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The Septuagint and Textual Criticism: Retroverting the Text

23rd February 2011

[One of my main areas of research is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint. This post talks about how the Greek text can be used to help us understand the Hebrew original. It was originally published 08/2009]

In this post I am laying a foundation for my next installment in my series on Psalm 151 in the Biblical Tradition, by discussing how to retrovert a text from one language into another. This is most commonly done when using the Septuagint in the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. Thus, in order to employ the LXX in textual criticism one must retrovert the Greek text back into Hebrew (for more information on the Septuagint and textual criticism in general see my series of posts on Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible). In many cases retroverting a text is easier said than done.

Here are some tips for retroverting a text:

Focus on the translation technique of the individual book in question. The LXX is not a uniform translation. Various translators at different times, with varying philosophies of translation and different language capability, translated different portions of the Hebrew Bible to make up the LXX. For example, the translation of the Torah is a good formal translation, the translation of the Psalter is very formal, while the translations of Proverbs and Isaiah are less so. Thus one cannot assume that the way one translator rendered a particular Hebrew word or construction will be the same fora translator of a different book. Each individual book of the LXX has its own idiosyncrasies to its translation; thus a careful examination of its translation technique is necessary before one can retrovert the text with any confidence.

Examine the different ways a translator renders a particular word. In order to figure out what Hebrew word may be behind a particular Greek word in a passage, you need to look up every instance of the Greek word in question within the biblical book and note what Hebrew word was being rendered. There are a number of useful resources that will help you with this task. If you have a Bible software package with the original language modules, then you can do a Greek lemma search and see what Hebrew was being translated. Even more ideal is if you have Emauel Tov’s The Parallel Aligned Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Texts of Jewish Scripture module where you can see the equivalent elements of the MT and the LXX (as reconstructed by the editor). For more on the different software programs available for Biblical Studies, see my Bible Software pages. If you do not have a Bible software package, then you can manually look up how a word is with Takamitsu Muraoka’s Hebrew/Aramaic Index to the Septuagint: Keyed to the Hatch-Redpath Concordance (Baker Academic, 1998; Buy from | which also comes included in Edwin Hatch, Henry A. Redpath, A Concordance to the Septuagint: And the other Greek Versions of the Old Testament – Including the Apocryphal Books (Second edition, two volumes in one; Includes Muraoka, “Hebrew/Aramaic Index”; Baker Academic, 1998; Buy from |

Identify a pattern. If a clear pattern emerges, propose a retroversion. When you examine the different ways an individual book tends to translate a word into Greek, and if there is a clear default rendering, then you can be fairly confident in proposing the retroversion. While you can never be 100% certain with any retroversion, some will be more certain than others.  If a clear pattern doesn’t emerge, or if the words in question do not occur frequently enough in the book under study, then you will need to broaden your investigation to see how the word is rendered elsewhere in the LXX. While this will not produce as clear of results as the previous situation, you can still produce a workable retroversion.

With these principles in mind, the Septuagint may be employed quite fruitfully in the textual criticism of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. Of course, retroversion may also be used with texts of other languages, and even in ascertaining the relationship between Hebrew Dead Sea  Scroll texts and the Septuagint (as I will seek to do in my next post on Psalm 151).

Posted in Dead Sea Scrolls, Psalm 151 in the Biblical Tradition, Septuagint, Text Criticism, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible | 2 Comments »

R.I.P. John William Wevers

29th July 2010

World class Septuagintal scholar John William Wevers passed away last week. Here is a notice that was sent to the members of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies:

On July 23, Professor Emeritus John William Wevers, of the University of Toronto, passed away at the age of 91. Prof. Wevers was struck by a cerebral hemorrhage in the Toronto nursing home where he had lived since July 2008. A memorial service will be held in Toronto on Sept. 11.

During his long tenure at the University of Toronto, Prof. Wevers had brought the Department of Near Eastern Studies (now merged into the Dept. of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations) to unprecedented complement and quality; he himself became an undisputed master of Septuagint Studies during the last decades of the 20th century, having produced the critical edition of the whole Greek Pentateuch for the Göttingen Septuaginta Unternehmen, and added further text-critical studies, translations, and commentaries to each of the five main volumes of this edition. Prof. Wevers’s knowledge and contribution extended to several other languages; he had, in particular, made significant contributions to Classical Hebrew scholarship, as well as vigorously promoting its study at the University of Toronto.

He was one of the few scholars I know who had the mastery of the languages and texts necessary to do true textual criticism.

May his name be a blessing for future generations. R.I.P.

Posted in CSBS, IOSCS, Scholars, Septuagint, Text Criticism | 1 Comment »

Williamson on the Oxford Hebrew Bible

13th July 2009

The latest volume of Biblica has an excellent article by H.G.M. Williamson evaluating the proposed Oxford Hebrew Bible project. In the article, “Do We Need A New Bible? Reflections on the Proposed Oxford Hebrew Bible” (Biblica 90/2 [2009] 153-175), Williamson begins by noting his general methodological agreement with the project, but then continues to raise some very serious problems with the project as a whole.  Some of his objections relate to the nature of the textual evidence for the Hebrew Bible, while others are connected with the proposed format of the OHB.

Here is his concluding paragraph:

It shows a sorry lack of understanding about the fact that our text is a linguistic hybrid which makes this enterprise flawed from the start. Its form of presentation only aggravates that problem, since against its stated objectives it will not present anything remotely resembling an eclectic edition of a supposed archetype. And finally it fails to take into account the ways in which the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible inevitably differs from that of most other texts, leading, I fear, to further confusion on the part of those who are not already well versed in the subject. In the present state of knowledge, as well as in the light of the extraordinary range of diversity of opinion in this field, what is required is full and sober textual commentary. I have no doubt that that aspect of the project will be welcomed and widely used; but it is not a Bible, new or old.

