It has been quite a while since I’ve put my hand to the Septuagint. I’ve been rather busy, the last few months have been applications, working on papers, thesis, etc. However, in my reading I came across an article (Moberly, see below) that contains a very interesting discussion of the interpretive difference in this verse. Here is a brief discussion of a possible (probable?) reason for the main difference between the MT and LXX of Jonah 3:4.

 

MT:

Jonah 3:4 ויחל‭ ‬יונה‭ ‬לבוא‭ ‬בעיר‭ ‬מהלך‭ ‬יום‭ ‬אחד‭ ‬ויקרא‭ ‬ויאמר‭ ‬עוד‭ ‬ארבעים‭ ‬יום‭ ‬ונינוה‭ ‬נהפכת׃

 

Translation: “And Jonah began to go into the city a journey of one day, and he called out and he said, ‘Yet forty days and Ninevah will be overthrown.'”

 

LXX:

Jonah 3:4 καὶ ἤρξατο Ιωνας τοῦ εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν πόλιν ὡσεὶ πορείαν ἡμέρας μιᾶς καὶ ἐκήρυξεν καὶ εἶπεν Ἔτι τρεῖς ἡμέραι καὶ Νινευη καταστραφήσεται. 

 

Translation: “And Jonas began to go into the city about a one days journey, and he called out and he said, “Yet three days and Ninevah will be overthrown.'”

 

Translational Note:

It must be noted that this verse in the LXX is strikingly “interlinear” or literal. It follows the Hebrew exactly betraying several semitisms including the redundant καὶ ἐκήρυξεν καὶ εἶπεν (“and he cried out and he said”)

 

τρεῖς vs. ארבעים

Here is the difference in this verse. There can be no believable scribal error that could have accounted for this variant. Since the Hebrew ‘forty’ (ארבעים, }arbaœ{ˆîm) and ‘three’ (שלש, sûaœloœsû) have no letters or sounds in common. The change (whichever is original) must then be interpretive.

 

Reasons for the change

The most common understanding of this issue is to see the ‘three’ (τρεῖς) of the LXX as a capitulation to the other significant ‘threes’ in this text such as Jon. 1:17 and 3:3 (so Allen, 222, n. 15). However, those who take seriously the flow of the story could argue that the LXX’s ‘three’ fits the progression much better, giving it the appropriate sense of immediacy and fitting the timeline of Jonah’s sitting and watching in ch. 4 (so Bewer, 52). Further, there are those who argue that the change from three to forty makes the most sense because of the significance of the number forty in terms of a time for repentance, testing, and fasting (e.g., Bewer, 53). On the other hand, the number forty makes more historical sense to allow for the time it would take to make the message known throughout a large city (so Duhm, 200-04; Wolff, 150). In short, there seems to be reasonable arguments for the priority of either the MT’s ‘forty’ or the LXX’s ‘three.’ What then do we make of this variation?

 

Moberly’s Proposal

Moberly understands the key issue being how one understands the character of Jonah in this text.  Here is why: he writes that “If Jonah were seeking to move the Ninevites to repentance, the logic of his speech would require ‘three days'” (Moberly, 166). On the other hand, the fort days reflects a Jonah who does not want the Ninevites to repent, there is no urgency, Jonah is intentionally preaching a message he doesn’t really want to be followed. Hence chapter 4 (see Moberly, 167). In this light, the LXX is an interpretation that seeks to make Jonah a more positive figure, whereas the Hebrew still understands him as one who has no desire to see the Ninevites repent. For this reason (of difficulty), and for the overwhelming manuscript support for the MT, Moberly argues that the MT is the more original. But to what extent are both readings possible interpretations of the character of Jonah? This is an interesting case the interpretive issue is decided almost exclusively on the larger picture of how one views the portrayal of a single character. I leave the matter open, but appreciate the fact that as a Christian, we have two interpretive options in two different traditions that both have their own logic. Aren’t Septuagintal studies fun!

 

 

Bibliography

Leslie C. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah, NICOT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976); J. Bewer, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi and Jonah, ICC (Edinburgh, T & T Clark, 1912); B. Duhm, “Anmerkungen zu den zwölf Propheten. XIV. Buch Jona,” ZAW 31 (1911): 161-204; R.W.L. Moberly, “Preaching for a Response? Jonah’s Message to the Ninevites Reconsidered,” VT 53/2 (2003): 156-68; H.W. Wolff, Obadiah and Jonah (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1986).

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