Second Temple

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

15723755As 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.

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

A User’s Guide to Papyri.info (Part II) – Text

I’ve said it before, but I repeat. Papyri.info is an amazing resource. In preparation to provide a Resource Review for it, I ended up writing a primer post (here). Now, I should say up front that Papyri.info is useful for a very specific niche within LXX research, and that is lexicography. So if you are not interested in lexicography, you can probably skip this review. Otherwise, read on.

To reiterate a point from my primer post, there is debate still going on as to whether the meaning of the Greek words in the LXX are to be determined primarily by reference to their Hebrew counterpart in the source text, or primarily by reference to their contemporary Hellenistic usage.

Eleazar Killing a War Elephant in the Maccabean War (1 Macc. 6:42-47), by B. Picart Broen, 1728

Generally speaking, the debate is not a neat either/or matter, but rather one of primacy. There are many good reasons to take the Hebrew parent text as primary in a number of cases. These tend to be words that have become a terminus technicus. Still, although a Greek word may come to mean something more or different than it did prior to its use in the LXX (e.g. διαθήκη, εἰρήνη), this is not particularly unique. Lexicographers have recognized for some time that word meaning is not static. What this amounts to, then, is that the new uses of Koine words in the LXX is not necessarily due to its status as a translated text. It may rather be attributable to the new socio-political-(religious) context(s).

So, as promised, I shall punt on this issue (for now), and press on.

Background to Papyri.info

As discussed on the homepage, this LXX resource consists of the papyrological navigator and the papyrological editor. Since I have no business dealing with the latter, I won’t (most likely, neither should you). The former, however, “supports searching, browsing, and aggregation of ancient papyrological documents and related materials.” The wonderful thing about papyri.info is that it is a one-stop resource for material that quite recently was scattered hither and yon. As the homepage says, the site collates material from the Advanced Papyrological Information System (APIS), Duke Databank of Documentary Papyri (DDbDP), Heidelberger Gesamtverzeichnis der griechischen Papyrusurkunden Ägyptens (HGV), Bibliographie Papyrologique (BP). 

Most of this information was accessible by CD-Rom prior to the mid-2000s, but now it’s all free and constantly updated. To force you to appreciate how wonderful this is, consider this quote:

“Not just hours or weeks, but months were spent searching for [Greek] words in the indexes of documentary volumes and confirming occurrences. Every text had to be laboriously copied by hand in the library, then recopied into the manuscript when written, before finally being handed over for typing… Photocopying was only just beginning to be possible” (J. A. L. Lee, “A Lexical Study Thirty Years On,” 515).

 So count yourself lucky to be a part of the age of xerox, email, and open-source internet. The “how-to” I’ve written up below walks through some material laid out on the papyri.info site already, and some of my own additions as well.

Using Papyri.info

Considering that this is a freely accessible website, the functionality of papyri.info/search is remarkable. The first thing you’ll notice is the main search window:

search

I will usually tick the “Convert from betacode as you type” button so that your keystrokes enter Greek directly. Otherwise, you have to cut-and-paste unicode Greek font from somewhere else. A good guide to betacode typing can be found here (also pdf). The other toggle buttons are self-evident: if capitalization is relevant to your search (e.g. proper nouns), you may want to un-tick “Ignore Capitalization,” and the same for diacritics/accents.

The most simple type of search is a “string” search, meaning “string” of characters. Simply entering καί into the search bar, for example, will turn up 31,604 hits. Note how the site conveniently highlights your word(s) when you click on a particular text. Moreover, you can link to that text and have the highlighting remain (see p.worp 16, below). But back to the search on καί. It is important to know that included in the massive search result number is any word in which the characters κ-α-ί occur in sequence, such as καῖσαρ or καιρός. This is where the ‘#’ code is crucial, as it breaks off a string from surrounding characters. If you wanted only καί, then, you would enter #καί#, which would return 28,138 hits.  

Further, you can search for phrases using quotes. So if you were looking for instances of μὴ φοβοῦ, you’d enter “‘μὴ φοβοῦ'” and get just a single hit (p.worp 16). You’ll notice that in p.worp 16 there is a translation of the papyrus provided. This is a major boon when it happens, although in my experience that is rarely. Of course, in this case, the translation is into Italian, but it is helpful nevertheless.

You’ll also notice the group of buttons below the search bar. buttonsThese buttons really amplify the capacity of the engine, so they’re worth learning to use. I will spend some time walking through the more basic button functions here, and then wait until a third (!) post to treat the more sophisticated ones… partly because I’m still figuring them out.

Firstly, the “and” “or” and “not” buttons do exactly what you would expect. When you enter any Greek word in the search window, then hit one of those three buttons, a second search window will appear below for your second criterion (or third, etc.).comboThis allows you to include, alternate, or exclude certain words.

The following two buttons, “then” and “near,” deal more with sequencing of words. For example, if we wanted to see if the prepositional phrase εἰς ἀπάντησιν occurs in any papyri, we’d type, εἰς and click the “then” button and add ἀπάντησιν. The “within ___” window will become active automatically, and we’ll enter 3, for example, and then select “words” from the drop-down to the right, although you can also search by character for more refined quests. So our sample search is “εἰς THEN ἀπάντησιν within 3 words.” We get two results:

Eureka!

Eureka!

Note that the “then” button sets up the search for terms in the order in which they were entered (εἰς followed by ἀπάντησιν), while the “near” button searches in either direction within the limits you set, whether by word or character.

This is one of innumerable possible searches just with these first few buttons. As mentioned, I will reserve comment on the following buttons for a third installment. The last few are the most powerful (and finicky), and so take space to treat well. Disclaimer: It may take me some time to produce this final post.