Monday, November 18, 2013

"When God Spoke Greek : The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible"

This is a review of this new book about "what the Septuagint was and is, and how the Greek Bible changed to become a Hebrew and Greek Bible."   It looks to be pretty interesting; I'd love to know more about the LXX, the process of that translation (if anything can be known about it), and the history of the period.    The review reminded me again, too, how important "translation" is.   Here's an excerpt about that (my bold):
 When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947 we suddenly had before us manuscripts of parts of the Hebrew Bible that were far older than anything we had ever seen. Before the middle of the last century, biblical scholars had largely to content themselves with the Leningrad Codex, the oldest complete version of the Hebrew Scriptures, which dates to the 11th century. There is little doubt that this manuscript, along with the less complete Aleppo Codex (the 10th century), faithfully preserves the Scriptures over centuries of rabbinic and medieval copying. Yet when it was recognized that the Dead Sea Scrolls recorded Hebrew Scriptures that differed from those in the received Hebrew Bible something startling came to light. The older manuscripts tended to agree with the LXX, and a conclusion was unavoidable: the Hebrew Scriptures in the received Bible are in places revisions of earlier texts. If one wishes to speak of divine revelation, then there is good reason to conceive of the received Hebrew Bible as one version of revelation among others; the LXX captures bits and pieces of that earlier revelation.

How significant are these differences? More particularly, are there scriptural grounds for changing widely held theological judgments in Christianity? Not all scholars of the LXX think along the same lines. Anneli Aejmelaeus, for one, maintains that the received Hebrew Bible and the LXX share a common theological vision. This may well be so if one steps back sufficiently far from the biblical text. Yet if one moves in quite close at certain points, the chances are that some Christians will be made uneasy. Think for example of Paul’s letter to the Romans, perhaps the most important text for many Protestants in the whole Bible. Paul draws on the LXX, not the Hebrew Bible, which he was perfectly capable of doing. For example, in Romans 9:25-26 Paul draws on Hosea 1:10 and 2:23, and prefers the Greek to the Hebrew precisely because it allows him to extend God’s promise that Israel will prosper to include the Gentiles. It is one instance among many. The LXX allows Paul in his mature theology to develop his view that God’s saving plan includes all human beings, not just the Jews. If we take Paul to be divinely inspired, we would see the Holy Spirit is directing him to the LXX. And what does that mean for our thinking about the canonical form of the Scriptures?

Timothy Michael Law does not think the LXX and the received Hebrew Bible share a common theological vision. He gives the example of Exodus 15:3. The Hebrew is translated into English as “The Lord is a warrior, the Lord is his name” (NSRV) yet when we render the LXX into English we have “The Lord, when he shatters wars, the Lord is his name.” The original translator does not wish us to see God as a warrior but as a peacemaker. Similarly, in Psalm 9:21 the Hebrew, when put into English, reads, “Put them in fear, O Lord; let the nations know that they are only human” (NSRV) whereas the LXX has “Set a lawgiver over them, O Lord; let the nations know that they are human beings.” Here God brings law to the nations, not just fear. Not that the LXX promotes a uniform theology of peace and justice: elsewhere one hear a good deal about God smiting those who do not please him.

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