphasised strongly the importance of the Holy Spirit in the union of the believer with the Triune God. Communion with the Mysterium Trinitatis was seen in the work of the Holy Spirit. Eastern Orthodox theology emphasised strongly the work of the Holy Spirit in communicating the divine energies to us. The distinction between the essence of God (Ousia), which is uncreated and inaccessible to the human mind or experience, and God’s energies (energeia) which has been described as God’s divine life outside of his essence, underpins the role of the Holy Spirit in Eastern Orthodoxy. Western Theology generally distinguishes between the Nature of God and His activity in and through creation, which we can perceive and participate in. This is similar but not identical to the Ousia-energeia distinction in Eastern Orthodoxy. The role of the Holy Spirit in man’s union with God (Θέωσις) is central to Eastern Orthodoxy.

The angel on the right is dressed in a Chlamys of pale green, the colour of life and Pentecost. His blue Chiton reminds us of his Divine nature. Thus the two colours draw on both the divinity and mission of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets, as the Nicene Creed puts it. The dominant colour is green, because new-life in Christ is the work and mission of the Spirit (Jn. 6.63). During Pentecost Eastern Orthodox churches are decorated with greenery as a symbol of the life giving Spirit.

Behind the angel is a mountain or cliff. In Eastern Orthodox exegesis, attention is always given to the famous mountain top experiences of God by the prophets of old. Moses, Elijah, Peter, James and John all drew near to the mystery of God’s presence in profound ways on mountain tops. Gregory of Nyssa (d. 395) drew on Moses’ experience of God on Mt. Sinai as a template for the Christians experience of God, he boldly approached the very darkness itself and entered the invisible things where he was no longer seen by those watching. After he entered the inner sanctuary of the divine mystical doctrine, there, while not being seen, he was in company with the Invisible. He teaches, I think, by the things he did that the one who is going to associate intimately with God must go beyond all that is visible and (lifting up his own mind, as to a mountaintop, to the invisible and incomprehensible) believe that the divine is there where the understanding does not reach (Life of Moses, 46).

The gaze of the Holy Spirit is directed (and directs our gaze) to the chalice on the table. His head leans towards the Father, from whom He eternally proceeds. His mission brings us to the Father, through the sacrifice of the Son. Bearing testimony to the Anointed One, his humble posture reveals his role as servant, never drawing attention to Himself. His left hand is free from his cloak, as the Son’s right hand is free. Thus, drawing from Irenaeus, the Son and Holy Spirit are the 'hands of the Father', through which He works everything (cf. Ps. 33.6).

The Comforter and Counsellor, the Spirit of Wisdom, Fire, Holiness, Glory, Adoption, Grace, Life and Fear of the Lord, proceeding from the Father, prayed for by the Son for our sake, makes a life in communion with the All-holy Trinity possible and real.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Rublev's Trinity - Part 5 'Son'

The central angel in Rublev’s Icon represents Christ. The visitors to Abraham narrative in Genesis 18, was long regarded as a theophany of Jesus. The LXX renders Genesis 18.1 as, θεὸς (God) appearing to Abraham, while the Masoretic text has 'YHWH appeared' to Abraham. This angel typically appeared in Icons prior to Rublev with the inscription IC XC (Jesus Christ) in his nimbus. Rublev leaves out the Christological inscription but adds symbol and colour to identify this person as Christ.

Firstly we notice the different colours of the angel’s robes. His Chiton is dark purple, decorated with a golden clavus (stripe). His chlamys is of a deep azure-blue. These colours are important. The angel on the left, representing the Father, wears a blue chiton, which is almost entirely hidden, while the central angel wears blue as his prevailing colour. The difference points to the theological idea that the Father is invisible, while the Son has revealed Him to us. Even in his humanity, Jesus has revealed to us the ‘glory’ which He possessed as the Son of God, And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (Jn. 1.14). God the Father is seen through His unique Son, Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us." Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? (Jn. 14.8-9)

The angel’s right arm is free, and with it He points to (and blesses) the chalice on the table which contains a calf’s head. The calf’s head is a reminder of the hospitality of Abraham (Gen 18.7); the chalice however is a clear symbol of the Eucharist, the sacrifice of Christ, and the axis of a wordless divine conversation. The angel’s hand gesture goes beyond the chalice and points to the angel on the right, who represents the Holy Spirit. The original Icon had the central angel simply point with his index finger (which is more directly pointing towards to the Holy Spirit) but later painters added the middle finger and adapted the gesture to form the sign of a blessing.

