The 6th International Conference on the Septuagint in Wuppertal

Old Testament scholarship is pretty obscure stuff for most people on the street. But mention the word “Septuagint” and you’ll usually get even more muddled looks and occasionally a “God bless you” in puzzled response. Well, things don’t get any better from there as you get into sub-fields of this sub-discipline. 

Even within the small, fascinating world of Septuagint scholarship, the biannual Tagung held Wuppertal, Germany, is not terribly well known. Certainly not among casual “septuagintal hobbyists.” That is not to say that it isn’t very influential. To the contrary, in fact, this conference is one of the most important “think-tank” events in the discipline. Every two years it takes place at the Kirchliche Hochschule and attracts specialists in Septuagint scholarship from around the globe. The connection to that institution is the highly regarded Dr. Seigfreid Kreuzer, emeritus professor at the Hochschule and also (among other things) current editor-in-chief of the discipline’s own Journal of Septuagint and Cognate Studies.

The 6th LXX.D Conference

Although the page is sadly out of date, you can read (in German) about some of the previous Tagungen that have been part of the outrageously productive Septuaginta Deutsch research project over the years. I have written previously about their Septuaginta­übersetzung (LXX.D, 2 volumes), which is also accompanied by their commentary volume (LXX.E). I’ve also mentioned the ongoing Handbuch project (LXX.H), which is slated to be a massive eight volumes – Volume 1, edited by Dr. Kreuzer, is already available.

In addition to this (quite literally) voluminous output from scholars associated with this research initiative, there has also been a steady flow of edited volumes containing the essays presented at each LXX.D biannual conference in Wuppertal. Thus far, these have been published by Mohr Siebeck, and can be obtained for somewhere between €140-215 if you have extra pocket change.

Die Septuaginta – Texte, Kontexte, Lebenswelten (2006)
Die Septuaginta – Texte, Theologien, Einflüsse (2008)
Die Septuaginta – Entstehung, Sprache, Geschichte (2010)
Die Septuaginta – Text, Wirkung, Rezeption (2012)
Die Septuaginta – Orte und Intentionen (2014)

This year is the 6th international conference to be held in Wuppertal, from 21-24 July. This year’s theme and, presumably, the subsequent volume’s title is:

Die Septuaginta. Geschichte – Wirkung – Relevanz
(The Septuagint: History – Impact/Effect – Relevance)

My Contribution

I was pleased to get the opportunity to participate in this year’s conference.
When something like this comes along in the life of a young scholar, you scrape every penny of funding together that you can to make it happen. And make sure your wife is okay with it. Oh, and double check that you also have something worthwhile to say.

Thankfully, I have managed to coordinate all three (I love you, Kelli). I think the “have something worthwhile to say” criteria will be put to the test at the actual conference, but at least in theory my paper should fit in quite nicely with this year’s theme.

My abstract is as follows:

Title: “The Septuagint as Catalyst for Language Change in the Koine: A Usage-Based Approach”

Ever since Deissmann, scholars of Greek have increasingly recognized that the Septuagint embodies a corpus of language rightly categorized as the non-literary Koine of its time. Even now, current research efforts that take account of the documentary evidence continue to improve our understanding of Koine Greek per se, and precisely how the Septuagint fits within it. However, it is important also to evaluate how the Septuagint does not only embody the new linguistic features of Koine Greek, but also prompted and proliferated them. This paper adopts a linguistic perspective that recognizes how language as a system changes in response to the new uses to which it is put. The first section of this paper overviews the usage-based linguistic approach, focusing on the theory of language change put forward by William Croft (2000). In a second section, this theory is applied to a conventional Greek grammatical construction that was significantly propagated in the Septuagint, and which therefore became more entrenched in the language in general. The concluding section gives general comments on the social mechanisms of the translation of the Septuagint that made it a catalyst for language change

This paper comes partly out of previous research I had done for my dissertation. The grammatical construction I refer to in the abstract is what I call the “meeting construction” in the paper, which can be represented:

[Verb] + εἰς + [‘Meeting’ Noun] + [Modifier]

I had noticed some interesting trends in the use of this phrase in LXX-Judges, so this paper explores the construction in broader Greek sources, both biblical and nonbiblical. Much of the reading I have been doing in the past eight months or so is more methodology-oriented. My topic is primarily lexical semantics, so I have been digging more deeply into theoretical approaches to this area that could benefit my work (and Septuagint scholarship more generally, I hope).

