Diarmaid MacCulloch has an extremely interesting LRB review of Forgery and Counter-Forgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics, by Bart Ehrman, that makes a nice follow-up to the Bible reading I’ve been doing recently; in fact, he includes a brief plug for a book I recently read (but don’t seem to have posted about), When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible, by Timothy Michael Law:
Another fresh perspective is Timothy Michael Law’s When God Spoke Greek, a study of the Septuagint, the pre-Christian Greek translation of the Hebrew Scripture or Old Testament. Law has much to say that will be news even to many students of church history, if their specialism is in a later period. He points out that the Septuagint became the authoritative Bible which Mediterranean Christians used once they cut their links with Judaism, and often this is traceable in New Testament quotations from Hebrew scripture which seem ‘wrong’ in comparison with the Hebrew. They are wrong because they are earlier: the long accepted Hebrew Bible which Jews and Christians have commonly referred to is actually a redaction of variant earlier texts, as has become apparent from the mass of earlier scriptural fragments known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, and it postdates most of the New Testament by perhaps half a century. When, in the 16th century, Protestant scholars excitedly returned to the Hebrew Bible, to expose popish error in understanding God’s word, they were unwittingly consulting a text later than the Greek Septuagint which lay behind the Latin Vulgate version of the Old Testament. Law thus brilliantly turns accepted wisdom about the nature of biblical text on its head. This trio – Ehrman, Moss and Law – kicks away the supports of both conservative Protestant and Roman Catholic scholarship, and leaves some old-fashioned liberal biblical scholars looking a little uncomfortable. All three are aware that good history is a solvent for lazy and often harmful promulgations of traditional ecclesiastical authority; they all write with an implicit moral purpose.
But what drove me to post was a reference to “the mysterious sixth-century Miaphysite Syrian Christian who pretended to be Dionysius the Areopagite, an Athenian friend of Paul of Tarsus in the first century.” Miaphysite? That appeared to mean ‘one nature,’ but surely that was monophysitism? Had MacCulloch or Ehrman or somebody decided that since physis was a feminine noun it should have the feminine mia?? Confused, I turned to Wikipedia, where I found a whole article about miaphysitism, “sometimes called henophysitism,” which “holds that in the one person of Jesus Christ, Divinity and Humanity are united in one or single nature (‘physis’), the two being united without separation, without confusion, and without alteration. Historically, Chalcedonian Christians have considered Miaphysitism in general to be amenable to an orthodox interpretation, but they have nevertheless perceived the Miaphysitism of the non-Chalcedonians to be a form of Monophysitism. The Oriental Orthodox Churches themselves reject this characterization.” Now, I like a subtle distinction as well as the next man, but my brain refuses even to attempt to parse the difference between the single-nature miaphysite and the single-nature monophysite. If anyone can provide an explanation in terms suitable for an ignorant observer, I will welcome it; otherwise I’ll just bear in mind that there is such a thing as a miaphysite and go about my way.