Friday, September 28, 2018

The Septuagint (LXX) Chronology in Genesis 5 and 11: Corrupt and Indefensible

Recently a friend of mine asked me to evaluate the following paper: Smith, H.B., Jr. 2018. The case for the Septuagint’s chronology in Genesis 5 and 11. In Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Creationism, ed. J.H. Whitmore, pp. 117–132. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Creation Science Fellowship.  The author is Associates for Biblical Research's lead researcher for the Genesis 5 and 11 Research Project.  Associates for Biblical Research has some quality material on the Bible and archaeology, but, regrettably, Mr. Smith's attack on the chronology of the Hebrew Masoretic text and defense of the LXX cannot be included among this high quality material.

God's Promises Require that the Hebrew Masoretic Text is Correct, not the LXX, in Genesis 5 and 11

The conclusive reason why Mr. Smith is wrong in his defense of the LXX's chronology in Genesis 5 and 11 is that his position contradicts God's Word.  Mr. Smith argues: "Scripture’s promises that God will preserve His Word do not specify how those promises will be carried out. . . . Rather, it merely promises preservation (Mat. 5:18; 24:35; Luke 16:17; I Pet. 1:24–25; Is. 40:8), which has subsequently occurred in complex ways over many millennia."  Mr. Smith would have done well to read and accept the Biblical truth in Thou Shalt Keep Them: A Biblical Theology of the Perfect Preservation of Scripture, or, indeed, simply examined Matthew 5:18 a bit more carefully.  The Lord Jesus promised: "For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot [the Hebrew letter yod, the smallest Hebrew consonant] or tittle [the chireq, the smallest Hebrew vowel] shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled."  The Lord Jesus promised that the inspired Hebrew text dictated by the Holy Spirit through the human instrumentality of Moses, Isaiah, and the other Old Testament writers would be perfectly preserved, rather than the Hebrew words being lost while a Greek translation would preserve (?) God's message.  (Please see the studies on Bibliology here for a great deal more Biblical teaching on preservation.)  Matthew 5:18 makes Mr. Smith's position impossible.

Regrettably, Mr. Smith sets up the following straw man that one who rejects his position based on faith in God's promises of preserving the Hebrew text:

Only the divinely authorized writers were uniquely and infallibly moved by the Holy Spirit, not scribes who translated, (re)copied, and/or transmitted the biblical text after it reached its final, canonical form. The Bible never promises the infallible transmission (copying) of Scripture in any single textual tradition (117)

Of course, Mr. Smith cites no sources that actually argue that every Biblical scribe was infallibly moved by the Holy Spirit or that there would be infallible copying of individual manuscripts.  The actual Biblical position, which he ignores in his paper, is that God would preserve every one of the Hebrew words of the Old Testament (Matthew 5:18), that those words would be continually in the mouths of God's people (Isaiah 59:21), and that God's people and institution, Israel in the Old Testament and the church in the New, would receive those words (Isaiah 40:6-8; John 17:8; Matthew 28:18-20).  These Biblical presuppositions necessitate that the Christian today receive the Hebrew Masoretic text and the Greek Textus Receptus as the preserved Word of God.

Mr. Smith's Arguments For the LXX and Against the Masoretic Text Are Weak

Mr. Smith attempts to argue that one who declares that attempts to explain the LXX numbers are wrong when they are larger than those in the Hebrew Masoretic text fail.  Their failure is allegedly because one must have "a specific and adequate motive for inflating the numbers," something for which "there are no ancient testimonies," and, furthermore, "it would have been impossible for the LXX translators (or anyone else) to get away with such a fraud due to the subsequent dissemination of the LXX" (121).  Of course, there are no ancient testimonies about what the LXX translators did in Genesis 5 and 11 because we have no idea who they were, we are not certain when they lived, where they worked, or practically anything else about them.  Indeed, there are good grounds for doubting that there ever was a "the" LXX, rather than a multiplicity of Greek translations of the Hebrew Scriptures; the Letter of Aristeas, just about our only original ancient source on the origin of the LXX, makes reference to earlier translations.  Asking defenders of the Masoretic Text to supply the specific motives of the LXX translators in Genesis 5 and 11 when we do not even know their names, their location, the time they did their translation, or just about anything else of the sort is an utterly unsupportable requirement, somewhat comparable to requiring one to specify the eye and hair color, as well as the type of drink he likes with his breakfast, for a person when one does not know his name, have any evidence of his looks, or even know the continent and century in which he lived.

Furthermore, Mr. Smith's argument that the LXX in Genesis 5 and 11 became widely disseminated, and so could not be corrupt, proves too much, even for him.  His article shows awareness of the astonishing corruption evident in other equally widespread portions of the LXX (e. g., Jeremiah 26 in the Hebrew text and the Authorized Version is Jeremiah 33 in the LXX; Jeremiah 48 in the preserved Hebrew text is Jeremiah 31 in the LXX, etc.)  But how could such corruptions be possible?  Was not the LXX of Jeremiah widely distributed, just like the LXX of Genesis? Were Mr. Smith's argument valid, it would prove that there was no serious corruption anywhere in the LXX--a supposition he himself knows to be false.

