The “Septuagint”: Some Scholarly Resources
In response to an earlier posting, a couple of commenters referred to the “Septuagint” (the name commonly given to the Greek translations of the Jewish scriptures, the “Old Testament”), raising questions about what it represented in its original setting. There were also questions about how the divine name was handled. I’ll mention here a few points about the topic and offer a few suggestions for those who would like to know more.
First, the term “Septuagint” (in scholarly literature often designated by “LXX”) is used with more than one referent. In one strict sense, it designates the form of the Greek OT that came to be used and transmitted in early Christian circles. But this is one of several forms of the Greek translation of the OT. Scholars typically distinguish the earlier state and form from which the “Septuagint” proper derives as the “Old Greek” (OG). In some circles today, one sees “OG/LXX” used as well for this early form/state of the text.
Second, the translation of Jewish scriptures into Greek wasn’t a one-off project, but instead seems to have been done across perhaps a couple of centuries and by various translators who had various translation practices. The “Pentateuch” (first 5 books of the OT) came first, sometime in the 3rd century BCE, and then other units translated across the ensuing time-frame. When completed, the OG/LXX represents probably the largest single translation-project of the ancient world.
Third, even in those early centuries the translations were being adjusted and revised. It appears, for example, that in the post-Maccabean period there were revising efforts that took the translation toward a closer alignment with the Masoretic form of the Hebrew scriptures. This may well have been part of a larger “Hebraizing” tendency of this period, Jews re-asserting their ethnic particularities in the aftermath of the revolt against Antiochus’ effort to assimilate them religiously.
Finally, a number of scholars now agree that we need to distinguish between the originating purpose and usage of the Greek “OT” and its subsequent role/usage in early Jewish circles. To cite a particularly influential proposal, Albert Pietersma contends that the originating purpose and usage was to help Greek-speaking Jews to access the Hebrew scriptures, that the “OG” served originally more as a pedagogical than as a liturgical project. He proposes what he calls an “interlinear paradigm”, the OG translation originally an attempt to render the Hebrew into Greek with greater concern to reflect the Hebrew than to produce something elegant in the eyes of Greek-speakers.
This means that the primary purpose was not to “Hellenize” Jews or introduce some radically new/different form of Jewish religion or culture. Studies of some units of the LXX do suggest, however, that there is a heightening of emphasis on some ideas: e.g., eschatology, the influence sometimes of a concern to avoid anthropomorphic representations of God, et alia.
For one of several recent introductory works, see Karen H. Jobes and Moises Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint (Grand Rapids/Carlisle: Baker Academic/Paternoster, 2000).
Among important publications, perhaps none deserves so wide a notice as the recent English translation of the LXX: Albert Pietersma and Benjamin G. Wright, eds., A New English Translation of the Septuagint, and Other Greek Translations Traditionally Included Under That Title (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007). Note especially the very informative initial essay in it, “To the Reader of NETS,” which in itself serves as a basic introduction to some key matters.
For an excellent bundle of studies that delve into some major issues in current Septuagint scholarship, see Wolfgang Kraus and R. Glenn Wooden (eds.), Septuagint Research: Issues and Challenges in the Study of the Greek Jewish Scriptures (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2006).