My thesis advisor at Oxford, T. Michael Law, has a new book out called When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible. This important book will hopefully open a lot of people’s eyes to the profound influence of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible on the development of early Christianity’s identity and scriptural heritage. Near Emmaus is currently hosting a blog tour. Check it out!
Tag Archives: Septuagint
One of the papers I attended at SBL was by Larry Perkins, a professor from the seminary associated with Trinity Western University, where I’m trying to finish up an MA in biblical studies. I took a course in Septuagint from Rob Hiebert through the seminary last year, and we had Dr. Perkins in the class at one point discussing his work with LXX Exodus, and specifically with the notion of anti-anthropomorphism in the translation. I told him about my master’s thesis on the topic and he asked for a copy of it. I figured at some point I would see some kind of publication on the topic that would in some way engage ideas I discussed in my thesis. His SBL paper directly engaged almost every significant point I made in my thesis, and argued directly against each one. Basically, I argue that the translator had no problem with the notion of seeing God, but the scribe responsible for his Vorlage did. The translator only took issue with the notion of God physically communing with humans. Perkins argues that the translator is responsible for all the anti-anthropomorphisms in the text. Here’s the abstract:
The Greek Translator of Exodus–Interpres and Expositor–His Treatment of Theophanies
Within Greek Exodus the accounts of numerous theophanies reflect a similar emphasis in the Hebrew narrative, but many scholars have noted the divergencies from the Masoretic text in the the Greek translation. Almost all agree that this feature represents the activity of the translator (whether his own distinctive theological reflections or those of some portion of the Alexandrian Jewish community is debated), rather than reflects his Vorlage, in distinction from the Masoretic text. However, a systematic review, an evaluation of these accounts (especially their possible inter-relationship), as well as other translational alterations, and a definition of the specific ways in which they may modify the Hebrew Vorlage remain a desideratum. The key texts include Exodus 3:1-14; 4:24-26; 19; 24:1-11; 33:7-23; 40:28-32, as well as various other interactions with Moses and especially the translation in 25:22(21); 29:42,43; 30:36. In this paper these texts are carefully reviewed with a view to discerning more specifically the variations in the Old Greek version that occur in these contexts and whether the reasons scholars propose to explain these variances have validity. Further, this investigation may enable us to draw some tentative conclusions about the translator’s creative ability to combine the roles of interpres (non-literary translator) and expositor (literary translator), to suit his purpose, and thus define his translational profile more adequately.
For comparison, here’s the abstract of my SBL paper from New Orleans, which was later revised for my thesis:
Anthropomorphisms and the Vorlage to LXX Exodus
It has long been recognized that the Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible often tend away from literal renderings of anthropomorphic passages. LXX Exod 24:10, interjecting “the place where God stood” in an effort to avoid intimating that God has a visible form, is a clear example of this theological emendation. The use of the resumptive adverb εκει in the Greek, however, betrays a uniquely Hebrew syntactical construction, and seems to reveal a Hebrew parent text that already contained the de-anthropomorphic element. This paper will investigate the LXX translations of anthropomorphic passages from Exodus and evaluate the possibility that the Hebrew Vorlage to LXX Exodus already contained a number of the anti-anthropomorphic elements traditionally attributed to the exegesis of the translators.
I was most curious with the way that Perkins would approach LXX Exod 24:10 and the very un-Greek use of the resumptive adverb. Here’s the construction in the Greek:
Exod 24:10: ויראו את אלהי ישראל, “And they saw the God of Israel”
LXX Exod 24:10: καὶ εἶδον τὸν τόπον οὗ εἱστήκει ἐκεῖ ὁ θεὸς τοῦ Ισραηλ, “And they saw the place where stood there the God of Israel”
The bold portion is a thoroughly Hebraic construction that simply does not appear in compositional Greek. It only ever appears in literal translations from the Hebrew. In my thesis I highlight multiple scholars who directly address this very construction as evidence of translation directly from the Hebrew. It can be literally and easily retroverted to read in the Hebrew: המקום אשר עמד שם.
