17th May 2007
Shawn Flynn over at Palimpsest has some interesting thoughts on Septuagint criticism and its use in biblical studies, particularly in the study of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.
One of the primary issues that he raises at the beginning of his post is the distinction between “interpretive” translations and “faithful” translations. While I understand what he’s getting at (and the theoretical model underlying his perspective), I’m not sure that such a distinction is always easy to maintain. Nevertheless, the distinction does underscore the important first step of assessing the nature of the Greek text you are dealing with.
Shawn further highlights six steps/questions that should be considered while determining the nature of the LXX text:
- First, textual criticism of the LXX must be conducted.
- With a tentative LXX/OG text, consider the possible Vorlage of the LXX.
- When there is a likely equivalent between the Vorlage and the LXX, other questions must still be considered before equivalence (in terms of equivalent meaning) is assumed.
- When there is a divergence between the likely Vorlage and the LXX, what is the reason?
- Is there enough information to make a decision?
- Did the LXX translator just misunderstand their [sic] Vorlage?
These are all good questions and they represent sound method.
The question that his post raises for me is the high expectations often places on biblical scholars. I personally have read enough NT or OT scholarship to know that scholars often use the LXX uncritically. In fact, even when I was reading some articles for my posts on Psalm 2:12 I was surprised by the way the LXX was appealed to by scholars — some of whom should certainly know better.Â The problem is that it is hard enough to keep up in your own field of studies, let alone someone elses field!Â Should the NT scholar have to be a LXX scholar in order to use the LXX? These unrealistic expectations plague scholarship in general. Archaeologists look with contempt at biblical scholars who attempt to engage archaeological data; biblical scholars roll their eyes at theologians when they appeal to the Bible. I could list many more examples, but you get my point.
In my opinion, while any biblical scholar who appeals to the Septuagint in a scholarly context should use the best critical texts available and employ sound method, that does not mean she or he has to become a Septuagint scholar. Of course, the degree to which an argument depends on the LXX, the more expertise is required. Thus, a NT scholar who is investigating the quotations of the Old Testament in the New better have a good grip on Septuagintal scholarship! It is the responsibility of Septuagint scholars to disseminate the results of their research to others and produce tools for others to use without having to re-invent them, so to speak.
So while I agree in principle with Shawn’s post, I wonder if he is being too idealistic?Â What do my readers think?