The head and the gaze of the angel are directed towards the angel on the left. This was a departure from earlier Icons which normally portrayed the central angel gazing towards the viewer. The Son now looks to the Father. This adaptation by Rublev, subtlety shifts the centre of gravity to the angel on the left. The gestures of all three angels allow us to view them in communion with each other.

Behind the central figure is a tree. Again it echoes the Genesis account where Abraham entreats the strangers to; rest yourselves under the tree (Gen. 18.4). It is also a symbol for the victory of Christ on the cross at Calvary, He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed (1 Pet. 2.24).

Ultimately, it is because of Christ’s victory at Golgotha, the place of the skull, that we, strangers, aliens, even enemies of God, can be brought into the fellowship of divine mystery. We take the cup of thanksgiving and remember that the Triune God invites us to rest under the tree. The tree being the blood stained cross of Christ.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Rublev's Trinity - Part 4 'Father'

Examining the angel on the left we see several symbolic references to God the Father. Rublev was the first Iconographer who wanted to depict the three persons of the trinity as distinct. Previous Icons of the Three Visitors to Abraham generally focused on the central angel as Christ (usually with IC XC inscribed in his nimbus), with the other two angels indistinguishable. Yet still these Icons frequently had the title Holy Trinity. Rublev went further and created three clearly distinct persons in communion with each other.

Looking at the angel on the left, he appears wearing a shimmering purple χλαμΰς chlamys (a woollen cloak worn by Greeks). This rich purple is enhanced with gold to give an ethereal impression. The Father dwells in ‘unapproachable light’ (1 Tim 6.16). Under his cloak there appears a blue χιτών chiton (a Greek garment, usually belted or tied). Rublev used the blue chiton to represent the form of God, each angel wears the blue undergarment with a different coloured cloak. In the Father’s case, the blue is almost entirely covered over by the divine ‘light’ of his cloak. Hence, the Father remains almost entirely ‘invisible’ to us (Jn. 1.18).

The Father figure holds in his left hand a messengers staff, as do the other two angels. His right hand forms a blessing directed towards the chalice in the centre of the picture and beyond that to the angel on the right. His gaze is directed to this angel, who wears a green cloak over his blue chiton. As we shall see later, this angel on the right represents the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and is sent by the Son (Jn. 15.26).

Directly behind the angel on the left is a house. This typically represented the tent of Abraham; here Rublev connects it with the person of the Father. It is the Father’s house, wherein are many rooms, an abode for the faithful (Jn. 14.2). The door and window are open, an invitation to us to dwell in the rooms that are prepared for God’s children.

We notice that the central angel (The Eternal Word) and the angel on the right (The Gift) incline their heads toward the Father. The strict Monarcia of the Father (so central to Eastern Orthodoxy’s Trinitarian understanding) is thereby preserved. Both Son and Spirit are from the Father, not in time but in eternity, and they are also to Him, as they lead all of creation to the Father. We see the central perspective of the Icon is in the figure on the left, not in the centre, yet another example of Eastern Orthodoxy’s unusual use of perspective.

