A review of Jennifer Dines', "The Septuagint," by Dr. Richard Hess.
Jennifer M. Dines, The Septuagint. Edited by M. A. Knibb. Understanding the Bible and Its World. London & New York: T & T Clark, 2004. xvii + 196 pp. Paperback, $25.95. ISBN 0-567-08464.
This neat and relatively small work provides a handy introduction to the complexities of Septuagint study. Until Jobes and Silva’s Invitation to the Septuagint (Baker 2000), there was nothing that provided a useful summary of much of the relevant material necessary to begin study of this fascinating subject. Now, however, that has been rectified. With the appearance of another English introduction, we find some repetition but also further perspectives in guiding one into a difficult field. The usefulness of this work is enhanced by the regular listing of other bibliographical guidance for study in specific areas; a process that begins before page 1 of the actual text. Dines begins by identifying the major early collections of manuscripts that have been discovered. She goes on to survey translation characteristics of each of the books contained in the Septuagint.
Dines then turns to the early attestations of the translation of the Septuagint (LXX). Since she believes that Aristobulus was dependent on the letter of Aristeas, she dates the letter earlier than most, to the first part of the second century B.C. Even so, her observations about the occasion for writing the letter reflect events throughout this period. She sees it very properly as an attempt to exalt the Ptolemaic dynasty in contrast to the threats and persecutions of the Seleucids as they gained influence in Palestine in this period. Along with this, it supports the high priest of Jerusalem and the scholars there as possessors of God’s grace in their interpretation of the Scriptures. Finally, the letter suggests that the LXX of Ptolemy II was regarded as made with the agreement of all the scholars and that of the Jewish community in Alexandria. All this supports this translation against possible attempts in the second century B.C. to produce other translations or to “correct” the LXX back to the Hebrew text.
For Dines, the LXX was likely created during the second century B.C. It was created to satisfy the needs of Alexandrian Judaism and the places of prayer and study that existed there, as well as elsewhere in the Diaspora. Comparing texts from Genesis and Amos, she argues that stylistic intentions to follow the original Hebrew appear to be present from the beginning. She considers the issue of multiple original translations versus a single original one for each book and observes how much of modern study (including the Göttingen critical edition of the LXX) has assumed a single original. Yet it is correct to ask this question because there is no easy answer. Given the diversity of types of translation techniques in the books outside the Pentateuch, it may be just as likely that there were multiple translations of some books. The question remains open and Dines returns to a theme that recurs throughout the book; the unique project undertaken by the Jews of Alexandria in making this “translation,” something that had never been done before.
The discussion of various testimonies to the Septuagint considers the development of the story of the original translators. For Philo they each translated the text separately and yet came up with the same result. The talmuds are generally positive in their witness to the LXX, but not exclusively so. The early Christian writers, such as Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria, affirm the communal inspiration of the LXX and thus its preference over later translations. By the end of the fourth century, however, Jerome is voicing doubts about the legend and arguing for a return to the Hebrew (proto-Masoretic text, presumably).
The discussion of “the Three,” i.e., Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, indicates the increasing extent to which antecedents or precursors to these translations suggest that many aspects of their works were more than a century old by the time they found their way into the Hexapla. The same is true of the three traditions that Jerome mentions: Hesychian (as much as can be known of it), Lucian (or Antiochene), and that reflected by Origen.
When Dines turns to the question of translation style, she adds to her initial discussion of the degree of literalism reflected in specific books of the LXX. She considers what kind of Greek was used. Noting the presence of “Semiticisms” in non-Jewish Hellenistic Greek, she suggests that this characteristic was common to Hellenistic Greek in Egypt, whether coming from Coptic influence or elsewhere, and therefore cannot be used to prove the intrusion of Semitic syntax and style on the Greek translation. In her review of modern translations of the Septuagint she discusses the NETS Bible, a work that assumes Hebrew influence on the Greek; and La Bible d’Alexandrie, a French project that treats the LXX as solely a Greek text. Of interest to students here would also have been the text, translation, and commentary on Codex Vaticanus now being published by Brill and edited by S. E. Porter, R. S. Hess, and J. Jarrick. The volume on Joshua, by A. G. Auld, has now appeared and provides an excellent example of a cautious balance by demonstrating cognizance of the Hebrew background but at the same time an appreciation of the existing literary structure of the Septuagint book itself.
A concluding section traces the use of the LXX throughout history. Of special interest are the sections that consider the Hellenistic authors, Jewish and otherwise, who preserve references to the LXX and texts from it. These culminate in Philo and Josephus, who themselves anticipate the patristic tendencies toward allegory and literalism. The final section on modern translation projects again needs to add the abovementioned series to its repeated references to NETS and La Bible d’Alexandrie. Overall Dines has contributed a useful means of access to the study of the LXX. While most courses on the subject will want to move further, and thus should find the introduction of Jobes and Silva helpful, Dines serves as an important first step into the complex and fascinating world of Septuagint studies.
Richard S. Hess, Ph.D.
Professor of Old Testament