I was interested to see how Perkins dealt with this verse, but I have to admit I was a little disappointed in the argument. He basically states that since ἐκεῖ is so similar to the end of εἱστήκει, it is likely a dittograph arising from homoioteleuton. He says this is supported by the fact that later manuscripts don’t have the resumptive adverb and that v. 11 also has the notion of the “place” where God stood. I did not object to this particular argument in the question and answer session, but I found it rather weak.
First, you would need rather good evidence to insist on dittography where the resultant text is a perfectly accurate and common rendering of a common Hebrew construction. Next, numerous scholars have pointed out in the past that later scribes found the Hebraism too awkward, and removed the resumptive adverb, leaving a more comfortable syntax. Lastly, the fact that the next verse also mentions a “place” is no more indicative of translator exegesis as it is of a deviating Vorlage. The use of the resumptive adverb does not at all conflict with the notion that both verses represent literal translations of a divergent Vorlage. The scribe making the change would be just as capable of harmonizing the next verse with the change as would the translator. The last point is a wash, as is the second point. Neither position overpowers the other. On the first point, however, the conclusion that a deviating Vorlage underlies the Hebraism is far more likely a conclusion than the assumption of dittography (which itself does not account for the η > ε shift). I must disagree with Perkins’ handling of this verse, and I think it critically undermines the thesis of his paper.
Another small point I would make about his paper comes from the handout, which I have but won’t share because I don’t know if I have permission. Exod 33:20 states in the Hebrew, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live” (NRSV). The Septuagint renders, “you shall not be able to see my face, for a person shall never see my face and live” (Perkins’ NETS translation). I consider this small difference to be significant. The Septuagint translator is clarifying that it is specifically God’s face which humanity cannot see and live. I believe the translator added the clarification because three verses later you have the statement, “you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” Perkins understands the translator to entirely reject the notion that God is at all visible. In his NETS translation he rendered for LXX Exod 33:23, “you shall see my hind parts, but my face will not appear to you.” On his handout, however, he changes that to read, “you shall see the things behind me, but my face will not appear to you.” He explains in a footnote that it “more accurately reflects the meaning of the Greek text.”
The Greek is as follows: τὰ ὀπίσω μου. His reading could be supported by Josh 8:2, which renders a Hebrew phrase meaning “behind it”; but it is challenged by 2 Sam 2:23, which uses the word ὀπίσω twice to refer to the back of a spear which protrudes out of Asahel’s back. This may seem like another wash, but with Josh 8:2 the construction is slightly different. It reads, εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω. There is no possessive genitive (“back/backards of X”), which appears in each appearance of the word in LXX Exod 33:23 and 2 Sam 2:23. I think this throws the preponderance of evidence behind concluding the translator did in fact suggest Moses saw God’s back. This supports my conclusion that he added “my face” in v. 20 in order to clarify that only his face could not be seen without endangering the human involved. I cannot agree that Perkins’ revision of this verse is a better rendering of the Greek. It seems to me to just help his thesis.
Michael Heiser has been kind enough to take the time to respond to a paper I presented in Atlanta entitled “What is Deity in LXX Deuteronomy?” I appreciated his attendance at my paper and I appreciate his comments on his blog. I’ve got to finish some exams over the next week and finally put a fork in my coursework, so I won’t be able to really engage his thoughts until then, but check out what he has to say in the mean time.
I received an email from Leonard Greenspoon regarding the John William Wevers prize. The deadline for submissions has been extended to June 15. You can find more information here.
Göttingen University is hosting a one week “summer school” (June 27–July 1) focused on LXX 2 Sam 11–12 (the Bathsheba Narrative). Kristin De Troyer, of St. Andrews, will direct the study. The flyer is here. The cost of the program is €350, and travel and most dining costs are not included.
