For this Septuagint Saturdays I decided to do something different. Since I recently attended TWU’s Septuagint Conference I wanted to interact with some of the proposals I encountered there. Unfortunately, interacting with the present proposal turned out to be a much more convoluted study than I was anticipating so it will have to be in two parts: 1) a summary of Professor Joosten’s proposal, followed by 2) an interaction with his thesis. So here is a summary of Professor Joosten’s thesis.

Professor Jan Joosten of Universite Marc Bloch, France gave a fantastic paper at the Septuagint Conference that I recently attended. His topic was how the LXX translators handled Hebrew Idioms. He proposed that there are three ways that the LXX translators handled Hebrew idioms. First, they often translated the idioms literally, with a word for word equation with the Hebrew. Second, they rendered them freely, decoding the meaning of the idiom for their readers. Third, they used a combination of free rendering and literal translation. One example of the various handlings of idioms that he used came from Exod. 35-36.

Literal Technique Ex. 35:21: Heb – ‘everyone whose heart stirred him up’ (‏אשׁר־נשׂאו לבו) vs. Gk – ‘every one whose heart carried them’ (ὧν ἔφερεν αὐτῶν ἡ καρδία)

Free rendering Ex. 36:2: Heb – ‘every one whose heart stirred him up’ (‏אשׁר נשׂאו לבו) vs. Gk – ‘all those who freely desired’ (τοὺς ἑκουσίως βουλομένους)

Combination Ex. 35:26: Heb – ‘all the women whose heart stirred them up’ (‏אשׁר נשׂא לבן) vs. Gk – ‘all the women to whose mind it seemed good’ (αἷς ἔδοξεν τῇ διανοίᾳ αὐτῶν) 

The third option renders the idiomatic ‘lifted up’ freely but maintains something of the Hebraic thought by translating לבן (heart/mind) as διανοίᾳ (mind) and maintaining the basic Hebraic syntax of the statement.

Prof. Joosten’s conclusion from his study is that the LXX translators learned their trade on the job. His survey of the varying ways that the translators handled idiomatic phrases showed him that there was not an established translation technique that they followed and they ad libbed as it were.

In a conversation over coffee, I asked him if it were not possible that there were other contextual factors contributing to the varying translation techniques that he found. His answer was that he believed the translators translated small sections at a time, so larger contextual pictures may not be a major factor, though it was not an element of his study and something that should probably be looked at. 

In a subsequent post I will examine this section (Exo. 35-36) in more detail to see if there are other factors informing the LXX translator’s technique for rendering these idioms in the various ways that they do.