When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint in the New Testament & the New Old Testament

Happy Monday everyone! I’m extremely excited to be participating in a blog tour of T. Michael Law’s new book ‘When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible’ organized by Brian LePort over at Near Emmaus. I received a copy for review from Oxford University Press and will be reviewing chapters 9 & 10.

When God Spoke Greek is a narrative history of the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament.  Law’s goal in writing this book is to make the Septuagint more accessible to both laity and academics, while highlighting its important role in the development of the Christian Bible.  To read more about the preceding chapters (1-8), see the links below.

Chapter 9, The Septuagint in the New Testament

Following his discussion in chapter 8 over the Septuagint available to the New Testament authors, Law next takes a more in depth look at some specific citations found in the NT as well as the method and manner in which they are used by the NT authors. Beginning with the Gospels and Acts, Law provides several examples of OT quotations that demonstrate dependence on the Septuagint text or a Septuagint revision.  Indeed Law concludes that “most if not all of the citations in the New Testament are not in any way strictly dependent on the Hebrew,” (115).

There area several instances in which the Septuagint translation emphasizes a different theological point than the Hebrew text. Although it is impossible to know for sure whether an author intentionally chose one text over the other, Law suggests the Greek translation was often more favorable to the NT authors theological emphases. One such example is Luke’s use of the Septuagint text of Amos 9:11-12 in Acts 15:16-18.

“In the context of the Hebrew version, the prophecy is centered on the benefit to the people of Israel: the people are to inherit the remnant of Edom and all the other nations. In the Septuagint, the focus has shifted, and the Gentiles are seeking out the Lord, which becomes very useful in Luke’s hands since he wants to legitimize the Gentile mission,” (104).

Law then moves on to Paul who “most often, perhaps always, preferred the Greek” when quoting the OT as “Paul finds the Greek forms of scripture more suitable for his intention to announce God’s message to the Gentiles,” (105). On more than one occasion it appears that the Septuagint reading of a text is crucial to Paul’s argument. After spending some time on Paul, Law briefly looks at the Septuagint in the remaining NT books, the most interesting example coming from Revelation (2:26-27, 12:5, and 19:15) in which the author quotes the Septuagint text of Psalm 2:9 “where the Greek translator has misunderstood the Hebrew verb or read a different Hebrew text,” (114). As Law points out,

“This example is particularly important since it contains an obviously erroneous reading of an Old Testament passage that was left uncorrected by the New Testament writer,” (115).

That’s definitely something to chew on for a while. Chapter 9 ends with a brief discussion on why the use of the Septuagint in the NT is important. Law concludes,

“It would be worth the modern reader’s time to ponder the significance of the New Testament author’s use of the Septuagint, to consider what theological emphases would not have been possible if the authors were using the Hebrew Bible alone,” (116).

I agree… and I am pondering.  Would the New Testament be any different if the authors had not had the Septuagint as a source?

My only issue with this chapter was the lack of Greek and Hebrew text.  Law provides several examples in which the NT reflects the Septuagint Greek over the Hebrew MT and yet he only provides English translations for comparison.  While this is a non-issue for many reading on the popular level, Greek and Hebrew readers will likely find this frustrating.

Chapter 10, The New Old Testament

In chapter 10 Law describes the development of the New Old Testament noting that the early Christian “Bible” was not a fixed collection of books as we now have it, but rather “a loose collection of texts” (117). When early Christians who viewed themselves as the “New Israel” soon realized the Greek Jewish texts they were using were different from the Hebrew scriptures used by their Jewish contemporaries, the problem was easily resolved. It was obvious to most early Christians that as the New Israel, God had provided a new word in the form of the Septuagint.

“Most early Christian scholars… argued or at least assumed that the Greek Septuagint was the new word of God for the church, a divinely inspired text that God had delivered for the sake of bringing the message of Christianity to the world…” (118).

