Reading Hebrew: An act of literary defiance

If a tradition claims to be the font and fullness of God’s revelation, and that tradition prizes a translation of the Old Testament (Vulgate, LXX) over the Hebrew/Aramaic, then the act of reading Hebrew is itself a literary defiance.  This is the question I asked the anchorites at OrthoBridge:  if the LXX is the text by which we measure other texts, then what’s the point of even using the Hebrew?  At this point Harnack’s charge of Hellenism is actually correct!  If we marginalize the Bible that Yeshua read, is this not a de-Hebraicizing of Yeshua?  Isn’t this downplaying (if not fully separating) his human nature?

12 comments on “Reading Hebrew: An act of literary defiance

  1. John says:

    A reading suggestion: The Old Testament in Eastern Orthodox Tradition by Eugen J. Pentiuc.

    He is quite possibly the foremost scholar in the Orthodox world in Hebrew and the OT Hebrew textual traditions. He even goes so far as to criticize his own tradition where criticism is necessary. He also does not say (and I think rightly shows) that the LXX is “the text by which we measure other texts”. He even goes so far as to show how the Fathers (Chrysostom, among others) Insist that while the Church, speaking Greek, uses Greek manuscripts (yes, even non-LXX translations [cf. Theodotian version of Daniel that to this day is a part of the LXX manuscript tradition]), it is always problematic when using a translation of the original. I think he does a fair job of showing that Orthodoxy is, and has always been, flexible regarding the biblical canon, including branching out and using other non-Greek texts in other textual traditions. It seems to me that after reading his book, Orthodoxy has no excuse not to use the Hebrew, but I might also add, exclusively. And I think that people like Pentiuc are showing just how much Orthodoxy can embrace non-Greek textual traditions and still maintain orthodoxy.

    I know that you have expressed a concern with the available amount of free time, but I think your dialogues with OB need to be balanced with scholarly sources like Mr. Pentiuc, if you can manage. I’d even suggest skipping over OB and just using that time with the likes of Fr. John Behr or Pentiuc. OB’s claims on the LXX do seem to be overstated. Perhaps a bit too much zeal on their part. Perhaps they are not informed that no ecumenical (or even pan-orthodox) council has ever stated that the LXX is to be prized among all other texts and that the Hebrew is somehow second class.

    Anyway, I think I’m rambling a bit. Please, if you have the time, I highly recommend the book if you are looking at a more balanced view of the Hebrew text in light of Orthodox tradition.


    • I actually agree with much of this post. I’ve stopped going to OB. I don’t see RA approving any more of my posts and it seems to be an “amen-to-you-too” forum.

      About twice a year I really study scholarly material on the biblical text. I’ll keep Pentuic in mind.

  2. John says:

    Sorry, I don’t know how to edit my comment. I stated: “It seems to me that after reading his book, Orthodoxy has no excuse not to use the Hebrew, but I might also add, exclusively.” What I meant to say is that while Orthodox Christians should use the Hebrew text, they should not use it exclusively and abandon all other textual traditions. Forgive the confusion, please.

    • I can’t help but notice a certain irony that when I recommend world-renowned scholarly sources like Richard Muller, you all respond that he isn’t representative of the Reformed tradition. When I critique those who probably are represntative of EO, you point me to the above. Do you not see the irony?

      • John says:

        First, I have never said he wasn’t representative. In fact, I rarely comment there, and even when I do, I probably shouldn’t. I’ve been going there less and less. it seemed to have so much promise in the beginning. Now, even as an Orthodox Christian, it seems to be, as you put it, an “amen to you” forum and not much for real discussion.


  3. Jeronimo says:

    The charge of Hellenism also stands when you consider the situation with the Jerusalem Patriarchate, in that they do not allow any native Arabs into the priesthood, nor into certain exclusive monastic orders simply because they are not Greek. By their fruits…

    In addition to the fact that reading in the Bible in Hebrew is a defiant act, I would also add that reading Jewish exegesis and Jewish apologetics are also acts of defiance.