I too have had a number of methodological questions about the project, so it is nice to see Williamson raising some of the same concerns I have had.

I encourage you to read the article carefully!

Posted in Hebrew, Old Testament, Text Criticism | Comments Off

Jonah’s “Big Fish” Story 3: Jonah and the Sailors (1:1-16)

26th March 2009

[I will be republishing my series on the Hebrew text of Jonah for my current introductory Hebrew class since I had to go back and fix the Hebrew in the posts]

The first chapter of the book of Jonah begins with Jonah’s call to go to Nineveh. But instead of heading for Nineveh, he heads the opposite direction to Tarshish aboard a ship filled with pagan sailors. Jonah’s presence on the ship does not bode well for the sailors, who eventually figure out Jonah is the reason their ship is in danger. After much prayer, they toss Jonah into the sea, after which he is swallowed by a divinely appointed “big fish.” Thus begins Jonah’s “Big Fish” story.

Jonah and the Sailors (1:1-16)

Jonah1-LeningradCodex-sm.jpgHebrew Text

The Hebrew Text is taken from BHS. Click on the image to the right to view the passage in the actual Leningrad Codex (MS B19 A). To hear the chapter read in Hebrew, an MP3 file is available here.

‏וַיְהִי דְּבַר־יְהוָה אֶל־יוֹנָה בֶן־אֲמִתַּי לֵאמֹר׃ קוּם לֵךְ אֶל־נִינְוֵה הָעִיר הַגְּדוֹלָה וּקְרָא עָלֶיהָ כִּי־עָלְתָה רָעָתָם לְפָנָי׃ וַיָּקָם יוֹנָה לִבְרֹחַ תַּרְשִׁישָׁה מִלִּפְנֵי יְהוָה וַיֵּרֶד יָפוֹ וַיִּמְצָא אָנִיָּה בָּאָה תַרְשִׁישׁ וַיִּתֵּן שְׂכָרָהּ וַיֵּרֶד בָּהּ לָבוֹא עִמָּהֶם תַּרְשִׁישָׁה מִלִּפְנֵי יְהוָה׃ וַיהוָה הֵטִיל רוּחַ־גְּדוֹלָה אֶל־הַיָּם וַיְהִי סַעַר־גָּדוֹל בַּיָּם וְהָאֳנִיָּה חִשְּׁבָה לְהִשָּׁבֵר׃ וַיִּירְאוּ הַמַּלָּחִים וַיִּזְעֲקוּ אִישׁ אֶל־אֱלֹהָיו וַיָּטִלוּ אֶת־הַכֵּלִים אֲשֶׁר בָּאֳנִיָּה אֶל־הַיָּם לְהָקֵל מֵעֲלֵיהֶם וְיוֹנָה יָרַד אֶל־יַרְכְּתֵי הַסְּפִינָה וַיִּשְׁכַּב וַיֵּרָדַם׃ וַיִּקְרַב אֵלָיו רַב הַחֹבֵל וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ מַה־לְּךָ נִרְדָּם קוּם קְרָא אֶל־אֱלֹהֶיךָ אוּלַי יִתְעַשֵּׁת הָאֱלֹהִים לָנוּ וְלֹא נֹאבֵד׃ וַיֹּאמְרוּ אִישׁ אֶל־רֵעֵהוּ לְכוּ וְנַפִּילָה גוֹרָלוֹת וְנֵדְעָה בְּשֶׁלְּמִי הָרָעָה הַזֹּאת לָנוּ וַיַּפִּלוּ גּוֹרָלוֹת וַיִּפֹּל הַגּוֹרָל עַל־יוֹנָה׃ וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו הַגִּידָה־נָּא לָנוּ בַּאֲשֶׁר לְמִי־הָרָעָה הַזֹּאת לָנוּ מַה־מְּלַאכְתְּךָ וּמֵאַיִן תָּבוֹא מָה אַרְצֶךָ וְאֵי־מִזֶּה עַם אָתָּה׃ וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶם עִבְרִי אָנֹכִי וְאֶת־יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם אֲנִי יָרֵא אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂה אֶת־הַיָּם וְאֶת־הַיַּבָּשָׁה׃ וַיִּירְאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים יִרְאָה גְדוֹלָה וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו מַה־זֹּאת עָשִׂיתָ כִּי־יָדְעוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים כִּי־מִלִּפְנֵי יְהוָה הוּא בֹרֵחַ כִּי הִגִּיד לָהֶם׃ וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו מַה־נַּעֲשֶׂה לָּךְ וְיִשְׁתֹּק הַיָּם מֵעָלֵינוּ כִּי הַיָּם הוֹלֵךְ וְסֹעֵר׃ וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶם שָׂאוּנִי וַהֲטִילֻנִי אֶל־הַיָּם וְיִשְׁתֹּק הַיָּם מֵעֲלֵיכֶם כִּי יוֹדֵעַ אָנִי כִּי בְשֶׁלִּי הַסַּעַר הַגָּדוֹל הַזֶּה עֲלֵיכֶם׃ וַיַּחְתְּרוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים לְהָשִׁיב אֶל־הַיַּבָּשָׁה וְלֹא יָכֹלוּ כִּי הַיָּם הוֹלֵךְ וְסֹעֵר עֲלֵיהֶם׃ וַיִּקְרְאוּ אֶל־יְהוָה וַיֹּאמְרוּ אָנָּה יְהוָה אַל־נָא נֹאבְדָה בְּנֶפֶשׁ הָאִישׁ הַזֶּה וְאַל־תִּתֵּן עָלֵינוּ דָּם נָקִיא כִּי־אַתָּה יְהוָה כַּאֲשֶׁר חָפַצְתָּ עָשִׂיתָ׃ וַיִּשְׂאוּ אֶת־יוֹנָה וַיְטִלֻהוּ אֶל־הַיָּם וַיַּעֲמֹד הַיָּם מִזַּעְפּוֹ׃ וַיִּירְאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים יִרְאָה גְדוֹלָה אֶת־יְהוָה וַיִּזְבְּחוּ־זֶבַח לַיהוָה וַיִּדְּרוּ נְדָרִים׃ ‎


