The New Baylor Handbook on the Septuagint Series: An Interview with Seth Ehorn

It’s an exciting time for Septuagint scholarship as a long-awaited concept is now beginning to materialize into printed volumes. Many will be familiar with Baylor’s Handbook on the Greek New Testament (e.g., here) and Handbook on the Hebrew Bible series (here). Well, guess what is now a thing? The Baylor Handbook on the Septuagint has finally come to fruition, henceforth to be fondly known as BHLXX.

At least, what has come to fruition is the first installment of what I can only imagine will be a lot of volumes if the series is ever complete. But it’s wonderful news either way, and I’m grateful to have gotten a chance to hear more about it. The series is edited by Sean Adams and Seth Ehorn, the latter of whom has completed the first installment on the first seven chapters of 2 Maccabees.

Ehorn was kind enough not only to answer a few of my questions about himself and this project, as you will see below, but he also made the magic happen to get us a sneak preview of inside the book itself. Try to resist the temptation to rush down and look at it and enjoy reading about the process first.

The Interview

Can you tell us a little bit about your academic background? In particular, what brought you to Septuagint studies?

I first became aware of some of the issues related to Septuagint studies during my undergraduate studies in Greek. In particular, I took a course in intermediate Greek that included many selections from the Septuagint. I still remember this well because my professor, Michael Holmes of Bethel University, was incredibly generous and purchased discounted copies of Rahlfs’ Septuaginta for the entire class at the annual SBL meeting. I read that copy for many years before purchasing an updated copy of Rahlfs-Hanhart.

A more substantive introduction to Septuagint studies was during my graduate work at Wheaton College Graduate School. In a course taught by Karen Jobes, I read for the first time about the various critical issues related to Septuagint studies and began to read more widely in the field. During my doctoral work at the University of Edinburgh I also had occasion to read more deeply in Septuagint studies as I explored how early Christians appropriated the Greek Psalms in their own writings.

You are coeditor of this new series with Sean Adams. How did the idea originate?

Sean and I are good friends and we have collaborated on a several projects already. The idea for this project was borne, at least initially, out of our own desire to see more resources available that helped facilitate reading the Septuagint. We observed that a few commentary series were in the early stages of production, but there was still a lack of linguistic resources that helped students read the Greek text itself. Because Baylor University Press had already produced handbooks on the New Testament and the Old Testament, we decided to approach Baylor with the idea of launching the Baylor Handbook on the Septuagint.

What do you see as the target audience for a book like this?

This is a difficult question to answer. The entire BHLXX series is designed with students as the target audience. However, the unique problems related to Septuagint studies—not to mention the complexities of any given LXX book and the general lack of LXX resources—mean that the series can be useful for both students and scholars. For example, I hope that my own handbook will prove useful for scholars looking for an introduction to critical issues in 2 Maccabees as well as a guide to some of the complexities of language and syntax in the book. Those who teach Greek may also find the handbooks very helpful for illustrating various grammatical constructions because each handbook includes a “Grammar Index” that catalogs all of the grammatical and syntactical decisions made in the handbook. For example, a teacher wishing to illustrate that the accusative case can function as the subject of an infinitive can point students to many examples in 2 Maccabees by consulting the examples listed in the index:

accusative subject (of infinitive), 1:18, 1:19, 1:22, 1:31, 2:3, 2:42, 2:11, 3:2, 3:3, 3:63, 3:12, 3:13, 3:15, 3:16, 3:18, 3:212, 3:24, 3:31, 3:32, 4:23, 4:3, 4:6, 4:14, 4:21, 4:302, 5:2, 5:3, 5:4, 5:6, 5:11, 6:1, 6:12, 6:20, 6:24, 6:29, 7:1, 7:52, 7:16, 7:372, 7:38

I imagine some of the handbooks on other LXX books will also be useful for scholars who are working on translation technique.

Many people haven’t had much of a reason to read 2 Maccabees. Tell us a little about its content and language.

Second Maccabees is an epitome (i.e., a shortened version of the work of one author) that tells the story of the Maccabean revolt, including the events leading up to and immediately following it. Unlike its similar namesake 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees presents a perspective on the Hellenization of Jerusalem that is overtly theological—e.g., miraculous accounts in the story present a theological perspective on divine judgment. In the story readers meet a fascinating cast of characters, including a number of Jewish martyrs who die for their ancestral religion in the face of persecution and a group of Maccabean heroes who defeat Jerusalem’s enemies and restore the temple, eventually establishing a new holiday celebrating the purification of the temple: Hanukkah.

Regarding the language of 2 Maccabees, the work is thoroughly Hellenistic and sophisticated. The epitomizer writes in a high register that resembles other Greek writers of his day (e.g., Polybius). I draw attention to a number of features in the handbook, but two examples of this may serve to whet readers’ appetites.

First, like some other writers of his day, the epitomizer utilizes the μέν/δέ construction at the end and beginning of major discourse units, respectively. For readers only familiar with Koine Greek this is an unusual thing to encounter. However, the effect is that μέν is used prospectively to push the reader along into the new discourse section and the δέ, which appears in the new section, helps readers see that the narrative is progressing and still connected to previous events. I refer to this as “the transitional use of μέν/δέ” in the handbook. There are several examples of this in 2 Maccabees, but one very clear example appears at the end of the martyrdom narraties (6:18–7:42) when the epitome introduces Judas Maccabeus in the story:

7:42Τὰ μὲν οὖν περὶ τοὺς σπλαγχνισμοὺς καὶ τὰς ὑπερβαλλούσας αἰκίας ἐπὶ τοσοῦτον δεδηλώσθω. 8:1Ιουδας δὲ ὁ καὶ Μακκαβαῖος καὶ οἱ σὺν αὐτῷ παρεισπορευόμενοι λεληθότως εἰς τὰς κώμας προσεκαλοῦντο τοὺς συγγενεῖς καὶ τοὺς μεμενηκότας ἐν τῷ Ιουδαϊσμῷ προσλαμβανόμενοι συνήγαγον εἰς ἑξακισχιλίους.

