Reception History

New Article in Biblica

A new article of mine has been published in the first fascicle of Biblica 98.1 (2017): 25-36. It’s an honor to have some of my work included in this journal, which has been publishing material on all aspects of biblical studies since 1920 through the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome.

The article is called “Style and Familiarity in Judges 19,7 (Old Greek): Establishing Dependence within the Septuagint,” and it was a result of some of my research in the book of Judges. My dissertation is focused on the language of the Septuagint from a lexical semantic viewpoint, and evaluates a few case studies of systematic vocabulary change over the course of the textual history of the book in Greek. As I was working through one particular issue, I came across a striking phrase in chapter 19:

Μηδαμῶς, ἀδελφοί, μὴ πονηρεύεσθε (19:23)
Certainly not, brothers, you must not do evil!

Now, if you open up your copy of Rahlfs-Hanhart, you won’t see this phrase, but something else. In fact, you will see two different options, since when he compiled his Septuagint, Rahlfs believed the Alexandrinus and Vaticanus codices contained irreconcilable versions of Greek Judges, and thus included both (with various other witnesses) in his edition with the understanding that they reflected two separate original translations. Scholarly opinion is now almost completely contrary to to this view, and a particular group of witnesses is thought to represent the original translation (or “Old Greek”) with fair reliability. What you see above is my reconstruction of the OG using those witnesses.

I digress. When I read this text, it reminded me of the very similar narrative in Genesis 19, when Lot unwittingly hosts divine messengers and protects them from the wicked “men of the city” (Sodom). The intertextual influence between Genesis and Judges – likely deliberate on the part of the author of Judges – is very well acknowledged. And there is evidence that biblical interpreters as far back as the Early Church were aware of the parallels. So I began to wonder whether even the OG translator of Judges might have been aware of this as well, and possibly been familiar enough with the Greek translation of Genesis to be influenced by it in his translation of the Judges pericope.

The short answer is “apparently, yes.”

The longer answer is … you guessed it: in the article. I can’t post it here, but if you are interested I am permitted to distribute copies personally, so email me. In short, what I do in this article is establish four criteria for determining that a Septuagint translator knew and was influenced by a Greek translation done chronologically earlier of another text. This may sound fairly straightforward, but it’s actually something of a mind-bender (at least if you’re being cautious and evidence-based), particularly because it is difficult to say for certain whether influence on a later translator comes from another text in Greek or Hebrew. Hence the need for criteria.

I believe that is precisely what happened when the OG translator of Judges set out to render chapter 19 into Greek. He not only knew the parallel narrative in Genesis 19, but he knew it in Greek, and he knew it well enough that when it came to the climactic moment in the narrative, he chose to put the exact words of Lot (Gen. 19) into the mouth of the old man in Gibeah (Judg 19). In part this interesting because it shows that the OG translators were not robots incapable of doing anything but mechanically represent their Hebrew Vorlagen into pseudo-Greek code. There were literary influences involved in their decisions and use of the language that took advantage of more stylistic elements in conventional Greek.

Here’s the abstract:

This article develops and applies criteria to determine intentional, inner-Greek dependence in the Septuagint, using the parallel narratives in Genesis 19 and Judges 19 as an example. The OG translator of Judges is familiar with and imitates a Greek rendering from OG Genesis 19,7 at the point where the narratives converge. The Genesis translator demonstrates both his occasional preference for Greek idiom over word-for-word translation, as well as competency in Greek style. In turn, the Judges translator demonstrates how the language of the Greek Pentateuch occasionally exerts greater influence than that of his Hebrew Vorlage.


N.B. In a final draft I had changed each instance of the word “tone” in the article to “modality” to be more linguistically accurate. Unfortunately, only the first instance of “tone” was changed in the published version, so please read “modality” wherever “tone” remains.

LXX Scholar Interview: Dr. Albert Pietersma

Today I have the pleasure of posting an interview with one of the most well-known and respected scholars in Septuagint scholarship. If you aren’t aware, I have been conducting LXX scholar interviews for a few years now and have compiled something of a library, with more additions to come.

