Form in the Greek Psalter
Back to the Septuagint. This also relates to Cahill but that will have to wait for another post. In the Greek Psalter and other books of the LXX, words such as "rock" and "shield" referring to God, become personal nouns such as "helper" and "protector." It is quite wrong to think of the Septuagint as nothing more than a literal translation. It has its own form and style. Here is an example from Ps. 18.(17 LXX) Notice also that the very concrete "rock" has become "firmness."
- καὶ εἶπεν ἀγαπήσω σε κύριε ἡ ἰσχύς μου
κύριος στερέωμά μου καὶ καταφυγή μου καὶ ῥύστης μου
ὁ θεός μου βοηθός μου καὶ ἐλπιῶ ἐπ αὐτόν
ὑπερασπιστής μου καὶ κέρας σωτηρίας μου ἀντιλήμπτωρ μου LXX
I love you, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my firmness, my refuge, and my deliverer,
my God is my helper-and I will hope in him-
my protector, and the horn of my salvation, my supporter. NETS
- I will love thee, O LORD, my strength.
The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer;
my God, my strength, in whom I will trust;
my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower. KJV
- καὶ γὰρ αὐτὸς θεός μου καὶ σωτήρ μου
ἀντιλήμπτωρ μου οὐ μὴ σαλευθῶ ἐπὶ πλεῖον LXX
Indeed, he is my God and my savior,
my supporter, I shall be shaken no more. NETS
He only is my rock and my salvation;
he is my defence; I shall not be greatly moved. KJV
I am not really sure what to make of this. Did the translators lack an appreciation of Hebrew poetry or did they simply consider the use of such concrete language impossible in Greek? In any case, we want to be familiar with the Greek translation of the Hebrew, as it was widely used in the early Christian era.
Augustine thought that the Septuagint was itself inspired. He did not know how else to accept the fact that Paul used citations of the LXX which contrasted with the meaning of the original Hebrew. It was quite a thing for some church fathers to accept Jerome's translation from the Hebrew at first.
I am not questioning the validity of a literal translation, but we have to be careful not to overspiritualize the feature of literalness. The Septuagint was, in some ways, highly interpretive. We need to be careful not to make assumptions that God has stamped his imprimatur of approval only on literal translations.
Maybe it is for the evocative beauty of the imagery and cadences, that we appreciate a literal translation from the Hebrew, and not because "God has laid down literalness as the morally superior pattern of translation." This should not deny to others space to make their own somewhat freer translation from the Hebrew.
And just to make this post a little more multivocal I will add in here a few lines of commentary from Iyov, who writes here,
- But for the sake of your soul, I hope you pray the psalms in Hebrew, because that will please God. If you pray in English in a version so bad that it perverts the prayers, then the prayer is lost.