Friday, January 25, 2008

The Prophet David

In Advanced Greek Exegesis a couple weeks (!) ago now, we took a quick look at the passage in Acts 2 where Peter quotes Psalm 16:8-11, labels David a prophet, and claims that David foresaw the resurrection.

David is identified as a prophet in other roughly contemporary Jewish texts, and it may be that Peter simply takes this assumption for granted. But a verbal link between the Psalm and its interpretation makes me think that the identification of David as a prophet who "foresaw" the resurrection was prompted by the Psalm itself: The same rare verb translated "foresaw" (προοράω) in Peter's explanation (Acts 2:31) also shows up at the beginning of the Greek translation of Psalm 16:8, which is quoted in Acts 2:25-28. But while this connection between the Psalm and its interpretation works in Greek, "foresaw" is not a viable translation for the Hebrew word lying behind the Greek translation. In other words, the argument of Peter's Pentecost sermon appears to depend on an interpretation conceivable for a reader of the Septuagint, but impossible for a reader of the Hebrew text. (Presumably, Peter's Pentecost sermon was originally given in Hebrew or Aramaic, not Greek.)

This raises a number of interesting questions: What does one do when the NT quotes or argues on the basis of a Septuagintal text that differs from the Hebrew? What sources lie behind the speeches in Acts? Are the methods of early Christian exegesis normative for later Christians? We will return to Peter's Pentecost sermon and these questions in the weeks ahead. Part of what makes the course so exciting (and frightening) is that I don't have all the answers worked out in advance.

For the curious, Greek and Hebrew versions of Psalm 16:8-11 are presented below:

LXX Psal 15:8-11

BHS Psal 16:8-11

I saw (προωρώμην) the Lord always before me for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken. Because of this my heart rejoiced and my tongue exalted, and my flesh will also dwell in hope because you will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor will you let your holy one see corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life, you will fill me with joy with your presence.

I have set the LORD before me always, because he is at my right hand I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices; my flesh will also dwell in security because you will not abandon my soul to Sheol; you will not let your holy one see the Pit. You will make known to me the path of life. In your presence is fullness of joy...

προωρώμην τὸν κύριον ἐνώπιόν μου διὰ παντός, ὅτι ἐκ δεξιῶν μού ἐστιν, ἵνα μὴ σαλευθῶ. διὰ τοῦτο ηὐφράνθη ἡ καρδία μου, καὶ ἠγαλλιάσατο ἡ γλῶσσά μου, ἔτι δὲ καὶ ἡ σάρξ μου κατασκηνώσει ἐπ᾽ ἐλπίδι, ὅτι οὐκ ἐγκαταλείψεις τὴν ψυχήν μου εἰς ᾅδην οὐδὲ δώσεις τὸν ὅσιόν σου ἰδεῖν διαφθοράν. ἐγνώρισάς μοι ὁδοὺς ζωῆς· πληρώσεις με εὐφροσύνης μετὰ τοῦ προσώπου σου, ...

שׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד כִּי מִימִינִי בַּל־אֶמּוֹט לָכֵן שָׂמַח לִבִּי וַיָּגֶל כְּבוֹדִי אַף־בְּשָׂרִי יִשְׁכֹּן לָבֶטַח כִּי לֹא־תַעֲזֹב נַפְשִׁי לִשְׁאוֹל לֹא־תִתֵּן חֲסִידְךָ לִרְאוֹת שָׁחַת תּוֹדִיעֵנִי אֹרַח חַיִּים שֹׂבַע שְׂמָחוֹת אֶת־פָּנֶיךָ ...

Here's Peter's interpretation (Acts 2:29-31):

My fellow brothers, it is possible to say to you confidently that the patriarch David both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, since he was a prophet and knew that God swore an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw (προϊδὼν) and spoke concerning the resurrection of the Messiah that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.

Ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί, ἐξὸν εἰπεῖν μετὰ παρρησίας πρὸς ὑμᾶς περὶ τοῦ πατριάρχου Δαυὶδ ὅτι καὶ ἐτελεύτησεν καὶ ἐτάφη, καὶ τὸ μνῆμα αὐτοῦ ἔστιν ἐν ἡμῖν ἄχρι τῆς ἡμέρας ταύτης. προφήτης οὖν ὑπάρχων καὶ εἰδὼς ὅτι ὅρκῳ ὤμοσεν αὐτῷ ὁ θεὸς ἐκ καρποῦ τῆς ὀσφύος αὐτοῦ καθίσαι ἐπὶ τὸν θρόνον αὐτοῦ, προϊδὼν ἐλάλησεν περὶ τῆς ἀναστάσεως τοῦ Χριστοῦ ὅτι οὔτε ἐγκατελείφθη εἰς ᾅδην οὔτε ἡ σὰρξ αὐτοῦ εἶδεν διαφθοράν.


Bob MacDonald said...

David - I am very appreciative of your work of reading LXX and MT together. Thanks for your example. The next phases of my Psalm reading will be to review my first cut translations from the Hebrew using the Greek and Hebrew together. Did Peter speak Greek or read the Greek Psalter? How Hellenistic was Galilee that a fisherman might know Greek? Or did Peter's speech get edited and interpreted by someone who knew the Greek well and was looking for words that would reflect his experience of the risen Christ in the context of the promises and covenant reality of the Psalter?

d. miller said...

Bob - Thanks for your comment. I expect Peter spoke some Greek, but it would be rather surprising if his Jerusalem sermon was given in Greek! Much as I'd like to uncover a Hebrew/Aramaic substratum to the speeches in Acts, your last suggestion seems to fit better what we actually find when we look at the use of the OT in Acts.