Please note that my translation is more formal in nature and purposefully highlights literary and poetic features of the text. The versification follows the Hebrew text.

1:1 The word of YHWH came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying: 2 Get up, go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim against it; for their wickedness has come before me. 3 Jonah, however, got up to flee to Tarshish away from the presence of YHWH. So he went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish, and he paid its hire, and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish, from the presence of YHWH. 4 But YHWH hurled a great wind to the sea, and there was a great storm upon the sea that the ship thought about breaking up!

5 And the sailors were afraid and cried out, each to his own god; and they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten [it] for them. But Jonah had gone down into the hold of the vessel and had lain down, and was in a deep sleep. 6 The captain went over to him and cried out, “Why are you sleeping so soundly? Get up, call upon your god! Perhaps the god will bear us in mind and we will not perish.” 7 The men said to one another, “Let us cast lots and find out on whose account this misfortune has come upon us.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 They said to him, “Please declare to us — you who have brought this evil upon us — what is your business? Where have you come from? What is your country, and from what people are you?” 9 And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew and I fear YHWH, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 The men were greatly terrified [feared a great fear], and they said to him, “How could you have done this?” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of YHWH, for so he had told them. 11 And they said to him, “What must we do to you so that the sea calms down for us?” For the sea was growing more and more stormy. 12 He answered, “Heave me overboard, and then the sea will calm down for you; for I know that this great storm came upon you on my account.” 13 Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to return to the dry land, but they could not, for the sea was growing more and more stormy against them. 14 Then they called to YHWH: “Oh, please, YHWH, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life and do not put innocent blood upon us! For You, O YHWH, have done just as you pleased.” 15 And they cast Jonah into the sea, and the sea stopped from its raging. 16 The men feared YHWH with a great fear, and they sacrificed a sacrifice to YHWH, and they vowed vows.

Translation & Text Critical Notes

For basic identification and parsing, please see the excerpts from Owens (PDF) or Beall and Banks (PDF). For bibliography noted in my post on “Resources for the Study of the Book of Jonah,” only short references will be provided here. See my “Mastering Biblical Hebrew” pages for more information on any Hebrew grammars and lexicons mentioned.

Verse 1

  • וַיְהִי- This Qal prefix vav conversive apocopated form is at home in Hebrew narrative and is the typical opening for “historical” books like Joshua, Judges, 1Samuel, and Ruth (see AC 3.5.1 c).
  • יוֹנָה בֶן־אֲמִתַּי - This “Jonah son of Amittai” is considered to be the nationalistic prophet of the same name mentioned in 2Kings 14:23-29.

Verse 2

  • קוּם לֵךְ- Of the two imperative verbs, קוּם functions as an auxiliary verb to the principal verb לֵךְ and may be translated something like “Arise, go…” or better, “Go at once…” (GKC 120g).
  • וּקְרָא עָלֶיהָ- The collocation of על with the verbקראtypically has negative connotations, hence my translation “proclaim against.” The parallel statement in Jonah 3:2 on the other hand has אל. While this change may only suggest the interchangeable nature of the prepositions (WO’C), the change to the more innocuous “proclaim to” in 3:2 may foreshadow the Ninevites’ positive response to Jonah’s message (see Ben Zvi).
  • הָעִיר הַגְּדוֹלָה- The definite articles are functioning as weak demonstratives, “that great city” (AC 2.6.6). Alternatively, both adjectives could be modifying the noun, “Nineveh the great city” (J-M 138b; 141c; BHRG 30.2.2vii).
  • כִּי־עָלְתָה רָעָתָם לְפָנָי- This phrase should be taken as causal (“because…”), providing the rationale for God sending the prophet to Nineveh (contra Sasson who understands it as asseverative). See AC 4.3.4a, i.

Verse 3

  • מִלִּפְנֵי- This compound preposition is best translated as “away from the presence of” or even just “away from” (HALOT).
  • תַרְשִׁישׁ- The identification of “Tarshish” is the subject of much spilled ink (see Sasson for a discussion). I tend to think of it as an ancient “Timbuktu.” Either way, the point is that Jonah headed in the exact opposite direction of Nineveh. Note that it occurs both with and without the directive ה in this passage
  • אָנִיָּה- The footnote in BHS (sic L, mlt MSS Edd אֳניה cf 4.5) suggests that the pointing of אָנִיָּה is incorrect; it should be אֳניהas many other Masoretic texts indicate as well as the pointing in vv. 4 and 5.
  • וַיִּתֵּן שְׂכָרָהּ- The antecedent of the 3fs possessive pronoun is clearly אָנִיָּה(“paid its [i.e., the ship's] fare”). A number of Jewish traditions (and modern authors) suggest this indicates Jonah rented the entire ship (and thus was wealthy), which again emphasizes the extent to which he was willing to avoid God’s call.
  • עִמָּהֶם- While the sailors are not mentioned until v. 5, the 3mp object suffix on עִמָּהֶם refers to the sailors included in the sense of the term אָנִיָּה (GKC 135p).

