|This statue of Rachel
is in Indianapolis.
In almost all Greek manuscripts (more than 95%), the first part of Matthew’s quotation of Jeremiah 31:15 reads as follows: “A voice was heard in Ramah: lamentation and weeping and great mourning.” This is also the form of the text supported by both the Sinaitic Syriac and Curetonian Syriac manuscripts.
A different reading is attested by Codex Sinaiticus (À), Vaticanus (B), Codex Dublinensis Rescriptus (Z, 035, a palimpsest from the 500’s), and minuscules 1, 22, and 1582, and by both the Greek and Syriac texts in 0250 (Codex Climaci Rescriptus): “A voice was heard in Ramah: weeping and great mourning.” (Wieland Willker provides some additional data.) The difference thus is a simple contest between the presence or absence of the words “lamentation and,” that is, in Greek, θρηνος και.
If the support for the shorter reading consisted merely of this smattering of Greek manuscripts, researchers might understandably conclude that the Alexandrian Text was flawed at this point, perhaps as the result of an early copyist’s decision to remove what he regarded as a superfluous synonym. Or, one could conclude that an Alexandrian copyist who knew the Hebrew Bible decided to make a slight adjustment to Matthew’s quotation from the Septuagint (a Greek translation of Old Testament books undertaken in Alexandria, Egypt in intertestamental times) so as to draw it into closer conformity to the Hebrew form of the verse (which refers only to “lamentation and weeping”).
However, the versional evidence gives a very different impression: although the versions known for their Caesarean affinity (the Armenian and Old Georgian) attest to the longer reading (as far as one can tell from the currently available evidence), almost all Old Latin manuscripts of this passage, as well as the Vulgate and the Peshitta, are allied with the Sahidic version in support of the shorter reading.
The remarks of the unknown author of the Opus Imperfectum on Matthew, probably written
in the 400’s, reflect a text with two, rather than three, aspects of the cry of
Rachel in the prophecy as cited in Matthew 2:18. Hilary of Poitiers (d. 367), in his Commentary on Matthew, part 7, cited Matthew
2:18 without “lamentation
and.” Jerome also supports this reading.
|The text of Matthew 2:18
in Codex Z (035), as replicated
by T. K. Abbott in 1880.
Foremost among the relevant patristic witnesses, however, is Justin Martyr, who utilized Matthew 2:18 in the 78th chapter of the composition Dialogue With Trypho. In this chapter, Justin points out various prophecies that were fulfilled by Christ. He mentions (without naming) the passage from Micah that is found in Matthew 2:5, quoting it as it appears in the Gospel of Matthew. Then after summarizing the events narrated in Matthew 2:11-16, Justin states: “And Jeremiah prophesied that this would happen, speaking by the Holy Ghost thus: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and much wailing, Rachel weeping for her children; and she would not be comforted, because they are not.’”
Here, it would seem, we see the echo of the text of Matthew 2:18 that was known to Justin, less than a century after the Gospel of Matthew was completed. But could Justin be quoting, instead, directly from the Greek text of Jeremiah as found in the Septuagint? A comparison is in order, to tidy up this loose end.
The prophecy, as quoted in Matthew 2:18, runs like this – with the Byzantine reading in brackets:
Φωνὴ ἐν Ραμα ἠκούσθη – A voice in Rama was heard:
[θρηνος και] κλαυθμος και ὀδυρμος πολυς – [lamentation and] weeping and much mourning;
Ραχηλ κλαιουσα τα τεκνα αυτης – Rachel weeping for her children,
και ουκ ηθελεν παρακληθηναι – and she would not be comforted,
οτι οὐκ εισίν. – for they are not.
The Septuagint’s text of Jeremiah 38:15 (the chapters are in a different order, but it’s the same prophecy) runs as follows:
Ουτως ειπεν Κς φωνὴ ἐν Ραμα ἠκούσθη
θρήνου και κλαυθμου και ὀδυρμου
Ραχηλ ἀποκλαιομένη ουκ ηθελεν παύσασθαι
ἐπι τοις υἱοις αὐτης οτι οὐκ εισίν.
The text used by Justin runs as follows:
Φωνὴ ἐν Ραμα ἠκούσθη
κλαυθμος και ὀδυρμος πολυς
Ραχηλ κλαιουσα τα τεκνα αυτης
και ουκ ηθελεν παρακληθηναι
οτι οὐκ εισίν.
It seems clear that Justin drew the prophecy from MatthewThis implies that the words θρηνος και (“lamentation and”) in the Byzantine Text were added by copyists who were familiar with the Septuagint and who wanted to adjust Matthew’s quotation (which, in the Alexandrian reading, corresponds to the Hebrew form of the verse – with a reference to “mourning and bitter mourning”) so as to more closely resemble the Septuagint’s Greek rendering of the prophecy. It also indicates that Matthew did not use the Septuagint mechanically, but was willing to adopt or introduce renderings which yielded a closer representation of the gist of the Hebrew text.
2:18, rather than from the Septuagint’s text
of Matthew. This is made particularly
clear by Justin’s use of the word πολυς and his reference to children (τεκνα)
rather than sons (υἱοις), and his use of κλαιουσα rather than ἀποκλαιομένη.
The mechanism that cause the addition of “lamentation and” in the Greek Byzantine text of Matthew 2:18 – a desire to bring the quotation into closer agreement with the Old Testament passage being quoted – may have also caused the removal of the same phrase in the Syriac text. The Sinaitic/Curetonian text was based on a Greek text which already included the expansion. The Syriac Old Testament, however, unlike the Septuagint, did not contain “lamentation and” in its text, and thus Syriac-writing scribes who wished to bring the text of Matthew
|Minuscule 279 has the shorter reading
in Mt. 2:18 but also has an erasure
in the same verse.
As a tangential note, it should be noticed that Origen mentioned that in some copies of the Greek text of Jeremiah, the Hebrew term Rama, instead of being transliterated, was translated as “on the heights” (εν τη ϋψηλη). Codex Alexandrinus has this feature in its text of Jeremiah. In Codex Sinaiticus, as one can see by finding Jeremiah 38:15 in the online digital images of the manuscript, εν τη ϋψηλη is in the text in Jeremiah, but a corrector has added “εν Ραμα” in the margin.
With or without θρηνος και, Matthew’s reference to the grief of Rachel continues to remind us that in the midst of tragedies and injustice, we do not always receive explanations and comfort in this life. Yet it also reminds of what follows in Jeremiah’s prophecy: a reason to hope, even in deep sorrow, that God will redeem and restore even what seems completely lost: “‘There is hope in your future,’ says the LORD, ‘And your children shall come back to their own border.’” (Jeremiah 31:17)