How did this new word become the New Old Testament?  The process of delineating a fixed set of books came about for practical reasons. In addition to the invention of the codex (or book), the church gave priority to some books over others based on apologetic reasons. Early Christians were concerned with settling disputes with Jews as well as pointing to messianic prophecies in the Greek Jewish scriptures.  Law makes an important distinction here between “canon” and “scripture”:

“Scripture signifies only an ‘authoritative writing in a religious community.’ Canon, on the other hand, is a catalog, a list of scriptural writings. To put it simply: there can be no canon without scripture, but scripture can exist without a canon,” (121).

Thus we shouldn’t automatically assume that if a text was not included within a canon that it was not considered to be scripture. The process of canonization would continue for several centuries during which different groups and the early theologians would advocate for different sets of books, including those that now make up the Apocrypha.  These books eventually fell out of favor among the western church and Law ultimately pits the fault with Jerome who is discussed in more detail in chapter 13.

Some Final Thoughts

When God Spoke Greek is an easy and enjoyable read. Law’s passion and proficiency are evident as he skillfully narrates the rich history behind the Septuagint and the complex text we now call the Bible. He provides definitions and clarifications on terms when needed which is sure to be appreciated by those new to the Septuagint and/or biblical studies, as well as those already aware of the complexities involved in discussing the Septuagint… I mean the LXX… I mean the Old Greek… and so on.

Law addresses the common misconceptions many of us have or have had at one point in our reading of the Bible.  Moreover, this book offers a thoughtful correction to the western church’s centuries of neglect of the Septuagint, a correction that is sorely needed.

I appreciated Law’s use of the feminine pronoun instead of the usual masculine pronoun when discussing hypothetical or generic persons, such as here in the beginning of chapter 4:

“In biblical translation, for example, the richness of Hebrew poetry cannot be communicated in ancient Greek or in modern English, so even when the meaning may not be too different, if at all, the color and depth usually is. Inevitably, however, the translator will be faced with an obscure expression in the source language; assuming she understands it she may nonetheless find no acceptable counterpart in her language,” (33).

I rarely see the use of feminine pronouns by male authors; it was a refreshing change. If you are familiar with me and/or my blog you know that language and gender are two of my favorite topics so I couldn’t not mention this minor detail.

I think the greatest benefit of this book is the questions that it provokes its readers to ask. What does it mean for us today that the Septuagint was seen by many in the early church as inspired? What does it mean for Paul to have ‘misinterpreted’ an Old Testament passage, whether intentionally or unintentionally? If the NT authors were reading some of the apocryphal books, which in turn played some role in shaping their theology, why aren’t we reading these texts as well? Why is finding the so-called ‘original text’ such a priority for many of us today if it was not a priority for the NT authors (86)?

For those interested in learning more about the Christian Bible When God Spoke Greek is a great place to start. It would also be a great accompaniment to a more thorough introduction for students of biblical studies.

A huge thank you to Brian LePort at Near Emmaus for organizing this blog tour. Thank you again to Oxford University Press for the review copy. Here are the links to the other blogs in the tour:

JOEL WATTS (Sunday, July 21st, http://unsettledchristianity.com/)
1 Why this Book?
2 When the World Became Greek

ANDREW KING (Tuesday, July 23rd, http://blogofthetwelve.wordpress.com/)
3 Was There a Bible before the Bible?
4 The First Bible Translators

KRISTA DALTON (Thursday, July 25th, http://kristadalton.com/blog/)
5 Gog and his Not-so-Merry Grasshoppers
6 Bird Droppings, Stoned Elephants, and Exploding Dragons

ABRAM K-J (Saturday, July 27th, http://abramkj.com/)
7 E Pluribus Unum
8 The Septuagint behind the New Testament

Coming soon…

AMANDA MacINNIS (Wednesday, July 31st, http://cheesewearingtheology.com/)
11 God’s Word for the Church
12 The Man of Steel and the Man who Worshipped the Sun

JAMES McGRATH (Friday, August 2nd, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/)
13 The Man with the Burning Hand vs. the Man with the Honeyed Sword
14 A Postscript

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Why You Need the Septuagint

This is a great post from Abram K-J on the benefits of knowing and studying the Septuagint. He provides 10 reasons why we should know the Septuagint, my favorite being reason number three:

“It connects us to the broad sweep of history in the Church. This was not only the Bible of the New Testament writers (in many though not all instances); it was the Bible of the Greek-speaking early church.”

