Qumran/Dead Sea Scrolls

The New Dead Sea Scroll Discoveries and the Septuagint

The world of biblical scholarship is abuzz this week with the new finds in the Judean Desert. I thought I’d draw attention to these, not only because it’s always important when new biblical manuscripts come to light, but also because these finds connect directly with Septuagint scholarship. (more…)

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.

The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library

As promised, the first of my Resource Reviews, collected here.

The Digital Scrolls Library

A few months ago, the Tyndale House posted a link on Facebook to an amazing resource that I thought was worth highlighting here as a first review. The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library is the result of the work of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), who have used the latest digital technology to provide high resolution images freely to the public. The site offers hundreds of manuscripts and thousands of fragments found in the Judean Desert between 1947 and the early 1960s.

Not only that, but the site is actually quite beautiful and user-friendly – not often the case for online biblical studies resources! My favorite feature of the site (beside this interesting historical timeline) is the multi-criteria archive search page, where users can sort by archaeological site, language, scroll content, and even more technical filters like material, historic period, and manuscript type. The Greek manuscripts and fragments add up to just over 130 items, a remarkable resource for LXX and OT scholar alike.

This nice video does some of the work for me:

The Significance of Qumran for LXX Studies

Much could be said here, so I will limit myself as much as possible. The discovery of the Qumran documents was a paradigm-shifting event in the world of biblical studies. Prior to the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), the amount of primary manuscript evidence for the Hebrew Old Testament had been largely limited to material from the 11-13th century C.E. and later. Important exceptions to this were of course some evidence in the Cairo Geniza (see the collection here), the Masoretic Leningrad Codex, and the Greek OT content of the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus uncials (both 4th century C.E.). Due to this lack of evidence, OT textual criticism was (far more) difficult. When the DSS were found, however, suddenly scholars had access to primary materials up to a millennium older than what they had on hand, precipitating a new era in OT scholarship.

Most of the DSS date between the 3rd century B.C.E. and the 1st century C.E. The collection includes religious literature far afield from what is today considered the canonical Old Testament, although that too was found. As a sectarian community, the Qumran covenanters had texts detailing their unique religious practices, commentaries, wisdom texts, calendars, and so on. Most are written in Hebrew, but Aramaic, Greek, and even unidentified languages were also used. Amazingly, every book of the bible was discovered (except, curiously, the book of Esther).

The payoff for LXX studies, of course, is the Greek texts among the collection. As little OT evidence as existed in Hebrew, there was even less for the Greek OT, particularly from the pre-Christian era. One of the most significant aspects of the DSS for LXX studies is that the evidence is pre-Hexaplaric, i.e. represents texts not influenced by the 3rd century C.E. text critical work of Origen. Origen’s efforts were massive and admirable, but disastrous for later textual critics.

While no significant divergences in the Greek DSS appeared in comparison to the major uncials, some scholars believe the latter may reflect updating or revision of some kind, usually attributed to Christian scribes. In short, the DSS shed unprecedented light upon the history of the Greek translation of the OT, and provided a sea of primary evidence on which scholars of Hebrew OT studies would set sail as well. May the voyage continue!

An excellent overview of further points of interest for LXX studies can be found in Jobes & Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint (Baker, 2000), chapter 8. (Buy here). Also see E. Tov, “The Contribution of the Qumran Scrolls to the Understanding of the Septuagint,” 285-300 in The Greek and Hebrew Bible (Brill, 1999).