Sunday, January 19, 2014

Dialogue on When God Spoke Greek: Chapter 1

MosisMose Dialogue on When God Spoke Greek links: Intro to Dialogue - Ch. 1 - Ch. 2 - Ch. 3

This is the first installment of our three-way dialogue on Law's When God Spoke Greek (introduced here).  Aaron White is the first reviewer, and will be responded to by Professor W. Edward Glenny and Christopher Fresch.

The first chapter of Law's book is titled: "Why this Book?"  This chapter is a basic apologia for the need of such a book.  The main thrust Law contends for needing such a book is that the Septuagint, so intuitively known to those steeped in Christian traditions, is nevertheless "foreign to most."  That is, though many more people would regard Joseph's coat as "multicolored," a Septuagintal legacy in Christian tradition, rather than in various way "ornamented," as the Hebrew Bible would have it, "the Septuagint remains foreign to most, including biblical scholars, indeed even Old Testament scholars." (p. 3) His words, not mine!

Law furnishes for the reader "four reasons why...what follows [will be] interesting":
(1) the LXX is a lens through which one can understand better the development of Jewish thought from the third century BC through the first century CE.
(2) the New Testament authors on the whole preferred the LXX as their OT textual basis, but in our present time the "Hebrew Bible" is the text of choice for our English Bibles.
(3) The text basis of most of the early Christians was the LXX and their theology reflects such a theological persuation, rather than of course theology reflective of the "Hebrew Bible."
(4) [It may be me, but I am missing a clearly diliniated #4, but I think it is the "alternative"/"older" text form]  "The Septuagint often preserves a witness to an alternative, sometimes older, form of the Hebrew text." Here, he will take on the stimulating issues of the Reformers and their mantra ad fontes!


He forecasts that the reader will discover "how Christianity is indebted to the Septuagint." (p. 6)

Law does not declare an audience explicitly.  But it appears to be an educated/invested lay-person.  Or, scholars that need a break from all the footnotes and silly parlance! This is seen best in his final section on definitions of terms (I have quoted "Hebrew Bible" the whole time because it is his term that refers to the canon "more or less established by the second century CE").

My interest in this subject is introduced helpfully by Law's first chapter in two ways: the lack of education in the LXX in seminary (p. 3), and its quotation in the NT (pp. 4-5).  My Greek education began in Classical Greek, Ionic then Attic.  I was captivated by the story-telling of Homer, the irony of Aristophanes and the rhetoric of Plato!   It was so rich and interesting.  Our class met 4 times a week in a small classics library and read the Greek and translated it in turn.  It was a blast!  When I entered seminary, the magic was lost a bit in a forced march through paradigms and vocab test.  It was, by necessity (I would like to believe), cage-raised chicken instead of free-range.  After an independent study in text criticism, though well instructed and interesting, I was losing "that loving feeling" for Greek.   The magic needed to return!  So I signed up for an independent study on the LXX in Luke-Acts.  It couldn't hurt!  In that study we read copious amounts of the LXX.  One day I ran into a "weird" and "foreign" verb form, so I thought.  Then I realized what it was!  It was my long lost friend, the optative! In addition to this reunion, I realized the artistry of the NT quotation of the LXX in a paper on Amos 9 in Acts 15 (which I later presented at the 2010 SBL Central States regional conference).  The LXX saved my love of Greek!  I am now an armchair LXX-Book of the Twelve scholar, and completing my dissertation in the role of the LXX-Twelve in Acts.

In the end, I think Law strikes an appropriate tone.  He assesses well the popular (even specialist?) perception and knowledge of the LXX, and even the access to such knowledge!  As he notes, many great LXX introductions exist, and other books that make similar pleas as his book.  But, as he observes, little attention has been paid to such works.  Maybe it will be Law that stirs the nest enough to get some reaction; reaction that will bring appropriate change. 


Response: Chris Fresch
As this chapter is a brief introduction to the book, there is little I have to say.  I am right there with Aaron in finding an interest in this topic owing to a lack of LXX education in Christian institutions and to the quotation of the LXX in the NT.  Regarding the first point especially, it continually astounds me that the Septuagint is taught and read so little in Christian education (often at best, you may hear it referenced disdainfully in a discussion on OT in the NT or OT textual criticism).  The Greek OT is an important text for biblical scholars on many levels, yet it is so often ignored.

