What They Thought when They Were Wrong

Wisdom of Solomon, Chapter 2

Greek text

This is what they said to themselves when they were thinking wrongly:

Our life is short and stressful, and there’s no remedy for a person’s death. For someone to return from Hades is unheard of. We were born out of the blue, and in the future it will be as if we never existed. The breath in our nostrils is like smoke, and our speech is like a spark in the movement of our hearts. Once our body stops burning, it will become ashes. Our name will be forgotten in time, and no one will remember our work. Our life will pass away like a fading cloud and will be scattered like a mist that has been chased by the rays of the sun and worn down by its heat. Our time is the passing of a shadow. Our death cannot be undone because the matter was sealed up and no one returns.

So come on! Let’s enjoy the good things! Let’s make good use of the things of life like we did when we were young! Let’s be filled with expensive wine and perfumes. May no spring flower go unnoticed by us. Let’s crown ourselves with fresh rose blossoms. Not one of us will take responsibility for our revelry. Let’s leave the marks of our party everywhere because this is our lot and destiny. Let’s jump an innocent poor person. Let’s spare no widow and show no respect to some old, grey-haired, elderly person. Our strength determines what is just. You see, the weak are considered worthless.

Let’s set a trap for the righteous one because he is inconvenient for us. He opposes our actions. He ridicules us for our “sin against the law.” He ascribes to us the “sins” of our education. He claims to have knowledge of God and calls himself a child of God. He came to us to tell us our thoughts are wrong. He is unbearable for us and sticks out. His life is not like others, and his ways are extremely weird. We thought he was a fake. He steered clear of our ways as one might from something dirty. He blesses the final state of the righteous and speaks of God as father. Let’s see if his words are true. Let’s put to the test his thoughts on the end of his life. If he is the righteous son of God, then God will help him and deliver him from the hand of those who have opposed him. With torturous violence let’s test him so that we can see his character and test his patience. Let’s give him a shameful death, and how he fares will be dependent on the veracity of his words.

These things are what they thought, and they were wrong because their wickedness blinded them. They didn’t know the mysteries of God, and they didn’t hope in the reward of piety. They didn’t consider the honor of a blameless soul. God created people for incorruptibility and as an image of his eternal nature.

Death entered the world through the envy of the Devil, and those who are of his lot put the righteous one to the test.

Montanari talks about BrillDAG

Is a new dictionary of ancient Greek necessary? On Brill’s language and linguistics blog, Franco Montanari answers this question and talks about the distinctive features of his new lexicon.

This is a really helpful post highlighting three reasons why he thinks his lexicon is necessary:

  1. Progress in our understanding of ancient Greek
  2. The evolution of the modern languages in which our lexicons are written
  3. The need for a comprehensive lexicon with a clear graphic layout

I’ve enjoyed using Montanari’s lexicon, especially with later writers like Josephus but also with the Septuagint. There’s a host of LXX references in just about every entry. The other great thing about this work is the price. Brill sells it for $125. The binding is not great, but as long as you use it as an in-office reference lexicon and don’t tote it around everywhere, it should hold up pretty well. Mine has, and I got it as soon as it was published in 2015.

I really hope to see BrillDAG become available in digital platforms other than Brill Online. With Brill Online you can get an individual license for $230, but I’m not a big fan of using an internet browser to do lexical work.

Göttingen Job in Accordance

“The Septuagint says …”

You can’t responsibly finish that sentence without checking a Göttingen edition. If there is no Göttingen edition for a particular book, then we usually turn to Rahlfs, but his edition was never intended to be the last word on the Old Greek (“Septuagint”) text.

Why Göttingen?

This point is not widely understood, even among students at universities and seminaries: The big blue book most people think of when they hear the word “Septuagint” is primarily based on three uncials — Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, and Alexandrinus. The Göttingen volumes, however, are based on all the extant witnesses to the Old Greek translation of each book. The Göttingen Septugaint is a full scale critical edition, and Rahlfs is just a starting point for a critical edition. Rahlfs and Hanhart themselves called it a handbook or pocket edition (Handausgabe).

At the end of the day, the differences between Göttingen and Rahlfs are often few when you consider the percentage of words that differ between the two editions. Nevertheless, if you want to finish the statement “The Septuagint says …” as accurately as possible (especially if you are doing academic research) you must have access to the Göttingen volumes.