Eisenbraun’s Deal of the Day is Staffan Olofsson, God is My Rock: A Study of Translation Technique and Theological Exegesis in the Septuagint (Coniectanea Biblica Old Testament Series 31; Almqvist and Wiksell, 1990) for $7.35! This is a very informative book that addresses a topic that is increasingly important in Septuagint research. I used it frequently for my masters thesis. It’s well worth seven bucks.
The International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies has requested submissions for this year’s John William Wevers Prize in Septuagint Studies (although the announcement here is from last year). The award honors the inimitable John William Wevers, responsible for the Göttingen critical edition of the Pentateuch, and is aimed at students and junior scholars. There is a $350 award, and submissions can be sent to Leonard Greenspoon (email address on the call for submissions linked to above). The deadline for submissions from last year was March 15, so it will probably be similar this time around. I’ll keep you updated when they put up a current call for submissions.
In my previous discussion of James White’s reading of Psalm 82 I pointed out that James appeals fallaciously to the notion that Jesus’ reading of the psalm (John 10:34-35) must govern a believer’s interpretation. This is the principle of univocality, or the notion that the Bible represents a single, unified worldview, from beginning to end. This post will draw upon two places where the New Testament demonstrably misreads the Hebrew Bible, whether on its own or through the mediation of a mistranslated Septuagint, in order to show that assumptions like univocality are precluded by an informed reading of the biblical texts.
Heb 2:7–10 quotes LXX Ps 8:5–7, but the reading provided in the former is vastly different from the meaning of the latter. Here’s a brief look at Ps 8:5–7 as found in the Hebrew:
מָֽה־אֱנֹ֥ושׁ כִּֽי־תִזְכְּרֶ֑נּוּ וּבֶן־אָ֝דָ֗ם כִּ֣י תִפְקְדֶֽנּוּ׃
וַתְּחַסְּרֵ֣הוּ מְּ֭עַט מֵאֱלֹהִ֑ים וְכָבֹ֖וד וְהָדָ֣ר תְּעַטְּרֵֽהוּ׃
תַּ֭מְשִׁילֵהוּ בְּמַעֲשֵׂ֣י יָדֶ֑יךָ כֹּ֝ל שַׁ֣תָּה תַֽחַת־רַגְלָֽיו
The first line is clearly referring to humanity collectively. Both singular references to humans are indefinite and generic. The second line is grammatically contrastive (lowered // crowned), but semantically synonymous. The human is given a place of honor within the hierarchy of being, namely just under the gods (or “God,” although less likely). The dominion mentioned in the last line should not be understood as dominion over all God’s creation, terrestrial and celestial. Humanity obviously has no dominion over astral bodies. The following two lines provide proper contextualization: “sheep and oxen, and also cattle of the field; birds of the sky and fish of the sea, that which passes along the courses of the waters.” The author likely has Gen 1:28 in view: “. . . have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
The Septuagint translation is little different, although “gods” is rendered “angels.” The spatial “a little less than” of the Hebrew is also translated with βραχυς, which can be read spatially or temporally. This is the text quoted by the author in Hebrews 2, although the meaning there is altered. To begin, the author applies Psalm 8 exclusively to Jesus. The seemingly generic singular is used throughout, as with the Hebrew, but the referent is identified as Jesus when the author finishes the quotation thus (NSV):
Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for every one.
“All things” is understood by the author of Hebrews to signify all created things, not just those put under humanity’s dominion. Heb 2:7 also omits the first half of Ps 8:6 (according to the best manuscripts), which states (in the Greek), “And you placed him over the works of your hands.” Other witnesses have this section, but the critical editions omit it. In the original composition this could not remain, since it was Jesus who was thought to be creator of “all things.”
