Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Textual Criticism and Byzantine Iconography

In a recent seminar, we were discussing how Christ is often portrayed as the Ancient of Days in Byzantine iconography. I wondered how this was possible, since the Aramaic of Daniel 7:13 unambigiously has the Son of Man coming up "to" (עד) the Ancient of Days, so they must be two different persons. My friends noted that all theophanies in the Old Testament are explained as Christophanies in Byzantine theology, so even if they were two different people, the Ancient of Days would still have to be portrayed as Christ. In fact, Christ is often portrayed twice in trinitarian iconography, one of which is meant as an allusive reference to the Father, who cannot be portrayed in Orthodox theology.

But the discussion reminded me of a textual problem which may have some bearing on the issue. Most Greek witnesses in Daniel 7:13 say that the Son of Man went up "to" (εως) the Ancient of Days (as in the Aramaic), implying they are two different individuals. But others say that the Son of Man came "as" (ως) the Ancient of Days, which may imply that they are the same person.

By way of background, the textual situation with Daniel is unusual. The text preserved in most of our Greek witnesses is not the Old Greek (LXX), but the revision of Theodotian (or an even earlier revision). This tradition consistently attests to εως. Tertullian, Cyprian, and Justin Martyr also read "to." The Old Greek is primarily known through the 10th century Codex Chisianus, though the 2nd-3rd century AD papyrus 967 is also often a good witness to the Old Greek. In this case, Chisianus (with the support of the Syriac translation of the hexaplaric text) and 967 both read ως.

So both readings are clearly old. The surviving Old Greek tradition consistently reads ως, but rests only on two manuscripts. The editor of the Göttingen LXX emends the text of these two surviving witnesses to εως in his reconstruction of the Old Greek text. Many will object here on methodological grounds, but I think the editor is absolutely correct. The Old Greek reading is not preserved in either of the two surviving witnesses. It is far more likely that an original LXX εως was corrupted to ως under the influence of the preceding formula than that the Aramaic was corrupted from עד to כ (or vice versa).

So what we have here is a case where a scribal error within the LXX tradition creates the incorrect impression that the Son of Man and Ancient of Days are the same person. But neither the LXX nor the majority Greek tradition allow such an interpretation. It would be an interesting line of inquiry for iconographers to consider how much influence this important textual variant may have had on the history of iconography and the identification of Christ with the Ancient of Days.