Septuagint Scholar Interview: Raija Sollamo

It is a distinct pleasure for me to post another Septuagint scholar interview in my ongoing series of posts (see numerous others here). Today we have the privilege of hearing from a very well established scholar in the discipline, Dr. Raija Sollamo, who is professor emerita of Biblical Languages in the Faculty of Theology at the University of Helsinki.

Aside from her work in Septuagint scholarship, Dr. Sollamo also has the distinct privilege of having been the first female professor in the field of theology in Finland and was elected the 1994 Woman of the Year by the Finnish business and Professional Women Association. As you will see in her interview below, Dr. Sollamo has also played a significant role in carrying on and expanding study of the syntax of the Septuagint in Finland.

The Interview

Can you describe how you first became interested in LXX studies, and your training for the discipline?

The initiative came from my teacher, Professor Ilmari Soisalon-Soininen. He was my teacher in Biblical Hebrew and Greek at the Faculty of Theology at the University of Helsinki. In his view, I was an excellent student and he was impressed. Actually, languages were easy for me and I was very much interested in the grammars and structural features of the languages. When I finished my courses in Biblical Hebrew and Greek, he said to me that he expected me to continue my studies in Biblical languages at the Philological Department. Therefore, I studied both Classical Greek and Semitic languages with Professor Henrik Zilliacus and Professor Jussi Aro for several years beside my theological studies. When it was time for me to choose my major, Soisalon-Soininen launched a Septuagint seminar on translation technique. I participated in the seminar and became fond of Septuagint studies, especially translation technique. At that time, Soisalon-Soininen published his master work Die Infinitive in der Septuaginta (1965) and knew the methods that should be used in studying translation technique. He became famous as a researcher of LXX translation technique. He invited me to continue his work. At that time he had only few students.

Actually, I had planned to take New Testament studies as my major because I suggested that they might be more useful for my future career as a teacher of an upper secondary school. When Soisalon-Soininen persuaded me to become a Septuagint scholar, I asked him frankly what use it is to study the Septuagint.  He was embarrassed by my straight question but tried to answer as well as he could. He emphasized the great significance of the LXX for the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible. He referred to the fact that the LXX study often forms the basis for further studies of the New Testament and its Koine Greek. He also mentioned that when the Bible sometimes will again be translated into Finnish, the knowledge of the Septuagint is indispensable. He also appealed to an argumentum ad hominem by stating that it is really a pity if his work is in vain because nobody continues it.

I can say that his persuasion made me a Septuagint scholar. Never have I regretted it. The master’s thesis was my first version of Greek renderings of Hebrew semiprepositions. Meantime, I continued until the licentiate degree in Classical Greek and Semitic languages. When I wrote my doctoral thesis on Renderings of Hebrew Semiprepositions in the Septuagint, I benefitted greatly from my philological studies. I consulted Koine sources to compare the LXX Greek expressions with the Koine idioms. These comparisons were my minor, but significant innovation to the study of translation technique. I was able to distinguish several categories of Hebraic features in the LXX translation. Great ideas of my teacher were

1) that different renderings can only be compared with each other if they are translations of the same Hebrew expression and

2) that the material to be examined should cover all the cases at least in one whole book.

Small scale investigations on one or two chapters run the risk of coming to results that are not representative for the whole book. The main thing was to compare the different translators/books with one another to see what were their stereotyped or favourite renderings, what was the quality of their Greek, and how literally they adhered to their Hebrew parent text (Vorlage).

One important aspect in my education was to participate in international congresses of LXX studies. My first congress was Uppsala in 1971. There I realized that English was the language of LXX studies. Earlier I had planned to write my doctoral thesis in German which was my first foreign language – after Swedish, of course – at school. I immediately decided to change to English. I had had a short course in English at the upper secondary school but my English skills were not sufficient for writing a doctoral thesis. I had to study more English – also the spoken language which was totally unfamiliar to me. At that time the emphasis in learning foreign languages at school was in the translating in that you could translate from a foreign language into Finnish and from Finnish to a foreign language. No greater efforts were made to teach us to speak or listen to foreign languages. This literary approach – as unpractical as it was – was, nevertheless, for me an excellent education for the study of dead languages and ancient translations.

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

In June 1982 I was nominated an associate professor of Biblical Languages at the University of Helsinki. I was the first female professor ever at the Theological Faculty of the University of Helsinki. It implied that the larger society demanded me to take a stand on issues of equality between the sexes and female priesthood which was not yet approved by the Finnish Church. At the university I was a role model for female students. I was often invited to give public lectures and I was interviewed by media (TV, radio and newspapers…). At the university I had to preside the committee the mission of which was to write the first plan for equality work at the University of Helsinki.

My duty at the university was to teach students of theology both Biblical Hebrew and Koine Greek. At times I had a possibility to teach a Septuagint course as well, such as the chapters 1-12 in LXX Genesis or give a seminar in Bible translations. This seminar was given after our majority church, the Evangelic Lutheran Church of Finland, had prepared a new Bible translation into Finnish, a project in which I also participated. In my teaching I integrated LXX studies whenever it was possible and relevant. For instance, when I gave a course in New Testament Theology, we studied Martin Luther’s famous pillar for the righteousness of faith in Rom. 1:17b in the light of its New Testament (Gal. 3:11 and Hebr. 10:38) and Hebrew Bible and LXX parallels (Hab. 2:4) including textual variation. In elementary courses in Greek I integrated my knowledge of Septuagint Greek whenever it was relevant. There appear a number of features in New Testament Greek that remain strange for the students if they do not know the Semitic (Hebrew / Aramaic) background.