Dr. Albert Pietersma (also see here) is Professor emeritus of Septuagint and Hellenistic Greek in the Department of Near and Middle East Civilizations at the University of Toronto‘s Faculty of Arts and Science. Born in the Netherlands in 1935 and tenured in 1971, Dr. Pietersma has a very long list of publications, and is particularly well known (as you will read about below) for work producing the translation philosophy for the New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS, also see here) known as the “interlinear paradigm,” its accompanying translator’s manual, and of course the actual published English translation (here). You can get a better appreciation for the scope of his work by looking at his Festschrift, The Old Greek Psalter: Studies in Honour of Albert Pietersma (T&T Clark 2009).

The Interview

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

As an undergraduate at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich., I fell in love with the Classics, especially Greek Classical literature, and in the seminary my study of biblical Hebrew and the Old Testament added to my fascination with the ancient world. Given that the Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Hebrew (and Aramaic) Bible, to become a Septuagintalist fed these two passions. My interest in the field was further piqued by Professor J. W. Wevers’s visit to Calvin where we could discuss both my academic interests and the realia of Grad School.

As a graduate student in the Department of Near Eastern Studies, University of Toronto, my major area of study was Hebrew Language and Literature, with a first minor in Septuagint (under the tutelage of Professor Wevers) and a second minor in Aramaic-Syriac. The research for my dissertation on the Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri of Genesis (Ra 961 and 962) happily coincided with my Doktorvater’s work on his critical edition of Genesis for the Göttingen Septuagint (1974). Since he placed at my disposal the collation books composed at the Septuaginta Unternehmen (Göttingen), we could both reach beyond the era of the ‘Great Uncials’ (Alexandrinus, Sinaiticus, and Vaticanus) to a much broader range of textual witnesses, in an ongoing quest for the closest approximation to the pristine original.

My text-critical study of the two papyri, together with a new edition of the text, was published as Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri IV and V: A New Edition with Text-Critical Analysis (ASP 16; Samuel, Stevens, Hakkert and Company, Toronto and Sarasota, 1977).

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

Administratively I have served the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies (IOSCS) as secretary and archivist (1972–1980), president (1980–1987) and honorary president (1993–). As representative of my published work, I would note here just two items. First, there is a volume of collected essays reflecting the trajectory of my career, edited (with introduction) by Cameron Boyd-Taylor, A Question of Methodology: Albert Pietersma, Collected Essays on the Septuagint (Peeters, 2013). As Cameron rightly notes, my preoccupation from the beginning of my scholarly career was methodological in nature, inspired and encouraged by my mentor. At the outset, I focused chiefly on the issue of how, on the basis of available evidence, one might work back systematically to the closest achievable approximation to the original text-form of the LXX. From there the center of my attention gradually began to include text-semantics, exegesis and translation theory, and then the broader issues of the hermeneutics of a translated text, particularly translations characterized by formal equivalence.

Secondly, and more concretely, I would highlight A New English Translation of the Septuagint, and the Other Greek Translations Traditionally Included under That Title (eds. Albert Pietersma and Benjamin G. Wright, Oxford University Press, 2007) (NETS). For this project I had the good fortune of working with the following graduate students: Cameron Boyd-Taylor, Paul McLean, Tony Michael, Marc Saunders, Jannes Smith, Wade White, and Tyler Williams. Without their input and the hard work of the translators, NETS would never have seen the light of day.

Since its inception, the IOSCS (1968) was interested in producing a new ‘Brenton’, an English translation of the LXX, published in 1844 and popular, in its diglot form, throughout the English speaking world, but deemed seriously outdated both textually and linguistically. Although the project remained a dream for many years, it reappeared on the IOSCS’s agenda in the early ’90s, promoted by David Aiken of Uncial Books. Under the joint editorship of Ben Wright and myself, work was formally begun with the publication of the Translation Manual for “A New English Translation of the Septuagint” (NETS) (Uncial Books, 1996). A propaedeutic set of guidelines appeared in BIOSCS 27 (1994): 15–17.

