The Divine Name and Greek Translation
In comments to my previous posting (about some recently published Oxyrhynchus papyri), the question was raised about how the divine name (YHWH; יהוה) was handled in earliest Greek translations of the Hebrew scriptures. In Septuagint manuscripts (dating from ca. 3rd century CE and later), “Kyrios” (Greek: “Lord”) is used rather frequently. But some have proposed that the earliest practice was fairly consistently to translate YHWH with “Kyrios” (κυριος), others that the Hebrew divine name was initially rendered phonetically as ΙΑΩ (“Iao”), and others that the divine name was originally retained in Hebrew characters. To my knowledge, the most recent discussion of the matter is the recent journal article by Martin Rösel, “The Reading and Translation of the Divine Name in the Masoretic Tradition and the Greek Pentateuch,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 31 (2007): 411-28.
On the question of earliest practice, he offers several reasons for agreeing that from the beginnings of translating the Hebrew scriptures into Greek Jewish translators tended to use “Kyrios” as an equivalent for the divine name, “following a principle of replacing the sacred name with the [Hebrew] word אדני ” [“Adonay“] (p. 425).
Among his interesting findings is also an observation about how LXX translators chose to use sometimes “Kyrios” and sometimes “Theos” to render the divine name. It appears that many times the choice was shaped by a desire to associate “Kyrios” with more positive aspects of God and “Theos” used for more punishing or judging aspects (or when foreigners are involved).
So, for those interested in this question (and I’m one), Rösel’s article is now “the first port of call.”