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Ifound this book by accident when I attended a conference at Taylor University, Indiana. I found Heath's book in the bookstore of this university where he had been a professor before retiring from that position. Now living in Florida (perhaps to get away from the harsh Indiana winters), he had written this book as a summary of his studies and teaching over the years on the Old Testament and specifically the Greek translation called the Septuagint, usually abbreviated with the Roman numerals LXX.
I found only one copy left on the shelf. Knowing that often academic books are published in short print runs, and normally quite expensive, I grabbed this paperback copy up while there that weekend. I found this book to be a treasure of fact and detail not commonly circulated. Heath is a scholar of the Greek Old Testament, translated in the Greek period in Alexandria in the two centuries or so before the time of Christ. It appears to have been in circulation fairly commonly for about 100 years or more before the time of Christ.
Insightful Cultural Colour
As I read Heath's insightful and tightly argued book, I read critically, comparing it with other sources. Heath presents much background information about the from of the translation, and cultural factors related to the religious and political conflicts that colour the two centuries of the Roman era in Palestine around the time of Christ.
I have been very glad that I did pick up that solitary copy there. I have looked in the last year and found the book unavailable, even on Internet sources. Amazon does not have it. I found a listing on a UK bookseller, but found the book, thought still listed, was also unavailable from them.
Heath's clear, enthusiastic and informative writing on this topic was a further motivation to continue with the program of personal study I have begun in 2003 to read more in the ancient world — archaeology, history, various culture studies, the Qumran documents, ancient literature, including various sources for critical review of the clues in the Old Testament to the cultural and linguistic past.
Since that time, I have read other sources on the Jewish and Roman picture, as well as expanded historical studies I have conducted in the last three years. I found this book clarifies the role of the languages used by the Jews in various parts of the major Greek Empires and the Roman Empire that succeeded them.
Heath probes the role of Greek and Hebrew as the formal languages used in scripture and thought, as well as common life among the Jews in that era. His careful review of the factors affecting the Jewish people and the many factions of their religious life brings to life the real-life complexity of the changes they were experiencing at this time.
This was the time of the Essenes (perhaps associated with the Qumran scholars) and other reform movements, including the rise of several other messianic movements, including the Way of the Nazarenes, which came to be known as Christianity, though the name "Christian" arose only after the Greeks had become believers, in Antioch of Syria.
Greek the Jewish Language
Heath paints the cultural and linguistic scenario which shows that Greek had become the de facto language of the Jews, even in Palestine, though Aramaic remained the common currency of much social exchange. Greek became the language of commerce and political administration well before the Romans came into that part of the world, and continued even more strongly under the Roman use of Greek as the common language of Empire.
Even Roman writers (in the City of Rome itself) often wrote in Greek, rather than — or sometimes in addition to — Latin, in order to read the wider sophisticated audience of the elite. (Roman Empire expert Wayne Meeks reports that only about 10% of the total population of the Roman Empire at the time of Christ were literate. See his book The Moral World of the Early Christians, in my 2006 reading list.)
Heath reviews the evidence that indicates that these Greek versions of the ancient scrolls, still circulating in various Hebrew versions, came to be the common form of Tanakh (what the Christians came to call the Old Testament) used even in Judea, Galilee and other eastern areas of the Jewish people. Aramaic continued to be the common language in Judea more that in Galilee, apparently, from various other sources.
The Earth Shifts
But Greek replaced the Hebrew as the working form of the Hebrew Scriptures. Various sources indicate that a common practice in the synagogues in Jesus' time seems to be to read the scripture selection in Greek, then Discuss it in Aramaic. Often the memorized scriptures would still be in the Hebrew, but Hebrew was no longer a viable working language.
The Remnant of the nation of Judea came out of Babylon greatly transformed, including a full shift to the Aramaic language from that time. Even the Hebrew language preserved in the old writings had been transformed, now totally rewritten in a new alphabet, thought to have been finalized by Ezra. The new alphabet, though now commonly called the Hebrew alphabet, was a form of the Aramaic writing common across the eastern empires at that time.
