There is an exciting event that was recently announced in the Septuagint studies community: a symposium honoring the 100th birthdate of the celebrated Finnish scholar, Ilmari Soisalon-Soininen (1917-2002). The event, hosted by Raija Sollamo, Anneli Aejmelaeus, Seppo Sipilä and Anssi Voitila, will be held 1-3 June 2017 at the University of Helsinki.
Who Was Soisalon-Soininen?
Those not active in the discipline of Septuagint studies are unlikely to be familiar with the work of Soisalon-Soininen. However, within the discipline he is a seminal figure – “the grand old man of Finnish Septuagint studies” – having founded the so-called Finnish School (or Helsinki School) of Septuagint scholarship. He also trained a significant number of now senior scholars in the discipline, Raija Sollamo and Anneli Aejmelaeus some of the most notable among them (the latter of whom, I am pleased to say, will be featured in one of my upcoming Septuagint Scholar interviews). Aejmelaeus, for her part, is now director of the Helsinki-based Research Project for Textual Criticism of the Septuagint.
The Finnish School took shape around Soisalon-Soininen’s focus upon Greek syntax in the Septuagint. In fact, his approach was the fountainhead for what is now commonly called “translation technique” within the discipline. Although this approach has had its share of criticism of the the years, Finnish scholars now recognize the overly mechanical sound of the word “technique.” In Soisalon-Soininen’s many publications, there is a clear focus on the translators, their linguistic habits, and a close, phrase-level analysis of their work rendering the Hebrew scriptures into Greek. Soisalon-Soininen and the Finnish School are known for a rigorous and statistical analysis of syntactical features of the translation technique of a given unit or book of the Septuagint, with a view towards characterizing the translator’s approach along a “literal – free” spectrum.
For the most part, this work takes Hebrew syntax as its point of departure in analyzing the Greek translation, and gives little attention to the historical or social context of the translators themselves. For the Finns, the focus is exclusively upon the linguistic phenomena of the texts, not least of all in order to build a profile of a given translator such that his Greek target text can be retroverted and used in the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible. Aejmelaeus has been a key figure carrying this approach forward (e.g., this volume and others). A number of studies, however, particularly those in the Twelve Prophets, have found that the broad assumptions of the Finnish School – namely that the translators worked in narrow segments of text, with little broader discourse awareness, and rarely introduced deliberate changes to the text – do not fully apply (I am thinking of Palmer in Zechariah, Glenny in Amos, Mulroney in Habbakuk, and Fresch using documentary evidence).
Even though a growing number of current scholars active in Septuagint scholarship have taken issue with aspects of the Finnish School’s approach, Soisalon-Soininen and his successors deserve ample recognition for their work advancing the state of the question. Previously, most focus in Septuagint scholarship, particularly that of Max L. Margolis, had been falling upon lexicography (an important field, no doubt), but Soisalon-Soininen recognized the need for analysis at the phrase level, which was certainly a step in the right direction.
The symposium has a stellar lineup of plenary speakers, including some of the leading voices in the discipline today. And, in keeping with the linguistic focus of the Finnish School, the topics and speakers bring that same mindset to their topics:
JAN JOOSTEN, “Grammar and Style in the Septuagint: On Some Remarkable Uses of Proverbs.”
JAMES K. AITKEN, “Standard Language and the Place of the Septuagint within Koine.”
SILVIA LURAGHI and CHIARA ZANCHI, “New Meanings and Constructions of Prepositions in the Septuagint: a Comparison with Classical and New Testament Greek.”
JOHN A.L. LEE, “Back to the Question of Greek Idiom.”
THEO VAN DER LOUW, “The Dynamics of Segmentation in the Greek Pentateuch.”
RAIJA SOLLAMO, “The Usage of the Article with Nouns Defined by a Nominal Genitive.”
ANNELI AEJMELAEUS, “Translation Technique and the Recensions.”
SEPPO SIPILÄ, “Soisalon-Soininen meets Grice: The Cooperational Principle and the Septuagint Syntax.”
ANSSI VOITILA, “Middle Voice as Depiction of Subject’s Dominion in the Greek Pentateuch.”
Happily, you can not only go to this conference, but you still have time to present. The call for papers is currently open. Slots are available for 30 minutes, whose topics focus on “Septuagint syntax, Ilmari Soisalon-Soininen’s research on the topic and / or the Septuagint language as part of the broader development of the Greek language.” The deadline to submit a proposal is 31 October 2016, and they should be sent to Anssi Voitila (firstname.lastname@example.org).