LXX Summer School in Salzburg

This summer from 3 – 7 July a summer school will be held at the Faculty of Theology at the Universität Salzburg in Austria. The course will be a fantastic opportunity if you are interested in Septuagint studies, and is entitled

On Biblical Manuscripts and Their Use in Biblical Studies. The Hebrew and Greek Texts of Esther

Because this course will focus on manuscripts in both Hebrew and Greek, it should be very appealing even if you are primarily interested in textual studies of the Hebrew Bible, rather than the Septuagint. Plus, you might be able to get course credits for it.

Don’t Pass it Up

I have brought this up several times in the past, but graduate courses focused upon Septuagint studies are unfortunately quite rare, making it very difficult for interested students to get oriented to the discipline by means of direct instruction. These are rarer still if you only count courses taught by scholars who themselves were trained in the discipline and are currently active in the guild. Personally, I’m thrilled to see this opportunity at the Universität Salzburg and hope they continue to offer it annually.

Aside: Two other courses like this happen occasionally, one at Trinity Western University’s John William Wevers Institute for Septuagint Studies (see here) and another at the Septuaginta-Unternehmen at the Universität Göttingen (see here).

This summer school will be taught by Dr. Kristin De Troyer. Not only is Dr Troyer a very well respected scholar in the Septuagint community, she is also a recognized textual critic who specializes in the Historical Books. So she will make a sure guide for this interesting and intricate subject matter.

Scholars have long recognized the complexity of the textual history of Esther. In almost every verse of the book the Hebrew and Greek texts differ by a word, a clause, or even whole phrases. And it is unclear whether this is the result of a different Vorlage (the Hebrew source text translated), a translator taking liberties (the Greek of Esther is fairly expansive), or the result of textual transmission and revision in Greek. Plus there is the major issue of the so-called “Additions to Esther.” These constitute six long portions (labelled as Sections A-F) of over a hundred verses of text that do not appear in the Masoretic Text (MT), nearly doubling the length of the book.

Just as intriguing to Septuagint scholars, the book of Esther was translated into fairly idiomatic Greek with a style not strictly adherent to the Hebrew syntax of the MT. In other words, Esther was translated into conventional Greek with relatively less concern to mimic the underlying grammatical structure than many other books in the Greek Old Testament. Along these lines, the two royal edicts in Additions B and E constitute some of the most literary Greek found in the Septuagint. There is still uncertainty with regard to whether these (and the other) Additions constitute original Greek compositions, or rather preserve a translation of a now-lost Hebrew text. Moreover, LXX-Esther has a rich array of vocabulary and apparent neologisms awaiting fresh study.

If you are intrigued by Septuagint scholarship – plus good chocolate and hiking for that matter – then you should give serious consideration to applying for this course.

Course Flyer


Peter Williams on the so-called “Septuagint”

Not too long ago it was conference season for biblical scholars everywhere. Now we are all feeling the afterglow of Christmas and the saccharine lull until the New Year begins. With that subdued state in mind, I thought I would post something a bit more lively and entertaining (which is not to say uninformative!).

As you may recall, the 2016 ETS Septuagint Studies consultation had a stellar line-up. One of our panelists was Dr. Peter J. Williams of Tyndale House, Cambridge. Pete was recently given the scholastic title “Principal” of Tyndale House, which I must say conjures up slightly more benign imagery than his previous title, “Warden.” Thankfully, Pete is as personally congenial as he is academically rigorous, which is why our steering committee asked him to contribute to the 2016 panel.

“The” Septuagint

I often tease Pete for being a tinfoil-hat conspiracy theorist when it comes to the Septuagint, since he is often heard denying its existence. But really, Pete’s hyperbole on this point betrays the fact that he is more aware than most of what we (think we) mean when we say “Septuagint,” and the manifold problems that the term itself entails.

The video below is a recording of his lecture at the 2016 Septuagint Studies session, “On the Invention and Problem of the Term ‘Septuagint’,” in which he presents the fascinating history of the word itself and the concept(s) associated with it. And, of course, Pete does this with characteristic flair.

So grab one more glass of eggnog and enjoy Pete’s lecture!

