Book Write-Up: Discovering the Septuagint

Karen H. Jobes, ed.  Discovering the Septuagint: A Guided Reader.  Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2016.  See here to purchase the book.

The Septuagint (or LXX) is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.  Many scholars agree that the Septuagint for the Pentateuch was made in the third century B.C.E., while the Septuagint for the other books of the Hebrew Bible was made in the centuries after that, up to the first century C.E.

According to the “How to Use This Book” section, this book “is intended to aid students who have had at least three semesters of koine Greek begin to read the Greek Jewish Scriptures as found in the Rahlfs-Hanhart critical edition of the Septuagint” (page 9).

The book has ten chapters, and each chapter concerns the Septuagint for certain biblical passages.  Chapter 1 looks at Genesis 1-3.  Chapter 2 concerns Exodus 14-15.  Chapter 3 is about the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5.  Chapter 4 covers the Book of Ruth.  Chapter 5 concerns the additions to the Book of Esther that are in the Septuagint.  Chapter 6 is about specific Psalms: Psalms 21-22, 33, 99, 109, and 151.  Chapter 7 looks at chapters from the Book of Hosea.  Chapter 8 covers the Book of Jonah.  Chapter 9 concerns the Book of Malachi.  And Chapter 10 looks at chapters of Isaiah, including passages from chapters 6-7, 52-54, and 61.

Each chapter begins with an introduction about the Septuagint for the biblical book.  The book’s senior editor, Karen Jobes, contributed to many of the chapters, but other scholars contributed to chapters, as well.  The chapter then goes verse by verse through the Septuagint passage.  The Greek for the verse is presented, and that is followed by notes.  The notes translate or parse words in the verse, comment on grammar, and occasionally offer interpretational or historical insight. The notes do not parse every single word.  To quote once more from the “How to Use This Book” section: “Generally, though with some exceptions, Greek words are parsed and defined only if they do not appear in Metzger’s Lexical Aids for Students of New Testament Greek, the vocabulary expected of students who have had three semesters of Greek” (page 9).  The book also provides some assistance on the grammatical notes.  Pages 13-14 provide a list of the grammatical abbreviations that are used in the notes, and pages 345-347 have a “Glossary of Technical Terms.”

After all of the verses of the passage are covered in the chapter, an English translation of the passage—-specifically the New English Translation of the Septuagint—-is presented.  Some may wish that the book had provided the English translation after each verse, rather than presenting the English translation near the end of the chapter.  The goal, however, is for students to work through the verse themselves, and later to check their own translations against the NETS.

After the NETS translation of the passage, the chapter has a chart about how the passage is used in the New Testament, if the passage is used there.  The chart refers to the Septuagint verse and the New Testament verse where the Septuagint verse is engaged, and it briefly mentions the “context or theme”, meaning how the New Testament is using the verse.

The book is especially interesting when it offers interpretational or historical insight.  The comment on Genesis 2:2, for example, notes that the Septuagint translator differed from the Hebrew Masoretic by saying that God completed God’s work of creation prior to the seventh day, rather than on the seventh day, in order to stress that God did no work on the Sabbath.  The note mentions other texts (i.e., the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Peshitta, and Genesis Midrash) that have a similar interpretation of Genesis 2:2 to that of the Septuagint.  On Jonah 3:4, the note observes that Jonah in the Septuagint says that Nineveh will be destroyed after three days, whereas the MT states that it will be destroyed after forty days.  The note mentions the view of Augustine that the LXX translators were divinely inspired to change the MT so that the passage would foreshadow Christ’s resurrection on the third day.

There were many such gems in the book.  But there were also times when more elaboration could have clarified ambiguities, provided additional perspective or context, or made the book richer.  Is a psuche (soul) something that humans and animals have that animates them, or is it something that a human being uniquely is (Genesis 1:30; 2:7)?  Why does the LXX for Isaiah 53 go out of its way to disassociate God from the suffering servant’s suffering, as the notes indicate that it does?  Why does the LXX for the Book of Hosea consider Baal a goddess?  And how can John 19:36 apply Psalm 33:21 (34:20) to Christ’s crucifixion, when the LXX states that God will prevent righteous people’s bones from being crushed, not just the bones of one person (namely, Christ at his crucifixion)?

There were times when the book noted differences between the LXX and the MT.  At times, it sought to account for those differences, on the basis of the LXX translators’ differing ideology or historical context, or confusion of one word with another.  At other times, however, it simply noted the difference, without explanation.

On the grammatical notes, there are cases in which the glossary at the end offers a definition for technical terms.  But not every technical term was defined in the glossary.  Perhaps students with three semesters of Greek are expected to know the meanings of the technical terms that are not in the glossary.  Fair enough, but why did the glossary define some types of participles, but not others?

There were cases in which looking at the verses themselves could help a person determine the meaning of a grammatical term.  That said, the glossary would have been more helpful had it included more examples or illustrations of what terms mean.

Students would probably do well to treat the grammatical notes as general guidelines, not as absolutes.  For example, on page 183, we read that the usage of the pronoun autos (he) is “often unemphatic” in the Septuagint.  Later, on page 267, there is a statement that the LXX for Malachi 1:4b is using pronouns for emphasis (“They will build, but I will tear down”).

Would this book be worthwhile as a textbook for students?  Could students get the same experience going through the Septuagint on BibleWorks?  Overall, I would say that this book can be useful as a textbook, on account of its notes.  Like I said, there were times when I was hoping for more, but what the book does offer is informative.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest.

 

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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