Isaiah and vain worship (Mt 15:8-15:9)

“This people honors me

With their lips.

But their hearts

Are far from me.

In vain,

Do they worship me,

They teach human precepts

As doctrines.”

 

Ὁ λαὸς οὗτος τοῖς χείλεσίν με τιμᾷ, ἡ δὲ καρδία αὐτῶν πόρρω ἀπέχει ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ·

μάτην δὲ σέβονταί με, διδάσκοντες διδασκαλίας ἐντάλματα ἀνθρώπων.

 

This Greek quotation from Isaiah, chapter 29:13 is from the Septuagint, almost the same as in Mark, chapter 7:6-7.  This oracle of Yahweh, via Isaiah, centers on insincere worship.  These Israelites adored Yahweh with their mouths and lips, but their hearts were far away.  They only praised the Lord because of human demands, as they recited rote prayers.  Jesus repeated the verses of Isaiah, via Matthew.  These people honored him with their lips or mouth (Ὁ λαὸς οὗτος τοῖς χείλεσίν με τιμᾷ).  However, their hearts were far away from him (ἡ δὲ καρδία αὐτῶν πόρρω ἀπέχει ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ).  In a vain or useless way, they adored, worshiped, or reverenced him (μάτην δὲ σέβονταί με).  They are teaching doctrines (διδάσκοντες διδασκαλίας) that were human precepts or ordinances (ἐντάλματα ἀνθρώπων).  Thus Jesus, via Matthew and Isaiah, was wailing against false worship and human precepts as divine worship and teachings.

The development of the gospel biblical texts

After the death and resurrection of Jesus, his followers expected him to return at any moment, certainly within their own lifetime.  There was little motivation to write anything down for future generations.  However, as the various eyewitnesses began to die, there was more concern.  The missionary needs of the church grew, so that there was a demand for written versions of the founder’s life and teachings.  The stages of this process included this first oral tradition stage.  Then the stories and sayings of Jesus were passed on largely as separate self-contained units, but not in any order.  There were some written collections of miracle stories, parables, and sayings, with the oral tradition continuing alongside these.  Finally, there were the written proto-gospels that served as the sources for the canonical gospels.  The final gospels were formed by combining proto-gospels, written collections and still-current oral tradition.  All four gospels use the Hebrew Jewish scriptures, by quoting or referencing passages.  They interpreted texts or alluded to various biblical themes.  Their source was the Greek version of the scriptures, called the Septuagint, since they did not seem familiar with the original Hebrew.

The common language at the time of Jesus

After the Babylonian captivity, Aramaic replaced Biblical Hebrew as the everyday language in Israel.  However, Biblical Hebrew was still used for religious purposes.  After Alexander the Great, the Ptolemies and the Seleucids ruled Israel for almost two hundred years.  Thus, the Jewish culture was heavily influenced by this Hellenistic culture.  Koine Greek was used not only for international communication, but also as the first language of some Jews.  This development was furthered complicated by the fact that the largest Jewish community in the world lived in Ptolemaic Alexandria, Egypt.  Many of these diaspora Jews would have Greek as their first language.  Thus, first the Torah, and then other Hebrew scriptures, were translated into standard Koine Greek, the Septuagint.

The deuterocanonical Septuagint additions

The Roman Catholic Bible editions usually include seven other books that are from the Septuagint, but not in the Hebrew Bible.  On the other hand, many of the English Protestant Bibles, particularly the King James Bible used only the Hebrew texts.  These later Greek works became known as deuterocanonical or apocryphal works of the Bible.  These post-exilic books tell the stories of various Israelite figures.  These seven extra books have the story of Tobit, the story of Judith, as well as the stories of 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees.  However, they also include writings the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus or Sirach, and Baruch.

The Septuagint

The Septuagint is the Jewish Alexandrian Greek translation of the Hebrew texts from the third to the first century BCE that contains extra books that were not in the Hebrew Bible.  There were supposedly 72 Jewish Greek scholars who translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek, so that it became known at the Greek Old Testament.  This Greek text was probably the scripture readings that the early Christians used, since they wrote in Greek.

Historical Introduction (Bar 6:1-6:1)

“A copy of a letter

That Jeremiah sent

To those

Who were to be taken

To Babylon

As exiles

By the king of the Babylonians.

This was

To give them

The message

That God

Had commanded him.”

This claims to be a letter written by Jeremiah as the people were about to be taken into exile. Was this the first exile in 597 BCE or the second exile in 587 BCE? This letter is probably around the second exile. How does this relate to the letter of Jeremiah in chapter 29 of his work? It has nothing to do with the letter in Jeremiah. It probably has nothing to do with Jeremiah at all, since it has strong traces of the later Hellenistic period. Finally, why is it here as chapter 6 at the end of the Book of Baruch? It is here because that was the place of this work in the Greek translation of the Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate translation. This is a so-called copy of a letter that Jeremiah sent to those who were to be taken to Babylon as exiles. Jeremiah had been friendly to the Babylonians, so that does not seem to be a stretch.   This was a message that God commanded Jeremiah to give to exiles as they departed from Jerusalem. The verse numbering is one verse different in the Bible of Jerusalem because this was considered an introduction and not verse 1. This continues throughout this chapter.

Baruch writes the book of Jeremiah (Jer 45:1-45:3)

“The word

That the prophet Jeremiah

Spoke to Baruch,

The son of Neriah,

When he wrote

These words

In a scroll,

At the dictation

Of Jeremiah,

In the fourth year

Of King Jehoiakim

The son of King Josiah

Of Judah.

Thus says Yahweh!

The God of Israel!

To you!

O Baruch!

You said.

‘Woe is me!

Yahweh has added sorrow

To my pain.

I am weary

With my groaning.

I find no rest.’”

This is a very brief chapter that almost seems like it should have been after chapter 36, where Baruch was writing the scroll dictated by Jeremiah. In fact, the dating of this section puts it back during the 4th year of King Jehoiakim (609-598 BCE) around 605 BCE, at least 20 years prior to the passages just concluded. These words of Yahweh, via Jeremiah, are addressed to Baruch himself, the secretary scribe of Jeremiah. Baruch had said that Yahweh was adding to his sorrow and pain. He was getting weary because he had no rest. Like the preceding chapter, this small chapter has a different numbered chapter in the Greek translation of the Septuagint, chapter 51, not chapter 45 as here.