Monday, May 12, 2014

Dialogue on When God Spoke Greek: Chapter 5

MosisMose Dialogue on When God Spoke Greek links: Intro to Dialogue - Ch. 1 - Ch. 2 Ch. 3 - Ch. 4


Chapter Five Review—Ed Glenny

This chapter is a survey of the books of the Septuagint translated from Hebrew texts in order to highlight the places where the Greek of the Septuagint differs from the Hebrew (MT). Law correctly summarizes that these differences were caused by different Hebrew texts, intentional changes made by the translators, and errors in translation. The key point Law seeks to demonstrate in this chapter is that “before the second century CE the biblical text was characterized by variety and that the forms of scripture used by the New Testament authors and early Christians in the church’s formative stages undermine the impression of stability gained from reading modern Bibles” (44-45). Thus, it seems the goal of the chapter is to challenge “the myth of textual stability” (45-46) with respect to the Hebrew Bible that is often accepted naively by modern readers of the Bible. The remainder of the chapter is a survey of important differences between the Hebrew and Greek texts that is divided into four sections: the books of Moses, the books of Israel’s history, the prophets and poets, and the final translations (the Five Festal Scrolls).
         I appreciate this chapter, and I know I will refer to it again when I want to reference a discussion of the differences between the Septuagint and the Hebrew. The chapter is packed with helpful information, and the discussion is generally balanced in its approach to the differences between the Greek and Hebrew texts. Law warns the reader that even though we will learn in this chapter that the form of the Septuagint differs from the Hebrew “we should refrain from exaggeration because much of the Septuagint is indeed very similar to the Hebrew Bible and thus to our English versions” (44). The chapter points the reader to some of the main sections of the Septuagint where its Vorlage differs from the Hebrew texts that later made up the Hebrew Bible, like the books of Samuel and Kings, and it also gives several examples of differences between the Greek and the Hebrew that can be traced to the translator. The chapter is in many ways a broad survey of the character of the translation of the various parts and books of the Septuagint. And in that regard I would compare it to Jennifer Dines’s helpful survey of the character of the books of the Septuagint (The Septuagint, 13-24).
Despite Law’s attempts in this chapter not to exaggerate about the differences between the Hebrew and Greek texts, I came away from it with the impression that his reading of the differences between the Hebrew and Greek texts was not a sympathetic one. Here I may be biased by the facts that in my study of the Septuagint I have focused on the translation technique employed and that the focus of my Septuagint study has been the Minor Prophets, a section of the Jewish Scriptures where the Vorlage of the Septuagint is generally thought to be very similar to the modern Hebrew text (see my Finding Meaning in the Text: Translation Technique and Theology in the Septuagint of Amos). But I feel Law tends to underestimate the importance and value of the study of translation technique for understanding the differences between the Hebrew and the Greek and overemphasize the variety in the early text forms. For example, I found in my study of translation technique in Amos that virtually every Septuagint reading that differed from the Hebrew could be explained by the translation technique employed; and to this point of my study (in Hosea, Amos, and Micah) I would argue that is also usually the case elsewhere in the Minor Prophets. I know translation technique will not explain the differences between the Greek and Hebrew in many places in the Septuagint, but I am not convinced that the differences between early text forms is as great as Law implies in this chapter. To his credit in this chapter he does clearly acknowledge the part the translators played in the differences between the Hebrew and Greek texts, but he still feels compelled to state that in the Torah features attributed to the translators “are often exaggerated to support the myth of the textual stability” (46). No doubt some have exaggerated these features, but the number of differences between the Hebrew and the Greek that could be attributed to the translator, which Law points out in the chapter, supports my impression that this is a common cause of divergence in many of the books. In fact, I think one topic that Law does not develop enough in his book that would help readers understand the Septuagint better is the translation technique of the Septuagint translators. This chapter introduces the idea and gives some examples, but I think more discussion of translation technique would help balance the perspective of the book. This chapter is as close as he gets to that topic, but from the general discussion in this chapter it is very difficult for the reader to understand the complex issues the translators of the Septuagint faced and the diverse means they employed to try to solve them. And an understanding of such issues and the various tendencies of the different translators is crucial for making informed decisions about the source texts that they employed for their translations.
I highly recommend this chapter. It is a valuable summary of some of the key differences between the Hebrew and Greek texts. But I would also recommend readers consider some of the studies of the translation technique of the Septuagint translators and the discussion of Septuagint variants and pseudo-variants in the works of Emanuel Tov (e.g., The Text-Critical Use of the Septuagint). These sources will contribute to further understanding of the number and type of differences between the Hebrew and Greek that could be attributed to the translator, and this understanding will result in greater ability to evaluate the evidence concerning diverse early Hebrew text forms.  

