Sluice Box Adventures

Believing Bible Study in the 21st century

End Of Age Messages

It is difficult for "the natural man" to realize just how well known the Old Testament and the acts of the Lord God Almighty were in the "ancient world."

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Neither Give Heed To Fables ...

Daryl R. Coats     2000


 "Looking for that blessed hope," (Titus 2:11-14)


Shubal Stearns"Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying, which is in faith: so do." (1 Timothy 1:4)

"And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." (2 Timothy 4:4)

It is difficult for "the natural man" to realize just how well known the Old Testament and the acts of the Lord God Almighty were in the "ancient world." Nevertheless, in the Old Testament Gentiles often displayed an obvious knowledge of God and the Bible and things happening in the nation of Israel. Long before the conquest of the "promised land," the Canaanites could testify, "For we have heard how that the LORD dried up the water of the Red sea" (Joshua 2:10). Centuries after the conquest, "the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the LORD" (1 Kings 10:1).

Yet scoffers never entertain the notion that ancient literature incorporates, perverts, and re-writes the scriptures (much as modern Hollywood does). Instead, they would rather believe, for instance, that (even though it was forgotten by everybody for thousands of years) the pagan "Epic of Gilgamesh" was somehow so well known "in antiquity" that parts of it were incorporated into Genesis. Or they would rather believe the amazing fantasy proposed in a recent English translation of the fables of Aesop.

Penguin Press boasts that its 1998 Aesop: the Complete Fables is the first English translation of all of the Greek fables attributed to Aesop.. In his introduction to the volume, editor and co-translator Robert Temple goes to great lengths to show that many of Aesop’s fables are actually adaptations of works from other cultures and countries. (That would explain, for instance, why many of the fables feature animals not native to Greece.)

On pages xx-xxii Temple notes that some of the fables seem to have originated in Egypt, Libya, Cicilia, India, and Asia Minor. On page 140 he claims that one fable was originally Sumerian, and on pages 237-238 he claims that one of the fables represents a tradition "so ancient that we cannot trace its origins since they go back further than any texts"! (Earlier scholar, however, as Temple himself notes, said that such a tradition "was a late one.") et Temple changes his mind about "foreign influences" when it comes to Aesop’s 252nd fable.

"Once the [trees] were consulting among themselves to elect a king. They asked the olive: ‘Reign over us.’ The olive replied: ‘What? Give up my oily liquor which is so highly prized by [God and man to go and reign over the [trees]?  They next asked a fig, which also refused their offer, and then asked a thorn, which answered, ‘If you were really to anoint me king over you, you would have to take shelter beneath me. Otherwise the flames from my brushwood would escape and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’" (Aesop’s 252nd fable)

Obviously this "fable" derives from Jotham’s parable in Judges 9, but that truth is too much to admit even for someone who readily acknowledges the foreign sources of many of Aesop’s fables. So translator Temple claims that this fable originated with Aesop and was added to the Bible by "a very literary writer of the Book of Judges who had a Greek text before him and who ... entirely missed the joke" (pages 187-188)!

To support such a fabrication, Temple first claims that all previous English translations of Aesop have been in error. In the section quoted above, I supplied the word "trees" in brackets, but in Temple’s version of Aesop, the word is actually "logs." Why? According to Temple, "The [Greek] word xylon means ‘firewood’ or ‘log’ but Professor Chambry mistranslated it as ... ‘tree’" (page 187).

"Xylon" (>L8@<) means only "log" or "firewood"? Too bad somebody didn’t tell that to Luke, who used that word in Luke 23:31: "For if they have done these things in a green tree [xylon], what shall be done in the dry?" Too bad somebody didn’t tell the apostle John, who used the word in Revelation 22:2 ("the leaves of the tree [xylon]") and in Revelation 2:7 and 22:2, 14 ("the tree [xylon] of life").

Too bad somebody didn’t tell that to the King James translators, who rendered "xylon" in English as "tree," "staves," "stocks," and "wood," but never as "log" or "firewood." Too bad nobody told the forger(s) responsible for the so-called Septuagint. Too bad nobody told the ditors of the Oxford English Dictionary, who, in their entry for the "obsolete" adjective "xilinous," note that it derives from "xylonos" (>L8@<@H), the Greek word for cotton tree (and itself a compund word formed from "xylon."). Too bad nobody told the scientists and botanists who coined such words as "xylan" and "xylem" and others beginning with the prefix "xyl(o)-"!

