How I got started on the Jewish Calendar and Lectionary

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When I arrived at Nottingham University in 1960 to start my doctoral studies, one of the books I bought that first year was entitled The Fourth Gospel and Jewish Worship by Aileen Guilding. In her book she claimed (not very successfully in the eyes of other scholars - and not ultimately in mine either) to relate the whole of the Gospel according to John to the (Palestinian) Jewish Triennial Lectionary, that is the 3-year scheme for reading the Pentateuch, Genesis through Deuteronomy, on Sabbath in synagogue. (This was later superseded in all synagogues by the one-year Babylonian lectionary.) During these first two years at Nottingham I met another research student, Cyril Howard Cave. He had already done an MA thesis on the Jewish Synagogue Lectionary and the Epistle to the Hebrews, and now he was doing a further thesis on the Jewish Lectionary and certain sections of the Synoptic Gospels. I didn't know it at the time, but Guilding's book and especially Cave's theses were eventually going to lead me to many insights and much hard work.

    From early on at Lichfield Theological College (in the late 1960s) I became more and more convinced that every NT writing that I looked at seriously was written by a Jewish Christian. This was because I found that the Old Testament, often as read through Jewish traditional understanding, lay deeply embedded in each writing. As time went on, two major aspects of Jewish background came to seem very important. One was the Jewish service for the observance of Passover, known as the Passover Haggadah. I am fairly certain that the reason that I latched on to it was because in March, 1967, I bought a book by John Bowman entitled The Gospel of Mark: The New Christian Jewish Passover Haggadah. We were exegeting Mark's Gospel, and this book promised to shed some meaningful light on Mark. This led to the offer by one of our students at Lichfield who came from Manchester to borrow for me a copy of the Passover Haggadah from a Manchester synagogue, and I duly duplicated it for my students along with notes on it drawn from several sources. The other even more major element of background material was the Jewish Triennial Lectionary as apparently used in the synagogues of at least Palestine, and I went back to Cyril Cave's theses at Nottingham University and compiled the lectionary from them, along with the help of Aileen Guilding's book, The Fourth Gospel and Jewish Worship, plus some other secondary books. This, too, I duplicated for my students, along with notes on the Jewish feasts and fasts.

   By now I had embarked on relating NT writings to Jewish Lectionary usage. I had initially tested the water by taking the neutral set of OT references in the margin of Novum Testamentum Graece and checking the Pentateuchal references against lectionary usage as I had reconstructed it from the work of Aileen Guilding, Cyril Cave and others. I say a neutral set of OT references because the references were given without any axe to grind, such as, in particular, any attempt to detect them on the basis of Jewish lectionary usage or anything of that sort.

    What I checked the references for 1 Corinthians, Galatians and Romans against was a triennial reading of the Pentateuch that started with Genesis 1 on the first Sabbath in Nisan, that is March-April. Below is the table that resulted:

1
Nisan
2
Iyyar
3
Sivan
4
Tammuz
5
Ab
6
Elul
7
Tishri
8
Cheshvan
9
Kislev
10
Tebeth
11
Shebat
12
Adar
Total
1 Cor
TSS
TSS & HH*
23
28
7
11
4
14
1
3
3
3
0
3
4
12
2
6
6
9
3
5
2
5
4
8
59
107
Gal
TSS
TSS & HH*
2
3
1
2
6
18
3
5
0
5
0
2
0
6
1
3
2
2
1
5
3
4
0
2
19
57
Rom
TSS
TSS & HH*
10
10
4
4
11/12
11/12
2
2
5
5
0
0
6
9[11]
[1]
[1]
5
6
1[2]
1[2]
4
4
10
10
Max 61
Max:67

(* TSS & HH includes festal and fast usage.)  What I was not yet fully aware of was the alternative time of starting the triennial lectionary, which was late in the month of Tishri, the seventh month, which falls to September-October time.  (It is intriguing that Avigdor Shinan, in speaking of the triennial cycle, mentions only the date in Tishri for starting the cycle; see his essay, "The Bible in the Synagogue" in The Jewish Study Bible ed. by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2004), p. 1931.)

    In any case, using the Nisan cycle lectionary, I found that in the case of 1 Cor one-third of the references fell to the month of Nisan, the month when the feast of Passover occurs, with the rest of the references simply scattered across the year. This concentration in Nisan matched Paul's statements, "Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us" and his time indicated at the end of the letter that he was going to stay at Ephesus until Pentecost. In Jewish reckoning, the whole period from Nisan, the 1st month, up to Pentecost, early in Sivan, the 3rd month, is the Passover season.

