Ken Penner on the Hebrew Verbal System of the Dead Sea Scrolls

The Center for Ancient Christian Studies (SBTS) has posted an interview I did with Ken Penner on his forthcoming book The Verbal System of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Here are the questions he addresses:

  1. What is the argument of the book?
  2. What piqued your interest in the verbal system of the Dead Sea Scrolls?
  3. How has the work developed between dissertation and publication? Any advice for students who hope to publish their dissertation?
  4. What tools or methodologies did you find most useful in your research?
  5. How does your analysis of the verbal system shed light on interpretive debates in the broader field of Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship?
  6. How does the verbal system of the Dead Sea Scrolls compare and contrast with the the verbal system(s) of the Hebrew Bible?
  7. Do you plan to extend your research and publish on the verbal system of the Hebrew Bible?
  8. Where does your view of the verbal system of the Hebrew Bible fit within the spectrum of recent debates?
  9. How accurately do the written sources reflect the spoken Hebrew of the time? Does the verbal system of the Dead Sea Scrolls result from natural linguistic development or intentional archaism? Do the Dead Sea Scrolls attest to a single common verbal system, or are there numerous parallel systems evident in the sources?

You can read the full interview here.

Interview with Two Editors of the Lexham English Septuagint

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.

Martin G. Abegg on Electronic Dead Sea Scrolls

One person stands behind all electronic versions of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Martin G. Abegg, professor and co-director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute at Trinity Western University.

His name and infamous Mac computer are mentioned in almost every history of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but we wanted to give him the opportunity to tell a little of his story in his own words.

Ken Penner: When did you first start creating a database of Dead Sea Scrolls texts?

Martin G. Abegg: The database began in the Spring of 1988 when I took Prof. Ben Zion Wacholder’s Qumran Sectarian Literature course at Hebrew Union College. I had typed several extended passages into MS Word in order to more conveniently search them and realized that I should find a way to collect these and future additions. Apple’s Hypercard became my first search engine.

KP: What kind of computer equipment and software did you initially use and why?

MA: I started my grad studies in the fall of 1984 at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. It was sometime early in that first semester that Steve Pfann took me down to the new computer labs on the Mt. Scopus campus. The PC and Mac rooms were next door to one another. The PC room was nearly empty but the Mac room was a buzz of activity. So armed with Steve’s home-made Masora font (see the first and second fascicles of the Preliminary Editions) I dove in. In the fall of 1987 I purchased my own Mac SE as part of a ploy launched by my Mom to entice me to move back from Israel and continue my studies in the States.

KP: What kinds of controversies did this project land you in?

MA: Nothing at this early stage. The events leading up to access to the Preliminary Concordance and the September 1991 publication with Prof. Wacholder brought a bit of controversy and have been well documented by Ed Cook (Solving the Mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls: New Light on the Bible, Zondervan, 1993) and Jason Kalman (Hebrew Union College and the Dead Sea Scrolls, HUC Press, 2012).

KP: How did you connect with Accordance to bring these texts to that platform?

MA: I met Dr. Roy Brown (creator of Accordance) in Nov. of 1991 at a Mexican restaurant in Kansas City while there for SBL. I had known of his “Perfect Word,” and “Mac Bible” and he was in the early stages of writing new software to take advantage of the morphologically tagged Hebrew databases that were just then becoming available. I began “tagging” my text files and working with Roy to use Accordance to search them. It was several years before we released my data. Roy invested 100s of hours as we both worked out the bugs in both my data and Accordance itself.

KP: How and when did other Bible software makers begin to publish your database?

MA: I believe Olive Tree was the first software—aside from Accordance–to license the data for the “Sectarian” data base. Followed by Logos and BibleWorks. Eventually this data became the basis for Brill’s Electronic Library publication (the second edition shepherded by BYU). And of course the DSS Concordance vol. i.

KP: What are some examples of discoveries made possible by such databases?

MA: Wow, this could be a lengthy research project in and of itself. Emanuel Tov’s work has leaned heavily on my data (e.g. Scribal Practices and Approaches). His queries about how to search for various phenomena in the data have also improved various functions within Accordance itself.  Ebert Tigchelaar sends me regular corrections, so I know the tagged data is an important part of his arsenal of tools. The folk at ThWQ have indicated that I have made their work much easier. Lange and Wiegold’s recent Biblical Quotations and Allusions in Second Temple Jewish Literature used the Accordance infer function and my data to produce the Qumran lists.

KP: What has improved over the years since your database was first released?

MA: The database itself was updated rather dramatically after the publication of the first concordance to accord with DJD. Aside from that the main updatings have come on the side of the search software and the speed of computers. And of course we have moved on to the DSS Biblical mss (Accordance modules DSSB-C/M), the refuge caves (Accordance JUDEAN), and Hebrew Ben Sira (Accordance SIRA-C/M).

KP: What are the next developments you foresee in electronic DSS research?

MA: Rob Holmstedt (University of Toronto) and I developed a tagging scheme for syntactic analysis and with the help of Roy Brown have been working the bugs out of an Accordance syntax search function. With a group of TWU students I have syntactically tagged some 20 major Qumran documents. I read my first paper describing the project and initial results at IOQS in Munich this past summer. This means of searching the text promises to replace the “cherry-picking” approach to Qumran grammar and to provide us with a detailed and scientific description of Second Temple Hebrew.

Thanks for taking the time to give us the short version of this story; I’m sure you could write a book about it! We know recognition for this kind of tedious and meticulous work can be hard to come by (as you say, there’s “no honour in databases”), yet we all are the beneficiaries of this passion of yours.

Jerome Lund Reviews Jan Joosten’s Book on the Hebrew Verbal System

You can read the full review here, but I wanted to highlight these statements:

The volume under review is a must read for every student of the Hebrew Bible, serving as a valuable tool for exegetes and Bible translators alike. The author has successfully achieved his goal of providing interpreters of the Hebrew Bible with an insightful analysis of the meaning and use of the Hebrew verbal forms… This volume represents a significant advancement in our knowledge of the classical Hebrew prose verbal system…

If I remember correctly Ken Penner is reviewing this book as well. I look forward to hearing Ken’s thoughts and diving into Joosten’s book myself.

Verb Form Semantics in Qumran Hebrew Texts

On FacebookKen Penner pointed out that his unrevised dissertation is available in PDF format for $10 on Lulu.

In this dissertation Penner clarifies the significance of verb form selection in the Qumran sectarian texts by determining the extent to which the semantic value of the Hebrew finite verb is temporal, aspectual, or modal in the Serakhim (1QS, 1QSa, 1QSb, CD, 1QM), Pesharim, Hodayot (1QHa), MMT, and Temple Scroll, using an empirical method of statistical correlation between form and meaning.

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.