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When we compare Christian and Jewish versions of Bibles, we will often – though not too often – see some crucial differences, especially when comparing translations. Much of that can of course be explained as interpretation, but that isn’t always the case. There are two original texts considered to be the Jewish and the Christian text respectively. For the Jews we are talking about the Masoretic Text (MT), and for the Christian the Septuagint (Sep.).
These differences have, of course, been the reason for much discussion. It is expected, even when there are no differences there are still discussions on interpretations.
Nevertheless, these differences do help to a much more extensive discussion, even on small matters. The most central maybe is regarding which original is the correct one. But before I continue, then let me explain what I mean when I write “original.” I don’t mean to say that they are the original text/s, nor that they are the ones used today. Or rather, the MT is actually the most used, but for Christian translations the Septuagint is also used. The Septuagint, which is a Greek translation of Hebrew text/s (we are not sure which), differs in a number of words from the MT, which is based on the Rabbinical tradition on reading and pronouncing the Hebrew texts. Let me give an example on one place where they differ:
In the beginning of Genesis 2 we read about how the heaven and the earth were finished, and that God rested (or ceased) from the work. In the second verse though what seems to be a problem arises when reading the MT. It says like this: “And on the seventh day God had finished his work which he had made: and he rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made.” Whenever I read this I always imagine some reader reading this out loud with a powerful voice. Anyway. The translation I have quoted are not so good, the word for “had finished” is actually waychal, “he finished.” The problem arising from this is that God both created – though finishing it – and rested. Okay, I hear you argue that maybe it’s just a figure of speaking, maybe we should understand it as the translation says, that God actually finished the last details on the sixth day. The problem being that that’s not what the text says, God finished on the seventh day, and that is how it always has been understood. I’ll get back to that one.
In the Septuagint the second verse is a little different stating: “And God finished on the sixth day his works which he made, and he ceased on the seventh day from all his works which he made.” Do you see the difference? Instead of both finishing the work and ceasing/resting on the seventh day, He actually finishes the sixth, and then on the seventh does He cease/rest. And then relating to something interesting, when we read the Samaritan text we are reading the exact same Hebrew text as the MT, expect in one case; the day is not haShvi’i, but haShishi, the sixth day instead of the seventh day, agreeing to the Septuagint (or the other way around, depending on which came first). This might have been the cause to some debate, since there was a rabbinical response (and now I’ll return to why the Hebrew text cannot be understood as God finishing the sixth, while resting on the seventh day). The response goes: “What did the world lack (after the first sixth day, on the seventh day)? Rest! Shabbat came – Rest came; and the work was thus finished and completed!” That is, since rest was part of the creation, God – by resting – finished the creation, and thus did the finishing the work and resting on the same day come together.
This is one example which shows that the Septuagint isn’t a translation of the MT, showing that there were more Hebrew texts out there. Of course, those relating to the Septuagint would say (and indeed do) that the text the Septuagint is translated from is the true text, while the followers of the MT would deny that.
So what is it?
Comparative study on the law schools and overall structure of Islam and Judaism – Defining the Schisms
Considering finding the comparison of the evolution of the Jewish maḍhab, I think there are some things that need to be in place, before we can begin the comparison. First off, one of the reasons the various maḍâhib appeared was the internal split as well as the geographical distance between the centers. People became more focused on their local center than on the overall center. When do we see the same in Judaism? Another thing which needs to be in place, is the acknowledgment of the same basic sources. When talking about Islam the split in the legal sources is the Sunnah and the Imams, where the Shi’as don’t acknowledge the Sunni compilations of Hadith, so the Sunnis don’t acknowledge the Shi’a ditto as well as the status of the Imams. Within the Sunni maḍâhib the basic sources where agreed upon, as they were, I believe, in the case of the Shi’a maḍâhib.
So we have two levels of comparison here. One is in the schism of disagreement on basic sources, that is, the sources considered holy and thus basic for further understanding of Allah’s will, the other the schisms within the major movements, where it is a question more about different principles in the interpretation of these sources, than the sources themselves.
When I think of examples on the first schism in Judaism, I find many and from various periods of time. During the Biblical times the obvious example is that of the Samarians and the Judeans. During the time of the Second Temple there are the schisms between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the Essenes and the other Jewish groups (in regards to the status of the Temple as well as the priesthood of the Essenes), and later on between the Rabbinic Jews and the Karaites. Today we might even talk about the schism between the Orthodox on the one hand and the Reform on the other (with the Conservative movement somewhere in between). What is worthwhile to notice here is that we are talking about schisms, which emphasis the struggle on who are the right ones to define what “true Judaism” is, that is, where do we put the limits. That is also the case in the Islamic schism between the Sunnis and the Shi’as. Of course, which I dare say is obvious, it doesn’t mean that the two parts in each schism, whether Jewish or Muslim, denies the other side’s right to leave an imprint on the religion, as well as the case can be that sometimes the one part denies the other side’s right, while the other side acknowledge the right of the first side.
The schisms which I believe cannot be placed within this category of schisms, let’s call it the Schism of Who is Right, are those of the Ashkenazim and Sfaradim, and that of the Talmuds Yerushalmi and Bavli, simply because we have two sides, in both cases, agreeing on the basic sources.
This leaves me though with maybe even more work. First off, which groups should I focus on? It is clear that I need to decide on whether I focus on the Rabbinical Jews, the Sadducees, the Reform, the Sunni, or the Shi’as, for the sake of focus. Second off, I also need to establish whether we can find examples on the maḍâhib in all cases. Maybe I find it among the, let’s say, Karaites, but it doesn’t mean that it exists in the case of the Sadducees. I need to define my approach, my focus, and be able to explain why I chose that focus.
Some recommended reading:
“Studies in Usul al-Fiqh,” Iyad Hilal, can be found at www.islamic-truth.fsnet.co.uk
“Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence,” M. H. Kamali, can easily be found by search on Google.
“Hadith : Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World,” Jonathan A. C. Brown. Oneworld Publication, 2009.
“The Most Learned of the Shi’a: The Institution of the Marja’ Taqlid,” edited by Linda S. Walbridge. Oxford University Press, 2001.
“Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law,” Ignaz Goldziher (translated by Andras and Ruth Hamori). Princeton University Press, 1981.
“Halakha in the Making: The Development of Jewish Law from Qumran to the Rabbis,” Aharon Shemesh. University of California Press, 2009.
“The Talmud: A Selection,” Edited by Norman Solomon. Penguin Books Ltd, 2009.
“Who Owns Judaism? Public Religion and Private Faith in America and Israel,” edited by Eli Lederhendler. Oxford University Press, 2001.
“For the Love of God and People: A Philosophy on Jewish Law,” Elliot N. Dorff. The Jewish Publication Society, 2007.
“An Introduction to the History and Sources of Jewish Law,” edited by N. S. Hecht, B. S. Jackson, S. M. Passamaneck, D. Piatelli, and A. M. Rabello. Oxford University Press, 1996.
“The Sages,” R. Ephraim Urbach. The Magnes Press, 1987.
“The Halakhah: Its Sources and Development,” R. Ephraim Urbach. Modan Ltd, 1996.