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Review of The Greek of the Septuagint: Supplemental Lexicon

July 26, 2012

This, then, is the single dominant characteristic of the LXX vocabulary: it is normal, idiomatic Greek. I base my construal of it on this hypothesis whenever I can.

–Gary Alan Chamberlain in The Greek of the Septuagint: A Supplemental Lexicon

Not long ago I noted that “the challenging nature of Septuagint vocabulary is … one reason why even students of New Testament Greek stay away from the Septuagint. How can one make her or his way through the Septuagint in Greek in a way that is not entirely frustrating?” To begin, you could read about why you need the Septuagint here, and some helpful resources here to get started. Also, I recently reviewed Bernard A. Taylor’s Analytical Lexicon to the Septuagint: Expanded Edition, a one-stop reference work to guide readers through the LXX.

I have now had the occasion (and privilege) to spend some time with The Greek of the Septuagint: A Supplemental Lexicon, by Gary Alan Chamberlain. (Thanks to Hendrickson for the review copy, provided in exchange for an unbiased review.)

Chamberlain intends his lexicon to be a supplemental one, an addition to any Greek New Testament lexicon. (He has BDAG specifically in view.) The vocabulary of the Septuagint is more expansive and potentially different enough from New Testament vocabulary that a lexicon like this is warranted. Many Greek students, especially Biblical studies ones, come to the LXX after first studying the New Testament. So if they already own BDAG or some other New Testament lexicon, the potential need for something like this to “fill in the gaps” could make sense.

The Greek of the Septuagint contains lexicon entries for 5,000 LXX words not in the NT, as well as 1,000 words with LXX-specific uses that a NT lexicon would not carry. For the latter, Chamberlain simply adds to the BDAG numbering system, so that the entry for καθίστημί, for example, begins, “3.b. seek to establish, declare.” Words that the lexicon does fully treat have morphological information (e.g., principal parts for verbs) and citations of word usage in the LXX and beyond.

There is “no treatment of the most common words” in the LXX, so not just a cursory knowledge but a solid grasp of Greek vocabulary would be needed to use this lexicon on its own. I.e., a first- or second-year Greek student really would have to use this as the “supplemental” lexicon it intends to be. “Throughout this work,” Chamberlain notes, “I have assumed that the user has sufficient command of ancient Greek to cope with articular infinitives, genitive absolutes, and the varied means of expressing volition and command. The thousand or so most common LXX words should convey relatively few difficulties.” This work won’t serve the Greek initiate, in other words, but Chamberlain does not intend for his work to be “elementary.”

One might ask, Why not just purchase a full-on Septuagint lexicon? Here is where Chamberlain makes the “distinctive contribution…to LXX studies” that he aims to make.

The dense 19-page introduction explains several classifications of LXX words, and is complemented by an exceedingly useful set of word lists in the appendices. (Hendrickson has the intro in pdf here.) Chamberlain includes word lists and discussion of:

  1. Precise parallels between the LXX and extrabiblical texts. This is where he asserts that LXX vocab is “normal, idiomatic Greek.” He accounts for what others have claimed are examples to the contrary (e.g., “Semitisms”) with the following categories.
  2. Transliterations of the Hebrew into Greek.
  3. Hapax Legomena–Greek words that occur once in the LXX and nowhere else in ancient Greek literature, as well as words that occur multiple times in the LXX but nowhere else (he notes all this and all these categories throughout the lexicon in the appropriate entries, a sample pdf of which is here).
  4. Greek words that occur first in the LXX.
  5. Words with no parallel in other ancient Greek sources.
  6. Stereotypical translations (“calques,” where “translators faced severe challenges in rendering a few common Hebrew terms for which no equivalent was possible within the framework of Greek language”).
  7. Mistranslations (where “LXX translators misconstrued the meaning of their sources’ words, through a confusion of roots or a misunderstanding of meaning of the source”).
  8. Textual variants (more than 200 instances, including his suggested emendations, helpfully organized in canonical order).
  9. More complicated words “involving multiple factors” (“We are simply trying to explain how a Greek word was placed in a context that does not make good sense if we read it as a Greek sentence”).

Having read the descriptions of each of these categories and looked through the corresponding word lists, this reader is convinced that The Greek of the Septuagint offers something that neither BDAG nor any other LXX lexicon on the market (of which I’m aware) currently does. Even without the actual lexicon entries, the word lists and explanations are an invaluable contribution to LXX studies. (The lexical entries themselves are appropriately concise yet substantive.)

His Appendix II is the place to start when looking up a word. It shows (through the use of bold, italics, and regular font) if a word is in this lexicon but not BDAG; if it is in BDAG and supplemented here; or if the word is sufficiently covered in BDAG and therefore not in Chamberlain’s lexicon. Appendix III has a neat listing of LXX book titles in English and Greek, as well as a table that shows the differing versification between the two.

The Greek and English fonts are clear and easy to read (the Hebrew font is a bit small).

I found The Greek of the Septuagint to be a lexicon one has to work at. In other words, it’s not like Taylor’s lexicon, which one could easily pick up and use right away off the shelf. Carefully reading the 4-page preface and 19-page introduction is pretty much required to be able to make use of Chamberlain’s work. But that’s true of BDAG, too, and sort of the point of a preface and introduction in the first place. So that’s not at all a strike against this lexicon. In fact, the user who is willing to put in the work will find great reward in a deepened understanding of the LXX and its vocabulary.

Chamberlain concludes his introduction in this inspiring way:

For many years I have been reflecting upon and experimenting with the question of what the faithful reading of Scripture is in relation to life lived very much “in the world.” Both the method and the goal of preparing this lexicon have been the reading of the LXX text itself (alongside the Hebrew Bible, the Greek NT, and not infrequently the Vulgate) with the prayerful attention the Benedictines call lectio divina. I have made constant and grateful use of the astonishing resources of biblical and classical scholarship, with an embarrassed and hopeless inability to be in any sense in command of those resources. I want simply to apprehend the text, and beyond that to engage the living reality of which the text intends to speak.

Chamberlain’s lexicon is available here.

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