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

LXX Translations Part III: La Biblia Griega

It is time for an overview of the third major modern translation of the Septuagint. If you haven’t been following along, I have been working on a multi-part series detailing the differences between  four recent or ongoing translations of the Greek Bible. Thus far we have done two of the four: NETS, and BdA (Part I and Part II). In this post, we’re going to move on to the Spanish translation, La Biblia Griega, or LBG.

This scholarly endeavor is published by Ediciones Sígueme in Salamanca under the directorship of eminent scholars Natalio Fernández Marcos and María Victoria Spottorno. The translation team is made up of ten to twelve scholars operating through the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) in Madrid. There will be no fewer than four volumes in this series when it is completed, and possibly a Companion volume in due course as well, a hefty printed set that will rival the German translation endeavors – no small feat!

The Modern Spanish Version

There are three volumes that have come out so far

I. Pentateuco (2008)   |   II. Libros históricos (2011)   |   III. Libros poéticos y sapienciales (2013)

CaptureThe fourth volume, IV. Libros proféticos, is yet to be produced but hopefully will soon. You can also read the samples from Volume IVolume II, and Volume III, which include the full Prologue and General Introduction for each. These introductions are very useful, exceeding those of NETS and on par with the introductions in Septuaginta Deutsch in terms of quality in my opinion, although with less bibliography.

The best thing about these volumes, besides the high caliber scholarship involved, is the price for each, which ranges from €29-49. If you are working in a particular part of the LXX corpus, these are well worth having on your shelf at that price point. I have Volume II for my work in LXX-Judges, and can confirm that they are nicely bound hardback volumes.

The LBG Approach to Translation

The real mastermind behind LBG is N. Fernández Marcos, whose statements regarding the Septuagint give clues to what the general translation approach is. He says, “I consider the Septuagint as a Classic” in Greek literature, and points to Luke “who imitates and adapts the Septuagint just like Virgil imitates Homer and adapts his work to the new situation” (2008, 284). Nevertheless, he qualifies himself by stating that each book is a “regular literary unit but we cannot consider the whole Septuagint as a literary unit. It is a heterogeneous work, translated or created by different authors in different times in places” (ibid, 288).

With respect to the Historical Books in particular, Fernández Marcos makes some pointed observations regarding what he understands as the autonomous nature of the Greek version of the OT. Within this corpus alone a variety of changes occur only in the LXX, such as the reorganization of the books, the inclusion of new books or added parts that are missing in the Hebrew Bible (e.g. I-III Maccabees, the additions to Esther), the presence of double texts like Judges, and the appearance of exegetical features in the textual transmission of the Greek that “notably modify” the Hebrew for contemporary needs (2011, 11). He states that these new elements

ponen de relieve una vez más la riqueza y originalidad de la Biblia griega como obra literaria autónoma respecto de la Biblia hebrea … En otras palabras, los Profetas Anteriores de la Biblia hebrea no sólo han sido traducidos, sino también transformados y ampliados* (ibid, emphasis mine).

Apples and Oranges?

N. Fernández Marcos

I structured this series as I did for a reason. Setting forth the principles of NETS and BdA first provides a study in contrast; two ends of a spectrum, so to speak, of the modern translation projects in Septuagint studies. NETS and BdA stand in relief most drastically, with LBG and LXX.D falling somewhere between. Fernández Marcos points this out when he says

We have taken a middle road between the English and French projects with regard to the emphasis put on the source language or on the reception of the Septuagint. In this respect, our approach is closer to the German project (2008, 288).

Translation of the Greek with Hebrew Context

The translation they aim to produce in Spanish is one that is “faithful to the original Greek” rather than the underlying Hebrew,” since only with this procedure will the specific features of the Greek Bible emerge” (ibid). While the original Hebrew is consulted at times for context, LBG is rendered “from the Greek text which we have in front of us, not from the Hebrew text that is behind it” (ibid, 289). The goal of this process is so that a reader with no Greek knowledge can access the LXX in content, but also in form and style. Speaking of this translation process, Fernández Marcos points out in somewhat enigmatic but agreeable prose that “the modern translator needs not only to dominate the target language but also to display a certain amount of fantasy in order to find the appropriate expressions” (ibid, 289).

The LXX as Independent Scriptural Replacement

In this way, LBG translates the Septuagint as a literary, independent work at the level of the book. The LBG team does not understand the Septuagint to have been meant to replace the Hebrew Bible or serve as “an ancillary instrument, pace Pietersma [and the NETS team], to read the Hebrew” (ibid). They take it that the LXX was meant for Jews who could not read Hebrew. Putting their approach in nice contrast with both NETS and BdA, Fernández Marcos states that

Unlike NETS that emphasizes the aspects of the LXX as interlinear translation from the Hebrew, subservient to the source langauge and in which the Hebrew is the arbiter of the meaning, and unlike La Bible d’Alexandrie that considers the LXX as an independent work and puts the accent on the reception history, our translation views the LXX as a literary work that replaced the Hebrew Bible in the Jewish-Hellenistic world (ibid, 290).

