[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 Amazon.ca | Amazon.com) 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 Amazon.ca | Amazon.com).
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).
As I mentioned in my previousposts on Psalm 151 in the Biblical Tradition, there is significant debate on the relationship between the Septuagint Psalm 151 and the version of the Psalm found in the Qumran Psalms scroll (11Q5 Psalm 151A and B).
The editor of 11Q5 Psalm 151A and B, James Sanders, argues that 11QPsa 151A and B, while related to, are not identical with the Vorlage of LXX Ps 151. He further argues that “there can be no hesitancy whatever in affirming that 11QPs 151 is the original psalm” (The Psalms Scroll of Qumrân Cave 11 (11QPsa); DJD 4 [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965; buy from Amazon.com], 60), and that the LXX Psalm is a later translation of an “amalgam” of the Qumran originals (63). Most (but not all) scholars have followed Sanders in his reconstruction of the relationship between the Greek and Hebrew versions of Psalm 151. Peter Flint considers the Greek version a “transformation of two separate psalms into a single piece” (“Apocryphal Psalms,” Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls [2 volumes; Oxford University Press, 2000; buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com. ], 2:708), while his Dead Sea Scrolls Bible (HarperCollins, 1999; buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com) also popularizes Sanders’s view:
The text found in 11QPs-a represents the original Hebrew with two originally separate Psalms, which the Greek translator has reworked and synthesized into a single Psalm (p. 585).
Beyond the question of the relationship between these psalms, Sanders has little good to say about LXX Psalm 151. He calls it “meaningless” (DJD, p. 60), and maintains that without the background provided in Psalm 151A, the LXX psalm “makes little or no sense at all” (p. 59). Furthermore, he argues that the individual who brought together the Vorlage of LXX Psalm 151 destroyed “the beauty and integrity of the original” and “sacrificed not only the artistry but also the sense of the one, and probably as well of the other” (p. 63). In his popular work, The Dead Sea Psalms Scroll (Cornell University Press, 1967; buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com), Sanders further refers to the Greek version of Psalm 151 as “nearly meaningless” (p. 94) and “comparatively ridiculous” (p. 95). Sanders is not alone in his low opinion of the Septuagint Psalm 151. For instance, Strugnell echoes Sanders when he describes it as “largely meaningless” (“Notes on the Text,” 259), while Meyer considered it a “dogmatic correction” of a rustic psalm (“Die Septuaginta-Fassung von Psalm 151:1-5,” 172).
While I agree that the Qumran psalms are related to the Vorlage of LXX Psalm 151, there are significant differences between the texts that indicate that their relationship is not so simple, and that the texts are more dissimilar than even Sanders admits. In fact, I think – in line with the works of Haran, Smith, Segal, and most recently Debel (in part) – that it is more plausible that the Qumran psalm(s) are a later reworking of the shorter Hebrew Vorlage of LXX Psalm 151. Furthermore, in contrast to Sanders, I will argue that LXX Psalm 151 is a coherent text in and of itself, and that it doesn’t need 151A/B to make sense of it. In this regard I argue that while LXX Psalm 151 is shorter, it is in fact a well-constructed midrash on 1 Samuel 16-17.
In fact, I would argue that reading LXX Psalm 151 in the light of the Qumran psalms actually hampers our understanding of it, since the later Qumran versions take the psalm in a slightly different direction. In a recent article, Segal (“Literary Development,” Textus 21, 143), has made the bold claim that
the bias towards the Hebrew version of the psalm has resulted in a skewed view of the meaning of the Greek edition, as all scholars have assumed that this shorter poem [i.e., the LXX] necessarily addresses the same topics as the longer version.
While Segal overstates the case, I concur with his evaluation. In my next post I will explore in more detail the relationship between the Greek and Hebrew versions of this psalm.
As mentioned in my previour post on Septuagint Psalm 151 (first installment in my series on Psalm 151 in the Biblical Tradition), the discovery of Hebrew psalms clearly related to the Septuagint Psalm 151 created quite a stir among biblical scholars. Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Psalm 151 was only know to us from its Greek and Syriac versions. At the beginning of the last century Septuagint scholar Henry B. Swete noted that “there is no evidence that it [Ps 151] ever existed in Hebrew” (Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek [Hendrickson, 1989], p. 253; buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com), and in the 1930s Martin Noth “expressed doubts” about a Hebrew original to LXX Psalm 151 in his study of the five Apocryphal psalms and did not bother to provide a Hebrew retroversion of Psalm 151 in that study.
