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“The LXX says…” – Taking Septuagint Criticism Seriously

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:

  1. First, textual criticism of the LXX must be conducted.
  2. With a tentative LXX/OG text, consider the possible Vorlage of the LXX.
  3. 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.
  4. When there is a divergence between the likely Vorlage and the LXX, what is the reason?
  5. Is there enough information to make a decision?
  6. 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.  The problem is that it is hard enough to keep up in your own field of studies, let alone someone elses field!  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?  What do my readers think?


6 Responses to ““The LXX says…” – Taking Septuagint Criticism Seriously”

  1. JohnFH Says:

    The part I liked best about Flynn’s post is his mis-citation of the standard Handausgabe of the Septuagint as “Ralph’s LXX.” I can’t stop laughing.

    Seriously, Flynn’s post is excellent, and I wish him well. Besides noting the importance of correct methodology in the use of the LXX in the text criticism of the Hebrew Bible, he also notes that the French school focuses more on the importance of the LXX in the history of interpretation. I find that focus illuminating. The focus of Hengel and company, which is different again, is equally so. So there is a lot going on out there. It’s exciting stuff, really, but no one is popularizing it effectively.

  2. Jim Getz Says:

    I’ve always wanted to set up a bib studies program that had students do a year of Hebrew, then a year of LXX Greek, and then hit the Koine. After working through Hebrews I’m convinced that all NT scholars should have a good grasp on the LXX. Uncritical use of the LXX in bib studies is as pervasive and sinister as the uncritical use of Arabic in Semitic philology. “It burns us, my precious!”

  3. Shawn Flynn Says:

    First, thanks Tyler, Jim and John for the interaction and critique. This is the first official response to my blog.
    Is my post being idealistic?
    In one sense I see the criticism is, but I would rather have some idealism in our discipline than lower standards.
    I am not sure running through a basic set of questions as the ones I propose means becoming a Septuagint scholar. Is not asking these question just responsible use of the sources we (HB scholars) employ? Yet I agree it is at the hand of the Septuagint scholars to make the work available. I suggest they are doing well, but I would like to see a wider distribution of the BIOSCS in UK and Europe.
    The real question and criticism I would have with my idealism, is how the work can be done. How can one scholar, in an academic paper dealing with a HB passage lets say, work through the text-criticism of the HB and the LXX as well as deal with the task at hand. I suggest resting on the work of LXX scholars. I am not an LXX scholar and this is what I have had to do, I do not think the question outlined are too complex for any scholar, OT or NT, to consider.
    Thanks for the responses guys.
    Shawn

  4. Shawn Flynn Says:

    Tyler;
    I see your problem with “faithful” vs “interpretive”. The former is quite problematic. Perhaps I could correct the nomenclature; when the LXX is “literal/quantitativeâ€? (replacing “faithfulâ€?) and not being interpretive merely using equivalence versus times it is being interpretive of its source text either through an addition or rendering the source in a different way (as in various Isa cases). Note I never claim the distinction is easy to maintain, but it must be sought despite any difficulties.

  5. Suzanne Says:

    I’ve always wanted to set up a bib studies program that had students do a year of Hebrew, then a year of LXX Greek, and then hit the Koine.

    Interesting. That is close to what did. Classical Greek, Hebrew, Septuagint Greek with Pietersma and then later NT.

  6. Kevin P. Edgecomb Says:

    One thing that sets everything back is the lack of a complete critical edition. Particularly, the Goettingen Septuaginta simply needs to be finished, rather than going through and doing second editions of various volumes (I claw the air at this). Once complete, then it needs to be distributed in editions that are affordable, perhaps with the introductory materials for each current volume compiled in a separate volume, so that we could have texts and apparatus. If the work is to be generally known, we simply need it to be available.