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Monday, June 16, 2008

Form in the Greek Psalter

Okay, I can't stand any more to see the last post title. I am trying to look dignified here, Dave, and look at your last post title. Gheesh.

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
    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
From the Hebrew, however, we see a different pattern. Here is the KJV,
    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
And here is another example from Ps. 62 (62 LXX),
    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
These same shifts in meaning occur in other books in the Septuagint as well. This language of the Septuagint found its way into the Latin Psalter. Although Jerome's "Hebrew" Psalter was much closer to the Hebrew, the Latin Psalter from the Greek predominated in the liturgy.

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.


At Tue Jun 17, 03:45:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I wonder if LXX avoided concrete language in cases like this because its Jewish translators were being careful, as certainly later Jewish writers were, to avoid using concrete language about God. They avoided anthropomorphisms for God, and similarly perhaps avoided (to coin a mixed-up word) mineralomorphisms, to keep well away from any possibility of idolatry. They certainly didn't want anyone worshipping any one rock (not even Mount Sinai or the Temple Mount) as God. But of course they took this too far and in the process ruined the inspired Word of God.

At Tue Jun 17, 04:21:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Iyov's commentary is fascinating indeed. But I'm going to run back to LXX, to the Psalms. Augustine may have had his opinions about Paul's use of the translation. But does he say anything about the gospel of Matthew or the gospel of Luke? I'm thinking now of Psalm 91 (LXX 90) as the gospel writers put it in the mouth of Jesus and in the ears of Satan, who tempts him (Mt. 4:6 and Lk. 4:10-11).

The changes from Hebrew by the Greek are much more offensive to the devil, much more suggestive of prophecy of this one moment in the life of this "Joshua."

It starts well enough with the very words you've bolded in the other two Ps.:

ὁ κατοικῶν ἐν βοηθείᾳ τοῦ ὑψίστου ἐν σκέπῃ τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ αὐλισθήσεται
2 ἐρεῖ τῷ κυρίῳ ἀντιλήμπτωρ μου εἶ καὶ καταφυγή μου ὁ θεός μου ἐλπιῶ ἐπ αὐτόν

He who lives by the help of the Most High,
in a shelter of the God of the sky he will lodge.
He will say to the Lord, "My supporter you are and my refuge;
my God, I will hope in him. (NETS)

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. (KJV)

οὐ φοβηθήσῃ ἀπὸ φόβου νυκτερινοῦ ἀπὸ βέλους πετομένου ἡμέρας
ἀπὸ πράγματος διαπορευομένου ἐν σκότει ἀπὸ συμπτώματος καὶ δαιμονίου μεσημβρινοῦ

You will not be afraid of nocturnal fright,
of an arrow that flies by day,
of a deed that travels in darkness,
of mishap and noonday demon. (NETS)

Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day;
Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. (KJV)

ὅτι τοῖς ἀγγέλοις αὐτοῦ ἐντελεῖται περὶ σοῦ τοῦ διαφυλάξαι σε ἐν πάσαις ταῖς ὁδοῖς σου
ἐπὶ χειρῶν ἀροῦσίν σε μήποτε προσκόψῃς πρὸς λίθον τὸν πόδα σου

because he will command his angels
concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
upon hands they will bear you up
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
On asp and cobra you will tread,
and you will trample lion and dragon under foot. (NETS)

For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.
They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet. (KJV)

Now, doesn't this at once take the Greek reader / listener at once back to the cosmic battle in the Garden of Eden between the human Snake (i.e., the fallen angel) who is in the LXX the Greek deity or demon!?