About 150 years later the whole cultural earth shifted again for the Jews, when the Greeks invaded, and thigns were never the same again. By the time of Jesus, Greek was the inter-language of all peoples in the region, though Aramaic was the native langauge of many. The region had become multi-ethnic. All of Palestine, even the sacred Judea and the city of Jerusalem, very cosmopolitian.
Hebrew was far from the experience of the people, especially in Galilee where a large portion of the people were non-Jews who had been forcibly converted at sword point by the Maccabees, and a high proportion of pagan Greeks and other Gentiles. Several of these characters show up in the Gospels. Galilee was also just across the lake from the real pagan Greek (and Aramaic) areas of the old kingdoms, barely pacified by the Romans.
Greek Old Testament
Anyway, the real contribution Heath makes, as a scholar who has spent his life studying, clarifying, and teaching the Old Testament, from Hebrew and Greek, is to set forth the role of the LXX for the new messianic sect of the Christians. It is strongly evidenced that the LXX was the version of the Hebrew scriptures used by the Christians. Direct quotes as well as similarities in vocabulary and sentence structure in even the rough paraphrases occur all through the New Testament writings.
A valuable contribution Heath makes is to develop the portrayal of the LXX Greek Old Testament as the scriptures of the Christians. This is corroborated voluminously by other scholars (Thomas Ross Valentine is a noted authority, but his previous website has been moved and I have not located the new address). In addition, however, Heath points out that since the LXX was translated beginning as far back as 250 BC, it preserves a form of the text earlier than Hebrew texts available to us, and even earlier than many quoted in the first century AD. (There are some differences among various Christian traditions on which Old Testament writings are included in the accepted canon.)
The Hebrew Scriptures had continued under edit, and even in 90 AD when the Jewish council of Jamnia (Javne, Yavneh) was held, several commonly used texts were questioned. (Remember, the various documents were NOT collected under one cover as a single volume as we are used to.)
The writing under the name of Ezekiel, for instance, was highly questioned, and some say that Rabbi Akiba was commissioned to conduct a study that continued for — what was it? a year? — before it was finally agreed to as a valid text for Jewish use. Several other books long before incorporated into the Greek "canon" of the LXX, and still there for much of Christianity, were questioned for some time. Esther was considered only popular literature till around AD 200.
Other edits continued in the Hebrew text, and several versions circulated, during the early centuries of the Christian era, some to diminish the messianic value of some text that had come to be referenced by the Christians (who quickly became a largely Gentile movement). The Masoretic Text we commonly have now is a product of about AD 800 or later.
Oh, by the way, the reason he calls it the Orthodox Old Testament is that the LXX was and remains today as the Old Testament of the Eastern ("Greek") Orthodox Communion. Heath provides interesting reading into the mysteries and treasures of the ancient writings and the way they affected their contemporary and later times, as well as the way of doing things in those ancient days. He provides clarifying insights on the scriptures of Jews and Christians and the general language and cultural situation in the ancient world, in the centuries through the first century of the Christian era.
See related articles on this site:
Aramaic New Testament
Hebrew Usage in the First Century
Jesus and the Hebrew Language
Koine Greek as a Mother Tongue
The Language Jesus Used
Primacy and Possibility: Problems Facing Aramaic Primacy Claims
(Cultural Settings for Greek and Aramaic as Literary Languages in the First Century)
Textual Themes and Language Variations in the late Prophets
Time or Character – The Ages or A Time Sequence in aionios: How Words "Mean" in Greek and English
What Was Koine Greek?
On language use and scripture development, see also:
Jamnia and other factors — from Choosing Scripture
Jamnia — Earth History
Jamnia and the Old Testament — Wheeler
Jamnia — IBRI Research
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First written and Posted on Thoughts and Resources 9 September 2006
Last edited 5 August 2011
Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2006 Orville Boyd Jenkins
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