Furthermore, the Old Greek translation of Job is significantly different than the form of Job we see in our Hebrew Bibles and English translations. Claude Cox states,

The translator, in a brilliant way, gives us an edited version of the story of Job; the text is reworked to such an extent that we might say he adopts the stance of an epitomiser, commentator, interpreter. (Claude Cox, “Job.” In T&T Clark Companion to the Septuagint, ed. James K. Aitken. Bloomsbury, 2015)

To support a statement like this concerning the how-and-why of differences between the Hebrew and Greek versions of Job, it is important to work from texts based on all the available evidence, and this is what Göttingen provides.

The Accordance Edition

Accordance recently released their edition of Göttingen Job, and it can be purchased as a part of a Göttingen collection ($800) or individually ($80). These prices are cheaper than buying print copies, and Accordance occasionally runs sales during which you can get the Göttingen modules even cheaper.

Using the Add Parallel button you can easily add both the first and second apparatuses to the text so that all three scroll together.

Like almost all of their original language texts, Accordance has lemmatized and morphologically tagged all the Göttingen volumes. This means you can search the text for the lexical form of a Greek word (e.g., ἔχω) and find every occurrence of the word in all its various forms (e.g., ἔχει, ἐχόμεναι, ἔχεται).

Or you can find every instance of ἔχω as a present participle by searching for the following:

ἔχω@ [VERB present participle]

Accordance has also tagged the apparatus modules so that they can be searched in unique ways.

It is pretty awesome to be able to search the apparatuses for all references to Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion. You see, in the Göttingen volumes the first apparatus notes variants within the transmission of the Old Greek translation itself, but the second apparatus catalogues differences between the Old Greek translation and later ancient Greek translations — such as those of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion. So by searching the second apparatus using the Manuscripts search field one can highlight places where the editor notes differences between the Old Greek and later Greek translations.

To search the second apparatus for all references to Aquilla, Symmachus, and Theodotion, open the second apparatus in a separate tab, select the Manuscripts search field, right click on the search entry area, and select Enter Word.

Simply type “s” and you will see the abbreiations α´, σ´, θ´ in the word list. Select each and hit enter. To navigate within the search results to Job 1:1, simply type Job 1:1 in the navigation box at the bottom right, as you see in the picture below, and hit enter.


Over the course of about an hour, I checked the Accordance modules against the print edition of Göttingen Job, and I found about 10-15 typos in the digital edition. This is highly unusual for Accordance and is due, no doubt, to the fact that (1) this edition was first published in 1982, which means the initial digital text had to be produced by a scan, and (2) the Göttingen editions present any typesetter with the ultimate challenge. There is absolutely nothing like them. The number of obscure abbreviations and symbols and the combination of various langauges in these volumes is like nothing else I’ve ever seen. So the struggle is understandable.

Some of the typos I found in the Accordance modules were issues with difficult-to-reproduce characters like the μ-characters you see below. The picture below is from version 1.0 of the Accordance module, and in that version the little boxes were actually pictures. The module has already been updated to 1.1. Others were places where the scan didn’t accurately reproduce the dense notes found in the first and second apparatuses.

But in typical Accordance fashion, they have already fixed the typos I reported. Within a couple days of my reports, Accordance had already released version 1.1, which you can see below with the corrected μ-characters.

You can also check out this post where they fixed similar issues with another resource within two days of my reports.


If you are serious about studying the Septuagint, the textual history of the Hebrew Bible, or the New Testament authors’ use of Scripture, the Göttingen Septuagint is essential. It is impossible to carry a shelf of Göttingen volumes with you everywhere you go, and despite the typos found in this volume and the inevitable remaining typos yet to be discovered, I think the Accordance edition is the way to go. The price, portability, search capabilities, and morphological tagging, combined with the company’s commitment to producing quality resources, make Göttingen Job in Accordance the best digital option available.

Spinning Flowers and Anxiety

Lilies don’t spin. But what does that have to do with anything? I’ve read Matthew several times, but for some reason I’ve never pursued exactly what is meant when Jesus says that the lilies don’t “spin.”

Matthew 6:28–29 Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They neither labor nor spin, but I tell you not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these.

καταμάθετε τὰ κρίνα τοῦ ἀγροῦ πῶς αὐξάνουσιν· οὐ κοπιῶσιν οὐδὲ νήθουσιν· λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐδὲ Σολομὼν ἐν πάσῃ τῇ δόξῃ αὐτοῦ περιεβάλετο ὡς ἓν τούτων.

