YHWH in the Septuagint
Further to my earlier postings and the (many!) comments elicited, especially those about the use of “kyrios” in the LXX, I point readers to an excellent essay by John Wevers:
John William Wevers, “The Rendering of the Tetragram in the Psalter and Pentateuch: A Comparative Study,” in The Old Greek Psalter: Studies in Honour of Albert Pietersma, ed. Robert J. V. Hiebert, Claude E. Cox and Peter J. Gentry (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001), 21-35.
First, he registers agreement with Albert Pietersma’s argument that the use of the Hebrew YHWH in some Old Greek manuscripts (as well as other devices, e.g., ΙΑΩ, ΠΙΠΙ), represents “a revision” that took place within the textual transmission of the Greek of the Hebrew scriptures. Then Wevers gives details of the use of “kyrios” as equivalents of YHWH and other terms in the LXX.
His particular focus is on the Psalter, but he prefaces that analysis with a helpfully detailed survey of data from the Pentateuch (book by book), confirming that YHWH is overwhelmingly rendered by forms of kyrios without the definite article (“anarthrous” forms). In contrast, forms of the word with the definite article (“articular”) are preferred to translate references to other figures who hold a lordly position in the narratives. As one example, check out Genesis 39:2-3, where the LXX has κυριος (without article) for YHWH consistently, and articular forms of κυριος to translate references to the human/Egyptian “master” in the narrative. The few exceptions, where an articular form of kyrios refers to God are translations of prepositional phrases and/or a very few cases where the Greek syntax requires a definite article (“post-positive” uses of the Greek δε, for Greek “techies”).
And remember that we’re talking about hundreds of instances on which to build the observation that the “anarthrous” forms of kyrios are preferred in the Pentateuch. This pattern suggests that in these texts kyrios is being treated as if it is a name, not the common noun for “Sir/Lord/Master”.
In the final part of his essay, Wevers also makes brief notice of the pattern of usage in the “former prophets” (called “historical books” often by Christians), and it’s the same clear overwhelming dominance of the anarthrous kyrios as substitute for YHWH.
But the main/middle part of the essay is given to the translation practice in the Psalter, and here the pattern differs somewhat. Wevers observes that it is “clear that the translator of the Psalter has not followed the strict pattern established by the translators of the Pentateuch. To be sure, Κυριος does continue to represent the proper noun, ‘YHWH’, and it remains unarticulated in the majority of cases, but this is not a hard and fast rule” (p. 33). And Wevers judges that in a number of instances the translator may be rendering the “qere” (the Hebrew oral substitute for YHWH that had become popular by the time of the translator, “adonay“), which the translator regularly renders with articular forms of kyrios.
As one example of the Psalter data, consider LXX Psalm 134 (Heb 135). The Hebrew “halelu yah” is rendered Αλληλουια (“hallelujah”), but cf. the translation of the same expression in v. 3, αινειτε τον κυριον (the articular form). It appears, however, that the translator didn’t take the “yah” to be the same thing as YHWH fully spelled out (as also the case in v. 4). For in the psalm otherwise, he tends to use anarthrous forms of kyrios to render YHWH (5 times in vv. 1-5). In vv. 19-21, however, the articular (accusative) forms of kyrios render Hebrew phrases with the particle signalling an accusative phrase, the Hebrew accusative phrasing here influencing the translator’s decisions (a translation-choice that we can observe in other Psalms too).
This clear dominance of the anarthrous kyrios as Greek equivalent of YHWH, a dominance exhibited already in the Pentateuch (which were the earliest Hebrew scriptures translated), suggests strongly that it had become a widely-used oral substitute for YHWH among Greek-speaking Jews. I.e., the anarthrous kyrios served as virtually a proper name for God, a reverential substitute for YHWH.
There are implications for exegesis of the NT that are not sufficiently registered by exegetes and commentaries. One would need to test things writing-by-writing in the NT, but it is a good hypothesis to test that there is often a distinction in connotation between the anarthrous and articular forms of kyrios. I’ve noted, for example, a general pattern of usage in Acts (in the recently published essay mentioned in a previous posting here). But conducting such an analysis through other NT writings is a project I’ll leave for the future (or for some industrious young scholar!).