Jaroslav Pelikan-Were the vowels inspired?

Here are couple of interesting facts Jaroslav Pelikan raised about the Jewish tradition. The apocrypha, he says, turned out to be more important to Christians than to Jews. They are the intertestamental Jewish writings for which we have no original Hebrew manuscripts. Some of them may never have been in Hebrew. They may have been composed in Greek. This seems nearly certain on stylistic grounds for the Wisdom of Solomon.

The Septuagint included these writings, but they were not part of the translation project, because they already were in Greek. But as part of the Greek Bible, they became part of the Bible for the early Christians. Jews began to back away from the Septuagint, including the apocrypha, after Christians began using its peculiarities to back up clams that these writings had predicted Jesus as Messiah.

Today Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Churches recognize these apocryphal books. Thus they are part of the Bible for the majority of Christians.  Protestants regard them as interesting historical documents for the background of the New Testament. But in most Protestant churches they do not get read or preached on.

Second, he talks about the Jewish oral tradition that exists as the Talmud, the many volumes of rabbinic tradition that has become the highest authority in much of Judaism. This is basically the codified oral tradition about how to interpret the Bible.

A crucial point he makes is that oral tradition was needed from the beginning because Hebrew was only written in consonants. (My name, David, was written Dvd, but that you used an “a” and an “i” was a tradition.) But the purpose of the Bible was to be read. You had to have vowels in order to pronounce the words. So the pronunciation of the Hebrew Bible was always an oral tradition. The pointing of the Hebrew text to give clues to pronunciation was a late innovation. This pointing was done by the Masoretes, and it is later than the Septuagint. That is why the Septuagint Greek text sometimes gives us a better clue to the original Hebrew than the oldest complete Hebrew Bible, the Masoretic text.

This leads to a problem for all those of us who think the written Bible is in some way inspired by God, and so authoritative. Were the vowels inspired as well as the consonants since they were not present in the original manuscripts?

You could look at Matthew 5:18.  Matthew’s Jesus says that you cannot let either the smallest Greek letter, an iota, or the smallest Hebrew letter, a yod, pass from the law. The Greek iota was a vowel. The yod wasn’t even one of the points to indicate a vowel.  It was an unnecessary, decorative stroke or hook.  Anyway, Matthew seems to recognize both the Greek and Hebrew Bibles.  And he is talking about the written text as it existed in the 1st century.  But Pelikan shows that for both Judaism and Christianity, the oral tradition often stood above the written text.


About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
This entry was posted in Ancient Israel, Bible, Theology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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