The word used for spin here is νήθω, which LSJ and BDAG gloss simply with “spin.” I gained a little insight this weekend concerning exactly what type of spinning Jesus is talking about. Greek Exodus uses the words νήθω, διανήθω, and κλώθω several times while laying out instructions for building the tabernacle (e.g., LXX Exodus 25:4; 26:1, 31, 36; 27:9, 16, 18; 28:6, 8, 15, 33). The people are to provide “spun linen,” “spun scarlet,” and the like.

When Jesus says the lilies do not labor or spin he means, perhaps by hendiadys, they do not labor to make clothes for themselves. They don’t worry about clothes yet they are more magnificently dressed than Solomon ever was.

I discussed this with some, like my wife, who immediately knew what was implied when Jesus said the “lilies don’t spin.” Others, like myself when reading this passage, had only envisioned something like a silly spinning flower you might see on a clown costume. We go to a store to pick up the clothes we need. I’m sure first century people more readily understood the connection been “spinning” and “making clothes.”

The Committee’s Goal & Guiding Principles

This post provides some reading notes on chapter 2 of Dominique Barthélemy’s Studies in the Text of the Old Testament: An Introduction to the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, trans. Stephen Pisano et al., Textual Criticism and the Translator 3 (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2012). Earlier posts provide notes on the Introduction and part 1, chapter 1.

Chapter 2 of part 1 overviews the committee’s understanding of the goal of textual criticism and the guiding principles with which they worked. Finally, Barthélemy surveys the committee’s understanding of how the Old Testament canon developed.

J. D. Michaelis had planned to gather a committee of scholars to assess all the textual difficulties in the Bible, but this plan was never brought to fruition. The Seven Years’ War intervened. In 1935 Paul Volz, who had recently done work on the text of Jeremiah, expressed the desire to carry Michaelis’ vision forward. World War II intervened. The need for a thorough study of textual variants in the Old Testament became even more pressing after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In 1969 the United Bible Societies successfully gathered a world-renown committee, and they began to meet annually for four week sessions.

The goal of textual criticism

In recent years, the goal of textual criticism has been a hot topic of debate. There is plenty of talk in print and at the annual meetings about theories of textual criticism so this comment from Barthélemy is especially interesting: “Rather than debating theoretical positions, they [the committee] deemed it more worthwhile to focus on the critical task itself, and only thereafter to analyze the methodological implications of their common work” (84).

The committee sought to reconstruct the earliest attested text, a text that might be dated to roughly 300 BC. They worked with the presupposition that they could “on the basis of extant textual witnesses recover that text type which lay behind all the ancient variations,” and according to Barthélemy, this belief rested “in part on the hypothesis that the various textual traditions had not begun to diverge until after their content had come to be recognized as sacred, or — to use a convenient phrase, albeit ambiguous — until after they had become canonical” (87). The earliest attested text is that phase in the literary development of a biblical book that marked “the end of its literary development and the beginning of its textual history” (88).

Exceptions to the rule

The committee recognized in the course of its work that Proverbs, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel were exceptions to the rule. In these cases, they decided to follow MT, wherever it differed from the OG at a literary level. They committee regarded textual emendation outside the bounds of textual criticism primarily because their goal was to recover “the earliest attested text” — the second phase of the text’s development. Contextual emendation aims at recovering a pristine original (1st phase) reading.

Guiding principles

Barthélemy summarizes 15 factors the committee turned to as causes of textual corruption. He also discusses the way in which the committee handled inner biblical reworkings of earlier material, euphemisms, tiqqune sopherim, kethiv-qere readings, and the weight given by the committee to other scribal marks. These principles guided the committee’s evaluation of over 5,000 variants:

  1. Narrow basis for a variant form of the text: If a variant occurs in only one textual tradition, this should be a red flag, but one must weigh the witnesses, not just count them.
  2. Deceptively broad basis fora variant form of the text tradition: One can have several witnesses to a reading, but all of them could be dependent on an early interpretation of an obscure textual difficulty.
  3. Dependence of a variety of text forms upon one earlier form: Sometimes several variant readings can be explained as various scribal responses to an obscure textual problem.
  4. Simplification of the text (easier reading): The tendency of scribes is to simply the text, not make it more difficult.
  5. Assimilation to parallel passages: Some variants arose because scribes or translators made the passage more clear or detailed based on similar biblical passages. In these cases, the unassimilated form is, presumably, earlier.
  6. Translational adjustments to the text: Some variants arise based on the linguistic requirements of languages into which the text was translated. This factor is important in assessing whether or not a variant is based on different Hebrew Vorlage.
  7. Interpretive modifications: Variants can be due to theological interpretation on the part of a translator.
  8. Misunderstanding of linguistic data: Variants can arise do to a scribe’s or translator’s misunderstanding of biblical grammar and lexicography.
  9. Misunderstanding of historical data: Knowledge of a text’s historical and cultural setting disappeared, and therefore a scribe adjusted the text to make it more clear.
  10. Accidental omission of similar letters, words, or sentences: For example, ד or י can be confused with ר or ו.
  11. Accidental repetition of identical sequences: Sometimes a word or phrase or letter is accidentally written twice.
  12. Other scribal errors: This is the catch-all-the-rest category.
  13. Conflated readings or doublets: Short explanatory notes — written in the margin or above or below the line — were sometimes incorporated into the text itself.
  14. Conjectural emendation doesn’t fit with the committee’s understanding of the goal of textual criticism.
  15. Later, corrupt readings are better than a conjectured forms.

The developing “canon”

Finally, Barthélemy lays out the perspective on the process of OT canonization with which the committee worked. A few key quotes:

As we will see, the direction and extent of dispersion of textual forms varies from book to book. It is remarkable that at Qumran, as in the Christian church before Origen, this pluralism within which the sacred books were read seems to have been accepted without difficulty (128).

We have had to conclude from this that the stable point which we had believed (with Kittel) could be fixed around 300 B.C. continues to elude our grasp. In that era, certain portions of the Joshua-Judges-Samuel-Kings corpus were already transmitted in several distinct textual forms, and these continued to undergo literary innovations of limited extent throughout their transmission in Hebrew … In fact, the mirage of a text that was stable and unified (because of its canonical function) before the intervention of the Greek translators vanished before the committee’s eyes (132).

It seems, finally, that the only fixed point in the history of the Hebrew text which can serve as a base of reference is represented by the standard edition of the consonantal text that was produced by the rabbis at the end of the first century A.D. … We can then regard the Tiberian MT — at least for the books it contains — as an essentially faithful witness to the Bible that Paul read at the feet of Gamaliel. Even if this Bible does not constitute the only form of the Christian Old Testament, it does at least represent a particularly venerable form of it (137).

That is why this report devotes so much space to the history of interpretation. Because recent commentaries and dictionaries too often show little interest in those difficult texts that they eliminate through correction, it was essential to take a fairly large inventory of the syntactic analyses and interpretations that the most conscientious early Jewish and Christian interpreters offered for these texts. We hope that a given syntactic comparison or an original Judeo-Arab interpretation (even though 1,000 years old) will occasionally be able to remind us that the situation of some of these texts is not as desperate as a lazy critic may claim in order to justify the proliferation or the mediocrity of his conjectures (138).

The Early History of OT Textual Criticism

This post provides some reading notes on chapter 1 of on Dominique Barthélemy’s Studies in the Text of the Old Testament: An Introduction to the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, trans. Stephen Pisano et al., Textual Criticism and the Translator 3 (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2012).

An earlier post provides notes on the Introduction.

Chapter 1 surveys the history of OT textual criticism from its origin in the Early Middle Ages to J. D. Michaelis. Barthélemy states that most scholars know hardly anything about textual criticism prior to the advent of modern critical studies. The chapter is intended to fill this information gap.

The status of the vowel points in the 16th–17th centuries

Barthélemy begins by surveying the debates among sixteenth and seventeenth century scholars concerning the antiquity of the vowel points. Two works were at the center of the debate: Louis Cappel’s Arcanum and Critica Sacra, both of which argued against to J. Buxtorf’s Tiberias. Buxtorf argued that the accents preceded the Masoretes. In Aracanum Cappel argued that the Masorah was a highly composite work compiled over the centuries and the vowel points were a relatively recent addition. Concerning the validity of Cappel’s arguments, Barthélemy states, “They reveal a well-informed and quasi-prophetic understanding for his time of the progressive development of vocalization” (16). According to Cappel, the vowel points were not necessary to maintain a stable text.

Though Buxtorf read Cappel’s work, neither he nor anyone else responded to Cappel for nearly 20 years. After Buxtorf died, his son wrote a response to Cappel, but at this point Cappel’s arguments had won the day. Cappel further developed his approach to the text of the Old Testament, when in 1650 he published his Critica Sacra. Barthélemy writes, “This work definitively established the legitimacy and necessity of submitting the Hebrew test of the Old Testament to a criticism analogous to that used for any ancient secular literature.”

