Book Review—Discovering the Septuagint by Karen H. Jobes

9780825443428Discovering the Septuagint: A Guided Reader
by Karen H. Jobes
Kregel | Amazon | CBD

Thanks to the kind folks at Kregel for this review copy! I received this book free of charge in exchange for an unbiased review.

Karen Jobes has established herself as a bit of an anomaly in the field of LXX studies—not only is she a woman, but she teaches at an evangelical college (Wheaton), two characteristics not possessed by LXX scholars. If you’ve read her other volumes on the LXX, then you’ll know this is an area about which Jobes is quite learned and passionate and that shows in this volume.

I remember when Kregel first published A New Reader’s Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, I was glad to see a new iteration of such a volume. When the Reader’s Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers was published, the first thought I had was whether or not they would publish a volume on the LXX—imagine my delight when I found out it was so!

This volume obviously provides much of the same kind of information as its kindred volumes from Kregel, yet is much more selective due to the sheer amount of text that comprises the LXX. This volume, then, includes 600+ verses from nine different books (9). The choice of texts stemmed from Jobes’ desire to expose readers to various genres, “distinctive Septuagintal elements,” and a sampling of texts used by the writers of the NT (9). Included are texts from Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Ruth, additions to Greek Esther, Psalms, Hosea, Jonah, Malachi, and Isaiah, all taken from the Rahlfs-Hanhart Greek text. Naturally, some may be a little disappointed in which books were selected, but remember this is an introduction, so the selections, I think, work pretty well for such a text.

After a brief introduction to the LXX and the expected perfunctory front matter, the reader arrives at the heart of the book—the text of the LXX. Each selection includes an introduction to the book (e.g., Genesis, not the reader itself), the readings from that book, and a selected bibliography (just a few entries). As for the text selection itself, each passage is handled one verse at a time, thus enabling a less intimidating foray into the LXX. For example, Genesis begins (not surprisingly) with 1:1–23. Each verse in that passage is reproduced for the reader and is followed with mostly grammatical notes on significant words and/or phrases in that verse (grammatical terms are defined in the glossary in the back). For Gen 1:1, Jobes discusses the phrase ἐν ἀρχῇ, and for Gen 1:2, a number of other words and phrases are analyzed—ἀόρατος καὶ ἀκατασκεύαστος, ἀόρατος, ἀκατασκεύαστος, ἐπάνω τῆς ἀβύσσου, πνεῦμα θεοῦ, and ἐπεφέρετο. For words that are listed by themselves, e.g., ἀόρατος, its part of speech and lexical information are provided as well as a gloss—ἀόρατος | Fem sg nom adj, invisible. Some isolated terms, such as ἀκατασκεύαστος, are parsed and also explained grammatically if there is some significance, as in this case when it is coupled with the noun ἀόρατος. Other phrases, such as ἐπάνω τῆς ἀβύσσου, are provided not only with lexical data, but also a brief tidbit concerning the backgrounds (ancient cosmology in this instance).

Readers will discover that only some of the words/phrases are parsed. Jobes states that words that are left untranslated and/or parsed are those which do not occur in Metzger’s Lexical Aids for Students of New Testament Greek, which assumes a vocabulary roughly correlative to three years of study in the Greek NT (9). Readers will also find that at the end of each textual unit is a translation of the text taken from A New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS) as well as notation if any of the verses in the passage occur in the NT.

There are plenty of volumes out there that introduce the LXX (see Tim McClay’s The Use of the Septuagint in New Testament Research and Timothy Michael Law’s When God Spoke Greek for excellent intros to the LXX and its role in the NT; I might also suggest Jobes’ own LXX intro, though I’ve not read it), but this volume introduces the practice of reading the LXX—a very different aim than those titles just mentioned. For those wishing to expand their knowledge of Greek, reading the LXX is a great way to do it and Jobes’ volume is a perfect primer for the task. Though the scope and selection of texts is quite limited in this volume, it nevertheless serves as a suitable guide for entering the textual world of the LXX.

Αυτω η δοξα

Read a sample here.

Book Review: When God Spoke Greek

When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible by Timothy Michael Law

Oxford University Press | Amazon | CBD

When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible by Timothy Michael Law

Many thanks to the kind folks at Oxford University Press for this review copy. I received this copy free of charge in exchange for an unbiased review.

Students in the field of biblical studies probably know Timothy Michael Law as a Septuagint scholar. If I remember right, he even quipped once that he wouldn’t rest until everyone had a copy of the LXX in their hands. In his latest effort, Law seeks to cast a larger spotlight on the LXX for those whose expertise lay outside of specialized LXX studies or even biblical studies in general.

Law’s work/s rests upon four primary points of importance. First, because the LXX sheds light “on the development of Jewish thought between the third century BCE and the first century CE,” “the New Testament cannot be read apart from its context in Hellenistic Judaism” (4) and study of the LXX is necessary for properly understanding the bible used by the earliest followers of Christ. Second, the NT authors and early Church most often used the LXX, thus allowing for tremendous potential for expansion because the scriptures were available in the language of the Mediterranean world (5). Third, the theology of the earliest Christians was shaped by the LXX and not by the Hebrew Bible (5). Fourth, the LXX sometimes preservers an alternative, older form of the text (6).