Rublev has presented the Father, essentially hidden from sight, yet seen by us in the missions of the Son and Holy Spirit, to which we next turn our attention.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Rublev's Trinity - Part 3 'Perspective'

Rublev’s Icon of the Trinity employs reverse perspective, a term first used by Russian Orthodox theologian Pavel Florensky (who was martyred in 1935 by the NKVD). Instead of lines reaching their focal point in the background (as in western art), in icons they converge in the foreground. If you can imagine a painting of a long road, it is larger in the foreground and gradually gets smaller as the lines converge in the background. Eastern Orthodox Icons frequently do the reverse. If one looks at the table and footstools in Rublev’s Icon, the foreground appears smaller than the background. Why do Icons employ this ‘reverse perspective’? In the words of Fr Gabriel Bunge,

Like the church’s preaching of the word, icon painting makes use of its own principles. It consciously submits to its own rules and thus renounces much that is essential for profane painting. So, it rejects what the world considers to be the natural, or central perspective, which issues from the standpoint of the beholder, and chooses what can be considered the un-artistic reverse perspective, which forces the beholder to surrender his own standpoint, his sense of distance.

The divergence of lines into ‘infinite space’ is a common technique used by iconographers. Instead of creating distance the Icon ‘meets the viewer’. According to art historian Solrunn Nes, ‘It is as if the spectator is being looked at by the person in the portrait...the icon is subject to neither the laws of nature nor the reason of man. The icon is thus no illusion of the physical, visible world, but a vision of the spiritual, invisible world.’ This formal technique employed by Rublev underlines the theological matter of his Icon. Do we view the Icon or does the Icon view us?

An understanding of Orthodox Church architecture is important to grasp Rublev’s intent. This Icon would have been on the east facing Iconostasis. Behind which lay the Sanctuary and altar, normally cut off from the sight of the laity. The Bishop or Priest would offer the sacrifice of the Eucharist in the Sanctuary, facing east his back to the congregation. The little niche in the table in Rublev’s Icon identifies this table as an altar, since this niche would be on the east side of the altar, usually containing the Eucharist or relics. With that in mind, we now see how the central figure (Christ) is actually in front of the altar (its west side) taking the place of the officiating Priest. The Father and Holy Spirit (and the viewer) are behind the altar. This reversal of perspective is a key part to Rublev’s Icon. In the words of Bunge,

The foreground of the picture in reality lies behind, so that the beholder sees something face-to-face that he can actually only see from behind. What if the icon, therefore, secures for the viewer an insight into the event – and this is indeed its essence – that would otherwise not be accessible to him at all?

It is important to realise that perspective is a central aspect to Icons. Our point of view is frequently reversed, so that the viewer is taken behind the scene, so to speak. Perspective is also treated ‘hierarchically’ in Icons, so that the most important figure is usually exaggerated in size. Since this is an Icon of the Trinity one doesn’t see that technique employed but it is evident in other Orthodox Icons (cf. Icons of Daniel in the Lion’s Den). The perspective of time is also treated relatively in Icons. Frequently Icons will present various scenes in the life of Jesus or a saint, not in sequence but simultaneously. Thus the Icon is past present and future.

Rublev’s use of inverse perspective is a subtle reminder that the viewer is not on the outside looking in, but rather is privileged enough to be allowed to go behind the Iconostasis and have an inside view of the Mysterium Trinitatis. Ultimately this is only possible because of the work of the Trinity for us.

Rublev's Trinity - Part 2 'Three in One'

Depictions of the three visitors to Abraham in Christian art go back to at least the fourth century (a fresco in the Catacombs probably being the earliest example). Through the centuries several motifs were developed. Some Icons portray all three as beardless men standing before Abraham, others as winged angels sitting around a table being served by Abraham and Sarah (cf. Heb 13.2). Trinitarian echoes can be seen in these earlier works. Usually all three angels are identical, indistinguishable save for the inscription IC XC over the middle angel, thus indentifying him as Jesus. What strikes me about Rublev’s Icon is his subtlety, his skill in teaching far more than earlier versions of this scene, with far less content. Rublev adds no subscriptions to tell us who is who, but reveals the three Divine Persons to us simply through colour, posture and background.

There are only three Persons in Rublev’s Icon. Abraham and Sarah have been removed, the focus is the three. The three can be enclosed in an unseen circle (which I have added for the sake of clarity); likewise an equilateral triangle joins the three together. The geometrical dimensions create the impression of unity; theologically they declare the undivided Ousia or substance of the Triune God. Three in One. The careful equality of the persons in their essence is guarded by ensuring each person is the same size and seated. One in Three.

