Fear No Evil or See No Evil? One Way to Preach a Textual Variant

Last week’s Hebrew Bible lectionary gave us the beautiful Zephaniah 3:14-20. There is an interesting variant in the Septuagint reading of verse 15.

Hebrew

לֹא־תִֽירְאִ֥י רָ֖ע עֽוֹד

= you will no longer fear evil

Greek

οὐκ ὄψῃ κακὰ οὐκέτι

= you will no longer see evil

The Hebrew verb for fear (יָרֵא) looks like the verb for see (רָאָה), especially in conjugation:

תִירְאִי

= you will fear

תִּרְאִי

= you will see

The only difference is the presence or absence of the vowel letter in the first syllable, which is superfluous for pronunciation anyway. Both words sound the same in Hebrew.

So the Greek “see” for “fear” is easy to appreciate. But which one to preach? In this case, whenever I quoted the passage in my sermon, I was using my own translation. Since both readings seem equally plausible to me, I decided to present the Greek variant as expounding on the Hebrew, not replacing it (so to speak).

The single line became:

You will no longer fear any evil. You won’t even see evil.

This is many more words than are in the Hebrew text, but I think both the Hebrew “fear” and the Greek “see” so well capture the essence of the passage, that it was worth quoting both. It’s as if God is saying through Zephaniah (if we combine the readings)—not only will you not fear evil, you won’t even have to see it… because it won’t exist.

Lord, haste the day!

A Review of T. Muraoka’s “Fully Fledged” Septuagint Lexicon

Introduction

Takamitsu Muraoka’s work is a gift to all who would read the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.

When I first began to love reading the Septuagint, T. Muraoka’s Two-Way Index was my most valued resource. I reviewed it here.

So of course it has been with great interest and appreciation that I’ve used his “fully fledged lexicon” (X) of the Septuagint, titled A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint (GELS). I review it here, with gratitude to Peeters for sending the review copy, with no expectation as to the content of my review.

The Approach of This Lexicon

First a word about the book itself: the binding is sewn and the cover is cloth. It is built to last. There could be no shoddy construction for a work of this magnitude and price, but even the publisher Brill sells multi-hundred-dollar books with glued bindings.

Why GELS?

The importance of the Septuagint does not lie merely in its value for historians of Early Judaism, but also in the fact that it embodies quite a sizeable amount of texts witnessing to Hellenistic, Koine Greek. Some of the current lexica such as Liddell, Scott and Jones, and Bauer do make fairly frequent references to the Septuagint, but their treatment, by universal agree­ment, leaves much to be desired. Furthermore, the last several decades have witnessed remarkable revived interests in the Septuagint, not only on the part of scholars interested in the history of the text of the Hebrew Bible, but also those who study the Septuagint as a Greek text with its own interests and perspectives, not necessarily as a translated text. (VII)

Consider the reader of an English translation of the New Testament. They may not know the original languages. If they don’t, they’ll be reading in translation, thinking of the text as it is in front of them. The one reading only in translation reads the text-as-received, not necessarily with an interest in the translation and production of the text. In the same way, I enjoy reading Bonhoeffer but know barely any German. I read him in English translation and except for the occasional footnote, don’t really consider the German or the particular decisions the translators made.

Here, then, is how Muraoka approaches the LXX:

Following a series of exploratory studies and debates, we have come to the conclusion that we had best read the Septuagint as a Greek document and try to find out what sense a reader in a period roughly 250 B.C. – 100 A.D. who was ignorant of Hebrew or Aramaic might have made of the translation, although we did compare the two texts all along. (VIII)

This is not, Muraoka is quick to note, the same approach as the so-called interlinear model of the New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS). Besides, for more comparison between Greek and the Hebrew it translates there is the Two-Way Index.

How does Muraoka approach words and their definitions? Meaning is derived from how a word is used in its context: “Thus we started from the actual text, the whole text” (X). (This lexicon has evolved over time. He began with Obadiah and then the rest of the 12 prophets, to be exact.) Here it is worth quoting GELS at length:

A word is hardly ever used in isolation and on its own, but normally occurs in conjunction with another word or words. Such collocations help to establish the semantic ‘profile’ of the word concerned. Two words which are closely related may not wholly share their ‘partners,’ each thus gaining its individuality. Such in­formation about collocations a given word enters provides important clues for defining its senses and deter­mining its semantic ‘contours.’ It concerns questions such as what sorts of adjective a given noun is qualified by or what sorts of nouns or nominal entities a given verb takes as its grammatical subject or object. In ad­dition to these semantic collocations, the question of syntactic collocations is equally important: which case (genitive, dative or accusative) and which preposition a given verb governs.

