Over the last week or so I have been posting videos on this blog produced by the Jewish organization Jews for Judaism. In these videos, Jews claim that Christians mistranslate the original Hebrew Bible in an attempt to “shoehorn” Jesus into Old Testament messianic prophecies. However, some of my Christian readers have left comments stating that this Jewish accusation is false. It is Jews who altered the original Hebrew Bible to edit out any passages that refer to Jesus as the messiah.
Who is right?
I have started a quest to investigate this subject. Below is an excerpt from a prominent Jewish scholar, Professor Emanuel Tov. He is J. L. Magnes Professor of Bible (emeritus) in the Dept. of Bible at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Interestingly, Professor Tov states that in the first century CE, there was no one authorized text of the Hebrew Scriptures, there were several. With the development of Christianity, Christians selected the Septuagint text as their official text for the Old Testament while Jews selected the Masoretic text for their official version of the Hebrew Bible. Professor Tov states that the proto-Masoretic text was the text used by the Pharisees in first century Palestine. (The Pharisees were the forerunners of the post-Temple rabbis.)
So if the Pharisees of Jesus time were using the proto-Masoretic texts, and other Jewish groups were using the Septuagint and other textual variants, which text did Jesus use??? Jesus seemed to agree more with the Pharisees on issues such as the Resurrection than he did with the Temple Sadducees. So from which Hebrew text was Jesus preaching and quoting? Did Jesus read Greek? Did he read Hebrew? Being from the lower classes, could Jesus even read???
We know that the authors of the Gospels (whom most New Testament scholars believe were Gentile non-eyewitnesses writing decades after Jesus’ death), writing in Greek, used the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible when quoting from the Old Testament. Why? Why didn’t the authors of the Christian Gospels use the Hebrew text used by the Pharisees when quoting from the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament)? Christians have asserted that all Jews were using the Septuagint during Jesus’ life time, but according to Professor Tov this is a generalization. Only some first century Jews were using the Septuagint.
So here is the million dollar question: Did first century Jews reject the Septuagint because they didn’t like it’s alleged pro-Jesus text, or, did first century Jews reject the Septuagint (and elect the Masoretic text) simply because the Pharisees, later called the rabbis, assumed the preeminent role in Jewish society (a position that in Jesus lifetime had been shared with the Temple priests, the Sadducees)…and the Masoretic text was already their preferred Hebrew text…and it had been their preferred text, even before Jesus had come on the scene???
Those are the questions I will be looking to answer.
Professor Tov from TheTorah.com:
The Masoretic Text (MT), whether in its consonantal form (Proto-MT) or its full form, is the commonly used version of the Hebrew Bible, considered authoritative by Jews for almost two millenia. From the invention of the printing press, all Hebrew editions of the Hebrew Bible have been based on a text form of MT, with the exception of publications of the Samaritan Pentateuch or eclectic editions.
The roots of MT and its popularity go back to the first century of the Common Era. Before that period, only the proto-rabbinic (Pharisaic) movement made use of MT, while other streams in Judaism used other Hebrew textual traditions.
In other words, before the first century of the Common Era, we witness a textual plurality among Jews, with multiple text forms conceived of as “the Bible,” or Scripture, including the Hebrew source upon which the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint (LXX), was built.
The First Century C.E.
Around the turn of the era, the consonantal (proto-)MT text was accepted as an authoritative form of Hebrew Scripture by the proto-rabbinic movement, whereas other forms were accepted as authoritative by other groups.
With the advent of Christianity in the first century C.E., the LXX, which began as the biblical text for Greek speaking Hellenistic Jews, was accepted as holy writ by this new group of early Christians, and was concomitantly dropped by other Greek-speaking Jews and ceased to be considered authoritative scripture by them. Around the same time, the Samaritans adopted the version of the Torah known as the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Qumran community that had assembled texts of different types ceased to exist.
Thus, since the first century C.E., the consonantal (proto-)MT, and subsequently full MT, version of scripture, including all the books that are contained in it, was accepted as authoritative by all streams of the Jewish people. This text is the only text quoted in rabbinic literature (the small deviations are negligible) and Karaite works, and it is the only text used by organized Judaism for the past two millennia.