Mr. Smith makes the astonishing affirmation that we are to explain the differences between the LXX numbers in Genesis 5 and 11 because of "deliberate chronological deflation in the proto–Masoretic Hebrew text by the Jewish rabbis in the post–AD 70 period" (122).  They allegedly were able "to introduce wholesale chronological changes into the biblical text while also purging the higher numbers from the textual stream. . . . In the aftermath of 70 AD, it became possible for the rabbis to amend their Hebrew MSS and hide the trail of evidence," making "radical chronological alteration permanent in future manuscripts" (122).  Why, one wonders, would they allegedly corrupt the entire Hebrew textual tradition in Genesis 5 and 11?  It was because the numbers in Genesis 5 and 11, Smith argues, were changed in the Hebrew text because they disprove the Messiahship of the Lord Jesus (122)!

Mr. Smith's allegation here is ridiculous.  First, the motive given for changing Genesis 5 and 11 is laughable.  Why did the Rabbis change Genesis 5 and 11 to disprove the Messiahship of the Lord Jesus, but leave untouched Isaiah 53 and the countless other passages that prove the risen Savior is the Messiah?  Second, his affirmation that the Rabbis corrupted the entire Hebrew textual tradition and then hid all the evidence is simply factually impossible.  Why does every pre-Masoretic manuscript found outside of Qumran (Masada, etc.) agree with the Masoretic Text?  Why is the Masoretic text so strongly supported at Qumran as well?  Did the post-70 A. D. Rabbis not only cover their tracks so well that they left not a scintilla of evidence for their corruption of the Hebrew text, but also go back in time to corrupt texts made decades or even centuries before they were born?  Were piddly disagreements among Jewish Rabbis recorded and discussed ad nauseum in the Jewish ancient literature such as the Talmud, but radical corruptions of the Hebrew text universally agreed upon without any evidence that it ever happened in the ancient Jewish sources? Furthermore, any student of the Hebrew Bible is well aware of the strong evidence that the scribes of the OT were unwilling to change the text in this sort of way.  Has Mr. Smith read the Old Testament through in Hebrew?  Has he read the Greek LXX?  Mr. Smith would require that post-70 A. D. Rabbis got together, changed wholesale the Hebrew of Genesis 5 and 11 to attack the Messiahship of the Lord Jesus while leaving hundreds of plain Messianic prophecies untouched, covered up all the evidence that this ever took place, and even somehow planted evidence that predated them.  Sadly, such notions sound more like wild-eyed conspiracy peddling than the sound scholarship that characterizes a great deal of the work of Associates for Biblical Research.

There are other egregious problems with Mr. Smith's article.  He does not in any way adequately deal with the textual variation within the LXX itself on Genesis 5 and 11, as evidenced in the textual apparatus in the Gottingen LXX; his article is filled with special pleading; it contains numerous strawman arguments; etc.

One wonders if Mr. Smith's fundamental reason for arguing against the Hebrew text the Lord Jesus promised to preserve in its every consonant and vowel (Matthew 5:18; Luke 16:17) is an apologetic one, evident in his concern about Carbon-14 dates allegedly at variance with the chronology in the Hebrew text of Genesis (128).  Such an apologetic desire is commendable, but rejecting God's promises to preserve His inspired Hebrew words while making poor arguments in favor of the too-often corrupt LXX is not the way to go about defending Scripture.  The consistent Christian who believes God's promises to preserve every Greek and Hebrew word that He inspired does not need, for example, to believe that there are no gaps in the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 any more than he needs to believe that there are none in the genealogy of Matthew 1.  Indeed, Luke 3:36's reference to Cainan is conclusive proof to the Christian perfect preservationist that the Genesis chronologies can have gaps.  The genealogies cannot be extended indefinitely--to use an extreme example, if there were, say, several thousand years between each name in Genesis, the genealogies would be a poor joke--but the affirmation that there were no gaps is simply contrary to the evidence found in the Biblical text itself.  Furthermore, even were one to (improperly) concede that there were no gaps, and somehow explain Luke 3:36 away, Christ's promises to preserve the Hebrew text are of infinitely more significance than particular attempts to explain Carbon 14 readings, and apologetic concerns cannot justify jettisoning the doctrine of preservation and God's preserved Hebrew words to embrace a Greek Old Testament text containing many evident corruptions, even apart from the far more serious apologetic difficulties that would arise from accepting the factually impossible notion that a cabal of Hebrew rabbis successfully corrupted the entire Hebrew textual tradition, requiring Christians to attempt to pick up the pieces from a Greek text with many corruptions evident to all.

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