There are two classes from my graduate studies that radically transformed the way I thought about the Bible. The first was general linguistics which has, and continues, to shape my understanding of how and why language(s) work. The second class was a Greek reading class and introduction to the Septuagint that I took last fall. I had some knowledge about the Septuagint from my undergraduate studies, having read Jobes and Silva and done a little bit of translation work in Deuteronomy for another Greek reading class. But it was in this Septuagint class last fall that I really fell in love with the LXX.

I look forward to sharing more on Monday when I post my 2-chapter review of T. Michael Law’s ‘When God Spoke Greek’ as a part of the blog tour.

Words on the Word

It’s not uncommon for people to ask: why the Septuagint? (That comes right after: What is it?)  Why bother with the Greek Septuagint when we have the Old Testament in Hebrew, in which it was first written? English translations of the Bible in most churches use the Hebrew text as a base, anyway.

Before giving my top 10 reasons why, here are a couple ways to access the Septuagint (often abbreviated LXX after the tradition of the 70(+2) who were said to have translated it). This site has the whole Septuagint in Greek with an English translation. And here‘s a good, up-to-date English translation of the whole thing. (For hard copies, the standard complete Greek text is the Rahlfs Septuagint, and a recent English translation is the NETS.)

Here are 10 good reasons to pay attention to the Septuagint:

10. It helps us read Scripture in…

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HBU’s Dr. Jerry Walls On Hell…

Jerry Walls, professor of philosophy at Houston Baptist University (my home turf!), will be answering questions on the topic of hell over at Rachel Held Evan’s blog. Her “Ask a…” series is one of my favorite things in the blogosphere so be sure to check it out. It’s a great avenue for asking questions and getting different perspectives on theological topics from all sorts of folks.  Here’s a snippet from Rachel’s blog introducing Walls:

“Jerry holds a traditional view of hell in the sense that he believes hell is a place of conscious, eternal misery. But he says he agrees with C.S. Lewis’ famous line that ‘the doors of hell are locked on the inside.’  So it is the persistent refusal to repent, and accept God’s grace and love that keeps hell going, not His determination to keep sinners there against their will.  His view is a modification of the traditional view in the sense that he believes God always welcomes sincere repentance, even after death.  Unfortunately, he says, some will never exercise that option.”

You can check out more posts in Rachel’s “Ask a…” series here.

Faith and Hope…

“Faith is the settled, unwavering trust in the one true God whom we have come to know in Jesus Christ. When we see him face to face we shall not abandon that trust, but deepen it. Hope is the settled, unwavering confidence that this God will not leave us or forsake us, but will always have more in store for us than we could ask or think.”
– N.T. Wright, After You Believe

(Re-posted from N.T. Wright Facebook Page)

LXX Susanna, Part 3: One Story, Two Heroes…

One last snippet from my Susanna paper to share which highlights the different endings of the two traditions:

As the story reaches its end, Daniel successfully reveals the truth about what transpired between Susanna and the two elders.  And as Daniel proclaims the punishment that awaits the elders, the assembly lauds the triumphant hero.  But who is the hero in this story?  The OG ending focuses on Daniel and the wisdom of youths.  Daniel’s referring expression is changed in verse 60 to τῷ νεωτέρῳ, the young man, highlighting the fact that he is young in contrast to the elders who are presumably older.  It is Daniel who is the hero in the OG version.  Susanna θ’, on the other hand, ends with a different hero in mind.

