A Review of the IOSCS 15th Congress Volume

Every three years the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies has their international congress meeting. This is the largest organization and conference devoted specifically to Septuagint studies. Scholars from all over the world travel to present papers and discuss hot topics in the field and after each congress, a volume is published containing the papers presented at the conference. These mass volumes are some of the best resources out for Septuagint scholarship because they make up the greatest collective production of the most recent Septuagint scholarship. For instance, in 2010 the conference was held in Helsinki, Finland and Dr. Melvin Peters edited the volume. It took them three years to publish the volume, so by the time the next Congress meeting was happening they were publishing the subsequent year’s volume.

Much to the excitement of scholars around the world, the 15th Congress volume from Munich, Germany, has been published, buy it here! I know it has been out for a little while now and some of you can get it online, but it is still exciting nonetheless. If you xv-ioscscan’t find a reason to purchase it, just remember you look smarter with a big book on your bookshelf. Apart from its aesthetic value, the book is laid out nicely with each edition addressing specific areas of research that were presented at the congress. This year the book is split up into three sections: textual criticism, philology, interpretation, and reception. The congress covers a wide variety of subdisciplines applied to Septuagint studies, therefore giving the reader a great breadth of resources, knowledge, and wisdom in a very difficult field to enter into.

To give a better idea of the topics covered, I want to highlight some of the articles in this volume that I found really helpful or extremely important, and then make some comments on each article. This will be a very brief overview given the complexity of some articles, so pardon some of the generalizations.

The first article I want to highlight is one by James Aitken, entitled, The Septuagint and Egyptian Translation Method. Dr. Aitken is one of the foremost LXX scholars and lecturer of Hebrew, Old Testament, and Second Temple Judaism at Cambridge University. One of the major questions in Septuagint studies is “who were the translators of the Greek Old Testament (GOT)?” Dr. Aitken attempts to show that the Septuagint was a Jewish-Egyptian translation, which may have some implications on how we perceive the Greek used in the translations. Aitken rightly identifies the significance of Jewish-Egyptian texts by indicating that the Greek used to translate the Greek Old Testament is, in fact, good Greek. This position is still highly debated among scholars, but Aitken says that the reason we have had such a poor understanding of the Greek used is due to the lack of  Jewish-Egyptian texts and papyri integrated into our understanding of Greek.

This leads Dr. Aitken to then talk about the multilingual nature of Egypt during this time. The focus of Aitken’s paper is the bilingual nature of Egypt between Greek and Demotic (an Ancient Egyptian script.) He gives many examples and evidence that a fluid bilingualism existed during the time of the Septuagint translation. This is significant in trying to prove the legitimacy of the translation because if the translators are bilingual, then they will have a higher register and language acquisition than expected. Dr. Aitken then spends the remaining two sections giving evidence of Egyptian translations and translation technique, in which he gives examples of the accuracy of what he describes in the first two sections. In his conclusion, he states, “The features identified in the Egyptian translations can be paralleled in the Septuagint. To some extent, they are universal characteristics of translations, but the similarities are more than that. They reflect a method of close adherence to the source text in word order, lexical consistency, phrasing, and parataxis.” (p. 292.) This is the meat and bones of Dr. Aitken’s argument, and he forcefully proves his argument, that the Septuagint was, in fact, a phenomena of its day and not a peculiar text that must be explained away as “bad-greek.”

Will A. Ross, a Ph.D. candidate under Dr. Aitken at Cambridge who first sparked my interest in the Septuagint, presented a paper entitled, Lexical Possibilities in LXX Research: Revision and Expansion. This paper is building upon John A. L. Lee’s dissertation, LXX: A Lexical Study of the Septuagint Version of the Pentateuch. Dr. Lee changed the face of Septuagint Lexicography, and Will picks up where he left off in order to expand some of the research done in Dr. Lee’s work. The paper begins by laying out the path cut out by Dr. Lee and what he is attempting to prove in his dissertation, namely characterizing the type of Greek we find in the Septuagint.

Along with Lee, Will agrees that the documentary evidence found in Ancient Greek papyri indicates that the Greek used in the Septuagint is the same as what we find in Greek papyri. In other words, the Greek used, is a common Greek, the Greek of the average person. In the second section, Will looks at βλέπω and ὁραώ, again building upon Lee’s work as his foundation. In this section, he incorporates some more papyrological evidence to substantiate some of the claims made by Lee.

In the final section, Will seeks to focus on how one moves forward in the field of Lexicography and what methodological tools must one pick up in order to progress. This is the most exciting part of his paper because it gives legs to the data he presents. His conclusion follows the work of Lee  and seeks a way forward by further developing Lee’s methodology.

Arie van der Kooij is Professor Emeritus at The University of Leiden and his paper was On the Use of  αλλοφυλος in the Septuagint. In this article Dr. van der Kooij examines the word αλλοφυλος, which is glossed by BDAG as, “alien” or “foreign” with specific reference to people groups. Dr. van der Kooij takes note that with the exception of the Pentateuch, Joshua, and Sirach the term is often used to render the Philistines. This is a peculiar use of the word for a couple reasons, but in the paper van der Kooij tries to prove the theory first proposed by De Vaux, who supposed the word had taken on a nuance of “inhabitants of Greek cities in the coastal area” (p. 401.)