Verse 4

  • וַיהוָה- The fronted subject with the conjunction breaks the series of vav conversives and introduces a different subject and is best rendered as “but YHWH…” (AC 3.5.4; 5.1.2b.2).
  • חִשְּׁבָה לְהִשָּׁבֵר- Many translations render this combination of Piel affix 3fs and Nifal infinitive construct something like, “the ship was about to break up” (NASB) or the like. I prefer to take it as an example of personification or prosopopoeia where the ship is portrayed as thinking about breaking up. This understanding is supported by the fact thatחשׁבis always used elsewhere with an animate subject. See WO’C 23.2.1 for the sense of the Nifal here.

Verse 5

  • אִישׁ אֶל־אֱלֹהָיו- This is a distributive use ofאִישׁ, “each to his own god” (GKC 139b). It could also be translated “each to his own gods” since the sailors were evidently pagan.
  • לְהָקֵל- The Hifil infinitive construct needs an object, i.e., “to lighten [it].”
  • “But Jonah had gone down… and had lain down, and had fallen fast asleep.” The fronted subject once again interrupts the sequence of wayyiqtol verbs and marks a new subject which contrasts Jonah’s actions with those of the sailors.
  • וַיֵּרָדַם- The verbרדםmeans “deep sleep” and is from the same root as the noun used to describe Adam’s sleep when the woman was taken out of his side in Gen 2:21. The Septuagint translatesרדםwith the verb ῥέγχω “snore,” which adds some humour to the scene as Jonah’s snoring was apparently loud enough for the captain of the ship to hear him from above deck as he comes down to Jonah and asks him what is he doing snoring when a life threatening storm has been thrown to the sea by YHWH (see my post on snoring here)!

Verse 6

  • רַב הַחֹבֵל- Lit., “chief of the sailors,” i.e., captain.
  • מַה־לְּךָ נִרְדָּם- The Nifal participle may be functioning as a subordinate accusative of state, i.e., the object of the non verbal interrogative construction, lit. “what [is it] to you, sleeping?” = “why are you sleeping so soundly?” (see GKC 120b; J-M 127a, 161i). I am almost tempted to take the participle as a vocative and translate it something like, “What is the matter with you, sleepy head?!”
  • יִתְעַשֵּׁת - The Hitpael of עשׁתis a hapax that means something like “bear in mind” (HALOT).

Verse 7

  • Note the cohortative הs on וְנַפִּילָהand וְנֵדְעָה .
  • בְּשֶׁלְּמִי- The compound particle is made up of the preposition ב + relative שׁ + preposition ל + interrogative מי; together it means “on whose account” (HALOT), or “for whose cause” (GKC 150k). For the combination of the relative שׁ and preposition ל, see WO’C 19.4a n15.
  • Note the idiom of “casting lots” with the verb נפל.

Verse 8

  • There is a rather oblique text critical footnote in BHS (“nonn add Hab” = “several manuscripts have added”) marking off the phrase בַּאֲשֶׁר לְמִי־הָרָעָה הַזֹּאת לָנוּ, “on whose account has this evil come upon us” (as well as a similar phrase in v. 10; see below). The footnote suggests the editors of BHS considered this phrase to be an addition or later gloss. While they do not provide any reasons, it is likely based on two things: (1) the phrase is omitted in the LXX and a number of Masoretic manuscripts and (2) it appears to be a doublet or repetition of virtually the same phrase in v. 7. While this is certainly possible, the phrase is found in the huge majority of Masoretic texts as well as scrolls from Qumran. Furthermore, the absence of the phrase in some Hebrew and Greek manuscripts can easily be explained by homoeoteleuton (skipping over words between words with similar endings) triggered by the repetition of לָנוּ in the Hebrew or ἐν ἡμῖν in the Greek. That being said, the question of how to translate it remains. The most straightforward translation is to repeat the question, “on whose account has this evil come upon us?” even though they already know the answer and Jonah doesn’t answer it (see NASB, KJV, NIV). Another, perhaps better, option is to render it as a relative clause, “you who have brought this evil upon us” (see JPS and Sasson). This recognizes the subtle difference of the construction בַּאֲשֶׁר לְמִי־הָרָעָה הַזֹּאת לָנוּ with בְּשֶׁלְּמִי הָרָעָה הַזֹּאת לָנוּin the preceding verse.
  • The sailors pose four questions to Jonah: (1) what is your mission? (2) from where are you coming? (3) what is your (home)land? and (4) from what people are you? (the combination of the interrogative with מן does not produce any notable change in meaning; J-M 143g).

Verse 9

  • עִבְרִי אָנֹכִי- The order of predicate –> subject in the verbless clause indicates classification and refers to a general class (Hebrews) of which the subject is a member (WO’C 8.4.2). The term “Hebrew” is typically only used in the HB to imply a contrast with foreigners (GKC 2b).
  • The irony of Jonah’s confession is marvelous; while his confesses he fears “YHWH, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land,” he also appears to believe he can flee from this same YHWH by taking a sea voyage!