Different translations and lexicons may have their different approaches, but I appreciate how clear Muraoka is about his. I greatly value his approach. For those wondering, he uses Göttingen critical editions, where they are available, then Rahlfs, with “occasional use” of the Cambridge LXX.

The Structure of the Entries

Perhaps the two most welcome contributions of this lexicon are that:

(A) Muraoka provides definitions and not merely glosses or translation equivalents.

(B) Lexicon entries not only cite but also excerpt relevant LXX passages… even including an English translation of the quoted Greek. In this, Muraoka says, “we have decided to err on the generous side” (XI)—indeed.

There are 9,548 head-words—and I thought learning New Testament Greek was a challenge! Each entry has three primary sections:

  1. The headword (lexicon entry) in bold, followed by a “morphological inventory” so you can see the lexeme in other forms (this is great for language learning). There is also an asterisk that signifies a word “not attested earlier than the Septuagint” (XIII).
  2. The “main body” of the entry, “defining senses of the headword and describing its usage” (XIII). If there is “more than one distinct sense” of a headword, Muraoka marks them off by bold numerals.
  3. A surprising but helpful inclusion: “a word or group of words semantically associated with the headword” (XV). This is reminiscent of the Louw-Nida NT Greek lexicon, and a welcome addition. There are also references to secondary literature, when Muraoka deems them relevant to understanding the word.

Muraoka’s humility and sense of humor are here, too—qualities I might not have anticipated shining through in a lexicon. He says, “(?) is a symbol of despair, indicating our inability to establish any relationship of equiva­lence between the Greek word concerned and the supposed Hebrew original of the translator” (XVI).

Entries, Compared

Here is a comparison of entries between Muraoka’s GELS and Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint (“LEH”=Johan Lust, Erik Eynikel, and Katrin Hauspie). The word is μακάριος, the first word in the Psalms and in the Beatitudes in Matthew. One immediately begins to appreciate the depth which Muraoka treats a word.

LEH (via Accordance):

Muraoka:

I especially appreciate that Muraoka not only defines the word, but helps the lexicon user see how it is used:

With a limited number of exceptions (see below), μ. opens, as in the Beatitudes (Mt 5.3-10), a generic, typological statement in the form of a nominal clause without a copula with the fortunate character of the subject—a human, never a divinity—formulated by means of a relative clause or a participial clause….

While I appreciate Muraoka’s in-depth definitions, I wondered if he couldn’t have also included more translation equivalents as part of the entry. While the LEH entry is rather sparse, it gives the expected “happy” and “blessed” in its entry (though GELS does list “fortunate” right away as a translation equivalent). “Blessed” doesn’t come in Muraoka’s entry until further down, and only then as a translation of a Greek example. So too with φιλέω. LEH gives “to love” and “to kiss” right away in its few-line entry. Muraoka (whose entry is much more detailed) gives the first meaning as “to find agreeable, feel attracted to,” which is comparable to BDAG’s lengthy “to have a special interest in someone or someth., freq. with focus on close association, have affection for, like, consider someone a friend.” But if it’s often (and appropriately) translated “love,” why not indicate that earlier in the entry?

This may just be personal preference, and it would be unfair to evaluate Muraoka’s lexicon on something it doesn’t set out to do—namely, to provide translation equivalents at every turn. (He does say, “Occasionally, when we saw fit, we added a translation equivalent or equivalents….”)

So perhaps the best workflow is to consult Muraoka first to really understand a word, then go to LEH for a translation equivalent if needed. No one lexicon can do it all, and Muraoka really fills a large gap with his extended treatment of words.

Typographers, Shield Your Eyes?

Typographers, shield your eyes? Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. And may God bless and prosper biblical language typographers!

Still, for those looking closely, there is a bit of a distraction with how the font is vertically aligned in places, both in Greek and in English. See here:

In “and” and “unmarried,” the letters appear not to be totally flush with the baseline. The letters r and n and a seem to be the most frequent offenders. And there are issues with kerning (consistent spacing between letters):

Is this picky? Maybe. Could I do better? No way. I can’t imagine how hard it is to typeset a multi-language book like this. It is a little distracting, though, so I just try not to notice it.