The RSV translates βραχυς temporally here. Other translations offer a spatial rendering, but the author seems to be contrasting Jesus’ temporary subordination to the angels with his crowning with glory and honor. In other words, his death elevated him above that subordination. The author is likely reading βραχυς temporally. (The NRSV, by the way, changes the generic singular to plural and attempts to salvage the quotation as an accurate reading of the text as referring to humanity in general.)
What we see here is an example of a text being read according to contemporary ideologies and expediencies which differed greatly from those of its original author and community. Psalm 8 does not refer to Jesus, to the incarnation, or to his glorification. It refers to God’s grace in giving humanity a place of honor, which it does not merit, within God’s glorious created order. The author of the psalm and the author of Hebrews thus present two conflicting readings, undermining the notion that any principle of univocality governs the literature of the Bible. This does not mean the reading in Hebrews is useless, though. It renegotiated Christianity’s relationship with its sacral past, injecting new relevance into the text for Christians and strengthening their connection to Judaism’s sacred literature.
My next case study involves the application of a mistaken translation to a question of doctrine. In Acts 15:13–17, James appeals to Amos 9:11–12 in an effort to support through scripture the taking of the gospel directly to the Gentiles. It even seems James’ quotation settles the debate. The critical portion of Amos 9 reads,
I will rebuild the tent of David, which has fallen, and from its ruins I will rebuild it and set it up, so that the remnant of the people might seek the Lord, and all the nations which call upon my name.
This reading comes from LXX Amos, although there is a bit of movement. For instance, “the Lord” is an addition. The LXX actually omits the object, reading, “so that the remnant of the people might seek, and all the nations . . .” There is also a clause missing from Acts’ quotation (“as the days of old”). The important observation, however, is the Greek translation’s relationship to the Hebrew. The crucial section reads in the Hebrew, “that they may possess the remnant of Edom,” but is translated, “so that the remnant of the people might seek,” in the Greek. The confusion arises likely because of the lack of the mater lectionis which we find in MT in the word אדום. Without it, the word looks an awful lot like אדם, “man,” or “humanity.” The verb “to possess” (יירשׁו), was also misunderstood as “to seek” (ידרשׁו).
It is unlikely that MT is secondary. First, there’s no object for the transitive verb εκζητησωσιν, “that they might seek.” Second, the reading in MT makes more sense within the context. David’s fallen house would be restored so that it might reassert its authority, specifically in overtaking the remnant of Edom (see Amos 1:11–12) and “all the nations,” for which Edom functions as a synecdoche (Edom commonly acts as a symbol for all of Israel’s enemies [Ps 137:7; Isa 34:5–15; 63:1–6; Lam 4:21]). The notion that the restoration of the Davidic kingdom would cause the remnant of the people (why are they only a remnant?) and all the nations to seek the Lord is also a bit of a disconnect within Amos.
This quotation shows not only that the early church relied on the Septuagint, but that it rested significant doctrinal decisions on the Greek translation, even when it represented a misreading of the underlying Hebrew.
The notion of univocality within the Bible as a whole is irreconcilable with these data. The axiom that scripture should interpret scripture is wholly undermined by these two examples (and many others could be pointed out). There is not only one voice in the Bible, and I do not think it prudent to approach any single chapter or verse within the Bible assuming that it contains only one voice. There are numerous voices throughout the biblical texts saying numerous different things for numerous different reasons. New Testament exegesis of an Old Testament text is no more authoritative a reading than that of any other exegete.
I’ve posted my second SBL paper online here. This paper seeks to answer the question, What is deity in LXX Deuteronomy? It was presented in the section Unity and Diversity in Early Jewish Monotheisms, and suggests that the threshold of monotheism ought to be placed at the conflation of the angels and the Sons of God in the Hellenistic Period. Unlike the other SBL paper I posted, this one has been posted in a more formal format with full citations and a bibliography (which I was told after the session was quite informative). This paper will be revised and significantly expanded for my next master’s thesis, so your feedback is greatly appreciated.