It was not until the discovery among the Dead Sea Scrolls of the so-called “Qumran Psalms Scroll” (11QPs-a or 11Q5; see my Scroll Introduction) that contained two Psalms (Ps 151A and B) that were clearly parallel with the LXX 151, that scholars universally recognized that LXX Psalm 151 had a Hebrew Vorlage (i.e., a Hebrew original), though the precise relationship between LXX Psalm 151 and 11Q5 Psalm 151 remained under debate.
Before we discuss the nature of the relationship between the Greek LXX Psalm 151 and the Hebrew 11Q5 Psalms 151A and 151B, it would do us well to carefully examine the psalms in question. I have already provided a translation of LXX Psalm 151 in my previous post; here I provide a translation of Psalm 151A and B as found in column 28 of 11Q5:
11Q5 Ps 151A-B
11Q5 Ps 151A & B
הללויה לדויד בן ישי
A Hallelujah of David son of Jesse.
קטן הייתי מןאחי
Smaller was I than my brothers
וצעיר מבני אבי
And the youngest of the sons of my father
וישימני רועה לצונו
And he made me shepherd of his flock
And ruler over his kids
ידי עשו עוגב
My hands made a (musical) instrument
And my fingers a lyre
ואשימה ליהוה כבוד
And I rendered glory to the Lord
אמרתי אני בנפשי
I said within myself
ההרים לוא יעדו לו
The mountains do not witness to him,
והגבעות לוא יגידו
Nor do the hills declare;
עלו֯ העצים את דברי֯
The trees have cherished my words
והצואן את מעשי֯
And the flock my works.
כי מי יגדי ומי ידבר
For who can declare and who can speak,
ומי יספר את מעשי֯ אדון
And who can recount the works of the Lord?
הכול ראה אלוה
Everything has God seen,
הכול הוא שמע
everything has he heard,
and he has heeded.
שלח נביאו למושחני
He sent his prophet to annoint me,
את שמואל לגדלני
Samuel, to make me great
יצאו אחי לקראתו
My brothers went out to meet him,
יפי התור ויפי המראה
Handsome of figure and handsome of appearance
They were tall of stature
Handsome by their hair,
לוא בחר יהוה אלוהים בם
The Lord God did not choose them.
וישלח ויקחני מאחר הצואן
But he sent and took me from behind the flock
וימשחני בשמן הקודש
And annointed me with holy oil,
וישימני נגיד לעמו
And made me leader to his people
ומושל בבני בריתו
And ruler over the sons of his covenant
תחלת גב[ו]רה ה[דו]יד
משמשחו נביא אלוהים
At the beginning of [Dav]id’s p[ow]er after the prophet of God had annointed him
אזי רא֯[י]תי פלשתי
Then I s[a]w a Philistine
מחרף ממ[ערכות האיוב]
Uttering defiances from the r[anks of the enemy].
אנוכי [ ] את
I […] ’t […]
I should note that while the translation is my own, the above reconstruction follows that by the scroll’s editor, James Sanders (which I do not entirely agree with, but I’ll discuss that in another post). The line numbers in the left-hand column are not precise; they reflect the line divisions of the editor. According to Sanders’s reconstruction, Psalm 151B begins in line 13.
In the actual scroll, the column is laid out as follows:
11Q5 Column 28
יהוה העומדים בבית יהוה בלילות שאו ידיכם קודש וברכו
את שמ יהוה יברככה יהוה מציו[ן] עושה שמים וארץ
הללויה לדויד בן ישי קטן הייתי מןאחי וצעיר מבני אבי וישימני
רועה לצונו ומושל בגדיותיו ידי עשו עוגב ואצבעותי כנור
ואשימה ליהוה כבוד אמרתי אני בנפשי ההרים לוא יעדו
לו והגבעות לוא יגידו עלו֯ העצים את דברי֯ והצואן את מעשי֯
כי מי יגדי ומי ידבר ומי יספר את מעשי֯ אדון הכול ראה אלוה
הכול הוא שמע והוא האזין שלח נביאו למושחני את שמואל
לגדלני יצאו אחי לקראתו יפי התור ויפי המראה הגבהים בקומתם
היפים בשערם לוא בחר יהוה אלוהים בם וישלח ויקחני
מאחר הצואן וימשחני בשמן הקודש וישימני נגיד לעמו ומושל בבני
תחלת גב[ו]רה ה[דו]יד משמשחו נביא אלוהים אזי רא֯[י]תי פלשתי
מחרף ממ[ערכות האיוב] אנוכי [ ] את
Here is an English translation:
11Q5 Ps 151A & B
of the Lord, who stand in the house of the Lord by night. Lift your hands in the holy place and bless
the name of the Lord May the Lord, maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion.