Verse 60 reads:

καὶ ἀνεβόησε πᾶσα ἡ συναγωγὴ φωνῇ μεγάλῃ καὶ εὐλόγησαν τῷ θεῷ 
τῷ σῴζοντι τοὺς ἐλπίζοντας ἐπʼ αὐτόν.

And all the assembly cried out with a loud voice and they blessed God, who saves those who hope in him.

One again we are provided with additional information that constrains the way we as readers view God, this time from the narrator’s perspective.  The focus is now on God who save those who hope in him.  For the author/translator of Susanna θ’, God is the hero of the story.  It is God who knows what is hidden; it is God who sends a wise judge to reveal the wickedness of the unrighteous judges; it is God who saves those who hope in him.

Finally, compare the epilogues of each version:

62a Because of this, young men are beloved by Jacob because of their sincerity.  62b And as for us, let us watch out for young able sons.  For young men will live piously, and a spirit of knowledge and understanding will be in them forever and ever. (OG)

63 Chelkios and his wife praised God for their daughter, along with Joakim her husband and all her relatives, because no shameful deed was found in her.  
64 And Daniel became great among the people from that day onward. (θ’)

Each discourse ends with a different focus: the Theodotion text focuses on the vindication of Susanna, which not only meant that she was spared from shame but the whole family was spared from shame.  Susanna’s parents are reactivated along with Joakim and the rest of the family, by means of anchoring expressions to link them to Susanna.  The Old Greek, on the other hand, ends with a focus on the blessing of wise young men.  The OG ending seems much more characteristic of a fable, relaying the moral of the story: the world needs more young men like Daniel.

 

Peter Conference: Edinburgh 2013

My Greek prof, Dr. Will Rutherford, presented a paper at the recent Peter Conference in Edinburgh. His paper was titled ‘On the Trail of the Scribal Peter: Apostolic Authority and the Production of Jewish/Christian Difference in Peter’s Preaching’.

If you’ve ever had the privilege of hearing him present (he presented a paper at last year’s SBL in the early Jewish-Christian relations section) you’ll know that not only is he a great scholar, he is a master craftsman when it comes to Power Point. His work and his presentations always exhibit excellence and serve as a great model to those he teaches. I’m extremely proud to have been one of his students!

Larry Hurtado's Blog

The conference on the Apostle Peter sponsored by our Centre for the Study of Christian Origins (Univ of Edinburgh) was held here 4-6 July, and I think we were all very pleased with it.  We had ca. 70 registered, 21 presentations, lots of informed and lively discussions, and a tasty conference banquet and an available bar-service (!).  My colleague, Dr. Helen Bond and I will now try to organize a selection of presentations for publication in due course.  From the quality of the presentations it will be difficult to omit any!

My own presentation kicked off the event with a brief discussion of three major treatments of Peter by Protestant New Testament scholars,  Oscar Cullmann, Martin Hengel and Markus Bockmuehl, spanning several decades. I tried to explore briefly the circumstances in which they wrote and their respective emphases.

Cullmann was deeply concerned with promoting Christian ecumenical efforts in the post-World…

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LXX Susanna, Part 2: Susanna’s Voice And The God Who Knows…

Continuing on with a look at characterization and participant reference in Susanna, here’s another excerpt from my paper (apologies for the lack-luster intro):

In the additional introduction of Susanna θ’, God is initially introduced as κύριος whom Susanna feared.  As noted above, Susanna’s parents instructed her according to the law of Moses which would clarify κύριος as the God of Israel.  If we assume a Hebrew Vorlage*, perhaps we can read κύριος in place of the divine name, as is common throughout the Septuagint, and thus κύριος is likely the preferred referential device for God.

