Septuagintal Saturdays have become an occasional affair, and I think I”m going to have to make my peace with that. However, when I get around to doing them I find them very educational and fun. This one was no exception.

Gog or Agag? Num. 24:7

Text:

Num. 24:7 ἐξελεύσεται ἄνθρωπος ἐκ τοῦ σπέρματος αὐτοῦ καὶ κυριεύσει ἐθνῶν πολλῶν καὶ ὑψωθήσεται ἢ Γωγ βασιλεία αὐτοῦ καὶ αὐξηθήσεται ἡ βασιλεία αὐτοῦ 

MT/LXX Comparison

MT LXX
יזל־מים מדליו ἐξελεύσεται ἄνθρωπος ἐκ τοῦ σπέρματος αὐτοῦ
וזרעו במים רבים κυριεύσει ἐθνῶν πολλῶν
וירם מאגג מלכו καὶ ὑψωθήσεται ἢ Γωγ βασιλεία αὐτοῦ
נשׂא מלכתו καὶ αὐξηθήσεται ἡ βασιλεία αὐτοῦ 

Translation: 

“A man will come forth from his seed 

and he will rule many nations 

and his kingdom will be lifted up above Gog, 

and his kingdom will be increased.”

MT vs. LXX

יזל־מים מדליו vs. ἐξελεύσεται ἄνθρωπος ἐκ τοῦ σπέρματος αὐτοῦ

Both נזל and ἐξέρχομαι could be understood to exist in the same semantic range. Thus, a straight translation here is possible though the imagery of liquid is lost. The rest of the clause, however, is completely different. The imagery of the MT is one of water flowing from someone’s bucket: מים מדליו. The LXX has made it a man (ἄνθρωπος) who will come (ἐξελεύσεται) from the ‘his seed’ (ἐκ τοῦ σπέρματος αὐτοῦ). Wevers speaks of this as “a complete reinterpretation…[that]…has little to do with a parent text” (Wevers, 406). The BHS textual apparatus suggests the following emendation to the MT: יזלו לאמים מחילו (‘people will flow forth from his strength,’ my translation). While I agree that the LXX contains a reinterpretation I do not think it is divorced from the MT. As Sailhamer has pointed out (Sailhamer, 408), in several places Numbers 24 repeats oracles that in Numbers 23 were referring to the nation of Israel, and reapplies them to the single ‘king’ (cf. Num. 23:24 and Num. 24:8). Thus it is possible that the LXX translator is picking up on this shift from Numbers 23 to Numbers 24 and reinterpreting the imagery in Num. 24:7 to reflect a single referent (this is especially the case if we accept the BHS’s emendation). 

 

וזרעו במים רבים vs. κυριεύσει ἐθνῶν πολλῶν

The MT, as it stands, continues the imagery of abundant water, i.e., the coming king will have abundance. The LXX, however, in light of its understanding of the single referent of the previous clause, interprets this as a theme of authority. This fits with what is going to follow. BHS suggests the following emendation to the MT based on the LXX: וּזְרֹעוֹ בעמים רבים (‘and his arm over many peoples,’ my translation). 

 

מאגג vs. Γωγ

When I first decided to look at this passage, this issue was the one that caught my attention. But, this translation decision of the LXX translators is in keeping with the theme they have been developing, of forward looking and single referent interpretation. The MT’s מאגג (‘from Agag’) seems most clearly to refer to Agag from 1 Samuel 15. Thus the referent would be the historical David. Even though it is Samuel who slays Agag (1 Sam. 15:32-33), it is David who has final victory over the Amalekites (2 Sam. 8:12). However, if the reference is to Γωγ (‘Gog’) as the LXX suggests (so to the Samaritan Penteteuch and all the Versions), then the referent (the one who is exalted over Gog) must be one who will be victorious over the eschatological figure Gog from the land of Magog (Ezek. 38-39). The textual support for Gog is quite strong, but it is in keeping with the thematic ‘forward looking’ translations that we have seen from the LXX.

 

Conclusions

The general tenor of the LXX of this passage is to look at this ‘king’ as one who is authoritative and a very future, perhaps eschatological figure. It gives him, singular, a picture of authority, rather than the nation a picture of abundance. The LXX suggests that this coming person cannot be the historical David because of the reference to Gog instead of Agag. In short, it seems possible to conclude that the LXX portrays a messianic interpretation of the oracle in Numbers 24. Furthermore, as we have seen, with a few reasonable emendations of the MT it is not hard to postulate a messianic ‘original reading’ not reflected in the MT. This text is difficult and not one to build an argument on, but there is no doubt in my mind that there is a case that can be made for an original messianic interpretation of this passage.

 

Bibliography

Karen H. Jobes and Moises Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), esp., 298-300; Ralph W. Klein, Textual Criticism of the Old Testament (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1974); John H. Sailhamer, The Pentatuech as Narrative (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992); John W. Wevers, Notes on the Greek Text of Numbers (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1998).

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