Monday, September 19, 2011

Does the "LXX translation"
really exist? /

Υφίσταται πράγματι
η «Μετάφραση των Εβδομήκοντα»;

Strictly speaking, there is really no such thing as the Septuagint. This may seem hke an odd statement in a book entitled Invitation to the Septuagint, but unless the reader appreciates the fluidity and ambiguity of the term, he or she will quickly become confnsed by the literature.

One might think that the Septuagint is the Greek version of the Bible in the same way that the Vulgate, for example, is the Latin version. The difference between them, however, is much greater than simply the language used. The Vulgate was largely the work of one man (Jerome) at one time (the end of the fourth century) in one place (Bethlehem). As a result, the Latin Vulgate is characterized by unity throughout. Not so with the Septuagint, which was produced by many people unknown to us, over two or three centuries, and almost certainly in more than one location. Consequently, the Greek Old Testament does not have the unity that the term the Septuagint might imply.

Because the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible has such a long and complicated history, the name Septuagint is used to refer to several quite different things. In its most general sense, the term refers to any or all ancient Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible, just as one might now refer in general to the "English Bible," with no particular translation in mind. This is the sense in which the term is used in the title of our book—a book about the ancient Greek version(s) of the Hebrew Bible. Often, the term is also used to refer to a particular printed edition of the Greek text, whether that edition reproduces the text of a particular manuscript or prints a reconstructed text.

Given these typical uses of the term Septuagint, one might understandably, though mistakenly, infer that the Greek translation found in a given ancient manuscript or modern edition is a homogeneous text produced in its entirety at one point in time. In fact, no such homogeneity exists in any collection of the Greek books of the Old Testament. Each edition—whether an ancient, hand-copied manuscript such as Vaticanus or a modern, printed book such as the Rahlfs edition—is an amalgam, with each section of the Bible having a long and separate textual history.

The books of the Hebrew Bible were originally translated independently into Greek by different translators over several centuries. What we call books were at that time written on individual scrolls. Typically no longer than thirty-five feet, a single scroll could not contain the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible in its entirety, and so each book was usually written on a separate scroll. A different format, the codex, came into use in the second century of the Christian era. This format made it possible to bind originally separate texts (which would fill many scrolls) into one volume, giving a false impression of homogeneity. Just because the texts were bound together, one should not infer that they shared a common origin. In fact, there was no one uniform Greek version of the entire Hebrew Bible—just individual scrolls that had been copied from other scrolls through the ages. For instance, a medieval Greek codex might contain the text of Genesis copied from a manuscript produced in the first Century of our era and containing the translation originally made in the third century B.C.E. in Alexandria, while the text of Esther bound in the same codex may have been copied from a manuscript produced in the fourth century of our era and containing a translation made in the first century B.C.E. in Jerusalem.

The particular collection of Greek texts of the biblical books that comprise the earliest one-volume Bibles, such as Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, usually came to be by the historical happenstance of whatever texts were at band, irrespective of their origin and character. Therefore, whatever one may say about the history and characteristics of the Greek text of one biblical book may not be true of the others, even though they are bound together in one codex. And because modern critical editions of the Septuagint are based on the ancient manuscripts, the same misleading appearance of homogeneity exists today.

When one enters the highly specialized world of textual criticism, the name Septuagint takes on a more precise and technical sense. It may be used specifically to distinguish the oldest Greek translation from subsequent translations and revisions of the Greek. If the term is used in this narrower sense, it refers only to the original Greek version of the Pentateuch, for that was the first part of the Hebrew Bible translated in the third century B.C.E. The remaining books of the Hebrew canon were translated by different people in different places during the next two centuries. It has become customary, however, to extend the term Septuagint to refer to the complete Greek canon of the Hebrew Bible.

It is probably better to refer to the original translation of books other than the Pentateuch as the Old Greek (OG) so as to distinguish them from the original translation of the Pentateuch and from the later revisions and new translations. (When referring to these initial Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible as a whole, some scholars prefer the combined abbreviation "LXX/OG" as a continual reminder of the diversity that characterizes the corpus.) However, when the Greek version of a biblical book survives in more than one form, it is not always possible to know with certainty which is the older. Nor is it possible to know for sure if the oldest surviving form was in fact the first Greek translation made of that book. Therefore, even the term Old Greek is not totally satisfactory. Unless the context requires a distinction, we will in this book continue to use the term Septuagint in its general sense (but enclosed in quotation marks if some ambiguity is present).

The scope of modern Septuagint studies extends beyond the canon of the Hebrew Bible. It includes texts from the Hellenistic period that are not translations from the Hebrew at all, but rather Jewish writings composed in Greek, such as 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, and the Wisdom of Solomon. Some other books, such as Judith, survive as complete copies only in Greek, even though they were probably translated from a Semitic source that is no longer extant. These texts may also be in mind when the term Septuagint is used.

The reader is cautioned, therefore, that there is really no such thing as the Septuagint. One must pay particular care to the context in which the term is used, even by the same writer—and even in the present book! Unfortunately, some writers use the term carelessly and equivocally, and the inevitable confusion that results from such ambiguity has led Septuagint scholars to call for standard terminology. This may be easier said than done, however, for the ambiguities of the term go back to antiquity.

We have no evidence that any Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, or even of the Pentateuch, was called the "Septuagint" prior to the second century of this era. The word came into English from Latin Septuaginta ("seventy"), a shortened form of the title Interpretatio septuaginta virorum: "The Translation of the Seventy Men." This title arose from the Greek word for "the seventy" (hoi hebdomekonta), which had been used by second-century Christian writers to refer to the entire Greek Old Testament, even though only the first five books were traditionally said to have been produced by seventy (either a round figure or an abbreviation for seventy-two) translators in Alexandria, Egypt, in the third century B.C.E. These circumstances also explain why the Septuagint is commonly abbreviated today with the Roman numeral for seventy LXX.

* Karen H. Jobes & Moises Silva,
Invitation to the Septuagint
[Πρόσκληση στην Εβδομήκοντα],
Baker Academic 2000,
pp./σσ. 30-33.

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