Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Nature of Septuagint Greek

Let's examine the assertion Antonio made--that we should use the LXX as our guide for the meaning of Koine Greek words. In his post, Antonio then goes on to give specific examples of the phrase "save your souls" is used in the LXX (all 11 times it occurs it means "save your life"), and from there, he concludes that this is how we should understand it in James.

Now, I'm going to set aside progressive revelation, Jesus' own teaching, and the fact that a standard lexicon for NT Greek already exists for the moment, and compare Antonio's view of the LXX with what some scholars say.

Antonio says:

The common language of the then-known world at that time was Koine Greek. The Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) were translated sometime between the 3rd and 1st centuries B.C. into Koine Greek, in what is now known as the Septuagint. Also, known as the LXX, the Septuagint is a rich resource for Koine Greek word studies, for it is roughly three times the size of the New Testament, and such studies net authoratative results because of wide and plentiful usage of words.


No one would dispute that the Septuagint is valuable. But in this case, the question we must ask is, is the nature of that document (and the syntax used within) such that it should be used to establish common usage for the New Testament?

Thankfully, we're not the only ones to ask this question, and certainly not the first. People have been looking at the nature of Septuagint Greek for more than a hundred years now. But more on that in a minute.

First, I want to highlight a current effort to provide a new translation of the LXX in English. It is called A New English Translation of the Septuagint and the Other Greek Translations Traditionally Included Under that Title, or NETS for short. It is an academic work, and will eventually be published by Oxford University Press, and they have posted their provisional translations on the web in PDF form. This is a great LXX resource.

The following statement is taken from the General Introduction to that work (with footnotes added into the text, surrounded by [ ]):


While it is obvious that the so-called Septuagint in time achieved its independence from its Semitic parent and that it at some stage shed its subservience to its source, it is equally true that it was in its inception a Greek translation of a Hebrew (or Aramaic) original. That is to say, the Greek had a dependent and subservient linguistic relationship to its Semitic parent. More particularly, for the vast majority of Septuagint books this linguistic relationship can best be conceptualized as a Greek inter-linear translation of a Hebrew original within a Hebrew-Greek diglot. Be it noted immediately, however, that the terms "interlinear" and "diglot" are intended to be nothing more than visual aids to help the reader conceptualize the linguistic relationship that is deemed to exist between the Hebrew original and the Greek translation. In other words, "interlinear" is a metaphor and as such it points not to the surface meaning of its own components but to a deeper, less visual, linguistic relationship of dependence and subservience. Be it noted further, that the deeper linguistic reality, which the metaphor attempts to make more tangible, is in no way contingent on the existence of a physical, interlinear entity in 3-1 BCE. What precise physical format the linguistic relationship took historically we may never know. A variety of possibilities is not difficult to imagine.

Looked at from a different perspective, NETS is presupposing a Greek translation which aimed at bringing the reader to the Hebrew original rather than bringing the Hebrew original to the reader. [Cf. Brock, S. P. "The Phenomenon of the Septuagint," OTS 17 (1972) p. 17] Consequently, the Greek's subservience to the Hebrew may be seen as indicative of its aim.

NETS has been based on the interlinear paradigm for essentially two reasons. First, this paradigm best explains the "translationese" Greek of the Septuagint with its strict, often rigid quantitative equivalence to the Hebrew. As Conybeare and Stock [Conybeare, F. C. and Stock St. G. Grammar of Septuagint Greek. Hendrickson, 1995 (expanded and reprinted from the edition originally published by Ginn and Company, Boston, 1905) p. 21. ] (and others) noted nearly a century ago, Septuagintal Greek is often "hardly Greek at all, but rather Hebrew in disguise," especially in its syntax. Secondly, the interlinear paradigm of Septuagint origins makes it legitimate for the NETS translator to draw on the Hebrew parent text as an arbiter of meaning, when appropriate. "Translationese" is here a purely descriptive, linguistic term, meant to indicate that typically the Greek of the LXX is different in kind from standard Greek used for original compositions in the Hellenistic period. Furthermore, NETS rejects the notion that the Greek of the Septuagint simply reflects the language of Alexandrian Jewry, even for the basic pentateuchal books.


I will also add that Conybeare and Stock's Grammar of Septuagint Greek is a great tool for anyone who is interested in learning about Septuagint Greek, and you can view it for free from CCEL (or download it, but registration is required).

Did you catch what they were saying here? There was a lot there, and in case all that translation-speak made your head spin or your eyes roll, I'll try to highlight what I think is important.

The folks that are sponsoring this new Septuagint translation into English think that typically the Greek of the LXX is different in kind from standard Greek used for original compositions in the Hellenistic period. That's a powerful statement. In fact, they feel so strongly about the difference LXX Greek from the Greek of the period that it has affected the structure of their entire project. Their "interlinear paradigm," the driving force behind all they've done, considers Septuagintal Greek "translationese Greek," with "strict, often rigid quantitative equivalence to the Hebrew." And they quote Conybeare and Stock, the men who a hundred odd years ago wrote in a Grammar of Septuagint Greek, characterized LXX Greek as often "hardly Greek at all, but rather Hebrew in disguise."