Verse 10

  • וַיִּירְאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים יִרְאָה גְדוֹלָה- This construction of a verb with a direct object derived from the same root is called an “internal accusative” or “cognate accusative.” It serves to strengthen the verbal idea and may be translated “the men were greatly terrified” or the like (AC 2.3.1c; GKC 117q).
  • מַה־זֹּאת- The linking of the interrogative pronoun to the feminine demonstrative is an exclamation of shock or horror rather than a query (Sasson).
  • כִּי הִגִּיד לָהֶם- This phrase is marked off as a gloss in BHS (see discussion on v. 8 above).

Verse 11

  • מַה־נַּעֲשֶׂה לָּךְ- The prefix form in this context likely has a modal nuance, i.e., “what must we do to you…” (J-M 113m).
  • וְיִשְׁתֹּק- The prefix + vav form indicates purpose, “so that” (J-M 169i; BHRG 21.5.1.iv).
  • הוֹלֵךְ וְסֹעֵר- The participles form a hendiadys to convey repetition and increasing intensity, with הלךfulfilling an auxiliary role (GKC 113u).

Verse 12

  • וְיִשְׁתֹּק- The prefix + vav form in Jonah’s reply has a consecutive sense, “then…” (J-M 169i).

Verse 13

  • וַיַּחְתְּרוּ- The verb חתר means “to dig”; it is used here to suggest hard rowing or “digging” into the water with their oars.

Verse 14

  • The first person plural cohortatives are found here with the particle of entreaty נָא, often translated as “please” or the like (J-M 114f; GKC 105, 108c).
  • כִּי־אַתָּה יְהוָה כַּאֲשֶׁר חָפַצְתָּ עָשִׂיתָ- This clause is a bit difficult to unpack. Sasson takes it and the preceding clause as separate motivations offered by the sailors to God: “Indeed, you are YHWH; and whatever you desire, you accomplish.” While this is possible, I think Sasson is giving too much weight to the zaqef qaton on YHWH. I have translated YHWH as a vocative and the relative clause as modifying אַתָּה“you.”

Verse 15

  • מִזַּעְפּוֹ- The Qal infinitive construct with the prepositionמן (and the 3ms suffix) serves as a verbal complement to עמד, “the sea stopped from its raging.”

Verse 16

  • וַיִּירְאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים יִרְאָה גְדוֹלָה אֶת־יְהוָה- The verb here has double accusatives: YHWH is the affected object (the object that existed apart and before the action of the verb, but is reached by the verb), while the “great fear” is the internal object (the object is an abstract noun of action typically of the same root as the verb, and thus a cognate accusative) (AC 2.3.1; J-M 125u n1).
  • Note again the irony that the pagan sailors are more devout than Jonah.


While I will leave most of the larger questions of interpretation to a later post, I do want to highlight a few things from chapter one.

First, it is difficult if not impossible to pick up on a significant key word for the book of Jonah: גָּדוֹל“great” or “big.” Everything in Jonah is “great”: Nineveh (v. 2), the wind (v. 4), the storm (v. 4, 12), the sailors’ fear (v. 10) and their repentance (v. 16). In later chapters we will encounter a “great” or “big” fish (2:1), among other things.

Second, the frequent use of גָּדוֹלas well as some of the other language in this (the ship thinking) and later chapters (the animals putting sackcloth on themselves in 3:8), “shifts the story to the fabulous” as Sasson suggests. I will come back to this observation in a later post.

Finally, when examining the characterization of Jonah, YHWH, and the pagan sailors in this chapter it is striking:

  • Jonah does exactly the opposite of what YHWH calls him to do: instead of getting up and going (קוּם לֵךְ), he got up to flee (וַיָּקָם יוֹנָה לִבְרֹחַ ), and then in contrast to getting up, he has a series of descents (ירד) in order to get away from YHWH’s call. And of course, as I already noted, the irony between Jonah’s flight and his confession is stunning.
  • The sailors come across much better than Jonah. Their actions are often parallel to those of YHWH: they, like YHWH, tell Jonah to “get up” and “call” (1:2, 6); they both “cast to the sea” (1:4, 5, 15). In addition, a contrast is set up between the sailors and Jonah: Jonah’s fear (1:9) vs. the sailors’ fear (1:10); and “perish” in the mouths of the sailors (1:7, 14) vs. from Jonah’s perspective (4:10).

Well, this post has ended up longer than I anticipated. I better end it here. We’ll pick up Jonah chapter three next.

Posted in Jonah, Jonah's "Big Fish" Story, Old Testament, Text Criticism | 2 Comments »

Codex Sinaiticus Conference

7th February 2009

As many of my readers may or may not know, there will be a special Codex Sinaiticus Conference at the British Library, London, on 6-7 July 2009.

The Codex Sinaiticus Project, an international initiative to reunite the entire manuscript in digital form and make it accessible to a global audience for the first time (see, will host a conference devoted to this seminal fourth-century Bible.

To celebrate the Project’s achievements, on 6-7 July 2009, the British Library is hosting an academic conference on topics relating to Codex Sinaiticus. A number of leading experts have been approached to give presentations on the history, text, conservation, paleography and codicology, among other topics, of Codex Sinaiticus. Selected conference papers will be edited and published as a collection of articles.

The list of confirmed speakers is quite impressive:

  • Christfried Böttrich
  • Christopher Clarkson
  • Eldon J. Epp
  • Harry Y. Gamble
  • Dirk Jongkind
  • René Larsen
  • David Parker
  • Albert Pietersma
  • Emanuel Tov
  • David Trobisch
  • Klaus Wachtel

As you can see, my advisor, Al Pietersma, is among the speakers.

It looks as if it will be a great conference.

If you want to read more about Codex Sinaiticus, check out my profile of the manuscript which was part of my Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible series.

