Brian W. Davidson

sharing things I enjoy

Rick Brannan and Ken Penner were kind enough to sit down and talk with me about a recently published English translation of the LXX, the Lexham English Septuagint (LES). I shared an early draft of these questions with a few friends who are involved in Septuagint studies, and couple of them had questions of their own. I have included these below. This interview has four sections:

  • Introducing the Project
  • The Greek Source Text
  • The English Translation
  • Concluding Questions

Gentlemen, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions about the LES. Let’s get right to it.

Introducing the Project

BWD: What were your individual responsibilities as editors of the LES?

Rick Brannan (RB): I managed the process internally at Logos, found and managed contributing editors, and edited a decent share of the material myself. The Lexham English Septuagint has a close relationship with the Lexham Greek-English Interlinear Septuagint, and it was my idea internally at Logos to try and take the material from the interlinear and use it as the initial basis for a translation. I wrote a program to reassemble, as much as possible, the interlinear lines into readable English. That reassembled material then was supplied to editors to edit, in consultation with the Greek text, into the LES. From there, I worked with the copyediting team at Logos to copyedit the material and then get it built into a resource for Logos Bible Software.

Ken Penner (KP): I was one of the editors Rick invited to turn the machine-generated text into readable English. My allotment included Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Lamentations, Epistle of Jeremiah, Baruch, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, and Psalms of Solomon. The degree to which I am responsible for the LES translation of each of these books is a factor of the quality of the raw material I had to work with. This quality varied, depending on how the level of care taken by the editor of that book in the Lexham Greek-English Interlinear Septuagint. For those books of the Interlinear that were tagged well, I was able to retain much of the wording of the Interlinear, which was the goal of the project. But other books required an almost entirely new translation.

BWD: What is “Lexham”?

RB: “Lexham Press” is the imprint that Logos uses to publish new Biblical Studies material and reference material. We are publishing not only the Lexham English Bible and the Lexham English Septuagint, but also several Bible Guides, the Lexham Bible Dictionary, the Faithlife Study Bible, and lots of other stuff. “Lexham” itself was a portmanteau of “Lexical” or “Lexeme” (so, having to do with words) and the “ham” in Bellingham. Then we found a town in England named Lexham, though our use of the term has nothing in common with the town.

BWD: Rick, you have edited several electronic editions for Logos Bible Software and Lexham Press. What unexpected challenges did this project pose?

RB: Basically, the Septuagint is big. Really big. And the interlinear contributions, while suitable as an interlinear, varied widely in the style and manner in which they translated the Greek text. The largest challenge was getting the disparate interlinear data into something that could be used as basis for a translation and also in finding skilled and qualified contributors who could do the work in the tight time frame we had — because we wanted to release the LES with Logos 5. The other major hurdle was proper names (more detail on this below).

BWD: In light of the 2007 release of the New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS), why did Logos decide to publish a new English translation of Septuagint?

RB: There are all sorts of reasons. The primary reason has to do with rights, of course. Since the LES is completely owned by Logos, we can create derivative projects of any sort based on the translation without needing to pursue permission or additional licensing agreements from anyone.

Also, one of my larger issues with NETS — which is stellar work, by the way — is its method of rendering names of people and places largely by transliteration. I understand why they did this, but it just makes participant tracking difficult for the average reader.

The target LES reader is one who wants to read the Septuagint but doesn’t know much about Greek or Hebrew. I think the target NETS reader is more academically trained with knowledge of Greek and likely even Hebrew. The method of representing names in NETS is pretty confusing if one’s primary familiarity with the Old Testament material is through English translations of the Hebrew Bible. Some can be tracked with a little work (e.g. Jeremiah = Ieremias) but others don’t correlate much at all. The LES offered an opportunity to take a stab at solving this problem using data we had to hand (textual alignments of the LXX with Hebrew Bible, and of Hebrew Bible with English Bibles) as a starting point which was then further reviewed and corrected by editors. I think we did a fairly good job at providing readable, trackable names — where the same entity was being referred to — in the Septuagint translation. We also included (in popup footnotes) the transliterated Greek of the name in case the reader desires to know that form as well.

KP: In the planning stages of this project, Rick and I discussed how to handle proper names, and I admit that at first I resisted using the forms of the names familiar from English Bibles. The rationale NETS used to justify their policy on names made sense to me. But I relented when Rick assured me the transliterated names would be available in footnotes.

The Greek Source Text

BWD: Which edition of the Greek Old Testament does the LES translate? Why did you choose this edition?

RB: This is discussed in more detail in the Introduction to the LES. But the LES translates H.B. Swete’s edition of the Septuagint, which was the basis of the (incomplete and now defunct) Cambridge Larger Septuagint. Swete’s edition is a diplomatic edition of the text, transcribing (and correcting orthography where appropriate) the best manuscripts available to him for large portions of the text. It is not an eclectic text, like Rahlfs and Göttingen.

One of the main reasons, honestly, had to do with availability and flexibility. The Swete edition of the Septuagint is in the public domain and available. Its apparatus, which is very useful, is also in the public domain. Logos has greater freedom in preparing derivative works with the Swete text. So that’s what we used.

BWD: Ken, how does Swete’s edition compare to other editions of Septuagint, such as Rahlfs’ and the Göttingen editions?