The Greek base text of NETS is the best critical editions, i.e. the Göttingen Septuagint where available and Rahlfs’s Septuagint for the rest. Odes, except for the Prayer of Manasses, was excluded for lack of authenticity as a book and its Christian origins. The English base of NETS is the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), modified as dictated by the Greek critical text. Most importantly and most fundamentally, NETS is based on the Septuagint text-as-produced, i.e. the earliest retrievable text of any given book, in terms of both text-form and text-semantics. Opting to translate the closest approximation to the ‘original’ form of the text was understood to imply opting for the earliest meaning of that text as well. (For more evidence of my participation in the discipline see here)

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

Since my appointment to the Department of Near Eastern Studies (1969) was in “Septuagint and Hellenistic Jewish Literature,” and my role was, together with Professor Wevers, to develop a PhD program in Septuagint Studies — the only one of its kind in the world — , the Septuagint formed a constitutive part of both my teaching and research at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

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

While the field has no doubt changed considerably during the past half century, arguably there is also much that has stayed the same (cf. 5. below), representing business as usual. Technological tools and aides such as databases and search engines are the obvious improvements, though scarcely in need of explication. Given that the Septuagint was written in Greek, the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG) happens to be one of my favorite tools, seeing that Septuagintal Greek must be understood in the context of conventional Greek usage in the Hellenistic world. And then there are new lexica and increasingly more critical editions. Unfortunately, our new lexica and new grammar, presuppose, by editors’ fiat, the Septuagint as an exemplar of conventional linguistic usage, as a result of which the discipline is, in principle, no better off than with Liddell-Scott- Jones.

On a more positive note, Septuagint scholars now have at their disposal whole new disciplines such as discourse analysis (text linguistics) and descriptive translation studies, a discipline that makes it its business to study translation as a cultural phenomenon and as such seeks to describe it in all its ordered complexity. Furthermore, a spate of new translations into modern languages is or is coming on stream, at present including NETS, LXX-Deutsch, La Bible d’Alexandrie, La Biblia Griega, and La Bibbia dei Settanta.

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?

Above (see 2.) I touch on the axiomatic distinction, in the historical study of literature — including translation literature — between the text-as-produced, on the one hand, and the text-as-received, on the other, or between the text-as-configured and the text-as-refigured (Paul Ricoeur, “What is a Text”) in reception history. This distinction, rooted in the constitutive character of the translated text, has profound implications for the entire discipline, but, in particular, for the sub-disciplines of LXX grammaticography, lexicography, and hermeneutics.

As I see it, however, in all three of these sub-disciplines, Septuagint Studies continues to suffer from what might be called a schizophrenic approach to the Septuagint. In my view, the origin of this schizophrenia is an outgrowth of the discipline’s historical origins. In brief, one might consider the following. That these historical origins lie in the study of the New Testament (NT) and more particularly in the conceptualization of the LXX as the Christian Old Testament is scarcely open to controversy. Not only did Christians inherit and transmit the LXX, but, as well, both the Cambridge and the Göttingen editions bespeak, a patently Christian context. Thus the former speaks of “The Old Testament in Greek” and the latter subtitles the Septuagint as “Vetus Testamentum Graecum.” Between these two editions, however, a great gulf is fixed. Whereas the Cambridge LXX is a diplomatic edition, that is to say, a given Christian manuscript functions as the lemma text to which all other witnesses are collated, the Göttingen LXX, on the other hand, is a critical edition, in other words, a text critically recovered and reconstructed, as closely as possible to its pristine originality both in terms of its text-form and its text-semantics. To label this critically reconstructed, Jewish, text “The Old Testament” or “Vetus Testamentum” creates a methodological contradiction between title and contents. One might well ask how this text of pre-Christian Jewry can, in one and the same breath, also be spoken of as the Old Testament of Christianity or, for that matter, the Bible of Alexandrian Judaism. The answer is that it cannot possibly be so designated. In short, while Christianity re-conceptualized the LXX as its Old Testament at some point in its reception history, it cannot possibly lay claim to the event of its production.