   In like fashion, one third of the Pentateuchal references in Galatians fell to the month of Sivan, when the only thing going is the Feast of Pentecost. By Paul's time this celebrated the giving of Torah on Mount Sinai, and it was also concerned with proselytes, that is, converts to Judaism. Sivan is the month in which the Genesis story of the calling and promise to Abraham and of the story of Sarah and Hagar were read that are central to Paul's argument about who are the true children of Abraham. It is characteristic of first century letters that they are normally written not in terms of the time of the sender, but rather in terms of when they will be received, so that 1 Cor was intended to be received at Passover season and Galatians at the season of Pentecost.

   When I tried to match the Pentateuchal references in Romans to the Nisan Cycle lectionary, they, in effect, spread across the board time-wise with regard to the lectionary year, although there were minor peaks in Nisan, Sivan and Tishri, the three major festival months.  It took a couple of years to work this one out. When I had resolved the problem to my own satisfaction, the result was that the Letter to the Romans appears truly to have been Paul's magnum opus. Instead of being written to echo the scriptures and themes of one time of the lectionary year, like 1 Corinthians and Galatians, Romans appears to echo in sequence the whole of the lectionary year.

   We have reached the year 1969, and it was in this year that an article appeared in The Journal of Biblical Literature by an American scholar named C. Townsend Ruddick, Jr, with the uninformative title, "Behold, I send my messenger", a phrase from Malachi 3.1 as quoted in Mark 1.2b. I have always wondered what would have been the impact of his article if he had given it a title more indicative of its contents, for what he did in the article was to relate Mark's gospel to the Jewish Triennial Lectionary. In the Triennial Lectionary the Torah, that is Genesis through Deuteronomy, was read over a three-year period. There were two times that a Jewish community might start this sequence. One was at the beginning of the month of Nisan, the first month of what might be called the Jewish liturgical year, which falls to our March-April time, with the fifteenth of Nisan being the feast of Passover. The other time when the cycle might be begun was in the seventh month, the month of Tishri, our September-October time, on the first Sabbath after the feast of Tabernacles, which falls to the 15th to 21st of Tishri. Tishri, incidentally, marks the beginning of the Jewish civil year, the 1st of Tishri being Rosh haShanah, New Year's Day, and the 10th of Tishri being Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

   In the Hebrew Bible as we have it, there are divisions marked. The letter sin, ש, marks the beginnings of the lections for the triennial cycle, the so-called Palestinian lectionary, and the letter pe, פ, marks the much larger divisions for the annual cycle which is used in all synagogues today. In this cycle, which is known as the Babylonian lectionary, the whole of the Torah is covered on Sabbath in one year. Most scholars agree that the triennial cycle was the older one which was eventually supplanted by the one year cycle. At least one scholar (Michael Goulder) does not agree, but thinks the Babylonian cycle is the older one. We'll talk about him when we get to 1978/79.

   And now back to Ruddick. One of our most ancient manuscripts of the Gospels is from the 3rd/4th century C.E. and is known as Codex Vaticanus. It is a Codex because it is written on individual sheets as opposed to a scroll, and it is called Vaticanus because it resides in the Vatican Library. It has divider markers in the various writings it contains, and Ruddick purported to show that the Codex Vaticanus divisions of Mark went lock-step with the divisions of the Palestinian Triennial Lectionary. He showed content parallels and parallels of Mark's Greek with the Greek of the corresponding Torah sections in the Septuagint version, the Septuagint being the most popular Greek version of the Old Testament in the first century C.E. He demonstrated that Mark's Gospel echoes not only the Nisan Cycle but also the Tishri cycle as well, so that, for example, on the Tishri cycle Gen 1 and Exod 11.1-12.28, the ancient readings for Passover, lie behind Mk 6.30-44, the Feeding of the 5,000, while on the Nisan cycle the same readings lie behind the Mk 14.17-26, the Last Supper. So both of these are the Messianic Passover Meals. I extracted all of this so that each student might have a copy. The one real weakness of Ruddick's article was that much of the Greek which he quoted as being parallels in the Septuagint was not sufficiently unusual or unique to carry much weight. This was a problem I was to tackle some years later, but in the meantime Ruddick's demonstration was enough to get on with, and the numerous contents parallels that emerged were sufficient to convince me that he was basically correct.

   For years I had been working to great effect with Ruddick's layout of Mark's Codex Vaticanus divisions as relating to the Jewish Triennial Synagogue Lectionary. Back in 1971 a colleague at Lichfield Theological College had brought to my attention the attempt of Michael Goulder of Birmingham University to relate the much larger divisions of the gospels as found in Codex Alexandrinus to the One-year Synagogue Lectionary associated with Babylon. When I joined the staff of The Queen's College in 1978 I also became a recognized lecturer of Birmingham University, and I brought Michael Goulder's attention to Ruddick's article, which he proceeded to laugh out of court. My own assessment is that Goulder had committed so much time and effort to his own hypothesis (at least two books) that, quite honestly, he could not afford psychologically to admit the possibility that he might be wrong in whole or in part (and I in turn may be open to the same charge).