Usually, it was not allowed for an associate professor to supervise doctoral theses, but when I started to have doctoral students in LXX studies, my colleague Professor Timo Veijola, ordinarius Professor of the Old Testament exegesis and my superior, allowed me to supervise the theses both in the field of the Septuagint and Qumran studies. My first doctoral students in translation techniques of the LXX were Seppo Sipilä and Anssi Voitila. The former published his doctoral thesis on translations of clause connections introduced by we and ki in LXX Joshua and Judges.[1] The latter scrutinized the usage of Greek tenses present and imperfect in the Greek Pentateuch.[2] Meanwhile I had published a new study on Repetition of Possessive Pronouns in the Septuagint.[3] When they defended their doctoral theses, I was a full-time vice-rector of the University of Helsinki and had not much time for my students (1998-2003). The rector, however, permitted me to have one day a week to supervise my students. I had two students in the Septuagint, Elina Perttilä and Christian Seppänen who wrote their master theses on the translation technique under my supervision, but afterwards moved to my successor Professor Anneli Aejmelaeus in order to write their doctoral theses. I remained the second supervisor for them both.

Since 1980’s I gave several lecture courses and seminars on the Dead Sea Scrolls. We started from the basics: the language and the content of the main scrolls from Cave 1. The Qumran studies were conducted with great enthusiasm by the students – and by me. The field was quite new for me, too. I learned together with my students. The students participated in the seminars and wrote their master theses on the scrolls. In all the seminars one task of the students was to translate the Hebrew (or Aramaic) text into Finnish. With my students I have published several minor or more comprehensive collections of DSS texts into Finnish, first volume in 1992, the second in 1997, the third in 2015 and the fourth in 2017. These volumes were the first time the DSS texts were translated into Finnish. The study and translating brought great satisfaction for all of us. We had the feeling that we could serve our society and culture with our knowledge. During my career I have supervised more doctoral theses in Qumran studies than in the LXX. Most of those doctoral students published their doctoral theses in English and are internationally well-known, for instance Sarianna Metso, Juhana Saukkonen, Jutta Jokiranta, Hanne von Weissenberg, Mika Pajunen, Hanna Tervanotko, and Hanna Vanonen. We have concentrated on those texts that were possibly written by the members of the Qumran community or of the Qumran movement. The education of this number of doctoral students had not been possible without the contacts with experts met and heard in Qumran congresses and without the help of my international colleagues, such as Florentino Garcia Martinez, Michael Knibb, Rudolf Stegemann, George Brooke, Annette Steudel, Armin Lange, and last but not least Eileen Schuller. All of them I owe a great debt of gratitude.

In the beginning of 2000’s we founded a Nordic Net for Qumran Studies. The network was financed by NordForsk. The coordination was conducted in Helsinki, but the leader of the network was Thorleif Elgvin from Norway. We had partners from all the Nordic countries except for Island and held congresses in Nordic countries. One congress was also held in Jerusalem. We made an excursion to Qumran and the caves and to the Israel Museum of Antiquities.  We learned to know our Nordic colleagues and we also invited guest speakers from the other countries. It was a fruitful education for our doctoral students and gave new impetus to Nordic projects on new translations of the Qumran texts. Working together brings much joy and creates strong friendships. After my retirement I still started a new Qumran project on the religious and social identity of the Qumran Movement. In that project Mika S. Pajunen, Hanna Tervanotko and Hanna Vanonen wrote their doctoral theses.

One of my last duties as a Biblical scholar –  even though I was already retired at that time – was to act as the President of the International Society for Old Testament and Cognate Studies in 2007-2010. The mission was to arrange the international congress for Old Testament and Cognate Studies in 2010 in Helsinki. Luckily, I had many students and colleagues who participated in the preparation of the congress. Dr. Jutta Jokiranta acted as the congress secretary with great success. The congress was the last stop in my career. After that I have supervised my last students, participated in international congresses and written a LXX article now and then.

This is the life I have wanted to live. I am very grateful for those years.

A Word of Thanks

As usual, I am very grateful to Dr. Sollamo for her time and effort responding to these interview questions, which I have very lightly edited for English style. I have always loved hearing how well-respected scholars got into this field of study and getting a bit of a retrospective. As a final note, I would like to say that I also owe Dr. Sollamo an apology for taking so very long to post this interview, which she completed for me in mid-2020! I trust that my readers will know it was well worth the wait.


[1] Seppo Sipilä, Between Literalness and Freedom. Translation technique in the Septuagint of Joshua and Judges regarding the clause connections introduced by we and ki. Publications of the Finnish Exegetical Society 75. The Finnish Exegetical Society in Helsinki – Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht in Göttingen, 1999.

[2] Anssi Voitila, Présent et imparfait de l’indicatif dans le Pentateuque grec. Une étude sur la syntaxe de traduction. Société d’Exégèse de Finlande à Helsinki – Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht in Göttingen, 2001.

[3] Septuagint and Cognate Studies 40.Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press. 1995.

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