Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Review: Finding Meaning in the Text: Translation Technique and Theology in the Septuagint of Amos

W. Edward Glenny, Finding Meaning in the Text: Translation Technique and Theology in the Septuagint of Amos, Supplements to Vetus Testamentum v. 126 (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2009).  $149.00. 306pp.
              The Septuagint has always been a fascinating document, principally because it is the first of its kind; that is, it is the first large-scale translation of a religious document into another language.  Currently, however, the Septuagint is gaining much attention in scholarship, and is certainly reaching a high water mark in the past one-hundred years or more.  Especially of note concerning the new wave of Septuagintal study is that this new wave is not primarily focused on understanding the Septuagint as a text-critical tool to understanding the Masoretic Text, but rather this new generation of Septuagint scholars seeks to understand the Septuagint “on its own terms,” as a distinct religious document.  The study of the translation technique of the Septuagint is a study with this aim.  It looks at the unique ways that scribes translated into Greek the Hebrew Vorlage, or original hypothetical Hebrew text that stands behind the Septuagint; such study often times includes consideration of what is called Tendenz, or the instances where the historical background of a translator influenced the way they translated the text, primarily theologically.  At the heart of such a study one seeks to compare the LXX with the Vorlage that stands behind the Greek translation, with an emphasis on what may have influenced the differences observed between the two text traditions.  In Finding Meaning in the Text, Ed Glenny takes on a translation technique study of Amos, a book notable for its substantive variance in the LXX from the MT. 
                A few procedural, methodological notes:  First, Glenny uses the MT and Zeigler’s LXX text as his two bases for text comparison.  As for the Vorlage that stands behind either of these named texts, Glenny notes “There is general consensus that the Vorlage of the LXX-Minor Prophets was very close to the consonantal MT text and in many cases identical to it.” (2)  As a student of the LXX, I understand the difficulty of defining what one means by a Vorlage since it is such a slippery concept.  But I am also in a constant internal battle with the degree of definition that is adequate for studies that assume such an important source/text-critical question.   In the end, Glenny’s definition for Vorlage still would have to be categorized as quite hypothetical.  But he does do his due diligence by allotting a section to this question, demonstrating that all the differences between the LXX/Amos and the MT are not likely because of a different Vorlage. (14)
                For this study Glenny’s two major conversation partners are J. M. Dines’ 1991 University of London PhD. Dissertation, “The Septuagint of Amos: A Study in Interpretation,” and James Palmer’s 2004 Cambridge University dissertation, “‘Not Made with Tracing Paper’: Studies in the Septuagint of Zechariah.”  Glenny goes about his study first by a general introduction to issues concerning the LXX as a text and specific studies undertaken on the LXX/Amos, notably, of course, Dines’ study, Anthony Gelston’s study, “Some Hebrew Misreadings in the Septuagint of Amos (VT 52:4 [2002]: 493-500), which serves as a good example of Glenny’s foil, and even a previous article written by Glenny, himself, that is in response to Gelston, and is in many ways a precursor to Glenny’s present monograph (“Hebrew Misreadings or Free Translation in the Septuagint of Amos?” VT 57:4 [2007]: 524-547).  In chapter two, Glenny takes on the methodological question of literal and free translation.  He approaches this from the assessment of two views; James Barr and Emmanuel Tov.  In the end, Tov’s five categories of literalness of a translation, four that overlap with Barr’s categories, is preferred by Glenny for his understanding of the literalness of LXX translational pericopes.  Next in this chapter, Glenny covers studies of literalism, which includes computer assisted statistical analyses (by Tov and Benjamin Wright), and the “Finnish School” that is concerned to study the LXX as a “linguistic phenomenon,” with the goal “to trace the linguistic ‘fingerprint’ of the translator.” (39) Finally, he covers types of literalism projected to be found in the LXX/Amos.  The final six chapters of this book can be divided into two broad categories: First, a study of the translation of difficult words, idiom and syntax by the translator of the LXX/Amos (chs. 3-4), and second, the theology of the resulting translation of the LXX/Amos (chs. 5-8).  Glenny finishes with a workmanlike summary of his study.  Overall, it is very straightforward and to the point in execution. 
