Septuagint Day: An Interview with Karen Jobes

It’s hard to believe that it’s already upon us, but if you were not aware, today is the ninth annual International Septuagint Day. If you are interested, you can find out a bit more about what that means in my post from last year. In brief, in November of 2006 the IOSCS approved the institution of this grand day. Here is an excerpt from the General Business Meeting minutes:

A motion to establish February 8 annually as International Septuagint Day to promote the discipline on our various campuses and communities was moved by Karen Jobes, seconded by James Aitkin and carried. And there was much rejoicing.

Okay, I added that last part. But …

An Interview with Karen Jobes

In the spirit of “promoting the discipline” on Septuagint Day, I decided to interview one of the top American septuagintalists, Dr. Karen Jobes. Karen is the Gerald F. Hawthorne Professor of New Testament Greek & Exegesis at Wheaton College in Illinois, and was kind enough to entertain my questions.

1) Can you describe how you first became involved in LXX studies, and what drew you to it?

I was first introduced to the LXX at Westminster Theological Seminary where Dr. Moisés Silva taught a course that was rumored to be the most difficult course offered by the seminary.  Being a woman who enjoys a challenge, I couldn’t resist.  I was particularly drawn to the opportunity to work with both Hebrew and Greek.  I discovered that Septuagint Studies is beautifully complex.

2) How have you participated in the discipline over the course of your teaching and writing career?

Perhaps the most significant contribution I’ve made to the discipline is the book I co-authored with Dr. Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint (Baker Academic, 2000), which has become one of the standard textbooks in English for LXX studies.  That book actually grew out of the course I took with Dr. Silva, because as a beginning student I saw a need for an introductory book. My course notes became the initial outline for the book.  

I have also participated in the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies (IOSCS) in various roles.  I have been a member since 1990.  My first paper on LXX was presented at the IXth Congress of the IOSCS in July 1995 in Cambridge, England.  I served a term as the Secretary 2006–2008, on the Program Steering Committee since 2009, on the Editorial Advisory board of the SBLSCS since 2012, and a member-at-large on the Executive Committee since 2012.  I was awarded the IOSCS prize for an outstanding paper in 1995. (I believe that award has since morphed into the John W. Wevers prize.)

My publications have focused on methodologies in LXX studies, (e.g., “Quantitative Methods for Exploring the Relationship between Books of the Septuagint.” Pages 73–95 in The Bible as Book: The Transmission of the Greek Text. Edited by O. O’Connor. London: The British Library, 2003), and on the LXX as literary and theological background for NT exegesis (e.g., “The Minor Prophets in James, Peter, and Jude” pp. 135–153 in The Minor Prophets in the New Testament. Edited by Maarten J.J. Menken and Steve Moyise. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2009. And  “The Septuagint Textual Tradition in 1 Peter.” Pages 311–333 in Septuagint Research:  Issues and Challenges in the Study of the Greek Jewish Scriptures. Edited by Wolfgang Kraus and R. Glenn Wooden. Society of Biblical Literature Septuagint and Cognate Studies 53. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 2006.)

I am also pleased that since coming to Wheaton I have had the privilege of teaching a graduate level course in Exegesis of the Septuagint and an undergraduate Greek reading course in Septuagint.  I’m proud of my former students Myrto Theocharous, Seth Ehorn, and Jeremiah Coogan who went on to further graduate work in Septuagint Studies.  

3) How have you integrated LXX studies into your work as a professor of New Testament?

All of my NT courses have an emphasis on the importance of the LXX for proper NT exegesis, and the complexities of handling the Greek versions.

4) How has the field changed since you’ve been involved?

It seems to me the field has blossomed, judging from the number of texts and reference works that have become available in the last twenty-five years and from a growing interest among students to learn about the LXX. When I began, there was no recent LXX lexicon, and now we have two (Lust et al and Muraoka), as well as Taylor’s Analytical Lexicon of the Septuagint.  There was no recent English translation, and now we have NETS [on which see this post] as well as several other translations in modern languages.  There were no commentaries focused on the LXX, and now we have two (the Brill series and the IOSCS series).  There is also now the Wevers Institute of Septuagint Studies at Trinity Western University [on which see this post] that holds great promise for the future of the discipline. 

5) What issues do you focus on in your graduate course in LXX studies?

My course, Exegesis of the Septuagint, has to meet curricular requirements for the MA in Biblical Exegesis, and so we focus on exegeting the LXX text and the complexities of interpreting a translated text.  Of course, we also look at the Hebrew and discuss how the translator has exegeted and contextualized the biblical text for his audience.   

6) For the benefit of graduate students who are potentially interested in LXX studies in doctoral work, what in your opinion are underworked areas and topics in need of further research?

There is fresh ground in the books of the LXX that have received little scholarly attention.  Although it probably not prudent to speak of “a Septuagint theology” there are interesting questions toward better understanding how the translators contextualized their source text for their audience.  And the question of how the Greek versions developed and are related to one another is an extremely difficult question that needs some new energy and perhaps new methodologies.

7) In 2000 you published Invitation to the Septuagint (Baker) with Moisés Silva, which has a revised edition forthcoming later this year. What prompted the revision, and can you describe what changes you have made?

There have been many developments and new scholars entering the field in the fifteen years since Invitation first appeared.  We have revised every chapter, including new theories (e.g., the interlinear theory) and incorporating the work of younger scholars.  We have updated the bibliographies and added some hopefully helpful appendices, e.g., an English translation of the abbreviations used in the Göttingen apparatus.

8) What other projects in Septuagint are you working on?

I have just sent off the manuscript of Exploring the Septuagint: A Guided Reader to Kregel.  This was a collaborative effort with nine students.  The guide contains about 625 verses of Greek from nine books of the LXX, providing syntactical notes, vocabulary help, etc to aid students who have at least three semesters of Greek to start reading the LXX.  Given the structure of academic departments in Bible and theology, the LXX can be a topic of benign neglect, so just getting students to read it provides them an introduction to the field. 

9) Finally, what is the future of Septuagint studies?

The future of LXX studies is really the young people, like yourself, who are entering the field.  Because the LXX is caught between the division of academic departments into Old Testament/Jewish Scriptures and New Testament, it has a somewhat liminal position in the academy.  No one, or very few, are able to devote their full time to the LXX, and that hampers the field.  I don’t see that changing, but it would be a nice dream to see chairs funded in LXX studies.  We also need more doctoral programs in North America that allow students to focus their dissertations on LXX.

I hope you enjoyed and benefited from the interview with Dr. Jobes as much as I did. Hopefully in the future I will be able to conduct similar interviews with other scholars in the discipline.

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