23 January 2022

A student of Gamaliel's

Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?
— An evil spirit, told by Luke the Evangelist (Acts 19:15)

I have a very good friend Noah, former leader of Jerusalem College of Technology, an Israeli mathematician and Talmudic scholar. He usually visits some of my colleagues and me in Linz to work on mathematical and educational challenges. Sometimes we discuss questions in theology – he helped me several times on interpreting difficult passages in the Hebrew Old Testament. Once I quickly talked to him about Paul the Apostle, and that Paul was a very well-known scholar in the 1st century. Noah is very familiar with the Old Testament, but – and this is quite clear if you are Talmudic scholar – Paul's name was completely unknown for him.

In fact, Paul was a student of Gamaliel's. Gamaliel, also known as Gamaliel the Elder, was a Jewish law teacher of Paul's, according to Acts 22:3. Both the New Testament (in Acts 5) and the Talmud describe Gamaliel as a well-accepted teacher: as a Pharisee doctor of Jewish law, or a “prince” (“Nasi” in Hebrew), or our master (“Rabban” in Hebrew), as the president of the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. Noah asked me when I was raving about the scientific accuracy of Paul's work: “OK, Zoltán, but if Paul was so famous, he must have had a teacher – this is unavoidable among scholars.”

Paul learned indeed a lot from Gamaliel, but later his approach changed quite a lot. At the beginning of his career, he was totally against the new movement of the Christians. In his own words: “And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women.” (Acts 22:4) One day he had to change his mind when the risen Christ appeared to him in a great bright light on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus. Paul was on a mission to arrest Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem. After the appearance on the road to Damascus Paul was struck blind, but after three days his sight was restored by a Christian fellow. Paul himself became a Christian and quickly started to teach his contemporaries. His main project was to convince the Jews that the awaited Messiah and Christ are the same persons.

This project was not completely successful. Several Jews were convinced, but a lot of them not at all. Even though, Paul worked very hard on this project, by teaching in person and writing several studies on the topic too. About half of the books in the New Testament belong to his authorship – this is something remarkable! In my current blog entry I would like to give a short overview on the quotations he used in his largest study Epistle to the Romans (a.k.a. “Romans”), written more than 20 years after his conversion.

In the Romans there is a very high number of quotations from the Old Testament, and this is intentional. In fact, Paul wants to prove several concepts, and his most preferred way is the quotation of the old texts – then, an interpretation for each is given. For a Jewish scholar this way of publication had to be evident, but we can learn a lot on how a quotation looked like in the 1st century: what rules had to be respected in a theological work during quoting. Also, there are some logical derivations in the Romans that are also remarkable from the mathematical point of view – I leave the discussion of this for a later study.

In the Romans we can find more than 40 quotations. Many of them are literally the same as written in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. For example, Romans 4:7 literally cites Psalms 32:1 (on 96 letters), 4:17 cites Genesis 17:5 (on 29 letters), 9:26 cites Hosea 1:10 (on 73 letters), 10:13 cites Joel 2:32 (on 38 letters), 10:16 quotes Isaiah 53:1 (on 28 letters) or 13:9 quotes Leviticus 19:18 (on 31 letters). These are examples of exact matches – there are other types of matches that are fuzzier but still possible to identify.

Below I provide a full list of the literal matches by illustrating them with diagrams. The first one describes the connection between Romans 4:7 and Psalms 32:1.


In such a diagram the Greek letters are not shown, only the amount of them. The upper row represents the text from the Old Testament, by showing a blue square in the middle first – this represents the introduction of the quotation. The row below it contains the number of letters from the Old Testament. This is quite a simple diagram – later we will see some very complicated ones. Now, if you click on the diagram, you can ask the bibref program to check for matching texts in the New Testament that can be literally the same as parts of Psalm 32:1. The result will give a longer answer (by one letter), because there is an accidental match of the very first letter of Psalm 32:2.


Here I provide a couple of further literal quotations from the Romans. The one appearing in Romans 2:24 has, however, a quite complicated structure:


The introduction is split into two parts (3+14 characters). They are colored with a lighter blue than above, because here there is no source given in Romans where the quotation comes from. In addition, there are 4 matching parts of lengths 2, 5, 6 and 25 characters, respectively, but with a different order in the Old Testament (6, 2, 5, 25). By issuing the commands lookup SBLGNT Romans 2:24 and lookup LXX Isaiah 52:5 we can find the two texts quickly (yes, feel free to click on these commands, the result should be shown immediately in the window above), and do the identification as follows:

το γαρ ονομα του θεου διʼ υμαςβλασφημειται εν τοις εθνεσιν, καθως γεγραπται.

δι υμας δια παντος τοονομα μου βλασφημειται εν τοις εθνεσιν

In fact, only the longest match will be found by the getrefs command in the bibref program. The reason for this is that the other matches are not unique. Before going into the detail, let me list a couple of longer matches with simpler structures:





The last entry is somewhat different than the others. Its second part is cited from Genesis 18:14, that's why there are “holes” between the parts.

Further simple matches are the following ones:




The last entry needs some explanation. There seems to be an unidentified part of Romans in a length of 54 characters. In fact, some other manuscripts indeed contain the missing text in a slightly modified form. Here Romans 9:25 reads “ως και εν τω Ωσηε λεγει· Καλεσω τον ου λαον μου λαον μου και την ουκ ηγαπημενην ηγαπημενην”, and its first part (“ως και εν τω Ωσηε λεγει”, “As he saith also in Osee”) is identified as the introduction. Then the word “Καλεσω” (“I will call…”) cannot be found in the manuscripts I already checked, but the next part (“τον ου λαον μου λαον μου και την ουκ ηγαπημενην ηγαπημενην”, “…them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved”) is indeed present in the Apostolic Bible Polyglot in Hosea 2:23:

και σπερώ αυτήν εμαυτώ επί της γης και αγαπήσω την ουκ ηγαπημένην και ερώ τω ου λαώ μου λαός μου

In an improved version of the diagram this correspondence should be added.

Further literal matches are:







In the last quotation the Ten Commandments are cited, but not fully, so a couple of commandments were just skipped by Paul. If you click on the diagram, you will see that the getrefs algorithm cannot find a matching verse from the New Testament. The reason of lacking output is that the Ten Commandments are not uniquely present in the Old Testament: there is a second appearance of them in Deuteronomy 5:6-21. Of course, an improved version of the getrefs command should handle such situations.





Here we can see again that Paul eventually skips some words of the Old Testament, but the quotations are still literal.


Now we reached the end of the list of simplest quotations in the Romans. But it is already clear that these 20 passage pairs show the variety of Paul's theology. He knows the books of the Old Testament very well and uses Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Psalms, Isaiah, Hosea and Joel, 8 books, to support his ideas. What a broad spectrum of knowledge! This supports the concept of the wide range of use of the Greek translation of the Old Testament in the 1st century. Paul was an educated Jew, he was fluent in Hebrew and Greek, but for publication he used the Greek language to reach a high number of people – to convince them on the arrival of the Messiah that was already happened.

This is just the beginning of the analysis of Paul's work. In the next entry we continue studying Paul's quotation technic in the Romans, by continuing with fuzzy matches.


Continue reading…

See also a filtered list of the entries on topics GeoGebra, technical developments or internal references in the Bible.


Zoltán Kovács
Linzer Zentrum für Mathematik Didaktik
Johannes Kepler Universität
Altenberger Strasse 54
A-4040 Linz