University of Cambridge

Some Letters of H. B. Swete – Part II

In my last post I mentioned that some of my research has taken me into the exploration of some late-19th century letter correspondence of the iconic Septuagint scholar Henry B. Swete.* The University of Cambridge Library has a special archive search system that allows you to explore the (quite extensive) collection for perusal in the manuscripts room (pictured right). This is at once a terrific resource and a real temptation, since there is an ocean of interesting things waiting to be dusted off and read.

Swete’s Reply

I’ve been giving in to the temptation somewhat recently as I’ve been reading through most of Swete’s mail and wandering off into interesting subjects not directly relevant to what I’m actually looking for. Oh well.

In the first post, I provided photographs and a transcription of a letter dated to 1883 from Edward Atkinson, then master of Clare and (I assume) member of the Syndics of Cambridge University Press. Atkinson writes to ask Swete if he is interested in taking over the editorship of a “smaller” edition of the Septuagint. As you can read below, Swete accepted – much to the benefit of the next century of scholarship – and went on to produce a critical text based on the main codices.

Letter Transcription

Again, I have transcribed each page, with the symbol | indicating a line break. The images have been enhanced for clarity, and can be clicked on and enlarged. I’ve also taken the liberty to include relevant links. If you think I’ve gotten something wrong – or can decipher some of what I have left as [?] lacunae – please say so in the comments below!



Ashdon Rectory
Linton, Cambs
Feb. 15, 1883

My dear Master of Clare,

Allow me to thank you | for conveying to me in so kind | a manner the proposal of the | Press Syndicate.

I do not know any work | in which I should prefer to be | engaged, and I am sincerely | grateful to the Syndicate for | having offered it to me. My | first impression was that with








so slight a knowledge \of the subject/, I ought | not to venture upon such a field; | but this feeling has been | modified by the prospect of | there being no lack of conditions[?] | to undertake particular portions | of the work, and by the pro-|posed appointment of a Subsyn-|dicate charged with the super-|vision of the whole. There is | however another difficulty which | must be stated. My time is at | present very fully occupied; and





before I could enter upon the | preparation of the preliminary | imprint, it would be necessary | to fulfil one or two existing | engagements, and to obtain the | assistance of a Curate. These | arrangements might possibly | take three months to complete.

If the Syndics of the Press | do not consider this delay to be | objectionable, I will gladly | accept their offer; and upon | hearing from you again, or | from Mr [C. J.] Clay, I will at once | take steps to secure the






necessary leisure.

Believe me,
my dear Master,
Yours very sincerely,

H. B. Swete

The Rev.

The Master of Clare College







Next Up

It is hard not to be amused at Swete’s humility, but there is a lesson there for all of us.

There is a boatload of Swete’s correspondence that I’m sorting through, and I will likely post more of it here in the future. Next, however I’ll be posting a letter written by a different Henry, namely Henry A. Redpath.


* I will repeat that I have not looked too diligently into whether I am permitted to share these images publically. If you are someone in charge of such things and wish me to take them down, do let me know at

Some Letters of H. B. Swete – Part I

H. B. Swete (1835-1917)

In the course of my dissertation research I have recently found myself tucked away in the manuscripts room of the Cambridge University Library. My aim is hopefully to discover more about the regrettably unfinished project alluded to in a footnote in Swete’s Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek (1900):

“A lexicon was planned in 1895 by a Cambridge Committee, but the work is suspended for the present.”

Although you may think reading hundred year-old mail to learn more about a failed project is bizarre, the fact is that the correspondence I’ve been sorting through is over two thousand years more recent than the Egyptian personal correspondences I typically mull through in papyri.

But I digress. The point is, I haven’t yet found anything more about this delicious hint of a Cambridge Lexicon of the Septuagint that never was. However, I have found some other fascinating items, which I’d like to share here in a few posts.*

The Old Testament in Greek

If you are new to Septuagint studies, you may not be aware of the range of texts in existence. Much like the New Testament, the text of the Septuagint has been prepared numerous times in critical editions, some of which are more or less valuable for various purposes. This isn’t the place to get into all the critical texts that have been produced thus far, though more information can be found in the T&T Clark Companion to the Septuagint (see here).

The most epoch-making of these critical editions, however, was compiled under the editorship of Swete. Prior to this, only four editions of the Greek Old Testament had been printed, which you can read about in Swete’s introduction to Volume 1 (here). I came across two interesting letters pertaining to how this edition came into existence. First, the invitation to from Cambridge, and secondly, Swete’s reply. The first is below:

Invitation from Cambridge University Press

I have transcribed each page, with the symbol | indicating a line break. The images have been enhanced for clarity, and can be clicked on and enlarged. I’ve also taken the liberty to include relevant links. If you think I’ve gotten something wrong – or can decipher some of what I have left as [?] lacunae – please say so in the comments below!

Clare College Lodge
Feb. 10, 1883

My dear Dr Swete,
I have been requested by the Syndics | of the CUP to ask you whether it would be appealing to you | to edit on behalf of the Syndics an Edition of the Septuagint | which was originally projected about eight years ago under | the auspices of Dr Scrivener, but has made very little progress | up to the present time. The plan originally sketched | out is contained in a letter from Dr Scrivener to the | V. C. & Syndics of the CUP dated Jan. 22, 1875, | of which a copy is enclosed & numbered (1). | In consequence of other engagements Dr Scrivener | made very little progress with the work: and it | was agreed about two years ago to suspend the

work altogether. This was done chiefly because it was | believed that Prof. Lagarde was about to publish a | Edition of the LXX. When it appeared that there was | very little likelihood of this Dr WestcottDr Hort, Mr | Bensley & Mr Kirkpatrick were requested to consider whether | it was desirable to proceed with the work , & if so | whether the original plan should still be adhered to. | A copy of their Report to the Syndicate dated Oct. 1882 | is enclosed & numbered (2). They further reported | on Oct. 25, 1882 that it was desirable that a smaller (?) | Edition of the Vatican MS of the Septuagint with | variants from Sinaitic & Alexandrian MSS | should be published as soon as possible. It was | hoped all this time that Dr Scrivener whould \have/ continued | to act as Editor in chief: and this hope was only | abandoned on my hearing from Dr Srivener about | the middle of January that he had had a |

[page 3] serious illness & must now definitively renounce all hope of | editing the LXX. He has very handsomely offered to place his | materials at the service of the Syndics for the work. The | Committee above named met again to decide what should | now be done and upon their recommendation (of which |a copy is enclosed and numbered (3)) the Syndics have | charged me to invite you to take Dr Srivener’s place.

I enclose two specimen pages of the proposed work, | one numbered (1) shewing what it would have been on the | original plan, the other numbered (2) shewing what it | will be on the new plan of making the Vatican the | basis of the text.

It would be a great pleasure to me to learn that | you were disposed to entertain the proposal which I | have now made on behalf of the Syndics.

I remain
My dear Dr Swete
Yours very truly
E. A. [Edward Atkinson]

Swete’s Reply

I will be transcribing and posting Swete’s reply in the near future (along with some other historical goodies).


* I should say that I have not looked too diligently into whether I am permitted to share these images publically. If you are someone in charge of such things and wish me to take them down, do let me know at

“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