And the first reply by Matthew's and by Luke's Joshua is an identification as "human." He quotes (LXX) Deuteronomy 8:3,

...ἵνα ἀναγγείλῃ σοι ὅτι οὐκ ἐπ ἄρτῳ μόνῳ ζήσεται ὁ ἄνθρωπος ἀλλ ἐπὶ παντὶ ῥήματι τῷ ἐκπορευομένῳ διὰ στόματος θεοῦ ζήσεται ὁ ἄνθρωπος order to announce [as an angel might] to you that [the hu]man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that goes out through the mouth of God [the hu]man shall live. (NETS)

The devil is pressing Joshua to identify as deity himself first: "if you are the Son of God"

to which the human (Paul's second "Adam") makes this initial reply.

At any rate, how does the LXX add "demon" (i.e., Greek deity) here, for this fallen angel snake?

At Tue Jun 17, 04:33:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

my comment should have been:

"between the human and the Snake"

But the whole point of my comment is that LXX adds to meanings (viz. Iyov's wonderful post on translations). Matthew, Luke, Jesus, the Devil, speak so much more differently in Greek than they do in Hebrew by the Psalms and by their Jewish history, with its now-Greeky human / deity distinctions (as per Peter's comment).

At Tue Jun 17, 09:49:00 AM, Blogger E said...

My comment is not about the Psalter, but about the LXX versus the Hebrew text, since your post raises this topic.

Noting what seemed to me to be a difference in meaning between the Hebrew ehyeh asher ehyeh (אהיה אשר אהיה) and the Greek Egô eimi ho ôn (Εγω ειμι ο ων) for God's name in Exodus 3:14, I posed a question to the B-Greek list similar to the following:

Are there any thoughts about whether the Septuagint rendering of God's name as Egô eimi ho ôn in Exodus 3:14 accurately translates the Hebrew ehyeh asher ehyeh? I.e., is something lost or changed, and/or is something added? (And perhaps gained - i.e., just because a Greek rendering may add a nuance or clarification that the Hebrew doesn't or can't express doesn't automatically mean that the translation into Greek has wrongly added something to the text.)

Some of my thoughts:

+ If the Hebrew ehyeh asher ehyeh means "I am who/that I am," then the Greek (Egô) eimi hos/ho (egô) eimi might be more accurate - but there would be the problem of deciding whether to use the masculine hos ("who") or the neuter ho ("that"/"which"); the Hebrew asher (who/which/that) is not gender-specific, and Hebrew has no neuter gender, only masculine and feminine genders. For the Greek translator to have to pick either hos or ho means having to make a translation and meaning choice that is not necessary in the Hebrew. Is the LXX reading perhaps because there is no literal Greek equivalent to the Hebrew that can maintain this ambiguity re: whether the name is referring to God's Who-ness versus His What-ness? (The choice of the masculine ho ôn instead of the neuter to on (το ον) suggests that the LXX translator favored God being "He Who Is" ("The Being One") over "That Which Is.")

+ If ehyeh asher ehyeh means "I will be who/what I will be" - which may be supported by the nearby uses of ehyeh in "I will be with you" in Exodus 3:12 and 4:12,15 ("I will be with your mouth") - then the Greek (Egô) esomai hos/ho (egô) esomai may be more "accurate." Interestingly, the LXX only uses esomai in 3:12; it says "I will open your mouth" in 4:12,15. However, ho ôn is repeated in 3:14 as God's name.

Did rabbinical or Greek philosophical traditions influence the LXX rendering of Exodus 3:14? Because of the identification of Jesus with ho ôn in this passage, as well as the use of this phrase in the halo of icons of Christ, the LXX rendering has had a significant impact on church history, theology and worship.

One interesting B-Greek response I got was, in part:

"Therefore, what we have, it would seem, is a deliberate move away from the source text, i.e., a piece of exegesis. Why he exegeted the way he did is not certain, but a reasonable guess is that he intended to personify the Greek philosophical phrase to on ('being')."

If the above is correct, did this putting God's name in familiar terms help the Greek world to come to know and understand the Hebrew God? Or did it move the Jewish readers of the LXX and later the early church to view the Old Testament God through a Greek philosophical filter and come up with beliefs about God's nature and being that are more philosophical than Biblical?

