Thursday, March 26, 2015

Review of King's LXX Translation

Russ continues his analysis of the King Bible with a look at his translation of the Septuagint.

“In the beginning God made heaven and earth. And the earth was invisible and unformed; and darkness was upon the abyss, and the Spirit of God was rushing upon the water.”

So begins Fr. King’s translation of the Septuagint (LXX), for which we should be thankful as there are very few English translations of the Greek Old Testament in our bibles today. One is found in the Orthodox Study Bible (OSB), which uses as its base text the Old Testament of the New King James Version, and the other is the New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS), which uses the NRSV Old Testament as its base text. Now we have Fr. King’s and it’s my intention to quote freely from his introductions and footnotes to guide us through it. I don’t really consider this a review in the conventional sense but more of a casual glancing through his translation and the way it’s laid out. I simply haven’t had the time to read the entire translation. However, I wanted to share some initial observations and what I have found that I consider educational.

In his Preface he gives three reasons for using the LXX:
“In the first place, the LXX, and not the Hebrew text (what we shall call the MT or ‘Masoretic Text’) is the version most used by our New Testament authors, for whom the LXX, and not the MT, is ‘the bible’. Secondly, and perhaps rather oddly, the manuscripts for the LXX are older than those of the MT and in some cases preserve a superior reading; and they are good evidence for how Greek-speaking Jews of the three centuries before the birth of Christ read their sacred texts. Thirdly, it may be useful at this point to recall that most Jews of the time will have spoken Greek rather than than Hebrew, just as today more Jews speak English than Hebrew.”

And it’s in his presentation of the Old Testament (as opposed to his NT section/text that I reviewed two weeks ago) that you get back to more familiar ground as far as study bibles are concerned, and this is advertized as a study bible. Here the verses are included in the text (wild applause and cheering on my part), unlike the NT.  Most of the introductions are more in-depth than what is found in the NT but not overly so. In a lot of bibles you actually feel like you’re drowning when it comes to all the theories and speculations about this, that, and the other thing (and yes, there is a place for all the this, that, and the other thing) but if you’re not careful you (me) can lose sight that, when all is said and done, this is a book that is inspired by God and one of the most beautiful ways he uses to communicate to us.

His footnotes are copious in the places that are needed, and in many of them he demonstrates the differences between the Greek and Hebrew and what the translator may have been thinking.

For example, Genesis 2:2 (I did the underling below):
LXX (King): “And God completed on the sixth day the works which he made; and he rested on the seventh day…”

NABRE:  “On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing; he rested on the seventh day…”

The RSV/NRSV/NJB all translate the same way as the NABRE as they are all based on the MT as well.

Fr. King’s footnote for that verse: “here the translator seems to have edited what he found in the Hebrew text, which at first blush implies that God actually worked on the 7th day, and the translator is evidently determined to preserve the Sabbath from divine labour.” Twenty years into my reading and studying of the bible, and I’m just now discovering this interesting little tidbit. And there are many other such notes that are found scattered through each book.

And this is an example of why he states in his Introduction to Genesis: “As you read this translation of the Septuagint, I should like to encourage you to keep your Bibles open, and see some of the differences between the Greek and the Hebrew versions from which your bibles will normally have been translated.”

When you flip passed the books of Moses, Joshua and Judges you find “four books that belong very closely together. The LXX signals this by calling them 1-4 ‘Reigns’ or ‘Kingdom’. We shall call them by the conventional titles, of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings (the latter originates with Jerome’s translation of the Hebrew text into Latin).”

Next are two books that “were just one volume in Hebrew; it was only when they were translated into Greek that they were divided…the Greek translator called it ‘Paralipomena’, or ‘things left out’.” Again, Fr. King uses the traditional titles of 1 and 2 Chronicles for these books. I’m glad because as hard as I try, I find it difficult to pronounce Paralipomena without my tongue and mind becoming momentarily paralyzed.

Going forward to the Wisdom books you first come to the Book of Job, personally one of my favorite books and one I admit I haven’t read in a long time, so it’s a joy to read it again, this time from the Septuagint. Fr. King: “the Greek text is notably shorter than the Hebrew, sometimes offering no more than a paraphrase (though there are also occasional additions). This is partly, one suspects, because in places the Hebrew is so very obscure, and partly because it tends to be repetitious. The Greek translation makes various theological emendations…This translation is particularly interesting as it is our first evidence of how some Jews, from a different culture, read this remarkable work.”
A sample introduction, this one from Psalms.

About the numbering of the Psalms, Fr. King notes, “This Psalm (9) was originally an alphabetic psalm (although bits are now missing), and Psalm 10 was its continuation, as LXX correctly observes. We shall continue to number in accordance with the Masoretic Text, but with LXX in brackets after the MT numeration.”

