A Review of Discovering the Septuagint: A Guided Reader (Jobes)

Discovering the LXX

 

At long last Karen Jobes’s Discovering the Septuagint: A Guided Reader, has been published by Kregel Academic. The TL;DR version of my review is: while the resource has a few noticeable flaws (easily fixable for a second edition), its addition to the world of Greek reading and Septuagint studies is long overdue.

Below is a longer review of the book, in what I hope will be easy-to-scan Q & A format.

 


 

What books of the LXX are covered?

There are ten, intended to “give readers a taste of different genres, an experience of distinctive Septuagintal elements, and a sampling of texts later used by writers of the New Testament” (9). Discovering the Septuagint treats nearly 700 verses from:

  1. Genesis (80 verses)
  2. Exodus (79 verses)
  3. Exodus 20:1–21 // Deuteronomy 5:6–21 (10 Commandments)
  4. Ruth (85 verses)
  5. Additions to Greek Esther (73 verses)
  6. Psalms (67 verses)
  7. Hosea (56 verses)
  8. Jonah (48 verses)
  9. Malachi (55 verses)
  10. Isaiah (81 verses)

 

For whom is this book?

Jobes says it “contains everything needed for any reader with three semesters of koine Greek to succeed in expanding their horizons to the Septuagint” (8). I think this assessment is right, as I found the book easy to understand (though I’ve had more than three semesters of Greek).

 

How is the book structured?

Each LXX book has a short introduction. Then there is the passage, verse by verse, with the Greek text re-printed in full. Under each verse are word-by-word and phrase-by-phrase comments on the vocabulary, usage, syntax, translation from Hebrew (the book is strong here), and so on. Following each passage is the NETS (English translation). The end of the book has a three-page, 33-term glossary and a two-page “Index of New Testament LXX Citations” for the books included in the reader.

 

What does a sample entry look like?

Here’s Jonah 4:6:

jobes-on-jonah-lxx

 

What’s commendable about Discovering the Septuagint?

It shouldn’t go without saying that the very existence of this resource is a boon to Greek readers. There is Conybeare and Stock, as well as some passages in Decker’s Koine Greek Reader, but readers of the Septuagint have far fewer resources than readers of the Greek New Testament.

The margins are plenty wide for students to jot down their own parsings, translations, and notes.

Notes on the verses are often answers to questions I’ve had as I’ve read the Greek text. In this sense the reader is a great guide. For example, here is a comment from Genesis 1:4:

ἀνὰ μέσον . . . ἀνὰ μέσον | Idiomatic prep phrase, “between.” This is a Hebraism, so there is no need to translate the second of the pair as NETS does.

And another helpful nugget from Genesis 1:11:

κατὰ γένος | Prep + neut sg acc (3rd dec) noun, γένος, kind. Remember the nom and acc forms are identical in this paradigm. Agrees with and modifies σπέρμα.

Whether or not a fourth semester Greek student should remember that nominative and accusative forms are identical in the third declension is another issue. That the reader reminds me as much is welcomed.

 

What is lacking?

The glued binding doesn’t do justice to a book like this, but that seems to be the way many publishers have gone recently, even with reference works in biblical studies.

Parts of the book feel under-edited or rushed to print:

  • a few typos (missing periods, etc.)
  • referring to the Rahlfs-Hanhart text as a “critical edition of the Septuagint” (9), which is technically true, but potentially misleading, as “semi-critical” is better (text criticism is not a real concern of the book)
  • a peppering of vague statements like this one on “the image of God” in Genesis 1:26: “See a commentary or study Bible” (31)
  • the typesetting on the epsilon just seems off to me. I’ve tried to convince myself it’s just me, but I haven’t since been able to unsee what just looks like a flattened ε or a backwards three, rather than an actual Greek letter:

     

    screenshot-2016-10-31-22-06-57

     

    By contrast, look at the letter in this screenshot, taken from Accordance Bible Software:

     

    screenshot-2016-10-31-22-08-42

     

    The layout and Greek font are nice otherwise! (Though a couple times in the typesetting of the book, a letter from another language intrudes mid-word.)

  • Introductory issues are quite sparse–whether in the introduction to the Greek of the Septuagint itself (just two pages) or in the introductions to books. I would have liked it if the contributing writers had offered more for each book–even three or four pages would have gone further than the one or two that are here.

This last point deserves just a couple more lines. A number of the introductions adapt or “abstract” their text from the NETS book introductions, which readers could easily enough have found on their own. In some ways the book introductions read just like exam study guides you might have made yourself for a grad-level class on the Septuagint. That may be, in fact, how they started! (Jobes is chief overseer of the book, with many contributors.) This does not make the introductions not valuable, but it will probably leave readers wishing for more detail.