I would also add that Law's third and fourth reasons resonate strongly with me.  My people (evangelical protestants) are sometimes too quick to disregard the practice and theology of the early church.  Up until Jerome/Augustine, the Old Testament for Christians was, primarily, in Greek.  It was even argued by not a few Church Fathers that the Septuagint was inspired by the Holy Spirit (Müller's The First Bible of the Church is a good, accessible resource here)!  We ought not turn a deaf ear to this.  At the very least, it needs to be wrestled with and understood.  Furthermore, as Law will get into later, outside of the Western Church, we have brothers and sisters whose Old Testament is not based on a MT text-form but rather on the LXX!  When we quickly and dogmatically discard the LXX without further discussion (as we are prone to do), we risk creating walls within the Church.

Law's fourth reason is crucial to Old Testament studies.  Protestants hold to a very high view of Scripture, particularly as each book existed in its original form, but it is no longer tenable to uncritically hold to a position of MT priority.  The Old Greek is a crucial witness to the original text of the Old Testament; in some cases, as Law notes, it even preserves older forms of whole books.  This may be uncomfortable for some to hear, but it is not a reason to ignore or disregard the Septuagint.  Rather, it calls us to engage with the text all the more, both in the Hebrew and Greek — to struggle with it even in our discomfort.

Two last thoughts: First, Law mentions the New English Translation of the Septuagint (p. 8), acknowledging its usefulness for scholarly study and recommending it to students and academics.  As he notes, however, there is still no English translation of the LXX that would appeal to the non-specialist.  This is something I would like to see happen in the next decade — a modern, faithful translation of the Septuagint, as a document in its own right, in good, readable English.  Please, please, someone get that started.  Second, Law admits that he found it to be much easier to talk about the Septuagint in scholarly language than in a more accessible way for the benefit of others (p. 4).  I applaud him for recognizing this and for setting out to change that in this book.  This is what is needed in Septuagint studies (and more widely in biblical studies).  Looking forward to chapter 2!


Response: Ed Glenny
One reviewer I read called Timothy Michael Law's book a "narrative history" of the LXX. It is certainly an engaging an
d readable book on the topic that should be read by specialists and non specialists alike. There are several reasons why I am looking forward to discussing it with Aaron and Chris. First, I love the topic; I have spent the last 10 years of my life studying the LXX. Second, it is a great book; I had the privilege of reading it this winter, and I was excited about the new things I learned in some of the chapters. Third, I always enjoy talking with Aaron and Chris, and I hope several others will follow along with us and join in on the discussion.

I appreciate the comments Aaron and Chris have made above. I also am amazed when people refer to the Hebrew Bible as the Bible of Jesus and the Apostles, and they make no reference to the LXX. However, hopefully books like Law's will help to remedy that situation. I do not have much more to add on the first chapter except for a couple observations I made, which may prepare readers for themes that will recur later in the book. First, Law writes on page 2 that "the biblical books were formed after a long process of accumulation, combination, and reformulation of other sources." I agree with the statement and with the example from Jeremiah that precedes this statement. However, the statement is broad, as is required in a book of this sort, and the immediately preceding context as well as the following sentence or two give the impression that with this sentence he is referring to most all theories that have been proposed by "unbelieving scholars" concerning the formation of the Old Testament. If we read the whole page, especially the rest of pages 2-3, we see he is referring to the theories concerning the history of the formation of the Old Testament, as it is illuminated by the discoveries in the Judean Desert, especially those discoveries that throw light on the different form of the text found in the LXX. Some of his statements are probably meant to be provocative, and a bit of qualification might have been helpful at times. So make sure you read the individual comments in light of their larger contexts. Second, I wish Law would have given a little more attention in his book to the differences between the Hebrew and the LXX that are the result of the work of the translator. Emanuel Tov wrote, "Although there are thousands of differences between the Masoretic Text (MT) and the translations, only a fraction of them were created because of a divergence between the MT and the Vorlage of the translation. Most of the differences were created by unrelated factors. These are inner-translational factors, especially in the area of exegesis, which created many renderings that are now described as differences between the translation and the MT" (Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible [3rd ed.], 117).   In his Postscript Law will refer helpfully to the differences between the Hebrew and Greek texts that were caused by the translator (168-170), but if readers of the book do not know better, they will be led to think that most of the differences between the MT and the LXX are because of different source texts. The discoveries in the Judean Desert show us that not all differences between the Hebrew and LXX were the result of "creative" translators and they do give evidence of "another form of the Hebrew text in antiquity" (2), but they do not explain many, perhaps the majority, of the differences between the Hebrew and the LXX. This is a theme I will probably come back to again, since I work in the area of LXX translation technique. But it is an area of study that is of great importance, and Law could have done more with it in his book to explain better the role of the LXX translators.

I encourage you to acquire a copy of When God Spoke Greek, and join in our conversation. It will only become more interesting in the days ahead.

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