Thursday, September 30, 2010

Joseph Smith Translation Luke 3: The Genealogy

The New Translation of Luke, with its many remarkable additions and changes, simply calls for attention! Here is a feat of prophetic inspiration as remarkable as the Book of Mormon itself, or any other of the revelations and translations of the Prophet Joseph Smith. As Latter-day Saints study the Joseph Smith Translation of Luke (available to us in our beautiful edition of the scriptures), we are often left to ponder the depths and implications of the newly revealed verses and translations. As with the Book of Mormon, curiosity is stirred and questions arise about things we've never before considered. We sing: "What glorious scenes mine eyes behold! What wonders burst upon my view! When Ephraim's records I behold, All things appear divinely new. All things appear divinely new."

Even something as ordinary as a genealogy, though the most extraordinary of all, and the most debated and discussed--that of the generations of Jesus Christ--appears divinely new at the prophetic touch of translation. And that touch, though given by inspiration and without reference to the original Greek, lights, even so, upon one tiny Greek word, breaking it into a prism of added light and knowledge. That word is tou, genitive of the definite article to, and signifies who is of, or which was. . . of.

Authorised Version, Luke 3: 23-38 (and note the italics):

And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which which was the son of Heli, which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi, which was the son of Melchi. . .

and so on and on to the beginning of time.

What we now find in the New Translation rings genuine and deserves close consideration:

And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, having lived with his father, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph,

who was from the loins of Eli,
who was from the loins of Mattat,
who was the son of Levi,
who was a descendant of Melchi,
and of. . .and of. . .and of. . .

[all the way down to]

and of Salathiel,
who was the son of Neri,
who was a descendant of Melchi,
and of. . .and of. . .and of. . .

[and down to]

and of Adam, who was formed of God; and the first man upon the earth,

which final addition to the genealogy is very different from the tou translated in the Authorized Version to read: Adam, which was the son of God.

Note how a mere first five generations yields four different (and rather ambiguous) readings of the relationship expressed by so-and-so tou so-and-so: "from the loins of," "the son of," "a descendant of," "and of": Now that's a lot of ways to skin a single cat. What's it all about? And how about the two patriarchs both bearing the name of Melchi? Why does everyone seem to descend from one or another Melchi?

The Prophet Joseph Smith, having been through all this before with the translation of the royal genealogies of the Jaredites in the Book of Mormon, is giving us a few clues about how to understand Joseph's royal descent. He's trying to help us out here. (Compare the wording in Amulek's genealogy in Alma 10:2-3: "son of," "descendant of"; not to mention the confusing Hamitic family tree of Abraham 1).

Hugh Nibley has the following to say about the genealogical list in Ether and its correspondence to, and occasional seeming contradictions with, the family relationships given in the text of Ether proper:

"The first chapter of our Ether text gives us warning not to be dogmatic about chronology. In the genealogical list of thirty names running back to 'the great tower' the word 'descendant' occurs, once where several generations may be spanned (Ether 1:23; 10:9), and twice interchangeably with the word 'son' (Ether 1:6; 16; cf. 10:31; 11:23). As you know, in Hebrew and other languages 'son' and 'descendant' are both rendered by one very common word. . . A person confined to a written text would have no means of knowing when ben should be taken to mean 'son' in a literal sense and when it means merely 'descendant.' The ancient Hebrews knew perfectly well when to make the distinction. . . it was assumed that the hearer was familiar with his line down to his next important descendant, the written lists being a mere outline to establish connections between particular lines. . . Now Ether proves, at least to Latter-day Saints, that 'son' and 'descendant' were both used in the ancient genealogies, which thus do not present an unbroken father-to-son relationship."

We "are thus faced with the possibility, long suspected by many, that in Biblical genealogies ben must sometimes be read 'son' and sometimes 'descendant'" (The World of the Jaredites = Collected Works of Hugh Nibley 5:158-9).

And note how the Prophet Joseph, after applying the prism of inspiration to the first five names on the list, pretty much leaves the rest of the relationships to the ambiguous "and of," "and of." This too is instructive; besides, the ambiguity leaves the list open to all the variant lineages found in the multitudinous manuscripts of the Greek New Testament (none of which the Prophet had at his disposal). The Prophet has opened the door to interpretation but nothing is settled; the responsibility is now ours to do what we can with what available texts remain. Alas! we can't do much to sort it all out, for "men have long since lost the knowledge that enabled the ancient reader to make the necessary distinction," ibid. 159.

As in the case of so much in the scriptures of the Restoration, our curiosity has been piqued and a tone of authenticity given, but we must wait, and search, and pray for greater light on the matter.

The manuscript variants for the Lucan genealogy focus on but two places in the text. But what variants these are! And the Joseph Smith Translation, with its fivefold manner of translating tou (from the loins of, the son of, a descendant of, and of, who was formed of), gives plenty of leeway for variant readings. Of these, consider the impossibly complex strings of readings found for Father Aminidab (or Aminadam) and his Davidic lineage. If Aminadab is also a good Book of Mormon name, what shall we say of Almei (Alma!), which also appears as an additional name in the manuscripts? And consider the following: Aminidab tou Joram tou Amnei (Omni?!).

We conclude by noting how the Prophet's translation of Luke offhandedly voids concern over the contradictions between the Matthean and the Lucan genealogies of Joseph's immediate forefathers: no need for books, treatises, or elaborated theories about any of it. (Goodbye Grotius.) Matthew gives Joseph's father as Jacob son of Matthan; Luke ostensibly says Joseph is the son of Heli, the son of Matthat. But--and here's a key--the New Translation's phrase "Joseph who was from the loins of Heli" cleanly resolves the matter. Joseph can be both the son of Jacob (as Matthew has it, whatever son means in this case) and yet "from the loins of Heli."

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