University of Oxford

Visiting Oxford Fellowship in Septuagint Studies (2017-2018)

ochjs_logoAs much as it pains me to admit it, one of the top-tier locations for the study of the Septuagint is the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish studies (CHJS), which has been in existence now for almost fifty years. The focus of the Center is to promote education, scholarly research, and publication that embraces “the full scope of Hebrew and Jewish Studies from antiquity to the contemporary world.”

So, among the many lectures and projects under way at the Centre, the Septuagint frequently finds a prominent place. And two of the top scholars involved in the discipline are currently fellows there as well, Allison Salvesen and Jan Joosten (also see here).

Seminars in Advanced Jewish Studies

There are currently two research projects going on at the CHJS. The first is “Jews, Liberalism, Anti-Semitism: the Dialectics of Inclusion (1780-1950),” on which more can be found here. But the second is focused directly upon the Septuagint, and is entitled:

Greek expanded, Greek transformed: The Vocabulary of the Septuagint and the Cultural World of the Translators

This seminar is under the leadership of Drs. Jan Joosten (Oriental Studies, University of Oxford) and Philomen Probert (Classics and Linguistics, University of Oxford), with other members including Eberhard Bons (Faculté de théologie catholique, Université de Strasbourg), Trevor Evans (Ancient History, Macquarie University), and Gary Anderson (Theology, University of Notre Dame).

The seminar will run from January to June 2018, and is described as follows:

This Oxford Seminar will bring together an international team of scholars from different disciplines to work on the religious and political vocabulary of the Septuagint, combining the expertise of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, where it will be based, with the resources of the Oxford Classics Faculty and the Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics. The project will illuminate for biblical scholars the cultural world of those who produced and read the books of the Septuagint, and will illuminate for classical scholars the ways in which Jews of the Greek world adapted to the dominant culture and influenced it in turn.

Visiting fellows will be granted access to lib-3-e1446124895749the Leopold Muller Memorial Library and the Bodleian Library in Oxford. As it’s title indicates, the focus of this project is focus upon political and religious vocabulary used in the Septuagint and situate it within the Jewish Hellenistic context. This undertaking will bring together study of literary Greek in the Classical and post-Classical periods with investigation of the rich lexical evidence from Ptolemaic papyri and inscriptions. This is a lively area of research in Septuagint scholarship at the moment (and the one upon which my own dissertation is focused), so the results of this seminar should be very fascinating.

The intersection of a wide variety of cultures, religions, and languages in Ptolemaic Egypt produced a remarkable social context in which the Jewish translation project known as the Septuagint was undertaken. With that in view, there is a good deal of research going on at the moment into dialect, sociolect, bi-/multi-lingualism, context of situation, and usage-based linguistics in relation to the Septuagint. So when I read the prospectus for this seminar, I was glad to see the affirmation that the Greek of the Septuagint exerted its own influence within its linguistic community. This was more or less the idea that I addressed in a recent lecture at a conference in Wuppertal this past July, focusing upon one particular construction (see here).

The Seminar Schedule

This seminar will meet weekly in Oxford over two terms beginning in January of 2018, with a concluding conference in on 25-27 June. The window for application is currently open to senior scholars, postdoctoral students, and those at advanced stages of their doctoral program. The deadline for submitting an application is 16 December 2016. You can find more details about the entire seminar here.

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.

Inaugural Lecture by Prof. Jan Joosten (Oxford)

470215_10150940745254410_837526454_oOn October 27th Professor Jan Joosten gave his inaugural lecture as the newly appointed Regius Professor of Hebrew at the University of Oxford. Until recently he was on faculty at the University of Strasbourg (France), but in 2014 transitioned to his new post at Oxford.

Jan is a very prolific scholar to say the least. 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. Aside from being a top scholar in his field, he is very intentional about sharing his work freely. His Academia.edu webpage, where you can even access a full PDF of his Verbal System of Biblical Hebrew and Septuagint Vocabulary volumes, is a fine example of open-access scholarship. Although I was not able to make it to his inaugural lecture, I was very glad to see that a colleague, Marieke Dhont, did attend and recorded it. After obtaining Jan’s permission to publicize it here on the blog, I thought I would present a brief preview of the talk here, and also provide the link.

Click here to listen to the Lecture

Lecture Preview: “Hebrew: A Holy Tongue?”

The sum and substance of Joosten’s argument is that, although Hebrew did not start out as a “holy tongue,” it became one over time and may still rightly be considered as such.

The importance of Hebrew to Judaism and Christianity keeps the study of Hebrew a vibrant and ongoing discipline in universities the world over. In religious tradition, it is the language of God himself, and of all humanity prior to the confusion of Babel. Few interpreters throughout the middle ages contested this notion – on exception being Gregory of Nyssa (4th c.), who considered it unnecessary literalism. Even through the 18th c. many biblical scholars considered Hebrew to be humanity’s original language.

Certainly in today’s world of biblical scholarship things have changed significantly. Views of Hebrew have changed for many reasons. First, Hebrew is again, now for nearly seventy years, a national and living language in the modern state of Israel. It is now a language of the street once more. This makes considering it a “holy” language somewhat difficult. Secondly, previous Regius Professor of Hebrew S. R. Driver (19th c.), major contributor to the development of the historical critical approach to the OT, showed how Hebrew had changed over time. It was not some ineffable heavenly dialect, but one subject to normal linguistic change in space and time. Later, Regius Professor of Hebrew James Barr (late 20th c.) approached Hebrew from a philological perspective, showing how obscure passages could be illuminated by means of Ancient Near Eastern cognate languages. He also destroyed the notion that the “thought” of the OT was somehow inherently bound up with Hebrew per se. Thus once more, Hebrew is not uniquely equipped to express divine truths.

Thus, over the past half-millennium, study of ancient Hebrew has moved away from the idea that Hebrew is “holy.” Nevertheless, says Joosten, Hebrew may yet be reasonably considered a holy tongue that, though originally an ordinary human language, is became fit for religious purposes, and “ever so slightly unfit for everything else” (14:40-15:04 in audio recording).

The Paper in Full

I won’t summarize the entire talk, because then you wouldn’t listen to it yourself. Hopefully the taster above is just enough to make you spend the time doing the rest of the work yourself. But why listen to it when you can get the entire thing in PDF Form? If you can’t think of a reason, then you can read Jan’s lecture in full here.