A Hallelujah of David son of Jesse. Smaller was I than my brothers And the youngest of the sons of my father
And he made me shepherd of his flock And ruler over his kids My hands made a (musical) instrument And my fingers a lyre
And I rendered glory to the Lord I said within myself The mountains do not witness
to him, Nor do the hills declare; The trees have cherished my words And the flock my works.
For who can declare and who can speak, And who can recount the works of the Lord? Everything has God seen,
Everything he has heard, and he has heeded. He sent his prophet to annoint me, Samuel,
to make me great My brothers went out to meet him, Handsome of figure and handsome of appearance They were tall of stature
Handsome by their hair, The Lord God did not choose them. And he sent and took me
from behind the flock And annointed me with holy oil, And made me leader to his people And ruler over the sons of
At the beginning of [Dav]id’s p[ow]er after the prophet of God had annointed him Then I s[a]w a Philistine
Uttering defiances from the r[anks of the enemy]. I […] ’t […]
As you can see, the actual scroll does not divide the Hebrew psalm into poetic lines, but takes up the width of the column with as much text as possible. (By the way, the top of the column [lines 1 and 2] consists of all but the first part of Psalm 134 [LXX Ps 133]).
Comparing Sanders’s line divisions with that of the actual scroll raises an issue common with any analysis of the Dead Sea Scrolls; the issue of editorial reconstruction. A number of aspects of Sanders’s reconstruction of Psalms 151A and B have been severely criticized by scholars — especially his reconstruction of lines 6-8. That being said, even a quick comparison of LXX Psalm 151 with this text from Qumran suggests some sort of literary relationship between the texts, though as I noted above, the precise nature of that relationship is debated.
The New York Times and other news providers are carrying a story today about the decision to make a comprehensive set of new digital images of the Dead Sea Scrolls available online.
Here is an excerpt from the article:
Equipped with high-powered cameras with resolution and clarity many times greater than those of conventional models, and with lights that emit neither heat nor ultraviolet rays, the scientists and technicians are uncovering previously illegible sections and letters of the scrolls, discoveries that could have significant scholarly impact.
….The scrolls’ contemporary history has been something of a tortured one because they are among the most important sources of information on Jewish and early Christian life. After their initial discovery they were tightly held by a small circle of scholars. In the last 20 years access has improved significantly, and in 2001 they were published in their entirety. But debate over them seems only to grow.
Scholars continually ask the Israel Antiquities Authority, the custodian of the scrolls, for access to them, and museums around the world seek to display them. Next month, the Jewish Museum of New York will begin an exhibition of six of the scrolls.
The keepers of the scrolls, people like Pnina Shor, head of the conservation department of the antiquities authority, are delighted by the intense interest but say that each time a scroll is exposed to light, humidity and heat, it deteriorates. She says even without such exposure there is deterioration because of the ink used on some of the scrolls as well as the residue from the Scotch tape used by the 1950s scholars in piecing together fragments.
The entire collection was photographed only once before — in the 1950s using infrared — and those photographs are stored in a climate-controlled room because they show things already lost from some of the scrolls. The old infrared pictures will also be scanned in the new digital effort.
“The project began as a conservation necessity,” MS. Shor explained. “We wanted to monitor the deterioration of the scrolls and realized we needed to take precise photographs to watch the process. That’s when we decided to do a comprehensive set of photos, both in color and infrared, to monitor selectively what is happening. We realized then that we could make the entire set of pictures available online to everyone, meaning that anyone will be able to see the scrolls in the kind of detail that no one has until now.”
The process will probably take one to two years — more before it is available online — and is being led by Greg Bearman, who retired from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Data collection is directed by Simon Tanner of Kings College London.
Jonathan Ben-Dov, a professor of biblical studies at the University of Haifa, is taking part in the digitalization project. Watching the technicians gingerly move a fragment into place for a photograph, he said that it had long been very difficult for senior scholars to get access.