A Puzzling Article on “the LXX”

I have been a member of the Institute for Biblical Research (IBR) for a few years now. I have attended the past three or four annual meetings, which get squished between the ETS and SBL conferences, and have made a habit of reading IBR’s journal, Bulletin for Biblical Research (BBR) each quarter. In fact, BBR is where I have contributed most of my book reviews by far. It’s a thriving society, and a very good journal for evangelical scholarship.

ibr_logo_headerSo I was excited to find an article in the latest volume that dealt directly with the Septuagint. The article is by Dr. J. Daniel Hays, and entitled “The Persecuted Prophet and Judgment on Jerusalem: The Use of LXX Jeremiah in the Gospel of Luke” BBR 25.4 (2015): 453-73. As I began reading it, however, it seemed to me to contain some flaws, or at least things that left me puzzled. In this post, I want to respond to what I found to be the more unconvincing aspects of Hays’s argument.

In advance of posting, I sent a draft of this critique to Dr. Hays, and his response is at the bottom of the post.

Summary of the Article

Now, I realize that it is probably possible to nit-pick most journal articles into oblivion, so I want to state at the outset that that is not my goal. Rather, I wish to point out how I think Hays’s article represents broader trends in biblical scholarship – especially New Testament scholarship – when interacting with the Septuagint.

I’ll state it up front: Identifying shared vocabulary between the NT and LXX with an indistinct notion of “dependence.” This assumption shows up to some degree in Dr. Hays’s response below.

The article’s abstract is as follows:

This article argues that within Second Temple Judaism, Jeremiah was well known as the paradigmatic “persecuted prophet” and was likewise closely associated with the consequential fall and destruction of Jerusalem. Thus, when the Gospel of Luke portrays Jesus as the “persecuted prophet” in conflict with the leaders in Jerusalem or recounts Jesus’ warnings of judgment on Jerusalem, allusions and parallels to Jeremiah are numerous, implying that the traditions associated with LXX Jeremiah form a critical background for understanding those texts.

Overall, I think that Hays does a fine job defending about 75% his thesis. In fact, I have basically no qualms with anything he proposes about the themes of Jeremiah or its well-known status in Second Temple Judaism. The problems arise when we get to the Septuagint aspect. Again, as his response states, this is the very aspect that Hays assumes.

1) Questionable Textual Basis

One of the first problems in this article appears in Hays’s third footnote. There he states that he cites translations of LXX Jeremiah from the NETS translation (available here). That is fine as far as it goes. But he then states that he will work from Rahlfs-Hanhart’s text of LXX Jeremiah. This is problematic for two reasons. Firstly, Ziegler’s critical edition of OG Jeremiah is the far superior text and should therefore form the basis of any study like this (1). Secondly, the NETS translation of LXX Jeremiah is itself based on Ziegler, not on Rahlfs-Hanhart, which risks misalignment between what Hays cites in English versus Greek, although presumably he checked for this.

2) Questionable References to LXX Jeremiah

Almost as soon as Hays begins to move through his argument, he starts to talk about LXX Jeremiah in terms that are not actually specific to LXX Jeremiah (i.e. Jeremiah in its Greek version, in distinction from the Hebrew original). This is quite pervasive and leads to two problems, a thematic one and a lexical one.

Thematic: First, it causes Hays to illegitimately attribute features proper to Jeremiah in Hebrew to LXX Jeremiah. But any “themes” or “theology” present in Jeremiah in Hebrew are going to carry over into the Greek version, unless you really do some spadework to show how that is not the case (i.e., how LXX Jeremiah somehow changes the message of Jeremiah in Hebrew, which gets picked up by Luke. This is possible, but takes a lot of work to demonstrate). To this extent, wherever Hays talks about Luke adopting a Jeremianic theme, this proves nothing about Luke’s “use” of LXX Jeremiah (i.e., the Greek version specifically). This is like attributing “shared themes” between Charles Spurgeon’s sermons and Romans to his “use” of the KJV. The fact that there are similarities in themes does not arise from the translation itself, but the ideas of the original that the translation conveys.