    • John says:

      But as I have just said above, reading the Bible in Hebrew is not a defiant act (unless perhaps you are a frequent poster on OB, But they do not represent Orthodoxy just because they scream the loudest). And if the Jerusalem Patriarchate is off the deep end on something, this does not mean that it is capital O orthodox. Neither the Russians, nor the Greeks, nor the Americans, Romanians… etc. share whatever it is you claim the Jerusalem Patriarchate is doing, if they are even doing what you say they are doing. Perhaps you could provide some evidence?


      • Jeronimo says:

        See Raphael Hawaweeny’s “Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre” for evidence (available in full text at various places online). I’d also recommend contacting the blog owner of “Notes on Arab Orthodoxy,” or accessing some posts on his blog about it.

      • John says:


        Thank you. I will have to have a look at that. But as I stated before, one patriarch going off the deep end only makes him guilty of helenism or whatever you wish to call it. His flock isn’t necessarily guilty of it, nor is the rest of Orthodoxy. It’s akin to me finding some Reformed nut and calling you out on his problem.


      • Jeronimo says:

        The issue with the JP does not come from just one patriarch, it’s been occurring steadily over a significant span of time now. The control of this seat has been the source of what appears to be a largely untold heirarchical war fought behind the scenes. I have no dog in the fight, and would not use this to disparage any earnest members of the flock, nor do I care to change your mind or proselytize anyone.

        My question is, does the very structure of Orthodoxy lend itself to these phyletistic struggles for hegemony and power? A survey of its history would suggest so. My own opinion is that pervading Hellenism, and subsequent reactions against it, is perhaps responsible for this. If that’s the case, then where did it originate, and why? There are sermons from those sainted by Orthodoxy filled with incendiary claims against Jews; not just Chrysostom, but some from the post WW2 20th Century. When statements like these are made by spiritual leaders, doesn’t this also illustrate efforts of de-Hebraicization? Where did this come from? Why does it persist? I’m not exactly asking for answers here by the way. I’m just expressing my own questions on the matter and what drives me to study this closer.

      • John,
        You are correct that we shouldn’t judge a whole group by the actions of one man. However, the Patriarch of Jerusalem (the most ancient and holy city in Christendom) has a little bit more standing and officiality than, say, Elijah Zork of Mountain Presbyterian Church.

  4. John* says:


    Re your post of March 21, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    You asked: “. . . If that’s the case, then where did it originate, and why?”

    Here is the answer:

    The JP’s problems started in 135CE when the Emperor Hadrian banished the Jews from Jerusalem.

    Until then, the leadership of the Jerusalem Church was exclusively Jewish and was in a generic sense hereditary, in that it was composed of descendants of the wider family of Jospeh of Nazareth, or from Cleopas of Emmaus – Joseph’s younger brother.

    In 135CE, a Hellenised “coup” was staged from Caesarea on the coast and Greeks were installed as the “leaders” of a Hellenised Church geographically located in Jerusalem, but without any continuity from its all-Jewish predecessor in the same city. This has continued to this day (2014).

    After this Coup, the all-Jewish Church retreated to Nazareth and eventually north of the sea of Tiberias,- maintaining its unbroken continuity with 30CE and St James the Just, although not geographically located in Jerusalem. This slowly moved towards Edessa, forming the basis of the independent Aramaic-speaking Church we now know today only in remnant form in this general region.

    The Ecumenical Councils only recognised the legitimacy of the Jerusalem Patriarchy in its post 135CE Hellenistic configuration, conveniently overlooking its discontinuity with the original Jerusalem Church first led by St James the Just (Yaakov haTzaddik).- the eldest son of Joseph of Nazareth who was old enough to be Yeshua’s father.

    The JP’s “continuity” (as claimed by the EO) is purely geographic, and is not even in the traditional sense of the practice of “Apostolic Succession” as claimed by the Constantinian Church!


    To your question: “. . .doesn’t this also illustrate efforts of de-Hebraicization? Where did this come from? Why does it persist?”

    This can be answered simply: it is the unbroken continuity with the Selucid Hellenism of Antiochus IV (the “epiphanes”) of the time of Judas Maccabeus, and the Ptolemaic Hellenism of Alexandria.

    John Chrysostom, being originally from the Selucid Antioch,inherited this Hellenism in its primarily Selucid form..This explains his anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism and his “de-Hebraicization”.


    There is clearly more, but I trust that this thumbnail sketch assists.

Comments are closed.