KP: On this point, too, during the planning stages I resisted using Swete. My work on Greek Isaiah had shown that Codex Vaticanus (B) had a text with the least claim to originality of any of the three major uncials. And B was what Swete used for most of his edition, including Isaiah. Now, for most books, B is generally of better quality than other manuscripts, so for a diplomatic text, Swete chose his manuscripts well. Rahlfs’ Septuaginta and the Göttingen editions, on the other hand, are eclectic texts. But they are not in the public domain, at least not in the USA. (Rahlfs is in the public domain in Canada, according to the death+50 years rule.) In eclectic editions, the editor makes a decision regarding the original text for each word. In both diplomatic (Swete) and eclectic (Rahlfs and Göttingen), there is a textual apparatus at the bottom of the page listing the variant readings from other manuscripts. Like Swete, Rahlfs produced a compact edition of the text (in two volumes originally; later combined into a single volume). The Göttingen editions have a separate volume for each book (for the most part). Rahlfs used a handful of manuscripts when producing his edition. The Göttingen editions aim to be comprehensive, listing all the variants in all the manuscripts.

The English Translation

BWD: How would you describe the translation style of the LES?

KP: Because the LES is intended to correspond to the Interlinear, the translation style of the LES is largely controlled by that resource. For this reason, it is characterized by formal equivalence. As for vocabulary, although I can’t speak for the other editors, I made some attempt to be consistent across books regarding translation equivalents, but I won’t pretend I was entirely successful.

BWD: Ken, a question sent in from Chris Fresch: one complaint leveled against the NETS is that it seems to occasionally cast an eye to the Hebrew for ideas in translating the Greek.  Has the LES attempted to translate the Greek in its own right or do you sometimes allow the Hebrew to influence your translation?  

KP: I made every effort to render the Greek in its own right, with no eye to the Hebrew at all. I attempted to make the translation as rough or as smooth as the Greek would have seemed to a Greek reader around the turn of the era who knew no Hebrew. Sometimes in Ecclesiastes this meant translating some rather unconventional uses of συν (to put it nicely) into awkward English.

BWD: Whose understanding of the Greek Old Testament is the LES attempting to translate? The first reader/hearers of the Septuagint? The readers of Vaticanus centuries later? That is, the meaning of words in Greek, just as in every language, develops over time. Did you constrain the semantic range of Septuagint vocabulary to a specific time period?

KP: Some of these decisions had already been made by the editors of the Interlinear. And thankfully, there were not a lot of cases in which the semantic range of a word had changed so much between the second century BCE and the fourth century CE that this would even be a question. But in those cases in which the meaning had evolved (mainly due to the influence of the New Testament), the meaning at the time of translation would take precedence.

BWD: While commending the NETS, some have lamented the fact that it is not a “common English” translation suitable for the average person. Does the LES meet this need?

KP: The fact that the names are spelled in their familiar English forms makes a difference. It seems to me that the LES would read just fine for the average person. Its readability is remarkable, considering the origin of the LES in the Interlinear and the resulting formal equivalence. Part of the credit here goes to the idiomatic translation phrases provided by the editors of the Interlinear.

Concluding Questions

BWD: Rick, a question from Abram K-J: what would you say to someone who is interested in LES but is not a user of Logos Bible Software?

RB: Yes, the LES is only available in Logos at present. If only the LES is desired it can be purchased seperately. We also have a six-volume Septuagint Bundle that provides the LES, Swete’s edition with morphology and apparatus, and an analytical lexicon of the Septuagint. One of the goals of Lexham Press (the publisher of LES) is to actually publish things in print editions, so if enough demand swells for a print LES, then they will probably evaluate it. Here’s the contact form, if you’re so inclined.

BWD: What else would you like people to know about the LES?

RB: I think the primary distinction is LES’s treatment of names. If you’re reading NETS and can’t tell who is doing what, or where they’re going, then you may want to consider reading the LES. Also, the contributors are stellar.

KP: I’m impressed by the work of the team: your work, Rick, and that of Mike Aubrey, Israel Loken, and Isaiah Hoogendyk.

BWD: Are you guys currently working on any other Septuagint related projects?

RB: One of my current projects is Septuagint related. I can’t say much about it, but if you’re free this summer and want to join me in Bellingham for 12 weeks or so, I’m looking for some interns to contribute. I have more info on my personal blog, but if someone is interested, then please email me your questions and a résumé: rick at logos dot com.

KP: I’m writing the commentary on Greek Isaiah for Brill’s Septuagint Commentary Series. Besides a few book reviews, I have an article for the Historical and Theological Lexicon of the Septuagint and one on contemporizing Interpretation in Greek Isaiah; I’m a contributor to Scholar’s Pub’s Dictionary of the Septuagint and Early Greek Jewish Scriptures. I’m moderator for the Septuagint and Pseudepigrapha section of the Biblical Greek forum, and I participate in the Facebook reading group, Greek Isaiah in a Year. I’m working with Bruce Robertson of LACE (along with Jonathan Robie and Gregory Crane) to scan and apply OCR to Rahlfs’ Septuaginta and Hatch and Redpath’s concordance, with the goal of making them freely available online.

BWD: Thank you both for working hard to make the Septuagint more easily accessible to those outside academia and for the ways in which you are moving the field forward. I really appreciate you taking the time to answer these questions. 

RB: Thanks for the opportunity, Brian!

KP: A pleasure!

A final word to readers

Please don’t overlook the summer internship Rick mentioned. What a fantastic treat it would be to spend 12-weeks in beautiful Bellingham helping Rick with this (mysterious) LXX project. Be sure to check out the links Rick and Ken have provided, and by all means, fill out the contact form and let Logos know that you would like to see LES in print. Also, check out Abram’s and Chris’ blogs for more LXX and biblical studies related posts. If you would like to read Greek Isaiah with Ken and a couple hundred others, feel free to join the Greek Isaiah in a year Facebook reading group.

Thanks to all of you who read earlier drafts of these questions and made helpful suggestions.

One response to “Interview with Two Editors of the Lexham English Septuagint”

  1. […] For more information on the background and translation choices in the Lexham English Septuagint, check out this printed interview with Rick Brannan and Ken Penner. […]