Posted in Announcements, Conferences, Septuagint, Sinaiticus, Text Criticism | 1 Comment »

Codex Sinaiticus Digitization Project Going Live

23rd July 2008

The first online phase of the Codex Sinaiticus digitization project headed by the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing at the University of Birmingham, in cooperation with the British Library and the three other holding libraries, will be going live Thursday 24 July 2008 at

Most news services have been covering this story:

This is an exciting project — I hope other similar projects will be inspired by this one so that more primary texts will be available online. From the available preview, the site should be spectacular.

For more information on Codex Sinaiticus, please see the profile I wrote as part of my Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible series.

Posted in Manuscript, Old Testament, Septuagint, Sinaiticus, Text Criticism | 2 Comments »

“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?

Posted in Criticism, Septuagint, Text Criticism | 6 Comments »

The Final Word on Psalm 2:12

15th May 2007

The debate surrounding the translation and interpretation of Psalm 2:12 continues. For some context, you can see my previous post here, while John Hobbins has some further (good) reflections on why it is inappropriate to capitalize “Son” in this verse (assuming you understand the phrase as “kiss the son”), even if you understand further christological significance in the passage.

Turning our attention back to the actual text critical problem with this passage, Chris Heard has posted on the difficulty of translating  נשקו־בר (“kiss the sonâ€? or the like) in Psalm 2:12. He notes a recent article in German by Liudger Sabottka on this passage in question in Biblica 87 (2006), entitled, “Ps 2,12: ‘Küsst den Sohn!’?â€? [“Ps 2:12: ‘Kiss the son!’?â€?]. Sabottka suggests taking the verb נשק as an example of נשק II, “arm or equip” with a privative meaning, e.g., “disarm.” He further takes בר as “pure, sincere,” and offers the translation, “Rüstet ehrlich ab!â€? or as Chris translates it,  “Really/truly/honestly disarm [yourselves]!â€?

While this interpretation is possible (are not all things possible?!), I’m not convinced it is the best. While the privative use of the Piel stem is acknowledged by all Hebrew grammarians, it is not very common. According to GKC it is limited to denominative verbs (i.e., verbs that derive from nouns) and occurs only a handful of times (see 52 h).  Jenni similarly notes this usage in his Das Hebraische Pi‘el (p. 273), though he eschews the specialized privative function and understands it as a general factitive-resultative use (and Waltke and O’Connor follow Jenni in this regard, see 24.4f). While this understanding נשק in Ps 2:12 is certainly possible, I am not sure that such a rare usage is warranted. Furthermore, in all of the examples of the privative function noted, none of them are ever modified by an adverb, let alone an adjective. To say the least, I remain unconvinced by Sabottka’s proposal.

While many proposed interpretations of the phrase נשקו־בר focus on understanding בר bar, perhaps a better way forward is through an examination of the verb נשק nashaq. The verb itself occurs 35x in the Hebrew Bible (this includes supposed homonyms), including the passage under scrutiny.

Here is a breakdown of how the verb is used:

  • The verb most often occurs with an expressed personal object. Most frequently (21x) the object is marked by the preposition lamed: “A kissed ל-Bâ€? (Qal: Gen 27:26,27; 29:11; 48:10; 50:1; Exod 4:27; 18:7; 2Sam 14:33; 2Sam 15:5; 2Sam 19:40; 20:9; 1Kgs 19:18; 19:20; Job 31:27; Prov 7:13; Ruth 1:9, 14; Piel: Gen 29:13; 31:28; 32:1; 45:15).
  • Four times a pronominal suffix marks the personal object: “A kissed him/her/me/youâ€? (all Qal: Gen 33:4; 1Sam 10:1; Song 1:2; 8:1).
  • There are two instances where the verb takes an impersonal object; in both of these cases the object is not marked by the preposition lamed, but simply precedes the verb (Qal: Hos 13:2, “people kissing calvesâ€?; Prov 24:26, “he kisses the lipsâ€?).
  • The object of reciprocal kisses are not marked with a preposition lamed; in these two cases the object may either follow (Qal 1Sam 20:41) or precede the verb (Ps 85:11 [Eng v. 10]; many conjecture this form should be pointed as a Niphal).

The remaining five instances are more problematic:

  • Three times it appears in military contexts connected with קשת qeshet, “bowâ€?: Ps 78:9 “equipped with bowsâ€?; 1Chron 12:2 “equipped with bowâ€?; 2Chron 17:17 “armed/equipped with bow.â€? In these instances most lexicons hypothesize a different root, e.g., נשק II “handle, be equipped withâ€? (BDB), “to join one to another,â€? i.e., to “take one’s place in rankâ€? (HALOT). This homonym is understood to be a denominative from the noun nesheq, “equipment, weaponsâ€? and is perhaps related to the Arabic nasaqa, “to line up, to place in order.â€?
  • The remaining two instances are connected to נשק II by HALOT: Gen 41:40 (Qal) “Order themselvesâ€?? and Ezek 3:13 (Hifil) “the sound of the wings touching one another.â€? I personally would relate the occurrence in Ezek 3:13 to נשק I “kissâ€? and understand it as an idiom, lit., “and the sound of the wings of the living creatures kissing each to its sisterâ€? i.e., “brushing against one another.â€? This example is parallel to the construction found in 1Sam 20:41 “each his neighbourâ€?; we also use the English verb “kissâ€? in the same manner.

