Tuesday, August 5, 2008

King of the Universe

I'm doing some research on 2 Maccabees and have come across an interesting little problem that may help my research a great deal. My thesis, in a nutshell, is that 2 Maccabees 7 is an interpolation from the late first or early second century CE. As part of my research, I've come in contact with a lot of different perspectives on 2 Macc. One of the most interesting, I think, comes from Christian Habicht way back in 1976.[1] He argues for a Hebrew original for 2 Macc 7. I’m intrigued by the possibility, and the phrase “king of the universe,” found in 2 Macc 7:9 (ὁ δὲ τοῦ κόσμου βασιλεὺς) seems to me to support the conclusion.

As Goldstein points out in his Anchor Bible volume on 2 Maccabees,[2] the term is absent from Jewish literature in Greek until after the first century CE. The phrase corresponds with the Hebrew melech ha‘olam, but ‘olam meant “eternity” until the beginning of the Common Era, when it came to signify the world or universe. The earliest such use is found in late Aramaic Qumran texts. ”King of Eternity” is how melech ha‘olam was translated into Greek prior to the first century CE (see Tobit 13:7, 11 – βασιλέα τῶν αἰώνων – King of Eternity).

If 2 Maccabees 7 was composed in the second century BCE, as is accepted, we would expect to find the phrase “King of Eternity,” as the phrase “King of the Universe” is not attested in Judaism during this time period. Goldstein assumes “King of the Universe” developed first in Greek Jewish literature and was later borrowed into Hebrew, but much more likely is that the Greek “King of the Universe” was a translation of the Hebrew phrase melech ha‘olam as it was understood in the Common Era. This would mean (1) 2 Maccabees 7 was translated into Greek from Hebrew, and (2) the translation took place well into the Common Era.

[1] Christian Habicht, 2. Makkabäerbuch (JSHRZ 1.3; Gütersloh: Gerd Mohn, 1976), 171–77, 233.

[2] Jonathan Goldstein, II Maccabees (Anchor Bible 41A; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983), 305.

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o1mnikent said...
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