Sunday, February 8, 2009

International Septuagint Day

I've just found out from Tyler Williams' Codex blog that today is International Septuagint Day. As he says:

“The Sept-tu-a-what?” is what I hear from many of my students when I first mention the Septuagint in my introductory lecture on the text and transmission of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. By mid-term, however (or should I say by the midterm, i.e., the midterm exam), virtually all of my students are able to tell me that the Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible begun around the third century BCE for the Pentateuch and completed sometime in the second or first century BCE for the rest of the books. Keen students should be able to further tell me that the title “Septuagint” comes from the Latin Septuaginta, which means “70” (thus the abbreviation LXX), and relates to the legendary origins of the translation by 70 Jewish elders from Israel (my “A” students may even relate how some versions of the legend report 72 elders were involved in the translation).

Strictly speaking Septuagint refers to the Old Greek translations of the Torah but nowadays is generally used to refer to not only the Old Greek translations of other Old Testament texts but also those texts written in Greek and other later Greek translations as well. The Greek Bible is itself a remarkably pluralist collection of texts. The Septuagint also represents the oldest large scale translation project extant, not only from one language to another but from one language family, Semitic, to another, Indo-European.

In terms of biblical studies, we know from Qumran that the Septuagint versions often represent different and older versions of the biblical texts than those now included in the Hebrew Bible. Furthermore, the Septuagint is the Old Testament of the early Church and is by far the more frequently cited and preferred version by the New Testament authors. The Septuagint is still the Old Testament of the Eastern Orthodox Church and is the basis of the Old Testaments of most of the Oriental Orthodox churches too. The Septuagint is the basis of the Old Latin bible and also shaped Jerome's later Latin translation known as the Vulgate even though he preferred to translate from Hebrew texts wherever he could and believed in the superiority of the Hebrew canon. The names of many of the Old Testament books, e.g. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deueteronomy, Psalms are derived from the Greek names for the books not the Hebrew names.

In the West and in Western biblical studies the Septuagint has for too long been ignored, in part becasue of both Jerome's and, subsequently, the Reformation's option in making the Hebrew Bible the basis of the Old Testament (on the assumption that original language must represent original text). For once I agree with Augustine who argued against Jerome that if the Hebrew Bible must form the Old Testament and can only do so with the Greek Bible alongside (I would add the Samaritan Torah/Joshua and some of the Qumran variants such as the Great Psalms scroll and the Great Isaiah scroll)

Notes on the Septuagint is a very good resource on the Septuagint in the New Testament, early church and eastern Christianity and Septuagint alignments with Hebrew versions of Old Testament texts found at Qumran, and much more.

1 comment:

  1. Logos Bible Software has begun working on the Göttingen LXX. This version will be morphologically tagged, and the apparati will be linked directly to the primary sources.

    I thought you might be interested!

    Göttingen Septuagint