Graduate Studies

LXX Scholar Interview: Dr. Jan Joosten

joosten1Today I have the pleasure of presenting another of my LXX Scholar Interviews, this time with Dr. Jan Joosten, who is currently the Regius Professor of Hebrew at the University of Oxford. If you didn’t see the post previously, you can listen to his inaugural lecture here.

To repeat some of what I have said before, if you are interested in Old Testament textual studies, you will have almost certainly run into his work. If you are a graduate student interested in Old Testament and/or Septuagint studies, you should strongly consider getting in touch with Jan about supervising. Either way, I am sure that this interview detailing his “academic biography” will prove interesting and shed some light on Jan’s qualifications and activity in the discipline of Septuagint.

The Interview

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

After a licentiate in Protestant Theology in Brussels (1981) and a one-year degree at Princeton Theological Seminary (ThM 1982), I received a scholarship to study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. From 1982 to 1985 I studied textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible, and many other things, with Moshe H. Goshen-Gottstein. Among the other seminars I took was one on the Septuagint with Emanuel Tov. But I really got into Septuagint studies only much later, in 1994, after getting my first teaching job at the Protestant Faculty of the University of Strasbourg.

As professor of biblical languages I was expected to teach a research seminar for masters students. I figured the Septuagint would be a fitting subject, since the students were supposed to have had at least one year of Hebrew and Greek. I proposed a seminar on the Septuagint of Deuteronomy 32, which was a success (I had four students). In the following years I continued to teach the course on various biblical chapters. My research on the version developed from the teaching in this seminar (my first article on the LXX: “Elaborate Similes—Hebrew and Greek. A Study in Septuagint Translation Technique” Biblica 77 [1996], 227-236, was spun out from an observation on Deut 32:11).

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

In 1997 I approached the Bible d’Alexandrie group in Paris and they proposed I should take on the volume on Hosea. With colleagues in Strasbourg, notably Eberhard Bons and Philippe Le Moigne, I began to work on the translation and annotation of this biblical book. In 2002 our work was published in the series. The Bible d’Alexandrie has made a crucial contribution
to LXX studies because it embodies the approach of the version as a text in its own right. Among biblical scholars the LXX has often been—and continues to be—studied as an ancillary text: a collection of variant readings in textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible, or a source of religious terms in New Testament exegesis. In Antiquity, the Septuagint was read simply as Scripture, among Hellenistic Jews first, and later among Greek-speaking Christians.

My personal contribution to the study of the LXX is for the most part tied to linguistic phenomena situated at the interface between the Hebrew source text and the Greek translation. Language is a subtle instrument, expressing not only a propositional meaning, but also, at times, revealing other details: on the culture and background of the translators, on their knowledge of Hebrew, on their approach to the source text, and much else. A sample of articles has been published in my book: Collected Studies on the Septuagint. From Language to Interpretation and Beyond (FAT 83; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2012). Some of the articles are available on academia.edu.

3) How have you integrated LXX studies into your work as a professor?

In Strasbourg I taught the seminar on the Septuagint yearly for almost twenty years, sometimes with my colleague Madeline Wieger. In 2014 I was appointed Professor of Hebrew in Oxford. I use the Septuagint in classes on textual criticism, but do not teach it as such. My close colleague, Professor Alison Salvesen does teach Septuagint regularly.

4) How has the field changed since you’ve been involved?

At some point, in the early 2000s, I thought Septuagint studies would go mainstream, causing a long overdue upheaval in biblical studies. Now I’m not so sure. The OT – NT divide is as strong as ever, it leaves little space for Septuagint studies (except as an ancillary text, see above, question 2).

5) For the benefit of graduate students who are potentially interested in LXX studies in doctoral work, what in your opinion are underworked areas and topics in need of further research?

A lot of work remains to be done on the vocabulary of the Septuagint (see the next question). Also important is research on single translation units of the Septuagint: practically each book comes with its own challenges and opportunities. Although lately a few studies on the style of the Septuagint have appeared, this is also a field that remains largely unexplored.

6) What current projects in Septuagint are you working on?

Together with Eberhard Bons I’m editing the Historical and Theological Lexicon of the Septuagint, a projected four-volume work offering for each significant word of the Septuagint an article detailing: a) its use in classical and Hellenistic Greek, b) its transformations (if any) in the Septuagint, and c) its usage in writings depending on the Septuagint. The first volume, with 150 articles, should be published in 2016. [Editor’s note: a volume of essays related to the HTLS can be found here, and see image to right.]

7) What is the future of Septuagint studies?

The near future is when all the books of the Septuagint will finally be available in a full-scale critical edition. A more distant, and perhaps utopic, future is one where the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls will be fully integrated into biblical studies.

Wrapping Up

Thanks to Dr. Joosten for his willingness to do this interview, and, of course, for his prolific and scholarly work in the field. Stay tuned to this series for further interviews with other scholars working in Septuagint. Feel free to comment below with scholars you’d like to hear from, or questions of interest.