   Ruddick had done an article in Novum Testamentum which laid out very convincingly the Codex Vaticanus divisions of Luke 1-2, the infancy narrative, against a lectionary sequence drawn from the Triennial Lectionary. He also sent to me a layout of the Codex Vaticanus divisions of John 1-13 against a whole year of the Triennial Lectionary. Working from this I was able to lay out the rest of John against a lectionary sequence, apart, that is, from the epilogue, John 21. Ruddick had started his correlation of John 1.1 with Genesis 5.1, and by the time that one finished John 19, the end of the crucifixion and burial, one had reached Deuteronomy 34, the end of the Pentateuch, which ends with the burial of Moses . Thus the next Vaticanus section, John 20.1-10, the first resurrection story, which starts out "Now on the first day of the week, comes Mary Magdalen early, while it was yet dark", which matches Genesis 1.1-2.3. Then the next section John 20.11-18, in which Mary Magdalen takes the risen Lord to be ὁ κηπουρός , "the gardener", matches Genesis 2.4-3.21, with Jesus being the true Adam, the gardener. The third section, John 20.19-23, matches Genesis 3.22-4.end, with the disciples afraid like Adam and Eve (Genesis 3.10) and Jesus, as perfected love (John 13.1 with 19.30 and 1 John 4.18). Since the present correlation starts the gospel with Genesis 5.1, this means that John 20.24-end (doubting Thomas) is a later addition, with John 21 being a further addition, as is generally recognised.

    When I arrived at The Queen's College, Birmingham, in 1978 I had a brilliant colleague named David Cook, who used to pose a very good essay question to the students, namely: "The resurrection narratives in the Fourth Gospel are an embarrassing surd. Discuss." A surd is an irreducible remainder, a leftover that doesn't fit nicely. Now, repeatedly in John Jesus speaks of being lifted up and drawing all men to himself. As the gospel now stands, this "lifting up" must encompass the crucifixion, the resurrection and the ascension. But, picking up St Paul's motif in 1 Corinthians, "I determined to know nothing among you save Christ and him crucified", the Cross alone is the sufficient "lifting up", and John 1.1, which starts out "In the beginning", and with its motifs of light and darkness, etc., is a much clearer echo of Genesis 1.1 than it could ever be of Genesis 5.1, which begins with "The book of the generations of Adam".

   Most scholars recognize that the Fourth Gospel built up by a number of stages, several of them being written stages. On the basis of the lectionary background, I am convinced that the first edition started out with John 1.1 related to Genesis 1.1-2.3 and ended with John 19.38-42 (end), Jesus' burial, matching Deuteronomy 34, which includes Moses' burial. The second edition, of which Ruddick worked out the first 13 chapters, started John 1.1. with Genesis 5.1, and included John 20.1-25, which took one to the end of Genesis 4. The third edition of John included the rest of John 20, the "doubting Thomas" story, and signed off with John 20.30-31:

        "Many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of
        his disciples. which are not written in this book,; but
        these are written that you may begin to believe that
        Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that continuing
        to believe, you may have life in his name."

This material appears to have been added without any lectionary reference.

    The fourth and final edition of John adds the epilogue, John 21, which ends up repeating the substance of the end of John 20, but with a touch of what sounds like exasperation, John 21.15:

        "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which if they
        should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself would not
        contain the books that should be written."

    Thus I believe I can detect at least four distinct editions and endings to the Fourth Gospel: (1) John 1-19; (2) John 1.1-20.25; (3) John 1.1-20.31 (end); (4) John 1-21.
    All this, along with my own work on lectionary background to Romans, 1 Corinthians and Galatians as well as Mark, convinced me that Ruddick's model explained a great deal more data than Goulder's one.

    So, when in the summer term of 1983 I had my one-and-only sabbatical term, I spent it in residence at St Mary's College, Oscott, the Roman Catholic seminary with close links to The Queen's College. I worked through every bit of Markan vocabulary and phraseology looking for its infrequent occurrence in the Greek version of the Pentateuch known as the Septuagint, which was the most widely used version in the first century and which is the version quoted in Mark. My intention was to improve the case for Ruddick's correlation, and obviously what would be significant in the end would be content parallels, not just verbal parallels. What I wanted to end up with was something that could be encompassed within a periodical article, but the first time I typed it up it came to 137 pages. So I changed format, dropped out a lot of data of no significance, and kept looking for more content parallels. When I finally sent it to The Journal of Biblical Literature I made the serious error of couching the title of the article primarily in terms of the correlation to the text of the LXX. That was a fatal error, for the reader for the journal was a former statistician, and he had JBL turn it down largely on the grounds of not being sufficiently rigorous statistically. I have re-worked it further to find more significant content parallels, including the sequence of Jewish feasts and fast, and this material is included in the section on Mark.

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