If you’re interested in the paper in its draft form, let me know.


New Article on Old Testament Textual Criticism in ZAW

Today I wanted to focus on something that I mentioned back in my Spring Update post quite a while back. (If you’ve published in academic journals then you know how long it can take for these things to finally surface in print.) I am pleased to have had an article accepted in Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, or simply ZAW for those less inclined to pronounce long German phrases. The journal is published quarterly, and my piece will be in the upcoming September issue (127/3). According to their website, ZAW “has been the leading international and interconfessional periodical in the field of research in the Old Testament and Early Judaism for over one hundred years.” Needless to say, it is an honor to have my own work included in this journal.

The Main Points of Argument

My article is entitled “Text-Critical Question Begging in Nahum 1,2-8: Re-evaluating the Evidence and Arguments.” In it, I examine the text of Nahum 1, where many scholars have drawn attention to what is almost an acrostic (in the Hebrew text). There are a few letters missing, namely daleth, zayin, and yod lines, and so it is fairly common in critical commentaries for scholars to suggest various ways of emending the Hebrew text in order to “restore” the acrostic to its supposed proto-form. While this may sound somewhat reasonable, this near acrostic is also, admittedly, a partial acrostic. This means that it only spans part of the alphabet (just the first half) even in its theoretical “original” form. In my view, that makes the whole assumption that it is, in fact, supposed to be an acrostic, much more speculative and therefore suspect.

So what I do is examine each of the three places where there is a “wrong” letter and where emendations are usually proposed. I summarize common arguments for altering the Hebrew text in a way that “restores” the acrostic. For the most part these must build on versional information (mainly the Septuagint, but also Latin and the Peshitta), since there are no proper variants in the extant Hebrew manuscript tradition. Then, I examine the text of the acrostic in the Old Greek version of Nahum (Zeigler’s text) to evaluate the translation technique that characterizes that unit of the book (1:2-8). I show that the divergences in the Greek version from the Hebrew MT are better accounted for as features resulting from the process of translation rather than a different Vorlage, namely one that contained the theoretical “acrostic.” Finally, I martial the results of other scholars’ studies conducted in the LXX-Twelve Prophets, which is thought to have been translated by a single individual, to demonstrate how their characterization of the translation technique of the entire Twelve further corroborates the translational and textual trends present in LXX-Nahum 1:2-8 (and therefore my argument against a different Hebrew Vorlage).

Why Bother?

I don’t see any acrostic on that scroll, do you?

In the end, the “payoff” of my paper is to seriously challenge what has become a tradition of messing with the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible unnecessarily. While it is certainly true that the MT does occasionally need emending (based as it is upon a 10th century codex), making the decision to actually alter the Hebrew text is one that must be preceded by much careful investigation, constantly reevaluated in light of further textual evidence. One of the reasons for my interest in Septuagint studies stems from my concern for the Hebrew text of Scripture. When examined from a text-critical standpoint, scholars of the Hebrew Bible must reckon with the Septuagint. Yet so often this does not happen, or does not happen very convincingly because of the technical nature of many aspects of Septuagint scholarship. (Hence, in part, this blog!)

When it comes to the so-called “acrostic” of Nahum 1:2-8, I find it much more interesting and exegetically rewarding to reckon with the possible reasons that the text is, in fact, nearly an acrostic … but not quite. I believe Tremper Longman’s view is fairly satisfactory here as he takes a literary critical approach: in the context, the judgement and wrath of the Lord brings upheaval upon all of creation to such a massive extent that even the very text involved in describing it is jarred and disrupted.* To me this approach to the text of Nahum 1 rightly expects much of the literary capabilities of biblical authors, and of the competence and meticulousness of later scribes.

Unfortunately, I can’t distribute the article itself in PDF form. But you can find it shortly in the forthcoming ZAW.


*Tremper Longman, “Nahum,” in The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical and Expository Commentary, ed. Thomas E. McComiskey (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009): 765–830.