Linguistics

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Although the page is sadly out of date, you can read (in German) about some of the previous Tagungen that have been part of the outrageously productive Septuaginta Deutsch research project over the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.

 

Upcoming Presentations at SBL 2016

Remember the Alamo! (And the book exhibit. Never forget the book exhibit)

It’s still six months away, but there’s increasing buzz already about the 2016 Biblical Studies conference season. This year, ETS, IBR, and SBL will be held in San Antonio, Texas, between the 15th-22nd of November. I’ve said this many times before, but the annual conferences are a great experience, if completely exhausting. If you are a poor graduate student interested in going, you should definitely consider it (something I’ve posted about here and here). I have repeatedly benefited from joining and participating in the biblical studies societies ever since I was in my master’s degree program, so I always recommend it to others.

Each year I attend, these conferences get more enjoyable. This is due mostly to the fact that I have gotten to know more and more people, and attending the conferences is sometimes the only place I will see them and get to catch up. Another reason they get better over time is by participating. I’ll be presenting at ETS and/or SBL for my third year now (here and here) and I have found that it’s always worth the time for useful feedback from colleagues.

Upcoming Presentations

As I mentioned in my last post, this year’s Septuagint Studies session at ETS will be an exciting event. Since I am on the steering committee and presented at the inaugural panel for this session in 2015, I won’t be presenting anything at ETS this year. However, I am really jazzed to see what kind of crowd shows up for what is a stellar lineup of biblical scholars talking about one of my favorite subjects.

Although I wasn’t sure it would work out this way, I have two presentations scheduled for the SBL conference. “How unwise,” you may think, “You’ll never get two quality papers written.” Well, yes that may be true, but it is just slightly more feasible than my predicament last year, when I had three presentations. So writing two papers seems quite manageable to me at this point.

The IOSCS Session

As someone involved in Septuagint studies, I’ve been a member of IOSCS for several years, and I’m looking forward to presenting at this session at SBL for the third time. Because of a family health crisis that began in summer of 2015, I have had to step away from my dissertation for this academic year and focus on other important things. Thankfully, however, I have been able to stay active in various personal projects, one of which is the paper I’ll be presenting at the IOSCS session (and which is an outgrowth of part of my dissertation research).

The title of this paper is “The Lexical Value of the Septuagint for the Koine: The Use of ΠΑΡΑΤΑΞΙΣ in Marcus Aurelius,” and it will focus on one particular use of παράταξις in the Confessions. In the midst of discussing valorous ways to die as a devout Stoic, Aurelius uses Christians as a counter-example, stating that their manner of martyrdom is disdainful. The phrase where the reference occurs is disputed as a late scribal insertion, however, in part because it is one of the earliest references to Christians in ancient secular literature. But another reason is because the use of παράταξις in the phrase is difficult to construe. My paper will look at contemporaneous usage of the word (a considerable amount of which occurs in the LXX) and engage with the arguments for and against the phrase’s meaning and originality. This will also demonstrate the value of the Septuagint as a legitimate kind of lexical “database” for standard Greek usage (hence the paper title).

The Cognitive Linguistics in Biblical Interpretation Session

My second paper will be in a session that I’ve never participated in before, Cognitive Linguistics in Biblical Interpretation. This may seem like a random juke in terms of the general focus of my research. But I’ve been interested in cognitive linguistics for several years now, and a lot of my research requires that I read in theoretical linguistics anyway. The fascinating book featured right (which I’ll be reviewing for BBR in time) is just one example of the growth of this approach in biblical studies.

The paper I’ll be presenting here is called “‘Build Up the Walls of Jerusalem’: The Cognitive Unity of Psalm 51.” The idea for this actually grew out of a piece I wrote for the Gospel Coalition. In sum, it’s common to read in commentary upon Ps. 51 that the last “chunk” of the psalm (usually vv. 15ff) was a later addition. The reason often given is that the sudden “topic” shift in v. 15 and mention of (what sounds like) a destroyed Jerusalem in v. 18 exhibits a second and later (i.e., postexilic) hand. My paper will examine this psalm from a “cognitive” perspective and demonstrate its unity and coherence in the face of the typical redaction critical conclusions.