7:42Therefore, let this be enough said about the eating of pagan sacrifices and the tortures that exceed all bounds. 8:1Meanwhile Judas, the one also [called] Maccabeus, and those with him snuck into the villages secretly and called upon their kinsmen and enlisting those who remained in Judaism, they gathered together about six thousand.

It is very clear that 7:42 draws to a close the major discourse unit of 6:18–7:42 and it is equally clear that 8:1 introduces a new section in the narrative (along with a new major character). The μέν/δέ construction helps link the stories and facilitates a transition that informs readers of 2 Maccabees that the story is progressing.

Second, the author is very fond of hyperbaton, which refers to the “transposition” or separation of a word (or words) from its syntactical pair. There are far too many examples in 2 Maccabees to discuss the various patterns here, but one example is particularly interesting and occurs right at the opening of the author’s prologue:

2:19 Now, the story concerning Judas Maccabeus and the brothers of this one and the cleansing of the greatest temple and the dedication of the altar … 2:23b we shall attempt to epitomize.

When one starts reading the prologue in Greek (2:19-32) one encounters a string of accusatives (or, more precisely, accusative objects of κατά that are nominalized by the article τά, but I digress!) but no Greek verb. Five verses (and nearly 100 words) later the verbal construction that functions with these accusatives finally appears: πειρασόμεθα … ἐπιτεμεῖν (“we shall attempt to epitomize”). The epitomizer of 2 Maccabees very likely begins the prologue of the work in this way as a demonstration of his appropriation of literary culture and rhetorical skill.

What was your research and writing process like for this book?

My initial approach was to translate each chapter of 2 Maccabees using only a limited set of tools (e.g., lexicons and grammars). I often found myself diagramming some of the more complex Greek sentences just to make sure I was accurately reading the long and complex sentences! After I had an initial (rough) draft of my translation and the handbook proper, I read through commentaries, monographs, and articles on 2 Maccabees and engaged with them as necessary. This process brought about some new questions for me and also allowed me to refine my thinking on a number of issues.

My writing process was also helped greatly by students and colleagues who read sections of the handbook at various stages and provided feedback regarding its usefulness (or lack thereof). I thank these students and colleagues by name in the preface of the book, but I want to emphasize the importance of their feedback for improving my writing and pressing me for clarity.

Can you give us a sense for what the book layout is like?

Following the series introduction, I introduce readers to 2 Maccabees by discussing: (1) the Greek edition and translation of 2 Maccabees in this handbook, (2) the books of the Maccabees and the structure of 2 Maccabees, (3) the literary integrity of 2 Maccabees and its dating, (4) Greek verbs in 2 Maccabees, and (5) the language, style, and syntax of 2 Maccabees.

The heart of the book is the handbook proper, which provides a fresh translation of 2 Maccabees as well as detailed grammatical, syntactical, and exegetical notes on the Greek text. It is probably easier to show (rather than tell) what the handbook looks like:

Readers familiar with the Baylor Handbook series will recognize the format. In addition to the detailed comments on each syntactical unit, I also tried to offer some macro comments on many of the major sections, including summaries of linguistic elements that bring cohesion to the narrative, rhetorical patterns, and an overview of how verbs (especially aspectual choices) function in the narrative unit.

What other Septuagint books can we expect in this series in the foreseeable future?

There are several other contributors working on volumes of the BHLXX series. Readers can expect to see volumes on Amos, Isaiah, Exodus, Ecclesiastes, and several other books in the coming years. Additionally, my own volume on 2 Maccabees 8–15 should appear within the next year or so (it’s mostly done now, but needs a good edit!). We look forward to seeing the BHLXX series grow in the coming years.

4 comments

  1. Great interview, and thanks to both of you!

    Love that this series exists, or will soon.

    I think the comment about translation technique answered this question, but do you have a sense of how much authors will treat TT for books that were first written in Hebrew? I would imagine that as a challenge in writing… how much they talk about the Greek with respect to the Hebrew vs. just talking about the Greek as presented. I guess writing the first volume on 2 Maccabees is a good way to deal with that question later!

    Reading that example from 2Mac 2:19ff made me say, “No wonder he had to diagram!” Sheesh. Not for the faint of heart, but I guess if you can keep track of the cases and just be patient, the verb comes around eventually.

    Thanks again for this–great read. And much respect to both you and Seth.

    1. Thanks, Abram K-J! The BHLXX Series Introduction addresses the question of the relationship between the putative Hebrew Vorlage and the Greek text. When it’s available, I would recommend reading the full introduction. For now, I would say that the perspective adopted is very close to that found in John Lee’s book on the Greek of the Pentateuch and, of course, allowing for the idiosyncrasies of the given LXX book.

      You won’t have to wait too long for the next in the series (in which you will see Hebrew discussed). It’s in the editor’s hands now and we expect to release it in 2021.

      2 Maccabees is fun! If you haven’t worked through it yet, I hope the BHLXX will help motivate you to do so!

      -Seth Ehorn

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