Second Temple

“Being Jewish, Writing Greek” Conference in Cambridge

A conference was recently announced here in Cambridge that many interested in the Septuagint will want to look into. On 6-8 September 2017 the Being Jewish, Writing Greek conference will be held here at the University of Cambridge Faculty of Classics. This event has developed out of a seminar hosted here this academic year that was essentially driven by the desire to pay more scholarly attention to the full range of ancient Jewish Greek literature, which is frequently ignored.

The Septuagint … and Beyond

Obviously the Septuagint falls within the range of Greek writings produced by Jews. However, as a courpus of mostly translated texts, there is considerable debate about whether or not it should be considered Jewish “literature” proper (a question bound up with issues of language, cultural identity, and genre). That is part of the reason for this conference. But there is a good deal of Jewish writing that was composed in Greek, and which clearly qualifies as literature. The non-translated books of the Septuagint, such as 1-4 Maccabbees, 1 Esdras, Judith, or Tobit are certainly among such Jewish Greek literature. But there are also quite a few others that you might never have heard of, like:

  • Ezekiel’s Exagogê
  • Artapanus
  • Pseudo-Phocylides
  • Demetrius the Chronographer
  • Etc.

The goal of this conference is to shine a (cross-disciplinary) spotlight on these ancient sources – those translated and those composed in Greek – to consider their linguistic and literary qualities.  As the conference website says,

Much has been said about the historical as well as theological contexts and content of these works. However, relatively few studies have considered these Jewish writings in Greek as literary works.

Yes, You can Submit a Proposal!

bjwgPaper proposals can be submitted here. 

The goal is to look at these Jewish Greek sources as the products of two cultures and languages in confluence: Judaism and Hellenism, Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek. Moreover, the conference is meant to recalibrate the traditional, single-discipline approaches to these texts and instead situate both Classical and Jewish literature “in a broader Mediterranean context.”

Thus far speakers will include

Two Recent Book Reviews, and Some On the Way

I’ve been working on reviewing books pretty steadily over the last year or so. It’s a good discipline to keep you reading texts closely, keep up with topics of interest that are not immediately connected with my dissertation, and get my hands on some free premium volumes.

Two of my reviews were recently published in the Bulletin for Biblical Research, the journal of the Institute for Biblical Research (IBR). At the moment BBR is holding first place in my review contributions, mainly because they publish so many and there is plenty of opportunity to do it.

Here are the two that I reviewed in BBR 25.3 (2015).

The Hebrew Bible (BHS) Reader’s Edition

It’s an odd task to review a Reader’s Edition. In case you don’t know, a Reader’s Edition is simply a primary text – in this case Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia – reproduced with vocabulary helps included throughout. In this case, any word that occurs seventy times or fewer in the Hebrew Bible is given a note in the text that corresponds to a footnote, where the parsing (where appropriate) and a contextual gloss appears. This allows you to read your Hebrew as easily as you like, whenever you hit an unknown word it’s there for you to check and/or parse.

I really like this volume. It’s very well produced by Hendrickson, one of the highest quality publishers in the industry in my opinion when it comes to primary sources. The German Bible Society teamed up with Hendrickson to allow them to use the BHS 5th edition text (’97), so aside from the Masorah Parva and textual apparatus, you’re also getting a high quality scholarly source also. In terms of kethiv/qere variants, the editors of the Reader’s Edition have smoothed things out using their apparatus at the bottom of the page.

There are a few drawbacks. For the most part, this consists of the parsing system used throughout. It is based on LaSor’s system, and takes some getting used to. Ideally, you can parse everything yourself anyway so you won’t need it much!

You can read my review here.

Adams and Socio-Economics of Second Temple Judaism

A lot of my research includes reading about Judaism. That may sound surprising if you know I work in Septuagint studies. But believe it or not, the Septuagint was produced by Jews. Ta-da! Although I tend to read a great deal more about Jewish life in Ptolemaic Egypt, where most of the translation work likely occurred, I am also interested in other diaspora communities and, of course, Palestinian Judaism.

That’s why I picked up Adams’ volume Social and Economic Life in Second Temple Judea to review. I was astounded to read that there is no other volume specifically focused upon this subject-matter, something I am still somewhat inclined to doubt (although I have yet to find proof otherwise). Naturally many of the other tomes on Second Temple Judaism treat socioeconomics in passing or so some extent, but it is not the main focus.

A variety of topics are covered: family and the household, the lives of women and children, the marketplace, the state, and the ethics of wealth and poverty. There is the natural challenge of lack of sources in many parts of this study (especially women and children), so Adams makes up for it by contemporary anthropological studies. This can be problematic, as you can read in my review. More so, however, is his use of almost the entire Old Testament as “evidence” of life in the Second Temple period. If you’re not aware of higher critical assumptions, they more or less allow Adams to presume that most/all of the OT was written or finalized in the Second-Temple period, thus allowing him to use it as a primary source. I find this approach specious, but it’s a different kettle of fish for a different day.

You can read my review here.

Some Reviews in the Pipeline

I have a few reviews that will be coming out soon, and some I’m looking forward to producing. I have two reviews coming out in the Westminster Theological Journal that I will post here in time. I’m more interested in reading these three volumes, however:

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).