Once this project is completed, he said with wonder, “every undergraduate will be able to have a detailed look at them from numerous angles.”
This is great news. I am glad they are also digitizing the existing photographs. Having the scrolls available online is great news, though I would hope they would also make them available in a new edition of Brill’s Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Reference Library or the like. This would allow for higher resolution images to be available; images which would be more useful for study and examination using the features of software like Photoshop.
Goats and Scrolls
While it is not odd to see the Dead Sea Scrolls in the news — especially with the scroll exhibit touring the United States — there is an interesting article by Judy Siegel-Itzkovic in the Jerusalem Post today about how DNA evidece from the goat skins used to make the parchment for the Scrolls helped piece together some of the Scroll fragments. The article, “How goat skin DNA solved a mystery of the Dead Sea scrolls,” doesn’t really say anything new, but is interesting nonetheless. Here are some relevant excerpts:
Scientists at the Hebrew University’s Koret School for Veterinary Science near Rishon Lezion are helping to piece together some of the 10,000 fragments of Dead Sea Scrolls found decades ago in Qumran by examining the DNA profiles of the goats whose skin was used to make the parchment and reducing the number of possible matches.
Dr. Galia Kahila Bar-Gal said during a journalists’ tour at the nearby Hebrew University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, where students learn and treat animals, that she and colleagues were looking at genetic forms from each fragment to know which came from specific animals. Once they know that two pieces came from the skin of the same animal, it is easier to piece them together, she said.
Scrolls and Tehillim
The Dead Sea Scrolls also made the headlines in the Jewish Tribune, according to the blogger with the coolest moniker, Mississippi Fred MacDowell. He recounts how he was sent a clipping of a letter to the editor of the London-based Agudist newspaper that claimed “Secular and non-Jewish scholars have to admit that the Tenach scrolls are word-for-word identical with our texts and not with those of Samaritans (Kusim) and early translators (Septuagint – Greek, Targumim in various Aramaic dialects, et al). But the spelling is often different, in many vavs, yuds and alephs.” MacDowell responds to this claim with an interesting discusision of the view of the Dead Sea Scrolls in many orthodox Jewish communities and his response to such claims. In particular he talks about the various textual tradtions found among the scrolls, let alone the high number of unaligned texts. You can read his discussion on his blog, On the Main Line, in his post “A threat to Tehillim? Dead Sea Scrolls in the Jewish Tribune.”
The only beef I would have with MacDowell’s post is found in this paragraph:
In fact three or four kinds of Hebrew texts were found at Qumran (depending on how you divide it). The first are Bible texts that are much like the masoretic text (and comprise about 60% of the material), the second seems to be a type of Hebrew text that the Septuagint was translated from (only about 5%), the third is like the Samaritan Pentateuch, lacking only the ideological changes that are present in the Samaritan version (also about 5%). A fourth type are texts that can’t be placed into any of these categories (about 105), and finally there are non-Biblical Hebrew texts which are unique to Qumran, comprising about 20% of the total. In other words, exactly the opposite of what the writer claimed.
Some of the numbers didn’t quite ring true, and I believe may be based on Tov’s older estimates (there are also some issues with breaking down the scrolls in this manner, but I won’t get into that for now). The most recent figures I have seen break down the biblical scrolls found at Qumran as follows:
Proto-Masoretic (forerunners of the text that forms the basis of our versions of the OT) (47%)
Texts like the â€œSamaritan Pentateuchâ€? (2.5%)
Texts like the Septuagint (3.3%)
Unique Texts (47%)
Either way, MacDowell’s point remains valid. Despite the variety found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, MacDowell is correct to point out the following:
And the Dead Sea Scrolls proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the massoretic text is not late, it is at least as old as the Samaritan and the Hebrew Septuagint. Conversely, it also proves that 2000 years ago “the Bible” was not exclusively massoretic.
That’s the good news, if indeed this is good news. But its important to understand that these massoretic Dead Sea texts are actually massoretic-like, not identical with our own text. This means that many words as spelled differently in ways that don’t matter, as the letter writer notes, but also that many words are not the same at all.
It’s a good read; make sure to peruse it for yourself.