Jan Joosten recently published an article entitled “To See God: Conflicting Exegetical Tendencies in the Septuagint,” in which he points out that while the Septuagint seems to mitigate seeing God in its translation, in some instances it actually translates the vision of God into verses that did not originally have anything to do with it. He posits that the latter verses may be directed at Egyptian ideologies about seeing God in the temple:
Influence from, and polemics against, local religious practices and beliefs may account for the Septuagint’s tendency to introduce the notion of seeing God in certain contexts.
While this is an interesting conclusion, I think it levels off thematic distinctions that may reveal where the bias of the translator lay. Many of the texts that seem to have been manipulated by the translator away from actually seeing God are better understood as deriving from the Vorlage. This post will look at examples in Exodus. Exod 24:10 is a good one:
ויראו את אלהי ישראל
And they saw the God of Israel
καὶ εἶδον τὸν τόπον οὗ εἱστήκει ἐκεῖ ὁ θεὸς τοῦ Ισραηλ
And they saw the place where the God of Israel stood
This is generally viewed as an interpolation made by the translator to avoid the notion of Moses and his seventy seeing God. The use of the resumptive adverb ἐκεῖ after οὗ εἱστήκει, however, is not good Greek. It is good Hebrew, though. The Greek here is literally translated from a Hebrew text that read:
ויראו את־המקום אשר עמד שם אלהי ישראל
And they saw the place where the God of Israel stood
It is not unheard of for the translator to translate a Hebraism directly into the Greek, but this is incredibly rare, especially in Exodus, where the translation is characterized by good idiomatic Greek. In fact, where the translation is closer to Hebrew syntax and grammar it is the result of a literal translation of the Vorlage. Bénédicte Lemmelijn, citing Anneli Aejmelaeus, has stated :
When . . . the language is used in a Hebraistic way and when it could easily be retroverted, then the variant seems to reflect a reading from the Vorlage.
LXX Exod 24:10 evinces a Vorlage which already contained the anti-anthropomorphism. It is not the translator mitigating the notion of seeing God. It was someone who copied down the text before him. Elsewhere, however, the story is different. Exod 17:6 seems to show a difference that is the exclusive work of the translator’s theological sensitivities:
הנני עמד לפניך שם
Behold, I was standing before you there
ὅδε ἐγὼ ἕστηκα πρὸ τοῦ σὲ ἐκεῖ
Here I stood before you came there
Does this come from the translator’s exegesis or from the Vorlage? A temporal reading is not impossible with לפניך (see LXX Exod 23:28), but the context precludes it. πρὸ τοῦ appears only one other place in LXX Exodus (12:34), where it translates טרם. Does טרם underlie LXX Exod 17:6? The resumptive adverb is maintained in the Greek, as is the pronominal suffix, which would make that a very, very awkward sentence in Hebrew. It is much more likely that this translation derives from a reticence on the part of the translator either to have God meeting personally with Moses, or to have God standing before Moses, which would be a sign of subservience.
There are numerous other differences that I won’t go into, but a pattern I have found is the tendency for the translator of Exodus to shy away from representing God on earth meeting with humanity, while seeing God was not so much an issue. This is why he interprets some texts towards the notion of seeing God. That’s just how he read them. His Vorlage, however, seemed opposed to seeing God, while not necessarily to having him occupy space on earth. I suggest these are two different approaches to the problem of God’s transcendence and his relationship to humanity. One was taken by some copyist responsible for some stage of the Septuagint’s Vorlage. The other was taken by the translator himself.
1. Jan Joosten, “To See God: Conflicting Exegetical Tendencies in the Septuagint,” in Die Septuaginta — Texte, Kontexte, Lebenswelten (WUNT 219; ed., Martin Karrer and Wolfganf Kraus; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008), 287–99.
2. Bénédicte Lemmelijn, “Free and Yet Faithful. On the Translation Technique of LXX Exod 7:14–11:10,” Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages 33.1 (2007): 8.