The emphasis of LBG, then, falls on the meaning of the Greek text for the Jewish-Hellenistic community within their own cultural and linguistic world.

The Spectrum of Modern Translations

I hope that by now, even with these very brief overviews, the “spectrum” of translation approaches to the Septuagint is becoming clearer, which now looks something like this, with the horizontal axis signifying the degree to which the Septuagint is conceived of as independent from the Hebrew text:

NETS     –>     LBG     –>     BdA

I will flesh out this “spectrum” (which will probably become a chart somehow) in time with other posts. As I pointed out at the beginning of this series, translating the Septuagint into a modern language is bound up with all kinds of other assumptions about the Greek of the Septuagint and the purpose for which it was to serve (and did serve). As Fernández Marcos puts it quite proverbially: “We should bear in mind that translating a translation is not simply translation” (ibid, 288).

Stay tuned for a review of the German translation, Septuaginta Deutsch (LXX.D).


*  … once again set in relief the richness and originality of the Greek Bible as an autonomous literary work with respect to the Hebrew Bible … In other words, the Former Prophets [Historical Books] of the Hebrew Bible are not only translated, but also transformed and amplified …

Natalio Fernández Marcos, “A New Spanish Translation of the Septuagint, ” pp. 283-91 in Translating a Translation, edited by H. Ausloos, J. Cook, F. García Martínez, B. Lemmelijn and M. Vervenne (Leuven: Peeters, 2008).

Fernández Marcos, Natalio, and María Victoria Spottorno Díaz-Caro, eds. La Biblia Griega Septuaginta. Vol. II. Libros Históricos. Biblioteca de Estudios Bíblicos 126. Salamanca: Ediciones Sígueme, 2011.

A Review of Goldingay’s “Do We Need the New Testament?

When I saw this volume advertised in the latest volume of BBR I knew I wanted to get my hands on it for a review. John Goldingay is professor of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, and is well-known for his recent three-volume Old Testament theology (1, 2, 3). His latest work is entitled Do We Need the New Testament? Letting the Old Testament Speak for Itself (2015). You can watch a 30-minute video here where Goldingay discusses the book at St. John’s College Nottingham.

Before getting to my review, the book is laid out as follows:

1. Do We Need the New Testament?
2. Why is Jesus Important?
3. Was the Holy Spirit Present in First Testament Times?
4. The Grand Narrative and the Middle Narratives in the First Testament and the New Testament
5. How People Have Mis(?)read Hebrews
6. The Costly Loss of First Testament Spirituality
7. Memory and Israel’s Faith, Hope, and Life
8. Moses (and Jesus and Paul) for Your Hardness of Hearts
9. Theological Interpretation: Don’t Be Christ-Centered, Don’t Be Trinitarian, Don’t Be Constrained by the Rule of Faith

The Long and Short of It

The first sentence of this book says “Yes, of course, we do need the New Testament, but why?” (7). In a nutshell, Goldingay is concerned for a proper (Christian) understanding of the Old Testament (which he calls the “First Testament”), one which avoids common pitfalls such as thinking the OT portrays an angry God while the NT presents Jesus strictly as a peacemaker. In this sense, Goldingay addresses the “‘problem’ of the relationship of the Testaments,” which he does mostly in chapters 1 and 9, with the in-between content extrapolating some of his claims (9).

Chapter 1 is the place to go for the short answer to the book’s title-question. There, Goldingay reviews his reasoning for why we do need the NT, which he does largely to contrast common assumptions about the lesser “importance” of the OT. I am going to focus on this content for the most part.

Why We Need the New Testament

1) Salvation – The NT tells us (four times) about Jesus’s life, and then dwells on its implications. Jesus took God’s activity in the OT to its “logical and ultimate extreme … [since in the OT] God had been paying the price for his people’s attitude to him, sacrificing himself for his people, bearing its sin,” etc. (12). Goldingay boldly states that “the gospel did not open up any new possibilities to people; those possibilities were always there” (14). Yet Jesus was a “necessary” part of God’s plan for his people, which has been the same from the start, now acted out in a “public” manner (13-14).

2) Narrative – Goldingay understands the Old and New Testaments to be a unified story, but also affirms that they do not have to be read that way. In other words, the OT can stand alone and yet would still give us much of the theology that is often construed as specific to the NT. Goldingay acknowledges Richard Hayes’ idea that Jesus’ death and resurrection were “completely unpredictable” based on the OT alone, but goes on to observe (quite rightly) that Jesus himself seemed well aware of what was coming even if it was “largely unpredicted” on the basis of the OT narrative (15). Still, the NT continues the narrative in a valid and coherent way.

