Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Long live the King (LXX)!

I'm excited.  Yep, I know it's a bit sad, but I do get excited by strange things that barely raise an eyebrow among the brethren (and brethrettes).

We're talking about the release of volume 2 in Nicholas King's translation of the Septuagint.

To recap, for those not yet up to speed, King is a British Jesuit scholar, a kind of latter-day Ronald Knox.  Some time ago, after completing his own New Testament translation he launched out on the Hebrew Bible.

Well, not the Hebrew Bible actually, but the Septuagint (LXX).  It was, after all, the LXX which was the first Christian scripture, long before uppity types like Jerome and Luther led us back into the badlands where we snatched, appropriated, stole the Hebrew Bible (as opposed to the Greek translation) from its rightful owners, then proceeded to beat them about the head with it.

A thousand travesties have flowed from that, not least in recent times that Great Whore of Wheaton, Illinois, the English Standard Version.

But I digress. 

Already published were volume 1 (The Pentateuch) and volume 3 (The Wisdom Literature).  Now, hot off the press at Kevin Mayhew in Suffolk, comes volume 2, The Historical Books - "Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah, plus the added bonus of the Septuagint’s little-known books of Tobit, Judith, Esther, 1 and 2 Maccabees."

Who wouldn't be excited? (Please note, rhetorical question.)  King's LXX strikes quite a different tone to the dry academic NET LXX, and the stodgy version that appears in the Orthodox Study Bible.

Alas, Kevin Mayhew is one of those publishers who largely evade the radar at Amazon and the Book Depository.  Unless you live in the UK you'll need to order direct, or find a really good bookshop that'll bring it over for you.  But, what the heck, you only live once.

The final installment, volume 4, (The Prophets) is scheduled for 2014.  


  1. A reminder that the bible wasn't written in English. The sad part is, there was no dictionary in those dead languages at the time it was written either. Words do change meaning over time and just in my lifetime "bad" has gained the meaning of "really good" in some contexts.

    So, a book that is translated from a constantly changing language into another constantly changing language without a (then) contemporary dictionary of the first language written in the second language - well, you see the problem.

  2. Could you explain your comment of:
    "t was, after all, the LXX which was the first Christian scripture, long before uppity types like Jerome and Luther led us back into the badlands where we snatched, appropriated, stole the Hebrew Bible (as opposed to the Greek translation) from its rightful owners, then proceeded to beat them about the head with it."

    I haven't studied the various sources of the OT. I do know that the LXX was probably the OT that the early Christians read. Or am I wrong.

    If we want to understand the NT writers, the LXX may be useful but the Masoretic Text (if I get that right) is considered authoritative in Judaism. Anyway, you can tell I am confused. Do you have any links explaining this?

  3. I'm just saying that the first Christians preferred the LXX over the Hebrew text. That includes both the Gospel writers, Paul and his imitators. Jerome tried - without much success - to direct the church back to the Hebrew text, but the Eastern church stuck solidly with the LXX (even unto this very day) while the Western church took on the derivative Vulgate. It took till the Reformation for the appropriation of the Hebrew text to be complete, and even then only in Protestantism, then finally, only in recent times, for the Catholic church to follow suit.

    So the logic I use - rightly or wrongly - is that the NT (and therefore the Christian narrative) is best understood through the translation choices (the good, the bad and the ugly) of the LXX.

  4. Thanx, Gavin, that is fascinating.
    I think I remember examples of NT writers misunderstanding and misquoting Hebrew Scriptures because they only had access to the LXX.
    So it seem that familiarity with the difference between these is also important to understanding Christianity.
    Are there different types of Judaism that are the result of these different OT versions?

    1. From what I've read, no. The diversity of multiple Judaisms didn't survive the destruction of the temple state, and Hellenistic Judaism was swept away. Someone who knows more about this than me may like to comment further.

  5. I think maybe the early Xians preferred the LXX because they couldn't read the Hebrew text. When modern people read the NT they get the impression that literacy was high in those days but that's not the case. When James said in the book of Acts to write letters to the churches about the apostle's Pauline/circumcision ruling we should expect to have copies of those letters but we don't. All we really have is an Acts vs. Paul thing going on and they clearly contradict. But, did many early Xians read any of that? I say, no, because they were about 93% illiterate. It may even have been worse than that because Xianity was known as the religion of the poor, slaves and women.

  6. Good Points, Corky, still waitin' to hear from Gavin,

    Jeez, now I have lots of questions. Did other translations of the Hebrew texts exist besides the LXX?
    I would think Christians would love reading OT translations from the Masoretic texts rather than the LXX since they may think those words may be closer to Yahweh's actual words. Do you know which Bible use the Masoretic texts for their OT translation?

    1. Sabio, there were later Greek translations (e.g. Theodotion and Aquila) that were more Rabbinical in nature and came to be preferred over the LXX by Jews. (Christians also adopted Theodotion's version of Daniel for some reason but kept the LXX for the rest.) There was also the Syriac OT (Peshitta) and the Samaritan Bible. The Dead Sea Scrolls reveals numerous versions of most books, and they often resembled the LXX more closely than the Masoretic.

    2. Thanx, Paul. So, after the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls did the LXX regain status to overtake the Masoretic texts?

    3. My impression is that it has put the LXX on an equal footing in many cases as being an accurate representation of the older Hebrew versions, but the Dead Sea Scrolls also demonstrate that there never was any "original" document for most of the scriptures. Instead, they show that the Old Testament was in a constant state of evolution, and much of it may be incredibly late. (For instance, roughly half the chapters of Genesis are completely unattested among the 27 or so copies and fragments of copies found at Qumran.)

  7. Just a superflous comment from me to say a quiet 'amen' and 'hallelujah' to Paul's contributions above, which are right on the money. Plus, I didn't have to trawl through the texts to provide the kind of specific answers he has... that's definitely worth another 'hallelujah!'

    All the talk about the excellencies of the Masoretic text are usually overstated. Among the DSS are two versions of Jeremiah, a long one (corresponding to the one currently in published bibles) and a much shorter one. As Paul says, the texts were still evolving at the time. These comments from Abegg, Flint and Ulrich in The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible (Harper San Francisco, 1999).

    "Six Jeremiah scrolls were found at Qumran... Two important scrolls... reflect a Hebrew text that is very different than the Masoretic form of Jeremiah from which modern Bibles have been translated. It is also interesting to note that the biblical text in these two manuscripts is very similar to the Hebrew text from which the Septuagint (LXX) was translated... [they]... and the Septuagint present a version of Jeremiah that is about 13 percent shorter... One example of this shorter text is Jeremiah 10:3-11, which is a satire on idols. While the Masoretic Text has all nine verses, the Greek Bible and [one of these scrolls] lack verses 6-8 and 10..."

    So it could be that the LXX is in fact closer, at least where Jeremiah is concerned, to an unexpanded 'original'.

  8. Gavin & Paul: Thank you very much for patiently introducing me to this subject and some important implications. I will look into it further. I am interested, actually, to parallels in the development of the epics in Hindu religious literature. (mind you, it is only a minor hobby) Thanks again.

    BTW, I don't know where to reply, Hierarchy comments drive me crazy. I don't know if I linked you to my criticism of these sort of comments, but if you are interested:
    Comment Hierarchy is Horrible.