When you get to the prophets and specifically now to Isaiah he writes, “the Greek translation is odd in places, for occasionally the translator seems to have misunderstood the Hebrew (assuming that he had the same text before him as we have), and his Greek is simply unintelligible at times. At other times, however, he shows excellent translation skills, though he sometimes feels free to suggest a different translation, often entirely appropriate to the themes of the book as a whole.” Finally, “the reader is warned that at times it is very difficult indeed to follow the order of the Isaiah scroll; in particular how one passage leads into what follows. So do not worry if it seems impossible to grasp; simply sit patiently with it.”

Above is an example of the page layout for the entire Old Testament section. And considering the season we’re in, I wanted to display that particular part of Isaiah.
Jeremiah is another book I haven’t read in a long time, so when I started to flip through it I was immediately reminded and educated to the difficulties scholars have when it comes to the proper order and structuring of the book. In his translation, Fr. King uses the following chapter order:

He writes in the Introduction, “the Greek is about 12 per cent shorter (than the MT). And the discoveries of fragments of Jeremiah in the Qumran caves (especially the one known as 4QJer(b) suggests that there were several editions of Jeremiah known to 1st century Jews; many scholars think that LXX may be closer to the original, in particular in the placing of the ‘oracles against the nations’, though in the circumstances that is a tricky claim to sustain.”

When I first started to look into this translation, I saw that it was roundly endorsed by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, Desmund Tutu and Henry Wansbrough, OSB, general editor of The New Jerusalem Bible and former member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. However, I didn’t buy it for that. I bought it because he translated from the Septuagint. Had it not been for that I most likely wouldn’t have purchased it.

In his mostly favorable review for the Methodist Recorder , The Rev Dr. Paul Ellingsworth wrote, “This is a version intended to be read rather than analyzed, so detailed criticism is best left to academic journals.” And while I hope that someday someone with the proper biblical and language skills will do such a review, I can definitely say that I am reading this translation. For me there’s nothing like a new translation of the bible to open our eyes and spirit, or, as their advertisement says, to “shake off the dust which often settles on passages which have become tired from over familiarity or frequent quotation.”

This translation is a challenge and one that I honestly look forward to reading every day. I believe it’s a wonderful resource and it’s my hope that this translation will someday be readily available to an American audience.


Anonymous said...

Many thanks for your time and application in preparing the review for us.

Michael Demers said...

I join Anonymous in his sentiments. Thanks again, Russ.

Biblical Catholic said...

The more I read about this the more interested I am in it, but I cannot find it anywhere, or even any information about it. Where can I get a copy?

Anonymous said...

Biblical Catholic,

Here's a direct link to buy the
Presentation Edition which is in stock now.
They ship it by a branch of Royal Mail called Parcel Force.
It's expensive shipping but it arrives very quickly, in just five days
in my case.

Jeff S.

Russ said...

Biblical Catholic: As Jeff said, just follow that link. Also, if you just Google "Fr. Nicholas King, SJ bible translation" you will come upon plenty of material. You can also find him on YouTube where he discusses the both Mark and John while using his translation.

Jeff: when you get time, I would love to hear and read your observations about this translation. Maybe you could post your own review. Just a thought.


Russ said...

Michael, are you tempted to purchase it?

James Hess said...

I have searched for a translation which is faithful to the septuagint and conveys the power of the original greek. Fr. King's translation is brilliant. Faithful to the Jewish Scriptures of the first Christians and faithful to the full meaning of the original meaning of the Greek New Testament. Thank you for exposing his fine work.

Michael Demers said...

Russ, my copy came in today. I ordered a paperback edition on March 9th from for £29 plus £9.47 for shipping plus a currency conversion fee. Pricey. I'm happy to have it but it's pretty small, about 5 3/8 in. wide by 7 3/8 in. high by 1 7/8 in. thick. The print is really small! a little over 1/16th of an inch or 8px font size. Good thing I have a new pair of glasses.

Anonymous said...

I bought the Presentation Edition shown at the link I gave
and, yes, it was more expensive than the paperback you ordered but on the upside its dimensions were bigger and better. Just as their website claims, the measurements of the actual white pages themselves are
232mm x 169mm = 9.13" x 6.65"
242mm * 174mm cover dimensions
and the total thickness of all
the pages is roughly 46mm = 1.81"
and of covers is about 55mm = 2.17"

I kind of figured this would be a one-time purchase for myself and
so I splurged a bit figuring that
mentally amortizing the total cost of $159.71 (this includes the shipping prices which was very good service since it was trackable! by
ParcelForce) over many years it only costs me several pennies a day. The size is really nice and even though I often need reading glasses for some things, I can actually read this Bible without reading glasses.
Jeff S.

Michael Demers said...

Thank you, Jeff. The paperback edition I bought is also called the Reader's Edition [ISBN no. is 978-1-84867-711-1]. The small size of this bible does make it very handy and easy to hold.

rolf said...

Just for info, I did a little checking and found that you can order this Bible through a U.S distributor for $89.50 (plus U.S. shipping). The website is:

James Hess said...

