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Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Bilingual Nature of the Septuagint

I have posted an excerpt from an article by A. Pietersma which not only suggests some new thinking around the nature of bilingualism in the Septuagint text, but also should cause us to reflect on the nature of bilingualism with which the church of today approaches the Bible. Is it the original text or an English version which carries authority.

A New Paradigm for Addressing Old Questions: The Relevance of the Interlinear Model for the Study of the Septuagint.

Abstract: It is argued in this essay that the interlinear paradigm for Septuagint origins (1)articulates wide-spread practice in the discipline, (2) fully accounts for the linguistic character of the vast majority of translated texts, (3) can be seen to be firmly rooted in Hellenistic educational practice, and (4) strongly suggests a Jewish educational rather than a liturgical origin for most of the translated corpus.

If I have convincingly argued that the constitutive character of most of the Septuagint is that of an interlinear text, produced in the Jewish school, a number of interesting conclusions follow. Let me once again begin with Sebastian Brock. According to Brock, that the Pentateuch was viewed as a primarily legal document put the Jews of the diaspora in a difficult position, for, writes Brock (1978:72),

    either their Greek Bible required 'correcting' on the basis of the Hebrew original . . . or it had to be accorded the same position of prestige as the Hebrew original.
Egypt, says Brock, essentially adopted the latter position, namely, that the Greek was equal to the Hebrew, while Palestine adopted the former stance, namely, that of the superiority of the Hebrew, with the result that the Greek was in need of correction. Brock sees this split as having been occasioned by virtual unilingualism (i.e. Greek) among Egyptian Jews versus frequent bilingualism in Palestine.

An increasingly literal rendering of the parent text, in Brock's view, presupposes a bilingual expositor who could render an otherwise unintelligible text intelligible. As a result the concept of hebraica veritas could flourish only in Palestine.

Though Brock makes a good point, given his view that the Pentateuch was classified as a legal document by its translators and that it was accordingly translated in a verbum e verbo manner, a school origin for its text coupled with interlinearity as a linguistic paradigm has more explanatory power. As long as the Greek functioned as a crib for the study of the Hebrew, the question of relative authority could scarcely arise, since the Greek was only a tool. The problem of authority could only arise when the Greek text became an independent entity.

That stage of development had already been reached by the time of Aristeas. Just how long the Greek continued as crib, we do not know, but it would seem certain that the relative authority of mother and daughter, so to speak, did not become an issue in the household of faith until the daughter asserted her independence.

Furthermore, though Egyptian Jews may well have believed that the biblical text was essentially a legal document and may have regarded it as verbally inspired, neither can be inferred from the nature of the text as we have it or from its origin.

What its school origin does allow us to infer is that what Homer was to the Greeks, the Hebrew Bible was to the Jews. Both were clearly regarded as texts to be studied in the schools, texts that were normative for the community.

Typologically, I would see the development of the Septuagint in four stages: (a) the Hebrew text as sole authority, (b) the Greek as crib to study the Hebrew, (c) the Greek text as independently authoritative, (4) the debate over the relative authority of the Hebrew and the Greek.

Albert Pietersma. A New Paradigm

While some may find that this article does not reflect the same understanding of inspiration that we have, the author teaches 'Novels of the Greek Apocrypha' and 'Jewish Historians who taught in Greek'.


At Mon Mar 20, 09:48:00 AM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...


Thanks for pointing me to Pietersma's site. I found the following comment quite good:

[N]othing puts greater emphasis on the meaning of a text than having to translate it into another language.

At Wed Mar 22, 03:12:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Having to translate the text, especially into a language into which it has not been translated before, certainly makes it essential to understand the text clearly, and not to hide behind the kind of obscurities and ambiguities often found in FE translations.


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