Verbum Domini: The Catholic Roots of Sacred Scripture — Part 2
A very important historical fact is that the Old Testament was held by the various Jewish sects as a matter of Tradition, since there had never been any unified authority to authenticate the books for the people.
This being the case, and History confirms it, on what grounds did the Apostles of Jesus Christ accept the Old Testament as inspired, as the Word of God? Simply on the grounds that such was their tradition as well. They were pious Jews, and as such faithful to their traditions. Besides, Jesus never issued a teaching to the effect that the Old Testament as we know it was true or complete, or decided which books were to be accepted, such as, only the Pentateuch with the Sadducees’ choice or the Pentateuch and the Prophets with the Pharisees’. No, the Old Testament was simply taken for granted; they accepted it as a matter of fact, as a tradition, and a good one at that, since there was no united or unifying authority in Judaism. Each sect had its own tradition. It was from that tradition that they drew their knowledge of which books were inspired.
But there is also another very important historical division among the Jews: apart from the division between the Sadducees and Pharisees, there was also another major division among the Rabbis (mainly Pharisees) about which Old Testament books were received as inspired and which ones were not. By the time of Jesus, there were two basic rabbinical traditions, the Palestinian and the Alexandrian. The Palestinian Bible was seven books shorter than the Alexandrian Bible. Here is the reason:
Around the year 250 BC, the Jewish community living in Egypt was very large and prosperous. The king Ptolomeus II Philadelphos (285-247 BC) had the famous library of Alexandria, where books on all sorts of subjects known to men were kept, especially on religion. The King had those books translated into Greek, which was the common language of the nations along the Mediterranean coast at the time. He was definitely hot on education.
According to the story, that worthy King asked the Rabbis of Jerusalem to send to Egypt some scholars to translate the Pentateuch into Greek for his library and for the use of the local Jewish community, who was Greek-speaking. Not less than seventy-two men were sent, seventy to translate and two to coordinate the eagerly-awaited initiative. The translators were kept in individual cells without having any contact among themselves for seventy-two days. At the end, when they presented their individual translations, everyone was astonished to realize that the texts were all the same, to the joy and contentment of everybody. In their minds, it proved beyond any doubt that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had guided the translation of the Pentateuch into the language of the people. Gradually the rest of the Old Testament was translated into Greek and widely used by all Jews all over the ancient world, both in the Diaspora and in Palestine. This version of the Old Testament is known as the Septuagint – or LXX for short.
We know about this story from a pre-Christian document, the Greek Letter of Aristeas to Philocrates, written sometime in the second century BC at the latest. However, there are some Catholic scholars who dispute the historicity of the divine intervention in the story. Be that as it may, the point I want to emphasize here is that the Greek version of the Old Testament enjoyed much greater acceptance among the Jews than the Palestinian one. The fact is that while the Greek language was known to everyone, Hebrew was known only to a chosen few. Even in Palestine itself the Greek version was used. The Palestinian version was reserved for the cultured scholars of Jerusalem and for some special synagogues. Pretty much like Latin in the Catholic Church today.
Jealous of their assumed seniority, Palestinian Rabbis decided to impose a rule for the acceptance of Old Testament books as inspired: they had to have been written in the Hebrew language; inside the Holy Land; and prior to the priest Esdras (or Ezra, around 450 BC). However, those criteria were entirely gratuitous, they were their own opinion or preference. The Alexandria Rabbis adopted a wider concept of inspiration for Scripture, and also accepted seven books that had neither been written in Hebrew, nor inside the Holy Land and nor before Esdras. Both traditions coexisted, simply because there was no unified Magisterium, no authority to define which canon of the Bible was the correct one. Since Jerusalem was not a kind of Jewish Vatican, claiming authority over all synagogues in the world, the Palestinian Rabbis could not claim authority over the Alexandrian ones just because they lived in Jerusalem.
After the Death and Resurrection of Our Lord, and also after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem (70 AD), the remaining Rabbis in Palestine held together a kind of a ‘council’ in the town of Jamnia to attempt to establish some authority for Judaism and decide which books were inspired (90 AD). They were the Scribes, the Pharisees and Sadducees followers and/or descendants of those who plotted against and killed their Messias and Redeemer, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. They also persecuted the early Christians and instigated the Roman to eliminate the new Christian ‘sect’. But their persecution did not last long: in the year 70 AD, with the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, it was publicly and demonstrably confirmed that they had lost their Covenant with God, as Jeremias and Malachias prophesied. Without any authority whatsoever over the early Church and even over their own people, they decided that the Palestinian canon of the Bible was true, and rejected the Greek Alexandrian one. They did so also out of hatred of Christianity, because the Apostles and the early Christians used the Greek version, and not the Palestinian one.
Here a question imposes itself: if you, dear Reader, were an early Christian, suffering persecution from the Romans – who were also instigated by the Rabbis, as demonstrated in the Acts of the Apostles – were given a choice between two versions of the Bible: one used by the Scribes and Pharisees who hated and had Jesus killed, and the other by the Apostles of the same Jesus – which version would you choose?
Silly question, of course, I know, because evidently any Christian worth his salt would immediately accept the complete version used by the Apostles (the Greek one from Alexandria) and decline the mutilated Palestinian one, used by the mortal enemies of Christianity.
Why is this so important? Because Martin Luther and all Protestants today use the Palestinian version of the Scribes and Pharisees, and not the Alexandrian version of the Apostles!
More on that in the next article…
Raymond de Souza, KM is Brazilian by birth, Catholic by grace, and American by choice. He is the Special Missions Coordinator for Human Life International – HLI. Fluent in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese, and having conversational ability in Italian and Afrikaans, he regularly travels to countries in all continents to refute the culture of death and promote the Gospel of Life. This father of eight children is also the President of the Sacred Heart Institute in the United States, EWTN program Host, Knight of Magistral Grace of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, Coordinator of the Knights of the Sacred Heart Legion, and the founder of Saint Gabriel Communications, Australia’s first international outreach to promote Catholic apologetics. In addition, he has a syndicated weekly column on Catholic Apologetics in the national Catholic newspaper, The Wanderer. You can learn more about n Raymond de Souza at his HLI Webpage. To book him to speak at events anywhere in the Free World, please write to: ChevalierdeMalta@outlook.com.