Rublev does not portray each of the angelic visitors with the same clothes, as some earlier Icons of this scene do. He ensures the threeness is not sacrificed to the Oneness. The distinct colours identify three distinct persons or hypostases. We will explore each person in detail in a later post. For now we note that this representation of the Trinity emphasises above everything the idea of communion, or relationship. Each person is in subtle communion with the other. The Trinity is relational in its very essence. There is no hint of broken or damaged fellowship here. The Trinitarian Persons perfectly and eternally love and commune with each other.

What amazes us, the more we understnad what Rublev is protraying, is that at the heart of the Trinity is the question of you and me. God preparing the means and way for men and women, who bear a smeared and deformed Image of God within us, to enter into that sublime fellowship of the Trinity. More on that later.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Rublev's Trinity - Part 1 'Typos'

Andrei Rublev’s Icon of the Trinity was painted sometime in the first half of the fifteenth century. He was part of a team of iconographers who painted the inside of the Church of the Holy Trinity in the Lavra (great monastery) of St. Sergii of Radonezh, near Moscow. The Icon was positioned on the church’s Iconostasis (a richly decorated east facing screen separating the Nave from the Sanctuary). It was also a Festal Icon, which would receive special veneration on particular feast days in the Russian Orthodox calendar. In the case of the Trinity Icon, this feast was Pentecost. Eastern Orthodoxy has no proper feast day for the Trinity, in Russian Orthodoxy, the feast of Pentecost became something of an unofficial feast of the Holy Trinity.

Before we examine the beauty and symbolism of Rublev’s masterpiece I must point out that this series of blog postings is not intended as a defence for Eastern Orthodoxy’s teaching on Icons! It is merely a look at one of Russia’s most famous pieces of religious artistic expression. As an Icon, Rublev’s Trinity, employs many of the famous techniques and motifs of Russo/Byzantine Iconography. Some of which are most interesting and shed light on Orthodox theological presuppositions.

However, one might rightly ask, is it blasphemous to paint a picture of the Trinity and venerate it? At present I will only answer the first part of this question. How can we depict the Trinity? Eastern Orthodoxy, properly understood, prohibits the depiction of the eternal essence of God. Thus Rublev’s Icon is an image of a type or symbol of the Trinity. In this case, Rublev drew from Genesis 18, where Abraham hospitably received three ‘men’, one of whom is identified as the LORD. This episode was used as a picture for the Trinity. Augustine noted that Genesis 18 shows us how Abraham 'sees three and worships one' (tres vidit, et unum adoravit). Procopius of Gaza (d. 538) commented that in the three visitors to Abraham we see a figure (typos) of the Holy and Consubstantial Trinity. The same idea is expressed by Didymos the Blind (d. 389), Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444), St. Ambrose (d. 397), Maximus the Confessor (d. 662) et al. For many in the early church, Genesis 18 was a type or picture of the Holy Trinity (not the actual Trinity itself).

Thus, Rublev’s Trinity, is not a representation of how the Trinity looks or appears (since we cannot see it with human eyes, cf. 1 Tim 6.16), but rather as we shall see, it is a picture of how the Trinity acts. Not daring to depict the inner theology of the Trinity, Rublev instead dared to depict the economic Trinity, God’s Being for us.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mark(s) of the Beast: 666, 616 or 665?

Many of us are familiar with ‘the mark of the Beast’ as being '666'. The majority of NT manuscripts (mss) give the ‘number of the Beast’ in Revelation 13:18 as 'six hundred and sixty six'. I used to read '666' as 'six, six, six', but this is actually incorrect, as the number '666' is abbreviated with three Greek characters for six hundred χ, sixty ξ, and six ς, thus χξς, not six, six, six ςςς.