Rolf, thank you!

Russ said...

Didn't know that. Thank you, Rolf!

owen swain said...

[left a previous comment via mobile phone but it may have failed]

thank you for your reviews.

This looks to be an excellent translation and format.

The price is a challenge. Nearly 100 CDN. Ah, well...

I have answered my own question per sample pages. They may be found here Sadly the site has placed the page images in an "old fashioned" frame inset that one must enlarge and then scroll horizontally to read! Egad.

I find myself more interested in this now that in the Didache Bible even with the NABRE coming as I have that translation, I have a CCC and I cannot imagine any special notes being much beyond what I have in books and other bibles.

Simon said...

I also bought the Bible. It is a well translated work and I very much enjoy reading from it, but there are some typos. The most significant problem is the omission of the Letter of Jeremiah (or known as Baruch chp 6 in the NABRE). I just confirmed with the publisher that that was an oversight of translation, and they have no plans to issue a revised edition anytime soon. But I guess the Letter of Jeremiah, even though divinely inspired, isn't that big a deal, though for the price, it would be nice they would correct the mistake.

owen swain said...

Simon, thanks for that news. That is a terrible oversight [there's where rushing gets one] and it is a worse response.

It is a very good way to cause a loss of interest among what I would think would be a significant number of people in what I would have imagined to be a primary potential customer base. Then again, the publish is Anglican so, that letter may not be terribly important for them or at least not as inherent and therefore necessary? In promotional material they do refer to those books as "the books often referred to as the Apocrypha".

[Side note] I do so appreciate the respectful/ecumenical tone the publisher of the Life With God [formerly "Renovare"] takes in it's full name, "The Life With God Bible, NRSV with Deuterocanonicals." [/Side note]

I can understand the publisher's reticence; more money to produce the missing text; time for a busy Fr. King to cram in more translation; loss of sales of the "old" edition of which there would well be plenty left if they redux too soon.

And perhaps they haven't missed their mark as I, a Catholic, am very interested even with this sorry omission.

Russ said...

Hello Owen:
Yes, I guess it did. Are you going to make the plunge?

If you are, keep in mind what Simon just informed us for which I completely missed, and that is the omission of the Letter of Jeremiah.

Simon, thank you for pointing that out. That troubles me. This is not a cheap translation to purchase. And I agree, it would be very nice if they were to correct this. . .

owen swain said...

P.S. to correct/update my first comment above the link to the sample pages:

I had missed the small arrow in the upper right hand corner of the inset that does allow one to expand to a full view and therefore, in Google Chrome at least, I can save the whole sample as a PDF to read/print anytime.


owen swain said...


our comments have overlapped :) You ask, "Are you going to make the plunge? ". See my comment directly above yours :)

Russ said...

Hello again, we did overlap. I have written to both Fr. King and to the publishers and basically asked how they were going to rectify this matter. Because Tim has agreed to these reviews it sounds as if a number of people have parted with hard-earned money to buy these editions and for the publishers to give this response to Simon is pathetic. I suggested to Fr. King in my email that this chapter should at the very least be made available in a PDF format, or something that we can download.I will follow up in the near future. I apologize for not noticing this very glaring omission by the publishers.

owen swain said...


well done. Yes, and an excellent compromise should the publisher and Fr. King agree.

owen swain said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
owen swain said...

realized the post I left with the link related to my own order. I deleted the comment and offer this instead:

For anyone looking to save a few dollars and a good deal on shipping including internationally you may like this offer from thebookdepository [with whom I have always had good success]

Michael Demers said...

Timothy should do a post on embarrassing bible publishing errors or omissions.

Anonymous said...

Whatever else is going on with that missing chunk, I am certain that the omission has nothing to do with the publisher being Anglican (if indeed they are; I have no idea). I have once been the unfortunate owner of a Baronius-produced Douay-Rheims which had a large chunk of the first gospel missing. A publisher with more than reasonable Catholic credentials, as I think most of this blog's regulars would agree, one committed to producing good quality, and nonetheless the omission had happened. So perhaps we should be a bit more cautious about jumping to conclusions? After all, if a publisher is willing to publish a translation (any translation) of the LXX, they cannot be too fanatically anti-Deuterocanonicals.

owen swain said...

Per Anglican, indeed they are, have a look at the website, as I did before leaving my comment. :)

Never intended to imply they may be in any way "fanatically" or in any way at all "anti-Deuterocanonicals".

Also explained how I can readily understand valid reasons for their reticence to republish so soon.

I take your point about your Baronius mishap and am sorry for your loss, Anonymous.

A blessed Good Friday to you and all.

owen swain said...

Waiting for the "King" bible to arrive and found samples of him reading from the gospels and favourite passages:

And for future readers finding their way here via old links or Internet searches and old links here are some sample passages [posted on another comment of mine]:

And an update on found on this very blog relevant and clarifying discussion above: