Attribution Errors in the New Testament?

In Matt. 27:9-10, more than one prophet is cited in a quote; yet only one is mentioned by name. In 2 Chron. 36:21, the first part of the verse is drawn from Lev. 26:34-35, the second is from Jer. 25:12, yet only Jeremiah is listed.

What does this tell us? That it was an accepted practice to list the prophet who was making the main point. Composite attributions suit a common practice of Jewish exegetes. Z. H. Chages in The Student's Guide to the Talmud [172ff] relates a practice of the rabbis of quoting various persons under one and the same name. The rabbis "adopted as one of their methods that of calling different personages by one and the same name if they found them akin in any feature of their characters or activities or if they found a similarity between any of their actions."

Thus for example Malachi and Ezra are said to be the "same person" (Meg. 15a) because they both say similar things (Mal. 2:2, Ez. 10:2). Chages gives examples of as many as three people being treated as one person because of such similarities.

The purpose of this collapsing down of identifies was to enact a principle of praising the righteous and pious, and honoring those due such praise. Thus when Mark attributes the words of Malachi to Isaiah, he is enacting this principle by essentially melding the two prophets and giving attribution to the one who is the most deserving of honor and praise.

A reader sent me this from Noel Weeks, PhD in ancient history and languages at Brandeis University under Cyrus Gordon, as it appeared in Australian Presbyterian, February, 2009, which sums it up well:

Let me tell you a story about when I was doing my PhD at Brandeis University in Boston. Brandeis is a leading Jewish university. I remember sitting in a lecture by a very fine Jewish scholar, Nahum Sarna, who was talking about the canon of the Old Testament as it was understood in early Judaism. One of the topics he touched on was the order of the books. He said, "Well, you know that there was a period in which Jeremiah was regarded as the first book of the prophets."

Of course, nobody in the class knew that. Anyway, he continued, "One proof is that you have a quote from Zechariah quoted as being from Jeremiah because in the Jewish way of labelling things you call a book by its first few words, and you call a collection of books by the first book in that collection. Thus one of the evidences that we have of Jeremiah being the first book of the prophets in the first century is the New Testament." I was sitting there thinking, "This Jewish audience doesn’t understand why that’s an important question, because this particular text has been held up as proof that there are errors in the New Testament. All it says is that the New Testament is a Jewish document. It is speaking in the language that Jews would speak and understand."

I was recently alerted to a rather pathetic attempt to respond to the above by a wannabe fundamentalist apologist named John Tors. After an insulting and rather bigoted description of the Jewish practice above as "bizarre," Tors denies that applicability of Chages' comments because it is not an example of two quotations from different sources being attributed to one person. Tors, as a western fundamentalist, is oblivious to the point made by Chages: The practice of subsuming multiple identities under one name is a much broader phenomenon, of which the practice of quotation attribution is but one expression. Nor is the example of Malachi and Ezra meant to be an example of such quotation; it is an illustration of the broader phenomenon which leads to the practice of subsuming quotations. In making the arrogant assertion that "any thinking person" would reach the same conclusion he has, Tors merely exemplifies the pitiful state of the ignorant layman whose arrogant disrespect for experts Tom Nichols discusses in The Death of Expertise. Tors is no more an authority to declare Chages in error than Thomas Paine was right to say than Age of Reason could not be refuted with a library of church books. No less than Paine, Tors thinks that sneering arrogance is a reply to someone like Chages who has spent a lifetime studying these issues.

Tors foolishly complains that Chages never said anything about a broader phenomenon. I never said he did. My information on that comes from a much broader study of the social world of the Bible, wherein, to use the most well-known example, all who become Christians are identified with Christ, such that we are said to be "crucified with Christ." This is the language of a collectivist society, wherein our identity is subsumed under that of Christ, just as we argue here that the identity of one writer was subsumed under that of another writer. I hardly expect Tors to be aware of such things; as a Western fundamentalist white man, he is culturally insensitive to the ways and thoughts of people in other cultures, and is clearly devoted to the precept that his Caucasian "any thinking person" is automatically superior to any Jewish scholar. That it why he ignorantly asserts that I am "making stuff up" -- which is the same thing bigoted fundy atheists like Farrell Till said, too.

