The NT and the LXX

The NT and the LXX May 17, 2012

NT Studies and the Septuagint
by larryhurtado

It has often struck me as curious that the “Septuagint” (LXX) as been so widely neglected among NT scholars, and so often overlooked by PhD students in the field. So, e.g., when PhD students tackle the meaning of some OT passage cited or alluded to in the NT, or the meaning of some word/expression that seems to be derived from the OT, they often (typically?) conduct an admirably detailed analysis of the Hebrew OT passage, but do little (often nothing) with the Greek OT.

That’s especially curious for two reasons: First, for the authors and the intended readers of NT writings a Greek OT was their OT. So the first/primary question about any OT text thought to have been used in the NT is what the Greek form of the text was. Indeed, at the risk of being provocative, I would say that you need to justify consulting or at least making much of the Hebrew text.

Second, as is the case for practically any translation of any text, the Greek of the OT gives us a valuable example of how the OT writings were understood in 2nd temple Jewish tradition. For most OT writings, the Greek OT is the closest that we get to a commentary of the time.

So, I highlight here a few relatively recent works that serious students of NT/Christian Origins should know and engage.

The first: A New English Translation of the Septuagint, and Other Greek Translations Traditionally Included Under That Title, eds. Albert Pietersma and Benjamin G. Wright (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007). This multi-contributor work is a major contribution that should be on the shelves of students and scholars. In addition to the translation, the editors and contributors give extended information on the translation-policies followed and on other matters. As with any human work, it isn’t perfect. But (intending so slight at all), when one considers that it is the only such modern scholarly translation of the LXX into English, one can only be grateful to have it. (For an extended critical assessment, the following review:

Second: Invitation to the Septuagint, Karen H. Jobes and Moises Silva (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic; Carlisle: Paternoster, 2000). This is a commendably accessible and well-conceived introduction to the LXX, especially useful for students gearing up for serious work in NT/Christian Origins.

Finally, a stimulating study that attempts to place the LXX into its originating setting as a means of maintaining and asserting Jewish religious identity in the Greek-speaking world of its time: Tessa Rajak, Translation and Survival: The Greek Bible and Ancient Jewish Diaspora (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).

The LXX (esp. if we include the full body of Greek OT writings) was perhaps the largest translation project in antiquity. Indeed, it would be difficult until modern time to find such a project. Clearly, great effort and expenditure of human resources were involved. It certainly deserves a major place in the preparation of scholars of NT/Christian origins. And it deserves recognition by all who are interested in ancient Judaism and/or early Christianity and its religious heritage.

Further to my posting yesterday in which I mentioned a few important publications on the Septuagint, here’s another that I overlooked:

Martin Hengel, The Septuagint as Christian Scripture: Its Prehistory and the Problem of its Canon (London: T&T Clark, 2002; paperback 2004).

The late, great Tuebingen NT scholar here offers the sort of in-depth, phenomenally-informed, vigorous but fair investigation that characterized all his publications. This book will be of interest mainly to serious students and scholars, with detailed discussion of ancient references in early Christian sources to the legend of the translation of the Septuagint (originally the Pentateuch), and the process by which the Septuagint came to be treated as the Christian OT Canon .

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