Plenty of Time … Right?

Of course, these papers don’t exist yet. I’ll need to write them at some point. The challenge, I often find, is translating a proposal into a full-blown paper that is worthwhile and constructive … oh, and doing it on time for the conferences. Hopefully the next six months will allow just that to happen!

Did Jesus Speak Greek? by G. Scott Gleaves (A Response Essay)

Sometimes I forget where books come from. But recently I received a book that I must have requested somewhere along the way – G. Scott Gleaves, Did Jesus Speak Greek? The Emerging Evidence of Greek Dominance in First-Century Palestine (Wipf and Stock: 2015). I have been fascinated by this question for some time, so I was keen to read this volume and see where it went. The author G. Scott Gleaves is the Dean and Associate Professor of New Testament Studies and Christian Ministry of V. P. Black College of Biblical Studies and Kearley Graduate School of Theology at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama. After reading the book, I felt the existential pang to write up a response.

Table of Contents

  • Foreword by Rodney Eugene Cloud
  • Ch. 1 – Did Jesus and Hist Disciples Speak Greek?
  • Ch. 2 – The Emerging Dominance of Greek in First-Century CE Palestine
  • Ch. 3 – The Linguistic Proficiency in Greek of Some of the Primary Disciples of Jesus
  • Ch. 4 – Aramaic and Portions of the Greek New Testament
  • Conclusion & Backmatter

The Presence of Greek in Palestine

Gleaves opens by noting how the so-called Aramaic Hypothesis is problematic. To say that some kind of Aramaic source(s) lie behind the Gospels is questionable in Gleaves’ opinion, owing to the prevalence of Greek in the world of 1st c. Palestine. Gleaves proposes rather sweepingly that “within the region of Galilee in Roman Palestine in the first century CE, Greek became the dominant language spoken among Jews and Gentiles” (xxiv, emphasis original). No one doubts Jesus spoke Aramaic, as Palestine was distinctly multilingual in general. But to Gleaves, the Babylonian lingua franca had given way to Koine Greek, so the question he aims to address in the volume is whether Jesus also or even primarily spoke Greek (or other languages).

To answer this, he draws on a variety of sources. Here’s a small sample:

First, rabbinic literature seems to presume Greek was spoken among Jews in general, such as m. Meg. 1:8, which, although dated to the 2nd c. CE, may reflect earlier tradition:

Rabban Simion b. Gamaliel says, ‘Also: in the case of sacred scrolls: they have been permitted to be written only in Greek’

Secondly, diaspora Jews had spoken Greek for centuries by the time of Christ and long written in Greek (e.g., Philo). Moreover, NT authors often (if not mostly) cited “Scripture” (i.e., the OT) from its Greek version, the Septuagint. Specific to Palestinian Jews, Hengel has shown decisively the influence of Hellenistic culture in the region, and archaeological realia confirm that Greek was present in Palestine as early as the 3rd c. BCE, even if it was not the primary spoken language. Josephus too comments that he “labored hard” to learn Greek, though his “native tongue” prevented him from pronouncing it properly (Ant. 20.12). Moreover, nonliterary documentary evidence from the early 2nd c. CE has been found in Palestine, written in Greek and, moreover, even from a “Jewish nationalist perspective” that ordinarily eschewed things Hellenistic (13). Jewish signage from the mid-1st c. communicated with Gentiles in Greek also, demonstrating Jewish capability in the language at the time of Jesus (if also cultural-linguistic resistance).

Third, though the extrabiblical evidence is not conclusive, it is weighty and, says Gleaves, more convincing still when paired with biblical evidence (see 14-24). Most of his examples here deal with Jesus interacting with Romans, arguing that their linguistic common denominator would have been Greek, not Aramaic or Hebrew (see John 7:35). But Gleaves argues also that Jesus would have “by necessity” learned Greek and used it in his home town of Galilee, likely close to Sepphoris in the Hellenistic Decapolis (18). And Jesus appears familiar with the Greek OT in Matt. 4, as do some NT authors (e.g., Acts 2). Also, Jesus’ use of certain Aramaic phrases in Mark (e.g., talitha cumi in 5:41) seems to indicate that Jesus accommodated to those who could only speak Aramaic, which suggests that Greek was the commoner language (23). Futher, Mark’s translation of these transliterated phrases into Greek indicates his audience did not understand Aramaic phrases well, if at all.

