Review of Ngunga on Greek Isaiah

A while back I mentioned that I was reading and reviewing Abi T. Ngunga’s recently published dissertation, Messianism in the Old Greek of Isaiah (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013). Well, I was, and I did, and the review is now available in full here, soon to be published in the Westminster Theological Journal (issue tbd).

However, I thought it might be helpful to provide an even briefer overview of my review, and add some extraneous comments that did not make it into the review itself. 

All in all, I for one find Ngunga’s enterprise worthwhile. Essentially, his thesis asks “Does the LXX translation of Isaiah reflect a greater sense of messianic expectation than its Hebrew source text?” As I discuss in my review, however, answering this question means you have to determine whether LXX-Isaiah was translated by just one person, otherwise any messianic “flavor” in a given text could be unique to just that text, rather than characteristic of the book as a whole. You also have to make a case that any time the Greek text differs in meaning from the Hebrew, it is not due to factors like the translation process itself, scribal error, damages to the source text that made reading (and thus translating) it difficult, or changes made over its reception history. Rather, you must prove that Greek changes are best attributed to the translator at the level of the text’s productionintentional or not.

These can be difficult issues to navigate, of course. But to make matters more complex, this kind of inquiry as a whole presumes that LXX translators would have had some kind of messianic theology. And it presumes that their theology would differ from (would have developed beyond?) the Hebrew text’s own messianism enough to prompt intentional or unintentional alterations in the Greek text’s meaning. It is here that Ngunga faces his most comprehensive challenge and, I expect, will receive the most critique in broader scholarship.

The reason is that much, even most, of the scholarly consensus does not hold that any developed messianism would have existed in pre-Qumran, Alexandrian Jewish communities. As I mention in my review, Ngunga does a good job of challenging this notion from the root, both historically and academically. The latter by tracing the origins of the scholarly assumption that Diaspora Judaism was non-messianic.

But, again, I find the enterprise worthwhile. From the reading I have done in this topic, it seems to me that question begging is not uncommon. Often, scholars will say something like “there is no literary evidence for messianic theology in the Diaspora community (except for the LXX), therefore we should not expect to find any.” So I say more comprehensive studies of LXX books like Ngunga’s are needed, and could be very useful to determine just whether or not the majority opinion holds up.


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