The study of the Old Testament entails studying its ancient versions. That is, study of those translations that were made of the Hebrew Bible into other languages, such as Syrac, Latin, and of course Greek. These furnish our earliest and therefore most significant witnesses to the text of the Hebrew Bible, and provide objects of fruitful inquiry in and of themselves. It is the latter of these translations, known commonly as the Septuagint, that is of course the focus of this blog.
The Importance of the Lexicon
Anyone involved in detailed research in the Septuagint knows how important high-quality Greek lexicons are. If we wish to study the Greek translations of the Old Testament and – through this – better understand the Hebrew text and Jewish culture around the turn of the era, a fundamental resource is a Greek lexicon. However, Greek lexicography is beset with its own methodological quandaries and a long, rocky history.(1)
Because of the way in which the Greek language was studied and understood in the West from the medieval through the modern period – something that, while extremely interesting, I won’t get into here – the language of the Septuagint and the New Testament were long considered “low” or (revealingly) “Jewish” Greek. For the Septuagint in particular, this stigma has proven hard to shake even in contemporary scholarship, and has been compounded by the absence of thorough-going lexicographical investigation of its vocabulary until about fifteen years ago. At the end of the day, if we wish to understand the language of the Septuagint, we must contextualize it in the long and complex evolution of the Greek langauge as a whole, in its many dialects, registers, and socio-political settings.
The Cambridge Greek Lexicon
An invaluable tool for doing just that is on the verge of publication. After over twenty years of labor conducted at the Faculty of Classics under the direction of Prof. James Diggle, the Cambridge Greek Lexicon is nearing completion. Rather than building exclusively upon its predecessors, as most new lexicons do (e.g., the Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek), this lexicon constitutes an entirely fresh appraisal of the lexical semantics of each Greek word examined. This is a significant advance in the discipline that will furnish a major benchmark for all future Greek lexicography. Another significant aspect of this lexicon will be its use of descriptive sense distinctions, rather than the traditional (and problematic) gloss method:
Appreciation of the meaning of Greek words has been hampered to some extent by the nineteenth century English of earlier dictionaries, which often gets carried through into textbooks and translations. In this lexicon, current English has been used, with great care taken to match the ancient senses with a modern way of expressing them. As a further aid to sharpening understanding, a wide range of contextual information has been included, for instance, the kinds of subjects and objects which occur with a given verb, or the semantic range of nouns that an adjective can qualify.
This approach, set into motion for this project by John Chadwick, is motivated by the same principles that drove James Murray’s work on the epoch-making Oxford English Dictionary.
As the website states, the corpus covered includes “the most widely read ancient literary texts, from Homer to the Hellenistic poets, the later historians, and the New Testament Gospels and Acts of the Apostles.” The lexicon, which will tip the scales at ~1,500 pages, is set to be published by Cambridge University Press in 2018, but will also be made available online through the Persus Database.
Getting a Sneak Peak
You can have a look at a sample page by clicking here. There is also an excellent page of Greek lexicographic resources worth browsing through. You will also want to check out this video on the project:
I have little doubt that this Greek lexicon will significantly reshape the landscape. It will most likely replace the much-beloved Liddell-Scott-Jones dictionary, and all of its dependents – if you haven’t bought the new Brill dictionary, don’t. To this extent (which is significant), the Cambridge Greek Lexicon will also prove a great boon to the study of the Septuagint and – distant though it may seem – of the Old Testament as well.
(1) On which I highly recommend John A. L. Lee, A History of New Testament Lexicography.