Review of J. Ross Wagner

Der Prophet Jesaja

In a previous post I briefly discussed J. Ross Wagner’s book Reading the Sealed Book: Old Greek Isaiah and the Problem of Septuagint Hermeneutics, FAT 88 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck / Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2013). This I did partly because I was in the midst of reading the book itself for the present review and found portions of it so helpful, but also because I had also recently announced a series on the blog overviewing major contemporary translations of the Septuagint.

As I mentioned, the “issue” of LXX hermeneutics – determining how the Greek translator understood and rendered his text, and how later readers understood and applied that text – is central to one’s “approach” to translating the LXX into a modern language. This will hopefully become more clear as I review the major projects.

Wagner falls closest to the approach of NETS, although he makes certain caveats that distinguish his own perspective on key issues. In my estimation, some of these caveats are what create problems, at least in his stated methodology. Nevertheless, his actual treatment of the text at hand (Isaiah 1) is detailed and well executed. He has certainly advanced the state of the conversation on Greek Isaiah.

The Review

With that said, I post my review of Wagner here in full..


  1. I hear you saying Wagner identifies two causes of source-language interference in OG Isaiah: one cause is the source text (an impulse to follow the interlinear model), and the other cause is the Greek Pentateuchal interlanguage/sociolect (an impulse to sound biblish). I sense some discomfort with this multiplicity of causes. If I am reading you rightly, what do you find problematic here?

    1. Ken, that’s exactly right; Wagner mentions two sources of interference. It’s not that I am uncomfortable with that, though. In fact, I think he’s spot on, particularly regarding the influence of a hypothetical sociolect (I do wonder whether that notion is falsifiable, however). What I found odd – or perhaps “open ended” – was that Wagner gives very little space to the idea of interlinguistic interference in the introduction, and none that I caught in his actual treatment of the text.

      It is not that these two possible sources of influence run counter to one anther, of course, but only that I was not clear how an interlinear approach that takes Aquila as typical would sort out sociolectal interference. If, as Wagner says, we cannot assume a given instance of interference arises from the source text, why not take the (hypothetical) sociolect as typical?

      Hopefully this helps clarify my questions! I’d love your thoughts.

      1. Yes, that explanation helps. Do you then see a discrepancy between Wagner’s theory (which includes interlinguistic interference) and his method (which doesn’t)?
        It seems to me that the way to evaluate such hypotheses is to see how much they can explain. To what extent can a model that combines both sources of interference account for what we see in OG Isaiah, compared to a model that only considers one source of interference? Are you saying Wagner raised this question and had the opportunity to answer it but did not do so in this book?

  2. I suppose it does amount to a discrepancy, although to me it seems that Wagner did not give full consideration to the implications of the interlanguage concept. It is a surprisingly brief comment that comes at the end of his lengthy introduction. I was puzzled why he did not carry the idea further. In effect, the question you pose was raised by default, at least in my mind, and was not afterwards addressed directly. He does appear to operate on the assumption that both sources of interference account for portions of OG Isaiah (cf. my quote from p. 166).

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