Here is a side-by-side comparison of the scroll before (right) and after (left) the part was cut out:
It appears a fairly large portion of the fragment was removed: 1 cm wide at the top and about 2 cm long. Note that no letters were removed. If this image is authentic, then the amount removed was larger than the “two small parts, one-half centimeter each” that Amir Ganor, director of the unit for the prevention of theft in the Antiquities Authority, reported.
The Leviticus scroll discovered (or should I say recovered) by Israeli Archaeologist Hanan Eshel is back in the news. According to an article in Ha’aretz, Eshel is claiming that the Israeli Antiquities Authority is performing unnecessarily obtrusive tests on the fragments in order to determine their authenticity.
Professor Hanan Eshel, the archaeologist who two years ago uncovered scroll fragments of the Book of Leviticus, says the Israel Antiquities Authority, which now has the finds, has cut out large chunks of the scroll on the pretext that its dating needed to be examined.
This was not a necessary procedure, says Eshel, since “experts say it was possible to test the dating without an intrusive examination and in the worst case scenario by cutting a tiny, peripheral portion of the scroll.”
Relying on internal sources in the Antiquities Authority, Eshel says “there had even been plans to cut letters from the scroll but the employees that were asked to do so refused.”
Eshel ties the behavior of the Authority to a dispute that emerged between him and officials there and “their desire to prove that the scroll is a forgery.”
Amir Ganor, director of the unit for the prevention of theft in the Antiquities Authority, said in response that “in order to carry out the examination we could not avoid making certain cuts in the scroll itself. This is acceptable in every examination of this sort. We cut only two small parts, one-half centimeter each, from the end of the scroll. At no stage was there any thought of cutting letters, only to scrape off some ink in order to examine it. The minute it became clear to us that we could not have unequivocal results from such an examination, we did not do it.”
However, the photographs published here [where? there was no link or no pictures!] suggest the scroll cuts are significantly more extensive than what Ganor acknowledges and encompass nearly all the part of the scroll that has no writing on it.
Ganor said examinations of the scroll have undermined Eshel’s claim that the finding is authentic.
“I can not give any details because the topic is part of an ongoing investigation of this matter, but the examinations show that different portions of the scroll were written in different periods, which is a blow to the claim that the scroll is homogeneous.”
Eshel, on the other hand, is eager to offer more information on the subject. He says: “The information that I have is that the examination that was carried out at the Weizmann Institute did indeed show that the two portions that were sent for examination belong to different periods – one about 2,000 years ago, and the other about 1,200 years ago. On the other hand, another examination carried out at Oxford [University] attributed both to a period 2,000 years ago.”
Eshel says the Weizmann test results were flawed because of “the use of cleaning and preservation materials. I am not an expert on such exams, but the experts told me that such treatment may certainly result in a flawed examination. In any case, the writing on both segments clearly belongs to the Second Temple period and definitely does not conform to the Mameluk period, which is what the Weizmann Institute examination points to. Moreover, during the search in the cave where we found the scroll, we uncovered other archaeological finds for the period of the Bar-Kokhba revolt, proving the dating.”
I had covered the discovery of the Leviticus scrolls quite extensively a couple years back, so I have an interest in this story. You can see all of my previous posts here, including a step-by-step reconstructions of the fragments. Here is a picture of the fragments shortly after they were recovered:
I would think that if tests could be done on the manuscript without destroying large parts of it, then the IAA would do so.
I wish the news article contained the image that showed how much of the manuscript was cut.
A couple new books on the Dead Sea Scrolls came to my attention recently and appear to be quite interesting.
Weston W. Fields The Dead Sea Scrolls — A Short History
(Brill, 2006; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com)
Edna Ullmann-Margalit Out of the Cave: A Philosophical Inquiry into the Dead Sea Scrolls Research
(Harvard University Press, 2006; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com)
Fields’s brief work provides a sketch of the history of the Dead Sea Scrolls for a popular audience. Ullmann-Margali’s book, on the other hand, isn’t about the scrolls per se, but rather is about scrolls research. She examines the debates surrounding the scrolls, in particular the Qumran-Essene hypothesis.
Michael Pitkowsky alerted me to another article on the Qumran latrines in The Forward, a national Jewish newspaper.
The article, by Katharina Galor and JÃ¼rgen Zangenberg, critiques the view of Joseph Zias and James Tabor that the latrines provide additional evidence for the Qumran-Essene hypothesis. The article, “Led Astray By a Dead Sea Latrine,” raises some important points and is worth a read.