Based on this examination of the verb usage, some parameters on how best to understand this passage may be set:

  • When the verb clearly means “kissâ€?, it never takes the preposition ב bet to mark the object of the kiss. This seems to rule out the common emendation “kiss his feetâ€? with the bet. (BHS also notes the emendation with a lamed, though that emendation requires more exegetical gymnastics to explain where the lamed came from).
  • There are no instances where נשק nashaq is modified by an adverb, and it never occurs without an expressed object. This makes the proposed interpretations, “kiss sincerelyâ€? or “pay homage in good faithâ€? or the NET “Give sincere homageâ€? unlikely.

Thus, the understanding “kiss bar,� with בר bar being the object of the verbal action is the most plausible interpretation based on the clear cases of the usage of נשק nashaq in the Hebrew Bible. This still leaves at least two options: the more popular “kiss [the] son� and the more obscure “kiss [the] ground/land.�

I am still unconvinced that the first alternative is the best option. While you do find some contexts where you have an Aramaic word thrown in among Hebrew (the parade example cited is Prov 31:2-3); it is difficult to see it in this context when the Hebrew word for son (בן ben) is used a few verses earlier. Furthermore, while Aramaic would perhaps be an appropriate address to foreign powers, no other parts of the address are Aramaic. In addition – and this is the clincher in my opinion — when נשק nashaq takes a personal object (like “sonâ€?) it is always marked by the preposition lamed, and in Ps 2:12 it is not.

In working through the data, I have become more convinced that the second interpretation, “kiss the field/ground,â€? is the most plausible. First, it doesn’t resort to head spinning emendations (not that I have anything against emendations). Second, it doesn’t appeal to an odd usage of an Aramaic word in an otherwise entirely Hebrew passage. Third, it fits with the regular usage of the verb, since elsewhere when נשק nashaq is used with an impersonal object, it does not mark the object with a preposition lamed. Fourth — and this is something that Staffan Olofsson notes in his article — there are ANE parallels to this exact phrase as an act of reverence for a king or a god in the Akkadian expression nasaqu gaggara “kiss the ground/fieldâ€? (see his “The Crux Interpretum in Ps 2:12,â€? in SJOT; I would like to thank my friend Staffan for sending me a copy of this article since I don’t have easy access to SJOT). Finally, this interpretation fits the context of the passage.

The one weakness of this interpretation is that the meaning of בר bar as “field� is not very popular and only occurs in a few other places in the Old Testament (Job 39:4 and the Aramaic parts of Daniel, 2:38, 4:9, 12, 18, 20 (2x), 22, 29). That being said, it is a viable usage and makes good sense in this passage.

This, then, is my final word on Psalm 2:12 (at least for now!).

Posted in Hermeneutics, Old Testament, Psalms, Text Criticism | 7 Comments »

Psalm 2:11-12 – A Text Critical Crux Interpretum

9th May 2007

Jim Getz over at Ketuvim has an interesting post on choosing a Bible translation for classroom use. In the end Jim chooses the NRSV, for a variety of reasons which you can read for yourself (For the record, I use the NRSV in the classroom as well, for some of the same reasons). What got my attention about Jim’s post was his discussion of Psalm 2:11-12. To my chagrin, after I had pretty much finished this post I noticed that Chris Heard has also responded to Getz’s post, though luckily (for me at least) Chris did not have all of his resources available to him, so this post actually answers some of the issues that his raised. (UPDATE: Jim has posted a follow-up post on this topic at Ketuvim).

Enough is enough… let’s look at the text in question. Here is a formal translation of the Hebrew of Psalm 2:11-12:

עבדו ×?ת־יהוה ביר×?×”
וגילו ברעדה
נש×?קו־בר פן־י×?× ×£
ות×?בדו דרך
כי־יבער כמעט ×?פו

Serve Yahweh with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss [the] son/field/purity(!), lest he be angry
and you perish [on the] way
for his anger burns quickly.

The two major difficulties in this passage revolve around the understanding of the phrase “Rejoice with trembling� (וגילו ברעדה) and “kiss the son� (נשקו־בר). The former is said to be difficult to understand (how does one “rejoice with trembling�?), while the latter includes meaning of the word בר (br), which will be the focus of this post. Most translations follow the pointing of the MT and understand בר as the Aramaic word for son (e.g., KJV, NIV, TNIV, NLT, ASV, etc.). The problem with this understanding of the passage revolves around the question of why would the psalmist employ the Aramaic word for son in this verse rather than the Hebrew word for son (בן) – especially when the Hebrew term is found just a few verses earlier in v. 7?

If we turn to the Versions, like the Greek Septuagint (LXX) or the Aramaic Targums, we don’t get much additional help. The LXX reads as follows:

δουλεÏ?σατε Ï„á¿· κυÏ?ίῳ á¼?ν φόβῳ
καὶ ἀγαλλιᾶσθε αá½?Ï„á¿· á¼?ν Ï„Ï?όμῳ.
δÏ?άξασθε παιδείας, μήποτε á½€Ï?γισθῇ κÏ?Ï?ιος
καὶ ἀπολεῖσθε �ξ �δοῦ δικαίας.
ὅταν �κκαυθῇ �ν τάχει � θυμὸς α�τοῦ

Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice in him with trembling,
Seize instruction, lest the Lord be angry,
and you will perish from the righteous way,
when his wrath is quickly kindled.