Translator Temple next argues that "the fable only really makes sense if we realize that is about logs rather than trees." Yet earlier translators of Aesop had no trouble making sense of a fable about trees—and in its proper biblical context, Jotham’s parable about trees makes much more sense than Temple’s fables about logs.

Temple further claims that the fable contains "wry humor ... typical of the Aesopic material" and "unlike the earnest tone so typical of the Bible." But I’ve heard specious arguments about internal style before. Even then, notice that "earnest" is not antonymous with "humorous"; there are many humorous passages in the Bible, even in the Book of Judges (see Samson’s riddle, for instance), and in its proper context, Jotham’s parable is sarcastically humorous. Nevertheless, Temple maintains that Jotham’s parable lacks any humor and therefore could not be the source of Aesop’s fable.

(Apparently humor can be removed from a source but cannot be added to a source. That is why Temple mentions that the fable has "an inconceivable injunction of humour and specific meaning not present in the Bible" but fails to substantiate or even specify his claim. He obviously overlooks that for nearly 2000 years writers, poets, dramatists, comedians, and filmmakers have stolen material from the New Testament and turned it into jokes about the Lord, the pearly gates, Peter’s keys, judgment day, Peter robbing Paul, and more. Furthermore, few of Aesop’s fable strike modern readers as humorous.)

So how does Temple explain one of Aesop's fable's supposedly being added to the Bible?

First he confesses his laziness:

"we have not consulted the Septuagint, as that is taking a footnote too far [yet his footnote is more than five times as long as his translation of the fable!], nor can we read Hebrew" (page 187)! Had he consulted the so-called Septuagint, he would have discovered that it uses "xylon" to refer to trees—but that discovery would have nullified his bogus claim.

Next he confesses his ignorance:

"What this means for dating we cannot say, not being Biblical scholars and having no idea when the Book of Judges may have been written" (page 188)!

Then this scoffer who has "not consulted the Septuagint" and who doesn’t know when Judges was written proposes that

"the fable may have been a later addition to the oldest manuscript, which we believe to be the Septuagint, which, as it was in Greek, might mean the fable was added at that stage by some earnest Alexandrian" (page 188, emphasis addes)!

Imagine the audacity of claiming that the children of Israel would translate a late Greek fable into Hebrew and include it in the Old Testament simply because an Alexandrian scribe added it (for some unknown reason) to the Septuagint. Imagine the audacity of someone who states that "it seems that we will never know for certain which direction the transmission took place" (page xxii), yet then claims, "It seems to us utterly impossible that the fable could have originated in the Bible and drifted into the Aesop collection from there" (page 188, emphasis added).

But Aesop’s 252nd fable isn’t the only one that shows evidence of familiarity with the Old Testament. The 11th fable certainly seems to have taken from Jeremiah 13:23: "A man who bought an Ethiopian slave ... tried every method of washing which he knew, to try and whiten him. But he could not alter his colour"! Others of the fables attributed to Aesop show a knowledge of (and even quote) the New Testament.

A number of Aesop’s fables end with "morals." Here how Temple and his wife render the moral to the 20th fable: "This fable shows that the Lord resisteth the proud but giveth grace unto the humble" (James 4:6)! Of course, whereas an earlier scholar, S.A. Handford, believed that at least the moral was added to the fable after the New Testament was written, Temple claims that James quoted Aesop! Still, since "the moral was the same as a passage in the New Testament .... [w]e have accordingly quoted the relevant words from the King James Bible" (page 18, emphasis in the original)!

In his translation of Aesop (also published by Penguin in 1995 as part of its "Penguin 60s" series), V. S. Vernon Jones renders this fable’s moral with a popular misquotation of Proverbs 16:18: "Pride comes before a fall" (page 34). Vernon quotes Luke 4:23 in his rendering of the moral to fable 59: "Physician, heal thyself" (page 22). Vernon’s translation also contains two fables not found in Temple’s "first complete" translation: "The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing," whose title comes from Matthew 7:15 (page 10) and "The Mouse and the Bull," whose moral derives from Ecclesiastes 9:11: "The battle is not always to the strong" (page 32).

"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter" (Ecclesiastes 12:13). From all of this we learn that the word of God was not bound in Israel in ancient times but was widely spread abroad. We also learn that from Aesop to Robert Temple, when men "turn away their ears from the truth," they "shall be turned unto fables" (2 Timothy 4:4). All three of the "pastoral epistles" warn about fables, and God’s instructions now are no different than they were earlier: "Neither give heed to fables" (1 Timothy 1:4).

—Daryl R. Coats

slightly revised from Soldier in Training (Summer 2000)

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