The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Friday, March 18, 2016

Euripides and Torah

Herodotus wrote his history around 440 BC. This was the high-water mark of Athenaean mastery over the waves, a mastery so mighty that even some Canaanites were giving up on circumcision under Greek influence. Herodotus had a deep interest in local customs and took every advantage of Greek sailors' reach to get the data he wanted to record. Since we've established that Herodotus didn't know any Jews nor, really, any monotheists in Palestine - we're left to suspect that no-one among the Greeks knew (or cared) about whatever the local Semites were doing up in Jerusalem, as of 440 BC.

The stakes in this are political. Jews think their Scriptures are correct, which Scriptures assert a population of orthodox Jews in Jerusalem over the 400s BC under Persian rule. Antisemites think jews (lowercase) are full of crap, have always been full of crap. Scholars usually fall along one or the other side, being careful not to admit to any conflict of interest. All sides differ on how much this Greek indifference matters. None have debated the indifference itself.

Now it seems we're getting that debate. Evangelia Dafni, who usually writes in German, as a good European biblical-scholar should, has just last year divulged her theories to the Anglosphere as well. The article is, Euripides’s Helena and Pentateuch traditions: The Septuagint from the perspective of Ancient Greek Tragedies. It's her thought that, by the time of the Pelopponesian War (specifically 412 BC) Euripides was inserting parallels to Torah turns of phrase in his plays. Therefore, by then, translations of parts of Torah were already floating around Athens.

This was certainly the case under Hellenism; we owe the Septuagint to Graecophones in Egypt. But I remain unconvinced that the Delian League had the same reach nor the same interest in the south Syrian hinterland that the Ptolemies would have.

posted by Zimri on 17:06 | link | 0 comments

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