The fundamental flaw seems to be Hays’ assumption that shared ideas demonstrate the textual dependence of Luke upon LXX Jeremiah (although he never clearly defines “use”). Or, that a relationship of dependence between Luke and LXX Jeremiah does not need to be demonstrated. For example, Hays cites a range of texts from Jeremiah to illustrate the central role of Jerusalem, it’s judgment, and the persecution of the prophet, but there is nothing specific to the Greek text in these matters that isn’t part of the Hebrew also (again, unless you carefully demonstrate this, which Hays does not systematically attempt). This is evident from the fact that Hays often cites both the LXX and MT versification – there is no meaningful difference between the two at the level of concepts or themes.

This problem continues throughout much of the article. See his discussion of:

  • Jeremiah facing rejection on 463
  • Conflict with leaders on 463-64
  • The negative sense of “scribe” and the suffering prophet concept on 464
  • Rejection and Jerusalem themes on 465
  • Judgment on Jerusalem on 465-66
  • Persecution of prophets on 466
  • Lament over Jerusalem on 467-68
  • Den of robbers on 469
  • Destruction of Jerusalem on 470-71
  • Prophetic trials on 471-72
  • “Daughter of Jerusalem” on 472

Lexical: Secondly, Hays repeatedly appeals to “catchwords” to demonstrate what he sees as Luke’s dependence upon LXX Jeremiah. But in the vast majority – if not all – of his examples, the vocabulary identified is far too conventional to necessarily prove any textual relationship. For example, Hays observes that priests are collectively characterized in negative terms in Jeremiah more than any other prophetic book, and points to the appearance of ἱερεύς 35x (p. 456). But, for one thing, the use of the word ἱερεύς is not a “distinctive” of LXX Jeremiah. And if the portrayal of priests in largely negative terms is distinctive, that is a distinctive theme specifically of the Hebrew text, not the LXX version per se. For another thing, nothing about Luke’s use of the word ἱερεύς means he was “dependent” upon the Greek version of Jeremiah, rather than using the word simply to talk about priests. If Luke, too, portrays priests negatively, this has nothing to do with LXX Jeremiah itself (other than perhaps its existence allowing Luke to read and be familiar with the concepts of the Hebrew original, but this too is debatable).

This problem persists through most of the article also, as Hays repeatedly finds shared vocabulary of the broadest sort, then takes the associated concepts and makes them indicative of “use” of LXX Jeremiah. It continues with:

  • ἐκκόπτω on 463
  • αἷμα on 466
  • πῦρ and ἀνάπτω on 467
  • The use of vocatives on 467
  • κλαίω on 468
  • ἐχθρός and ἀνθ᾽ ὧν on 469
  • ἀποστέλλω and δοῦλος on 470
  • ἐρήμωσις on 471

But the fact that both Luke and LXX Jeremiah are written in Greek and share standard vocabulary should not be confused for any special relationship between the two texts themselves, or any special influence upon the theology of Luke from the Greek version of Jeremiah. Agreement in vocabulary is insufficient to prove textual dependence specifically from the Greek version of Jeremiah if that vocabulary accurately reflects the underlying Hebrew. Hays seems to get close to realizing this a few times, but always stops short. On p. 466, for instance, he notes that Luke and Jeremiah both deal with persecution of the prophets, and, although διώκω occurs in other prophetic books, because Jeremiah is the only one to use it in the sense of persecution against God’s prophets like Luke does, there is a relationship of dependence. But again, the Greek vocabulary does not demonstrate any dependence, only shared themes between Luke and Jeremiah, themes that arise specifically from the Hebrew text of Jeremiah. (See a similar case on p. 469 in his discussion of ἐχθρός and its related themes).

