Encountering Exodus 32 in the LXX

I experienced a passage in Exodus this morning as I never have before. I was reading Exodus 32, and verses 17–18 seemed to jump off the page. I have read this passage before in the Septuagint, but perhaps I was moving a little too fast. I was reading for comprehensive exams the first time, and that sort of reading is rarely reflective. Here’s the passage:

καὶ ἀκούσας Ἰησοῦς τὴν φωνὴν τοῦ λαοῦ κραζόντων λέγει πρὸς Μωυσῆν Φωνὴ πολέμου ἐν τῇ παρεμβολῇ. 18 καὶ λέγει Οὐκ ἔστιν φωνὴ ἐξαρχόντων κατ᾿ ἰσχὺν οὐδὲ φωνὴ ἐξαρχόντων τροπῆς, ἀλλὰ φωνὴν ἐξαρχόντων οἴνου ἐγὼ ἀκούω.

And when Joshua heard the sound of the people crying out, he said to Moses, “That’s the sound of war in the camp! [Moses responded] and said, “It’s not the sound of those marching ahead with force or of those turning to run. But the sound of those marching headlong into wine is what I hear.”

Now, that’s my idiomatic translation, and it captures the way I experienced the text. Rendering ἐνάρχομαι in verse 18 is difficult to do in an idiomatic way. It translates three instances of IV.ענה, to sing. Here’s the Hebrew of verse 18:

וַיֹּאמֶר אֵין קוֹל עֲנוֹת גְּבוּרָה וְאֵין קוֹל עֲנוֹת חֲלוּשָׁה קוֹל עַנּוֹת אָנֹכִי שֹׁמֵעַ

It’s not the sound of conquering or the sound of defeat; it’s the sound of singing I hear.”

Whatever you do with ἐνάρχομαι, it seems pretty clear to me that the Septuagint is a little more explicit about what is happening. I hear more contrast and perhaps frustration with the addition of ἀλλά and especially the addition of οἶνος, wine — a word that makes explicit the real reason the people were in such an uproar.

So, I’m drawing no major text-critical conclusions here; it’s just striking. This verse made me stop and reflect and visualize the scene as I never had before. I had to check the Hebrew to see if the Septuagint text was different in any way, and as it turns out, it is just different enough from the Hebrew to at least partially explain why the passage seemed so fresh and new.

Incidentally, I was reading in the new Septuagint Reader’s Edition, which you can still get for a fantastic price at CBD. More on that edition in the coming weeks.