Tors also denies the applicability of the Biblical examples above. For Matthew 27:9-10, Tors merely denies any connection to anything in Jeremiah, which is nothing more than denial, and a rather sorrowful denial at that: Jeremiah has much more than "a reference to a field [with] no real connection with Matthew 27:9-10", it relates the purchase of a field, with silver. Tors instead opts for an otherwise unevidenced oral prophecy of Jeremiah as the source, which is the only desperate move in evidence here: There is no evidence for such a prophecy, and Tors can invent any such textual or oral prophecy out of thin air any time he pleases, with just as much evidence or authority. These are the ravings of a fundamentalist caught in the throes of confirmation bias. Tors is no better than the worshipper of the Zeitgeist movie who freely invents crucified savior figures, and argues that there must have been a story of Mitrha being crucified that we don't know about.

It is otherwise very obvious that one can "get" Matthew 27:9-10 out of these passages by noting the obvious and unique connections: thirty pieces of silver; the reference to Jeremiah; the potter, and the purchase of a field. These are all unique elements grouped together. That there might be "predictive prophecy" involved is irrelevant; that there might also be non-common elements is also irrelevant. Tors is merely utterly oblivious to the allusive nature of Jewish exegetical practice. In short, he again comes to the text as modern literalist fundamentalist in order to deny that the text should not be read the way a modern lietralist fundamentalist reads it. Typical of such incompetent practitioners, Tors argues for his own authority in a circle.

The example from 2 Chronicles is dispensed with no more professionally by Tors: He merely denies that the passages contains quotations, even as he admits that it contains elements from both. He is badly incorrect. 2 Chronicles contains a direct quote of a phrase from Leviticus. In a rather pathetic attemot to get himself out of this egregious error, Tors now makes the idiotic claim that this is not a quotation at all, because there are slight variations in word order and tense. This indicates Tors' massive ignorance of the process of quotation in the ancient world, wherein such variations were the norm. This was primarily because quotations were usually done by memory; or, in some cases, a tense may have been changed to reflect application of the quotation to a slightly different modern situation. Either way, it is absolutely beyond question that the author of Chronicles had the phrase from Leviticus in mind. This is not open to question. Only desperate fundamentalists like Tors will deny this rather obvious point.

Finally, regarding Sarna's testimony, Tors -- who has no discernible credentials -- arrogantly declares that myself and Sarna are wrong, and he reaches this conclusion through no means that would impress anyone who was not also a fundamentalist. First, he merely denies Sarna's point that Jeremiah was once regarded as the first book of the prophets. Such a bare denial from a relative nobody like Tors, against a seasoned scholar like Sarna, does not deserve to be taken seriously. Second, Tors misuses references from Josephus and the New Testament to say that "in the 1st century AD the second division of the OT was referred to by the title 'the prophets,' and not by the name of the first book in the collection," which is utterly irrelevant: Tors fails to distinguish between referring to the books as a topical collection (which, contrary to Tors, is not what Sarna was on about), and referring to them in terms of personal attribution. Finally, Tors notes that Matthew clearly quotes other OT figures like Isaiah, but these are beside the point: None is a composite quotation where Matthew was referring to material from two different persons in the same collections of books. Not surprisingly, in response to all of this all Tors can do is declare himself smarter and more informed than everyone else, which we remind the reader is the same thing Peter Joseph does too whenever he is called on the carpet for incompetence.

Frankly, Tors should leave apologetics and scholarship to the professionals and cease embarrassing Christians with his poor answers. His proclaimed degree (M. Div.) is 100% worthless for the purposes of academics; it is a pastoral degree, not a degree of a scholar. I predict that Tors will become a "fundamentalist atheist" within the next decade, though I also predict his arguments will not improve as a result.