What can we say, then, about the Septuagint? First, we can say for certain that it was used and quoted in the New Testament in some places. Moreover, in the Old Testament (depending on your translation), it even carries what textual critics consider to be the original reading.

But whatever we decide about its value, it seems clear that, from a scholar’s point of view anyway, we would not use the LXX as our guide to vocabulary, since it is so formal, rigid, and stringent in its translation that it ceases being common usage. (This reminds me a bit of what was said about the ASV’s approach to the New Testament--good Greek, terrible English).

More importantly, we have no need. There already is a lexicon that fills that role admirably--A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Third Edition (commonly referred to as BDAG).

In the future, we'll take a deeper look at the definitions of σῴζω and ψυχή, and talk about James 1:21 in translation.

8 comments:

Antonio said...

The Free Grace Rendering and Interpretation of James 1:21 is the Most Probable

http://free-grace.blogspot.com/2006/12/free-grace-rendering-and.html

Antonio said...

I would say that when a phrase in the LXX is universally used one way that at the very least, it should be the starting place for our understanding in the New when it is used. In one study I read this week, the New Testament authors, out of around 320 Old Testament quotations, used the Septuagint translation 2/3rds of the time against the Masoretic text. The New Testament authors show a clear preference for the Septuagint over Masoretic reading.

The following are a few quotes from ‘Septuagint’ at wikipedia.com:

“The LXX was held with great respect in ancient times; Philo and Josephus ascribed divine inspiration to its authors.”

“Of significance for all Christians and for bible scholars, the LXX is quoted by the Christian New Testament and by the Apostolic Fathers.”

“The Septuagint enjoyed widespread use in the Hellenistic Jewish diaspora and even in Jerusalem, which had become a rather cosmopolitan (and therefore Greek-speaking) town. Both Philo [who lived in 1st Century B.C.] and Josephus [who lived in the 1st Century B.C.] show a reliance on the Septuagint in their citations of Jewish scripture.”

“The early Christian Church continued to use the Old Greek texts since Greek was the lingua franca of the Roman Empire at the time, since Greek was the language of the Church, and since the Church Fathers tended to accept Philo's account of the LXX's miraculous and inspired origin. Furthermore, Christ and his Apostles in the New Testament quoted from the Old Greek.”

The article also talks about how the LXX was in popular usage through the 2nd Century A.D.

Antonio said...

gUMMY WRITES:
----------
But whatever we decide about its value, it seems clear that, from a scholar’s point of view anyway, we would not use the LXX as our guide to vocabulary, since it is so formal, rigid, and stringent in its translation that it ceases being common usage. (This reminds me a bit of what was said about the ASV’s approach to the New Testament--good Greek, terrible English).

More importantly, we have no need. There already is a lexicon that fills that role admirably--A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Third Edition (commonly referred to as BDAG).
----------

This is very interesting.

I am reading my Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker, and I find that they rely heavily on the Septuagint in their lexical entries.

They give a full page for abbreviations for the LXX books which they use in their entries.

Furthermore, just a cursory scan of some entries in their lexicon shows that they relied substantially on the LXX for the lexical studies necessary to paint the values within the semantic range of words.

OK. I just scanned several entries. I am finding many, many references to the LXX. This is just too funny.

The contributors to BDAG OBVIOUSLY do NOT share your view of the value of the LXX, lol.

Antonio

Antonio said...

The lengths people will go to dismiss evidence when they are beholden to a theological construct is most distressing...

Antonio said...

The peg leg has been knocked out, lol, on your view of the value of the LXX in Koine Greek lexical research.

Have you ever looked up a reference in BDAG or read its preliminary material? You would not have dug for yourself such a huge hole had you done so.

The Free Grace Rendering and Interpretation of James 1:21 is the Most Probable

Antonio said...

An interesting thought just came up in my mind.

You don't think that the septuagint ought to be used for lexical studies for New Testament times. BADG do.

But wait. You explicitely and blindly trust their word as if it were 'of the prophets'. There is a contradiction here.

How can you blindly trust BDAG for their results when they rely substantially on the LXX for the results in their entries?

Gummby said...

Antonio: you've got a good point. I've responded to you here. Hopefully that will clarify things a bit.

How are your responses coming to my questions?

khendricks said...

Some of the most important technical works on the Septuagint are newly available from Logos Bible Software:

Biblical Languages: Reference Grammars and Introductions (19 Vols.)

This collection includes titles by Henry St. John Thackeray, F.C. Conybeare, St. George Stock, and H.B. Swete. I thought you might be interested!