Response #1: Aaron White

I agree with Ed, this was a helpful chapter, and one that I wish I would have wrote!  Especially important about Ed's review is his interaction about the diversity Law senses, and Ed believes is overplayed.  This is a key discussion from two world-class experts on these issues.   That is priceless stuff!
In our arrangement, I am supposed to be responding to Ed's review, but I find myself in awe of the discussion that just took place, and without much to add and/or challenge.
I do, however, have a couple nit-picky things I would like to point out and hear other's thoughts on.
 Immediately in this chapter, Law returns to language like "accident," or "randomly chosen."  In an earlier review on chapter 3 (I believe), I pointed out this same language used by Law to describe the multiple Hebrew versions of Scripture.  I pointed out that it is hard to say that any collection of normative texts came together in any collection due to random or accidental events.  I am curious what Law means when he uses this language.  It seems simply inaccurate.  It seems to be rhetoric that supports Law's diversity-of-texts view.  But in the end, as a reader, I have to take it at face value, and I cannot be sure.  Some community, somewhere, even just a small group of interested readers may have put collections together, or preserved books, that were to them authoratative for their community.  That's something, for sure, but not something governed by a chance occurrence.
 Second, on the Minor Prophets, Law claims "each of these prophesies was individually composed..." (53).  I do not think that is something one can declare.  We do not have in extant many of these texts individually.  And while, some suppose that these texts were at some point collected in a single scroll because of their short length (hence, minor), this is only a theory since the textual evidence is yet wanting.  The idea that these are individual texts is a relatively recent product largely of historical-criticism, and unknown, it would seem to the first readers of the LXX-MPs (and MT-MPs).

Response #2: Chris Fresch

Like Ed and Aaron above, I thoroughly enjoyed this chapter and will frequently refer back to it.  Law's discussion of the differences in the Greek and Hebrew versions of the Old Testament books is a very helpful one to have on hand, especially as it does call us to ponder how stable the respective texts were during this period.  What amazes me is thinking about this: Had the Septuagint instead been translated only a few centuries later, we would have no knowledge of some of the alternative textual traditions!  Even more amazing is that we do know about them yet they are so often disregarded or ignored!
I did appreciate Ed's comments on translation technique.  I agree with him that a little more engagement with the issue would have brought some balance to Law's discussion as well as have benefitted his readers (especially considering that his readership likely includes interested undergraduate and graduate students trying to get a feel for the field).  Granted, keeping an excursus on translation technique brief would be a difficult task, moreover, making it interesting for your non-specialist readers would be daunting.  Still, though, not all differences between the Greek and Hebrew can be boiled down to divergent texts, intentional changes, and errors (44).  The study of translation technique is one of our primary tools for discerning what truly are differences between the versions and then what kinds of differences they are [e.g., in my IOSCS Congress paper last September ("The Peculiar Occurrences of οὖν in Septuagint Genesis and Exodus"), one of my conclusions was that the study of the two translators' translation technique suggests that, contrary to some Septuagint scholarship, the use of οὖν in Genesis and Exodus when there is no lexical equivalent in our Hebrew text is not sufficient evidence for restoring a Hebrew reading.  Rather, the translators employ οὖν naturally, according to their conception of the flow of the discourse, to mark developments between connected text-chunks, even when lacking an equivalent in their respective Vorlagen.  This may be a small issue, but it does highlight an example in which the difference is not a change, nor due to a divergent text, nor an error].  Because studying and understanding translation technique is so crucial to the entire field of Septuagint studies, it was unfortunate to not see a few pages devoted to it.
In similar fashion to Aaron, I have little to add in response to Ed.  I am right there with him in his appreciation of this chapter, and I resonate with his desire to see a bit more balance from a discussion on translation technique.





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