The translator evidently didn’t know exactly what to make of the Hebrew (נשקו בר), if indeed that was his Hebrew Vorlage (which we’ll assume). He evidently knew the meaning of the two words, since he translated נשק by καταφιλέω “kissâ€? in Ps 85:11 (LXX 84:11) and rendered the Hebrew בר, “cleannessâ€? (noun) and “pureâ€? (adjective) elsewhere with καθαÏ?ιότης “purityâ€? (Ps 18:21,25 [LXX 17:21, 25]) and καθαÏ?ός “pureâ€? (Ps 24:4 [LXX 23:4]). That being said, he didn’t translate it as “to kiss purityâ€? or the like. In his commentary on LXX Psalm 2, Al Pietersma argues that the translator provided more of an interpretation of the passage, taking “to kiss purityâ€? as “a metaphor for adopting improved behaviour,â€? thus the rendering, “seize instruction.â€?

What is significant is that the LXX did not understand בר as the Aramaic word for “son� (nor did Aquila or Symmachus). The Aramaic Targum seems to take a similar approach as the LXX.

What the Versions teach us is that there are other ways to understand the Hebrew consonants בר than just the Aramaic word for son – but we’ll return to other suggestions in a bit.

BHS (and many scholars) suggest emending the verse to read as follows:

עבדו ×?ת־יהוה ביר×?×”
ברעדה נשקו ברגליו
ות×?בדו דרך פן־י×?× ×£
כי־יבער כמעט ×?פו

Serve Yahweh with fear,
With trembling, kiss his feet.
lest he be angry and you perish [on the] way,
for his anger burns quickly.

It is this emendation, first suggested by Alfred Bertholet in the early 1900s, which is behind the translation found in the NRSV (among others), and not any sense that בר can mean “feetâ€? in Hebrew (in this regard Getz’s post is inaccurate and Chris Heard is correct insofar as בר doesn’t mean “feetâ€? ). This is a pretty substantial emendation, proposing that the first two letters of ברגליו became separated from the last half and ended up with two words between them, among other things. While this emendation results in two nicely balanced lines of poetry, the gymnastics it requires make me wonder how plausible it really is.

The NEB’s “tremble, and kiss [i.e., pay homage to] the king� follows a less radical conjecture by reworking the Hebrew to read: נשקו לגבור ברעדה. Again, while this may be possible, how plausible it may be is another question. (There are quite a number of other suggested emendations; but these will have to do for this post)

This leads many people (and most English translations) to opt for the admittedly problematic translation, “kiss the son.�

Those opting for this rendering muster a number of arguments in its favour. First, while it is odd to have the Aramaic term for son when the Hebrew term is used just a few verses earlier, this can be explained in terms of who is being addressed. In v. 7 the king is speaking and reporting what Yahweh had declared to him, i.e., “You are my son.� In v. 12, however, the statement is being directed to the foreign kings. Thus it is fitting that they be addressed in the official language of their day, Aramaic. This is similar to the usage of the Aramaic בר in Prov 31:2, when the word is put into the mouth of King Lemuel’s mother. Second, while the above emendation makes good sense (almost too much sense), it is next to impossible to understand how a scribe could have made the mistake. Third, all things being equal (which they rarely if ever are!), the MT is the more difficult reading.

I wonder if a better approach would be to dispense of the problematic understanding of בר as the Aramaic “son,� and try to understand it – like the early Versions – as one of the other Hebrew words with the same spelling. Possibilities include taking בר as “field� (see Job 39:4 etc.), which would produce a fitting act of submission, “kiss the field,� i.e., bow prostrate to the ground in homage to Yahweh. It could also be taken as “purity� or “pure� (in line with the early versions), and be rendered like the NJPS “pay homage in good faith� or the NET “Give sincere homage.�

There are other possibilities for this verse, but when it comes right down to it, this verse is truly a crux interpretum – and as such, it is not the best passage to base your selection of a translation on! That being said, it does reveal some tendencies in the different translations. The NRSV is more likely on the whole to adopt critical interpretations of problematic verses, while the NIV/TNIV/NJPS will tend to stick to the MT as much as possible. Finally, translations that capitalize “Son� (NIV, NASB, ESV, etc.) are clearly expressing a theological agenda, which arguably has no place in a translation.

If this post has piqued your interest in textual criticism, see my series of posts on Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible.

Posted in Old Testament, Psalms, Text Criticism | 7 Comments »

A Comparative Psalter: MT, LXX, and English Translations

10th March 2007

[I announced this back in June 2006; it is just now available]

An interesting resource for the study of the Septuagint has just been published by Oxford University Press:

A Comparative Psalter: Hebrew (Masoretic Text) – Revised Standard Version Bible – The New English Translation of the Septuagint – Greek (Septuagint)
John Kohlenberger (ed)
Oxford, March 2007.

Buy from | Buy from

Here’s the blurb from Oxford: This volume brings together the Psalms in a quartet of versions that is certain to be an invaluable resource for students of this core book of the Bible. The texts featured in A Comparative Psalter represent a progression of the text through time. The ancient Masoretic Hebrew and Revised Standard Version Bible are displayed on one page, while the New English Translation of the Septuagint (by Pietersma) and Greek Septuagint are on the facing page. The same set of verses is displayed for all four texts, making it easy to compare to differences between the MT and LXX. The Modern English versions included in this volume are noteworthy for their fidelity to the ancient texts. The first major translation of the Christian Scriptures from the original languages to be undertaken since the King James Version, the RSV debuted in 1952 to critical acclaim. It dramatically shaped the course of English Bible translation work in the latter half of the Twentieth Century, and remains the Bible of choice for many people. Meanwhile, the New English Translation of the Septuagint is the first work of its kind in a century and a half. This major project brings to the fore a wealth of textual discoveries that help illuminate the Book of Psalms for Twenty-first Century readers.

Posted in LXX Psalms, Psalms, Septuagint, Text Criticism | 2 Comments »