21
Sep
07

Fun with Hebrews

Although this is only the third week of the fall semester, all of my classes are already well underway, and are engaging in some rich discussion. Hopefully I’ll have more time to blog about these topics in future weeks; between classes, work at the bookstore, PhD applications, and GRE study, I’ve been wondering when I’ll have time to eat, let alone blog!

However, I will take a few brief moments to mention an issue which arose during Greek Exegesis of Hebrews, which meets every Monday afternoon under the eminently learned supervision of Prof. Harry Attridge. We were translating and discussing Hebrews 2, and when it came time for v. 9, one of my classmates read aloud and translated the final clause (as printed in the Nestle-Aland critical edition):

ὅπως χάριτι θεοῦ ὑπὲρ παντὸς γεύσηται θανάτου
(“so that, by the grace of God, he might taste death on everyone’s behalf”)

The translation given above is my own, but it isn’t substantially different from standard translations such as the NRSV, or from the on-the-spot translation provided by my classmate. But Prof. Attridge noted that a few manuscript witnesses (0243, and the original hand of the important minuscule 1739) as well as a few patristic witnesses (Origen, Ambrose, Jerome, and Fulgentius) replace χάριτι θεοῦ with χωρις θεου, which would dramatically alter the translation and sense of the clause:

ὅπως χωρις θεου ὑπὲρ παντὸς γεύσηται θανάτου
(“so that, apart from God, he might taste death on everyone’s behalf”)

The witness of Origen (who died c. 254 CE) is particularly interesting, as he is just a few decades removed from Hebrews’ earliest manuscript witness (P46, normally dated to c. 200 CE). Furthermore, this would certainly fall within the category of the “more difficult reading,” which often guides text critics in their attempts to determine which reading is more original, and which has been altered by later scribes. Bruce Metzger, however, has argued that χωρις θεου was either a simple scribal mistake (χάριτι and χωρις are somewhat similar in appearance), or originally arose as a marginal note indicating that the πάντα (“everything”) mentioned in v. 8 did not include God, and then was mistakenly integrated into the text. Hmm… pretty interesting stuff… and we’ve got a long way to go!

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