Interestingly, there is a minor textual variant at this point, some manuscripts give the number not as '666' but as '616', others as '665'. These two variant readings (v.r.) aren’t serious contenders, UBS4 gives the '666' reading as category {A}, i.e. they are certain it represents the original. Here’s why.

'666' is found in P47 (part of the Chester Beatty collection in Dublin), Codices Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus (in the British Library), plus all uncials of Revelation and other important witnesses, including the Byzantine/Majority Text . This shows '666' as having early, wide, and strong support. It is also found in the Old Latin version (in Codex Gigas, probably the biggest codex in the world!) and the Vulgate. Plus the Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, and Ethiopic versions. Thus it has widespread versional support. Early Church Fathers like Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Andrew and others quote the passage as '666'. Irenaeus (II cent.) states that Christians who knew John quoted the passage as '666', he also states that the good and ancient copies of Revelation read '666' (Book V, Chapter XXX. Adversus Haereses). Irenaeus made these comments as he was aware of manuscripts which read not '666' but '616'.

'616' is found in Codex C (V cent.) and P115 (III cent.) as well as a Vulgate manuscript. P115 writes the number of the Beast using its abbreviated form χις (this is the papyrus pictured), Codex C writes out the full number six hundred and sixteen. A possible reason for the change from '666' to '616' in these two codices is given by Metzger. He states that it revolves around the name Nero Caesar. The Greek form of Nero’s name in Hebrew characters קסר נרון has the numerical value '666'.
(נ = 50, ר = 200, ו = 6, ן = 50, ק =100, ס = 60, ר = 200). Just to clarify, the letter nun in Hebrew is written נ unless it is the last letter of a word, then it is written ן. The Latin form of Nero’s name in Hebrew characters קסר נרו has the value '616'.

Thus both textual variants are actually a play on Nero’s name! Applying numerical values to people’s names is known as gematria.

Finally, there is another variant, '665'. This appears only in one manuscript from the eleventh century (ms 2344). It is thought that perhaps this scribe was trying to apply gematria to a mis-transliteration of Nero’s name from Hebrew. Misspelling it קסר נרה, which would have the value '665'.

So there we have it. The textual evidence strongly supports the 'number of the Beast' as six hundred and sixty six, χξς.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What the Dead Sea Scrolls teach us - Part 3

In the 1960s a fragment from a first century scroll of the Psalms was discovered in a Zealot hideout at Nahal Hever in the Judean wilderness. The scroll fragment was found along with letters from Zealot leader Simon bar Kochba. Tov notes that scrolls from Nahal Hever, because of their association to the Zealots, were probably representative of 'main-stream' Jewish scribal texts. Interestingly this fragment preserves the text from Psalm 22:16(17). This scroll is of great interest to textual critics as the majority of Masoretic manuscripts read differently to the text normally followed by English translations of Psalm 22.

Most English Bibles read at verse 16(17 in the Hebrew), “They have pierced my hands and my feet”. While the Masoretic text in the Hebrew Bible reads, “like a lion [are] my hands and my feet”. The difference between ‘like a lion’ (כארי) and ‘they have pierced (כארו) is quite tiny visually. The reading, “they have pierced”, is attested in several medieval Hebrew Masoretic manuscripts. BHS lists כארו as supported by pauci manuscripti (i.e. a few, Kenicott gives seven), it also lists כרו (also pierce) as supported by two manuscripts, (Kenicott adds that it is also found in the margin of three other manuscripts). Thus the variant ‘pierced’ was attested (though slimly) in later Masoretic manuscripts. Textual criticism does not follow democratic principles, according to Tov, so a minority reading should not be ruled out straight away. Furthermore the Septuagint reads ὤρυξαν (pierced) as did the ancient Syriac and Vulgate translations. The vorlage for the Syriac and Vulgate was the proto-Masoretic Text; thereby we have indirect evidence for the variant reading via translation.

Midrash commentary for כארי in Psalm 22 mark ‘like a lion’ as a verb, and the Masoretic notes for verse 17 (in Heb) note that this word כארי occurs also in Isaiah 38.13, but it informs the reader that the two occurrences are not identical. Thus there was an early tradition that כארי in Psalm 22 meant something different to the occurrence in Isaiah.