All in all, Discovering the Septuagint is worth owning. The number of times I’ve gotten grammatical or morphological help from the comments far outweighs any of the volume’s weaknesses. And there is a lot of Greek help to be had here. I’ll be making repeated use of this book by Jobes and company, and am glad it’s finally on the market.

Discovering the Septuagint is available from Amazon, as well as from Kregel.

 


 

Thanks to Kregel for sending the review copy, provided to me so I could write about the book, but with no expectation as to the content of my review.

Discovering the Septuagint: A Guided Reader (Jobes) Is Now Available

Discovering the LXX

 

For Greek reading I’ve been so knee-deep in Ephesians that I haven’t been much in the Septuagint of late. That will change with the release of Karen Jobes’s Discovering the Septuagint: A Guided Reader, just published by Kregel Academic. I have known about this for a long time, so am happy to see it released into the wild! I think a lot of folks will benefit from it, especially those ready to freshen things up or go a step deeper in Greek learning.

While it’s available for pre-order from Amazon, it’s shipping now from Kregel, so what are you waiting for?

A Greek Word for the Twitter Age: σπερμολογος (spermologos)

Here’s a fun Greek word: σπερμολογος (spermologos). It appears only one time in the Greek New Testament, and nowhere in the Septuagint. Here it is in its context, Acts 17:18:

τινες δε και των Επικουρειων και Στοικων φιλοσοφων συνεβαλλον αυτω, και τινες ελεγον· τι αν θελοι ο σπερμολογος ουτος λεγειν; οι δε· ξενων δαιμονιων δοκει καταγγελευς ειναι, οτι τον Ιησουν και την αναστασιν ευηγγελιζετο.

A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with [Paul]. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.

The NIV 2011 (above), NRSV, and KJV all translate σπερμολογος (spermologos) as “babbler.” HCSB has “pseduo-intellectual.” NASB has “idle babbler.” NET has “foolish babbler.” Not to be outdone, the Message offers, “What an airhead!”

Context determines meaning, which makes a word like this tricky, since it has no other uses in the Bible. The LSJ lexicon notes its use in, among other classic works, the play Birds by Aristophanes, where it refers to birds picking up seeds. In the 1st century B.C. history of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, σπερμολογος  describes a “frivolous” person. For the noun form LSJ offers, “one who picks up and retails scraps of knowledge, an idle babbler, gossip.”

BDAG has this: “in pejorative imagery of persons whose communication lacks sophistication and seems to pick up scraps of information here and there.” I also like its gloss of “scrapmonger”! In the part of the entry that covers the Acts verse, it says, “Engl. synonyms include ‘gossip’, ‘babbler’, ‘chatterer’; but these terms miss the imagery of unsystematic gathering.

Also helpful is Louw-Nida’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains:

one who acquires bits and pieces of relatively extraneous information and proceeds to pass them on with pretense and show.

And then this gem, from the same source:

The term σπερμολογος is semantically complex in that it combines two quite distinct phases of activity: (1) the acquiring of information and (2) the passing on of such information. Because of the complex semantic structure of σπερμολογος, it may be best in some languages to render it as ‘one who learns lots of trivial things and wants to tell everyone about his knowledge,’ but in most languages there is a perfectly appropriate idiom for ‘a pseudo-intellectual who insists on spouting off.’

The implications for an easy-to-access information age are obvious–how much of the Internet is gathering information like seed and passing it on, without stopping to research and truly evaluate it?

We could pontificate, but back to Acts–this is what some Athenian philosophers called Paul: a σπερμολογος. The parenthetical statement in Acts 17:21, however, makes this the height of irony:

Αθηναιοι δε παντες και οι επιδημουντες ξενοι εις ουδεν ετερον ηυκαιρουν η λεγειν τι η ακουειν τι καινοτερον.

(All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

Did you catch it? Louw-Nida says a σπερμολογος engages in “two quite distinct phases of activity: (1) the acquiring of information and (2) the passing on of such information.” Acts 17:21 says the Athenians themselves (who leveled the σπερμολογος charge against Paul) spent all their time in two phases of activity: talking (#2 above) and listening (#1) to “the latest ideas.”

Moral of the story: check yourself before you call someone a σπερμολογος.

Feb. 8: Happy International Septuagint Day!

International Septuagint Day

 

Today, February 8, is International Septuagint Day. Happy LXX Day! So read yerself some Septuagint today, in Greek or English.

A few more links to explore:

Interview with James K. Aitken, Septuagint Scholar

Dr. Aitken has a really interesting essay in this book
Dr. Aitken has a really interesting essay in this book, too

Some Sundays (though not nearly 70 or 72) have gone by without a Septuagint Sunday post, an erstwhile major focus of this blog. Today rectifies the paucity, at least for this week.