A Problematic Conclusion

This is all well and good (and generally persuasive). But I wish to focus on one major point that Gleaves makes. Having argued extensively for the predominance of Greek in 1st c. Palestine, Gleaves acknowledges the distinctly Semitic characteristics of NT Greek. In order to explain this phenomenon, he argues that in the period of transition between Aramaic and Greek in Palestinian Jewish communities, their Greek would have had a “Semitic flair,” (164) equivalent to a “hybrid” Palestinian dialect (quoting Robertson, 185). I will discuss this problematic claim in more detail below.

Reflections and Response

Weighing in at just shy of 190 pages, this monograph is on the shorter side when you consider the subject matter and universe of literature potentially involved. Still, a fair range of primary evidence is employed throughout aside from Scripture, such as Jewish literature, ostraca, papyri, inscriptions and so on. Overall, Gleaves has done a good job building his case for early-1st c. CE Jewish fluency in Greek and general Hellenization. It was, however, unclear to me that this case was based on much more than a synthesis of secondary literature. Where primary evidence is cited, in many (not all) cases the conclusion drawn from it is a block quote from another scholar who presumably cited the same evidence in her or his own work (e.g., 36, 39, 42, 45, 47, 48, 57, 60). There is a huge amount unexplored, nonliterary documentary evidence that is awaiting fresh investigation with Gleaves’ question in mind (e.g., here and here), however, and I was hoping to see some of that in this volume.

A “Palestinian Greek Dialect”

Furthermore, while Gleaves has a good grasp upon much of the relevant secondary literature, it seems that certain key resources on linguistics and the nature of Greek were overlooked, with unfortunate results. This pertains mostly to Gleaves’ conclusions about the nature of NT Greek, mentioned above. Gleaves has found an ally for his conclusion in Nigel Turner, who believed that the New Testament reflected a kind of Jewish Greek, a dialect that was “decidedly Semitic” and thus unique (5). From this claim Gleaves reasons that the NT, with its Semitic elements, reflects “a Palestinian Greek” (5, emphasis original). This conclusion is put most expressly in the final sentence of the book:

[A] distinctive dialect emerged within koinē Greek that characterized the way Jews utilized the Greek language. Therefore, what we have in the GNT is a hybrid Palestinian Greek –  koinē Greek with a Semitic flair – containing an admixture of Aramaic words used in private and semiprivate contexts along with Semitic linguistic peculiarities as spoken by Jesus, his disciples, and the Jews in Palestine during the first century CE (186, emphasis original).

There are a number of serious problems here, as this conclusion basically resurrects the old notion of a “Christian Greek” although now with a kind of geopolitical spin.

Firstly, Gleaves seems to be collapsing (or perhaps confusing) some linguistic categories, particularly dialect and register. For instance, he explains tersely in a footnote that the so-called “Palestinian dialect” was “contained” in the “lower form of koinē Greek” (5 n 22). But elsewhere he says that “the common language of Palestine was koinē Greek, of which the GNT is a perfect example of the dialect in written form” (185, emphasis added). This last statement seems to imply that the Koine itself is a dialect, which it is not, at least not without significant qualification. Koine was a (diverse) historical-linguistic phase of Greek as a language. Even if we grant the concept of a Jewish-Greek or Palestinian dialect, it is linguistically unsound to speak in terms of dialects being “contained” within register. Rather, register exists within dialect.

Secondly, Gleaves seems to diminish the linguistic importance of the Septuagint in his (brief) discussion of Semitic elements in his supposed Palestinian dialect. Though Gleaves does discuss the LXX on 54- 60, it is unfortunately not from a linguistic perspective, and he leaves out virtually every major scholar in the field. Jews had been speaking Greek in the diaspora for centuries by the time Jesus was born, and this produced a rich and variegated body of Jewish literature whose style and character the NT authors received. All this Gleaves seems to acknowledge in some form. But Jewish authors like Ezekiel the Tragedian and compositions like Wisdom of Solomon show how more educated Greek could be combined with the Semitic elements common in the Septuagint (1). This is where distinguishing grammar from register becomes so critical. The LXX is important not only for the new developments in the Koine that it produces within the Jewish religious milieu, but also for the natural linguistic developments that it encapsulates. Distinguishing the two is complicated business. More scholars are recognizing the need to carefully nuance discussion of how the LXX reflects natural or non-natural Greek, which is tied directly into questions of semantics, grammar, and register.