Finally to the scroll from Nahal Hever! I quote here from The DSS Bible, translated with commentary by M. Abegg and P. Flint (Directors of the DSS Institute) and E. Ulrich (professor of Hebrew at Notre Dame University and one of the chief editors of the Qumran Biblical texts).
“Psalm 22 is a favourite among Christians since it is often linked to the NT with the suffering and death of Jesus. A well known and controversial reading is found in verse 16, where the Masoretic Text reads, ‘Like a lion are my hands and feet,’ whereas the Septuagint has ‘They have pierced my hands and my feet.’ Among the scrolls the reading in question is found only in the Psalms scroll found at Nahal Hever (abbreviated as 5/6HevPs), which reads ‘They have pierced my hands and feet’!”

What the Dead Sea Scrolls teach us - part 2

The majority of what we now call the DSS came from a religious community at Qumran. Several other important scrolls and fragments were discovered at other locations in the Judean desert, such as Masada and Nahal Hever. The DSS at Qumran date from the third century BC to roughly AD 70. Thus they allow us to view the Biblical text as it stood in the Second Temple period. The scrolls at Qumran fall into four families of texts. Broadly speaking there is the proto-Masoretic text, Septuagint aligned, proto-Samaritan and non-aligned.
The majority of the scrolls at Qumran reflected the proto-Masoretic text (MT), which is extremely close to the modern Masoretic Text which is the basis for most English Old Testaments. The texts found outside of Qumran in the Judean Desert almost entirely reflect the proto-MT. As Emmanuel Tov points out, “When one compares early Qumran Masoretic manuscripts with [codex] L (AD 1009) one realizes how close they are to medieval sources. The combined evidence shows that the consonantal framework of the MT changed very little, if at all, in the course of more than one thousand years. Even more striking is the fact that the texts from the other sites in the Judean desert are virtually identical with the medieval texts.”
Qumran was a breakaway group from mainstream Judaism. Several of their scrolls reflect poor scribal habits. The Qumran community was a far cry from the professional sopherim in the Temple and thus not necessarily a reflection of the best or most accurate textual witnesses. Yet, with that said, even the scrolls from Qumran testify to the stability of the proto-MT. Scrolls from outside Qumran, especially those associated with the Zealots reflect even better texts. This is not surprising since the Zealots were supported in their uprising in AD 132 by the Rabbis and religious leaders. The Temple circles, with access to the Temple scrolls, are seen to be preservers of the MT. The plurality of textual streams from Qumran is testimony to popular editions, and non-professional copies.
Next we will examine a fragment from Nahal Hever of Psalm 22. Psalm 22.16(17) in the modern Hebrew Bible doesn't read 'they pierced my hands and my feet', instead it reads 'like a lion my hands and my feet', it will be interesting to see how this Psalm read in the first century.

What the Dead Sea Scrolls teach us - Part 1

This advert appeared in the Wall Street Journal on July 1, 1954. Among the scrolls for sale from Qumran was the famous Isaiah scroll, a complete copy of the book of Isaiah (with minor lacunae) from c. 120BC. The Israeli government succeeded in purchasing the scroll and it now resides in the Shrine of the Book Museum in Jerusalem, well worth a visit if you’re ever in Jerusalem. The Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) have shed invaluable light on the textual transmission of the Hebrew Bible.

One curious lesson drawn from the DSS, however, was mentioned in a Soviet Newspaper
Комсомoльская прaвда, (Komsomolskaya Pravda), Комсомoльская is an abbreviation for the Union of Communist Youth, and прaвда means the Truth). It concluded, in a 1958 article, that the primary lesson to be drawn from the DSS was that it conclusively proved that Jesus never existed! Fortunately, as F. F. Bruce noted in his book ‘Second Thoughts on the DSS’, “more objective Qumran studies than this one have been published in Russia.”