Exegeting the Septuagint Psalms – 2016 Course at Trinity Western University

Just a quick post today to publicize the 2016 course at Trinity Western University’s John William Wevers Institute for Septuagint Studies, near Vancouver, B.C. If you’re interested in advanced coursework in Septuagint, you should go. I have posted in the past about graduate programs that focus on Septuagint studies in North America – the short story is that there aren’t many. However, the Wevers Institute is the only place in North America where a full-fledged Septuagint degree is offered, as both a Master of Theological Studies and the shorter Master of Theology. If you are interested in LXX studies, you should definitely look into this program.

This year’s seminar will be led by Dr. Cameron Boyd-Taylor, a very prolific and respected scholar in the field.  Along with Dr. Albert Pietersma, Boyd-Taylor is one of the most vocal proponents of the Interlinear Paradigm for interpretation of the Septuagint. If you don’t know what that is, then please understand that you cannot be a Septuagint scholar without wrapping your mind around and engaging it. This seminar will be a fantastic way to get familiar with the concept of “interlinearity” from a (the?) leading scholar currently employing it. And it is not an uncontested issue!

The Wevers Institute also benefits from several excellent scholars, including Drs. Robert Hiebert (director), Larry PerkinsDirk Büchner, and Peter Flint, each of whom are working on Pentateuchal commentaries in the SBLCS.

Seminar Details

The seminar will be 3 credit hours and is entitled Exegeting the Septuagint Psalms: Theory, Method and Interpretation. It will be held from May 30 – June 3 of this year. I can personally attest to the benefits of traveling to the Vancouver area for this event. It’s a beautiful region that you won’t regret visiting. However, if you can’t swing the trip, the Wevers Institute is also offering live-streamed video sessions. The course description includes:

Students will study the translation technique, language and ideology of the text with a view to understanding the larger methodological and interpretive issues, and they will be introduced to the foundational principles and methodology of the above-mentioned research initiatives.

If you’re interested, email acts@twu.ca. Check out the poster below for more details:

2016 LXX Poster

A Review of Comfort’s “A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament”

While it may seem a little bit out of my usual strike zone on this blog, I was interested in having a look at the newest edition of Philip Comfort’s A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament (Kregel Academic, 2015), pp. 448, hardback. My work and research interests are grounded in all things Old Testament, however much of my daily grind involves a fair bit of heavy-duty textual-criticism in the Greek versions of the Bible. Doing research in the Septuagint version of Judges requires that I dive into the manuscript evidence for that Greek translation, and one of the side-effects of doing so is that I am interested in New Testament textual-criticism as well.

This handy volume is billed as “an up-to-date commentary on all the significant manuscripts and textual variants of the New Testament,” and it certainly lives up to its description. It’s cleverly shaped just like your NA27 (or if you’re cutting-edge and nit-picky, your NA28), and so it sits nicely next to your Greek New Testament and, of course, your Rahlfs-Hanhart Septuaginta.

The essential purpose of this book is to provide a passage-by-passage guide to textual reliability, the variants, and specific translation issues that arise in the New Testament. Additionally, Comfort has commented upon the qualities of the manuscripts that make up the textual evidence for the New Testament in order to help the scholar and exegete evaluate significant textual issues. When you come across a variant in the NT text, deciding between readings must be based upon a number of factors. As the famous NT scholars Westcott and Hort stated, knowledge of the documents where the variants are found must precede decisions about the textual variants themselves. These external factors that influence text-critical decisions include the tendencies of the scribe of a particular manuscript (including scribal reception), textual purity (i.e., number of variants compared to other witnesses and/or the supposed autograph), approximate date, region of discovery, and so on. In turn, the internal factors for text-criticism rely upon the so-called “Canons” of the discipline, such as proclivi scriptoni praestat ardua (“the more difficult reading is preferred”). These are briefly but helpfully explained by Comfort on pp. 29-31.

If you have ever undertaken serious NT textual criticism – or even had to write a graduate paper that wades through this area of scholarship – then you already know how useful a tool like this book will be for doing much of this spadework for you and getting huge amounts of data into concise and centralized format.

What’s in the Book

Comfort spends the first two chapters of the book dealing with various textual issues in the NT, and providing his annotated list of NT manuscripts. In chapters 3-9, he then walks through the NT books in chunks as follows:

  • Ch. 3 – Synoptic Gospels
  • Ch. 4 – Gospel of John
  • Ch. 5 – Acts
  • Ch. 6 – Pauline Epistles
  • Ch. 7 – Hebrews
  • Ch. 8 – General Epistles
  • Ch. 9 – Revelation

I was quite pleased and surprised to find that Comfort has also included some interesting and useful material on the Nomina Sacra, and their relevance to textual-criticism (see pp. 31-41, Appendix II). Best of all is that this material is directed towards NT text-criticism and also aspects of the Greek Old Testament where the divine names are also a prominent textual issue.

Reflections

Not specializing in New Testament textual criticism per se, I do not have much negative feedback. However, from that perspective I must say that I found myself wishing there was a Glossary of Terms in this volume. No doubt, Old Testament and New Testament textual criticism operate on similar principles in some ways, but in other ways these tasks are quite different. I think the average reader would likely benefit from a clarification of terms used throughout a book like this. Nevertheless, this book is a must-have for students of New Testament, and considering the fair price it is a worthwhile investment.

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Thanks to Kregel Publications for the complimentary review copy, which has not influenced my opinions.