Denver Journal

Denver Journal

Invitation to the Septuagint

01.01.03 | Denver Journal, Old Testament, Richard S. Hess | by Karen H. Jobes | by Moises Silva

    Dr. Richard Hess' review of, "Invitation to the Septuagint," by Karen Jobes and Moises Silva.

    Jobes, Karen H. and Moises Silva Invitation to the Septuagint. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic; Carlisle: Paternoster. 2000 Hardback, $29.99. 351 pp. ISBN 0-8010-2235-5.

    This volume is intended as a university-level introduction to the study of the Septuagint. In providing this sort of a study the authors have identified and filled a major gap in the field of Septuagint studies. In the English language one needs to go back a generation to Jellicoe's 1968 study to find anything comparable; and even that was not considered a complete introduction but a supplement to the 1914 edition of Swete. More recently, there have been available only specialist studies, the best being Tov's The Text Critical Use of the Septuagint in Biblical Research (2nd edition; Jerusalem: Simor, 1997). Nevertheless, the work of Jobes and Silva provides the best modern gateway into the field in general, and its material should be read and understood before any of the classics or recent studies.

    The authors divide their material into three major sections. The first traces the history of the Septuagint, beginning with its origin as described by the Letter of Aristeas and continuing into a survey of the existing manuscripts as well as the known recensions. I missed here any reference to the theory that the similarities of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus (4th century uncials) may derive from their forming two of the fifty Bibles authorized by Constantine in the fifty new churches he built in the East (as reported by Eusebius). The authors trace the development of translations and the critical editions of the LXX, from the sixteenth century Complutensian Polyglot to the Cambridge and G�ttingen eclectic editions of various books. The privileged role of the LXX in Eastern Orthodoxy is touched upon (mainly citing Father Kallistos Ware) and comparisons of the order and contents of the books are made with the Hebrew Bible. A final chapter of the first section outlines the role of the Septuagint as the first translation of the Bible. Its theological tendencies render it the earliest commentary on the Old Testament, as well. The reader must wait until p. 89 to read that "there really is no such thing as the Septuagint." The point is that the complexity of its formation and the limited evidence available from the earliest manuscripts (pre-Origen) make it difficult or impossible to reconstruct the original translation with any certainty.

    This point should not be forgotten as one considers the second section of the book that deals with the use of the LXX in Biblical studies. This material begins with a review of the language of the LXX. This is a valuable review of the subject. One wonders whether the felt need to distinguish between Semitic syntax (not in the LXX, according to the authors; pp. 113-114) and style may reflect a similar false dichotomy as identified in the next chapter regarding the distinction between the analysis of a manuscript tradition and recovering the autograph (p. 121). I prefer Tov's emphasis upon weighing the variants. Of course, this is generally reflected in the important discussion on internal and external evidence in LXX textual criticism. Thus there is the important distinction between the collection of the evidence and its evaluation in the study of the LXX. The discussions of the role of the LXX in the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible and its relation to the Dead Sea Scrolls are some of the most useful for an introduction to this area of study. The special section on the kaige recension of the LXX of Samuel and Kings provides an important review, not merely of a sample of LXX text criticism, but of one of the most important places where the Greek and Dead Sea Scroll texts can make a significant contribution to the recovery of a (better?) text than that preserved by the Masoretic Text. Nevertheless, it is still a surprise to read that, "most OT textual critics today, it is probably safe to say, claim to assign equal weight to the MT and the LXX, thus avoiding preferential treatment" (p. 152). Those who follow Tov might support this understanding, but it would certainly be a surprise for those in what is the equally significant tradition of modern scholars such as Barth�lemy and Wevers. A chapter that considers the use of the New Testament in the textual criticism of the LXX is followed by a wonderful section applying the LXX to the Hebrew Bible through three case studies: Genesis 4:1-8; Isaiah 52:13-53:12; and Esther 5:1-2. Reviewing various genres and distinctive problems exemplified by each of these sections, the authors provide the reader with some firsthand experience at working with the Hebrew and LXX texts, and assessing their relative values.

    Section three opens with one of the more entertaining chapters on the history of some of the leaders in Septuagint studies over the past several centuries. Few who read the brief biographies will not learn something new about these giants in the field. The authors consider aspects of vocabulary, syntax, and other aspects of the LXX translation, again with a special section devoted to the reconstruction of the kaige recension. The main part of the book closes with observations on the LXX and midrash, messianism, eschatology, and the influence of Stoic philosophy. Appendixes review current centers and research projects as well as annotating some of the more important reference works. A glossary of technical terms, a comparison of the versification between the Masoretic Text and the LXX, and an index complete this useful volume.

    This brief review cannot mention in detail the numerous charts and photos of LXX manuscripts. Nor should anyone interested in the field fail to appreciate the reproductions of pages from Rahlf's, the Cambridge, and the G�ttingen LXX; with explanations of the important sigla and apparatus "strata" (pp. 138-145). All of this is necessary reading and makes the book a fully useful and altogether competent introduction to its subject. With such a volume in hand, the reader is all the better prepared to hear the often cited advice that Ferdinand Hitzig gave to his students, "Gentlemen, have you a Septuagint? If not, sell all you have, and buy a Septuagint" (p. 26).

    Richard S. Hess, Ph.D.
    Professor of Old Testament
    Denver Seminary