There are certainly many lessons we can learn from the DSS and I hope to mention a few of them over the next few days, this one, however, is probably not one of them.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Codex Boernerianus and Irish Scribal Mischief

Codex Boernerianus is a ninth century Greek-Latin diglot manuscript of the Pauline Epistles. The Latin translation is written above the Greek text and follows it word for word. It was probably produced in modern day Switzerland by Irish monks. It’s so strange to think of some lads from the west of Ireland fluent in Latin and Greek, producing Biblical manuscripts somewhere in central Europe over a thousand years ago!

At the foot of folio 23(r) there is an Irish poem about a pilgrimage to Rome.

Téicht do róim [téicht do róim]
Mór saido becic torbai
Inrí chondaigi hifoss
Manimbera latt ni fog bai.

To come to Rome, to come to Rome,
Much of trouble, little of profit,
The thing you seek for here,
If you don't bring it with you,
you won't find it.

One gets the impression that the Irish scribe’s trip to Rome wasn’t all he had hoped it would be. I visited the Eternal City with Katie in March. Had a great time! Irish scribes were notorious for defacing Biblical manuscripts with poems or notes to the scribe sitting next to them.

Metzger mentions a ninth century Latin manuscript of Cassiodorus’ commentary on the Psalms which has several Irish notes written in the margins. Such as, ‘tis cold today!’, ‘no kidding; it is winter!’ ‘this lamp gives a bad light’, ‘this vellum is certainly thick!’ ‘huh?, I would say it’s thin!’ ‘I feel quite dull today, don’t know what’s wrong with me.’

Metzger wondered, “How did it happen that the head of the scriptorium allowed his monks to disfigure a manuscript with such trivialities? One may perhaps conjecture that the manuscript was written in a continental monastery, where the authorities knew no Irish and therefore the scribes from Ireland felt they could play pranks with impunity. When asked what he had written, the scribe might point to some pious sentences in Latin in the top margins of preceding pages and say, ‘merely Irish equivalents of sentences like these!’"

Sure we’ve all used the cúpla focail to our advantage when abroad at one time or another!

John Scotus Eriugena

John Scotus Eriugena was an Irish scholar and theologian from the ninth century. His name literally means John the Irish, from Ireland. His intellect and wit were legendary. He once graced the old Irish five pound note. His theological influences included Augustine, and many of the fathers from the Eastern Orthodox tradition, such as Maximus the Confessor and the Cappadocian Fathers. He was literate in Greek as well as Latin.

His Homily on the Gospel of John is a beautiful piece of speculative theology. I include an excerpt here, “...The two Apostle’s run to the tomb. The tomb of Christ is holy scripture in which the mysteries of his divinity and humanity rest on the solidity of letters as if supported by stone. John however ran ahead of Peter. For the power of contemplation, wholly purified, penetrates more keenly and swiftly the profound secrets of divine letters than does action, which still stands in need of purification. But it is Peter who is first to enter the tomb, followed by John, Thus both of them run there and both enter in. Peter is the figure of faith, while John symbolizes understanding. And since it is written ‘unless you believe, you will not understand’ (cf. Isa 7.9 LXX), faith is necessarily the first to enter the tomb of holy scripture, followed by the understanding, whose path is prepared by faith. Peter recognised Christ, who had been made both God and man in time, and cried out; ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God’ (Mt 16.16). He did indeed fly high, but higher still flew the one who, when he had grasped Christ with his understanding as God from God, born from before all time, said ‘In the beginning was the Word’ (Jn 1.1). And so Peter, which is to say the actions of virtues, perceives how the Son of God is enfolded in flesh in a wonderful and ineffable manner, by the power of faith and action, while John, who is the highest contemplation of truth, wonders at the Word of God as it is in itself, prior to the flesh, absolute and infinite in its own origination, which is to say in the Father. Peter is truly led by divine revelation when he sees the eternal and the temporal uniting in Christ, but it is John who leads the faithful souls to knowledge of what in Christ is purely eternal.”

Too bad that he was stabbed to death by his own pupils because he forced them to think!