While not mentioning Exodus 3:14 (IIRC), Edwin Hatch wrote a book (a series of lectures, in fact) on this: The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages Upon the Christian Church

At Tue Jun 17, 11:08:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Are there any thoughts about whether the Septuagint rendering of God's name as Egô eimi ho ôn in Exodus 3:14 accurately translates the Hebrew ehyeh asher ehyeh?

Good questions and thoughts, E!

Now, do you think the gospel writers and John the apocalypse writer were playing with this? References with Egô eimi include Matt 24:5, Mark 13:6, Luke 21:8, John 4:26, 8:24,58, 13:19, Revelation 4:8?

And was this just a Hebrew-Greek translational word play? Or was Joshua (aka Jesus) speaking Aramaic making a translational word play with the Hebrew of Exodus 3:14?

At Tue Jun 17, 11:41:00 AM, Blogger E said...

j. k. gayle:

My question is more about the possible impact/influence of translating the second ehyeh as a predicate adjectival participle hO WN than it is about translating the first ehyeh as EGW EIMI, which is not problematic.

There are instances in the New Testament where Jesus is referred to as hO WN (e.g., John 1:18), but the other instances of hO WN in GJohn (e.g., 3:31) indicate to me that its usage in 1:18 is likely not a term of deity.

If the translation as hO WN is a result of Platonic thought about TO ON (i.e., "Being"; "The Eternal One"), then possibly the later discussions of God as being changeless and passionless, etc. (i.e., like Plato's TO ON) were more Platonic concepts than Hebraic Biblical concepts. And if so, then the LXX changed the understanding of God and impacted the later theological and Trinitarian discussions about Him.

Or so methinks, maybe.

At Tue Jun 17, 11:52:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

As far as I can see hO WN is the normal Greek way of saying "the one who is", whereas a relative clause would be much less natural Greek. It is grammatically masculine according to the regular and consistent Greek usage for the God of the Israelites.

I am surprised that neither of you lists Revelation 1:4 as a New Testament example of hO WN. But the full phrase here, hO WN KAI hO HN KAI hO ERCOMENOS (if we have to use this horrid transcription - ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος in proper Greek) (note that it is treated as indeclinable, suggesting a special status), is I think very significant. It shows, as does a similar phrase in Rabbinic Hebrew, that Exodus 3:14 was not understood as only present, or only future, but as timeless, that is past present and future. I see this version of the phrase as an improvement on the LXX version.

At Tue Jun 17, 02:19:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Fascinating stuff, E and Peter.

Here's a bit from the copycat Basil the Great of Caesarea (Adversus Eunomium, and I'll spare everyone the transliteration:)

Ὃς οἰκείαν ἑαυτῷ καὶ πρέπουσαν τῇ ἑαυτοῦ ἀϊδιότητι ἐν τῷ πρὸς τὸν ἴδιον θεράποντα Μωϋσέα χρηματισμῷ προσηγορίαν ἐξεῦρεν, ὄντα ἑαυτὸν ὀνομάσας; Ἐγὼ γάρ εἰμι, φησὶν, ὁ ὤν. Καὶ τούτοις οὐδεὶς ἀντερεῖ μὴ οὐχὶ ἐκ προσώπου τοῦ Κυρίου εἰρῆσθαι· οὔκουν ὅστις γε μὴ τὸ Ἰουδαϊκὸν κάλυμμα ἐπὶ τῇ ἀναγνώσει Μωϋσέως κατὰ τῆς ἑαυτοῦ καρδίας ἐπικείμενον ἔχει. Γέγραπται γὰρ, ὅτι ὤφθη τῷ Μωϋσεῖ ἄγγελος Κυρίου ἐπὶ τοῦ βάτου ἐν πυρὶ φλογός. Ἄγγελον τοίνυν προτάξασα τῆς διηγήσεως ἡ Γραφὴ, Θεοῦ ἐπάγει τὴν φωνήν. Εἶπε γὰρ, φησὶ, τῷ Μωϋσεῖ· Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ Θεὸς τοῦ πατρός σου Ἀβραάμ· καὶ μετ’ ὀλίγα πάλιν· Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν. Τίς οὖν ὁ αὐτὸς καὶ ἄγγελος καὶ Θεός;

and a little earlier he's said:

Συμπαρεκτείνεται δὲ καὶ τὸ Ἦν τῷ ἀνυπερθέτῳ τῆς ἀρχῆς ταύτης. Οὐ γὰρ τὴν ἀπὸ χρόνου ὕπαρξιν τὸ Ἦν ὑποφαίνει, ὡς τὸ, Ἄνθρωπος ἦν ἐν χώρᾳ τῇ Αὐσίτιδι· καὶ, Ἦν ἄνθρωπος ἐξ Ἀρμαθαΐμ· καὶ τὸ, Ἡ δὲ γῆ ἦν ἀόρατος· ἀλλ’ αὐτὸς ἡμῖν ὁ εὐαγγελιστὴς ἐν ἑτέρῳ λόγῳ τοῦ τοιούτου Ἦν τὸ σημαινόμενον ἔδειξεν, εἰπών· Ὁ ὢν, καὶ ὁ ἦν, καὶ ὁ παντοκράτωρ. Οἷον γὰρ τὸ ὢν, τοιοῦτον καὶ τὸ ἦν, ἀΐδιον ὁμοίως καὶ ἄχρονον. Οὐκ ὄντα δὲ λέγειν τὸν ἐν ἀρχῇ ὄντα, οὔτε διασώζοντός ἐστι τὴν ἔννοιαν τῆς ἀρχῆς, οὔτε συνάπτοντος αὐτῇ τὴν ὕπαρξιν τοῦ Μονογενοῦς.

At Tue Jun 17, 02:31:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

but speaking of Plato, he puts these words in Socrates's mouth (Phaedo:)

οὐ πείθω, ὦ ἄνδρες, Κρίτωνα, ὡς ἐγώ εἰμι οὗτος Σωκράτης, ὁ νυνὶ διαλεγόμενος καὶ διατάττων ἕκαστον τῶν λεγομένων, ἀλλ’ οἴεταί με ἐκεῖνον εἶναι dὃν ὄψεται ὀλίγον ὕστερον νεκρόν, καὶ ἐρωτᾷ δὴ πῶς με θάπτῃ. ὅτι δὲ ἐγὼ πάλαι πολὺν λόγον πεποίημαι, ὡς, ἐπειδὰν πίω τὸ φάρμακον, οὐκέτι ὑμῖν παραμενῶ, ἀλλ’ οἰχήσομαι ἀπιὼν εἰς μακάρων δή τινας εὐδαιμονίας, ταῦτά μοι δοκῶ αὐτῷ ἄλλως λέγειν, παραμυθούμενος ἅμα μὲν ὑμᾶς, ἅμα δ’ ἐμαυτόν.

At Tue Jun 17, 11:46:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


It is quite a widespread pattern, and includes a shift from salvation to savior so I don't think it is just to avoid using inanimate objects for God.


I'll have to think of that more. I will post again on the LXX.

At Sun Jul 13, 05:21:00 AM, Blogger Naomisu Onamy said...

I know I am a little late in commenting but I was trying to see how long I could go without reading my RSS feeds.

When I did my degree (Majoring in Classical Hebrew here in the antipodes), my Hebrew lecturer commented on how one of his post-grad or honours students found that the change from calling God a rock in Hebrew to other things in the Greek was due to people worshipping rocks at the time that the Septuagint was being translated so that the translators did not want to align God with the worship of inanimate things.

I have no references, only the memory of the comment by him, which I filed in the "interesting things to remember" part of my brain.


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