The Challenge of Reading the Greek Old Testament

It is hard to break the habit of reading the Greek Old Testament merely as a witness to a Hebrew Vorlage. Tessa Rajak puts it poignantly,

Because of the complexity of its relationship with a range of Hebrew precursors, because of the sheer number of recensions which the Greek text underwent, and because of our lack of grip on the scope and purpose of these, the textual history is one of mind-bending difficulty. Naturally, then, the Septuagint has been a hunting ground for textual critics, and at times in the past it was virtually abandoned by scholars with other kinds of interests, to remain the exclusive preserve of the textual critics–probably without too much regret. (19)

Several weeks back, Ken Penner pushed the LXX-Isaiah-in-a-year Facebook group to try to do a little more, to make observations about the Greek text itself. This encouragement has lingered in the back of my mind ever since. I picked up Rajak’s book in hopes that it might serve as a model. She writes,

Suffice it to say that here I do not foreground the issues which have dominated, at a guess, 90 per cent of Septuagint scholarship for the past century-and-a-half, and that have deterred even the more adventurous from entering wholeheartedly into other important and interesting questions. One needs to be aware of the instability of the text and to understand how to handle it. But I contend that it is possible to write about the history of the translations without engaging in continual text-critical study–and without waiting another hundred and fifty years… In many places there are no variants. Broad tranches of wording stay constant across textual diversity. Another point on which I lean is that at any one place and time people had their own conception of the original work of the Alexandrian translators, whether or not they could be sure that the text in front of them was that text; and that conception is eminently worth discussing. (20)

Tessa Rajak. Translation and Survival : The Greek Bible of the Ancient Jewish Diaspora. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

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