A cursory look at Alfred Rahlfs’s Psalmi cum Odis (1932), the first volume in the Göttingen editio maior, may be instructive. That Rahlfs took the first and very courageous step to create a critical edition of a Septuagint book (against the pessimistic assessment of Brooke-McLean [1917], invoking insufficient evidence) and thus effectively launched the Göttingen text-critical enterprise will forever redound to his credit, despite the fact that his critical text was made to include not only the Odes (a patently Christian collection) but also bracketed items of admittedly dubious, and at times Christian, originality (cf. e.g. Psalm 13). Although one may sympathize with Rahlfs’s attempt at forging a compromise of sorts, he clearly failed to make systemic space for the text he critically delineated and re-introduced. In other words, what he should have done was to make an axiomatic distinction between this new, critically reconstructed, Jewish, text, on the one hand, and, on the other, the traditional perception of the Septuagint as the Vetus Testamentum of the Church. Unfortunately, not only was this confusion of texts perpetuated in the Göttingen Septuaginta but as well in modern translations — with the exception of NETS. Thus we have: Septuaginta deutsch, das griechische Alte Testament in deutscher Übersetzung, La Bible d’Alexandrie, La Bibbia dei Settanta, and La Biblia Griega. Therefore, according to their titles, all four profess themselves to be translations, not of the LXX as-produced but of the LXX as-received, an exemplar of reception history. Moreover, this confusion of texts exists irrespective of whether one holds that a translation of a sacred text automatically produces a sacred text or that a translation cannot possibly occupy the same systemic space as its source. What remains in either case is historical order and logical priority. Typically the confusion of texts takes the form of superimposing the text-as-received on the text-as-produced, i.e. treating the latter as though it were a freestanding entity. On the above see also, Pietersma, “Codex Sinaiticus and the Book of Psalms,” in Codex Sinaiticus: New Perspectives on the Ancient Biblical Manuscript (eds. Scot McKendrick, David Parker, Amy Myshrall and Cillian O’Hogan, The British Library and Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), 41–49.

So, yes, I do see at least one (large) underworked area and a central topic in need of further research: the hermeneutics of the Septuagint qua translation, in distinction from the Septuagint qua text, i.e. the Septuagint as an entity directly dependent on its source in distinction from the Septuagint as an independent entity, cut loose from its historical moorings and thus parallel to its erstwhile source. Moreover, not only is NETS based on the distinction of these two texts, but so is SBLCS (see here and here).

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

While I have effectively put myself out to pasture academically, together with Cameron Boyd-Taylor and Ben Wright I am working on a second edition of NETS, which is currently under advisement by Oxford University Press. NETS was published in 2007, reprinted with corrections in 2009, and again reprinted in 2014. This time, however, corrections were made instead to the digital text online. The aim of the editors is to subject NETS to a comprehensive review in light of its guidelines as well as feedback from its readers we have received over the years.

Furthermore, for four books (1 Supplements, Routh, Ecclesiast and 4 Makkabees) new critical editions have either appeared or are pending. As work on the Society of Biblical Literature Commentary on the Septuagint (SBLCS) proceeds, feedback from commentators is anticipated. Not surprisingly, sometimes what seemed a good rendering when translating, proves to be less good when writing a commentary. I empathize! Further improvements are under advisement by the editors.

7) What is the future of Septuagint studies?

Increased interest, better tools, and bright young scholars should spell a bright future. Yet I am troubled by the fact that Septuagint Studies seems to be a discipline that continues to be divided against itself. Labels like “minimalist” and “maximalist” as applied to the interpretation of the Septuagint point to a deeper ambivalence or schizophrenia about just which Septuagint is at issue. First to be answered is that very question. As I see it, in principle we can speak of only two Septuagints, (1) the Septuagint-as-produced, a patently Jewish production, and (2) the Septuagint-as-received, accepted at some point in its reception history as the Vetus Testamentum of the Christian Church. (For another instance of the text-as-received cf. Letter of Aristeas §311.)

For our discipline to flourish and grow, the methodological contradiction at its core must be resolved.