The Connection to Lamentations

Hays also observes how in the Greek translation of Lamentations the figure of Jeremiah is framed as the speaker, a feature not present in the Hebrew text. This is one occasion where Hays has identified something that is actually unique to the Greek version of a book versus the MT. Hays attempts to tie the notion of Jeremiah weeping with Luke’s statement in 19:41-48 that Jesus wept over Jerusalem (p. 468). While it is true that Jeremiah weeps on several occasions (9:1; 13:17; 22:10), this is not a feature unique to LXX Jeremiah (as if Jeremiah does not weep in the Hebrew version). And while the reference to Jeremiah in LXX Lamentations is unique to the Greek version, at that point we are talking about the figure of Jeremiah and not the Greek text of Jeremiah. At best, this supports Hays’s point about the prevalence of “Jeremiah” (text[s], themes, theology) in the literary milieu of Second Temple Judaism (pp. 457-60), but at worst it is an equivocation in terms that adds little to his argument for the “use” of LXX Jeremiah in Luke. Again, Hays never defines what he means by “use,” which I think only adds confusion.

Summary and Response

Again, my objective here is not to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of the Septuagint.” But I want to point out what I might call problematic habits that tend to show up in NT scholarship when interacting with the Septuagint. Ironically, Hays cites a scholar who points out that usually, New Testament use of terms found in the LXX indicates a common literary milieu for Greek-speaking Jews, but not necessarily literary dependence (p. 458 n. 20). I fear that this observation applies globally to Hays’s thesis, as he ends up conflating textual influence with theological (or literary, thematic, etc.) influence. Carefully distinguishing these two is a crucial but too-often overlooked aspect of studies of the New Testament “use” of the Old Testament. (2)

Hays argues that the use of Jeremiah in Luke is “easily overlooked.” I agree, but for very different reasons. In fact, I found little compelling evidence that Luke is “using” LXX Jeremiah, as much as he is simply familiar with the message of the book generally. Still, I would say that Hays does a good job showing how Luke is influenced by Jeremiah in this general way, and that we can see that influence because of the concepts that both Luke and Jeremiah share (in Hebrew or Greek). Yet once you show how Luke is familiar with and employs the distinctive themes found in Jeremiah in Hebrew – which Hays does – it is not at all necessary to bring the Septuagint into the equation. Now, if you could show that Luke had picked up some phrase from LXX Jeremiah that somehow changed what its Hebrew source text said, then I think you could talk about Luke’s “use” of LXX Jeremiah.

Hays’ Response

First of all, I think you are missing my point. I am not trying the show that Luke is using LXX Jeremiah in distinction to MT Jeremiah. I assume that before I even start. That is, I’m starting with the assumption that background OT literary, theological and lexical influence in Luke (as in much of the rest of the NT) comes via the LXX. I’m not trying to establish this or defend it. This is a widely held view in NT studies. What I’m trying to establish is that the OT Prophets should not all be lumped together into an amorphous “common prophetic language” in discussing NT use of the OT. I’m arguing that in regard to the specific themes of the persecuted prophet and the destruction of Jerusalem, Luke is not influenced in his language and allusion by “the prophets” in general but by Jeremiah in particular. In conducting that study, one has to use the LXX. That these same themes show up in MT Jeremiah is irrelevant to my argument.

The lexical comparisons are likewise along these same lines. For example, I point out that the Greek word for “false prophet” shows up on the LXX only 10 times, 9 of which are in Jeremiah. Thus the use of this same term in Luke 6:26 “for that is how their ancestors treated the ‘false prophets’” is not just “common prophetic language” but more specifically language common to Jeremiah.

Arguments about lexical usage, dependence and allusion are by nature only convincing when viewed cumulatively. That is, many of the individual word arguments are hardly conclusive on their own (as you note) and can be challenged one by one. But cumulatively, tracked throughout Jeremiah, underscored and strengthened by the many times that same word of phrase only occurs in Jeremiah (and not in Isaiah, etc.) the argument gains strength.


I’m grateful for Dr. Hays’s work, and for his generous (and kind!) response to my criticism. It is always refreshing when scholarly interaction is civil and clarifying.


(1) J. Ziegler. Septuaginta: Vetus Testamentum Graecum Auctoritate Societatis Litterarum Gottingensis editum XV: Ieremias Baruch Threni Epistula Ieremiae. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1957.

(2) For a helpful overview of similar misuses of “the LXX” in NT scholarship, see pp. 39-44 in McLay, R. T. The Use of the Septuagint in New Testament Research. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2003.