William Ross, a doctoral student at the University of Cambridge, interviewed James K. Aitken just after Christmas. Aitken is the editor of the exciting T & T Clark Companion to the Septuagint. The companion, to my knowledge, marks a first in Septuagint studies, as it presents a “handy summary of features for each of the Septuagint books.”

The interview is fascinating and enjoyable, and you get a sense of a scholar who is both rigorous in his study and writing, yet also approachable.

Aitken offers encouragement to those interested in Septuagint studies by suggesting the field still has much ground (bad pun, all mine) to till:

I do not think there is any area that is overworked in LXX studies, so that any aspect of the field is possible. Currently for most books of the LXX, there has been only one or two monographs in the past century – an enviable position in biblical studies! Some books have now received more attention (Isaiah, Psalms, Minor Prophets) but there is still plenty to do even for them. So, a student may pick any book and still have plenty to say.

You can find the whole interview here.

You Asked and Asked, Now It’s Coming: A Septuagint Reader

LXX decalOn the one hand, the burgeoning field of Septuagint studies still has few enough publications that any new work is potentially significant. On the other hand, there still seems to be an acute need for works that bridge the gap between New Testament Greek readers and LXX specialists.

Resources like †Rod Decker’s Koine Greek Reader (which pays decent attention to the Septuagint) or even the old Conybeare and Stock (which has some LXX portions with explanatory footnotes) are few and far between.

I’ve been asking Kregel for probably three years now whether they’d consider publishing a dedicated Septuagint reader. Little did I know one was already in the works.

It releases this fall. Karen Jobes is its author. Here’s some copy from Kregel that describes the book:

Interest in the Septuagint today is strong and continues to grow. But a guidebook to the text, similar to readers and handbooks that exist for students of the Greek New Testament, has been lacking. Discovering the Septuagint: A Guided Reader fills that need. Created by an expert on the Septuagint, this groundbreaking resource draws on the editor’s experience as an educator to help upper-level college, seminary, and graduate students cultivate skill in reading the Greek Old Testament.

This reader presents, in canonical order, ten Greek texts from the Göttingen Septuaginta Vetus Testamentum Graecum and the Rahlfs-Hanhart Septuaginta critical edition. It explains the syntax, grammar, and vocabulary of more than 700 verses from select Old Testament texts representing a variety of genres, including the Psalms, the Prophets, and more.

The texts included in this volume were chosen to fit into a 15-week semester, reading about 50 verses a week. The texts selected 1) Are examples of distinctive Septuagint syntax or word usage and/or 2) Exemplify the amplification of certain theological themes or motifs by the Septuagint translators within their Jewish Hellenistic culture and/or 3) Are used significantly by New Testament writers.

More specifically:

  • Each study includes:
    • Introduction—briefly discussing the particular Greek text and its key features.
    • English translation—using the New English Translation of the Septuagint.
    • Text notes—providing verse/phrase–level explanations of the Greek syntax and grammar.
    • Use in the New Testament.
    • Select bibliography.
  • Parses more difficult verbal forms, gives alternate ways of reading the text, and discusses significant critical issues of the text.
  • Calls attention to vocabulary and syntax unique to the Septuagint.
  • References standard Septuagint grammars, lexicons, and other resources.

No cover art yet, but the book is a-coming. You’ll hear more here later.

Hot Off the LXX Presses: The Text-Critical Use of the Septuagint in Biblical Research (New Edition)

TCLXX_Tov

 

Emanuel Tov’s Text-Critical Use of the Septuagint in Biblical Research is a key text in Septuagint studies. But it’s been out of print… until now. Eisenbrauns has just published a “Completely Revised and Expanded” third edition of the book.

Here’s the publisher’s write-up:

This handbook on the Septuagint (LXX) provides a practical guide for the student and scholar alike in the perusal of that translation in the text-critical analysis of the Hebrew Bible. It does not serve as another theoretical introduction to the LXX, but it provides all the practical background information needed for the integration of the LXX in biblical studies. The LXX remains the most significant source of information for the study of ancient Scripture together with the Masoretic Text and several Qumran scrolls, but this translation is written in Greek and many technical details need to be taken into consideration when using this tool. The author presents this handbook after half a century of study of the Septuagint, four decades of specialized teaching experience in that area, and involvement in several research projects focusing on the relation between the Hebrew and Greek Bibles.

The first two editions of this handbook, published by Simor of Jerusalem (Jerusalem Biblical Studies 3 [1981] and 8 [1997]), received much praise but have been out of print for a considerable period. This, the third, edition presents a completely revised version of the previous editions based on the many developments that took place in the analysis of the Septuagint, the Hebrew Bible and the Qumran Scrolls.

I’d link to the book on Amazon, but you really should just buy directly through Eisenbrauns. They are good folk, make great resources, and have put this book on sale now. Get it here. You can also find a PDF info sheet (with Table of Contents) here.