Wrapping Up

There is a lot to glean from this interview, and from Dr. Pietersma’s expertise in the discipline. I hope this will serve readers well by providing food for thought, and encouragement to look more deeply into the issues mentioned.

LXX Commentary Series: Part I – Brill

A while back I began a series of posts to overview the major contemporary translation projects of the Septuagint. Thus far I have dealt with the recent English translation, known as NETS (see here). Before moving on to the French translation project, La Bible d’Alexandrie (BdA), however, it makes sense to discuss one of the commentary series that is associated with English projects in the Septuagint. Note that there are two Septuagint commentary series (that I know of), distinguished below.

Septuagint Commentaries

As I have been thinking about preparing a post for BdA, it struck me that I will need to discuss the fact that it is not merely a translation into French, but also a commentary. So when it is time for that post I will most likely make it two parts, one treating the translational approach into French, the other dealing with principles underlying the commentary, although they are of course inseparable.

And if I am going to talk about the commentary in BdA, then I also need to mention the similar efforts in the ongoing in English. So that is what I will start here, to be completed in two parts. For one, there is the  IOSCS Septuagint Commentary Series (SBLCS), which I will treat at a later point, and which is associated with the NETS project and interlinearity as a method. In this post I discuss the Brill Septuagint Commentary series (BSC), which is under the general editorship of (who else?) Stan Porter. The first volume on Joshua came out over a decade ago, and since then a number of other installments have appeared, even though completion is in the remote future.

(As an aside, one of the contributors to the BSC, W. Edward Glenny, will be the subject of one of my future LXX Scholar Interviews)

Brill Commentary Series (BCS) Methodology

One of the major ways in which the BSC differs from the work of BdA and SBLCS is in terms of the text used. As I will discuss in more detail in other posts, BdA employs Rahlfs’s Septuaginta as its base text, while the SBLCS uses critical editions such as Göttingen or the Cambridge Larger Septuagint (for details on which see here). The BSC on the other hand uses one of three main uncial codices – Vaticanus (B), Alexandrinus (A), and Sinaiticus (א). For example, the Genesis commentary is based upon Alexandrinus, as the other two uncials are defective in much of the book.

The rationale here is the aim of BSC to be a “literary commentary” on the Septuagint, which is thus treated – rightly so in many respects – as itself an early commentary on the Hebrew Bible and a source for New Testament study. As such, the LXX represents the reception of the Old Testament in a given community, Jewish or Christian, in the Greco-Roman world.

To this end, the BSC aims to provide “a commentary on the Septuagint in its own right,” and therefore makes reference to the Hebrew text “only when necessary” (Brayford 2007, 25). As far as I can tell, making reference is “necessary” in order to discuss features of the Hebrew that agree with the Greek version to provide coherence, and also to understand occasional differences. While there are points at which the BSC deals with text critical issues, commentators never claim one text tradition is “better” than another. Rather, “the Commentary examines the text as it is and interprets it in its own right from literary, historical, social, and theological points of view” (ibid, 26). One of the primary stated goals of the BSC series in this sense is to determine how that Greek text of the Septuagint functioned in its literary and religious community, although drawing such conclusions is often quite speculative since it is difficult to know the details of a given textual community.

In any case, the BSC approach is motivated by the conviction that it is impossible to discern the intention of the author or translator (not to mention the readers) of the Greek version of the Old Testament, which by contrast is the distinct aim of the SBLCS. Instead of the text-as-produced by the translator, the BSC focuses on the text-as-received by a community, or the Greek version as it could have been read and interpreted, according to a given text tradition. In that way, while presuming for the most part that the Hebrew Vorlage of the Septuagint was a proto-MT, the actual relationship between the Hebrew and Greek versions is not of primary importance, as the BSC is essentially reception historical in its approach.

Others to Come

As mentioned, I will also outline the approach of the other Septuagint commentary series in due course. Doing so, I hope, will provide a useful primer for the uninitiated to the major contours of contemporary LXX scholarship.


Brayford, Susan. Genesis. Septuagint Commentary Series (Leiden: Brill, 2007).