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Of texts, translations, and readers

September 23, 2012

From A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint (Lust/Eynikel/Hauspie):

When preparing a lexicon of the LXX, one is faced with several basic questions related to the fact that most of the books of the LXX are translations. This lexicon is supposed to give the meaning, i.e. the English translation equivalents, of the words used in the LXX. However, which meaning should be given, the one intended by the translator or the one understood by the readers for whom it was intended? Is reference to be made to the underlying Hebrew or Aramaic, or is the search for meaning to be confined to the Greek? These questions are interrelated and connected with the special character of “Septuagint Greek.”

This made me think of something I just read in Roy E. Ciampa’s chapter, “Approaching Paul’s Use of Scripture in Light of Translation Studies,” in Paul and Scripture: Extending the Conversation, edited by Christopher D. Stanley.

The point is that translations need to be analyzed not only in terms of their relationship with the source text but also in terms of (a) how the target text’s place within its adoptive literary system (as well as the social, religious, and other systems of which it is a part) relates to the source text’s place within its adoptive literary and other systems, and (b) how the place of the author of the source text within his culture and context relates to his place within the target text’s culture and context, and so forth.

Readers and how they understand texts are an issue, too.

Ciampa says in another place:

Paul’s interpretative method is closer to the idea of an indirect translation—one that that only partially resembles the original text and its meaning, retaining only those parts that are relevant to those to whom his interpretation is being transmitted. He may be aspiring not to complete interpretive resemblance with the original but only to partial resemblance, making alterations in order to adapt the text and its message in ways that optimize its relevance for his congregations.

The questions raised by each of the three above quotations are all reasons I am interested in studying the Septuagint, and now the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament. I’m learning that it’s so much more than just, what text did the NT writers have at hand, but also: how did NT writers use a text (whether Greek or Hebrew) to fit the needs of their writing and their audience? It’s a lot to unpack, and some of it is near impossible to know. But exploring questions like these strikes me as time well spent, even if I’ve unearthed more questions than answers for the time being.

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