At the end of the seventeenth century critics were in agreement on two things:

1. The available Hebrew witnesses to the text of the Old Testament were remarkably unified.

2. If the autographs of the biblical books were accessible, these would have been considered normative (29).

Kennicott and de Rossi

The first conviction was tested and proven true by work of Benjamin Kennicott and Giovanni Bernardo de Rossi. Kennicott raised funds and organized a team of 315 people throughout Great Britain to collate hundreds of medieval Hebrew manuscripts. The project even gained financial support from King George III. The second and last volume was published in 1780. The methodology and execution of the work was criticized by J. D. Michaelis and many others, but all were, nonetheless, supportive of Kennicott’s massive endeavor.

De Rossi was a wealthy priest who was able to greatly enhance Kennicott’s collations, and unlike Kennicott, de Rossi did all of his additional collations himself. The final verdict on the work of Kennicott and de Rossi was less then sensational: The medieval manuscripts contain variants attributable almost exclusively to scribal error. The status of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament was not further developed until the work of Paul Kahle in the middle of the twentieth century.

… With regard to [MT] manuscripts, it is often stated that there are this many Kennicott manuscripts and that many de Rossi manuscripts, even though serious confusion exists regarding the identification of these manuscripts. What, in fact, was Kennicott’s work and what was de Rossi’s? It seems that much is obscure when one attempts to look back before the end of the eighteenth century outside of Germany (2).


The second conviction of seventeenth century critics was taken to task by the work of Spinoza. The stage was set by Thomas Hobbes and Isaac de La Peyrère. These authors demonstrated that portions of the Pentateuch showed signs of editorial activity that could not be attributed to Moses. Spinoza’s Tractatus developed this stream of thought into a systematic approach to biblical criticism. In order to properly interpret Scripture, one must first understand the Hebrew language and have a proper understanding of the situation in which each biblical book was originally written. Neither of these these are completely attainable therefore, according to Spinoza, the “author’s intention” concerning every detail is beyond our grasp. Spinoza believed that the big ideas concerning morality and salvation are plain enough in the text itself; the deficiency in our knowledge of Hebrew and the history of the biblical books only called into question “matters beyond normal comprehension, which can merely be imagined.”[1]

Spinoza was excommunicated and his views denounced, but his ideas were carried forward by Richard Simon. Simon took Spinoza’s questions seriously and attempted to write the literary history of the Old Testament Spinoza required. In 1678 Simon published Histoire Critique du Vieux Testament. Barthélemy Argues persuasively that Richard Simon was dependent on Spinoza in the first nine chapters of his Histoire Critique, the portion that proved to be foundational for the development of higher criticism. Simon deliberately concealed his dependence on Spinoza because  he wanted to avoid being criticized simply for his work’s association with Spinoza (60–62).

Spinoza’s argument that the Old Testament as we have it is not equal to the autographs made a lasting impact.  Simon argued that Jesus’ and the apostles’ interpretation of the Old Testament was in line with Jewish hermeneutics. Barthélemy notes that Simon “had no idea that pesharim of Qumran would one day provide us with re-readings in an eschatological vein which clearly predated our own era” (74).

Simon considered a prophet “any person appointed by the leaders of the ‘Hebrew Republic’ who carries out a redactional role with regard to the sacred books and who, because of that, possesses an inspired authority which enables him to fulfill it…” (75). He called them “public scribes.” Because these public scribes were inspired, it is a waste of time to search for the “authors” of each book. Regarding the Pentateuch, Simon considered Moses the author, but he recognized that changes and additions had been made to the book after the time of Moses. The historical books are summaries and compilations of ancient memoirs. The people who compiled these memoirs sometimes left in their composite products discrepancies found in their sources. They left these discrepancies because they were insignificant — for example discrepancies in the lists found in Nehemiah 7 and Ezra 2 (78). This perspective opens the door for Jean Astruc and the development of source and redaction criticism.