                When I first read the subtitle, “Translation Technique and Theology in the Septuagint of Amos,” I instinctively asked, “but what about the rest of the Twelve Prophets?”  In years past, this question may not have been asked readily, or at all.  But we have entered a new stage of scholarship, at least in OT studies, where the Twelve prophets as one unified corpus is an assumable thing, and must be taken on if one does not agree with their unity.  In Glenny’s study, however his title may initially represent his views on the Twelve, he assumes its unified translation, but it appears he has simply needed to focus his study on one portion. (cf. 11)  Glenny’s study, therefore, often shares conclusions with Palmer’s study of Zechariah on translation technique, namely, “The translator of Amos, like the translator of Zechariah, seems to take the topics of context in the text he is working with and uses opportunities in it to express his own concerns and make his translations relevant for his audience;” (271) probably because they were one in the same person (as Glenny alludes earlier in his study, 262).
            I especially prized Glenny’s chapter “Gentiles, Eschatology, and Messianism in LXX-Amos.”  Glenny believes these interrelated theological topics reveal important aspects of the LXX/Amos translator’s theology; and I think he is correct.  The most salient example is the most well-known, Amos 9:11-12, which is most famous because of all the trouble it has caused NT theologians in their study of Acts 15.  In this section, many of the usual suspects, that is, typically covered textual issues are investigated; but three important points are noted.  First, overall, the primary and lasting difference between the MT and the LXX is the tone of each respective tradition in the context of this pericope going back to 9:9-10.  The MT[1], Glenny notes, is “a message of judgment,” but the LXX reads as a “confident oracle of salvation” (217; quoted from Dines, “Amos,” 289).  Secondly, Glenny gives special attention to “The Tent of David.”  Here he concludes that, against any reading that would see 9:11 to be nationalistic, the tent of David in the LXX/Amos should be seen as having “implications of royal Davidic messianism.” (224)  In his estimation, Glenny supposes that “the messianism would have been understood to be explicit by the readers of the LXX.” (224)[2]  Third, the act of God calling his name upon someone is, as Glenny notes, “theologically rich.” (227) This is especially applicable to the enigmatic phrase from Acts 15:14 (“…God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name.”), before the Amos 9:11-12 quotation by James.  Glenny notes, the LXX contrasts the MT by the fact that the Gentiles seek the Lord in the LXX/Amos, but are the Gentiles are militarily conquered by Israel and made subject to the Lord in the MT.  The Gentiles in the LXX/Amos, Glenny deduces, are at the same time desiring to be in covenant relationship with the Lord, but also, by the sound of “called upon them,” being elected by the Lord to be a part of His chosen people.  This is the only place in the LXX/Amos that such a phrase is applied to Gentiles (Glenny is unclear here if he means Amos, the whole Twelve, or the entire OT.  It seems most likely the entire OT).  Therefore, Glenny points out, “the Gentiles do what Israel is commanded to do in 5:4 and 6; they seek the Lord.” (227)  Conclusions such as these are the pay-off to studying the Septuagint as a unique text with its own distinct theology.   
                In the end Glenny spells out his conclusions clearly in his “Summary” section.  But briefly, the character of the LXX/Amos according to Glenny’s study can be summed up as a translation that stayed close to the Hebrew witnessed in the MT, but also a translation was not afraid to be creative or innovative when attempting to convey a certain theological or exegetical concern. 
                Interestingly, and almost prophetically, Glenny notes an implication of such studies as his, Dines’, and Palmer’s, is that commentaries need to be written that comment on the Septuagint books on their own terms.  I agree.  And this is what the IOSCS and Brill are now pursuing.  Glenny, himself, is on Brill’s team, and has just recently released his first entry on Hosea, which I perused while at Tyndale House and will soon be reviewing, compliments of Brill; and soon his Amos and Micah studies will also be released. 
                Overall, Glenny’s study is a win.  I think he gave an instant classic on the LXX/Amos that will be in use for many generations. 
 My appreciation to Brill for the opportunity to review this book with the expectation of an objective review.

[1] One area, though not completely germane to his thesis (hence, I comment on it in the footnotes), was his stance on Amos 9:11-15.  Many, of course, have believed this pericope to be a later addition.  I do not believe, as Glenny supposes, that this is still a majority view in the wake of the preference of canonical and final form(s) approaches (cf. House, Unity, where this view is not supported in view of his method).  If it is a majority view, it cannot stand much longer with the likelihood that the many forms of accepted unity in the Twelve now taking majority at SBL. 
[2] Of note, Glenny’s brief investigation of the rest of the Twelve and the other places in Second Temple Judaism where the Twelve is quoted was helpful and enlightening in better understanding the royal and messianic nature of the LXX/Amos.

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