Invitation to the Septuagint

Karen H. Jobes and Moises Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint (Grand Rapids:  Baker Academic, 2000).

The first thing a reader should note about Jobes and Silva’s Invitation to the Septuagint is the scope and importance of such a project. In the past fifty years when scholars could lament that Swete’s Introduction “was never brought up to date nor replaced,”[1] Jobes and Silva’s contribution attempts to do just that. While how affective they are in accomplishing that goal can be debated but no one can debate the importance and need of a clear introduction to Septuagint studies. The authors break down their book into three basic parts, and we will look at each one to see how well they accomplished their task

 

Part 1: History of the Septuagint

            In the first chapter of this section the authors begin by defining the term Septuagint (LXX). They note that equating the LXX with Rahlfs edition is naïve and they caution the reader that “there is really no such thing as the Septuagint” (32). The rest of the chapter is spent dealing with the Letter of Aristeas and the three: Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion.

            Next the authors tackle the subject of ‘the Transmission of the Septuagint.’ The first part of the chapter deals with text history of the LXX, especially the recensions. The authors reconstruct the basic text history of the LXX (following LaGarde’s original premise) into five levels: 1) original translation, 2) early revisions (e.g., Kaige-Theodotion), 3) the versions, 4) Origin’s recension and 5) Lucians recension. In the second half of the chapter the authors deal with the major witnesses to the LXX text. They walk through the basic papyri, uncials, minuscules, and secondary versions with pictures of some of the major Codices. The chapter ‘The Septuagint in Modern Times,’ is a helpful discussion of the printed editions of the LXX as well as a discussion of the canon (i.e., contents) of the LXX.

            The final chapter in this section is largely a discussion of language. Understanding that the LXX is a translation is key for understanding and interpreting it. The authors include in this chapter a basic linguistic discussion about the nature of translation and then three factors that influence the interpretation of the LXX: theological, exegetical tradition, and sociopolitical considerations.

            This first part of Invitation is basically summarized as the history and nature of the LXX. This part is a basic introduction to what the LXX is in less than 100 pages. It is written at a level that any Bible student or serious lay person could understand and benefit from. Leaving this section the reader has a clear sense that they know at least what the LXX is.

 

Part 2: The Septuagint in Biblical Studies

            The transition to this section marks a significant change in the reading level. While the prior section could benefit any serious lay person this section requires a decent proficiency in Greek and Hebrew to fully follow the discussion.

            Continuing the train of thought from the last section on the LXX as translation, the authors dive into a relatively detailed discussion about the influence of the Hebrew on the vocabulary and syntax of the LXX. The basic conclusion of the authors is that the LXX was written in Koine Greek but contains significant peculiarities because of the influence of the Semitic thought and language that lays behind it.

            The next two chapters (6 and 7) are potentially the most important for the use and study of the LXX. The first ‘Establishing the Text of the Septuagint’ is a discussion of the goal of reaching the original text of the Septuagint as well as a discussion of textual criticism itself. The authors contend that the primary focus of LXX studies must be to reconstruct the original text (124). In the authors discussion of the textual criticism of the LXX they identify three factors: intrinsic factors, transcriptional factors and external factors. Of these the authors count transcriptional probability as the most important factor in evaluating text critical decisions of the LXX (130).

            In the next chapter on using the LXX for text criticism of the MT, the authors show a surprising tendency to prefer the MT (154). This does not mean that they are not appropriately nuanced in their view, but for LXX scholars their appreciation of the MT gives the reader what is probably a healthy perspective.

            The authors then turn to a discussion of the relationship between the LXX and DSS. Though the relationship between these two bodies of texts are interesting the authors are hesitant to argue for any hard and fast relationship. However, they do contend that when the LXX and DSS agree against the MT we must pay especially careful attention to that reading and is perhaps a place where we can reject the MT reading.

            The authors chapter on the LXX and NT (ch. 9) is an important if broad topic for LXX study. The authors argue that though the LXX does affect the language of the NT, it is over exaggerated. The authors also suggest caution towards using the NT for text-critical activity of the LXX. The most interesting discussion in this chapter is their discussion of the Interpretational help the LXX gives NT studies. This short section (a mere 11 pages) could have been developed into an entire book but it does wet the readers appetite for this kind of study. 

            The final section of this book contains extended discussions of three texts as examples of how to interpret the LXX. Here, finally, after over 200 pages we get to do some actual interpretation of the LXX. This chapter is the most practical help for students trying to come to grips with interpreting the LXX. The close reading and verse by verse examination (especially of the Genesis example) is invaluable for students.

 

Part 3: The Current State of Septuagintal Studies

            We will look much more briefly at the last part of this book. Ch. 11 in this section contains mini-biographies of the most influential LXX scholars. Chs. 12-14 attempt to bring the reader up to sped in current research by covering three areas of current studies: 1) linguistic research, 2) reconstruction of the text history, and 3) theological development of the Hellenistic age. While this section is interesting it is of value mostly for students who wish to pursue LXX studies further.

 

Assessment and Thoughts

            First and foremost it must be said that this book is an extremely valuable and informative introduction to the LXX. It not only covers the basics of LXX studies but in several places goes into very in-depth discussions. It is necessarily brief and often can do no more than wet a students appetite but it does that very well.

            The major criticism about this book is its brevity, especially in Part 2. Part 2 takes up just over 100 pages but it could easily have been twice that. Much further discussion on understanding the critical versions of the LXX in ch. 6 would have benefited students incredibly. Understandably one has to draw the limit somewhere but part 2 is by far the most valuable section for students of the LXX, especially those that want to try their own hand at LXX studies. It could have easily been developed into two sections equally as long as parts 1 and 3. For what it is though, it is a fantastic introduction into a fascinating world of study.


[1] P. Katz (W.P.M. Walters), “Septuagintal Studies in the Mid-Century: Their Links with the Past and their Present Tendencies,” in The Background of the NT and its Eschatology (Cambridge: 1956): 177.

 

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