Finally, and much more detrimentally, Turner’s view of “Biblical Greek” as a “Jewish-Greek dialect” has been thoroughly disproved for at least fifty years now. The absence of seminal figures like Deismann, Thumb, Moulton, Shipp, and Lee, for example, from this volume is conspicuous at best. It certainly presents major obstacles – to put it mildly – for Gleaves’ conclusion. A brief but firm rebuttal to Gleaves’ whole conclusion on NT Greek can be found, for example, in G. H. R. Horsley’s article in the recent Encyclopedia of Greek Language and Linguistics (Leiden: Brill, 2014): 280-83. Also see footnote (2).

Deconstructing the Aramaic Hypothesis

For the record, I wholeheartedly support Gleaves in his endeavors against the Aramaic Hypothesis, which I find spurious. Gleaves’ case for the prevalence of Greek in Palestine by the 1st c. CE certainly persuasive. But the evidence that Gleaves successfully provides against the Aramaic Hypothesis on the one hand does not lead to the flawed concept of a Palestinian “dialect” on the other. Further, although this is perhaps unrelated, I had a niggling feeling throughout the book that there was an agenda involved. This comes out at the end of the introduction, where Gleaves says that he “will show that in many respects the GNT contains the very words that Jesus and his disciples spoke in Greek” (xxvi, cf. 1, 15). But this is problematic, and somewhat vague. Although the two are related, the question of whether or not Jesus spoke Greek is completely different from the question of whether the New Testament records his very words. Once we establish that Jesus spoke Greek, we must go on to ask the questions of whether and why that Greek is or is not identical to the Greek recorded in the NT. Gleaves seems occasionally to get sidetracked from the former in his concern for the latter.

Final Point

In conclusion, to my mind the most conspicuous and least understood factor in scholarly accounts of the “language” of the NT is the Septuagint, and by extension the under-studied corpus of nonliterary Koine Greek. Although many will point to the NT authors’ familiarity with the Greek OT per se, few will account for the massive socio-religious influence that it was on balance with the natural linguistic developments that it preserves. It is in the current scholarly discussion of the Greek of the LXX that one finds so much helpful material on the development and nature of the Koine in general. There is cutting-edge work going on here (e.g., Lee, Joosten, Aitken) that needs to be related to study of the Greek of the NT in the future.

_________________

(1) James K. Aitken, “The Language of the Septuagint and Jewish-Greek Identity”, in  James K. Aitken and James C. Padget (eds.), The Jewish-Greek Tradition in Antiquity and the Byzantine (Cambridge, 2014), pp. 120-34 (134).

(2) On this topic see, e.g., G. H. R. Horsley, “Res Bibliographicae: Divergent Views on the Nature of Greek of the Bible,” Bib 65 (1984): 393-403; Gregory H. R. Horsley, “The Fiction of ‘Jewish Greek’,” in New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity (ed. G. H. R. Horsley; NewDocs 5: Linguistic Essays; North Ryde: Ancient History Documentary Research Centre, Macquarie University, 1989), 5-40. For a survey of the debate, see John A. L. Lee, A Lexical Study of the Septuagint Version of the Pentateuch (SCS 14; Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1983), 11-30; J. W. Voelz, “The Language of the New Testament,” in Geschichte und Kultur Roms im spiegel der Neueren Forschung (eds. Hildegard Temporini and Wolfgang Haase; ANRW 2; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1984), 25: 894-930. For a discussion of understanding the Greek of the Septuagint as part of the development of the language, see James K. Aitken, “Outlook,” in The Reception of Septuagint Words in Jewish-Hellenistic and Christian Literature (eds. Eberhard Bons, Ralph Brucker, and Jan Joosten; WUNTII 367; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014), 183-94.