Chapter two, the official foray into matters set out in the introductory chapter, covers the Hellenization of the biblical world as a consequence of the conquests of Alexander the Great. It seems in biblical studies Alexander’s introduction of Greek culture to those he conquered is a given, assumed from the outset; however, I appreciate Law’s brief survey of this history-changing feat and its importance for setting the historical backdrop for the genesis and development of the LXX.

In chapter three, Law delves into what is basically a history of the Bible’s textual development. He discusses the textual base of the Hebrew Bible—the MT, LXX, Samaritan Pentateuch, Dead Sea Scrolls, etc.—and how the Hebrew Bible came to be. The convoluted history of the canonical Hebrew text found in our Protestant translations is succinctly covered and Law’s discussion, though comparatively brief, is nevertheless helpful in orienting the reader to the trajectories along which the text ultimately moved.

Chapter four covers the genesis of the LXX with much of the chapter devoted to the infamously legendary Letter of Aristeas. Law discusses the letter and some of the critical opinions of it, ultimately siding with those who are unable to determine with any certainty the usefulness of it. The Letter of Aristeas, then, serves to illustrate the difficulty of ascertaining the precise origins of the LXX. Outside of the probability of an Alexandrian provenance in the Hellenistic period, the rest remains a bit of a mystery. As an aside, I want to note one of the more memorable comments made: “If a translation is done accurately, the new audience can peer into the original; if it is done poorly, it could start wars” (33).

Chapter five focuses on the uniqueness of the LXX, namely in terms of how various texts in the LXX differ from their Hebrew counterparts. Law discusses examples from each of the three major sections of the Hebrew Bible and briefly shows how they differ and a very brief note of its significance.

Chapter six covers the apocryphal texts of the LXX and is ample in its usefulness as an introductory treatment of these fascinating books. Law provides a brief synopsis of the problem of canon and the apocryphal works followed by a discussion of each book’s contents.

Chapter seven concerns the various “streams” that flowed into collection of Jewish texts that would ultimately comprise the canon. Law also discusses some of the problems in seeking to understand the process of canonization of texts and traditions. Like other chapters and within the purpose of the book, this chapter will serve as an intro to the subject and Law does well here.

Chapter eight turns attention to the use of the LXX in the NT. Law tackles a handful of problems that arise here, one of which I’ll highlight with a quote: “For the New Testament authors, finding the ‘original text’—a modern, often apologetically motivated concern—was not a priority” (86). There is some carryover from the last chapter in terms of canonicity of particular books. Law goes on to discuss (briefly) various texts in the NT that demonstrate the NT’s dependence on Jewish literature and highlights some particular points of contention, excellent fodder for further reading and study. Akin to this section, chapter nine is essentially a continuation of discussing the LXX in the NT, only here Law devotes most of his attention to the Gospels and Paul.

The next chapter revisits (by way of reference) the previous discussions on the process of creating a canon and tackles in more detail the problems that have attended both the process itself and the subsequent discussion of it by later examiners of the scriptures and history.

The last three chapters move out of the first century into the patristic era and well beyond, discussing at some length the importance of the LXX to a number of significant interpreters, e.g., Josephus, Philo, Jerome, Augustine, Tertullian, Origen, Constantine, and others. Law discusses their use of the NT documents (which obviously employ LXX readings more than MT) and the struggles that these early interpreters faced when attempting to sort of some of the problems that arose.

In sum, Law’s book is extremely well written and should serve as a go-to introduction for the subject. One of the aspects of this book I appreciate most is that the chapters are relatively short thus making the work of reading less arduous. Most works on the LXX are dense and verbose, necessarily steeped in esoteric vocabulary and scholarly banter. Because Law’s work is aimed at a more generalized introduction, he keeps the verbiage at a manageable level without dumbing down the discussions. One way in which this is accomplished is the inclusion of Hebrew and Greek terms as phonetic English equivalents, e.g., asereth hadevarim for עשרת הדברים and deka logos for δεκα λογους. While I appreciate this effort, I find that rendering words phonetically or transliterating them does not help—either you know the language as it was written or you don’t. Again, I think this is part of Law’s effort to keep the text manageable for those who may not have facility in biblical languages and as such I don’t find it a terrible detraction from the work. I’ll also note that the notes are banished to the back of the book in the form of endnotes and I only found one typo—p. 85, “usedvarious” with no space.

Law provides enough information to prime the reader on principal elements for beginning to understand the LXX and its role in the formation of both the Bible and Christian theology (and Jewish theology for that matter). This book is also laced with humorous analogies and witticisms that make for an even more enjoyable journey through the jungles of LXX studies. For example, Law makes the following statement: “So on the one hand nothing in the Septuagint will grab headlines for proving Solomon was celibate, that Elijah lived on a tract of land that would become Colorado, or that Adam and Eve were duped by a clever monkey instead of a serpent” (44), and later “Timothy was not sat on his grandmother’s knees reading out of a Bible published by the Palestine Bible Society” (89). His chapter titles are also clever:  Gog and His Not-So-Merry Grasshoppers (ch. 5), Bird Droppings, Stoned Elephants, and Exploding Dragons (ch. 6), and The Man with the Burning Hand versus the Man with the Honeyed Sword (ch. 13).

Let me also say something concerning the aesthetic of this volume. I don’t what kind of paper was used for this book for the covers, but it’s my favorite kind. It’s not glossy, thus not subject to dulling and fingerprinting, nor is it ordinary matte. It’s got a soft feel—again, I don’t know the technical name—and I love it.

This is a fine volume and would recommend it to all seeking to learn more about the LXX.

Αυτω η δοξα