Ordering Info

My only wish now is that Peeters would consider licensing this lexicon to Accordance Bible Software, where I would find it immensely useful. However, the bound edition is beautiful, and I do actually appreciate leafing through a print lexicon, just like I did in the olden days.

Any of the above critiques are far outweighed by the impressiveness of this lexicon. Kudos and thanks to Prof. Muraoka and others involved for producing such a fine resource.

And thanks again to Peeters for the review copy. Find the book here at their Website, and here via Amazon (affiliate link).

Expect, God willing, more Septuagint resource reviews in the weeks ahead.

The Story on Gender and the NIV (1984), TNIV, and NIV (2011)

I keep coming back to the NIV translation of the Bible. The (now discontinued) TNIV and the 2011 NIV (which supersedes the TNIV) are constant companions in my Bible reading and sermon preparation.

Bruce Waltke anticipates that the NIV will be “ever more precise and always in the language of the people” as it continues to evolve. 50 years ago the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) convened.

 

CBT (image via Zondervan)
CBT (image via Zondervan)

 

The first three speakers in the following video–Doug Moo, Karen Jobes, and Mark Strauss–are all ones whose works I’ve consulted (literally) in the last two days!

 

 

There is an utterly fascinating history of how the translation has changed over the years. I am particularly interested in the discussion about how gender works in translation. I’m with Bruce Waltke on this one:

If you use “man” and part of your constituency is hearing it as male, and it wasn’t intended to be male, that’s bad translation.

So get this:

For the coming [1990s] edition, the CBT decided that where the Greek or Hebrew clearly referred to all people—male and female—the translation would have to find accurate contemporary English language to make this clear.

But before the CBT could release the update, a Christian magazine learned what the CBT was planning and published an article condemning the shift in language, initiating a firestorm of controversy.

Some Christians were unhappy about what the CBT was planning. They accused the CBT of a “feminist” agenda when, in reality, the only agenda CBT had was to accurately reflect the meaning of Scripture in modern English. But the heat of the controversy made it hard for people to understand what was really going on.

The issue became so heated that the International Bible Society (now Biblica) decided that it was not in the best interest of the translation to continue and chose not to publish the revisions. In the United States, Zondervan would keep printing the 1984 edition of the NIV.

Finally, in 2005, the TNIV was born. But the publisher wanted to unify the now two separate editions, paving the way for the 2011 NIV.

Read the whole history here–it’s not a quick read, but it’s quite interesting. And it’s also sad how parts of the Christian community pushed against what would be not just a gender-inclusive, but a more gender-accurate translation.

There are tons of NIV Bibles available, many of which are detailed here. I’ve had a chance to compare a number of the Bibles, so feel free to ask in the comments if you want to hear more… or share your own thoughts on the NIV translation.

 


 

It seems I’m blogging fairly regularly about Zondervan and its products. They have been gracious to provide copies of various products for my review purposes.

The NIV’s 50th Anniversary

NIV Wheel Graphic

 

Whether it was for summer camp or Bible quizzing, I grew up memorizing the (1984) New International Version. And, yes, I’m still quite fond of the unfortunately discontinued TNIV. Now Zondervan no longer publishes the 1984 NIV, nor the TNIV–instead, the 2011 update to the NIV is the current version.

You might not realize that the NIV is 50 years old this year. Here’s a recent press release:

In 1965, the Committee on Bible Translation took on the most massive translation project of modern times: to prepare a contemporary English translation of the Bible from the best available original manuscripts. Since its release in 1978, the NIV has become the world’s most read and most trusted modern-English Bible translation with over 450 million copies distributed worldwide. Upon the 1978 release of the NIV, readers were ecstatic that they could finally understand the Word of God in contemporary language.

This anniversary got onto my radar screen when I came across the new NIV 50th anniversary app. What I didn’t know till the other day is that the NIV Study Bible is the best-selling study Bible in the last 30 years.

Here’s a video with some recognizable names discussing the work of the Committee on Bible Translation, who produced the NIV:

 

 

You can read more about the NIV here.

 


 

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: A Zondervan rep approached me with an invitation/encouragement to post about the NIV, and offered to send an NIV Study Bible. I plan to post about that in due course, too, once I receive it. While I do appreciate the 2011 NIV over the 1984 NIV in a number of ways, said “Material Connection” has not diminished the place in my heart that the TNIV will always have.