Overspecification** is used in referring to God twice and both occurrences function as thematic highlighting devices and constrain the reader to view God in a particular way.  This first instance of overspecification occurs in a prayer spoke by Susanna which is placed a different points in the discourse in each text.  In the OG text the prayer is placed after the elders place their hands upon her head but prior to their testimony about her sexual encounter with the young man.  In the Theodotion text the prayer is placed after the testimony of the elders as Susanna cries out in a loud voice.  In the OG text Susanna instead prays to herself.

Verses 42 through 44 of Susanna θ’ read:

42 ἀνεβόησε δὲ φωνῇ μεγάλῃ Σουσάννα καὶ εἶπεν Ὁ θεὸς ὁ αἰώνιος ὁ τῶν κρυπτῶν γνώστης ὁ εἰδὼς τὰ πάντα πρὶν γενέσεως αὐτῶν, 43 σὺ ἐπίστασαι ὅτι ψευδῆ μου κατεμαρτύρησαν· καὶ ἰδοὺ ἀποθνῄσκω μὴ ποιήσασα μηδὲν ὧν οὗτοι ἐπονηρεύσαντο κατʼ ἐμοῦ.  44 Καὶ εἰσήκουσε κύριος τῆς φωνῆς αὐτῆς.

42 But Susanna cried out with a loud voice and said, “O eternal God, who knows that which is hidden*** and who is aware of all things before they come to be; 43 you know that they have testified falsely against me.  See I am about to die though I have done none of these things which these men maliciously intended to do against me.”  44 And the Lord heeded her cry.

The fact that Susanna cried out with a loud voice (ἀνεβόησε δὲ φωνῇ μεγάλῃ) in the Theodotion text instead of praying to herself highlights her more active role in the story.  She does not remain silent, but rather declares her innocence and demonstrates her righteousness by trusting in the Lord.  Through the mouth of Susanna, the reader is given more information than necessary about God.  This information is not necessary to identify which god she is referring to as we already know that Susanna worships the God of Israel and thus this functions to highlight the theme of hidden things being revealed.

This theme is one of the most prominent themes through the story of Susanna: the elders are hidden in the garden during Susanna’s bath (only in Susanna θ’), the elders lust for Susanna is initially hidden from one another, and Susanna is uncovered before the crowd and thus what was once hidden is exposed.  From Susanna’s perspective, the Lord she fears is God who knows all that is hidden, i.e. the truth about what happened in her husband’s garden.  This information also serves to foreshadow what is to come, namely the revealing of the truth which the elders have kept hidden.  And so the Lord sends forth the wise young man Daniel to uncover that which is hidden.  Daniel is the final participant to be introduced into the narrative, initially introduced as a young boy whose holy spirit (τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον) is stirred up by God.

*Side note: I’ve not done extensive research on this particular topic and opinions are mixed as to whether Susanna was originally written in Hebrew or Greek.

**Overspecification: The description of individuals or ideas that is more specific than required to identify the intended referent. – Steve Runge

***The phrase “that which is hidden” is not present in the OG text.

LXX Susanna, Part 1: Getting To Know All About You…

Last fall my Greek professor courageously led our class through the topic and texts of the Septuagint.  For my term paper I decided to write on the two texts of Susanna, an apocryphal addition to the book of Daniel.  The text has survived in two different textual traditions, the Old Greek (OG) version and the Theodotion (θ’) version.  I was initially inspired by Kristin de Troyer’s article in A Feminist Companion to Reading the Bible: Approaches, Methods, and Strategies titled Septuagint and Gender Studies: The Very Beginning of a Promising Liaison in which she looks at some of the differences between the Esther texts (in the ways they portray the characters) while asking gender-specific questions.  I decided to look at the story of Susanna since it was a text that was essentially new to me, it has a female protagonist, and it is a text with two distinct traditions.  Here’s a quick summary from my paper for those of you who are new to Susanna’s story:

   While there are substantial differences between Susanna OG and Susanna θ’, the basic premise of the story remains the same.  There is a man, Joakim, living in Babylon with his wife, Susanna.  Susanna is very beautiful and enjoys taking long walks in her husband’s garden.  The story’s antagonists are two elders, who are also judges, meant to govern the people.  They quickly prove to be lawless men as they become enthralled with the beautiful Susanna with the hopes of gratifying their mutual lust.  The two elders approach Susanna, but she refuses them.  The elders then bring her to court with accusations of adultery with a fictional young man; the crowd believes the elders and Susanna is condemned to death.  So Susanna prays to God and he intervenes.  Now enters our hero: the young man, Daniel.  Daniel accuses the people of an unfair trial and declares that he will interrogate the two elders individually.  Daniel’s wisdom is demonstrated in his ability to establish the two elders as liars by their own admission and the story ends with Susanna’s life being spared and the two elders being utterly destroyed.

Susanna and the Two Elders

Susanna and the Two Elders

For my paper, I set out to apply a discourse-functional approach to participant reference (see Steve Runge’s Discourse Grammar of the New Testament and dissertation) in the double-text of Susanna.  As noted above, there are some interesting differences between the two texts, especially in how Susanna is portrayed.

Here’s another excerpt from my paper on the characterization of Susanna:

The way in which a participant is initially (re-)introduced to a discourse serves as our mental representation of that participant until we are constrained to see her or him in a different way.  Some of the major participants are not named but rather are identified by an epithet or anchoring expression, while there are two minor participants that are named but remain flat characters throughout the narrative.  In Susanna θ’, the protagonist Susanna is initially introduced as Joakim’s wife.  She is referred to by name, her default and unmarked referring expression, nine times throughout the narrative.  The Septuagint’s introduction of Susanna is considerably shorter.  Some scholars argue that the first five verses have been lost, while others read “περὶ ὧν ἐλάλησεν ὁ δεσπότης” (Concerning that which the Lord said…) as an acceptable introductory statement or heading.

The text as we have it provides us with less information about Joakim as he is mentioned merely in passing and almost always in relation to Susanna; she is his wife and he is her husband (v7).  Although more information is given concerning Joakim in Susanna θ’ (he is wealthy and well-liked by the people), he functions as a plot device in both texts and thus we understand him to be a minor character.  Both texts introduce a garden that belongs to Joakim and when the elders would watch Susanna, she would be walking ἐν τῷ παραδείσῳ τοῦ ἀνδρὸς αὐτῆς, in the garden of her husband (v7).  Thus the author/translator signals to  the reader to keep in mind Susanna and Joakim’s relationship as husband and wife as the reader learns of the two elders lust for this married woman.  The reader soon learns that the elders attempt to force themselves on Susanna within her husband’s own domain (v19).

Additional information about Susanna is provided with her introduction to the story, namely, that she is a very beautiful woman (καλή σφόδρα) (v2).  As we noted earlier, it is atypical that a biblical character receive such a detailed physical description.  The fact that Susanna is very beautiful is important to the plot of the story and this important information is reiterated later on in verse 31 as Susanna’s speedy trial is about to begin.  In her introduction, Susanna is also referred to as one who feared the Lord (φοβουμένη τὸν κύριον) (v2) as her parents instructed her according to the law of Moses (κατὰ τὸν νόμον Μωυσῆ) (v3).  This information is not necessary to identify Susanna from other possible referents, rather it is additional information that tells us something more about Susanna.  This piece of information is important to the development of the plot as Susanna’s character serves as a foil to the lawless elders who are eventually prosecuted and punished κατὰ τὸν νόμον Μωυσῆ (v62).

I will follow up with two more posts with additional excerpts from my paper. I am always look for feedback and I am thankful for opportunities to learn so please feel free to comment, correct, etc.  Many thanks to Steve who was a big help to me via Twitter during my paper-writing frenzy.

The Abominable Pain of Becoming Like Christ…

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself. – C.S. Lewis