The article, although rather short, is broken up into four major sections, each one addressing an area pertinent to our understanding of αλλοφυλος lexically. Section one incorporates Greek literature as a whole, section two then ties in papyri and inscriptions, then in section three Dr. van der Kooij expounds the LXX usage of the term, and finally, section four brings Philo and Josephus into the conversation. This progression through different types of Greek literature is the type of lexical work that Dr. Lee and Will Ross push for in the previous paper mentioned. It treats the Septuagint as a Greek corpus and looks to Greek literature for explanations of how this term is being used.

The conclusion drawn by Dr. van der Kooij, after examining these Greek and Jewish/Greek texts is that the use of αλλοφυλος in the Septuagint is not a common use among contemporary or dependent literature. He further concludes that the use of this word in 1-2 Kingdoms indicates that this is a phrase used in the time when, “Jews in Palestine were under the Seleucid rule, more in particular to the period after 164 BCE, which would explain why it is not attested in books produced at an earlier date…” (p. 408.)

Chris Fresch just finished his Ph.D. at Cambridge, also under Dr. Aitken, and entitled his contribution The Peculiar Occurrences of οὖν in LXX Genesis and Exodus. This article is important for two basic reasons: Chris does service to our understanding of οὖν, by further proving its pragmatic function but more importantly, he proves the translators of Genesis and Exodus knew what they were doing.

The first part of the article Chris goes to great length to distinguish his understanding of the particle over against the traditional way that Greek grammarians have typically understood it. He states that “The traditional categories are a result of the practice to attribute to a particle whatever function can be derived from its surrounding context.” (p. 458.) Instead, his method makes the distinction, in so far as, “Particles have their own pragmatic functions that aid the reader in the construction of his mental representation of the discourse.” (p. 458.) This distinction enables us to understand his articulation of the way οὖν functions in a discourse. He says, in line with Steve Runge, that οὖν marks development and continuity.

He then goes into a number of examples from Genesis and Exodus in how οὖν is used typically. In each example, there are instances where the Hebrew doesn’t have an equivalent, which begs the question why the translator is inserting the particle or its translated from the waw conjunctive. Why do the translators use the particle in such an odd way? The article argues it is due to a sensitivity to the Hebrew Vorlage, and that the discourse-pragmatic function indicates a knowledge of the text, which has been effectively communicated via their inclusion of οὖν . This would assume that the translators were not bad translators but accomplished the task set before them well.

The above-mentioned articles are only a small portion representing the vast scholarship covered in this volume. To mention these articles alone does a disservice to the reader so you will have to wade through the volume yourself, I merely want to wet your appetite. As you can see just by this small survey that there is a lot of great work being done, but there is a lot left to do, and in many ways, the scholars mentioned above are paving the way for future scholars. With the amassing literature being written on the Septuagint it is increasingly important that scholars, pastors, and students adequately understanding this caveat within Biblical Studies.

There are two groups of people I think would benefit from this volume greatly, the first being pastors. The area of Septuagint studies is not only growing but becoming a field of study in its own right.  You hardly need to show the importance of keeping up with the latest trends in biblical studies and theology, but the Septuagint can easily be written off. To avoid thinking the Septuagint has little impact on trends in Biblical Studies, read this book. It is common for not only pastors but scholars to speak in generalities or imprecision about the Septuagint, therefore it can’t be overstated the imperative to keep up with the trends of Septuagint research. This volume will be the best way to avoid the many blunders out there concerning the topic of the Septuagint.

The second group of people who this book is most relevant for are students. Even though the field has grown exponentially there is still a ton of work to be done and many areas of research that haven’t been unearthed in a long time. Students looking to pursue academic work in Biblical studies should consider the Septuagint as a viable option. This volume among many other resources coming out is the perfect way to get introduced to the issues being debated in the field. Even more, almost every article in Septuagint studies ends with “there is more to be done in this area…” so you don’t need to go far to look for new avenues of research. 

Review on the T&T Clark Companion to the Septuagint

It has been a long time since I have tried to write on my own blog. It has been something I have missed a great deal, so I would like to begin writing here again. I will be focusing on topics surrounding or directly related to the Septuagint, with the hope of keeping people posted on what I have been reading, researching or just thinking about concerning the Greek Old Testament.

I thought a good place to start would be a post on my first book review of a volume on the Septuagintaitken-lxx. I was honored and privileged to have been able to submit a review of Dr. James Aitken’s T&T Clark Companion to the Septuagint to the Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies. I was very excited to submit this review because it is my first formal contribution to the field. I am thankful in particular to Dr. Daniel Diffey at JBTS, who was very gracious through the process of submitting my review.

Dr. Aitken is Lecturer in Hebrew, Old Testament and Second Temple Studies at Cambridge University. He truly is a Septuagint scholar par excellence which makes this volume so very exciting. The book is a little over a year old now, but still an excellent contribution to the field and would highly recommend it to everyone interested in Biblical Studies.

I will save the details of the book for the review, which you can read HERE! Enjoy.