The “final form”

The only valid response to Spinoza’s sharp criticism is the one which Simon’s hermeneutic contributes to orienting prophecy … Spinoza, in fact, made the possibility or impossibility of interpreting prophecy authentically entirely dependent upon our capacity or incapacity to reconstitute the contents of the prophet’s thought, and to identify the circumstances and hearers  of his word. For Simon, none of that was of any importance … The most important thing is to be able to arrive at the second meaning principally intended by the prophetic Spirit, beyond the historical meaning which criticism helps to determine … Thus the contemporaries of the fulfillment as opposed to those of the prophet, find themselves in a privileged position for interpreting the prophecies. It is clear that this revolution had important consequences for the textual criticism of the Old Testament. The textual form which must serve as a point of reference is not the one constituted by ‘the autographs of Moses and the Prophets,’ but is constituted rather by the state of divinely guided maturation in which the books of Scripture are found at the time of the fulfillment, that is, at the time when the Messiah reveals himself in order to renew all things (80–81).

  1. 57, taken from Barthélemy’s quotation of Spinoza’s Tractatus in his Complete Works pp. 465–467.  

Overview of the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project

This post is some reading notes on the introductory essay in Dominique Barthélemy’s Studies in the Text of the Old Testament: An Introduction to the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, trans. Stephen Pisano et al., Textual Criticism and the Translator 3 (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2012).

The volume opens with an essay from James Sanders introducing Dominique Barthélemy and the work of the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project (HOTTP). Sanders highlights how Barthélemy’s Devanciers paved the way for a new understanding of the history of the Hebrew Bible (Les devanciers d’Aquila: première publication intégrale du texte des fragments du Dodécaprophéton trouvés dans le désert de Juda [Leiden: Brill, 1963]).

According to Barthélemy the text developed in four stages:

  1. The early literary forms of various blocks of texts in the hands of editors and schools before they became community texts; oral or written literary products as close as possible to those originally produced
  2. The rather fluid pre-Masoretic texts evidenced in the Qumran biblical scrolls and in the LXX; the earliest form or forms of text which can be determined by the application of techniuques of textual analysis to existing textual evidence
  3. The proto-Masoretic text evidenced in the Hebrew texts from Murabbaʿat, Masada and elsewhere (than Qumran) and in the second-century Greek translations (Aquila and Theodotion; cf. Symmachus and the Vulgate); the consonantal text as authorized by Jewish scholars shortly after AD 70
  4. The Masoretic Text (MT) of the tenth and eleventh centuries (the classical, Tiberian codices). (xvi, 87)

Eugene Nida, of the United Bible Society (UBS), formed the HOTTP to provide translators with “the most critically responsible text” (xxiii). Sanders explains that in the mid-twentieth century the most recent Western translations varied widely in how they handled text-critical problems. These translations were often consulted by UBS translators in the field; the variations in the Western translations were, therefore, unsystematically influencing the translations sponsored by the Bible society. Furthermore, the field had yet to thoroughly and systematically assess the text critical impact of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Sanders explains that the committee often debated the period into which a certain reading should be assigned. For the purposes of determining the “most critically responsible text,” however, “the crucial point was that we needed to find the juncture at which literary activity had basically ceased, indeed the point at which the history of the formation of a text ceased and the history of transmission of that text began. The two overlapped in some cases, as we have noted, but the distinction was important” (xxiii).

John A. Thompson, of the American Bible Society, provided a list of the passages most difficult for UBS translators. Eugene Nida invited six scholars to work on the project:

  • Hans-Peter Rüger (Tübingen) provided the committee with the readings of the ancient witnesses for each textual problem
  • James Sanders provided all of the readings from the Judaean Desert Scrolls
  • Norbert Lohfink (Frankfort) would research and report on modern critical studies for each passage
  • Barthélemy researched the history of interpretation up to the modern critical period
  • A. R. Hulst (Ultrecht) and W. D. McHardy (Oxford) “brought their long experience in the work of translation to the discussions” (xxiv).

The committee met annually and considered, in total, almost 6,000 of the most difficult Old Testament text critical problems. Sanders writes, “It was Barthélemy’s findings in the pre-critical literature that were basically new to modern textual criticism … It became clear that the medieval exegetes’ knowledge of Hebrew grammar and syntax derived from their thorough acquaintance with Arabic grammar and syntax and was superior to modern grammars of Hebrew, which are largely based on the structure of classical languages” (xxiv). During the course of their study, the committee “came to realize that ancient tridents, both scribes and translators, were less prone to ‘scribal errors’ than the field had thought, precisely because in the early history of transmission of the text there was more freedom than scholarship had realized to alter the text slightly to make it understandable to the communities the ancient tridents served. These then were not ‘errors’ in the usual sense but purposeful changes done in service to the communities that accepted the text as ‘canonical’ or authoritative” (xxv).

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.