International LXX Day 2021: The Upcoming Grinfield Lectures

Update 2/10/21: The lectures will be recorded (not the Q&A) and posted on the Oxford Centre webpage.

The glorious day of worldwide celebration is once again upon us. Happy International Septuagint Day to one and all! On this very occasion we celebrate the fifteenth year of this great festival, which was proclaimed as an eternal edict in 2006 by the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies (IOSCS).

If you want to learn more about International Septuagint Day — and let’s be honest, you do — then check out these posts from previous years:

ISC 2020    |    ISD 2019    |    ISD 2018    |    ISD 2017    |    ISD 2016
ISD 2015    |    ISD 2014

Each year I try to post something interesting for this occasion, and I don’t think this year will disappoint.

The 2021 Grinfield Lectures

I am particularly pleased to draw attention this year to the upcoming Grinfield Lectures on the Septuagint, which will be delivered by my esteemed Doktorvater, James K. Aitken

Since 2009, Aitken has been Reader in Hebrew and Early Jewish Studies at the Faculty of Divinity of the University of Cambridge. He is well known for his work in Septuagint research, but has an array of other interests and publications related to Judaism and the surrounding the cultures and languages of Late Antiquity. Needless to say, I am more than pleased with his appointment to the lectureship.

The appointment will stretch over three years, but it begins with a series of lectures delivered this month. Normally, these lectures would be delivered to an audience in Oxford, but since everything is insane nowadays they will instead occur via Zoom (details below).

Aitken has chosen to address the overarching theme of “The Septuagint and the History of the Book.” Here is the abstract (graciously provided by Jim via email):

Abstract: Attention to textuality and the history of the book has become a mainstay of many areas of historical research today. New Testament studies in particular have seen a surge in interest in the contribution of manuscripts as artefacts in ancient Christianity (e.g., Hurtado 2007, Nongbri 2018, Larsen 2018, Keith 2020). For ancient Judaism questions of textuality are gaining in importance (e.g., Zahn 2020), not least thanks to the considerable data from the Dead Sea Scrolls (cf. Tov 2004) coupled with theoretical considerations upon the concept of the book (Breed 2014; Mroczek 2016). Integration of Septuagint studies into the debate of such material cultures is a desideratum.

First, examination of the Septuagint (esp. the Pentateuch) in the light of the material evidence of the ancient world, can break new ground in understanding the origins, methods and purposes of these important translations. In particular, we can understand more of the ancient methods, social context and working environment of the translators from the papyri and archaeological data in Egypt. The working methods of the translators can be better appreciated from the perspective of ancient book culture (Series 1 of the lectures in 2021).

Second, the wider picture of the role of texts and scribal practices in Judaism are seldom brought into discussion with the Septuagint (Zahn 2020, for example, is a rarity). Through illustration from Septuagint revisions and from the sapiential books, some leading assumptions and working practices can be challenged both in the field of Septuagint studies and in the study of the book in ancient Judaism (Series 2 of the lectures in 2022). Through these lectures fresh evidence will be brought to bear upon the history of these important translations and their neglected importance for the writing culture of ancient Judaism will be demonstrated.

The first series of lectures occur this month and will focus on the material and scholarly culture of ancient scholarship through which the Septuagint came into existence. Here is an overview for each one:

Lecture 1: The Septuagint – A Translation among Translations

Study of translation in antiquity has tended to focus on theoretical discussions in literary sources, but this has the danger of prioritising theoretical, even idealised, pictures over the realities of practice. As an introductory lecture this will be an opportunity to consider the status and significance of the Septuagint within translation history, especially if we move away from the language of “uniqueness” that can tend to limit appreciation of its historical place and restrict the evaluation of its method. The lecture will explore the literary status of translations among communities in antiquity and draw comparative evidence from the Greek-speaking world. Utilizing evidence of translators in antiquity, their training methods, and the translations themselves, a clearer picture is gained of the sort of people who would have written translations and the practices they employed. This will lead to consideration of the status translations held within different traditions.

Lecture 2: The Septuagint, Editing, and Textual Production in Ancient Judaism

The idea that the Septuagint was edited while being completed is rarely considered and sometimes even denied. The functions that texts had in antiquity brings this into question, and the actual evidence of editing, on smaller and larger scales, from Greek papyri can be compared to translation technique within the Septuagint. The evidence suggests that the text could have been edited in the first writing of the Septuagint, a conclusion that then undermines some assumptions and modifies our view of “translation technique.” It lays the path to the issues of textual status and rewriting, and the open-ended nature of the ancient “book,” which will be discussed in Series 2.

Lecture 3: The Septuagint and Scribal Creativity in Egypt

Determining the physical appearance of the first copies of the Septuagint is mere speculation. Nonetheless, some derivations can be made from the material culture about the physicality of early editions of the Septuagint and the conceptual implications of what the translators thought their product was. Attention to some of the early Jewish papyri can contribute to this debate. This leads on to the question of the conceptual world that the translators inhabited. Were they Hebrew scribes or is there a distinct difference by being a Greek scribe in Egypt.

The schedule, along with links to the Zoom meetings, appears in the flyer below.


Some Background to the Lectures

But what exactly are the Grinfield Lectures, you ask? Good question…

The so-called Grinfield Lectures have occurred at slightly irregular intervals ever since their inauguration in 1861 by Edward William Grinfield (1785–1864). Although he was not an academic in the traditional sense, Grinfield was a graduate of Oxford (BA, MA) and an ordained minister in the Anglican Church, serving mostly in Bath and later in London in the thick of the Victorian Era.

Over the course of about fifty years, Grinfield published a variety of works in a surprising number of areas. These touched mostly on matters of religion in relationship to broader British politics and culture, but also on more arcane topics such as zoology and physiology. Somewhere along the way, he picked up an interest in the Septuagint, even publishing a 200-page “apology” (i.e., a defense) in 1850. Presumably it was that enthusiasm that led Grinfield to endow his eponymous lectures. 

The lectureship began roughly ten years later and has been filled by a number of highly-esteemed scholars. Among them are figures such as Edwin Hatch, Henry Redpath, Henry St. J. Thackeray, C. H. Dodd, G. R. Driver, G. B. Caird, Sidney Jellicoe, John Lee, and others. Congratulations to Jim for the rightful recognition of his work and his addition to such a list!


  1. This is all hugely interesting. I look forward to excellent lectures by a scholar who is a worthy successor to John Lee and other distinguished collegues. Teaching commitments make it hard for me to attend at the indicated time every day. Can the lectures be listened back on a later moment?

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