3) Mission – Again Goldingay emphasises continuity: God’s desire for mission was there from the beginning. God’s choice of Israel as his own people did not exclude Israel’s role in blessing the nations. We do not need the NT “becasue otherwise we would not realize that God cared about the whole world,” but the NT does dislodge God’s mission from a singular geographical people group and spread it to congregations throughout the world (19).

4) Theology – Goldingay is keen to point out that the OT does not portray God only as a God of wrath (certainly Jews don’t think so), but that it also emphasizes his compassion and mercy, the very mechanism for his sustained relationship with Israel. Goldingay puts it plainly: Jesus “does not offer a new revelation of God in the sense of a different revelation, but he does give people a fresh one, providing them with an unprecedentedly vivid embodiment of the revelation they had [already in the OT]” (21, emphasis added).

5) Resurrection Hope – In Goldingay’s view, the hope of God’s people for “a bigger end to come after our death, an end that will mean our rising to a new life, with new bodies – or our going to hell” is “confined to the New Testament” (23). Although there are slight hints of resurrection (the Tree of Life in Eden, and Daniel 12), the OT gives the impression that “this life is all we have,” followed by the murky and quasi-neutral realm of Sheol (ibid.). Jesus, no the other hand, speaks more about the afterlife (specifically Hell) than anyone.

6) Promise and Fulfillment – The OT understands some of God’s promises to have been fulfilled in its own timeframe, as does the NT (such as Jesus’ resurrection). Reading 2 Cor 1:20, Goldingay distinguishes between the promises of God that are fulfilled by Christ and those that are confirmed. Jesus, he says, did not fulfill every one of God’s promises, but did “back them up” to highlight that God was at work in Jesus (26).

7) Spirituality –  Goldingay again emphasizes the continuity of the NT with the OT, saying that the NT acknowledges and affirms the ways of worshipping and praying that appear in the OT and “draws our attention to them” (28). It does so by indicating how “memory is key to praise and prayer” (29; expanded in chs. 6-7).

8) Ethics – What Goldingay calls “memory” he says relates to ethics as well as spirituality, as it places obligations upon us. This idea is explored in chapter 8, but Goldingay wishes to highlight how in Jesus’ fulfillment of the Torah and Prophets he also fills them out or up, in some sense “working out their implications” (31). What he said did not scandalize his hearers because it was “new,” but because they did not wish to hear what they already knew (or should/could have known).

Positives and Negatives

In terms of negative aspects of the book, to me it read a bit disjointedly. Many chapters begin with a footnote stating that it was drawn from an earlier conference paper or going into another edited volume. This is normal, of course, but I think to some extent the book suffers from a lack of focus on its rather glaring title. For instance, chapter 7, while interesting, did not clearly contribute to the overall aim of the book, at least as I understood it. I expect that Goldingay’s comment on p. 9 may provide some insight on this: “I’m working on a book on biblical theology, and you could also see this book as a statement of the assumptions that lie behind that book.” For better or worse, then, Do We Need the New Testament? is apparently a kind of “workbench” for another book. That doesn’t detract from its value per se, but it does have a few rough edges from a coherence point of view.

There are several substantive issues that some will find problematic (myself included). Goldingay has some puzzling views on God’s role in the application of salvation. On the one hand, he seems to affirm free will when he states that God’s people become such by choosing to “commit themselves” to God (42), yet he also states that we “cannot control” the Spirit (60), and that Jesus chose Paul, not vice versa (42). More problematically, however, in election Goldingay says that God “does not have in mind individuals,” but rather a “body,” so that those who do not respond to the Gospel do not do so “because they were not selected” (86-87). Precisely who constitutes the body of God’s elect is “utterly negotiable” to Goldingay, and wherever people reject the Gospel, God will go on to “dangle the truth more attractively or more forcefully” in front of others (87). How God could “dangle truth forcefully” is unclear at best, and in general these statements muddy the waters in Goldingay’s chapter on the Spirit.

On the other hand, ironically Goldingay has some helpful points precisely regarding the Holy Spirit’s presence in the OT (ch. 3). He notes the word/concept distinction, and points out that Israel was certainly acquainted with the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of “ordinary men and women, not just people such as kings and prophets” (57).

Of course, Goldingay’s overall goal of inspiring laypeople and biblical scholars to read the OT with care and awareness is commendable.  Goldingay also raises intriguing concerns about the so-called Christological/Christocentric hermeneutical model(s), claiming that they can detract from the way in which the OT speaks to the knowledge of God (not just Jesus). His final chapter is worth a close read in this regard, and it will hopefully spur continued reflection on the important issues at hand. Nevertheless, I found myself much in agreement with Goldingay insofar as he emphasizes the revelational continuity of the Testaments, and the redemptive-historical inevitability of the person of Christ, an emphasis that I think is somewhat less clear in his Old Testament Theology trilogy.


Thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing a review copy, which has not influenced my evaluation of the book.